Category Archives: Reviews

Manga Analysis: From Star Strings

Author: Akihito Tsukushi
Status: Concluded (one installment)
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Psychological
Localization: Not localized
Rating: Not Rated

(This analysis discusses plot elements, and thus contains spoilers.)

I was browsing the Made In Abyss subreddit the other day, when I found a topic linking to other works by author Akihito Tsukushi. Among the stories that I found was a short story written by Tsukushi in the manga format, called From Star Strings (links to MangaDex).

From Star Strings is relatively short; it’s a one-off one chapter work, about 70 pages long, that I read through in about a half-hour. It told a compelling story about a girl who lived alone, having a planet to herself, who set off on a journey. Like many of Tsukushi’s works, the artistic style is like a combination of that of Tony DiTerlizzi and Precious Memories, but with something of a dark edge.

I suggest following the link above to read the story for yourself, and form your own first impressions before continuing on with this article. There are spoilers ahead.

The protagonist this time is a young girl who doesn’t know where she came from or anything about her life prior to having an entire planet to herself, which conveniently simplifies her motives. She also knows little besides her own name, which is Kuroru, and how to speak, which is conveniently just enough for her motivations to be communicated to the reader through monologue.

But let’s not fall into the trap of asking distracting questions.

On her little world, Kuroru had a sprawling, Earth-like environment to explore. She had plenty to eat, little to no danger, and did not want for anything. Except for one thing: she was alone. And having explored her own world, she deduced that there was no one else there.

One day, Kuroru happened upon a red, glowing string. One end was on the ground, and the string extended into the sky, beyond the girl’s ability to see the other end. She imagined that there had to be another world like hers on the other end.

She worked up the courage, and began tugging on the string. Then, minutes later, vibrations returned through the string that stretched into the sky. It seemed as though she finally made contact with another person!

Over the course of days, Kuroru would tug at the string, and await a response, which would come shortly afterward in the form of movement of the string. At one point, she thought to play music on the string. As before, she got a response.

One day, Kuroru decided that she’d meet the person on the other end of the string. But to do that, she’d have to climb the string to the other end. This would not be easy, as she had trouble gripping the string with her bare hands. What’s more, she did not know the distance she would have to climb to traverse the space between planets.

This page was selected to be representative of the artistic style of From Star Strings. Consistent with Tsukushi’s usual style, we see a cute character set in exquisitely-drawn environments.

So, she started preparing. She practiced going hungry to accustom herself to going without food, and dipping in water to accustom herself to holding her breath. She made herself a pair of gloves to help her grip the string. She packed food for the trip, carefully determining what she could preserve. And she even prepared a gift for the person she expected to meet.

And then, Kuroru began her climb. At first, the climb was difficult. As she ascended, she eventually saw the tops of the clouds. Then, her own world became a bright, round and shrinking light beneath her. With gravity relaxing it’s pull, the girl was able to make greater distance with her strength.

As one of the story’s fantastic elements, the girl didn’t have a problem with breathing in space, and her temperature wasn’t an issue. But as her equipment began to wear, and there was no end in sight, the girl was in a great position to appreciate the enormity of the distance between planets.

If you’re familiar with other works by Akihito Tsukushi, you’re likely aware that he’ll sometimes use dark elements in his storytelling, to convey a sense of danger, and the possibility that things can go wrong for the protagonists. Such is the case in From Star Strings, where simply dozing off or losing her grip could send the protagonist drifting through the unfathomable abyss of space, never to be found by anybody.

But, in time, a sphere of light appeared in the distance, growing in size as the girl drew near! So she pulled herself towards it, and as the light expanded, she began to make out the landscape!

However, she did not arrive gracefully to the new world, as she lost her grip and plummeted a short distance to the new world, being injured upon impact. Surveying the new world, the girl’s heart sank. She did not see the kind of greenery she saw on her own world. The ground beneath her feet didn’t seem dependable, and shifted in places. And, worst of all, there didn’t seem to be anyone else around.

The girl arrived tired and hungry to a world that was inhospitable. No food or potable water awaited her. And there was no company. The vibrations that returned to the girl through the string were apparently generated by the girl herself, having returned to her after making its course across the string. It seemed like a terrible end to a fantastic journey.

But it was not over yet.

In time, Kuroru learned to live on her new world. She was able to procure “food” to eat. Curiously, the stones were edible to her. The girl was even able to make a shelter for herself somewhere in the shifting landscape. And she recovered from her injury, though it initially seemed fatal.

It was different from her old home. But she was alive. She found her own way to survive and form a routine of sorts in the marginal world. And she made a doll for herself, a sad attempt to cope with her loneliness and disappointment. Each time a doll was broken, she’d make a new one. Interestingly, she gave any doll she made the same name as herself, as this would make it easier to cope if anything were to happen to them.

But then, one day, she found it.

A string. Not the same red string that connected the world Kuroru remembered to the one she was on, but a blue string intertwined with a thinner blue string. It was previously inaccessible due to the shifting landscape.

She made a determination to climb the string, to make it to the hypothetical world on the other side. She did not hesitate to make this trip in the same way as she did for the first one. It took her less time to prepare herself.

What’s interesting is that, if Kuroru could have made another, similar trip, she could have returned to the world she had come from. On her previous planet, all her basic needs have been met. All of them, that is, except one. She was all alone, and while her old world was hospitable, there wasn’t anyone waiting for her there.

To the end of fulfilling her strongest desire, she was willing to climb a different string, not knowing what awaited her, on the chance that a person would be on the other end.

The last few panels suggest the kind of world that might have awaited Kuroru on the other end. However, the manga concluded before her journey ended. Did she make it to the other end? Was the world that we saw in the last panels the one she would have arrived on?

I don’t know. To take one from Tsukushi himself, let’s imagine.

From Star Strings was obviously intended as an allegory for those who pursued a path with hope, only to be disappointed. Yet, hope still does not completely disappear, because as we continue on, we may find another opportunity to go where we want to go, and for our wish to come true. The world can be harsh and unaccommodating, but we are not the world that we live in. And, in a sense, our world is something we can decide on for ourselves.

From Star Strings is recommended reading. And I give it a score of 8.5 out of 10.

You’re on a journey, aren’t you? But it’s not over, is it?

Review: Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness

Developer: Chime Corporation
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Genre: Action RPG
Rating: Mature
 Nintendo Switch, PS4, PC

There isn’t usually much expectation that a video game based on a manga or anime would hold up when compared to the original source material. But when considering how beloved Akihito Tsukushi’s Made In Abyss is, one can hold out hope that the developer and publisher would understand just how important it is to the fanbase to do justice with Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness.

While one may consider it a pleasant surprise when a game is released months ahead of schedule, if you’ve been following the game industry long enough to develop a little cynicism, you’d see it as a sign that the publisher decided to rush it, perhaps because funds were starting to run a little low. Or, as was likely the case with Binary Star, Spike Chunsoft wanted to rush the game to market while the recently-aired second season of the Made In Abyss anime is still fresh in the memories of viewers, and the game is in a better position to profit off the popularity of the license.

