Chained Echoes: One of 2022’s Best JRPGs (other than Xenoblade 3)

With CrossCode beat and Sea of Stars not yet ready, it’s natural to experience pixel-art JRPG withdrawal (and I probably won’t live to see Secrets of Grindea be finished because, well, it’s Secrets of Grindea). Fortunately, thanks to my stumbling-on-things power, I happened across Chained Echoes. It’s an old-school turn-based JRPG with whimsy and mechs. I like both of those things, so it was an easy impulse buy! Let’s find out whether or not said impulse buy was a mistake.

Before I even get into the premise of the game, I MUST praise its visuals. I remember a bygone time when I was not too impressed at modern pixel art in games, but nowadays, it’s what I crave, and Chained Echoes satiates that appetite. It is vibrant, stunning, and gorgeous. It runs silky smooth, and bursts with life. Sure, Sea of Stars and CrossCode still look better, but Chained Echoes is sure as hell up there with them.

In Chained Echoes, a man named Glenn is part of a mercenary group called the Band of the Iron Bull. He engaged in a reckless mission to conquer some place, but when he destroyed the object he was assigned… it exploded. Fortunately, this explosion caused the three kingdoms that were at war to sign a peace treaty. Of course, this is a JRPG; we know there’s gonna be a big adventure and whatnot.

I know that this was in development since 2015, but boy does its basic theme hit hard coming out the time that it did; last December, ten months into an ACTUAL war; the one in Ukraine, to be exact. Right at the beginning, it brings up things that have sent me reeling these past three years, mainly the impossible-sounding process of forgiving the people who were just your bitter enemies. It only corroborates Ezran’s speech in the fourth season of The Dragon Prince, which purports that we must live with our inter-generational hatred bottled up inside instead of trying to not feel it.

Otherwise, it’s your usual classic JRPG story, albeit really dark. In the end, we gotta fight the bad guys and steal the evil superweapon. Eventually—spoilers of a trope that happens all the time—you get to fight gods. It’s not all doom and gloom; there is a lot of good humor. It’s an indie game, meaning that the dev really knows how to meme. There is literally an achievement for selling poop. The peak of meme-ness is the turtle racing minigame; it’s worth doing at least once, because of what occurs during it. The plot is basic enough to feel nostalgic for ye olden days, back when twenty hours was the average length of a JRPG and it didn’t take ten hours to get out of the first town. 

Unfortunately, the trappings of the classic JRPG is the biggest flaw here. One of my least favorite tropes is when you set up all this moral ambiguity, with allegories on real-world issues like racism and war, just to have all suffering in the world be because of a single, higher power pulling the strings. It’s a very good/evil solution to a problem, when the entire story  told you that such clear-cut sides don’t exist. Couple that with the staggering, potentially excessive amount of suicides in the game, and you could honestly argue that the story is actually REALLY bad. It kind of resembles Square Enix’s current philosophy to make everything as grim as possible because of a preconceived notion that the majority of people prefer it that way. The cherry on top is that it ends with sequel bait, despite the dev saying in a post that they didn’t really know where to proceed from here. Maybe it’ll be a DLC campaign?

The cast of characters are pretty good, though. They don’t ham in the memes like Xenoblade characters, but they’re memorable enough. Glenn is a pretty good traumatized war veteran, and it shows. If the game was more popular, people’d be fighting over if the tomboyish Princess Celestia (who uses the pseudonym of Lenne for the most part), the sexy thief Sienna, and a third person who shows up too late to justify me talking about her was the Best Girl. Victor is generally the rational guy who actually knows how to do anything. 

As a retro-RPG, Chained Echoes reinvents the wheel. However, any retro-RPG worth its salt would still find a way to upend the original wheel’s design, and Chained Echoes does that. First off, it has amazing quality-of-life mechanics. Not only is the turn order shown in battle, but enemies, strengths, weaknesses, and whether or not they can be pickpocketed are automatically shown in battle. The bestiary also shows drops, including ones that can only be obtained via a steal. Even more importantly, you are automatically fully healed after battle, basically like in Xenoblade; no consumables nor White Magic required! Oh, and don’t worry about saving your invaluable Ultra Meter for the next boss; it will fill up to full during any boss encounter.

Battle itself is also very wild. Sure, you have your usual attacks, skills, items, whoop-dee-doo. However, the Overdrive bar is where it gets interesting. Actions will automatically fill it up, and when it enters the green zone, your whole party is boosted. Skills cost less and you take way less damage. However, when it enters the red zone, it backfires and you take WAY MORE damage. The fun involves juggling between actions that increase and decrease the meter, so you can maintain Overdrive indefinitely. Most importantly, using skills that match the symbol shown on the left end of the meter (the top-left corner of the screen) will decrease it substantially.

Another interesting feature is how the team participates in battle. You thought Xenoblade 3 was cool for allowing all six party members to fight? Well, technically, Chained Echoes allows EIGHT. Each of the four active party members has a reserve tag team member. You can switch between these two without consuming an action every turn, and reduce Overdrive in the process. To spice things up, most enemies can inflict stagger, a status which lasts about an eternity, but is instantly cured if the staggered person switches out.

Things get fun with the game’s stand-out mechanic: Sky Armors, a.k.a. mechs. They are useful for travel, but make for interesting battles. In combat, you are not able to go into Overdrive, but are instead juggling the meter to stay as close to the center as possible, lest you hit the Overheat zones to the left and right. Sky Armors can switch to Gears 0-2. Gear 1 is the balanced Gear, while Gear 2 grants an attack buff and defense debuff. Gear 0 is when you recuperate; in this mode, all actions significantly restore the Sky Armor’s TP, but you can’t use skills. Like in Xenoblade X, each Sky Armor can equip weapons with various skills (and RAMs that function as accessories). Weapons have their own experience meters, and leveling them up earns new skills, as well as stat bonuses that stay for good regardless of if it has that weapon equipped. This means you’ll be shuffling weapons a lot, and sadly, that also means giving physical weapons to mechs with magic-based builds; maybe you should grind those up later (fortunately they level up pretty fast). To make things simple, there are only four specific Sky Armor pilots in the entire group, unlike Xenoblade X where all fifteen party members can pilot a Skell.

Power progression is perhaps the most interesting it’s been since Final Fantasy X. Instead of XP, you gain SP, which is only used for leveling up equipped skills. Skills are learned through Grimoire Shards—earned only through bosses or other means. These aren’t boons to help you in battle; they’re also your passive skills and even stat gains. Fortunately, you get additional stat gains depending after learning certain amounts of skills in total. Leveling up skills is a combination of both winning battles with them equipped as well as spending accumulated SP on them. It’s a unique way to make you work toward something long-term, while also giving you a semblance of control in deciding what skills you want upgraded faster.

Furthermore, you have Class Emblems, earned by finding a special statue AND a special type of consumable key item, THEN winning a tough battle. Class Emblems give two battle and passive skills that can be freely set on the character once mastered. Basically, it’s jobs meets Espers from Final Fantasy VI (I think?). Also, have fun trying to decide what skills to equip; if you’re an RPG junkie, you’ll feel like you’ll need them all but you can only have ten battle skills and five passive skills.

Of course, the stuff you do outside of battle is important too. The big shaker-upper is how item selling is done. Well, you sell stuff and make money like normal. However, selling the right kinds of items unlock Deals. These are special sets of items that require both materials and cash. Just keep in mind that the item list on the menu only counts the amount of said items that you SOLD, not the ones on you; it can get confusing since that’s generally not how it works in 99% of RPGs. 

Upgrading equipment is like Materia from Final Fantasy VII… but really hard. All weapons have crystals set in them. Crystals need to be at least Rank 3 to be equipped, and you can get stronger crystals by fusing ones with the same abilities together. However, crystals take up more slots the better they get. The slots of equipment can be increased by upgrading them, but require materials and money, and can only be done twice each.

To be frank, the crystals are probably the worst mechanic in the game, at least early on. Unlike the color-coded gems in Xenoblade, EVERY type of crystal possible comes from the same source, meaning that each draw point takes from a pool of every property. Even if you have an idea of what crystals to use for a tough fight, you aren’t likely to actually have them, especially early game. Also, setting them into a piece of equipment is kind of a done deal; you can remove it, but it will lose all of its purity, and thus the ability to be used as a base in crafting better crystals. You get new and better equipment pretty fast if you’re diligent, so you’d be removing and crippling these crystals quite often. 

Exploring the world of Valandis is fun and rewarding… literally. They have a giant Reward Board where you complete various tasks and get rewards on the board. Completing tasks adjacent to each other can start a chain which has its own set of rewards (of course that doesn’t matter if you’re an MLG pro gamer who was going to get them all anyway). In any case, it does borrow from CrossCode and has numerous layers and secrets. Just pay attention to the environment to know where you can jump or climb (and I mean serious attention, because these points can blend in if you have tunnel vision).

Things really open up at the start of the second act. You don’t only unlock Sky Armors at this point; both sidequests AND your airship become available. An important mechanic involves finding various NPCs willing to join your cause. Don’t worry if this sounds daunting; literally the first person you find, right at your home base, exists to give you hints on where to find others. The real problem is that your base is kind of confusing, and has no map.

Anyway… Chained Echoes is actually really hard. It’s not Dark Souls-ian, but it will test you. There are a LOT of nuances, a lot of which is thankfully hinted at via NPCs. The most important nuance is that both you and the enemy will naturally gain resistance to a status effect after you’ve had it once; after that, the effect needs to be re-applied an additional time each subsequent time.

