Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl

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

“Old fans would not want us to mess with their good memories… but there is no point in just redoing the same thing, right?”

GameFreak President, Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver

It’s plain to see what approach was taken this time around. Because as it is, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl (hereafter BDSP) may be the most predictable game I’ve ever played. At this point, the Pokémon franchise has pretty much cornered the market on those who like their games completely non-surprising.

Let’s go, Brandon!

This review almost saddens me to write, because I had some fond memories of the original Diamond and Pearl. It seems I’m far from the only one, as gamers have been calling for Sinnoh remakes since the well-received Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. While nostalgia is a selling point for Pokémon remakes, the previous remakes cultivated an expectation of an upgraded experience, not simply a retread. Up until the Let’s Go games, the remakes were usually done in a style similar to the most recent core Pokémon games at that point, and they usually included tweaks to the gameplay, and elements that weren’t in the originals. Considering this, it should be understandable that the Sinnoh remakes would have the same approach. But it wasn’t the case for BDSP.

Pokémon Diamond and Pearl were really early to the whole smart watch dealie.

I often start reviews with a brief, non-spoilery synopsis of the game’s plot, but in this case, it’s easy enough to guess the story direction for BDSP. A trainer starts out in a small town, and after picking from among three starter pokémon, the trainer embarks on a quest to obtain 8 gym badges, with intermittent interruptions from a team of bad guys, culminating in a showdown with the Elite Four, then the Champion. The story is the same as it was for the originals, so if you’ve played Diamond or Pearl before, then BDSP will have pretty much no surprises for you.

When it comes down to it, BDSP are almost straight ports of Diamond and Pearl, with some elements from Pokémon Platinum, but some upgrades to the production values.

But not by much.

For some reason, ILCA decided to go with a chibi graphical style for the overworld models that are reminiscent of Nendoroids.

Believe it or not, this was already a thing.

I was initially skeptical but open-minded about this, but in execution, these chibi Nendoroid models leave much to be desired, especially when the games do a dramatic zoom-in, which happens often.

Watch out, here comes Team Galactic to teach you some respect!

When these extreme close-ups happen, the jaggies and aliasing on these character models becomes really apparent, and the result is so cringy that I’ve found myself wishing that ILCA didn’t bother with them.

Interestingly, ILCA is short for ”I Love Computer Art”.

She’s not the only one.

The music tracks are on point, and while that’s normally a great thing, that brings up the question of why two different aspects of production so starkly differ in quality. This dissonance becomes more apparent when you see that the in-battle scenes look current-gen, complete with proportionate anime-style character models. Why couldn’t they have done the whole game with these models?

This is not Sword or Shield.

I’m going to come right out and say it: BDSP seem incomplete. To the point that I actually closed the game to check to see that I was playing with the day one update, which I was (1.1.1). It’s hard to believe that this was a full-price professional product, let alone the latest core installment to the single highest-grossing intellectual property of all time.

Smol Gyarados.

Yes, that following Gyarados is undersize, and that seems intentional. But for some reason, it spawned on that thin log. Who else is looking forward to what the glitch hunters are going to find?

As far as gameplay goes, BDSP is pretty much a classic-style turn-based RPG. There was less call for that to be messed with than anything else, so maybe it’s not bad that ILCA didn’t do much to tamper with it. Each turn, attacks are selected, then the pokémon take turns executing their attacks, with the ones with higher speed getting priority. There are many complex gameplay elements that can alter the flow of battle, and many players formulate their strategies based on these. Usually, a player that can exploit an opponents type weaknesses will have a significant advantage, but different offensive and defensive stats introduce an element of complexity that sometimes makes the best play unclear. As is the case in most installments in this series, the flow of battle can change drastically due to a variety of buffs and debuffs.

But hey, you may have already known how to play Pokémon already, especially if you’re in this game’s target audience. Even if you don’t, getting though most of the game will be pretty simple, especially now that the EXP system rewards all pokémon in the party, not just the one that did the battling. Yes, like just about any other RPG.

If you’re great at competitive Pokemon, college may not present you with much of a challenge.

I know that I’m not being greedy when I say that I wish that ILCA did more to mess with the experience that I remember. The Hoenn remakes did include soaring, which wasn’t in the original, and the Let’s Go games had mega evolution. Would the addition of a similar mechanic to a Sinnoh remake have been too much to ask?

I enjoyed the Sinnoh Underground in the originals, and I’m happy with the experience this time around. I’m okay with how relatively little they’ve messed with the experience of digging up treasures. What’s more, there are mini-biomes in the underground which, upon their discovery, increases the variety of pokémon available to the player. If players find, catch, and use pokémon that weren’t part of the typical walkthrough of the originals, that counts as a somewhat changed experience, right?

I suspect that the nurse was the one that polished the floor.

It’s really hard to imagine who I’d recommend this game to. If someone is already a Pokémon fan, then they’ll likely have already played Diamond, Pearl, or their original remake, Platinum. If someone is one of the people left who haven’t, BDSP isn’t likely to impress them. If someone is such a Pokémon fanatic that they’re determined to buy them anyway, they’re not likely to change their minds based on anyone’s recommendations.

So, who is this game for? It’s really hard to say, which factors well into Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl’s score of 6 out of 10.

Remastered music, updated graphics, and some gimmicks that don’t do much to the core experience. There’s your TL;DR.

Review: Touhou Hyouibana: Antinomy of Common Flowers

Developer: Twilight Frontier
Publisher: Phoenix
Genre: Fighting
Rating: Teen
Platform:
 PC, Steam, Sony PS4, Nintendo Switch

The characters in Touhou are just about everywhere nowadays, to the point that it’s getting to be impossible to escape from them. Now, an official installment of the Touhou franchise has come to Nintendo Switch, this one in particular from among the fighting games in the series.

Touhou Hyouibana: Antinomy of Common Flowers follows the adventures of Reimu Hakurei and a handful from among her many, many acquaintances as they investigate a strange phenomenon known as “perfect possession”, which allows a pair to swap places with each other at will, even in the middle of a fight. It’s basically an in-universe explanation for the tag battle mechanic. It can be really hard to be the fourth wall in Touhou, sometimes.

As you might imagine, some more ambitious characters are using perfect possession to gain more power, using it to their advantage in matches. But the story mainly revolves around a pair of tricksters who have found a way to misuse perfect possession as a way to amass wealth for themselves, and effectively become an unbeatable tag match. Complicating matters is that the very use of perfect possession has unintended consequences for a parallel universe known as the “Dream World”.

Sorry, I didn’t find Cirno in this one.

The story mode has you selecting a duo and following their quest over the course of a few relatively-simple battles (difficulty may be adjusted, depending on whether you’re a super-soldier or drunk). At first, there is only one story, but as the story progresses, more stories become available, perhaps even a few at a time. The game calls its overarching story “bittersweet”, which is fitting, as even completing a duo’s story segment may result in setbacks that are a part of the narrative.

If you’re not already familiar with Touhou, you may be taken aback by the sheer amount of lore surrounding each of the characters. It’s not necessary to know what motivates the game’s handful of characters, as you can just half-pay-attention to the story and focus on winning matches. However, some in-game bios would have been nice to provide some background on these characters, which may have helped to better appreciate the story. An example in which this might have helped involved a cameo of Kaguya. If the player knew that Reisen was Kaguya’s pet rabbit, that may have helped the player to better understand the interaction between the two.

What are you looking at?

But it’s the gameplay mechanics that make it a game, and for AoCF, they mostly hold up.

In concept, I think the idea of anime waifus throwing bright, colorful attacks at each other sounds brutally awesome. In execution, however, most in-game matches come down to finding out how to cheese the opponent to take their health bar down, at which point they’ll move on to the next phase, which usually takes a different strategy to defeat. While that may make matches against story opponents highly predictable, it seems as though the game intends for players to find the right cheese strat for each phase, and the match usually ends before the process gets too old. Which is clever, in an odd sense.