That’s not to say that Binary Star was a bad game. The skeleton of a highly ambitious project is there: great worldbuilding, an intriguing story, well-fleshed-out characters, and great potential for treasure-hunting mechanics. Of course, it’s easy to point out that these are owed to the source material, and that the follow-through would be in the efforts of the game developers. And that’s where things start to falter.

This game would be a blast if it weren’t for a few bad design choices that could have easily been decided against. The most notorious of which would be the repeatedly-spawning enemies. Normally, when a game character is placed in a sprawling, expansive environment, the player’s tendency is to take a minute or two to bask in the beauty of the scenery they are presented with. But don’t take too long doing that in Binary Star, because when you enter a new area, a timer ticks down, and when enough time passes, enemies start spawning. And they’ll usually teleport into existence right behind you, as though the game itself has a problem with you just wanting to chill.

If this sounds like it might be an annoyance to you, you might want to go for the Steam version. Some clever players have developed a mod which prevents enemies from spawning in such a way. Otherwise, you might end up getting triggered at the sight of ferrets.

I get the idea that the game makers had a hard time deciding whether to closely follow Riko’s adventure from the manga, or give players a new, customizable main character to go on his/her own adventure. To the credit of the game makers, they decided on including both. However, it’s obvious that the meat of the game is in the new main character’s campaign, while Riko’s story (which only includes her adventures up to the second layer) acts as a kind of tutorial that’s a few hours long.

Unfortunately, to get to the better part of the game, to complete the tutorial first is mandatory. And as far as tutorials go, it doesn’t really work that great. Riko and Reg are likely to annoy you as they repeat the same lines over and over again while traipsing about in the Abyss. It won’t take long for you to get used to the fact that Reg “senses something” when he and Riko are in no immediate danger.

This is one game that isn’t to be judged by the first few hours.

While I’m complaining, I can also point out that the “strains of ascending” are a huge inconvenience. I know that it’s a huge part of the worldbuilding in Made In Abyss, but from a game mechanics perspective, it’s likely to bust your groove when you want to, you know, go up.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the irony that some twisted jerk built a staircase in a place where the very act of ascending causes people to barf.

But as much as I can think of to complain about, I found myself enjoying Binary Star quite a lot, especially when I got to the point when I could play the main campaign. That was when I could finally create and name my own customizable character, and have him interact with the other characters in Made In Abyss. And the execution was compelling and addictive enough that I eventually developed a forbearance concerning the game’s shortcomings.

The story follows a child who joins Belchero orphanage alongside a group of other kids. At that point, it’s been months since Riko departed into the abyss in a quest to find her mother, and since then, the other children began to speak of her as a legend. You might have noticed a dark undertone in the reasoning for training orphans to mine in the abyss, as there’d be fewer people who would miss them in the event that an expedition turns tragic.

If you see tendrils bordering the screen, you might want to wait a few seconds to acclimate. If your character barfs, he/she can get hungry again in a hurry.

The action in the game takes place in the Abyss, where you’ll have to make careful judgements as to what dangers to brave and how far you’ll go, considering that at the end of an expedition, you’d have to make a return trip. As you journey, there are many things to account for, such as what supplies you brought, what healing items and food you brought, and the weight of the treasures you find, considering that there’s a limit to how much you can carry before your character is slowed.

In addition to the HP bar, you’ll also have a hunger bar, which decrements with time. Hunger is something to account for when making longer trips, as when the hunger bar is depleted, your character becomes helpless. There’s also an energy bar, which depletes when the character takes an action. However, it’ll completely restore when the character stands still for a few seconds, as long as the character is not starving. However, it doesn’t recover on its own when climbing a rock face, which places a limit on how much you can climb at a time.

It’s possible to cheese some of the more dangerous primeval creatures, if you’re patient.

There are also status conditions to watch for, such as two different kinds of poison. There are also arm injuries, which temporarily limits the actions you can take with your arms, and leg injuries, which temporarily decreases mobility. Special items heal these conditions in a hurry, which is great, because some of them can be a serious problem when a dangerous monster is upon you!

While the game isn’t heavy on delivering the tension, there’s still a sense that things can go horribly wrong, even from just a moment of poor judgement. Just slipping on a rock face can result in your character falling to their death. It seems that this game’s M rating is largely owed to how grisly some of the possible deaths are. In some cases, it seems a little gratuitous, but it’s not as though the Made In Abyss series was made for kids.

Evil ferrets.

Made In Abyss is one game where if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. While in Orth, you can plan for runs into the Abyss, with shops for replenishing your equipment, food, and medicine. There’s also a facility for selling off relics that you find for money. You also have access to your room, where there’s a chest where you can decide what to take with you. There are also many armor items, but many of the more effective ones add significantly to your weight allotment. It’s a judgement call as to whether it’s worthwhile to settle for a particular armor set, or upgrade for a set that might be worth the weight it adds to your gear.

It bears pointing out that your character doesn’t gain EXP directly from beating enemies, you mainly get those from selling relics and completing quests. Thus, it’s usually better to avoid dangerous primeval creatures unless you need their drops or you have some other reason for fighting them.

It’s generally better to pick a cap with a lamp, even if it’s not the highest-defense option.

As the story progresses, more main missions open up, the completion of which can lead to the player growing in rank, such as from Red Whistle to Blue Whistle. Growing in ranks grants access to more skills, which can then be unlocked with points that players accrue by leveling up. Some of these skills are quite significant, and can increase the number of items that can be crafted, and improve other skills, such as mobility when climbing or dodging, or even increase the bag’s weight capacity.

It’s a bit of an indulgence, but there is some enjoyment to be had in having your own customizable character interact with characters from Made In Abyss. You can even give your character heterochromia, if stereotypical OCs are more your thing. And like stereotypical OCs, you can proceed to have them befriend just about every established character in the series that appears in this game. Having said that, there are at least a couple established characters which, if I were to see them while walking down the street, I’d cross to the other side of the street.

There are a few boss characters, but with a few exceptions, they’re some pretty simple battles that can be cheesed. But this doesn’t bother me, as the boss battles aren’t really the main point of this game. Once you’ve completed all the boss battles and most of the game’s major objectives, you’ll come to a steep drop-off in reason to continue playing. Sure, you could continue to take on missions and develop White Whistle skills, but there isn’t much at that point to do with those skills.

While spawning enemies can be annoying, you can use them to your advantage. They can become a great source of food and other drops.

This is one game that can be pointed to as being highly ambitious, and having a lot of potential just from the source material, and while there are some redeeming qualities, the whole deal is held back by an apparent rush to an early release date, and some poor design choices that could have easily not been made.

I think an appropriate score for Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness would be 6.5 out of 10.

This might be one race to the bottom that you could get behind.

UPDATE: Literally, update. Among the changes in version 1.0.3, you can skip the Hello Abyss mode and go right into Deep In Abyss mode, which is where the meat of the game is. That’s great for players who might lose their patience with the initially-mandatory pseudo-tutorial mode.