In any case, Chained Echoes follows the usual RPG tradition; random mobs aren’t so bad, static mobs (like the ones from the statues) can catch you off guard, and bosses are where you’ll be put to the test. Due to how leveling up works, there is no such thing as grinding; so you really, truly need to git gud for this one. There are both story bosses and optional Unique Monsters straight out of Xenoblade. Unfortunately, there is some RNG-based difficulty, since the Overdrive bar can ask for a skill that is not AT ALL what you want to perform (including healing skills when I don’t need it and attacks when I DESPERATELY need healing). Switching out partners and defending can reduce it briefly, while Ultra Moves reduce it by a lot. Glenn eventually learns skills dedicated to manipulating the Overdrive meter, and they become very useful. Otherwise, stock up on the special consumable items that activate the corresponding skill type that the Overdrive meter wants.

The Steam Page says thirty to forty hours of playtime. If the higher estimate was to account for completion, then it’s grossly wrong. In fact, the website How Long To Beat puts a completionist playthrough at fifty-three hours, and I’d say it’d be longer if you don’t already know what to do. While there isn’t any such thing as grinding to level up, there is a lot of grinding to get everything. Some of the later Deals require rare drops exclusive to Unique Monsters, which will need to be fought repeatedly if you aren’t lucky. There is also an unrealistic need for money late in the game: to buy expensive cosmetics for your airship, and the need to have one hundred thousand moneys on hand in order to spawn a particular Unique Monster. You will also need to grind Sky Armor proficiency to get the achievement for mastering all weapons (although that honestly goes by really fast if you fight the right mobs). Last but not least, you will need to fight with the annoying crystal mechanic to build the perfect setup for the superboss. Fortunately, one of the recruits can help manipulate the RNG of the Crystals to a decent extent.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Chained Echoes is a phenomenal game, definitely up there with the best retro-style JRPGs. While it does take a few too many pages from Square Enix’s current storytelling philosophy for my liking, I still found it worth playing. I highly recommend it to any fans of the genre.

TROUBLESHOOTER: Abandoned Children is a Masterpiece I May Never Finish

I have pretty much narrowed down the games I prefer to play (read as: the only games I am even remotely good at). However, sometimes, my dumb brain decides to goof. For whatever reason, when I stumbled upon TROUBLESHOOTER: Abandoned Children on Steam, I was captivated. Being a strategy RPG, it was completely unexplored territory for me. However, with a high difficulty, insane depth, EIGHT HUNDRED ABILITIES TO LEARN, and a sprawling story that’s on par with Fire Emblem: Three Houses in scope, jumping into this was like driving a racecar without a driver’s license. This is gonna get… uuuuuugly… 

TROUBLESHOOTER: Abandoned Children is set in Valhalla, a place where crime is rampant. Fortunately, there are titular Troubleshooters to help out. This story stars an upstart named Albus Bernstein… among MANY others.

The plot of TROUBLESHOOTER is a lot, but it’s a good lot. It’s a traditional episodic cyberpunk, but with classic anime tropes. As you do missions, you learn more about the world and its denizens. They put a LOT of thought into the game, with detailed descriptions of pretty much everything, and loads of environmental details that really make Valhalla appear to be a real city. Being well over a hundred hours long, expect it to really ease you in before sh** hits the fan. Unfortunately… I didn’t exactly enjoy the story. For how much worldbuilding there is, what happens is pretty simple. You basically fight any gang that forms in Valhalla, along with the mainstay antagonists: the Spoonist Cult, and some guy named Carter. All this serves as stepping stones, so Albus’ group can reach Mythril Rank, and he can view classified documents about the classic “incident from ten years ago that everyone talks about all the time but never gives you any actual context until a hundred hours later” trope. It doesn’t help that, with my schedule, I didn’t exactly get to marathon it; that means forgetting what was going on in the first place.

Of course, the biggest caveat with something like this is the fact that the devs are a Korean indie team. Any small outfit that has to translate any foreign dialogue is destined to mess up… a lot. Many Steam reviews, naturally, criticized the writing, but to be honest, it’s not the worst. Some descriptions can sound vague, but a lot of the writing itself is perfectly understandable, even if it lacks poeticness. The game has some pretty good voice acting for what it is, although it only comes up during pure gameplay. It’s actually my first time ever hearing Korean (since I don’t listen to K-Pop), and boy, it really sounds similar to Japanese to the untrained ear. I can just barely tell it’s a different language. 

The characters, however, ended up being WAY better than I expected. Albus is a generic, reckless dingus, and is the weakest link in the game. Everyone else is actually pretty damn awesome, especially considering the translation. They’re pretty basic and trope-y, but I still liked them a lot. 

Where do I even start with this gameplay? It’s so deep it’s not even funny. Actually, I should start with an appreciation of the game’s U.I. It’s complex, sure, but it’s actually really well put together. There are shortcuts to other menus in just the right places when you’re trying to create builds or look up info on enemies and materials. Hovering over a character’s stats will show you the factors influencing their amount (i.e. equipment, skills, etc.). In battle, hovering over a move will show you the exact calculations, and of course, it shows you a preview of non-crit and non-block damage to the enemy’s health bar when targeting. Also, hovering over the different probabilities associated with your attack while targeting (i.e. hit chance, crit chance, damage, etc.) will also show the calculations for that as well; it shows the exact parameters that enemy armor, skills, status, and environment influence over the attack’s result. It also gives relevant descriptions of status effects as needed; you don’t have to look up a giant glossary of effects if you don’t remember what does what. 

As is tradition with strategy RPGs, you have your party, equipment, all that jazz. TROUBLESHOOTER, however, has Masteries. These are the aforementioned eight hundred abilities that can be learned. Most of these are dropped at random by enemies, and can be stockpiled like items. Masteries can be equipped to available slots for their desired effect, and consumed in research to acquire new ones. Mastery Sets come into play when the right Masteries are equipped. The game is kind enough to show you an indicator when you’re on the right track with obtaining a Set. Unfortunately, there is an annoying mechanic where each category of Mastery slots (Basic, Attack, etc.) have their own capacities that limit the value of which Masteries can be equipped AS WELL as there being a limited number of slots for Masteries to be equipped to. It doesn’t matter how many Training Points you actually have in order to equip Masteries with higher costs; if the total value of the Masteries exceeds that property limit in the category, you can’t do it. There are Masteries to increase those capacities, but they’re very rare and specific, and of course, need to sacrifice a slot in another category to be equipped. I think that system is really arbitrary and really hinders your ability to min-max your party.

Equipment is also VERY involved. You can obtain equipment in battle, and they come in various color-coded rarities, as well as an Unidentified or Identified status. Identified weapons will have one-to-four stars on their thumbnail, and have a title of some sort after their name; they are objectively better than Unidentified equipment. These have lower stats and no special effects, but you can pay someone to Identify them. The results are random, which makes for big dopamine when you get good results. 

Materials can be earned from battle, and used as ingredients for various items at the workbench. Even if you don’t get what you need, large amounts of materials can be crafted into the next tier of that same type of item. Conversely, rarer items can be dismantled into common ones. You can also outright buy materials and weapons, but doing this is quite expensive.

However, money ends up being VERY easy to accumulate and manage. Ordering food to maintain motivation, paying your landlord as well as your party members is pretty cheap. As long as you don’t splurge on the rare materials and weapons sold at the shops, you’re good. The only thing I buy a lot of are consumables. When equipping them, it—at a glance—looks like an equippable that comes with X number of charges per battle. In fact, it’s not. It pulls from your stock of that item, so you’ll need a lot of them if you plan to use them a lot. Many of them, such as grenades, are extremely helpful when used in the right spot, and of course, you’ll need potions, especially when you haven’t recruited the dedicated healer. Also, you really don’t need to buy equipment at all. You get SO MANY equipment drops naturally in battle, to the point where selling them is your main source of dough. You also don’t need to worry about identifying any of them, except for maybe a red-rarity item dropped by bosses, which can be identified into something even better. Furthermore, the powerful purple-rarity equipment you can get from sidequests and crafting can ALSO be identified for relatively cheap, and these—with their true potential unlocked—will be your best equipment in the long term. 

Combat is also as convoluted as you can expect. You have your movement, attacks, Vigor gauge, SP gauge, the environment, weather, time of day, enemy units, people to rescue, buffs, debuffs… yeah it’s a lot. Too much for me to describe in this post. Fortunately, while some reviewers criticize the slow start of the game, it does do a good job to ease you in if you’re a virgin of the genre. Scratch that, it does an exceptional job. Missions get more complex in the right way to get you in the game’s groove without throwing you at the wolves. A pro-tip from me is to not undervalue any back-up soldiers you get. They’re pretty basic, but rely on strength in numbers. Their items are really handy (especially when later ones have the Mastery that makes using items not consume their turn), and you can afford to lose them if absolutely necessary.

Oh, by the way, TROUBLESHOOTER is absurdly hard. Even with powerful builds consisting of three-plus Mastery sets across the entire team, really good equipment, and being at least eight levels over the recommendation for a given mission, I’ve gotten uncomfortably close to the jaws of death numerous times. On NORMAL difficulty. I don’t feel like I’m playing the game wrong, it’s just… hard. In fact, I saw one forum post say that they’ve had their characters die over two hundred times in total. I even read that the postgame DLC is borderline impossible. Cover is INSANELY valuable, because anyone not in it basically dies. Even with good equipment, an unlucky crit can one-shot one of our intrepid heroes from full health, especially if it’s from a boss, or a sniper unit. Bosses are generally a good chunk of your grievances, but there are some specific enemy units who are so bad, they are worse than a lot of the bosses. 

