Core Keeper (Early Access): This Game Could be the Next Big Timesink

Playing games in Early Access is a natural risk. What’s even riskier is playing a game in Early Access as soon as it drops; in its buggiest, most unbalanced, infantile state possible. But you know what… I’m feeling risky. Besides, I was planning to do this when Forever Skies dropped on Steam, so I might as well get used to it. Let’s see if Core Keeper has any potential to be a really great game.

In Core Keeper, you end up getting teleported into a sprawling cave, with a mysterious object at its center. With nothing better to do, your goal is to power it up and see what it does. 

Like Grounded and Minecraft, that’s all there is to the story of Core Keeper; what matters is the gameplay. Right off the bat, the game is more like the latter than the former, because it’s set in a procedurally generated world. No two save files are exactly alike, allowing for a lot of replay value. However, this means you can have bad luck finding the biome that you want. 

Before we go into what biomes you want, let’s discuss the actual gameplay. If you’ve played Minecraft or Terraria, then Core Keeper will be easy to jump right into. And if you haven’t played them, then prepare to swim in the deep end with no floaties. There is next to no tutorial about how anything works, which might be a nice change of pace for “true gamers,” but a hindrance to others. 

Fortunately, the mechanics are simple and follow expectations for this kind of game. Ores can be smelted, seeds can be planted, food can be cooked, and equipment can be forged and repaired. As you unlock better workbenches, you’ll be able to make potions, railways for fast travel, and more.

The problem is getting there. Every game like this has an early-game hurdle in one way or another, either because you need to go to a place where the enemies are really strong for the point you’re at, or because an essential resource is scarce in the areas you’re realistically capable of handling. Core Keeper‘s case is the latter. Tin is one of the most important resources in the game, because it is needed to craft a Tin Workbench that unlocks most of the essential mechanics of the game… which also need tin to craft. If you can’t find the specific biome it’s common in, you’ll be hoping RNG spawned enough wooden crates containing it. If you think that’s stupid, then this type of game is not for you. The big hurdle for me personally is scarlet—which I still have yet to find. Both tin and iron were in biomes adjacent to the starting area, but I’ve done a lot of exploring and still haven’t found any scarlet ore. 

In any case, I’m not particularly fond of ore distribution. It’s nice that hidden ores have a sparkly effect to push you in a general direction, but having them tied to specific biomes feels kind of bleh to me. Technically, it’s better because that means less pockets of your inventory will be taken up by several varieties of items. I dunno… maybe I’m just being picky.

As if the game isn’t grindy enough, it has the Quest 64 skill system. In case you have never heard of that game, here’s what it boils down to: you level attributes by using those attributes… a lot. Core Keeper gets even grindier because you need to level up an attribute five times to get ONE point to invest into that attribute’s skill tree. The upgrades are worth it; however, it seems that there are finite attribute level-ups, which is also kind of crappy. Pick your upgrades wisely.

Also, the game’s Early Access-ness REALLY shows. While there’s a lot of fully-fleshed mechanics, it’s very… archaic. For example, everything you use can ONLY be used on the quick select; if you want to plant seeds, they gotta be in quick select, and so does your watering can if you want to water them. Also, crafting of any kind requires items to be on-hand; no pulling from storage. I’m going to hope that they intend to add the necessary quality-of-life features in future patches. Another thing I hope is rebalanced is durability. The armor durability seems manageable enough, but I feel like it’s not generous enough with tools. I have the third tier of pickaxe and it loses durability VERY fast for what it is; in most games like this, the third tier is the first point where you don’t have to worry about durability too much.

Difficulty-wise, Core Keeper is actually about as punishing as Terraria or Minecraft. Even with good armor, mobs can end you as quickly as they respawn. The bosses are very tough; in fact, I almost died at the first one, and I have no idea how you’re supposed to go about fighting the giant worm. There are also situations where a horde of enemies can go out of their way to hunt you down from well off-screen. As obnoxious as that sounds, the worst ones are the larva enemies simply because they destroy items such as torches; you’ll need to rely on glow buffs to explore those areas with any sense of visibility. 

Fortunately, Core Keeper is very generous compared to other games of its kind. If you die, your stuff will still remain in that location, but it’s ONLY the stuff that’s NOT on your quick-select. Because of this, you’ll still have your armor and tools, which mitigates those annoying situations where you can soft-lock yourself out of getting important equipment back because you had to go into dangerous territory naked while the mobs that killed you camp your corpse. Please don’t change this, Core Keeper people!

Sadly, the game oozes the intention to play with multiple people. While the combat seems balanced enough, there is an almost excessive amount of stuff to do. From exploring, to expanding your main base, to building tracks for fast travel… this will easily go beyond a hundred hours for a solo player, and whether or not that’s a worthy timesink will be entirely up to you. With that being said… 

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Current Verdict: 8.5/10

Core Keeper has potential to be a really great, and addicting, game. It’ll also be a lot of bang for your buck, especially if you go solo! However, it doesn’t really do anything new. I admit that, for me, it’s currently just scratching an itch while I wait on Forever Skies, and further updates for Grounded. I’ll continue to slowly work toward beating every boss to power up the core, but there’s no guarantee I’ll accomplish that. They’re going to need to roll out quality-of-life updates in order to keep my interest.

Top Five Upcoming Anime the Internet is Not Ready For

It’s been a while since I did an anime community-oriented post, on account of me abandoning said community. However, I still follow MyAnimeList on social media, mainly for news regarding manga. Speaking of manga (and light novels as well), North American publishers have really grown to the point where they’ll publish a lot of franchises well before they get picked up for anime. Because of that, I’ve had a great track record of predicting exactly how message boards will react to their anime adaptations. I’ve noticed that, for some reason, certain series with mature themes don’t get any controversy until after the anime in particular premieres; examples being Goblin Slayer and Interspecies Reviewers. It seems most anime fans are too young to comprehend anything other than a specific set of universally appealing tropes. 

With that in mind, boy oh boy! There have been some very… interesting adaptation announcements over the course of last year and this year. So, using my knowledge of my days in that community, how about I put together a fun list of upcoming series that I’m pretty darn sure will light a few fires in the digital world?


5: Jigokuraku

I never actually posted my final, full review of this manga following my First Impressions of it, mainly because said review was kind of awful. To reconcile that, I’ll basically state that Jigokuraku, after having finished it, remains a solid, edgy ride all the way through with a gaggle of likable characters. 

With this being at the bottom of the list, I don’t anticipate Jigokuraku being too controversial. MAPPA is a renowned studio, albeit pushed to unrealistic limits with having to animate this, the finale of Attack on Titan, and the most highly anticipated battle shounen anime of the year; at least the trailer shows promise.