But that’s not all, they also changed the system that spawned in minor enemies when you spend enough time in one area. Not by eliminating that mechanic entirely, as I might have preferred, but by making it take more time for the enemies to spawn in. I gave the game another try, and I noticed that it took much longer to get attacked by evil ferrets.

It seems the developers at Chime were aware of gamers’ biggest complaints, and they addressed them. That’s great for those who are still on the fence on whether to give Binary Star a try. But the update came weeks after I already completed all the game’s major objectives, so they wouldn’t make that much of a difference for me unless I decide I want to give this game another go.

Missing a better initial experience with a game that ends up getting an update is one of the ways that the game industry, in its current form, would punish a gamer who rushes through a new release like a freak.

Review: Pokémon Scarlet and Violet

Developer: GameFreak
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
Genre: Turn-based RPG
Rating: Everyone
 Nintendo Switch

I wanted to put off writing a review for this game. I was awaiting the hypothetical update that would take care of the performance issues. After all, once the problems were patched, any review that stated them as being the main problem would quickly grow obsolete. But the only notable update that came (aside from the day one patch) took care of a fun glitch that actually benefitted players. So, it looks like this game is going to continue to stand as being too ambitious for the dated Nvidia Tegra X1 chip. Either that, or the game devs were in a hurry to push something out for a strategic release date.

For most games, performance issues are enough to kill them. But oddly, in the case of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, that’s not the case. Somehow, the game manages to be so awesome that it overcomes the performance issues, which mainly have to do with dropped frames. Which would mainly be an issue for those who insist that their games be completely realistic, which is not much of an expectation when it comes to the Pokémon series.

Scarlet and Violet are GameFreak’s first attempt at an open-world experience for the Pokémon franchise. As one might expect, it doesn’t so much change open-world games as it does change the way Pokémon is played. Considering what we’ve been seeing out of Pokémon Legends: Arceus and Pokémon Sword/Shield, the series has been tending in that direction. Finally, the franchise has made a committed attempt at an open-world game, and it does not disappoint.

It’s a welcome change, as most Pokémon games up to this point have been strongly formulaic. Sure, some of the old tropes remain, such as that you still choose from three types for your starter, and there are still 8 gym badges to collect as part of a League challenge. However, the League challenge is only one of three main story routes, and the three culminate in a finale story, and in the case of the non-League stories, the writers really told some moving tales.

It starts out with the main character about to start his first day at an academy (the name of which varies on which version you’re playing). The academy director and a new rival direct you towards the academy, but there’s a diversion which involves the main character meeting a new legendary Pokémon, which serves as your ride Pokémon throughout the game. At the academy, you meet a bunch of new characters that will be relevant to you during the three branching stories.

Then, you’re set loose on the Paldea region, where you can take on any challenge that you want (aside from the central Great Crater, which remains off-limits until near the end). The region of Paldea is open to you, and you’re not compelled to go in any one direction. Any of the three main stories can be taken on in any order you wish, and you can put any of the three on hold at any time, either to further another storyline, or to run about and attempt to catch the Pokémon you set your sights on. Personally, I recommend prioritizing taking on the titans, since that path rewards you by increasing your mobility, enabling you to further appreciate your freedom to move about through the Paldea region.

As far as I know, the game doesn’t explicitly spell out a recommended order for its objectives. You can take on the gyms in any order you want, you can take on the Team Star bases in any order you want, and you can take on the titans in any order you want. Just be warned that the levels of most opponents don’t scale based on your progress level, so it’s possible to wander too far and end up overwhelmed by gym leaders you weren’t prepared for. But this also allows for players to, in a sense, set their own difficulties by pushing themselves as far as they care to at the game’s outset.

The core Pokémon games are, at their hearts, turn-based RPGs. Thankfully, this core aspect remains intact in the series’ conversion to an open-world experience. The overworld switches seamlessly to battle scenes by showing the battles as taking place in the overworld environment, in a manner reminiscent to Pokémon Legends: Arceus. However, Scarlet and Violet differ from Legends in that wild Pokémon battles are 1v1 affairs, with other wild Pokémon in the area looking on as spectators, which is a nice touch!

A new and welcome feature is the Let’s Go mechanic, where you can send your own lead Pokémon into the overworld, and it’ll passively seek out wild Pokémon to battle, and defeat them. It’s a relatively fast way to level up your own Pokémon, putting aside that EXP points are decreased when you battle with this method. But considering that you wouldn’t be constantly switching between overworld mode and the battle scene constantly, this may still be a fast way to level up your team. Also, your Let’s Go Pokémon won’t beat up shiny Pokémon with this method. Shiny hunters, rejoice! Just be warned that this style of battling doesn’t trigger evolution, so you might want to level up the old-fashioned way at some point to trigger evolution to occur.

As fans have come to expect with each new generation of Pokémon since X and Y, Scarlet and Violet introduce a new game mechanic that makes battles in Scarlet and Violet distinct, as compared to battles in other games in the franchise: Terrastilization. It’s an act which causes Pokémon to take on a crystalline appearance. The Pokémon will change its type mid-battle, and its moves gain a boost in power, depending on the type it takes on. It’s a neat little gimmick that adds spectacle to in-game battles, and is certainly something to account for for competitive players participating in competitions that allow for it.

Aside from competitive battles, much of Scarlet and Violet’s post-game content seems to hinge on Tera Raid battles. You can find some easier ones during the main playthrough, but you’ll eventually have access to five-star raids, which pose a serious challenge to players who intend to solo them. Afterwards, players can access six-star raids, which are a lot more challenging than the raid dens in Sword/Shield. In many cases, it’ll take a team of players with specific Pokémon and specific builds to be more likely to win.

The soundtrack, by the way, is the best in the series. No question. Whether it’s the upbeat gym leader tune which is almost as good as the gym leader tune in Sword/Shield, the atmospheric environmental tunes that switches to an alternate track when mounting the ride Pokémon, the recurring leitmotif, and the bangin’ battle themes that play during a few key battles, it’s various degrees of excellent. Toby Fox’s presence may be controversial, but it’s plain that he’s a positive asset, and Pokémon’s music direction benefits huge from his input.

The game isn’t without flaws, but those mainly come down to performance issues, which make it evident that the game was rushed. Yet, this is one case where the good greatly overtakes the bad, to the point that the issues with performance are actually easy to overlook, even if they do sometimes take one out of the experience.

I suppose another complaint that one can think of is that there isn’t much of a postgame for those who aren’t terribly interested in Tera Raid battles. Because, those aside, there aren’t many post-game battles that are much of a challenge. That’s a problem that might be resolved through a future DLC package, which would be great for those who are patient and willing to spend more.

But as for the game as it is, I feel like I definitely got my money’s worth. If it weren’t for the technical issues, it wouldn’t seem out of place in the running for distinctions such as Game of the Year.

But as they are right now, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are deserving of high recommendations, and a score of 9.5 out of 10.

But if you’re a fan of the Pokémon series, you probably already bought it. Great choice.

Webcomic Review: Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi

Warning: The reviewed webcomic is disturbing.