While this is a tag team game, I found myself going through most battles with just the Master of the pair, just fine. One in-game opponent switches things up by using a special bullet that doesn’t affect the Slave of the combo, which is one way the game encourages the use of the perfect possession mechanic.

Jyoon and Shion may be the bad guys, but they are enviably cunning.

The characters in Touhou fly. What this means in this game is that the battles don’t take place on the ground, but in the air. Instead of jumping, when the player presses up, the character floats up, but then returns to the same horizontal point she originated from. Pressing down works in the same general principle, but with a downward movement, instead. Avoiding projectiles in this manner can be tricky, though a mid-air hang can be achieved through the use of certain attacks. In many cases, it’s better to use a barrier to block attacks.

The controls are pretty simple, with a basic principle that carries over for each character. There’s a button for basic attacks, which can be expressed differently based on the direction held. The same goes for a special attack button, but characters also have super-strong attacks which are usually pretty broken, but is limited in use depending on whether a meter has filled to a certain point. There is also a defensive shield, which may be the best choice against attacks that seem nearly impossible to avoid.

In non-story matches, players are free to choose their own combination of characters, rather than what the story calls for. It’s probably best to pick the character duo that would most effectively complement each other’s abilities, but I can imagine that many players would just pick their favorite characters and team them up, regardless of how well they’d perform. Which is something I could identify with.

It’s quite a shame that the fighting mechanics weren’t polished to a higher degree, because this game is great in just about all other areas. For one thing, the sprite art and portraits are crisp and clean anime-style art, and as far as that goes, it’s just right. The music is… well, it’s Touhou music. Of course the music is great. I’ve had at least a couple of these songs on YouTube playlists before even playing this game, they’re that charming.

Yukari just found a place to crash.

One potential gripe is that the English translations have numerous errors. But hey, if you like campy anime-style games, you were forgiving of that kind of thing to begin with.

Did I feel like I got my money’s worth with Antinomy of Common Flowers? In a word, yes. The game is flawed in ways that I’m aware of, but it’s still a satisfying game to play which, for many players, may be welcome as a guilty pleasure. Or, more than that, something to bust out at parties which might amuse the guests.

Touhou Hyouibana: Antinomy of Common Flowers gets a score of 6.5 out of 10.

Don’t worry about it if you still don’t know what the name means.

Review: Metroid Dread

Developer: Mercury Steam
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Platformer, Exploration
Rating: Teen
Platform:
 Nintendo Switch

After having spent years as an urban legend, Metroid Dread has finally dropped, which goes to show that it’s going to take a lot more than being cancelled to stop a true warrior.

In the long-awaited sequel to Metroid Fusion, and what is currently the last in the series in order of the current timeline, the Galactic Federation has dispatched a group of E.M.M.I. robots to the planet ZDR to investigate a strange transmission. However, when contact with the E.M.M.I. has been lost, Samus goes to ZDR to investigate, fearing the possible return of the dreaded X parasites.

During the investigation, Samus encounters a Chozo warrior, and is quickly overcome in battle. Mysteriously, the battle has resulted in Samus being without most of her abilities. In a reversal compared to the rest of the series, rather than starting the game from Samus’ ship and descending into the caverns of an alien world, Samus instead starts at the bottom of the remnants of a civilization, and must ascend to the top in order to escape alive.

Matters become far more complicated with the fact that the borderline-indestructible E.M.M.I. have gone rogue, and will hunt Samus down if she goes anywhere within their coverage areas.

If you’re in this spot, you don’t wanna miss.

So, that’s the story, but how does the game actually play? That’s where it gets even better.

Like most Metroid games outside of the Prime series, Metroid Dread is a 2D platformer set in huge, interconnected areas that main character Samus Aran explores autonomously. Most areas have multiple branching paths, with very subtle (if any) clues as to which path would take Samus to either a major confrontation or an upgrade to her mobility. Even dead ends may provide opportunity to discover power-ups such as permanent expansions to her missile-carrying capacity, so players have incentive to explore ZDR’s huge caverns, for the treasures that await them. Even getting lost may have its rewards.

Initially, Samus’ techniques are limited. But as she picks up major upgrades to her mobility (such as improved jumps and the series-staple Morph Ball), more functions are mapped to the control scheme. While the controls get complex by late game, the gradual implementation of Samus’ abilities helps to keep players from being overwhelmed by the amount of techniques.

Samus does start the game with some useful abilities that remain helpful throughout. One of these is a slide that allows her to go under narrow openings, which acts as a convenient alternative to the Morph Ball when in a hurry. Another helpful ability is when Samus aims with a laser pointer, allowing her to fire in any direction. Samus has to be standing still to do this, which makes sense, considering that in real life it’s usually easier to aim with precision when standing still. During boss fights, this usually means taking the risk of standing still if it means possibly getting in more accurate attacks.

Ride that slide!

I’ve noticed early on that Missiles are usually better to use during boss fights than charged beam attacks. I remember that in some previous Metroid games, the opposite was true, and I liked spamming charged attacks. It’s a change I welcome, considering that it’s sensible from a game mechanics perspective for the resource that has the potential to be limited by quantity has higher damage potential. But unless you’ve been missing a significant amount of ammo upgrades and play carelessly, you should have plenty of missiles for most boss fights.

Metroid Dread may provide a lot of abilities, but that doesn’t mean it holds the player’s hand. It’s expected of players to pick up on acquired abilities quickly, and if players can recall them late in the game, that might make some difficult boss battles go a lot smoother.

That brings us to the next point: Metroid Dread is not an easy game. Even on the normal difficulty, players of average skill level can expect to take multiple attempts on bosses before finally emerging victorious. I remember that there was at least a couple times in which I had taken a few attempts on a boss, so I decided to make attempts where I mostly just performed evasive maneuvers, with minimal attacking, in order to practice at avoiding the boss’s attacks. That helped, as subsequent attempts mostly went a lot smoother.

Comparisons have been made with Dark Souls in terms of the difficulty of the boss battles, so victory against most bosses aren’t something that’s just handed to you. Beating the bosses in Metroid Dread is a matter of skill, and when a boss is overcome, it feels like an accomplishment.

Run, girl!

But the bosses aren’t the only things in this game that bring the tension. In Metroid Dread, there’s a total of seven E.M.M.I. running about. Each of the E.M.M.I. has an assigned area which it doesn’t leave, but because you’ll have to run through these immense areas to proceed, Samus will have to confront them.

When you come across an E.M.M.I., there’s usually nothing you can do except try to avoid being noticed, and when you are noticed, you pretty much have to run and hide. What’s more, these things are scary intelligent, and usually come along to investigate where they hear sounds.

If an E.M.M.I. catches Samus, it’s usually Game Over. Yeah, there’s a brief quick-time opportunity to escape it’s clutches, but because it’s so hard to time, just touching an E.M.M.I. usually means having to retry. But thankfully, Metroid Dread is generous with restarting the player just outside E.M.M.I. areas and boss doors, so the player can make another attempt right away if they so choose.

In exploration platform games, colloquially known as Metroidvania games, a significant part of the experience is the sensation of movement. And thankfully for the chief genre-namer, movement in Metroid Dread is a joy. Samus responds with just the right combination of realism, momentum, and lack of hesitation to controller input. And what’s more, there’s a sense of power to her many mobility upgrades, to the point that by the end of the game, it really feels as though nothing is missing from Samus’ arsenal.

It’s not polite to point.

What’s more, none of the upgrades unbalance the game. There’s no one upgrade that’s perfect for every occasion, but they usually come with a sense of freedom that comes with knowing just how it can be used to overcome an obstacle that rendered previously encountered passageways and power-ups off-limits. And when you find out that an upgrade that you might not have been thinking much about at the time might make a boss battle much easier, that’s really satisfying in its own sense.