Jigokuraku is a pretty straightforward battle shounen with seinen tropes. I imagine people will love Gabimaru for being edgy, and Yuzuriha for being sexy. There is some horror imagery with how the monsters look, as well as what happens to people who get consumed by the plants, but it’s not too bad, relatively speaking. Most of the controversy I anticipate is in Jigokuraku‘s antagonists. These androgynous superhumans can shift gender at will, and are bisexual as well. On top of that, they tend to be naked a lot. Any anti-LGBT people in the community will probably lash out unfairly at the show, and defending it will be a nightmare if that occurs.


4: Blue Lock

People familiar with Blue Lock might not agree with me putting it higher than fifth place, and to be honest, I feel like this should merely tie with Jigokuraku in terms of controversy. My logic with putting it here is based on the fans it will attract: those of sports anime, and probably yaoi to an extent. 

From watching Dr. Stone and The Rising of the Shield Hero as they aired, I noticed that a lot of people’s brains didn’t have the capacity to appreciate good anti-heroes, and more notably, well-written characters with bad personalities. As much as we don’t like Mary/Gary Sue, the trope’s existence makes sense because writers want young audiences to feel like they’re them; and they can’t do that if the main character isn’t “good” enough to connect with.

With Blue Lock, any semblance of teamwork and manly bromance that make other sports series appealing is thrown out the window. It is deeply psychological, with a training regimen oriented entirely around building the individual rather than the team. To top it off, it’s a battle royale, with the loser getting written out of the series permanently. Anyone who cries over Danganronpa is guaranteed to follow suit in Blue Lock. Conversely, astute observers might notice the appropriate flags. I’m a bit further in the manga from when I wrote my First Impressions, and it seems that they won’t kill off anyone until their character arc feels sufficiently resolved in some manner. Of course, the series is still young and my enjoyment of it is not dampered in the slightest. But knowing seasonals, critics won’t give it that chance.


3: The Executioner and Her Way of Life

This subversive isekai is going to be a doozie. The Executioner and Her Way of Life is a time-travel-driven murdering spree disguised as a yuri Isekai. People will cry as they draw fan art of Menou and Akari in an intimate relationship, knowing that said relationship canonically can never happen, since Akari is supposed to be murdered at the end of the story. 

On top of that, it’s very visceral. While not as horrific as Torture Princess or Roll Over and Die! (both of which have no anime adaptations, for obvious reasons), it has a lot of violence and gore. Plus, Princess Ashuna is a skank who will win the hearts of perverts, and be the target of just as many critics. 


2: Dead Dead Demon’s Dededededestruction

This is the most surprising for sure, because—to my knowledge—none of Inio Asano’s manga have been given a greenlight for a TV anime adaptation (Solanin might’ve gotten an OVA but don’t quote me on that), despite his popularity in Japan. The reason is simple to anyone familiar with his works: he’s brutal. I’ve actually read most of Dededededestruction myself, and I plan to publish my full thoughts on it once Viz published the rest of the series. In the meantime, I can say that it only got this adaptation because, at least compared to Goodnight Punpun, it’s the tamest of Asano’s projects. 

Of course, given some of the gratuitous content in Punpun, “tame” doesn’t mean squat for Asano. What can be—on the surface—described as “Slice-of-Life Meets Independence Day” is much more layered than that. It’s a bizarre and abstract social commentary on how humans are more of a threat than the imminent alien menace that looms over them. In addition, the forums can easily devolve into debates over whether or not the series is pretentious.

The big question manga fans might pose is: “How?” Asano’s style of storytelling is heavily reliant on the manga format. Plus, his backgrounds are intricate to the point where any studio would have a mass heart attack trying to draw them with a TV anime budget. If anything is certain, it’s that people will probably be horny over Oran’s really hunky, obese older brother.


1: Chainsaw Man

There is so much hype behind Chainsaw Man. Not only is the manga very popular, and deservedly so, but the manga’s sequel will also be launching later this year. To be fair, Tokyo Ghoul had some really messed up content. However, to my knowledge, none of the really heavy stuff—like the sex scene—was actually incorporated into the notoriously rushed anime. Conversely, if the adaptation of Chainsaw Man proves faithful, it will be one of the most brutal anime in recent years. Possibly ever.

Chainsaw Man has a pretty straightforward story, but twists shounen tropes into something more, well, twisted. All poor little Denji wants is a girlfriend, and a girlfriend he gets… sort of. He spends most of the story being exploited by older women in a harsh and psychological character study, while engaging in gore-infested battles with demons. And that’s just the tame stuff.

The last third or so of Chainsaw Man is a constant, visceral rollercoaster of nightmares. People are crumpled into distorted shapes, entire cities are gunned down, and more. It culminates in one of the most unusual and creative ways to defeat the main villain I have ever seen in a battle shounen. Lastly, I really hope “Halloween” becomes the meme I imagined it would be; liking cultural phenomena before it was cool always feels cathartic.


Conclusion

Not gonna lie, I’ve been tempted to dip back into the anime community to laugh while people lose their minds over these shows. More likely than not, however, I’ll just see the same robotic reactions I’ve had to sift through for years on MyAnimeList. Regardless, this year will be rather interesting in the anime world.

Turning Red: Kung-Fu Panda But Wholesome

Full transparency: Pixar’s Turning Red was the studio’s first movie since Toy Story 4 that I did NOT want to see. I know that they generally undersell their masterpieces in the trailer, but Turning Red didn’t even LOOK like a Pixar movie. The idea, the character design, the inclusion of at least one famous popstar in the music… It looked like Blue Sky Studios, or any of the non-Disney studios whose movies tend to ONLY appeal to kids. However, with the war going on, there is a chance this could be Pixar’s last movie ever made, on account of the possibility that we’re all going to be vaporized in a nuclear explosion. Also, these movies—regardless of quality—are important to support the Disney industries that I truly care about (that and the fact that I do not use Disney+ often enough). Let’s see if Turning Red describes what my face looks like after watching it!

In Turning Red, Meilin Lee enjoys a quaint life in Toronto, Canada. Unfortunately, she has the classic case of overbearing parent. Oh, and the classic case of turning into a red panda during heightened states of duress.

So… despite all my build up to a negative review, I ended up having my words eaten pretty thoroughly. Right off the bat, Turning Red has a lot of personality, from anime-like flourish, to watching Mei’s dad cook dinner. It also has the level of humor expected from Pixar; whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to your discretion.

Of course, the actual plot is more straightforward than a Saturday morning cartoon. When I said that the idea wasn’t interesting, I meant it. Turning Red is a classic story of a girl with an overbearing parent who inevitably learns to accept herself for who she is. The main “MacGuffin” is a K-Pop concert that Mei wants to attend without her mom’s permission (I know that band is multinational, but I don’t care; boy band=K-Pop). 