When you hear of a mashup webcomic with licensed characters, you might expect a fan-work produced by someone too young to have a web presence. You might not expect a professional artist in his forties who outsources his writing and coloring. The internet has all kinds.

Rather than leave the Powerpuff Girls to Cartoon Network’s slow process of seasonal rot, artist Bleedman (Vinson Ngo) has made them the main characters in a mashup webcomic featuring others CN IPs such as Dexter and Samurai Jack in the setting of a town called Megaville. Bleedman inserts some of his own OCs as well, and if you aren’t familiar with the many CN characters depicted, you might have a hard time telling which is which.

One pleasant surprise that is noticed right away is that the art is actually mostly quality. Noteworthy is that some of the characters, such as Dexter and the girls themselves, were stylized to make them conflict less with the style of the comic. This means that the characters were effectively redesigned, so some amount of creative work was involved in what is otherwise an appropriation of characters not Vinson’s own. Yet, this contributes all the more to a strange suspicion that the artist could probably benefit from directing more of his talents elsewhere.

Compelling internal monologues, revealing the motivations of highly-developed and complex characters.

Considering that Bleedman is competent at designing characters, it’s kinda wasted potential that he didn’t go all the way by developing a cast of his own original characters to tell a story of his own, and in so doing allowing himself the possibility of going professional with this comic by not tying it firmly to intellectual properties that he doesn’t have rights to. I hear he has other comics, but still, he put a disproportionate amount of effort into what is basically a mashup. To what end? I dunno, maybe the ad revenue from his page has been kind to him.

But when we get into the story itself, it starts to become apparent why the comic benefits so well from the familiarity of its characters. The story isn’t that great.

The comic sees the Powerpuff Girls, slightly older, attending a new school. It’s there that they meet other CN characters, such as Dexter, whom Blossom has a budding relationship with (whatever dude, it’s your fantasy). They end up in a revenge-driven conflict with Mandark who’s still obsessed with Deedee whom he had accidentally slain. It actually got pretty dark at times, but the comic would later tone it down. Still, the emotional ante is brought up by the fact that these characters could be killed off, regardless of anyone’s fond memories of them in their respective shows. Kinda messed-up.

After the Mandark story arc concludes, the comic starts to grow dull, and with panel after panel laboring to describe Blossom’s emotional state in light of Dexter’s guilt, it takes a while for the momentum to build up again.

There is a jump-the-shark moment, and that happens when a character is spared being killed off because the grim reaper (yes, it’s Grim) decides not to take her, so a fatal wound is reversed. While a compelling explanation for this decision could play out in a future page, when you know that the heroes have an angel, a grim reaper, and the servant of a celestial dragon working to prevent the heroes from dying, it tends to eliminate much of the tension.

The best armor in all of fictional media is plot armor.

At times, it seems like it’s all Bleedman could do to ensure that the CN assets stay in character, which occurs to various degrees of success. At least with the PPG, he largely gets it, with the exception of Blossom. Considering that she had a leadership role in the original show, her relative lack of confidence makes her seem much less like the same character. While a similar complaint can be made about other (borrowed) characters, it stands out more when it’s what’s arguably the main character.

Another problem with this comic is the psyche-out pages, which are gag pages that make it appear that the story is taking a bizarre direction, but the next page makes it clear that they weren’t really a part of the story. I get the idea that Bleedman is the kind of guy who can drop some disturbing news with a straight face, then say that he’s only kidding. There are also special pages for holidays, which adds little to the comic. They can pretty-much be skipped.

I get the idea that PPGD can be better appreciated in the frame of mind that one would have when they discover anime and manga for the first time, when one might observe that “they’re like those other cartoons, but edgier!” The point is driven home by the fact that “doujinshi” is in the title, but how many people outside of Japan even know what a “doujinshi” is?

If you’re sincere in your belief that blood, angst, fatalities, and pantyshots make for a more entertaining comic, here you go. But much of that was toned down after the Mandark arc, after which other aspects of the comic got dull. Maybe Bleedman’s mom discovered these comics, so he decided to tone them down.

Now for the score. Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi gets a score of 6 out of 10.

The art quality plays a huge part in that score. There are problems with this comic, but the redeeming qualities are there. But personally, I suspect that the artist’s efforts would be better spent on something he has a chance of going professional with.

Webcomic Review: Momlife Comics

At first, I wasn’t going to comment on these. One-panel comics aren’t usually worth talking about, and these seemed little more than the meanderings of a woman who is bitter about one thing or another. Then these comics blew up, so I was like, “fine, I’ll acknowledge their existence and write up a review.”

For the setting, try to imagine a curious land in which most people don’t have to grow their own food, but meals are already fully prepared and delivered to peoples homes. Not only is rape illegal, there are no roving rape gangs on the prowl in rusty pickup trucks. What’s more, the homes are crisp and cool inside in the summer, and when there’s snow on the ground in the winter, the homes are warm inside, and glowing display screens deliver limitless free entertainment on demand.

But, there’s a catch: human nature remains mostly the same. The human adaptation to conflict that has been cultivated over the course of aeons still remains. Therefore, the people started questioning their idyllic peace and halcyon luxury. Then, grumblings came, acknowledging first world problems as though a prize awaited the cynics: “My coffee is too hot”, “thirty seconds is too long for an initial boot up”, “my delivery was delayed until tomorrow”.

At the center of this maelstrom of abject ingratitude is one housewife and her adversarial relationship with her husband. That’s right, we’re reviewing Momlife Comics.

Momlife Comics was written by Mary Catherine Starr, who gives us the first hint of her politics by listing her pronouns in her bio. Because her pronouns apparently weren’t already evident from the fact that she’s a mom. She also made a BLM statement, so you know that she’s not racist.

Wow, how stunning and brave, considering the current political zeitgeist!

Mary’s IRL husband is aware of the comics, and is okay with them, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he did a Jack Murphy and wrote up an article touting the benefits of cuckolding.

Let’s start this review off with the most famous cartoon in the series so far:

Both are valid uses of the peach, and the one who gets to it first decides what happens to it. But notice that the build-up is the woman thinking about someone other than herself. How dare that man want to eat something that he paid for, from a table he paid for, in a house he also paid for!

Wow! Look how much more work that woman is doing! Patriarchy and such mushuggunah!

The missing context: the woman took all the bags, leaving the man to bring back just one. Was she aware that she could take multiple trips to the car? She’s likely to smoosh something if she tries carrying in that much at once.

Pattern established: Woman imagines some rule, but doesn’t tell man about it. Woman then gets angry at man for breaking the rule he didn’t know about.

Another pattern established: Woman gathers everything to herself, leaving nothing for the man to do. Woman then complains that she does everything.

Mary also does comics where she reverses the gender roles, which is supposed to be clever because she leaves us to determine the irony without beating us over the head with the obviousness of the point that she’s trying to make.

Get it? Because men are generally more career-focused, and women tend to be more family focused? Though it’s hard to say definitively whether Mary intended to throw shade on the fact that men and women are different, and that because of these differences they tend towards different life choices. It might be that she’d prefer a world where they made similar choices, even if that meant less excuse to hear the sound of her own voice, complaining.