It usually goes that when someone buys a new game, there comes a risk that a game with current-gen visuals compromises with mechanical soundness. However, in Metroid Dread’s case, there is no such compromise, as the game offers tight, rewarding gameplay with excellent production values, all wrapped in the same package. While the platforming is in two dimensions, the environments are rendered in polygonal models. Metroid Dread is far from the first game to do this, but what Dread accomplishes is so rich and atmospheric that it’s a strong argument in favor of upgrading to a Switch OLED if you intend to spend a lot of time playing in handheld mode. There are many little touches here and there which goes to show just how much thought that Mercury Steam put into it. For example, there’s a thin, barely-noticeable haze of display static when Samus is in areas where there is an E.M.M.I. active, which conveys an eerie, unsettling technological sense that something is off.

What the E.M.M.I. can’t see, can’t hurt it.

As much as I’d like to discuss the events in the game, and what they mean for the overarching Metroid narrative, I think the best way to discover them is to play the game for yourself. This is one game that’s a blast to play, so that discovery isn’t likely to feel like a chore to a gamer without a crippling case of ennui.

Now, onto the score. It’s my great pleasure to give Metroid Dread top honors:
10 out of 10.

In times past, Metroid games have been something that one might consider to hold themselves over while waiting for some other big release. With Metroid Dread, the Metroid series demonstrates that it’s deserving of more respect.

Webcomic Review: Robot Hugs

Warning: The reviewed webcomic contains explicit content. Reader discretion is advised.

robot hugs rough

Have you ever hoped that depression had an official webcomic? Me neither. But there is one that stands out as being sadder than the rest. And by “stands out”, I mean “slumps down in quivering half-hearted mediocrity”.

Robot Hugs isn’t so much a random, slice-of-life webcomic with a well-defined premise as it is a webspace where the author can dump his sad doodles, and sometimes make long, rambling illustrated tangents on whatever social justice activism that holds his interest, usually things like transgenderism, which the author identifies as being a part of, and feminism, because the author so desperately wants the female community to accept him as one of their own.

Early entries to Robot Hugs are usually random, inane drawings that really have nothing to them. Take this random example:

2011-08-25-A good way to go

That’s not a random panel from a strip. The previous and following comics have nothing to do with it. This is the build-up, delivery, and punch line. There is only one panel in this entry, and that’s it. No point, no effort, and no worthwhile thought.

Stick figure art is something that can be done well. In fact, some pretty good webcomics have been done with stick figure art, such as Cyanide & Happiness. In the vast majority of cases, however, it’s a cop-out that’s used to produce a sub-par product with a minimum of effort while leaning on the crutch of “style”. In some of those cases, it’s how talentless artists are enabled to coast along with a minimum of effort. In the case of Robot Hugs, there is some small sign of improvement as time went on, but it usually involves the bare minimums of stick figure art, such as good color choices and better-defined lines. Expressive facial features are sparse, but that can be sold as minimalism. At one point, he even takes on shading, but gives it up before long. Robot Hugs takes a style that’s mainly ironically likeable for its minimalism, and takes it even lower.

And then, with no warning, the author backs down from all the progress that he’s made on his style and goes to a hand drawn style that’s even worse:

2017-11-01-analogue

To be fair, he does give a reason for why he does this. However, there’s something more to it, which we can read about on his profile: The author studies in UX/IA, which has to do with website design. So he actually does spend a significant amount of his life staring at display screens. However, when one looks at his own website, how exactly is he putting his knowledge in website design into practice? He’s obviously not new at this, as his archives indicate that he’s been at it since 2009, and he usually updates about a half-dozen times a month with webcomics that are sub-par in quality.

Considering all this, and assuming that the author is trying hard, I suspect that the source of his ongoing sadness is that he’s putting a disproportionate amount of effort into something that he doesn’t really have a talent for. As children, nearly all of us are told that “we could be anything we want to be”. This is a disastrously terrible thing to tell a child, as it sets them up to pursue interests that are outside their own talents, and develop such an emotional attachment to their pursuits that they make them a part of their identity, making it an even stronger hit when they fail to live up to the expectations set for them.

The author of Robot Hugs doesn’t want to stare at display screens for long periods of time, and his webcomic has been insubstantial in quality since its inception over 9 years ago. Perhaps it’s about time for him to admit that it’s not his thing to either design websites or write webcomics. What he does instead, I don’t know; that’s the kind of thing that he can only determine after careful consideration of himself and how he can benefit society. However, it’s clear that making webcomics is not his thing.

Unless you can look at this and think “talent”:

2017-02-17-types of rats

The parts of his comic that are the most well-thought-out would be his SJW ramblings, which is not a compliment. If your only exposure to the SJW ideology would be YouTubers who make fun of them, go ahead and read an opinion piece from a veritable SJW. What you’ll find out is that the aforementioned YouTubers aren’t making up strawman arguments, they are actually taking on the SJW ideology itself, exactly as it’s presented when SJWs speak for themselves.

Here is a link to an example comic. (WORKSAFE WARNING: If you click that link, your employer’s IT department might think you’re an idiot.)

And speaking of worksafe warnings, the following came from the Robot Hugs “About” page:

NSFW comics are generally labelled as such.

Except they’re not, so his archives are a minefield of cartoon penises and vaginas that you might object to if you are somehow upset by naturally occurring features of human anatomy, or if you have a problem with these things being drawn poorly. The main character’s nipples might be considered explicit, considering that he’s a biological male who identifies as a female. Would they be? Have we figured it out yet?

And, as if it weren’t already obvious that this comic stars a self-insert, the author uses the webcomic to give us life updates:

2012-10-19-New Tablet

Whoop-dee-doo. Too bad your new tablet didn’t do anything to make your comics any better. You know what would? Having someone else do your art. And your writing. And your website design, for that matter. In fact, maybe you should pull a George Lucas and sign over creative control of your comic. Too bad that a guy would have to be insane to take this mess on, and once they come to their senses, they’d deep-six the whole thing.

The author of Robot Hugs spends too much time trying to be something he’s not: a webcomic artist, a decent website designer, even a woman. He doesn’t have what it takes to do any of these things; it’s time for him to stop kidding himself.

Robot hugs gets a score of a-sad-excuse-for-a-comic out of ten.

sick score

Which would be a 0.5 out of 10. If you’re thinking of making your own webcomic, you can do a better job than Robot Hugs with just a little something called effort.

Webcomic Review: Assigned Male

ugly.pngYou’ve just been treated to a new flavor of ugly.

(Notice: This review refers to the author of Assigned Male and its main character with biological pronouns. When dealing with horse-puckey of this magnitude, it helps to keep at least one foot in reality.)

The author of Assigned Male is a self-styled first order left-wing mind who believes that he knows what’s better for us than we do, and he’s on a mission to save us from ourselves. The way he’s going about that is by writing a ridiculous webcomic that furthers his agenda. His whole mission backfired when the people who like his webcomic mainly like it ironically, while the rest of us ridicule it soundly.

Because it’s a given that Assigned Male is such a horrible webcomic, it’s predictable that it’s going to be getting a low score. You probably already know it’s bad, so this is another webcomic review that’s kind-of superfluous and it’s hard to say something about it that hasn’t already been said. Yet, the webcomic is so famous for being bad that it’s kind-of hard to ignore. So it’s like another Sonichu.

Transgenderism is one of the current perversities being propped up by the left-wing establishment, and people pretend to be tolerant of it for fear of backlash from said establishment, even though pretty much everybody is secretly afraid that their children may become one. It’s an issue where people pretend to be “progressive”, yet on a primal level, pretty much every sound-minded individual recognizes something is seriously flipping wrong. When someone pretends to be a homosexual of the opposite gender, it doesn’t tend to result in grandchildren for their parents.

There’s something that I’ve noticed when it comes to webcomics, especially when it comes to the bad ones: there seems to be a disproportionately high representation of transgender themes in webcomics as of late. It might sound like conspiracy theorism, but I personally suspect that there’s an agenda at play, especially considering that the transgender crowd just happens to politically align with a certain movement that believes that there’s getting to be just a few too many human beings running around.