I don’t want to sound pretentious here, but I have to mention something that I’m pretty damn sure EVERY review of the movie will be incredibly hoity-toity about: Pixar acknowledges periods. This is the first time in the studio’s history, and it has absolutely no bearing on the quality of the movie to me. Maybe my opinion would be different if I was an actual woman, but I digress. Of course these days, when people have to constantly vomit their humanity to the world, this minor thing that comes up twice in whole movie is way more important than any of the other content.

The cast of Turning Red is as Pixar as you can expect. We already discussed Mei, but the real stars are her friends: Miriam, Priya, and Abby. Packing quirky personalities of their own, their chemistry with Mei is priceless. The mom is, more-or-less, the antagonist of the movie. If you’ve seen her type of character trope before, then you can probably guess how her arc resolves. However, the real MVP is the dad. He has one scene with Mei, and he basically tells her what’s important in life. If he had done it sooner, then a large portion of the conflict of the movie would have never had to transpire. Classic Saturday morning cartoon tropes.

If there is anything negative that I can actually say (other than the generic idea), it’s the setting. Canada is a really lovely place (at least according to its pavilion in EPCOT), but it’s really easy to forget that Turning Red is set in Canada at all. If it rained even one time, I would’ve assumed it was in Seattle. In fact, the movie frequently shows the Canadian flag on T-shirts and stuff, as if they knew you’d forget. In all honesty, I’m just salty that they didn’t set it in Quebec, where the beautiful French architecture is.

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Final Verdict: 8.75/10

Turning Red was way the heck better than I thought it would be. It’s a fun and cute movie to tide us over until Lightyear comes out. It’s no masterpiece like Soul, but it at least has some soul. 

Dr. Stone: Sid Meier’s Civilization Just Got a Lot More Anime

Dr. Stone is one of those manga that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It became exorbitantly popular (deservedly so) during its initial 2017 debut, even winning itself the 2018 Shougakukan Manga Award under the Shounen category. That same year, I got into the hype months before its anime adaptation was even announced, and it quickly became one of my favorite manga of all time. The anime was also very good for a TV anime, and I—along with many other people—watched it while it aired. However, it aired alongside Kimetsu no Yaiba. And as anyone who saw that nineteenth episode go viral and single-handedly put both the anime and its source material on the mainstream overnight, Dr. Stone—while still running for a perfectly respectable period of time afterwards—practically vanished off the face of the earth as a result. As the contrarian I am, I nonetheless committed to Dr. Stone, and—you know what—it’s still one of my favorite manga of all time. Let’s find out why.

In Dr. Stone, a boy named Taiju is about to confess his love to a cute girl named Yuzuriha. However, right at that moment, a bright light covers the earth, turning all humans to stone. Thousands of years later, thanks to his testosterone-fueled drive for the girl, he manages to break out of the stone shell, awakening in a world that has been reclaimed by nature. There, he sees his classmate, Senku, who promises to use his incredible wealth of knowledge to restart all of human civilization.

Dr. Stone is a science-themed adventure manga, which is a very unusual style for the shounen genre. But hey, the manga makes science fun. There’s a lot of cool and interesting things that happen throughout the story, and it’s all very engaging. The humor is ridiculously on point as well. However, Dr. Stone is a science FICTION manga, and thus, you can’t not have creative liberties taken. As many, MANY critics on the message boards pointed out back when the anime aired, the science isn’t 100% accurate. Sure, maybe some chemical or whatever took a bit faster than what it’s supposed to in order to finish cooking, but for the sake of pacing, would you want five chapters of waiting for a thing to be done brewing? There’s also the fact that Senku is literally reinventing the wheel when it comes to all this civilization stuff, so he won’t need to waste time making the mistakes that were made a million years ago because those people already made said mistakes.

Another criticism I’ve seen ad nauseum was the fact that it doesn’t go for any darker tones when the opportunities were present, and that “Dr. Stone would’ve been better if it was seinen”. Granted, Dr. Stone would be a GREAT seinen manga, but I think it’s perfectly fine as a shounen manga because of how hard it commits to being lighthearted. When presented with one of the potential dark questions regarding if it’s actually better to NOT bring back civilization, lest the world return to its old state of corruption and war, Senku literally says that he wants to bring back civilization because he thinks it’d be fun. Fun, that’s what Dr. Stone is at its core. THINGS DON’T NEED TO BE DARK TO BE GOOD *huff* *huff*…

Anyways, the characters are what makes Dr. Stone come to life. My boy, Senku, is insanely narcissistic and I love him. His cunning, as well as his tendency to count in increments of ten billion, make him one of Jump’s best heroes (or anti-heroes) ever. “BUT HE’S WAY TOO SMART FOR A HIGHSCHOOLER! THAT’S UUUUUUUNREEEEEEEEEEEAAAAALIIIIIIISTTIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIC!” you exclaim VERY loudly. I’m not going to get into the endless debate of the limits of suspended disbelief, but if you don’t like what you’ve read about Dr. Stone in this review, then it’s clearly not for you.

But hey, there’s still your fair share of idiots. After all, Taiju maintained consciousness for thousands of years on sheer force of will (“FORCE OF WILL?! ALSO UNREALISTIC!”). He’s always hilariously dumb, and his chemistry with Senku is great. Yuzuriha comes into the mix, but I’ll admit that she’s not too interesting outside of being super cute.

Fortunately, they aren’t the only ones who survive the apocalypse. There’s the super swole Tsukasa, who serves as the first major antagonist, and the charismatic pig-Latin-speaker, Gen. But in addition, there’s a whole tribe of primitive humans (whose existence gets explained). Among the villagers are Chrome, who is literally Taiju, but with a better knack for science. There’s also Best Girl Kohaku, a cute tomboy that you do NOT want to mess with, and the cute Suika, who literally wears a fruit on her head and rolls around in it. Later on is the rich boy Ryusui, whose talent as a navigator, coupled with his all-encompassing desires, make him a refreshing take on the greedy noble trope.

Of course, with Dr. Stone being a shounen manga, I have to put out the usual warning about the ending not being what you might want it to be. I have no idea what the manga’s state was at its end (I wouldn’t be surprised if it got axed), but… I would be lying if I said they didn’t jump the shark, even by Dr. Stone‘s own standards. At the same time, they almost make fun of critics who use the “realism” card, because you’d essentially have to know all the secrets in the cosmos to be able to declare if something is realistic or not. In any case, this manga is more about the journey than the destination. 

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Final Verdict: 9.85/10

The few hiccups in Dr. Stone don’t stop it from being one of my favorite manga of all time (although I’m probably the only human on Earth who gives it this rating). It’s a cute, non-cynical celebration of humankind and its evolution that actually shows some semblance of hope for once. I can’t really recommend Dr. Stone easily because of the kinds of buttons it pushes; you’ll have to decide if this is the kind of thing you’ll like.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus — Gotta Catch ‘Em All (About Twenty Times Each)!