I wouldn’t put it past her to complain about the rain as though she’s blaming someone for it.

Mary is such a victim in her own mind that she even sees herself at fault for bringing her own children fast food. Or are her children the only ones in the universe who would complain about fast food? Sure, it’s garbage, but kids don’t know that.

It was my intention to review this webcomic, but I instead feel tempted to psychoanalyze the author, as her comics have given a window into the soul of a troubled woman. It’s obvious that from an impressionable age, someone was able to sell her a victimhood narrative, and this resonated with her life in the hard streets of sheltered suburbia.

Since her webcomic got noticed, she produced this comic in an answer to the trolls:

Along with a notice that she’ll block trolls. Which is a mistake, because it’s a reaction that trolls look for, and they’ll take any that is any indication that they’re getting to someone. And the above comic accomplishes this masterfully.

As far as art quality goes, Mary is evidently of the opinion that if you only do one thing right, you’ve got a comic. In Mary’s case, that one thing is body proportions. Aside from that, everything is wrong. The thick, inconsistent line art, the lack of facial features, everything is just wrong. Maybe Mary can draw better than a toddler. But bring elementary school students into it, and she’s out of her league.

Okay then, let’s grade this pile. Momlife Comics gets a score of 2.6 out of 10.

Gentlemen, I know that the dating game is flawed. But tread carefully. Getting hitched to the wrong woman can be quite taxing.

One of the classic signs of an abusive relationship is joking at the expense of one’s spouse in public. These comics give ample cause for concern.

Review: Girls’ Last Tour

Genre: Slice-of-life, science fiction
Studio: White Fox
Original Author: Tsukumizu
Status: 12 episodes as of 2017
Platform: Amazon Prime

Sometimes, it comes out of nowhere: an anime that you’ve never heard of catches your attention. You give it a watch, and it surprises you because what you just saw was effectful for how understated it was, and for how little attention it gets. And it’s thoughtful enough that one can ponder its themes days after watching the finale.

Girls’ Last Tour (GLT) features Chito and Yuuri, a couple girls journeying through a desolate futuristic cityscape aboard a kettenkrad (a small, WWII-era utility vehicle). As they journey, they converse with each other, make discoveries, and learn more about their world through these discoveries.

Here’s the official trailer:

While one might imagine a post-apocalyptic setting to be grim, dark, and edgy, GLT is lighthearted in tone. While the girls do sometimes make difficult choices concerning their own survival, the survival aspect is eclipsed by the philosophical undertones.

The Girls’ Last Tour anime is based on the manga of the same name, authored by Tsukumizu. Those already familiar with the manga will see that the anime follows the manga closely. But while the manga has a messy but emotive look (comparable to Ueda Hajime of FLCL fame), the art in the anime has a more basic, clear look. In either case, it’s clear that both manga and anime are made with a whole lot of heart.

As is typically the case for slice-of-life programs, there is a particularly strong emphasis on the personalities and interactions between the characters. In GLT, the stakes are a lot higher due to the fact that there are only two main characters.

The main characters are Chito, a diminutive and reserved character who is often quite meditative, and Yuuri, an impulsive, free-spirited person who wears her heart on her sleeve. The two are nothing alike, resulting in the two frequently expressing difference of opinion as they find themselves in different scenarios. Which is one of the joys of this show.

The differences between the two characters makes their positive attributes more evident. Chito is a bookworm, but Yuuri doesn’t know how to read, so she’s slow to see the value of books, or keeping a journal. Yuuri is more physically inclined, being a better aim and being better at swimming. Neither one of the two can do everything on their own, a point that their experiences prove well.

The two sometimes beat each other up.

Perhaps I’m imagining it, but it seems to me as though GLT does more to portray Chito in a sympathetic light. Which is perhaps to be expected concerning an introspective character in a light-hearted, philosophical slice-of-life anime. But there are times when Yuuri’s relatively care-free approach wins out, and makes Chito’s concerns seem perhaps unnecessary. One of the two is more prone to worry, and while the case can be made for that being beneficial for one’s survival, sometimes the case can be made for worrying very little.

Over the course of their journey, the girls find joy in the little things: food that they find, fuel to top off the kettenkrad, enough water to bathe in, and sometimes the odd artifact. In rare cases, they might even find another human being. And there is a lot to find in the huge, multi-level city that is GLT’s setting.

Sometimes? Often.

As one watches GLT, they may take an interest in the show’s lore. What is the girl’s mission, if they have one? Where did they come from? What is their destination? How did the city get to be in the condition it’s in? How far ahead in the future is the setting?

The show doesn’t do much to answer these questions, aside from the occasional clue. But it seems as though answering these questions isn’t the point. For all the worldbuilding that’s there, it serves the purpose of providing the characters with a setting. Having established the setting, the focus of GLT is the interactions between the protagonists. And Chito and Yuuri are two characters that reflect off of each other so well that to dedicate an episode just to expanding lore would seem like a distraction.

No one will card you after the world ends.

And when we get into the brain-fuel that GLT provides, I almost don’t care how the world ended. Besides, there are many, many anime out there that’ll happily tell you the many creative ways that the world could end. And personally, I think there’s more new ground to be covered when the purpose of life is pondered by two girls who can easily find joy in what they find, rather than be miserable that they don’t have what someone else has.

Having watched the first season, I wondered whether there would be more. The 12 episodes we have now account for most of the manga’s story. However, the few chapters that are left would only fill a few episodes. Thus, a second season seems unlikely to happen unless it involves a lot of filler. And it’s been a few years since season one concluded. Thus, it’s unlikely that Girls’ Last Tour will be picked up for a second season.

Thus, if you’re interested in how the story concludes, the fifth volume of the manga picks up where the anime leaves off, while volume six closes out the series.

Girls’ Last Tour season one gets a score of 8.5 out of 10.

Girls’ Last Tour is a lovingly-crafted, intelligent show. I recommend giving it a watch. Then, go out there and live the best life you can live.

Webcomic Review: The Adventures of Lil’ Chad

With all the bullshit that we’ve been hearing out of the likes of Disney, I’m for making alternative outlets of entertainment. But there is a challenge faced by those willing to make wholesome entertainment, and that’s making something that anyone is going to give a care about.

If something goes too far in being wholesome and family-friendly, they risk losing the interest of the intended younger viewers. It’s no secret that much of the entertainment that children consume today has a bit of an edge to it. This especially holds true as children discover anime. Even anime geared towards children, such as Yu-Gi-Oh, can have a dark element. It’s not counterproductive when you consider the fact that the world is a dark and dangerous place, a fact that the fairy tales of old did well to prepare children for.

Considering how saccharine The Adventures of Lil’ Chad is, it’s easy to see that it’s not going to do well in holding the interest of children. If given the choice between reading this webcomic and going outside, they’d take their magnifying glass with them and go fry some ants.

This webcomic is boring.