Having said that, the type of transgenderism depicted is the no-op male-to-female variety. That seems to be the more prominent kind, because most doctors inform those considering gender-reassignment surgery that, among other forms of damage, those undergoing the operation permanently lose their reproductive capacity, and they don’t actually gain the capacities of their new gender. Most transgenders are discouraged by this, and settle for wearing a dress and accusing those who use the wrong gender pronouns on them of hate crimes.

If someone does undergo gender reassignment surgery, the usual result is crippling depression, as a body is no longer producing adequate hormones for their biological gender, so a person would end up chemically messed up even without taking a bunch of pills. The suicide rate for post-op transgenders is disproportionately high. Gender reassignment surgery is castration, and it messes a person up in the same ways.

Also, unicorns aren’t real.

It may seem like a sufficient introduction to red pill the trans agenda to death, but there’s something more to what’s going on with Assigned Male. If Sophie Labelle, the author of Assigned Male, were yet another transgender snowflake using the webcomic format to have her characters vicariously win the victories that he does not win in real life, he’d only stand out for how zealous and militant that Assigned Male makes him look. But there’s something more to it.

Sophie Labelle is a known and professed child recruiter.

So, you know about that webcomic that he has which indirectly promotes castration? Its target audience is the most vulnerable members of society. Sophie Labelle is just the kind of guy you should want to keep your children away from, and he’s determined to use his webcomic to get at them.

You know what? A review provides more dignity than this trash pile of a webcomic deserves. Why don’t I straight-up bash it?

Sophie Labelle does not know how to draw, but that doesn’t prevent him from trying. After all, he’s got an agenda to push, and he’s not going to allow something like an inability to properly express himself artistically stand between him and the children he’s trying to prey on.

I went and pulled a random example of Sophie’s art, so I’m not being unfair in presenting this as an accurate representation of how badly this webcomic hurts to look at:

assigned male discussing batman.pngThe characters in Assigned Male discussing media we’d rather be consuming.

When you’re trying to present transgenderism as beautiful, then you want to depict them beautifully. Otherwise, your endeavor is going to be self-defeating. Because as they are, the cast of Assigned Male, the main character in particular, looks like they were stuffed into a potato sack and beat against a jungle gym.

I know that when someone uses webcomics as the vehicle for their agenda, they may say that the quality of their art really isn’t the point, as an excuse to produce art that is sub-par. If that’s the case, why even use a visual medium at all? If your art is something that a reader can make fun of, that would end up being a liability for the overall message.

The art in Assigned Male does improve somewhat, as Sophie eventually decides to shade his characters. They’re still ugly, but in a different kind of way. After the style change, the children in the comic look like middle-aged dwarves.

The self-insert main character of Assigned Male is Stephie, a boy-to-girl no-op transgender child who is pretty much everything you’d be afraid of in a transgender you’d meet: overly-sensitive and hard-rails into throwing temper tantrums at every perceived slight, no matter how unintentional it may have been. While this already makes him rough-him-up-and-dump-this-mess-across-town material, in execution, the comic itself makes him much more unbearable.

stephie sans.pngMain character Stephie, ruining Sans for those who like Undertale.

For example, the comic opens with a short story about Stephie going to the doctor’s office with his parents, but Stephie storms out after he discovers that their records still indicate that he’s a boy. Because the physiological differences between males and females may necessitate differences in medical treatment of patients, one would think that Stephie would be understanding that doctors would want a pass when it comes to his game of gender pretend. But no, Stephie’s delusion is more important to him than his being treated for the illness that he went to the physician for in the first place. Much later in the webcomic, the issue of gender for medical identification comes up again, showing that Sophie still hadn’t learned his lesson.

Most of the conflict in Assigned Male involves Stephie taking on some kind of strawman representing whatever argument that Sophie feels like taking on. If that sounds familiar, it’s like another comic I’ve already reviewed, Vegan Artbook. But the comparisons don’t end there. Like Vegan Artbook, some updates are one-panel atrocities that throw some blurbs out there that sounded clever in the author’s mind. Here’s an example that pretty much sums up what’s wrong with Sophie’s outlook:

stephie delusional.jpg

Until you’ve read a medical encyclopedia, right? No, it turns out that Stephie is more comfortable with kidding himself. What Sophie should understand is that the truth of any matter is never determined by mere belief. That’s the important understanding that separates those in touch with reality from those who are deluded. Again, because this is important: The truth of any matter is never determined by mere belief. Either something is true, or it is not. The only fact that pretending changes is the fact that you’re pretending. Societal distinctions of gender are based on the reality of biological sex, and any perception about it doesn’t change that reality, it merely flavors it.

Now, where can we find something scientific to illustrate the gender differences in a simple and straightforward manner?

Pioneer 1 plaque man and womanThe Voyager plaque says “Hi”.

Another thing to know about Sophie is that he has no problem with attempting to use his webcomic to talk way over your head. Stephie and the rest of the children in the cast talk like English majors in their senior year. And Stephie is supposed to be 11 years old.

you kids following along.jpgYou kids following along at home?

I have my doubts that that’s the way children in Canada talk. And this is supposed to be a webcomic that’s targeting children?

If you’re an adult and don’t like his webcomic, then you’re not the target audience. But if you’re an impressionable child, then Sophie has no qualm with intellectually substantiating his nominal designation. Sophie punches below his weight class, and punches hard.

You probably don’t need to be told that skepticism is a great thing to bring with you if you were to plan on reading Assigned Male for yourself, but the author does use the comic to make numerous claims as though supported by studies. It’s an intellectually dishonest move that preys on the unsuspecting and shifts the onus of verification onto the readers that might not bother to look into the claim being made. It’s hard to expect more from a person who doesn’t just feel entitled to his own opinions, but also feels entitled to his own facts.

Another thing to know about Sophie is that he does get trolled pretty hard. Surprising, right? Some of his comics are specifically-designed to answer critics, such as this one:

ta.jpg

Not really all that funny, especially when you realize that Assigned Male was written to prey on children. If someone points out how badly your webcomic sucks and they are outside your target audience, your webcomic still sucks.

Here’s another example comic:

kids talking.jpg

Talking heads is pretty much what it comes down to. It seems like the assumption is that the suspension of disbelief favors conversations that are highly unrealistic for children to actually have. The dialog is so ham-fisted that it doesn’t seem to go with the faces, which are actually conveying emotion. It’s hard to imagine a pair of robots having a conversation so dull.

By now, you’ve seen a total of 4 different comic formats used by Assigned Male presented in their entirety. In webcomics, there’s less pressure to maintain a consistent format, which frees up webcomic artists to express what they want to with fewer restrictions of the kind that you’d see in a newspaper’s funny pages. However, sometimes it’s obvious that an artist like Sophie is settling for something simple (like the one-panel splash pages) because that’s what he feels like he’s up for making. That’s his choice, but it does take some effort to pull off in a way that doesn’t seem lazy.

But hey, Assigned Male was never about the reader’s satisfaction. It’s about the agenda, and how the author feels about himself for pushing it. If there’s something that bad webcomics like Addanac City and Robot Hugs can do to improve, it’s give a care about the reader’s experience. It’s what a webcomic author can do to keep their comic from being mere participation in the medium like Boss Rush Society, or a self-serving suckfest like Vegan Artbook. Because as it is, Assigned Male is like a crusty lover whose mission is to blow his load then say he’s done.

Now onto the score. I’ve already shown my hand when it comes to my opinion of Sophie Labelle’s agenda, but the fact that he’s targeting the minds of children pisses me off enough to take away any points that his comic might have otherwise gotten.

Assigned Male gets assigned a score of 0 out of 10.

zero.png

Sophie has actually succeeded in having another review taken down because he didn’t like it. I kind of wonder whether he’ll find this review, read it, and blow his stack.