Pokémon has not had a good run on Switch, and I of course mean that in terms of public consensus, because I still enjoy the series as is. People hated Let’s Go!, Sword and Shield, and the Sinnoh Remakes. Well, given the marginally better reception that the Mystery Dungeon remakes and New Pokémon Snap got, it looks like spin-offs are the way to go. Wow, that only supports my comparison of this series to Star Wars. Anyway, since I’m committed enough to follow this series into the fires of hell, I pre-ordered Pokémon Legends: Arceus with NO knowledge about it beyond the blurbs on Nintendo Switch News. Did I make a big mistake?

In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the titular god of the universe speaks to you, and challenges you to seek it out (after giving you a slick new smartphone of course). With no clue what the hell is going on, you are plopped out of a rift in the space-time continuum and into a mysterious region called Hisui. The Pokémon Professor finds you immediately, and helps you get recruited to the Survey Corp. of… Team Galactic?! 

Okay, before we address that Mamoswine in the room, allow me to—for the first time in Pokémon’s life on the Switch—gush at the game’s visuals. Okay, well, maybe “gush” isn’t the right word; some areas, such as caves, look absolutely abysmal, and there are draw distance problems. However, when the game looks good, it looks real good. Pokémon Legends: Arceus borrows from Zelda, and makes a very picturesque world. In each region, Mt. Coronet—and the rift you fell out of—wait in the distance, and I find it awe-inspiring to look at. Also, this game has one of the best skyboxes I’ve seen in a long time; sometimes I just love looking up and vibing. 

Now that that diversion is over, we can finally talk about what’s going on in Hisui—or rather—Sinnoh. This region is the Sinnoh of the distant past, back when humans were first studying Pokémon. Team Galactic is actually good this time around! Anyway, the plot is pretty straightforward, but I love it. The reason behind it is quite simply the fact that we really haven’t gotten to experience the ancient Pokémon world firsthand. We get to learn so much about Pokémon lore, and as a long-time fan, it makes me fan-gush. There’s a chance that some stuff was retconned, but you could chalk it up to historical stuff having been lost to time.

The most important part of this being set in the past is that the Jubilife City of old looks a lot like Eurekatek; and that means Japanese culture! Kimonos are in fashion, and almost everyone has Japanese names. This even extends to the U.I. and the music (including the best evolution animation I have ever seen). If you couldn’t tell, my final score for this game will be biased.

Another thing I love about the story is the potential for this to be a full-on spinoff franchise. The Pokémon world has so much lore that’s only been alluded to in books, it would be so amazing to experience the franchise’s history using this game’s system. However, since Pokémon Snap took twenty years to get a sequel, we probably shouldn’t count on that.

Let’s talk about the characters next. Your main character is, as always, mute. Fortunately, no one else is. Professor Laverton will never be Oak, but he’s a pretty cool guy. Team Galactic has several captains, and the one you’ll report to is Cyrelle; let’s just say you can tell that her descendants will inherit her stoicness. We also have the Diamond and Pearl clans, two indigenous tribes who worship opposing gods (hm I wonder what Pokémon those would be). As cool as a lot of this stuff sounds on paper, I must admit that they have pretty basic tropes. There is character development, but most of it boils down to the Saturday morning cartoon arc of “really dense people learn that they shouldn’t be so dense.”

There are several things that Pokémon Legends: Arceus promises, and we’re going to need to go over all of them one at a time. Let’s start at Jubilife Village. This quaint little place has all the facilities you need. There’s crafting in this game, which is pretty self-explanatory. Pastures function as the PC, but this time, releasing Pokémon gives you EV-manipulating items. This swole lady named Zisu can help teach Pokémon new moves as well as master existing ones (more on that mechanic in a bit). She can also help you farm more of those same EV-manipulating items. You have to worry about inventory space, but you can upgrade it via training with the puntastically named Bagin. Crafting is an important mechanic for creating essential items, and while at the village (or a campsite), this can be done with the items in your storage.

You also—FINALLY—get dedicated sidequests. Obviously, these are worth doing. Also, make sure you hop into Galactic HQ to check Laverton’s bulletin board for requests. There’s a LOT of them, and doing them is very helpful. Some of them contribute to upgrading Jubilife, while others count toward a specific entry in the Pokédex. The latter ones are my favorite because it actually shows how people discovered a lot of well-known Pokémon facts for the first time.

When exiting Jubilife, you can travel to any unlocked region in Hisui, which is its own, self-contained area. Pokémon Legends: Arceus isn’t truly open-world, but these areas are expansive enough to feel like it, full of Pokémon and resources. As you progress, you unlock Ride Pokémon with all sorts of field abilities. Hisui’s overworld kinda-sorta falls into the realm of overly large and empty. However, I never really got mad at that, since there was some good variety in geography. They at least learned their lesson from Galar’s Wild Areas. 

Also, there’s actually stuff to do besides grinding (although you’ll be doing a fair share of that for completion), although most of it doesn’t open up right away. There are over one hundred ghostly wisps to find throughout the world… and series veterans would know exactly what they’re associated with. It’s more doable than Breath of the Wild’s nine hundred Korok Seeds, plus they are very easy to notice from afar at night. In addition to that, each form of Unown is hidden in a specific place, waiting to be caught. AND ON TOP OF THAT, there are Old Verses buried in the ground that need to be unearthed with the Ride Pokémon who can dig. Every so often, a Pokémon outbreak will occur, although it doesn’t tend to spawn anything exclusive to that area.

Here’s another fun fact: THERE’S STILL MORE TO FIND! One repeatable mechanic is the ability to find the satchels of people who have died in the overworld. I assume that you’re meant to have a Nintendo Switch Online feature to do this, but when offline, the game consistently spawns enough NPC satchels for you to find. Turning them in gives you Merit Points, which can be redeemed for exclusive items, including every evolutionary stone and trade evolution item. Also new are Linking Cords, which are a very welcome addition to the franchise. These will trigger any trade-based evolution without having to do any trading (hear that, fellow introverts? We can finally get Pokémon like Gengar!). This also applies to items like the Metal Coat and Reaper Cloth.

But wait, THERE’S MORE! One of the coolest and most terrifying mechanics is the Space-Time Distortion. Every so often, one of these will spawn in a set location in each region, affecting the area within. Once inside, you can find a load of rare items, such as Shards. However, more often than not, you’ll find many exclusive Pokémon. Here comes the rub: those Pokémon tend to be overleveled for the area, and spawn out of nowhere in large groups. It’s risk-vs-reward, baby!