One aspect that I feel like should be divisive to strategy-RPG veterans is the Sight mechanic. In any other game of this kind I’ve seen, you get to see and evaluate the entire field, and plan accordingly. Maybe there’ll be an odd stage with fog where you can’t see enemies until it’s too late, and those levels generally suck. Well, with Sight, TROUBLESHOOTER is that fog level all the time. While this is a stat that can be increased, and abilities to reveal enemies in unexplored territory, it is consistently your biggest enemy. You don’t know what an enemy unit is doing until you’re close enough. There are SO MANY times where I sent one person to fight a single enemy unit, when it turned out that there were actually eight of them just beyond my Sight. This kind of misinformation makes missions particularly difficult your first time through; it’s kind of like old-school videogame difficulty, which relied on memorization more than ability to problem solve and adapt, and is generally considered bad game design by today’s standards. While taking time and not splitting up your heroes can be encouraged, there are some more urgent stages where you need to save people or defend a zone (or because the map is huge and it can take forever to complete some missions, although the game autosaves after every turn which is nice). Furthermore, you don’t get to look at enemy units in detail like in other strategy-RPGs, which means even more memorization, and—if it’s your first time facing an enemy unit—absolute terror from not knowing the best strategy to fight them. There is a database for enemies in the company’s office, but by the time you can see all the enemies’ abilities, you’ll already have fought them several times.

Speaking of the office, that’s where your center of operations is. Here, you can do all your crafting and stuff. You must also keep your reputation in mind in different districts. District jurisdiction is vital, because it’s how you get paid. You get the starting district as a free-bee, but you’ll need to satisfy various prerequisites (including money), to apply for jurisdiction and reap the unique benefits of each area. You can also cancel jurisdiction if you hate earning money. Unfortunately, this mechanic is extremely strange and inconsistent. Not losing cases isn’t enough; you need to keep winning cases in the designated district to maintain reputation, but sometimes there’s only one or two missions there—and well—nothing you actually need to do there (at least I think that’s how it works). There are also times where you satisfy the prerequisites to apply for jurisdiction, but your company will arbitrarily not want said jurisdiction. Some districts want you to have a variety of case experiences, which is annoying since 9/10 levels are simple arrest missions. I ended up looking this up on the Steam forums, and it turns out that you only get as many jurisdictions as you have Troubleshooters, and apparently, not all of your party members are considered Troubleshooters in a business sense. In actuality, you only get to have four by the end of the game. You also lose reputation for NOT doing missions in given areas, though this can be helped somewhat by certain Jurisdiction policies that increase the reputation of multiple districts at once. However, it doesn’t take long for your salary to end up being a pretty paltry sum; like I said before, selling unneeded equipment can give you the same amount and then some.

Mission control is where you set out to defend the peace. Story missions are self explanatory enough, but take note of Ordinary and Violent Missions. These are optional filler scenarios that are infinitely replayable, and this is where most of your grinding will take place if you either get stonewalled or want to undertake the daunting task of completion. After a certain point, story missions can be replayed infinitely without repercussions. This adds variety to the completionist grind, and you can skip cutscenes. 

There are also TONS of sidequests, a lot of which are either secondary objectives in existing missions or their own thing. The immediate problem with them is that the first quest, which happens to be the prerequisite to all the others, is uncharacteristically hard if you do it at the earliest opportunity; it’s tougher than some of the quests that come up after-the-fact. A lot of them are a pain, though. From having to prevent large groups of mobile, highly evasive enemies from escaping the level, to having to find a specific enemy unit who isn’t marked on the map… it’s a thing. However, they are well worth doing no matter what; you get REALLY good rewards, and it’s the only way that your company earns brownie points toward its reputation.

With a game this long and chock full of content, it’d be tough to find time to play it in this day and age. As addictive as it is, it is NOT good to marathon; you might as well go slow and steady. In fact, I have yet to finish it even as you read this post. A hundred hours in at the time of publishing and I’m not even CLOSE to done. I just really wanted to get a review out for this underrated gem, and there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to complete it. I’m at the fifth of what appears to be seven or eight chapters, and that’s EXCLUDING the two post-game DLC stories!

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Current (Possibly Final) Verdict: 9.65/10

TROUBLESHOOTER: Abandoned Children is a true testament to the capability of indie game developers… and it’s only part one of a planned series. If you can somehow find the time (and the computer powerful enough) to sink your life into this one, then I highly advise giving it a whirl. Meanwhile, I gotta finish this thing myself… boy, One Piece will probably be done before that happens.

Letting it Go for TEN YEARS: Frozen Retrospective

Walt Disney Pictures has had an incredibly long career with numerous ups and downs. You wouldn’t think that Disney almost went out of business as recently as the 1980s, but that was entirely the case. It took a less cynical adaptation of Hans Christen Andersen’s The Little Mermaid to dig them out of debt. And wouldn’t you know… decades later, an adaptation of Andersen’s The Snow Queen would practically upend the company’s time-honored formula. Released ten years ago, Frozen is one of the company’s most successful movies of all time. I saw it in theaters a week after my first ever trip to Walt Disney World. Like much of the rest of the world at the time, I loved it. However, as the years went by, it felt like more and more people hated it, and still do to this day. I’ve rewatched the film a few times, but I haven’t seen it in at least five years. Sounds like a good time to do a retrospective and see if it’s actually still good or not!

In Frozen, well, we know what happens. Two princesses, Anna and Elsa, live and play in their castle in scenic Arendelle. The latter has ice powers for reasons that won’t be explained until the sequel. Elsa almost kills her sister, and is told by the local trolls to not use her powers at all. After the parents—well—become typical Disney parents if you catch my drift, Elsa becomes a shut-in, and both sisters are depressed. When they finally get to meet for the first time in forever (haha reference) during Elsa’s coronation, things go awry, i.e. Elsa has an anxiety attack and everyone knows she has ice powers now. She runs away, causing a second Ice Age in the process. Time for Anna to fix her sister!

Well, let’s get the formalities out of the way: it still looks pretty. Beautiful particles, lighting, and expressive characters. The animation team literally filmed themselves playing in snow for research on the movie’s physics. Speaking of research, Arandelle showcases the company’s ability to painstakingly recreate architecture from around the world, with this case pulling from Norway. You can still tell that it’s a bit older, but this is probably the last Disney movie that shows any age. I feel like they start to peak with the visuals from Moana onward. 

Anyway, movie talk. Let’s just say this: Elsa did nothing wrong. First off, it was Anna’s fault that she was almost murdered by her own sister. She did all the jumpy-jumps too fast and that’s why Elsa froze her skull. She has complete control over her powers until this exact point (also, it’s Anna’s fault that Elsa has the panic attack in the present conflict, because she gets all lovey-dovey with some turdboy). The trolls don’t help either. Yes… I kind of got this point from MatPat’s theory regarding the trolls. I haven’t watched him in forever, but I always believed that theory in particular. 

For the most part, it’s your typical classic Disney movie. The conflict is established, and the protagonists go on an adventure to fix it. However, there’s one thing that upends the Disney formula. It’s a last minute change to the ENTIRE movie that was done when the lead composers—Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez—wrote a certain song: no villain. Well… there is a villain in this one, but he doesn’t count. From this point on, Disney protagonists would be their own villains; in this case, it’s Elsa’s fear of her powers, which causes her to lose control. If it wasn’t for that song, Elsa would’ve been more like Ursula. Some people might think that would’ve been better, but this is what we got, and it set the new precedent for Disney movies to this day.

Frozen’s second-biggest strength is its cast. Anna and Elsa are both subversions of the traditional Disney Princess. The former is a ditzy, tomboyish dingus, and the latter is emotionally insecure until she gets proper therapy. They are by far some of the best women in Disney movies.

The love interest is not a handsome prince; far from it. In fact, the male lead is an utter loser who can’t even lift a single block of ice: Kristoff. He has no manners, but he’s lovable and silly; a fresh take on the handsome Mr. Perfects who make a lot of 20th Century Disney movies age REALLY badly by today’s standards. His deer, Sven, is probably one of the best animal companions. Though Kristoff has his own voice to interpret Sven’s thoughts for the audience, Sven is so in sync with Kristoff, it sometimes feels like Sven is ACTUALLY talking. 

Of course, no protagonist in Frozen does better than Olaf. A simple, summer-loving snowman who loves warm hugs, this little guy has some of the legitimately funniest lines of any comic relief character. Josh Gad will be immortalized as Olaf, despite the numerous roles he’s been in before and since Frozen

However, the weakest link is the last Disney villain to ever be cast: Hans (not related to Christen Andersen). He’s just a pretty-boy who blatantly shows signs of not being the movie’s love interest, making his betrayal very predictable (although his delivery was actually really good). I feel like the Duke of Weaseltown would’ve been a better choice. He was already established as really funny but also conniving, and he already had intentions to burn Elsa at the stake anyway. Oh well.

Thing is, though, all we’ve discussed—consequently—means squat compared to Frozen’s biggest strength: the music. Disney has always had really good musical numbers (even though I didn’t appreciate Enchanted, The Princess and the Frog, nor Tangled’s soundtracks until years later; a Disney sin on my younger self that will haunt me until my dying days), and Frozen was the biggest breakthrough since The Little Mermaid. The whole soundtrack is excellent, but there is one song that took the cake. One paradigm-shifting song that made Frozen both famous and notorious at the same time, and the aforementioned one that changed the entire core of the movie mid-development. It’s why every Disney movie since is the way it is. I need to make a new paragraph just to discuss it.

Obviously, the song in question is titled ‘Let It Go.’ It starts as a somber piece before suddenly shifting into an epic, showstopping anthem of female empowerment. Adela Dezeem—I mean—Idina Menzel delivers powerful vocals here, cementing herself in the role of Elsa so well that everyone forgot that she was in Enchanted. The song might even have influenced the current Feminist movement. I still enjoy the song to this day, although that’s probably because I was never subject to the billions of memes it spawned.