Webcomic Review: Sonichu

CWCSonichuLeer.jpgMain character on left, title character on right.

Here we go, it’s a review of Sonichu.

Sonichu is a terrible webcomic. It’s famous for being bad, and it’s the deuce in all categories in which something can fail. But I’m not likely telling you anything you don’t already know. At this point, we know that Sonichu is the worst webcomic ever made. You might have guessed that I’m going to give this a score of 0 out of 10. You might have even heard about how bad it was from a friend. You might remember how he went on and on for what seemed like hours about how bad it was, like he’d continually find something wrong about it. His description may even have made you so curious that you decided to check it out for yourself. At that point, you’ll have discovered that not only was everything he said about the comic true, he was only scraping shavings off the tip of the iceberg.

That Sonichu is bad is public knowledge. It’s so infamous that it’s even caught the attention of some of Sega’s staff (and it likely horrified them). As far as I can tell, pretty much everyone who has heard of Sonichu knows its bad, which renders a review superfluous.

Yet, I’ve decided to write one. I’ve read the webcomic, and perhaps I’ll feel a lot better for having reviewed it.

If you’re planning on reading Sonichu, be warned that it’s weapons-grade terrible. Sonichu is so bad that your brain may interpret the comic as an attack against it. Sonichu is so dreadful that it integer underflows and somehow becomes strangely great. It’s still a bad webcomic, but it’s bad in a way that only a total mistake can be. A grand assembly of sadistic minds have conspired to develop inhumanity to their fellow man, resulting in the likes of MKUltra, and an autistic man-child with his head in the clouds outdid them without any effort.

Sonichu is such an immense beast of a webcomic that it’s hard to get through a review of it without breaking it down into sections.

Art

sonichu bad art.pngCan you find anything right with this picture?

Sonichu has the worst art in the universe.

What the author Christian Weston Chandler draws wouldn’t even be accepted on the amateur level as rough sketches, yet it’s what he decides to go with for his comic. It’s painful to look at. The crooked line art, the garish bright colors, his insistence on using Crayola markers to color, Chris doesn’t bother to get anything right.

The line art in Sonichu is jagged and unrefined. Mistakes he makes are not properly corrected; instead, he attempts to compensate for them by doing things like drawing over them and hoping his readership won’t notice. That’s assuming that he does attempt to correct his mistakes at all.

It’s tempting to say that one should not color their work using Crayola markers, but there are some artists out there that can masterfully employ them to make some pretty outstanding work. Chris is not one of those artists. It seems like Chris lacks the coordination to color within the lines. Not only that, Chris is not skilled enough with Crayola markers to avoid their key flaw: that overlapping strokes result in streaks of darker color than what is intended.

Chris is inconsistent in how he draws his own characters. If he wasn’t so easily identifiable by the shirt he is depicted as wearing, one might assume that different occurrences of Chris’ self-insert were actually different characters, as their body shape, facial structure, and proportions can radically change from one instance to the next.

At one point, Chris decided to adopt a more anime style for the comic. What this amounted to was drawing the eyes differently. That’s pretty much it, and it’s hard to notice considering the difficulty Chris has with consistency.

Chris simply doesn’t have artistic talent, and if he did, he didn’t use any of it to make Sonichu.

Characters

I_am_not_Gay.jpg

Sonichu has the worst characters in the universe.

The characters in Sonichu generally fall into one of just a few categories:

The male heroes
The male heroes are mainly the same as each other, just with different colors and slight variation in physical features. Each of them, including the title character Sonichu, have exactly the same motives: To shack up with a female and to help Chris with whatever it is that he’s trying to do, which is usually attempting to shack up with a female. Even Blake, when he heel-turns from being a bad guy to a good guy, quickly becomes indistinguishable from the other males except his color.

The female heroes
The female characters are basically similar in motivation to the male characters, but the main difference is their primary sexual characteristics, and the males are their targets of their affection.

The bad guys
An assembly of copyrighted characters that Chris doesn’t have the rights to, and people Chris knows about in real life that caught his ire, with at least one OC thrown in (Count Graduon). All have pretty much the same motivation: to prevent Chris from finding a girlfriend. Too bad Chris never bothered to establish what exactly they’d have to gain from this endeavor when they could instead try to take over the world or something.

The various permutations of Chris
Chris’ self-insert. His goal is to shack up with a woman. It’s considered a sign of lazy writing when an author uses a self-insert for a main character, but in later issues of Sonichu, Chris installs several self-inserts. I’ve actually lost track of them all.

The heroes in Sonichu are actually morally worse than the enemies that they fight. Disproportionate retribution is a recurring theme in Sonichu. For example, Chris feels justified in cursing a man, causing him to lose his family, just because he was doing his job as a security guard in asking Chris to leave a store he was staying in for too long. Another man had his face raped because a company he ran posted drawings of Rosechu (one of the female heroes) with a penis. In a special episode, Chris shot a man in both kneecaps because in real life he impersonated Chris and Chris was interested in his girlfriend. Chris stages a mock trial so he can sentence to death four men that he didn’t like, and had himself and his characters personally attend to the executions. And there’s more. So much more. The hero-centered morality in this story isn’t just awry, it’s perverse.

It’s bad enough that the characters in Sonichu are so horrible, they were also stolen. Nearly every character owes more than simply inspiration to existing copyrighted characters. Most of the hero characters are obvious recolors of characters from Sonic the Hedgehog, a brand that’s already famous for its recolors and template-driven designs. These characters also have elements of design from Pokemon characters. As if that weren’t enough, he pretty much used pokemon as characters outright, such as Reginald Sneasel.

There are OCs invented by people other than Chris that have been included in this comic, such as Jiggliami and Megagi, whether or not they were used with permission, some of which belonged to people who were trolling Chris in an attempt to influence his webcomic while it was ongoing. What personalities and goals that these characters had depends on whether they aligned with Chris, meaning that they too fell into one of the categories outlined above.

Every character in Sonichu are objects in Chris’ power fantasies, and Chris does jack all to develop them beyond this end.

Story

expositional abuse.pngNotice how even they look bored to tears.

Sonichu has the worst story in the universe.

When one would hear the characters and their abilities described, one would assume that Sonichu is an action comic. After all, what else would a writer do with super speed and commanding electricity for attack? But while there are action scenes employing these abilities, Sonichu is primarily a relationship comic, with the main point of the comic being whether his electric hedgehog pokemon characters find partners, which they quickly do. But Chris doesn’t find his girlfriend as quickly, so much of the story focuses on that.

The narrative flow is dictated by Chris discovering concepts that he finds interesting in anime, video games, or whatever, which he then implements into his comic. Then, when he later loses interest in the concepts, they are quickly and quietly dropped, not likely to be brought up again until the readership reminds Chris that it seemed as though he might have been going somewhere with them. Then maybe Chris reintroduces them, likely to try to conclude that particular story arc because he’d rather be working on another concept that he found out about from some other media franchise.

Sonichu’s story as it is today can be broken down into four main parts:

The Sonichu Episodes
The first episodes focused mainly on Sonichu and his adventures with his recolor friends, including Sonic the Hedgehog. It largely reads as an insipid crossover fanfic written by a five-year-old, except it was written by a man in his twenties.

The Chris-Chan Episodes
The self-insert takes over, and from here on out, the comic is mostly about him and his love quest.

The To-the-Hilt Insane Episodes
Wow. When did it seem like a good idea to Chris to include in a comic intended for kids a sex scene between his cartoon hedgehogs, complete with an explanation for how their genitals worked? Or to commit mass-murder against a bunch of people who were merely hypnotized? Or to off one of the characters with a bomb behind a toilet? There’s so much more, too. Chris would later retcon huge chunks of these episodes.

The Boring Episodes
After a years-long hiatus, Chris continues Sonichu by shifting the attention to other characters, including a bunch of new obvious self-inserts. What’s worse than a comic starring Chris? How about a comic starring a whole bunch of Chris? Even though Chris really unleashes the plagiarized concepts, this set of comics is horribly boring.