The Adventures of Lil’ Chad stars a little boy named Chad (of course) as he interacts with various characters in his family and neighborhood, and learns about the world around him. Which makes it sound like Yotsubato, except Lil’ Chad would be the empty, hollow, desiccated husk left over if Yotsubato had all entertainment value sucked out of it.

This comic’s right-wing politics become apparent in the very first installment:

That woman in the boots with the blue hair and with the “resistance fist” is the source of much of this comic’s conflict. She’s Chad’s aunt, and she just moved in because Chad’s parents help family out. She’s a left-wing feminist, whose preferred pronouns are “they/them”. And her name is Karen.

I hope you’re not making a drinking game out of this.

Chad’s Mom is Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Okay, not really. But tell me whether you see the resemblance:

Her personality is that she has none. That’s why her bio is about other characters:

Not that she’s at all alone, as none of the other characters have personality either. She’s just notable for having a deeper personality deficit than the rest.

Then there’s Chad’s Dad, Chad Sr.. Check out this beast of a man:

No, that is not Johnny Bravo. This comic wants you to believe that Chad Sr. got that way by lifting and consuming plenty of protein. I call bullshit. There is a limit to how far a person can get as a natty lifter.

Other characters include the male feminist Todd Soyer (yes, “soy” is in his name), Chad’s friend Ray and his father Curtis (both black, because this webcomic is not racist), and Chrissie, a 10-year-old girl who dresses like a trad wife.

Did a substitute teacher get chibified? Nope, that’s supposed to pass for a 10-year-old.

Look, we’ve got to talk about the panel layout. Here’s a full comic, presented in entirety:

The 4-panel comic layout has been criticized by popular cartoonists such as Bill Watterson for being restrictive, while some more optimistically view it as a challenge to work within. But I think we all know that most daily cartoonists aspire to see their cartoons become greeting-card sellers in the same sense as Maxine (who is funny), or Garfield (who is not). And they’re willing to cope with the limitations if that’s what it takes to turn their cartoons into goldmines of merchandise.

Webcomic artists are under no pressure from newspaper syndication to use a particular format. Meaning, these artists are free to use the boundless potential of webcomics with any panel layout of their choosing, or, as is sometimes the case, to abandon panels in favor of sequential drawings (such as Classes).

So, why? Why would a webcomic writer and artist agree together to accept a format that is universally seen as restrictive? Could it be that the writer and artist pair actually aspire to be under the thumb of newspaper syndication?

Speaking of, the writer had this to say about the process of producing The Adventures of Lil’ Chad in his blog:

I have never had more sympathy for George Lucas in my life before I actually had to revise and approve my creation for public consumption.

I was honestly taken aback by the sheer audacity it took for the author to make this statement. For all the problems that Star Wars has, it’s still a feat of worldbuilding, storytelling, and character development, and to top it all off, the production values are state-of-the-art. The Adventures of Lil’ Chad is dull and half-hearted, every step of the way, and can in no way be compared to the rich, chocolatey escapism dreamed up by George Lucas. I do not buy that the same kind of effort was put into this webcomic.

But maybe you can if you can look at this and call it “quality art”:

There’s no shading. Most of what’s geometric is viewed head-on, I suppose because drawing anything besides a right-angle is hard. I know that the rules of anatomy and proportion can be relaxed by saying that you’re going for something stylistic. But the colors are so garish that I suspect that this comic would be better if it were greyscaled.

Because I was curious, I opened the above panel with, then went to Effects > Color > Quantize, then turned the color all the way down. This was the result:

Sure, it still looks like crap. But it has a certain charm, like a cheap-o cartoon in a print college newspaper. And it’s much easier on the eyes.

Oh, and if you’re up for lulz, disgraced internet celebrity Jack Murphy actually makes a couple cameos. Which makes me suspicious that the author might be a member of Jack’s cult, The Liminal Order.

The above panel gains a new dimension in light of Jack’s cuckolding controversy.

Most of the comics follow the formula to either building up to a right-wing zinger or to a heartwarming moment. None of which I actually found funny, except the second issue, and none of them seemed more insightful than issue 14, which pointed out that steak is a whole food.

As a bit of an aside, I can point out that Chad’s family seems to have something against carbs. As in, they don’t have any, except on rare occasions. What I’m getting at is, don’t take dietary advice from comics.

As the token left-winger, Karen is the frequent butt of the jokes, assuming that Todd isn’t having aspects of his masculinity questioned. But there’s an actual point of character development after Todd is shrugged off by Karen, but rather than call her the next day, Todd takes a level in badass and benefited pretty hard from newbie gains.

Though it could be argued that he had more of a personality before, as the author seems to think that developing in character means becoming more like Chad Sr., Curtis, or Jack Murphy (pick one, all three are nearly identical).

There are also a few holiday specials. If the comic artist aspires to turn syndicated and eventually get their shit printed on overpriced greeting cards, it’s to be expected.

At the point where I left off, Karen leveraged her position as teacher to get an appearance on Chrissie’s live podcast.

Which is creepy on it’s own, but gets even creepier considering that the podcast studio appears to be in Chrissie’s home. Of course, Chrissie’s show would run afoul of the COPPA by reason of the fact that she’s 10 years old. Chrissie’s parents need a talking-to for allowing their elementary-school-age daughter to have such an online presence, assuming they’re the ones who bought her all that expensive shit pictured above.

But you know what? Maybe I’m overanalyzing things, again. Maybe it’s just a shit webcomic, and it’s another comic where the suspension of disbelief favors children being precocious, as was the case with Assigned Male, and other webcomics whose authors have long since forgotten what it’s like to be a child.

For those of you who decided to skip ahead to the score rather than read my review, here’s an arbitrary number that describes how I feel about this comic:

2 out of 10

This is one of those instances where a duo of artist and writer is involved in the production of the webcomic. Between the two, I think the art has the highest potential for improvement. After all, art is something that usually improves well beyond the kind of thing we see here, with a little practice. Improving shading, giving more attention to anatomy, proportions, and backgrounds, can each go a long way. From what I’ve seen so far, the potential is there.

But as for the writing, it’s just stupid. People usually grow up consuming entertainment media, and usually as a result they develop an idea of what makes a decent story and what makes characters interesting. If a person doesn’t learn these lessons after two decades of consuming media, it’s hard to tell just how much more it would take.

Review: Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman

Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Genre: SRPG, Dungeon Crawler
Rating: Teen
PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Switch (bundle), Steam

(Spoiler-free review)

Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) has just dropped another one of their classics, this time a dungeon-crawler that made its debut on PSP: Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman (ZHP).

The original release on PSP didn’t get the attention that it deserved, which had to do with the fact that it didn’t get a lot of marketing behind it. That and that NIS was still a relatively-obscure game company. There’s also that SRPGs aren’t very popular outside of Japan. Also, it was originally released within days of a major sports game. And there’s the fact that the American localizer, NISA, only shipped one copy to each retailer.

The original release had a lot to go up against. However, the game itself has a lot of heart, and it’s now available on multiple platforms. By the looks of it, what NIS was thinking for this game was “straight port”. Which is fine, as the original game holds up well since its original release. But those who prefer crisp graphics in their anime-style games might by taken out of the action by the aliasing.