A LOT of mechanics have been changed… and I mean that literally. Catching Pokémon is one of the biggest ones. Like in more recent games, they appear in the overworld, but they actually react to you this time. Sometimes, they flee, but most of them want to eat your face. When spotted, you’ll have to physically avoid their attacks. Unlike the main games, tall grass is your friend, for it hides you from the critters’ sight. You’ll also need to manually aim and throw Poké Balls, and your range will vary depending on their weight. Using berries to lure Pokémon, and hitting them from behind, greatly increases your catch rate, which always has a little visual indicator (green is the best odds). 

However, if you have to fight, throw one of your teammates at your challenger (the back attack technique stuns the opponent for a turn, which is really useful). In combat, the series more-or-less conforms to the traditional turn-based battle system. You can use items and try to catch Pokémon, under the same rules as before. This is where things get complicated. Speed works in an entirely different way than before. In addition to governing who goes first in battle, it also works like attack delay in Trails of Cold Steel; basically, some moves can increase the time it takes for your turn to come around. Conversely, priority moves will make your turn come around faster. If fast enough, a Pokémon can attack twice in a row, which is huge. Combat is the fastest it’s been in a long time, simply because they play battle animations AND textboxes at the same time. They also stop their nagging you about the weather; although that won’t help people who aren’t familiar with the series’ mechanics.

Priority moves aren’t the only change; in fact, the whole meta is basically changed. For starters, stat modifications are simplified, with both offensive and defensive stats able to be changed at once. For example, Sword Dance is for both Atk and Sp Atk… however, it doesn’t give +2 (in fact, I don’t even think there are stages to stat boosts this time around). Flinch doesn’t exist, and Sleep is replaced with Drowsiness, which is basically Paralysis but with an additional defense debuff. Entry-hazard moves now have 40 base power, and do residual damage over time based on Type effectiveness. Most importantly: ABILITIES AND HELD ITEMS DO NOT EXIST. By the way, this is just the tip of the iceberg with how changed the mechanics are.

There are two new aspects to moves that I absolutely love, and will dearly miss in subsequent Pokémon games. The first and most important thing is how moves are learned. Like in a traditional JRPG, all Pokémon moves are permanently remembered, and can freely be assigned as the Pokémon’s active attacks however you wish (have run REMEMBERING to do that). Another thing is that Pokémon can master moves as they level up. When mastered, you can use it in a Strong or Agile Style. These effects are pretty self-explanatory; more damage for increased delay, and less damage for decreased delay.

Since no one has been to this region before, there’s actually a reason for the Pokédex to be empty this time. As such, you have as good of an idea of what a Pokémon’s entry is as Laverton himself. To essentially build the Pokédex from scratch, you must accomplish research tasks for EVERY Pokémon. This includes catching multiple specimens, defeating them with certain types of moves, seeing them use certain moves, and more. This gets REALLY grindy. Fortunately, you don’t have to do all of it to fulfill the research requirements. Getting enough of these tasks done will contribute to raising your status in Team Galactic. These work like Gym Badges, so you better do that if you want more Pokémon than just the very first ones you ever find. The annoying thing with this mechanic is that your monetary payments are based on Pokémon caught, regardless of how much research you’ve done. Fortunately, there are other ways to get money, such as occasionally finding Stardusts and such in ore deposits.

Despite not being a Gen IX (that’s going to be later this year), there are a couple of new faces in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. One of the most iconic ones is Stantler’s evolution, Wyrdeer. In addition to new evolutions, there are new regional variants, such as Growlithe and Zorua. Each starter has a regional variant, in fact. Some of the new evolutions, such as the aforementioned Wyrdeer, are about as obtuse as recent Pokémon have gotten. However, the Research Notes know how to nudge you toward finding the conditions organically, as opposed to every main Pokémon game that isn’t Black and White 2.

Nuzlockes have become the new standard in Pokémon, so I doubt the community will ever concede that a new Pokémon game is difficult in its base state. However, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is probably the hardest that we’ll have for a while. As mentioned before, a lot of Pokémon want you dead; you can actually DIE. Fortunately, you have safety nets. An old lady sells charms that can help you survive, one of which is consumed in place of your inventory upon death. 

In any case, this game really taught me how terrifying Pokémon can be. Something as puny as Stunky can rain missiles of poison from the sky just like that… and it only gets worse from there. You also have to worry about Alpha Pokémon. They’re basically the Unique Monsters from Xenoblade Chronicles, and tend to be very overleveled. If you can catch one, though, it’ll be pretty helpful, since it knows rare moves right off the bat. 

There are also boss fights to account for, and I don’t mean Trainer fights (although there are some Trainer fights on occasion). The actual boss fights are against Noble Pokémon; beings worshiped by the local Hisuians. Strange happenings have made them go berserk, and you need to feed them a crap-ton of food to calm them down. In these fights, you must avoid their attacks, and figure out the strategy to stun them. Once you do that, you fight it in a Pokémon battle, and when you win that, they’ll be stunned further, and are open to a barrage of tasty treats. The fights are very straightforward, but are actually quite stressful because it’s pretty much programmed that you can barely dodge out of the way of their attacks. 

Okay… maybe I’m overselling it. Pokémon Legends: Arceus will not provide the challenge that the fandom wants out of the base-game mechanics. As long as you don’t overextend yourself by going into overleveled areas, there really isn’t any danger. Also, your Ride Pokémon can generally outspeed any Pokémon that wants to chase you out in the overworld; by endgame, they become more of an annoyance. Dodging, like in many games, gives you i-frames. It’s incredibly easy to become overleveled if you go after research tasks and optional stuff, but conversely, doing that too infrequently can make you dangerously underleveled. Due to the lack of many Trainer battles, wild Pokémon are your main source of XP. 

Because of that reason, I didn’t really feel like I had a team, compared to main Pokémon games. As I said before, there are next to no Trainer battles, and the open-ended world design allows you to traverse areas quickly, especially as you earn more Ride Pokémon. It is what it is, though.

As with any Pokémon game, Arceus has a truck-load of post-game… and it’s meaty, that’s for sure. In fact, this is one of those cases where the post-game is the true conclusion of the story. It opens up a lot of new Pokémon, and if you have save data from Pokémon Sword and Shield, you can catch Shaymin. Of course, the new objective is to catch these Pokémon and make the long grind to complete the Pokédex. And lemme tell you… it’s a real grind. While it’s not too tough to complete a Pokémon’s entry, the last hurdle to the maximum Team Galactic rank is insane; you pretty much have to complete more research tasks than what you need. Also, I don’t know about you, but a lot of Pokémon seemed arbitrarily elusive to me (*cough* Cherrim *cough*). Fortunately, one of the best aspects of the post-game is something that the main series desperately needs: being able to obtain the other two starters without having to trade for them!