Chris is so lazy with storytelling that he often leans on long walls of exposition, some of which nearly the whole page long, instead of breaking down what is being spoken to a number of different panels with accompanying visuals. Comics are a visual medium; as such, a rule of storytelling in comics is “show, don’t tell”. When Chris gets into long walls of exposition, it’s obviously an attempt to move the story along to the point that Chris would prefer to be working on by fast-forwarding past this thing called “developing the plot”. If you’re using dialog to convey the gravity of the situation in a visual medium, then you’re not likely using the medium to its full potential.

But hey, it was obvious to begin with that Chris wasn’t using the comic medium to its full potential. There was a point in which the dialog was numbered so the reader would know what order to read it in.

Saying that you read Sonichu for the story is like saying that you eat muffin bottoms to fight communism; the endeavor and the cause just don’t go together at all.

Verdict

Sonichu is the worst webcomic in the universe. Do not attempt to write a webcomic that’s worse than Sonichu. You wouldn’t be funny, and you’d be committing a crime against humanity.

Sonichu gets a score of Sonichu-itself-out-of-ten:

sonichu out of ten.png

Which would be a zero. It’s the worst there is.

But as bad as Sonichu is, it’s actually quite interesting. It’s a window into a mind that is distressed. Because of Sonichu, we all know Chris-Chan like we would know a brother. A beloved brother who is truly disturbingly fascinating.

Sonichu truly does zap to an extreme.

Review: Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny

Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Genre: Strategy RPG
Rating: Teen
Platform:
PS4 (JP), Nintendo Switch (JP, NA, and EU)

Nippon Ichi’s most popular SRPG just keeps coming back, and this time, with a protagonist that reflects their persistence. But does the latest incarnation come with a significant power boost, or is NIS’s determined SRPG starting to decay?

Disgaea 6 stars a zombie named Zed, whose mission is to slay the God of Destruction that threatens the Disgaea universe. For most Disgaea games, the cringy story was my biggest complaint, and it was a significant QoL feature to be able skip it, and get to the sweet, tasty level-grinding.

However, in Disgaea 6, the story is actually clever. At the outset of the game, Zed and his dog Cerberus storm the Darkest Assembly, which is holding a meeting to determine what to do about the God of Destruction. Once in the chamber, Zed delivers a startling announcement: He has already defeated the God of Destruction. Then begins Zed’s story to a skeptical assembly, with the first ten chapters being a recount of the events that led to the outcome.

The characters in the story are largely media parodies with obvious shortcomings, which include a wealthy king, a Disney-eque princess, a super-sentai heroine, and an elderly woman turned mahou shoujo. If you don’t know what some of those words mean, that might be normal.

The first few chapters introduce the characters, one-at-a-time, while the next few focuses more on their development. After that, buckle up, because the last few chapters are heavy on the twists and gets quite unpredictable. I think the story was worth sitting through once, but for those who really insist, the option is there to skip. If they don’t know what they’re missing, it’s not much of a tragedy to them, is it?

Disgaea 6 introduces a new feature: the option to fast-forward through battles, with an auto-battle feature that allows the computer to select your character’s moves, and an auto-replay feature that allows you to repeatedly replay a level, which combines pretty well with the auto-battle feature. This, combined with skipping attack animations, streamlines the repetitive grinding that Disgaea is known for.

What’s more, the fast-forward feature can be upgraded as an in-game reward, and can unlock the ability to speed through battles at rates as high as 16x and 32x, and ultimately, the option to skip ally and enemy effects altogether. This allows for streamlined automated grinding when setups are ideal.

But suppose you don’t like the battle plan that the computer chooses for you. There is a D.I. feature that allows you to select a characters plan in battle when controlled by the computer, which can be customized by assembling flowcharts which can plan out how a character moves, influence what they attack, and even what specific attacks they use. As the player plays through the game, more options can be unlocked in batches.

How well developed the options for automated play are goes to show just how heavily they were to intended to factor into gameplay. Without them, leveling up for post-game content would take a dishearteningly long time (even by Disgaea standards). If you’re the kind of guy who balks at cell-phone games with options like stage-skip tickets, then you’re likely to interpret Disgaea’s auto-play features as symptomatic of a trend in video games. But then, if you’re prone to taking things like that at face value, you’re not likely to appreciate the Disgaea series for the deconstruction of the SRPG genre that it is.

There is one slight drawback to the auto-play features, and that’s that because I’m not spending as much time selecting characters, moving them, and selecting their moves, I wouldn’t be developing the same appreciation I would for those characters as I would be if I were doing more of it. Some players might answer the complaints with the auto-play features by pointing out that they’re optional. Even if that’s the case, if it’s the most practical option that offers the most returns for one’s time, it’s the most sensible choice when one is playing a game of strategy.

And as I see it, the auto-play options are a welcome addition. Even if they seem suspiciously like a scheme to artificially drive up playtime through players that leave their Switches on overnight.

There are a few changes that returning players are going to notice. One of which is that the option to magi-change is out. That might seem like a tragedy to players that liked magi-change, but to be honest, I haven’t been doing much of it in most Disgaea games that featured it. In Disgaea 5, I had Usalia magi-change onto another character to help them level, but that might have been the extent of it.

Magi-change was not really a big deal in spite of all the fluff surrounding it, so it was a natural choice for deciding what’s vestigial.

But did NIS really have to leave the Skull class out of Disgaea 6? That was one of my favorites, and what’s more, it’s absence is all the more conspicuous with the fact that the Skull has been a series staple since Disgaea 1. What’s more, the Nekomata is out, and so are the Sabrecats. And the Kunoichi. And there’s more, too. But if generic characters weren’t a big deal for you, you might not much notice or care.

Also, weapon-specific techniques have been dropped in favor of class-specific techniques. It’s not really a big deal, as players previously tended toward weapons with techniques that expedited grinding (the 3×3 techniques, usually), which would have been rendered superfluous with the auto-play features, and a new EXP and mana system that distributes what’s earned among participants in a battle, whether they fall or not. Speaking of weapons, there are no more monster-specific weapons, and they are able to equip humanoid weapons. That’s a positive change, as I see it.

The option to interrogate captured enemies is out. That’s just fine, because that was kinda awkward in Disgaea 5. What’s more, the curry mechanic in Disgaea 5 didn’t make a comeback. That’s fine too, considering that it seemed more thematically relevant in that game, anyway.

And that’s what’s great about how Disgaea 6 causes the series to evolve: what’s dropped didn’t quite expedite the experience, which makes them a little hard to miss. Still, what players liked before, they might miss, so would it be too much to ask to add some missing classes in a future update?

There is a new Juice Bar facility, which greatly expedites the process of stat growth and class mastery. Mastering classes and collecting extracts was a huge chore in Disgaea 5, so seeing the Juice Bar is a welcome change. If collecting shards made a comeback, they’d have been rendered superfluous. But the rage meter didn’t return from Disgaea 5, which was connected to how to collect shards in that game. In spite of the bigger numbers, Disgaea seems to be somewhat simplifying, and in ways I consider mostly welcome.

When it comes to the new graphical style, I’m almost indifferent. It’s easy to notice the change at first, especially when the sprite art was what gave the series much of its charm. However, the cel-shaded polygonal models do look pretty decent. Personally, I suspect I’d be getting a little greedy if I were to ask that the chibi-style grid models had outlines, considering that players might have to be picky when it comes to the graphical performance options as it is. The more proportional anime-style models used in the attack animations do have outlines, which makes their absence elsewhere more apparent.

Nippon Ichi Software America, the company that localized Disgaea 6, usually does an excellent job when it comes to voice talent, and Disgaea 6 is no exception. The voices go to the characters perfectly. There are some scenes that don’t have voice acting, which isn’t a big deal. However, there are scenes in a postgame story where the voice audio ends abruptly near the end of the lines, which makes it seem like those scenes were done in a hurry, or weren’t edited by a professional. I’m not upset about it, but that’s something to be more careful about in future installments.