It’s here where we arrive at a bit of an impasse. Up to this point, I’ve mainly discussed positives about Frozen. However, I’m going to be honest here: in my rewatch for this post, I wasn’t exactly in love with it. The conflict feels arbitrary in retrospect (hence this being a retrospective), the main antagonist is a shoe-in because of the Lopezes’ gambit, and the trolls’ musical number—while funny—feels like padding and tonal whiplash. Though it was a huge deal at the time for a Disney movie to take a direction like this—what with sisterhood constituting as true love—it’s not novel anymore. Moana, Encanto, Raya, and arguably Frozen’s own sequel are better than this in virtually every way (and that’s not including Pixar movies). Sometimes I’d argue that Princess and the Frog and Tangled are better, despite coming before and having the old formula. Another thing is that I watched this in 2013; I was a different person then. I hadn’t watched a single anime, let alone a foreign film other than Scrooge 1951. I had only JUST gotten into my first manga, and had only been to Walt Disney World once, and went into Frozen in theaters a week after that landmark first experience in the parks. As the person I am now, Frozen is just…

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After All These Years: 8.65/10

I had a REALLY difficult time coming up with that score up there. While Frozen has a lot of the usual charm and personality of Disney movies, it also has a lot of the trappings. Are there a large number of better, more creative foreign animated features? Yes. Is Frozen still enjoyable? Yes… if you love Disney. If you decide to watch it, just don’t stay for the credits, because some mainstream popstar does a ‘Let It Go’ cover during them; THAT is perhaps the biggest flaw of Frozen.

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction: Independence Day with Anime Girls

Over four years ago (before the blog), I read through Inio Asano’s manga Goodnight Punpun. It was a bit pretentious, and VERY edgy, but for some reason, it was really good. Something about the panel flow and the unique artstyle of Asano (which we’ll get into later in this post) made Punpun a very hard-to-forget experience. So of course, I decided to start his newest “experience”, Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction.

In Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction, the world is ending. A mysterious flying saucer has appeared over Tokyo, and everyone is in a state of panic. However, instead of focusing on the politicians and the military side of things, this manga instead focuses on Kadode Koyama, and her very strange friends, who just try to go about their lives.

Just like Punpun, Dead Dead Demon has some phenomenal and unique art, which forms the backbone of the whole experience. Asano complements hyper-realistic backgrounds with cartoony, caricatured people. Seriously… a lot of them look really, REALLY weird. Also, the panel flow is as sporadic as it was in Punpun, and contains a lot of desktop-worthy two-page shots. 

It didn’t take long for Dead Dead Demon to have the same strange sensations that coursed through my body during Punpun. Despite the whole alien invasion, Dead Dead Demon is—bizarrely enough—more lighthearted than Punpun. Well, at least compared to Punpun. There’s still stuff like hints of an illicit relationship between Kadode and her teacher, as well as the fact that Kadode wants the aliens to win, while one of her friends wants to be a dictator when she grows up. All that, along with a pervasive sense of misanthropy.

For the most part, Dead Dead Demon is—of all things—a CGDCT: Cute Girls Doing Cute Things. Like I said before, most of the manga is focused on the civilian side of things; the obligations of society don’t just freeze up because of an alien invasion (even if they did freeze over a virus). A lot of the chapters are just the girls hanging out, and well, that’s about it. Would this manga be a typical CGDCT if there was NO alien invasion? Yes, definitely, absolutely. Call it superficial, but that seems to be the nature of Asano’s work; after all, would Punpun be so unique if its main character wasn’t drawn as a bird-stick-figure-thing?

Another issue with Dead Dead Demon is the fact that it has overly on-the-nose writing. I had a similar problem with Punpun, where a lot of the characters seemed to be overly aware of how the world worked. One example is a scene where a character uploads a clickbait article to social media, and goes into some huge poetic speech about how he’s starting a cyber war and plans to be tried as the greatest criminal in all of humanity. I get that clickbait posters are definitely aware of what they’re doing, but it’s not natural to go into such a clearly pre-written speech off the top of their heads (it’s as if the manga is pretentious). 

Although a lot of the chapters are typical CGDCT interactions, there is some semblance of an overarching plot, even if it’s mainly in the background. Most of the main story is told through news reports and various signage. Things pick up at volume three, which follows a tragic event, and ends with the main cast’s graduation. We also get to learn about the aliens and their perspective during the incident. Eventually, we learn the true nature of the invasion and relevant parties involved. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t help that I waited months at a time for new volumes through Viz, as I most likely forgot what was going on. However, as I’ve made clear, you don’t read an Asano manga to know what’s going on; in fact, you read them just to enjoy being confused in perpetuity. It also ends very unceremoniously, which will likely leave you wondering what the point of any of it was. Going off of Punpun, that’s just another part of Asano’s brand.

I tend to not like characters in a CGDCT, and not even Asano can make that an exception. I found a lot of the girls to be pretty bland. In fact, (spoilers until next paragraph) one of the main characters is killed off early on and I felt like it was merely a means to get you to sympathize with the others. For a mangaka who was genuinely good at portraying a tortured soul, I found this to be kind of a downgrade from Punpun

Fortunately, I did enjoy one of the characters: Oran. She’s this snot-flinging moe blob, who happens to be the aforementioned girl who wants to be a dictator when she grows up. She’s a real sociopath, and would be the subject of much controversy if this manga’s upcoming anime adaptation gained enough traction in the community.

Similar to Punpun, the manga hard cuts to many other individuals, but I don’t find them to be that interesting, especially not compared to that cult leader guy from Punpun. The only other interesting character is this one kid who happens to be one of the aliens in the guise of a human. They’re just cool, man.

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Final Verdict: 9.3/10

It’s superficial. It’s ham-fisted. It’s pretentious. But man, despite all that, Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction is so damn good! I wouldn’t be surprised if some critics consider Asano a hack; in fact, I’d believe them. However, when compared to eccentric writers such as NISIOISIN of Monogatari fame, I’m much more willing to respect Asano, since he’s a talented artist and doesn’t just vomit words while intentionally committing writing sins. I recommend it to fans of Punpun, as well as anyone who wants a unique take on the slice-of-life genre.

P.S. back to Disney again after this. Next post on May 20th!

The Owl House (Season 3): The Short and Sweet Finale

Well, The Owl House has been a fun, albeit predictable ride. Of course, the end of a ride can leave a pretty strong impression of the whole experience. Let’s see if this show finished off on a good note.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, King ended up freeing a mysterious child with god-like powers, known as The Collector, in order to stop Belos’ grand plan. He convinced said Collector to end the draining spell so they could play a made-up game called “Owl House”, with everyone on the Boiling Isles as players. The plan worked, but The Collector ended up capturing King and remaking the entire isles in their own image. In a final, noble sacrifice, King sent Luz and Co. back to the human world.

As anime gets more mainstream worldwide, we get more of its tropes incorporated into modern American cartoons. In The Owl House‘s case, I’m referring to the classic time skip. They thankfully condense what would’ve been numerous filler episodes of tween drama escapades in the human world that meant absolutely nothing in the long run into a montage of the crew living a mundane life. A lot of devout fans probably don’t like the model of three longer episodes, but I think it worked out for the better. 

So, is the plot of this final season any good? Well, for the most part, yes. It resolves plot threads, character arcs, etc. Again, thanks to the three-part structure, it doesn’t waste time, and trims the fat that would fill most final installments. It doesn’t jump the shark as far as I could tell.

However, that’s almost the season’s drawback—scratch that—it’s the whole show’s drawback. Since my review of the first season, I’ve made it clear that The Owl House is pretty generic and mainstream for the. The plot is predictable, even the strongest character arcs are outclassed by something else, and I don’t really think of it as anything other than a fun diversion; nothing to hem and haw about. I’m sure people would point out the elements of horror that the show has tried to capture, however—probably at Disney’s behest—it just isn’t that horrific. Maybe it could traumatize a child, but I’ve heard enough horror stories of 1990s and early 2000s cartoons to know that The Owl House doesn’t hold a candle to the sheer disregard toward children’s mental health back then (ironic how the word “death” wasn’t allowed to be used but the literal stuff of nightmares were perfectly healthy). Heck, even some modern cartoons—like Steven Universe—are still more haunting. By comparison, The Owl House takes absolutely zero creative risk whatsoever.

Sure, I’ll admit that there are some very powerful character moments. They portray anxiety, trauma, and emotional insecurities in a realistic and relatable way. The moments in this final season are no slouch. However… I use the word “very” for a reason, since modifiers like “really” belong somewhere else. You’d have to be willing to let your raw emotion run wild for this one.

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Final Verdict (Whole Series): 8.5/10

The Owl House is an all-around solid show. However, that’s about it. If you look under the macabre imagery, it’s creatively bankrupt. The plot is predictable and unremarkable, the characters—while enjoyable—just never really engaged with me (except for Hootsifer), and—well—the show just isn’t exactly what I’d call a masterpiece. I’d only recommend it if cartoons are your primary fix. Otherwise, save your precious time for bangers like Gravity Falls.

Tchia: New Caledonia’s Time in the Limelight

It’s rare for indie games to get a lot of press, and Tchia is one such case. It’s had trailers presented at all of the most prestigious gaming events, and acclaimed magazines like Game Informer have been dying to sink their teeth into it. I wanted in on it as well, and now, it’s finally here. I played it on PlayStation because I didn’t want to make an account on EGS essentially for just this game (and I don’t play games often enough to justify the free weekly games quirk).