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Final Verdict: 9.45/10

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a massive leap in the right direction for Pokémon. In fact, I’m not technically finished with it yet; due to what I said in my post from last week, it’s more realistic for me to try to go for completion in this game, but it’d probably be next year if I waited until then to upload this post! My willingness to attempt Pokédex completion shows how much I loved it, although I will be very salty if they don’t continue to build off of what Arceus sets up. I recommend it to any Pokémon fan who needs a change of pace, and possibly, to other gamers who couldn’t get into Pokémon in the first place.

Having Restraint in a Capitalist Society is Hard: A Rant

PREFACE: Okay, so, this post is going to come off as very petty considering what’s happening right now. However, when scheduling for this post to go out, I wasn’t expecting international order to crumble overnight! Anyway, the real caveat with this post is an announcement regarding the blog, so if you don’t care for my jibber-jabber, just skip to the end. Oh, and, love for Ukraine.


This little blurb is basically a follow-up to  my There’s Too Much: A Rant post. To sum up that post (if you choose not to read it), I’ve been struggling to keep up with the—for lack of a better word—excessive amount of stuff in the first world. Additionally, I seem to be the only one who’s struggling; everyone else I know seems to enjoy themselves just fine in this murk. Fortunately, I’ve been surviving… to an extent.

The main thing that’s been helping me buy less is that I purchased one expensive thing, namely, a new gaming laptop. It’s a beauty, and it cost more than a pretty penny. To pay off the darn thing, I have been forced to really dumb down the crap I buy, making room for ONLY what I truly want. To tell the truth, it’s been liberating. You can save hundreds by not buying something you don’t actually want. Who’da thunk it?

However, marketing is a thing, especially in a first-world country. They do a really compelling job at making you think you NEED something that you don’t want. By following the manga market, I’m bombarded by all the hot stuff that everyone likes that you GOTTA check out for yourself because it’s POPULAR. Even though, with me being myself, I rarely like anything popular. 

I at least have an excuse with that market: insufficient funding. The hardest place to have restraint, of all things, has been Western literature. Thanks to public libraries, books are essentially free. That means I have no excuse to NOT read all those books that Barnes & Noble’s been telling me will change my life forever. 

While I could just ignore all that crap, there’s another dimension to the book market, and to an extent, a lot of the market here in America these days. In essence, I’m referring to the amplification of diverse voices. It’s good that there’s so many of them, but the problem is how those books are essentially weapons in marketing. Thanks to all the months dedicated to particular races, I’ve felt crushed by not celebrating them. I mean, it’s not like one of those dumb themes like Pizza Month; these are reminders of what makes us human. Also, due to how humans work, they’ll just become obsessed with whatever thing’s the newest (with the exception of long-staying fan-favorites like The Hate U Give). It’s just become a never-ending battle; you can never consume enough diverse media to satiate the P.C. community.

Videogames have also become painful. Every month or so, something takes the world by storm until something else causes a new storm in its place. It’s exceptionally rare that I’m part of that. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is my first time playing a trendy videogame since, quite possibly, Breath of the Wild. And as you’re reading this post, Elden Ring and Horizon: Forbidden West are the new storms being watched (or would be if it weren’t for the storm over Ukraine, but in an okay world, that’s what would be happening). I also feel bad at the end of every year in ProtonJon’s community. Fans post their own game clearing spreadsheets to be Booru, and when I see how much more they’ve done and experienced than me, something inside me breaks. I really want to be selective, but in a society all about having and having, it feels like I’m at gunpoint every day that I’m not in possession of the newest and shiny thing.

In conclusion, I’m announcing yet another change to my blogging schedule. If I can successfully resist the siren song of consumerism, I will have way less material to discuss here. Also, buying new blogging material will be harder while gas prices increase. As such, posts will only be on Saturdays, effective immediately. Quality over quantity, baby!

Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is Exactly What it Says on the Tin (First Impressions, Volumes 1 & 2)

The combination of slice-of-life and fantasy seems to be a dream come true; basically, it’s a look at everyday life in a fantasy world, which is probably what a lot of us want. However, I’ve only seen it as a recipe for disaster. They’re slow, with boring characters, and fetishize women as much as any trashy isekai. Despite this, I had high hopes for the popular new manga, Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End

In Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, the titular elf and her entourage have just defeated the Demon King. In the aftermath, they go their separate ways. Years later, and Frieren’s comrades die of old age, while Frieren still looks the same. 

Unlike other manga of this type, Frieren at least tries. In case you couldn’t tell, the main theme of the manga is death, which is particularly poignant through an elf’s perspective. Almost eighty years pass in the first volume alone, and the abruptness of the timeskips shows how little time that is to Frieren. More on that little aspect of the story later.

The main goal for Frieren is to head to the now-former site of the Demon King’s castle to perform a séance that’ll allow her to speak to one of her companions, Himmel, from beyond the grave. Because of this, the bulk of the manga is the typical, episodic, slice-of-life—well—slices that permeate this type of story to—well—permeate. Here comes the transparent honesty: I didn’t enjoy a lot of Frieren.

One reason is that I just simply don’t understand the theme of death. Of all the things humans have made overly complicated in this world, death remains the one, objective, simple truth. To quote what I’m sure is an old meme: “people die when they are killed.” While I do get the whole thing about Frieren not really knowing her old companions well enough during her original journey with them, I didn’t exactly care. Also, despite death being such a time-honored topic, it really doesn’t get to be as poignant as you’d think; a lot of the time, it just boils down to a running joke where someone says something in reference to a long passage of time and Frieren commenting on how it isn’t long at all. 

Something I will give the manga is that the demons are cut-and-dry cruel. They’re so cruel, that they trick people by playing the waifu/husbando card to gain humans’ trust, and then turn around to kill even more people. However, there’s a flipside to this. Once you learn this information, any plot twist to the effect of “the evil-looking guy was evil the whole time?!” is no longer a plot twist but something you’re made to expect. 

Slice-of-life is all about laid-back, grounded, nuanced characters. Even as someone who doesn’t always get hooked on this genre, part of me wonders if the cast of Frieren even qualifies by said genre’s standards (which they clearly do since people LOVE this manga). Frieren herself is basically a deadpan loli who cries a whopping one time at the beginning and then remains deadpan for the rest of the two volumes I read. She’s supposed to learn the meaning of life by watching everyone die of old age, which is another one of those weird human quirks that I don’t get at all. Also, it’s very explicitly explained that she’s insanely powerful, which makes any instances of action in the manga completely moot.

Her former companions basically have the same tired tropes, and this being their aftermath doesn’t really make them less tropey. The other lead protagonist is a fledgling mage named Fern who, well, exists. She learns magic, and gets really good at it. Say it with me: “Which means any instances of action in the manga are completely moot!”