It’s obvious from early on that the level and stat scaling works differently in this game. Characters gain more levels at a time in fewer battles, and the stats like HP, INT, and RES increase more at a time. This allows players to more quickly reach the mind-bogglingly high stats which have long been a staple in the Disgaea series. It would appear as though the challenge level scales consistently through the main story, which would mean that the challenge level would remain comparable even though the numbers are higher.

As much as I’d like to have more to say about that, I got the demo before the game was released, and I went ahead and set the auto-play to get some super-powerful characters. I already had level 9999 characters at the point that the game was released, so the story itself was mainly like a visual novel interspersed with auto-playable stages that don’t pose a challenge.

I know it’s optional, but it’s also practical. Going to bed and waking up to a bunch of level 9999 characters has just become a valid playstyle.

By the way, the level cap can be increased in the postgame, so level 9999 is no longer the final level cap. What’s more, there’s also an additional play mode to supplement the Carnage area that challenged determined players in previous Disgaea games. The new area might be considered a selling point for Disgaea veterans.

To wind down this review, I’d like to give my impression on the new characters. No spoilers.

  • Zed – I like the new main character, in spite of my old dislike for zombies (or “bullet-magnets”, if you prefer). I wonder whether the writer for Disgaea 6 also wrote the story for Zettai Hero Project, because I notice similarities.
  • Cerberus – I like the irony of a zombie boy with a zombie dog that is more knowledgeable than the boy himself.
  • Misedor – He doesn’t seem to develop as much as other characters, but he does have at least a couple only-sane-man moments.
  • Melodia – Here’s the character that annoyed me more than the rest. It’s almost as though the skip button was made just for her dialogue.
  • Piyori – A justice-obsessed power ranger that becomes corrupted by a flawed main character is quite a Disgaea thing.
  • Majolene – She takes issue with her transformation because she takes herself way too seriously. She has tragedy in her past, and when it comes up, it hits differently.
  • Ivar – It’s hard to talk about his deal without a spoiler. He turns out different from what one might expect.
  • Beiko – Ten pounds of adorable in a five-pound sack.
  • The Last Boss – A deceiver and schemer par excellence, and sympathetic, too. The outcome for this character was very appropriate.

DLC Corner

Disgaea 6 has a DLC package, and I sprang for the season pass. Much of the DLC content is free, such as a package of 4 characters for those who preordered the game, and the collection of 5 Hololive characters which can be downloaded from the eShop. I don’t know what the significance of the Hololive characters would be, but there doesn’t seem to be much reason to turn down what’s free.

There’s an assembly of goodies in the DLC package, such as additional palettes for certain characters, and special gear for them which is more gimmick than endgame gear.

There was also supposed to be a big pile of 100 Boost Tickets, but for some reason, I didn’t receive them. I wasn’t the only player that had this problem, so hopefully NISA will address the issue soon. The Boost Tickets also seemed to be missing from the Starter Support Set.

For me, the big draw from the DLC was the characters, which seems to focus on previous Disgaea games. As of this writing, Mao and Rasberyl are already available, with Valvatorez and Pleinair coming next week, Fuka and Desco come two weeks after that, and in another two weeks the season concludes with Killia and Usalia from Disgaea 5, along with a completion bonus package which includes more colors for certain DLC characters.

There’s also a relatively-inexpensive Innocents package, which contains exclusive gear that have innocents attached. The description tells you what the innocents do, but not their level. They’re all at 100, and there’s 3 of the ones that influence critical hits, each at 100.

Does a person need all the DLC to fully enjoy the game? Not strictly. The heavy focus on characters from other Disgaea games lends itself to appeal more to fans of the series. None of the paid characters seems to break the game so far, so if you have to miss out on paid DLC characters, it’s not the end of the universe.

If you like Disgaea, you probably also like numbers. So here: 8 out of 10. That’s the score Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny gets.

Disgaea 6 is unbalanced, grind-heavy, and doesn’t seem to take itself seriously. And some people like it that way.

Review: Made in Abyss Official Anthology, Layer 1: Irredeemable Cave Raiders

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

Made in Abyss is just a few volumes in, and it has had such an impact that it resulted in a collaboration from the Mangaka community, the end product being this: a tome of comedy skits inspired by Akihito Tsukushi’s magnum opus.

While the original Made in Abyss manga was mainly a fantasy adventure with some horror elements, this anthology focuses more on humor, with references to the main series.

It’s tempting to say that a book like this would have limited appeal. After all, it was written mainly for those who enjoyed the original Made in Abyss to the point that they would justify purchasing a non-canon derivative work contributed to by various artists, and that’s just what it is. But Made in Abyss is such a big hit, that the anthology has a reasonably large potential audience to appeal to.

Different stylistic takes on the characters, such as this one by Yuki Hotate, is part of the anthology’s appeal.

Many of the jokes were in the original, but in this book, they were labored to the point of awkwardness. Nanachi is irresistibly fluffy, I get it. That’s not to say it’s not funny, but the jokes are obvious to anyone who has already read Made in Abyss, and just about meaningless to those who have not.

Still, the anthology does have it’s redeeming qualities. For one thing, there’s more of a look at fan-favorite characters such as Ozen, Marulk, Liza, and Prushka, who are significant to the canon story but were far from overstaying their welcome. Also, those who remember Bondrewd as a resourceful nemesis might enjoy the dissonance in antics such as his impersonation of Daft Punk. This is, of course, far easier for those who succeeded in repressing the memories of his atrocities. Poor ol’ Nanachi…

What’s more, those still relatively unfamiliar to manga may appreciate the introduction to a handful of new artists, and to a few different subsets of the manga art style.

A lighthearted take by bkub OKAWA, in a campy 4koma style. Personally, I really liked his take.

A second volume is already available. Would I spring for it? I don’t know. There’s a saying, too many cooks spoil the broth. There isn’t much expectation of consistency when there are multiple artists with multiple art styles and multiple humor styles. It helps to have focus, because sometimes, when there’s something for everyone, there might not be enough for anyone. That’s a weakness for a compilation produced by multiple artists, and why variety isn’t always a winning formula.

That’s not to say that I have anything against any of the individual artists. But if I want to read a manga by Kuro (for example), I’d prefer to get one that Kuro authored, and have an expectation of a consistent experience throughout.

From “Preparations for the Journey”, by Ike

Okay, not only am I beating a dead horse, Nanachi is hollowing out it’s skull for use in Riko’s armor. It’s time to move on.

As obvious as it may have seemed already, your likely suspicion is confirmed: the Made in Abyss Official Anthology was primarily made for those who like Made in Abyss so much that they’ll eagerly buy up the merchandise bearing its name, including a compilation drawn by some of its more prominent industry fans. If that doesn’t sound like you, then Layer 1: Irredeemable Cave Raiders is an easy pass. And you might be happy to know that it’s not necessary to enjoy the rest of the Made in Abyss manga.

To give it a score, Made in Abyss Official Anthology, Layer 1: Irredeemable Cave Raiders gets a 6 out of 10. It’s okay, but it owes much of its consistency to repeatedly telling a joke that you likely read before picking the book up. Nanachi is fluffy, but Nanachi doesn’t like being pet. It’s awkward for Nanachi.

By the way, a Nanachi plushie is a thing. But it’s in excess of $100 on eBay.

But does it smell like Nanachi?

 “From even the greatest of horrors, irony is seldom absent.”

H.P. Lovecraft

Review: Nendoroid #167b: Suntanned Cirno

It happened one hot summer day: A knock at my door. Then, as I opened it, in came an ice fairy. “This is great!” I thought. “With my own ice fairy, I won’t have to pay as much to keep this place cool!” But then, she sat herself down in front of the air conditioner. This was not what I had in mind.