ZHP begins with a hero, the Absolute Victory Unlosing Ranger, on the way to save the Super Baby from Darkdeath Evilman, to save the world in so doing.

Except, the Unlosing Ranger gets struck by a car on the way to the final battle, and dies. But in his final act, he hands his morphing belt to a random passerby, passing on the torch of the Unlosing Ranger to someone who will fight on his behalf!

But to the shock and dismay of the onlooking world, the new Unlosing Ranger loses the battle, and is ejected far away! When he comes to, he finds himself in a strange world, where a girl begins coaching him for a rematch!

Over the course of the game, the main character (whom you can name) makes repeated attempts at the final boss, but as he repeatedly fails, he takes on progressively more difficult dungeons to train. As he does so, he ends up solving problems for people on earth, as the bizarro earth that he finds himself on is connected to his own earth.

Many of the game’s so-called “final battles” are actually mostly scripted. The main action in ZHP takes place in the stages, which function as dungeons would in classic dungeon crawler RPGs, with each dungeon having their own bosses.

When the main character leaves a dungeon for any reason (win or lose), he reverts back to level one. Which may seem like lost progress, but as this occurs, he gains stored levels, which increases his stats when he’s at level one. As he levels up in dungeons, his stat increases are based on his level one stats, so the game encourages the player to become “king of level one”. For this and other reasons, a failed dungeon run isn’t always a total loss, and the game encourages stuck players to keep trying, even if things don’t seem so well for the poor main character.

Be warned, as this is one of those dungeon crawlers that features the concept of “perma-death”, where your game saves as you enter dungeons, so if you turn the game off because your current run isn’t going well, you lose equipment that you brought with you! What’s more, if a dungeon run ends in failure, you lose what you find! There’s a facility that can be obtained and upgraded that can reduce the penalties, however.

It’s because of this that I find it hard to recommend the PSP version. At one point, I got discouraged from continuing when the battery cut out for a brief instant, which was enough to cost me some powerful equipment. Now that this game is available on some more dependable hardware, I think it may be worth giving another shot!

Speaking of, the Steam version might be the better of the versions available, by reason of the fact that you can buy it as a standalone game. The Switch version is available as part of a pricey bundle. It’s a sweet deal if you’re interested in the classic RPG Makai Kingdom. But if you’re not, then you’re probably better off going with the Steam version.

Like many other NIS games, you’re capable of getting your character to level 9999, with stats in the millions! But because the boost lasts until you clear a dungeon, you’d mainly want to go for it if the dungeon would otherwise give you trouble.

While there is only one playable character, there are many, many customization options that make that one character seem like plenty. For one thing, there are numerous equips that change the hero’s appearance and grant him new abilities. There are also unlockable costumes which can effect his resistances. There’s even a body modification facility, which plays a huge role in stat optimization.

In dungeons, you progress floor-by-floor by finding the stairs on each floor, which leads to the next floor. You’ll find pick-ups about, but there are also enemies to watch out for. Shocker, right? When you engage them, you can go blow-for-blow against them, or use special attacks.

This sounds like simple fare, but there are things to watch out for. For one thing, the main character steadily expends energy, which occurs at an increased rate depending on his actions. Items can replenish this energy, and it’s not a bad idea to take such items with you into dungeons, because you cannot count on reliably finding more, due to how the dungeon floors are randomized. Also, equipped items can wear out with use, with wear represented as a percentage on the HUD. Their effectiveness can decline as they wear down, but there is a facility that can repair them. One valuable item is headwear that passively conserves energy.

At this point, you probably got the idea that this game is for the nerds. That sounds about right.

Another of the game’s highlights is the story, which is packed with humor. It can also get a bit preachy at times, in a way that it “hits different”, and may even hit a bit close to home for some players. I could say more about it, but spoilers. I’ll point out that much of the humor and dramatic elements are at the main character’s expense. The guy fights an uphill battle to get some respect.

For the NIS fans out there, yes, Asagi Asagiri is in this game. But that’s not much of a surprise, now is it? If you get the Switch bundle, you can also see Asagi’s NIS debut in Makai Kingdom, so you can see just how hard the poor girl fell from her starting point. By the point ZHP was originally released, she wasn’t taking things very well.

My opinion is that if you’re into JRPGs, SRPGs, or are just into Disgaea, ZHP is worth giving a chance. It’s definitely one of the finer RPGs from NIS’s catalog of classics.

For those who like skipping ahead to the score, here you go: Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger Vs. Darkdeath Evilman gets a score of 8 out of 10.

There are multiple endings that can be accessed by playing through the game at least once. Replaying through story stages many times doesn’t appeal to me, so I didn’t much bother with that. However, there is a lot of content outside the main story, and there are extra dungeons for players who might appreciate a challenge. This adds replay value to this game, and does a lot to make it worth the price of admission.

That’s the great thing about this style of game for those who would find it interesting: they’re usually packed with value. And ZHP certainly is.

Review: Made In Abyss (Volume 10)

Author: Akihito Tsukushi
Status: Ongoing
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Horror
Localization: Seven Seas Entertainment
Rating: Older Teen
Available to read online on BookWalker, fees may apply.

(This review contains commentary, and therefore contains spoilers. You’ve been warned.)

Volume 10 of the translated version of Made In Abyss has dropped, as of last week. For those who have been waiting to read this installment of Akihito Tsukushi’s opus in the English language, here you go. This installment picks up where the last one left off, wherein Reg and Faputa were fighting over the fate of the village of Ilblu, but things weren’t looking great for Reg. And with no more line of defense for the village, Faputa became free to engage in unmitigated mayhem.

If you’re new to Made In Abyss, you might expect a light-hearted romp from these cute, endearing characters.

But anyone who expects anything as light-hearted from Made In Abyss hasn’t been following along. While the rest of the series used imaginative concepts for its horror elements, Volume 10 is notable for its heavy gore. At times, I even found it hard to look at. But hey, I’ll still take it over the cheap jump-scares of American horror films.

Tsukushi is great with expansive, beautiful landscapes. However, those take an aside this time around, as much of the action takes place within the crumbling walls of the village of Ilblu. I found myself appreciating the use of perspective when communicating the enormity of the Turbinid Dragons, which tower over the protagonists like skyscrapers.

Much of this volume centers around the strangely-endearing character of Faputa, who initially engages in her genocidal rampage with a singular focus. However, when Belaf imparts his memories to her, she begins to change. But rather than cease from the aforementioned rampage, she becomes less motivated by hatred and more by duty. But even then, she develops the desire to seek her own value and live for herself.

It’s great to see Nanachi back in the action, but it’s mainly Belaf who intervenes between the two of them, and the bunny doesn’t seem to contribute much. Which lends to the fan theory that Ilblu was originally intended to be Nanachi’s point of departure, but Tsukushi changed his mind when he saw how popular the character became.

But then, Ilblu ends up destroyed, so where would he have ended up? It might be interesting to see what role Nanachi plays in future chapters.