To add to how flat Frieren feels, the art is flat as well. The setpieces are your typical Game of Thrones-type world which can easily be mistaken for medieval Europe if you take out the elves and dwarves. Also, the character designs are just… meh. Not even the demons look particularly sexy, which is really saying something.

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Current Verdict: 7/10

I really wanted to love Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, but these two volumes didn’t sit well with me. It’s a case similar to Horimiya, where it takes a viewpoint of the human condition that I—as a man with autism—do not feel. Even with that being the case, there’s probably better you can do. 

Pokémon Black & White 2: Ten Years Later, Still One of the Series’ Best Main Installments (A Retrospective)

I’ve been playing Pokémon for a while (*understatement*). My first game was Pokémon Platinum (which I certifiably sucked at). But as good as that game is, it wasn’t until Pokémon Black and White 2 that I started to become a devout Pokémon fan. I know that people like the first Black and White better, but I definitely prefer Black and White 2 for a number of reasons. Since these games actually turn ten this year, I might as well do a retrospective on them. I have played through this game several times since I first got it in 2012, but this playthrough is the first time in at least one and a half years. I always had a copy of Black 2 so I wouldn’t have to nuke my original White 2 file. But you know what… I think it’s poetic to nuke that file now, just to showcase how much I’ve changed as a person.

When it comes to the second installment of a given generation, it’s usually a remake of the first with new content. Not here. Black and White 2 are—to this day—the only main game sequels. They take place chronologically after the events of the first Black and White. Everything starts off nice and campy, but the return of a new—and eviller—Team Plasma is afoot. Time to once again beat up criminals with our pet animals!

Pokémon Black and White are generally considered the best installments in terms of story. And, well, yeah… I can’t refute that. It’s a rare time where one of the main antagonists really builds a relationship with the player, and the ethics of Pokémon training are put into question. This time, it’s pretty standard. The new Team Plasma, led by the one-dimensionally evil Ghetsis, is bent on world domination. But instead of beating around the bush and manipulating the emotionally insecure N by sheltering him and crap, he just magically has the post-game Legendary from the previous game, Kyurem, and shoots ice lasers at cities.

So yeah, it really does stink. It’s not bad, but it’s a start to the wildly varying quality of Pokémon plots moving forward. There really was no one in this series quite like N, or the rivals from the previous Black and White. The gym leaders also lose the presence that they had before. You don’t really get to know them at all outside the gym, and there isn’t that awesome scene where they fight Team Plasma together. That scene with Elesa isn’t here either (and for the record, it’s not THAT great of a scene, but that’s probably because I’m an emotionless, un-altruistic monkeybutt). They also add Marlon, a gym leader with a very weird sense of neutrality, that ends up not being explored at all.

While we’re on the subject of characters, I might as well bring up the whole cast. The main character is, well, unchanged, but that’s not a surprise given their nature. Your rival is basically the Sinnoh rival, but instead of being constantly happy, he’s constantly angry. He gets less angry later, but I couldn’t—to this day—tell what changes him. Maybe it’s the power of Pokémon? 

Team Plasma has gotten a downgrade, but it at least introduced one of my favorite characters in Pokémon: Colress. He’s a scientist who’s as enigmatic as his hair. He’s also one of those neutral characters who will only side with knowledge, and that means he actually respects you as a person.

The Pokémon League isn’t too great either, and that’s for both games (fun fact: I never found the League members to be particularly great until Gen 7). As per usual, you NEVER see them until the actual fights (with the exception of a brief encounter with Marshal in the sequels). It’s a shame, because this League has some of the cooler designs. One of them is actually someone from the Battle Frontier in Sinnoh. 

Since the gameplay of Pokémon is expected to be understood when reading a spoiler-filled retrospective, let alone a review, of one of its main installments (also, it takes a while to explain it), the gameplay section will moreso be an evaluation of the games’ structure, as well as the capabilities of the Pokémon introduced during this generation. And the first thing to bring up is that Black and White 2 starts SLOW. It’s still faster than most games, but it doesn’t feel that way compared to the “superior” first games, where you get the starters IMMEDIATELY. Also, as the last game where the starters don’t have their first stab move immediately, it becomes an even harder sell. The first gym, being Normal-Type, is uncharacteristically difficult no matter which starter you pick. The only good way to do it is to find Riolu in Floccesy Ranch, and it happens to be a rare spawn. The starters of Unova are all more geared to defense and setup, making it a button-mashing game at the beginning, even with their stab moves. Oh, and even when you beat the first gym, you are forced to do the first segment of PokéStar Studios, which is painfully tedious (and an area that I—for the sake of this review—gave an honest college try to complete for the first time in my life). 

In fact, the definition of “slow burn” doesn’t just describe these games, but most Unovan Pokémon. A lot of level-up evolutions do not trigger until super-late into the story, some of which are even post-game at the earliest. This problem isn’t as bad in Black and White 2, since levels are much higher by the Pokémon league. One of the most notorious examples is Unova’s pseudo-Legendary: Hydreigon, evolving from Zweilous at LEVEL 64. Even with the better level scaling in the sequels, you will still not be getting this thing through level up until the post-game, or just before the Pokémon League at the earliest. The only way to straight-up catch it before the Pokémon League is for the infinitesimally small odds of a dust cloud in Victory Road spawning it. Of course, if you can get it, it’s a freaking BEAST. Hydreigon was at its prime in Gen 5, before the Fairy-Type gave it a nasty quad-weakness. 

Another Unovan powerhouse is one of its Fossil Pokémon: Archeops. Insane Attack and Speed, but an ability that hampers Attack and Special Attack if its HP goes below half. To be honest, it’s almost always going to go first in battle, and if its opponent survives and attacks, and Defeatist activates from the hit, the opponent should have low enough HP for the next attack to finish it off. And since Defeatist doesn’t lower Speed, Archeops will still go first and deliver the finishing blow. It also evolves from Archen at a very reasonable Level 37. Archeops is still one of the most powerful physical sweepers, but like with Hydreigon, it was also at its prime in Gen 5 thanks to the unique Gem items. These Gems each represent a Pokémon Type, and they get consumed as held items to boost their respective type of move once. When using the move Acrobatics, and consuming a Flying Gem, the game counts that as not holding an item. Thus, Archeops can benefit from the Flying-Type damage bonus as well as the 110 base power from not having an item when using the move. I wanted to use its defensive cousin, Carracosta, for the first time, but the Fossil guy isn’t in Relic Castle in the sequels. In fact, Fossils aren’t available until the post-game!