In Tchia, the titular character is enjoying a life on a secluded island in a fictitious archipelago vaguely based on New Caledonia (but we might as well call it New Caledonia anyway). However, some military guy shows up and kidnaps her dad, taking him to the castle of Meavora, a malevolent god who cosplays as the Michelin Man. Well… time to get him back I guess.

So, this is an open world game, and open world games generally don’t have much plot, in order to account for freedom. I always need to throw that disclaimer out there, because a lot of people still complain about open world games for not having a plot. ANYWAY… it’s a pretty basic, harmless story, but we’ll elaborate on the specifics later in the post.

Of course, what the devs really poured their souls into is the worldbuilding. Well, I call it “worldbuilding”, but what I’m referring to is a presumably painstakingly perfect recreation of New Caledonian culture. Giving them the benefit of the doubt here (since it means their heads if they actually got any of it wrong), they do prove that Disney aren’t the only ones who can really sell you a foreign culture (is it a hot take to say that Disney actually does it right? I feel like everyone assumes their cultural appropriators despite numerous documentaries that prove otherwise). Before even starting the game, they literally have a five page exposition that basically says “Hey, New Caledonia is here, and this game is heavily based off of it!” 

As someone who—not to toot his own horn—likes being exposed to other cultures, Tchia is quite engaging. For starters, it has a beautiful and cozy look to it. The characters look very Pixar-y, and the world—despite not being all 12800p, is really breathtaking. The soundtrack takes you to those islands, and it even breaks out into a full song with lyrics whenever you spend a long time sailing on the sea. There are also rhythm-based music minigames, although you can disable the actual gameplay element if you want. Overall, the devs of Tchia did an impeccable job of making New Caledonia seem like a cozy and welcome place.

What makes Tchia stand out is its gameplay, inspired by Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. Once you are told to gather the first MacGuffins, you’re free to theoretically go wherever you want, and tackle objectives in any order. In fact, some collectibles are required for story progress. 

Maps are essential in open world games, and the one in Tchia is… interesting. While it marks a lot of points of interest on the map, it doesn’t exactly mark YOUR position. It marks your last known location, which is set to a new position by examining signs, and you just have to go from there. Fortunately, Tchia has a built-in GPS like a bird, for there is a command for her to give you a vague idea of where you are. You will want to use your compass and the pin feature a lot (although it can be enjoyable to wander aimlessly in this particular overworld). There is, of course, a mechanic to reveal all points of interest in a set area, and it might be my favorite ever; you literally climb up to the designated locations and scream. Tchia comes with both GPS AND echolocation!

The other big thing about exploration is the Soul Jump mechanic. Tchia can possess organic matter (as well as rocks, lamps, and jerry cans) and control them. The physics for this mechanic are amazing. When leaving something’s body, Tchia keeps the momentum that it had at the moment of the button press, meaning that if you charge forward with—say—a fast animal, Tchia will go flying out of it as if she was shot from a cannon. She can also perform a Soul Throw, where she somehow jumps out of something and flings it forward at the same time. The Soul Meter drains while in possession of something, and it only regenerates up to about the first half of the meter. You’ll need to rely on food stands throughout the world and storable food items in order to keep yourself topped off. Tchia also has a ukulele to play simple Soul Melodies on. These can change the time of day, and summon animals to possess. It’s really easy to remember what does what, because the letters that represent notes spell out a word that you can generally link to that power-up. There’s also a free-style mode that is insanely more involved, meant for the musically inclined who want to jam out at their leisure.

There are many collectibles and minigames in the world of… Neo New Caledonia? Wait, that’s just New New Caledonia… Anyway, there’s a lot, from fruits that increase stats to pearls and trinkets that are used as currency. Challenges include time attacks, rock balancing, and Totem Shrines.

When it comes to difficulty… Well, that’s for you to decide. The devs say in that opening bit that they want anyone to be able to enjoy Tchia. You can even set it so that you can’t die. However, if you want a challenge, then Tchia delivers in some regards. One big thing is that your stamina is also your health; you can die by climbing a tree if you really want. This makes those Stamina Fruits really valuable. The game gets really, REALLY easy if you go after optional upgrades, so masochistic gamers might want to do a minimal percent run.

There are also enemy camps containing the Maano, which can only be damaged by throwing lamps and jerry cans at them. These can get ugly. The enemy A.I. are very alert, and if you possess something, any movement makes them suspicious as well. After the halfway point of the game, bigger and badder bases spawn in. They don’t only contain more Maano, but they also sport Sentinels which can see you from just about anywhere and shoot lasers. I personally don’t blame you if you enable invincibility, because they can be quite difficult and would otherwise alienate people who just want to embrace New Caledonian culture via Tchia.

Speaking of that, I almost feel like having the conflict as well as the combat arguably detracts from what the game wants to be. There are numerous examples of tonal whiplash throughout the game, where you go from doing a really cozy musical sequence to seeing a baby get swallowed whole. The fact that they made a toggle for literally being invincible shows how arbitrary having any combat ends up being. The other thing is that the combat, mechanically, is arguably tedious. The Maano aren’t just hawk-eyed; there is also no stealth grass like in other games with similar combat. Also, the mobs themselves are even MORE lacking in variety than Breath of the Wild, and furthermore, there is no way to get creative with fighting them whatsoever. Additionally, the inability to see enemy positions on the map in any way makes some of the particularly large bases really annoying to clear. Just pray that you get certain optional Soul Melodies that make taking out the bases significantly less tedious.

With that being said, I also feel like the cast isn’t the strongest. Sure, the cutscenes are Pixar-levels of expressive and memorable, but that doesn’t mean the people onscreen are on that level. For the most part, Tchia herself and a certain race of mythological beings are the only characters I like. Everyone else feels like a half-assed plot device. They tend to be exposition dumpers, like Tres or Kevere. There is also Louise, a friend who becomes a lover over the course of five minutes with no organic buildup at all. Someone literally tries to shoot Tchia dead—with a SHOTGUN—and then she helps them cook crab for dinner. Meavora is also not too interesting. They basically take the Western approach and make him one-dimensionally evil, what with his appetite for infants, and the modern look of his city echoing yet another allegory to colonialism that seems obligatory in any media featuring marginalized ethnic groups.

One more minor complaint I have is that the devs very much misname Tchia’s postgame as “endgame.” It is, by definition, the postgame; it’s set after the final battle, and there are additional objectives to do as well as the rest of the collectibles. It supposedly replaces remaining enemy bases with a new type of mob, but since I beat all of them before rolling credits, I never got to see those mobs and don’t know if they’re any different. Again, it also kind of sucks that there aren’t too many ways to play the game. Most of the joy comes from its unique atmosphere, as well as trying your own custom challenges, such as traveling the whole perimeter of an island without touching the ground as a human… or recreating ‘Through the Fire and Flames’ in the ukulele’s freestyle mode.

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Tchia might’ve been a better game if it went all-in on the cozy, idyllic New Caledonian lifestyle. However, the game we got instead is nonetheless one of the best I’ve played this year. It might be lacking in a variety of playstyles, but it’s still probably one of my favorite open world games simply because I don’t play games often enough to feel tired of the genre. While it will likely be forgotten due to how our society works, I will certainly not forget about Tchia. I recommend it if you want a nice open world game that scratches the itches but doesn’t eat your time like the triple-A ones do.

Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind: Finally, a Japanese Percy Jackson!

Not to sound politically correct here, but as far as “representation” is concerned, I firmly believe that Oni: Thunder God’s Tale is the gold standard (ignoring the fact that it’s under the radar and not enough people care about it). If you read my review, you’ll see me fan-gush about how amazing it is. It’s a near-perfect first impression of Japanese culture that hits all the right notes, while being fun, engaging, and not political. It was only natural that I would be unfairly scrupulous to Misa Sugiura’s Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind, since I’m particularly passionate about Japanese folklore. As Yzma said with cucumbers in her eyes: “This had better be GOOD.” 

By the way, Sugiura is a YA author who typically writes romances. This isn’t a bad omen whatsoever.

In Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind, the titular character lives alone with her mother. Momo is constantly caught seeing yokai, and is made fun of because ordinary people can’t see them. One of these yokai is a fox with sick drip, named Niko, who desperately wants to tell her something, and he gets that opportunity when Momo is attacked by a shikome. Turns out that her mom is Takiri-bime-no-mikoto, a kami who sealed away a secret portal to Yomi. Now she’s dying… great. Only one thing to do: go on adventures!

So, I’ve built up this book to be awful. As I waited for it to be available at my local library, I ran through countless drafts where I criticized every mistake Sugiura would make. 

However, much to my surprise, Momo Arashima… actually kicks ass?! For clarification, my entire basis was on the description, more so than Sugiura’s lack of experience in urban fantasy. The description of the book implies that it sells out in every possible way, Westernizing the names of all Shinto terminology; yokai are “demons”, the shikome as a “death hag”, and whatnot. That description is BY NO MEANS true to the actual content within, where Sugiura thankfully retains the original names of all relevant entities (except for some occasions where she refers to yokai as demons anyway?). Sometimes, it pays off to go in blindly, because a bad description can blind-side you instead.

We’ll get back to the portrayal of Shinto mythology in a bit, because—well—regardless of how well that’s handled, Momo Arashima is not perfect by any means. It starts off the same generic way as pretty much every Western urban fantasy ever, from Percy Jackson and beyond: Momo is different and people make fun of her for it, and then she inevitably learns self-worth while out to save the world. It’s basic and cliché, but by nature, it gets more tolerable the further in you get.