I decided to go for my first Nendoroid, Cirno from the Touhou Project series of video games. This would be the suntanned variant; the ordinary Cirno has lighter skin, doesn’t have the little decorative sunflower, and doesn’t come with the vine.

Here is the back of the box:

One might wonder what the significance of this character would be to me that I’d choose her out of the hundreds of Nendoroid characters available. Come on, it’s Cirno. If you’re familiar with Touhou, it won’t take long to figure out why she’s the most popular character. I liked the suntanned variant because there is a certain irony in that even an ice fairy can only do so much to cope with the hot weather.

I didn’t buy this just to leave it in a box in a closet. I intended to open it. Here are the contents:

Included is a set of faceplates and limbs, giving this expressive character’s figure a variety of possible poses. She also comes with a couple accessories, including an icicle lance, and a small frog encased in ice. If you’re wondering about the bloomers, she comes wearing another pair, which allows for different poses.

Changing the faceplate is a bit of a process. Apparently, the neck (which is articulated) is a part of the faceplate, and changing her faceplate takes undoing her hair.

I didn’t have it out of the box for long before some of the plastic showed signs of stress. Particularly, on a couple of the icy “wings” indicated in the picture above. I’m a little concerned that they might break if I mess with them too much, and goes to show that Nendoroids are mainly just for show, and not so much for the kids to play with.

There she is, set up on the stand! Cirno is adorable, even with her cocky smile. For most of the figure, the paint job is pretty basic, putting aside her hair, which has a nice subtle gradient.

One of Cirno’s accessories is a frog encased in ice. It’s easy to forget sometimes that Cirno can have a bit of a naughty side. She views frogs as inferior creatures, and believes that she has the right to freeze them if she wishes to.

And this is Cirno looking not-so-happy. Perhaps Suwako found out what she’s been doing to the frogs? It’s a bit more obvious in this picture, but the legs bend at the knees. What’s more, they also pivot where they meet her bloomers, so they’re pretty well articulated. But the feet? Not so much. It’s the stand that keeps her upright.

Notice the lack of footwear? Perhaps, when you can fly, shoes are kinda superfluous.

Here’s Cirno in an action pose! I decided that I’d go with this one, and it’s currently sitting on my desk, where the added personality is much-needed.

Now to give Nendoroid #167b: Suntanned Cirno a score. To be honest, I didn’t feel like I got my money’s worth. A typical Nendoroid would set a person back $60, or even more for highly-sought-after characters. That seems like a bit much for what basically comes down to a collection of delicate pieces of plastic.

But because I like the character, I think I can give this product a 7 out of 10.

And I think that’s really the point. A Nendoroid isn’t so much about collecting every single one as it is about having a highly-collectible figure or an attractive conversation piece depicting a character that you really like. If you don’t like the character, then really, what’s the point?

But to be blunt, I think it might be a while before I spring for another one. Marnie from Pokemon, maybe?

Manga Review: Made in Abyss (volumes 1-9)

One magnum opus, please. Hold the mayo.

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 consists of general impressions and is spoiler-free)

See that cover up there? If that alone were to cultivate your expectations, it might not take long reading Made in Abyss to discover that it’s a serious case of artistic style dissonance. That’s putting aside, of course, the many warnings circulating the web.

Made in Abyss is an excellent fantasy adventure and is one of the best examples of worldbuilding I’ve ever seen. This review is just getting started, let’s dive into it.

The story begins in an island town surrounding a deep abyss. The town’s economy depends on treasures discovered in the Abyss, with even residents of an orphanage participating in treasure hunts.

The Abyss itself is home to many monsters and other life forms, which makes trips to the abyss dangerous. However, the Abyss has an enigmatic “curse” which makes raiders experience deleterious effects when they attempt to ascend upwards. The deeper the expedition, the worse the effects.

The main character is Riko, an orphan girl whose mother is a famous raider. One day, when on a raid with others from the orphanage, Riko is attacked by a monster, but saved by a mysterious robotic boy with no memories of where he came from, or even why he attempted to save Riko. The robot boy then lived among the orphans, passing himself off as a human boy.

One day, a celebration was held in honor of Riko’s mom, who went on an expedition she did not return from. However, Riko did not give up hope that her mother was still alive. One day, she was shown a message from among her mother’s effects:

Come to the bottom. There I’ll be waiting.

If you guessed that Riko escaped with the robot boy into the depths of the abyss to reunite with her mother, knowing that she’s embarking on a journey from which she can never return, then you’re getting the hang of this “manga” thing.

As Riko and Reg journey through the Abyss, they encounter numerous life-forms that range in danger from benign to the kind of thing that even a man with a death wish would want to avoid. So nightmarish are the denizens, that this manga might even ruin leaves for you.

Much of the progression of the early story has to do with how the group copes with the dangers of the Abyss, as well as how they find the basics for survival, such as food, shelter, and water.

In the instances in which there is danger, there is a sense of something at stake, since Riko’s party isn’t just some assemblage of generic character classes (warrior, healer, wizard, etc.). Riko and her friends are dripping with personality, further supplemented by moments of levity which serve to further characterize the cast. Because, you know, just because the plot isn’t being advanced doesn’t mean the story isn’t being meaningful.

What’s more, there is a connotation of lasting consequence with every possible thing that could go wrong. For example, if someone were to fall over and hit their face on something, they might have to wear a bandage on their face for a very long time. If an artifact slips out of someone’s hand and they end up losing it, it’s gone. If someone ends up injured or poisoned, the agonizing choices that have to be made for one’s immediate survival are just the start of it.

And that’s just what nature has to throw at the heroes. Once other humans are involved, the stakes get higher over whether they are friend or foe. For example, once this guy starts showing up:

…That’s the last chance for anyone who is faint of heart to take a hike. Over the course of the series, the only one who has managed to outdo Bondrewd’s horrors was Bondrewd himself.

To describe the art style in just a few words, think Ichigo Machimaro meets Tony DiTerlizzi. The stylistic design of the characters is a stark contrast compared to how gorgeous the environments are, whether they are of the island town or the majestic landscapes of the deep abyss.

The way the characters are stylized seems to follow their intended effect. Children and more sympathetic characters tend to be portrayed with softer, rounder features, while adults generally have sharper, more angular features. While the manga obviously stars the children, the adults are in a class of their own, as they exude a certain world-weariness that would be difficult to find outside of fast-food staff.

One thing I found kinda surprising was that there was nudity. Not just that it was there, but also that it was treated as a matter-of-fact thing. It was mainly the tip-of-the-mountain that was showing; I didn’t see any tube steaks or roast beef sandwiches. But if you’re mature enough for boom sticks, grown-up beverages, and movies where things get killed, you could probably handle it.

Made in Abyss has an intellectual element, as well. A few volumes in, and the birth allegories start to become more obvious. And the more you think about it, the more you start to notice. Or is that confirmation bias at work?

From what I’ve seen so far (up to volume 9), this manga series seems excellent, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next. New volumes seem to come once every few months to about a year. That’s fine, considering that it’s more likely to be a better product if it’s not rushed. Still, volume 9 ended with a cliffhanger, which doesn’t do much to make waiting easy.

There is already an anime adaptation underway, but I’m kinda on-the-fence as to whether to give it a look. It’s not that I have a problem with knowing what’s going to happen; it’s that I know what parts of it might be difficult to watch. It’s one thing to read the difficult parts, but seeing them in motion might be emotionally draining.

But hey, the warnings aren’t to discourage you, they’re to make sure you’re mentally prepared. Still, Made in Abyss wasn’t made for everyone. Some audiences might find this one disturbing.

But now onto it’s score. Made in Abyss volumes 1-9 get a score of a satisfied Nanachi out of 10.

Which, as you might guess, would be a 10 out of 10. It’s outstanding.

By the way, I wonder whether Akihito Tsukushi has heard of Cave Story?

(The art provided in this review is snippets from the reviewed manga, to give an example of the work. These are used for review purposes, and therefore fall under Fair Use.)