But there’s another problem, and that’s that what was created in the village cannot survive outside it. And with the village being destroyed, Riko’s new friends are about to say goodbye. What’s more, the village’s ability to protect from the strains of ascension are dissipating, and we get to see a particularly grotesque transformation as a result.

When all is said and done, Reg extends the offer for Faputa to join the party. While many fans would crane their necks to hear the answer (especially if it’s “yes”), Faputa instead leaves us in suspense as she decides that she’ll consider it, before wandering off on her own.

Sure, she just engaged in mass-murder, but she’s so adorable, right?

So, what’s my opinion? Is Made In Abyss Volume 10 worth 1000yen (about $8) on BookWalker?

(This image was censored for this review. This scene was not censored in the English publication.)

I give Made In Abyss Volume 10 a score of 9 out of 10.

If you’ve enjoyed the series up until now, Volume 10 is a safe purchase. And I think series loyalists would appreciate the conclusion of the Ilblu arc. What’s more, the excellent artwork and storytelling of Akihito Tsukushi are also there. It’s a welcome addition to a fantastic series, and I’m not disappointed with it, at all.


Review: Pokémon Legends: Arceus

On the timeline that we are currently on, GameFreak outsourced development on a Pokémon game to another developer, and then released a different Pokémon project just months later, in the cold of winter. And what’s more, this new Pokémon project blows everything that they have ever done clear out of the water.

No one expected this. This is the franchise that’s almost as famous as Madden for playing it safe. Since it’s inception, the Pokémon franchise has stuck to typical formulae for their releases, which have come to the point of being yearly installments where the most recent would be considered the definitive edition, and remaining current on the franchise required purchasing a new installment every year.

As Pokémon Legends: Arceus shows, GameFreak is willing to give a fresh take on a franchise that’s been regarded as among the most conservative. In fact, so much has apparently been poured into this one, that it’s more than a willingness, it’s a passionate desire.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus (hereafter Legends) takes place in Hisui, which is the Pokémon world’s region of Sinnoh as it would have been in centuries past (Sinnoh being inspired by the real-life location of Hokkaido). In this period of time, the people of Hisui are relatively few in number, and largely view the Pokémon creatures themselves as dangerous, and with some amount of suspicion. But then the main character comes along, and joins the Galaxy Team, a group of outliers that capture Pokémon and study them in their habitats.

As for how the main character got there, that could probably be called a spoiler, even though it happens at the game’s outset. However, it carries potentially huge implications for the Pokémon franchise’s branching timelines. In fact, the Pokémon community is already buzzing with speculation as to the impact that events in Legends would have in the continuity of Pokémon’s multiverse. So no, it’s not just some banal story about a kid from a small town collecting badges from gyms.

In Legends, the main character sets out on expeditions, where he (or she) catalogs data on a proto-Pokédex for Galaxy team. As you control him, he wanders freely about in one of the game’s immense open areas. I admit that I was a little concerned about this, as Pokémon Sword and Shield’s wild areas seemed like they’d be sprawling in early materials, but turned out somewhat small in the final game. Legends’ many areas may not be interconnected in the same way as in Breath of the Wild, but Legends’ wild areas are so huge in size that you’ll hardly feel confined. Not quite BotW, but the feel is almost the same. Better still, the Pokemon characters and other interactables such as trees and pick-ups are drawn from a considerable distance, which is another huge improvement over Sword and Shield.

Legends may not be the hyper-edgy game that some fans might be making it out to be, but it does have a bit of edge to it. Noticeably, there’s a connotation of danger from the Pokémon themselves. Pokémon can actually attack the main character, and if he takes too much damage at a time, he’ll be rescued, but lose a few items in his inventory. Players can capture Pokémon by throwing Pokéballs at them, though if they notice you first, that might not work. Even then, it’s still an option to send out a Pokémon, and battle the wild Pokémon one-on-one.

Except, it’s not always one-on-one. If there are other Pokémon nearby that notice you, they might join in and gang up on you. Interestingly, during battles, you can use the left control stick to reposition your character. Considering that it’s possible to take damage from being in an attack’s area of effect, it’s not a bad idea to stay out of the way. Adding to this is that the battle takes place on-location, rather than in some generic battle environment.

Over the course of your adventure, you’ll come across some Alpha Pokémon which, if you were to attempt to battle them, might give you a hard time. But if you can catch one, it might be a great asset, as they tend to come at a high level, with high stats and great moves. But, they might not obey until you progress in a certain way. My first one was a Golduck, but it disobeyed orders when I tried using it in battle.

Certain Pokémon are encountered as part of the story as “Lords”, which act as boss battles in this game. The battles with them involves avoiding their attacks while attempting to calm them with satchels, but only infrequently do you have the opportunity to use your own Pokémon during the battle. Other Pokémon still are the kind that you befriend, and they increase your mobility when called upon, which is handled in a way that is super-convenient. These can help you do things like cross water and climb cliffs.

One of the best mechanics that I’ve seen involves crafting your own items, which you get the capacity to do on-the-go early on. In most Pokémon games, stocking up involved buying lots of items at PokéMarts, which still remains in a certain way in Legends. However, you can obtain recipes so you can craft items like Potions and Pokéballs from items that you gather while on expeditions, which does a lot to make the expeditions feel really worthwhile.

Legends also brings some welcome changes to battles and Pokémon customization. One is that the Speed stat works differently, giving faster Pokémon opportunity to attack more often, rather than going first in strictly turn-based battles. Pokémon can also “master” moves, giving them the option of use “agile” or “strong” moves, which can offer more or less power and have an effect on turn order. This adds a lot more finesse to battles that was missing from many of the older games, not to mention a new element of strategy. Also, Pokemon no longer forget moves. While Pokemon still select from four moves during a battle, players can customize these moves from learned moves while outside of battle.

I can also point out that Legends is certainly harder than the core titles that Pokémon players would be used to. For a short while after getting started, I was surprised at how durable opposing Pokémon were, and their ability to consistently deal about 50% of my Pokémon’s HP in damage. Even level-grinding didn’t seem to result in as huge an advantage as it would in other RPGs in the franchise. Perhaps there was a change in the formula for damage calculation. Whatever the reason may be, I suspect that players wanting a higher level of challenge from the Pokémon franchise may appreciate Legends.

While many are comparing Legends to Breath of the Wild, I’ve heard others say that it’s more comparable to Monster Hunter. I haven’t played Monster Hunter, but if it’s anything like Legends, I’ve been missing out. But hey, has everyone already forgotten about Skyrim, all of a sudden? Skyrim did a lot to popularize this style of game, too.

In any case, it seems like more games are tending towards the freedom of an open-world adventure. While the story in Legends is linear, the gameplay has a sweet sense of freedom, and is certainly a blast of fresh air, which is something that this franchise has needed for a long time.

For those of you wanting to skip ahead to the score, here you go: Pokémon Legends: Arceus gets a score of 9.5 out of 10.

If you wrote Pokémon off as some nineties fad, then day trading might not be your thing.