First off… I hate it when someone blindsides me with something about Shinto I don’t know! I honestly didn’t think a ROMANCE author would’ve actually put in this much research. One of the main things that caught me off guard was this “other” portal to Yomi. The only one I know of is Yomotsu-Hirasaka, which is a real landmark in Izumo. The portal in this book, on the “Island of Mysteries?” I had no clue! It could be made up, which would be fine because Shinto basically NEEDS creative liberties, but I wish I knew whether or not it was. 

Of course, the million dollar question is how well Sugiura handled the aspects that I DO know of, specifically that of yokai and kami involved with the story. I’d say that it’s… slightly above average? Don’t get me wrong, Sugiura does sell them pretty well; tengu are motorcycle gangsters, for instance. However, she’s not exactly Rick Riordan or Xiran Jay Zhao when it comes to raw creativity. However, that’s fine, mainly because it’s slim pickings with this particular theme when you don’t factor in manga at all (if only media from Japan actually counted as representation of Japanese culture). Sugiura’s depictions aren’t perfect, though, but we’ll get to that when I discuss characters. She also references a lot of characters and stories who don’t appear at all and have no relevance to the plot. Surplus info like that might be overwhelming. On top of that, there’s a chance that Ainu mythology will come up in future books, which is a creative risk that might not be worth it. Japanese mythology is absolutely crazy, and when introducing it to Western audiences who have no prior knowledge, simplicity is best. In any case, Momo Arashima should turn a normie American fifth grader into a budding weeb.

I also think that Sugiura should’ve made occasional anime references throughout the story. Now, you might be thinking “But Japan isn’t just ‘the anime place,’ you moron. It’s got a rich culture that’s been around for millennia and that’s the main focus of the book.” Yeah, I know. I used to be that Western guy who only saw Japan as “the anime place.” However, I’d still argue it’s better for a writer to use anime references in an urban fantasy based off of Shinto, especially for a Percy Jackson-like. Anime and Shinto have an important relationship with one another. Historically, franchises such as Gegege no Kitaro have been vital for preserving these most ancient traditions. However, the omission of anime is not the worst thing that could happen.

So, that’s my two cents with the ideas that Sugiura had for Momo Arashima. However, ideas are only half the battle, and—well, like I said before—she’s no Riordan. After the initial high of realizing that the book doesn’t outright suck, it’s not exactly a masterpiece either. I did find it to be an engaging read and was reluctant to put it down at any given time, but the prose wasn’t the greatest thing in the world all the same. It gets the job done but the mental images I had when reading never quite felt complete. The humor is also hit-or-miss, and the chapter titles—which sound snarky and funny enough—lose their luster when you realize that they are just lines of dialogue from said chapter. 

The characters are a case where one bad apple spoils the bunch. Momo herself isn’t the worst of the god-awful trope that I described before. However, she is very angry a lot of the time, and while that sounds bad I can’t exactly blame her… considering a certain someone she travels with.

Whenever I dislike a character, it’s generally because they feel like they have no soul. However, the male lead, Danny, is actually a rare time I’ve found a major protagonist to be detestable. First off, he’s of the “childhood friend who dumps the main character in order to get in with the snobby bad kids” trope that would normally be present in some middle school drama. He actively insults Momo just because she’s pegged as the village idiot. He ends up getting roped into her quest because he can magically see yokai, and contributes virtually nothing. In fact, he makes things worse. He doesn’t ever take anything seriously, no matter how urgent it gets; it’s all a game to him. Of course, there’s the part where he opens up and you’re supposed to sympathize with him. However, his backstory actually makes him worse; he’s pretty much a bunch of aged tropes from the 1960s. He’s also used as an allegory to racism… kind of? Sugiura doesn’t go in the same direction as Traci Chee’s We Are Not Free here, but in a way, the lack of committing makes the few mentions of race in the book seem like shock value. Ultimately, Danny’s case of being an Asian adopted by White parents doesn’t really affect his character arc at all.

Fortunately, the two kids have a hard-carrying friend in the fox, Niko. Unlike Danny, he does almost everything. If it wasn’t for him, Momo and Danny would’ve died twelve times over. 

So… this is where it gets awkward. While I want to commend Sugiura for not completely selling out on Westernizing Shinto… Well, take note for me saying “completely” there. She doesn’t make the egregious mistake of referring to yokai as a whole as “evil”, but that word still exists in the book’s vocabulary. Specifically, it is used to describe the first main villain: Shuten-doji. He is the antagonist of Raiko’s story, which is one that I read only once in one of my research books, so this was a time where I really felt like I was experiencing a Shinto character for the first time. He’s… not great to say the least. He’s just a generic Saturday morning cartoon villain with no pizazz. 

Sidebar: Experiencing Shuten-doji at least taught me that I mistakenly assumed that the leader of the oni who inhabited Onigashima in Momotaro’s story was the Oni King. Nope, I actually looked up Shuten-doji and it seems that he is the de facto and canonical leader of all the oni. To be honest, I feel like a classic White guy for making such a critical mistake.

Unfortunately, I don’t know if Sugiura is capable of or wants to make nuanced antagonists. In addition to Shuten-doji, Momo inevitably confronts her grandfather, Susano’o. While Sugiura’s portrayal of him is really great and iconic, it’s also very by-the-book; she consciously pulled only the bad parts about him (and omits Kushinada for some reason? Are readers expected to assume that he conceived Takiri by taking a shower like his dad did?). I don’t really like that at all. I always saw him as a misunderstood kid. He pulled pranks on his pompous twin siblings for attention. Also, he was banished simply for mourning his mother, who was already dead by the time he was born. You can relate to never being able to meet your mother, right? That’s just mean. Speaking of his mother, we get a sneak preview of the true villain of the series, who is—quite naturally—Izanami herself. There’s not much to go on, but based on what I’ve seen in this book, Sugiura will likely make the Western mistake of attributing her to Satan.

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

It’s not perfect, but Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of Wind is a good enough series opener for me to tentatively want more. It kind of sucks that—as far as I know—this isn’t a New York Times Bestseller (considering the hot garbo that tops that chart all the time). Seriously, between this and Oni: Thunder God’s Tale, why can’t Shinto hit it big in the West outside the hardcore anime community? Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess. I’d recommend Momo Arashima (and Oni) if you wanna get a crash course in Shinto (and don’t want to read manga for some reason).

BABYMETAL’s Fourth Album Almost Gave Me an Existential Crisis

So… I know I have normally rescinded doing single review posts of an album, as opposed to my much better bi-annual highlight reel. However, when writing the first one for 2023, the blurb for BABYMETAL’s newest full-length—The Other One—ended up being more than a blurb. It was a diatribe that went on for at least double—if not triple—the length of all the other blurbs on that post. A lot of it was also… quite ranty. However, I still did want to touch on this album, since I don’t think the target on my back that I got for being one of the band’s critics was big and obnoxious enough. I’ve had a long history of trying to understand why and how they are the statistically most popular Japanese metal band in the entire world, to the point of being considered the face of Japanese metal as a whole. As a weeb, I want to love them, but struggle to do so.

Before getting into the proper review, I must contextualize the band for anyone who somehow hasn’t heard of them. Regardless of what I think about them, a lot of my all-time favorite Japanese metal bands owe their existence to BABYMETAL. The reason is because BABYMETAL invented the idea of fusing idol pop with metal in the first place. This was a novel idea at the time, and it paved the way for far better forms of the same idea to follow. The Other One is their first new album in four years, after a “hibernation” period or whatever.

Initial impressions were good when they released the first single, ‘Divine Attack – Shingeki’ (not related to the metalcore idol group Shingeki). It was as basic as expected, but it hit the right notes without having the chorus be overly infectious. Would I finally be able to unironically love a BABYMETAL album?

The answer to that is: it’s complicated. Positives: the songs are, for the most part, quite good. They are as heavy and catchy as ever. However, The Other One presents a stark change in the band’s sound, where they veer from their idol silliness toward a concept album that supposedly doesn’t play by the rules. As someone who has been open to changes in the styles of bands (and gave Oceans of Slumber’s Southern rock album a perfect score)… I’m not sure I welcome this change. I’ll admit that I had initially considered this a power-metal-influenced album going off of the pre-releases, which is very much not the case now that the full thing is out. However, they still feel as underwhelming as ever, perhaps moreso without the kawaii nonsense; a textbook example of jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. Sure, it shows that “they’re grown women who aren’t idols any longer,” but at this juncture they kind of become Schrödinger’s Sellouts. What I mean by that is that their new shift is both selling out and not selling out at the same time; they sell out by making a more “normal” sound that’s more accessible across the board, but they also don’t sell out by showing that they are capable of different ideas outside of their established image. It’s an argument that could go on for an eternity. 

Maybe it’s just because I don’t listen to metal 24/7. Other reviews and people on Reddit could easily attribute each track not just to specific subgenres, but to the sounds of specific BANDS, and specific SONGS by said bands. Maybe I’m not music-y enough to tell that the one song “starts off with Architects-like drumming but with riffs from Gojira” or whatever. Honestly, I don’t even know if I want to be able to do that. Do people really enjoy looking at music that way?

Another disappointment is due to the press and myself. There’ve been rumors of them recruiting a third vocalist to replace the girl who left in 2018, and well, those are still rumors. I myself had figured that they were going to hire a dedicated unclean vocalist; something that could greatly help the band’s style. It would’ve been a brilliant move to have the pre-release singles with just the two, then—at launch—change them to rerecorded versions that unexpectedly rip our faces off with the new vocalist. However, that still remains a pipe dream (NOTE: This post was published mere hours before the actual third member was hired). For some reason, people think the two current vocalists are goddesses. Well, they are, but only as a given since they’re women in the metal industry. I know that it’s disrespectful to put women in metal on a tier list, but on the witness stand, I’d stand by my claim that BABYMETAL’s singers are kind of mid in the long run. I’m tone deaf, so I can only go off how they sound on a superficial level. Both of them always came off as lacking in pitch-range and versatility.

I must call myself out on one thing: I kind of have an inflated, unfair expectation of what Japanese music should be. A lot of the music down there is very eccentric and fuses subgenres as a given, to which I basically came up with this motto: “Japanese music is basically avant-garde by default.” As such, I get mad when a Japanese music artist sounds more bog standard. I admit that The Other One will force me to question how much I really like not just Japanese bands, but any band I love that has generally stuck to one style. The Other One almost spits in their faces; they can do all of these crazy, intricate things that defy logic, but are they really that talented if they can’t do something “normal” with equally good results? Would, say, Brand of Sacrifice still be great if they abandoned the Berserk themes, synthesizers, and just did classic blood n’ guts deathcore? Should that even be a metric to measure musicians on? THANKS GIRLS YOU’RE THE BEST.

Still reading? Yeah, this post became a mess, didn’t it? Part of that was from me making the mistake of looking up press releases related to the record. One thing I’ve noticed in a lot of articles is that the band was getting praise for abandoning the idol look; such as Metal Hammer saying they have “shaken off the ‘novelty’ tag” in a positive light. When I listened to this album in full, I was like “Yeah it’s still mid, end of story.” However, I really spiraled when trying to understand the reasons for The Other One‘s acclaim. This is BABYMETAL, the band that turned the very definition of metal on its head… yet they get praised more than ever for being normal? I was tempted to go into conspiracy theory territory, with crackpot theories that the press wants to belittle artists who go out of left field. Maybe what they’ve published don’t even reflect what the human beings behind-the-scenes really think. 

Fortunately, I shouldn’t have to be so jealous of their fame for much longer. For whatever reason, it looks like this decade will be the one where a number of those tragically underrated Japanese metal bands will break through into the global mainstream. BAND-MAID, the group that seemed the closest to achieving this, has toured with Guns N’ Roses, and even opened for The Last Rockstars, a supergroup composed of Japan’s most famous and important rock pioneers. That makes them mainstream now, right? In any case, Broken by the Scream has had their first overseas gigs, hanabie. has been booked for numerous festivals—including the coveted Aftershock—while Lovebites recently returned with their new lineup (and even got acknowledged by the almighty Metal Hammer), and Gyze—now Ryujin—have signed with THE Napalm Records. All of these bands will probably still be in BABYMETAL’s shadow for the time being, even with these achievements, but they’re slowly creeping in on that world conquest.

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Final Verdict: 7.5/10

This band is one of the reasons why I sometimes hate having autism. Loving them has become a way of life as natural as breathing. No one questions BABYMETAL’s greatness, and anyone who does is clearly wrong, and gets choked out immediately by people such as Rob Zombie. The Other One isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination—I’d argue it’s great even—but on the metric of how popular the band is, the score I’ve given certainly doesn’t seem positive. 

I think I just need to give up. Temple Grandin once said that she needed to accept things about neurotypical people that she didn’t understand, and people’s undying love for BABYMETAL is one of those things. Maybe I’ll give them another chance if they hire a death growler, but for the time being, I shouldn’t milk my vendetta with them any longer. The bottom line is this: nothing by this band sets my heart aflutter. End of story. I myself can’t adequately explain why, and that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. 

I of course recommend Lovebites, BAND-MAID, Broken by the Scream, hanabie., Shingeki, Utsu-P, Ryujin, and other powerful Japanese metal artists over BABYMETAL. May their Fox God have mercy on my soul I guess.

Neptune Frost: Bless the Hackers Down in Africa

I have sworn off live action movies for a number of reasons, well really just one reason: the mainstream. In my experience as a consumer, you do not get aggressively bludgeoned nor pressured into any media more than live action movies. It feels like these movies—specifically ones of American origin—are given more clout than anything else, and if you don’t fill up that laundry list of films that come out faster than what you can possibly keep up with, you risk being alienated (for the record I only watch three theatrical releases a year at most just by following Disney alone). 

However, there is a whole other side to movies that goes beyond Hollywood. There are markets all over the world and in the underground. One such underground movie is an avant-garde little fella I happened upon on Kanopy… and you already know what it’s called since that’s in the title of the post. Neptune Frost is a relatively recent live action movie that actually looked good, and this is me we’re talking about. Eff it, I might as well!

Normally, I’d start the next passage with “In [insert title here]”. However, I did refer to Neptune Frost as an “avant-garde little fella” before. Ergo, this is not a movie where I can do that. Nothing in it makes sense, so it’s natural to write a review that makes no sense!

Anyway, the first thing to compliment is how it’s visually presented… for once. Like, these actors are wearing actual costumes. Use of CG is relatively light. Furthermore, the costumes are phenomenal. I’ve never been to Africa, but I’ve seen authentic African art at Disney, so I can tell how good of a job they did integrating that fashion statement with wires, circuit boards, and whatnot to adorn the main protagonists. I didn’t think “on location sets” (it was filmed in scenic Rwanda) and “costumes” existed anymore, so it was a welcome sight to see them in this century. 

Additionally, this is a musical. Traditional African chants mingle dissonantly with darkwave, EDM, industrial, and all sorts of electronic music to make some strange and gripping numbers. These songs are, naturally, where Neptune Frost is at its finest. The way they filmed and edited these sequences were really good; going all-in on weirdness without overwhelming you with excessive jump cuts and whatever you call that shaking thing they do in modern movies these days. 

However, that’s where the positives end… maybe? Well, the plot of the movie is a mixed bag. The basic idea is that a man named Matalusa(?) ends up joining a group of cyberpunked-out abolitionists who go against the status quo, and a lanky person named Neptune eventually follows suit. The structure, for the most part, is experiencing how crappy the world is, and then getting to see the far better pocket of space occupied by the cool kids on the block.

It seems straightforward, but it isn’t. Or is it? Neptune Frost is packed with strange edits and cutaways that scratch the avant-garde itch mentioned twice already. It’s engaging, but leaves you wondering what’s even going on. The content on screen often switches from rural Africa to a neon fever dream in an instant. 

Conversely, it gets more and more straightforward the further in you get. The takeaway of the movie will be blatantly told instead of shown, specifically in later musical numbers. It’s one of those plots that’s more confusing on the surface than when looked at with scrutiny. 

And… well… look. Okay, this technically counts as spoiler territory, but it’s basically telegraphed by the official product description telling you that this all-Black population is slaving away in a mine at the beginning of the movie. This is yet another one of the thousands of allegories to all the bad -isms in the world, that reviewers will be like “Hey, that’s an allegory to this and that!”, but then they just go back to their lives the next day and nothing changes. I admit I’m probably going to go back to my normal life as well. Look… As someone who worries about civil rights issues to the point of being prone to anxiety attacks daily, I must say that—as a reviewer—that Neptune Frost is a heap of often-used allegories with a novel paint job. The dialogue ranges from esoteric and abstract, to a guy saying “F*** Mr. Google”. It’s unremarkable yet remarkable at the same time. 

Originally, this paragraph was about me wanting to call Neptune Frost pretentious but then me denying that very claim. Well, just because it’s not made by Hollywood doesn’t give it an excuse. It is quite literally a textbook example of a pretentious movie: it blatantly telegraphs allegories that the masses generally already know, but through an abstract lens that feigns intellectualness. Take that lens away and it’s just The Hate U Give clone number forty thousand. It’s almost too on the nose, like how they reference White supremacy when—as far as we know—the Authority who torments them are as Black as they are. Its creator—Saul Williams—goes through all the trouble to fly to Africa and convince locals to stick wires up their noses… for something this lacking in originality?

For the sake of thoroughness, I suppose I should discuss the characters, despite them always feeling more like plot devices as a consequence of the feature film format. The actors, for the most part, are quite talented. However, the roles they play are underwhelming outside of the top-billed characters. It all revolves around Mata and Neptune, with the latter basically being the only one capable of doing anything in the movie. As pointed out in the official product description, she is intersexual, which—according to the Internet—means having an unconventional combination of reproductive organs. From various context clues, it seems that Neptune has both boobies and “the boys”. However, this doesn’t seem to be pertinent to the plot whatsoever. Neptune literally wanders in and—through a seemingly unexplained connection to Mata—is able to hijack the Internet. That’s… basically the gist of her character arc. She can also sometimes possess a bird? 

Before getting to the final score, I must stress that I am not really a movie expert. This is my first live action film since Mary Poppins Returns. I have no clue what any shot is supposed to invoke, or why they do this edit or that cut. All this has been speaking from the gut. If you want a more in-depth review, there’s probably one somewhere else on the Internet. 

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

Neptune Frost—regardless of how smart it is or isn’t—at least taught me one thing: that even in my least favorite entertainment medium, there are still hidden treasures that exist beyond the mainstream. Hollywood churns out its endless cycle of big productions, while elsewhere, independent films come out in droves, only achieving underground success at best. That’s where movies like Neptune Frost exist; in that unpredictable territory meant for the adventurous. It’s by no means a masterpiece, but I can at least respect it from an artistic standpoint… if I give it a MASSIVE benefit of the doubt. If you really want to see it… just keep in mind that subtitles are only in English (the actors speak in Kinyarwanda and other African tongues for the most part).

Top Seven Videogames I Like But Haven’t Finished for No Reason

You can’t finish every game, unless you’re a true MLG gamer who has videogames as a career. That’s part of the fallacy of the gaming market, because they’re all like PLAY THESE GAMES AND NONE OTHER, but then every time something popular comes out it only lasts about a week because—oops, almost went on a tangent. Anyway, as a non-gamer, I only own maybe seventy-five games (I traded a lot of my Gamecube and Wii games from back in the day because I didn’t have the foresight to know they’d become antiques), possibly less, and I don’t even think I’ve finished half of them. A lot of the time, I just don’t think they’re worth my precious time, but sometimes there really is no reason. My mind just says “No, you’re not playing it.” Here’s a top seven list of those games.


7) Blacktail

I’d preface this by saying how popular Blacktail was… but I honestly don’t know that information. It was supposedly trending on Steam at some point at launch, but like I said before, there are so many games and the market changes faster than humans can possibly follow yet they expect you to—ANYWAY, this is a title I looked forward to for some time. 

It looked beautiful and unique, drawing inspiration from Slavic mythology. From what I played, it has really good first-person combat with some open world survival elements. The dash is responsive and versatile, and has a morality system. I normally don’t like games like this, because that freedom of choice comes in quotation marks, for there is almost always a True Ending locked behind the devs’ pre-conceived vision. I ended up looking this up and I learned that Blacktail apparently has only one ending regardless of what you do, which a lot of Steam users were mad at. It’s presumably an allegory to how good and evil doesn’t exist and such acts are only defined as such by humans. Anyway, it is great and all, but it is a bit in the edgy Grimm-style gothic fairy tale category, and I generally don’t like that in my games. I prefer even a little humor. Also, I have it on PC, and it is one of the most demanding ones I have at that. My paranoia with my computer’s GPU definitely has an influence here.


6) Sable

I feel really bad with this one… barring the fishing content update, I am basically in position to finish Sable at any time. It’s not even difficult; it’s one of those “wholesome” games. With a unique aesthetic and transportive atmosphere, Sable was definitely one of the best open world indie games of 2021. It takes the barren and empty biome that is the desert and fills it with variety and interesting landmarks. I just… I dunno, man. I just haven’t been in the mood. There is also the fact that I essentially played an altogether better clone of it in SEASON: a letter to the future, which also has non-violent exploration with a vehicle companion, but additionally has a way stronger narrative that just feels more compelling. Sable is excellent in and of itself, though.


5) Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope

I bought this and its DLC at launch, so I clearly was excited. As only one of two strategy RPGs I’ve played, it’s definitely a new experience. Mechanically, the game has a wide variety of strategies with numerous characters that have unique playstyles. There’s plenty to do in each world, and the incorporation of dashing and jumping from Super Mario rewards good reflexes to execute optimal strategies. The cutscenes are some of the best for Mario and Co., with tons of personality. 

However, it does have some iffy bits. There isn’t really any freedom in building your units, other than equipping up to two titular Sparks. Some enemy Units (such as those lightning tiger men introduced in that one world) are just tedious to fight. Also, you are locked to three characters (except in certain missions), but it’s more like two since Rabbid Peach is the only one with a dedicated healing move. It also has a lackluster soundtrack, which is a Super Mario sin. I might come back to it now that the DLC is rolling out—which will eventually include the return of Rayman to his own series—but for now, I haven’t been in the mood. 


4) Nobody Saves the World

From the devs of Guacamelee, Nobody Saves the World is a whacky beat ‘em up/dungeon crawler where you transform into various things—from a mouse, to an archer, to a horse, to an egg—and fight legions of monsters with them. Mechanically, it’s really good. It scratches the beat ‘em up itch, and most importantly, you can assign skills to other forms to create—say—a horse that fires missiles. It’s really good, but… I dunno, again, I just haven’t been in the mood. Most likely, it’s the caveat with beat ‘em ups in that they are substantially more fun in multiplayer, which Nobody Saves the World incidentally has.


3) Both Yakuza 0 and Yakuza: Like a Dragon

I seem to be cursed to where all the games for weebs are not in my wheelhouse. I gave the famously absurd Yakuza franchise a chance, though, with two of its most highly acclaimed titles, but ultimately have not been in the mood to finish either of them. 

Let’s start with what—from what I could tell—makes Yakuza by far SEGA’s most polished and perfected I.P. Even as someone who doesn’t care for story, these two games have engaging cutscenes that are more like live action dramas, but don’t feel as pretentious as Western ones. Yakuza: Like a Dragon (which is technically the name of the series twice, since Yakuza is the Western localization of Ryu ga Gotoku, which translates to “like a dragon”) has a particularly good narrative. The combat of both is excellent. Yakuza 0, as with most of the franchise, plays like a classic beat ‘em up in the vein of Shenmue, with intricate combos, and over-the-top special moves, as well as specific actions that involve the environment. Yakuza: Like a Dragon plays like a turn-based RPG, which is more accessible but is still ridiculous in its own way.

However, both games seem to have their own trappings. One of the most egregious issues is that they are immensely grindy for a number of reasons, such as the gacha-based item-finding mechanic in 0, where you need more and more money to get better loot and to decrease the time it takes to bring the loot in, or the obscene amount of yen you need to upgrade weapons and the crafting shop in Like a Dragon. This is from someone who completed every Rare Blade skill tree in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, so that means it’s REALLY bad. 0 seems to have a mechanic where you generate money automatically over time (that goes to show you how little I’ve done in that game), but man, you need that money all the same. Yakuza 0 is also very difficult at times, and Like a Dragon has some seriously spongey bosses—even when overleveled by a wide margin. 

The biggest turn-off for me, however, is that there are a lot of sidequests locked behind minigames. The sidequests are some of the best parts of Yakuza, and I can’t experience them all. Seriously, I played shogi on the easiest difficulty for over two hours and couldn’t win ONCE. It also doesn’t help that a lot of sidequests have right/wrong answers and can be annoying. Maybe Yakuza is just not for me. Womp womp.


2) Eastward

This is probably one of the best games of 2021. You can tell it was made with blood, sweat, and manly crocodile tears. It has gorgeous and unique pixel art, as well as Eastward wearing its Earthbound influence on its sleeve. The dialogue isn’t just well-written; the story is extremely well-told. 

However, it has some caveats that take getting used to. Despite the gameplay borrowing from 2D Zelda, it really isn’t a Zelda-like game at all. Exploration is limited, almost every collectable is missable, and to rub salt in the wound, there is almost no warning for when you pass one of those cutoff points; just casually going over to someone’s house to deliver lunch can trigger a sudden change in the story dynamic. Eastward is more like Final Fantasy X than Zelda, and this MUST be kept in mind. Unfortunately, I didn’t expect this, and have felt turned off from it for a while. It doesn’t help that the puzzles—from what I’ve played—are mind-numbingly simple, failing to execute upon the wide variety of gameplay mechanics you are given. 

While the story is really good, I don’t know if it can carry average gameplay. I do come to miss this game at times, but I still haven’t played it again in about two years now. Like the Magic Conch says: “maybe someday.”


1) Satisfactory maybe?

I’m not sure this one counts, because I by all means LOVE this game to death but I haven’t been in the mood to play it lately. I have almost a hundred hours in it, and have played a bit of Update Seven. Satisfactory is an exceptionally good crafting/open world/sandbox/base building/automation/logistics game with excellent UI, virtually no limit on how to build a factory, and a—no pun intended—satisfying progression system. It is a game where you feel like you are a god. Also, unlike some other automation games, resource deposits are infinite.

However, these kinds of games are full of caveats, but it actually takes a long time to feel the pinch. Learning how mechanics work is intuitive enough, but—similar to many other crafting games and their ilk—Satisfactory feels more balanced around multiplayer. There are numerous times in the campaign where I feel like I’ve pulled my teeth out to make a mind-bogglingly complex resource, and the best setup I have is about a mile long track of machines, and it takes them about twenty minutes to make one… just for that resource to be an ingredient in even more mind-bogglingly complex resource. In addition to that, you have to build machines that specialize in generating power for your factory, and since Satisfactory is super Capitalist in terms of theming, there is no taking advantage of low-maintenance sources such as solar or wind; EVERYTHING needs to burn at least one resource (also, why does the nuclear plant need water?). Also, Oil is an annoying resource, because it always needs to be refined into other things, and that refinement speed—even with maximum overclock settings—is slower than what a lot of those resulting resources are used for, such as burning fuel in Fuel Generators. The mechanics of the game will actively work against you as it becomes more of a struggle to increase and maintain power. 

It feels like there’s almost too much to do, as if it was intended to split up a team of players to do stuff like keeping up with maintenance in the base, while others expand and build the maze of devices needed to make those insane resources, or explore the vast overworld for loot. I like a lot to do in a game, but even in its current Early Access state, it can take at least two hundred hours to get through all available Tiers. That doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of resources you need to convert into tickets to redeem various trophies in-game, which I presume will be tied to Achievements once those are added. I also have felt crushing loneliness playing Satisfactory solo, which is similar to a lot of other open world survival games I’ve played. Even if they are really good gameplay-wise, a lot of the fun comes from bringing at least one extra player. I’ve played many open world survival games and felt similar burnout every single time.

On the flipside, Satisfactory’s immensity makes it so that you really don’t need any other game of this kind. It really is one of the best, but I dunno… it might just be TOO good. Also, again, it’s a resource intensive PC game, and even with its internal fans and an external cooling device, my computer feels like an oven when running it. I’ve only had it for a year and it was a top-of-the-line computer too… What kind of beasts are Twitch streamers running by comparison?!


Conclusion

As someone who loves videogames, I often tell myself that I hate videogames. Boy, there are sure a lot of these fellas out there, right? Well, the real purpose of this post was to introduce you, the reader, to some games that I might never get to publish a proper review for. Hope you enjoyed this mess of a post, and maybe, you’ll have a better game clearing rate than me.