Unfortunately, not every Unovan Pokémon is as great as they could be. One example is Garbodor, who’s still a hard sell even to this day. It evolves at a reasonable level, is a great tank, with an equally great physical attack stat. The rub is that it doesn’t learn a single physical stab move through level up. Scratch that, it doesn’t learn a single physical stab move, period… with the exception of Gunk Shot. It has a respectable Special Attack stat, but it’s the principle of the thing. 

Another great Pokémon that can be handicapped is Golurk. It’s all around a great physical Ghost-Type, with a cool design and lore to boot. The thing actually has rocket feet, which is a detail that’s acknowledged by allowing it to learn Fly despite not being a Flying-Type. The problem with it is that it can either have the great ability Iron Fist—perfect for its punch-based movepool—or Klutz… an objectively awful Ability that prevents held item use. There is nothing more heartbreaking in Pokémon than having a Pokémon with the best possible nature, but not the preferred Ability. Sadly, due to Black and White 2’s structure, the earliest opportunity to get it is Victory Road.

On a better note, another great Pokémon is Bisharp. It hits like a truck, and is very scary to deal with thanks to its Defiant Ability; any stat reduction will be countered with a free +2 Attack buff. On the other side of the coin is one of Unova’s best special sweepers: Chandelure. Its awesome design isn’t for show; it hurts, plus it can learn Energy Ball to counter Water-Types.

Two more interesting Pokémon that I have never used and, sadly, can never use are Escavalier and Accelgor. They are evolutions of Shelmet and Kerrablast, obtained by trading one with the other (hence my lack of having them since I don’t have friends). Escavalier has the risky Bug-Steel typing, with great physical Defense to boot. On the flipside is the glassy Special sweeper, Accelgor. It has next to no defenses, but has unsurpassed Speed, moreso than Archeops. 

Unova also has two version exclusive birds: Ruflett and Vullaby, which evolve into Braviary and Mandibuzz respectively. Like most Unovan Pokémon, they take forever to evolve, and you can’t even encounter them until Victory Road. Fortunately, the sequels have a static encounter with the evolved form very early on, plus that encounter has its Hidden Ability. Fun fact: Braviary with Defiant is a good thing.

I suppose I should talk about the starters, right? Like I said before, Emboar, Samurott, and Serperior are some of the chunkier starters in the series. Emboar is the most brute force of them all. It learns Flame Charge very early on, and its guaranteed Speed buff is a great setup for sweeping. Samurott is the most well-rounded, and learns some unexpectedly great moves like Revenge, and an assortment of powerful Bug-Type moves. Serperior has powerful Grass-Type moves and the great setup move of Coil to boost its Attack, Defense, and Accuracy. Unfortunately, it has the weakest move pool, only able to learn Grass and Normal-Type moves. It’ll serve you well against pretty much anything except a Steel-Type… well, once it gets Leaf Blade.

If you didn’t think this game had any more tanks, don’t worry; there are more. Druddigon and Ferrothorn are particularly rude, because they both have an Ability that inflicts contact damage on opponents. And like with any Pokémon with those Abilities, the effect stacks with the Rocky Helmet equipped. Just be wary with Ferrothorn; being a Grass-Steel physical wall, one good special Fire-Type move will end it.

Last but not least are the Legendaries. The main two, Zekrom and Reshiram are—to my knowledge—the first and only plot-relevant Legendaries who cannot be caught until the post-game (at least in the sequels; in the originals, you catch your boxart Legendary right before the final boss). They are all around great Pokémon, bolstering strong attack and bulk. Kyurem, who’s also respectably strong by itself, is able to fuse with either of Zekrom or Reshiram. This replaces its signature move with a powerful two-turn attack that can inflict Paralysis and Burn respectively.

There are also the Swords of Justice, who are notably all obtainable before the post-game. They have VERY powerful attacks, but the best one defensively is Cobalion. It’s Steel-Fighting, which is awesome before Gen 6 nerfs Steel. There are also the Mythical Pokémon Victinni, Meloetta, Genesect, and Keldeo. Unfortunately, since those are Mystery Gifts that need to be obtained through an event during a specific time, I have only ever obtained Genesect and Meloetta. Genesect is basically a watered-down Arceus; a cool-looking Bug-Steel Type whose signature move changes based on the type of a hold item called a Drive that it holds (and I’ve only ever been able to find one anyway). Meloetta is a special attacker that alternates between Normal-Psychic and Normal-Fighting through use of its signature move.

Let’s get back to the actual structure of the game. Unova was already a very chunky region in the first game, but Black and White 2 has a LOT more. A LOT MORE. It has a whole bunch of new areas, and a much wider variety of Pokémon than in the previous venture (even if the Unova-only Pokémon idea was pretty fun in Black and White 1, and much appreciated compared to the more recent games where newer Pokémon tend to be rare). However, there wasn’t exactly much I didn’t remember, since I—you know—remember so much from loving these games to death.

When it comes to starting in earnest, I’d say that Black and White 2 opens up after the third gym. Route 4 is when you start getting a lot of interesting Pokémon, and get to explore a pretty big area with the Desert Resort. Unfortunately, there is some padding even still. While you aren’t forced to do the tutorial for the musical place (which… we’ll get to later), you are forced to do the Pokémon World Tournament after the fifth gym (in addition to the aforementioned PokéStar Studios). I don’t know if you have to win to advance, but it comes down to already knowing what your opponents have (fortunately, they’re always the same). There’s also a very late point in the game where you have to fight someone with four Roggenrolas. Since this is before they could have Weak Armor… you have to fight four Roggenrolas with STURDY. It’s stupid and pretty much impossible to lose; it’s just there to be annoying.

So, we’ve gone over a number of side areas with unique mechanics. Well, there’s still more. One of my favorites was always Join Avenue. Every day, you’d boot up the game and talk to NPCs walking along the street, where you’d either have them open a shop or recommend them to an already opened shop. This place sucked so much of my life away ten years ago, and it’s worth it. The raffle place has a Master Ball for the grand prize, and I—to this day—have never obtained it (if Chugga ever plays these games for his channel, he will probably get it very easily). The antique shop is a great place to obtain a lot of random and useful items (get ready to have a new hate for Hard Stones). There are also places to raise base stats, friendliness, and EVs. 

Full transparency here: I did some of these side mechanics in my copy of Black 2, since I already had grinded up some other Pokémon for post-game stuff. PokéStar Studios… I gave it half an hour before I gave up on it (yes, that’s more than I ever gave it). I like it, but even when watching Twitch in the background, I found it emotionally draining and mechanically stupid. In PokéStar Studios, you choose one out of a staggering number of movies to shoot. You are provided rental Pokémon and a script to follow. You generally want to follow the script… but the problem is that you’re actually encouraged to find a very obtuse and specific combination of deviations to make something more avant garde. Since Bulbapedia, the most trustworthy source of Pokémon info on the Internet, didn’t have a guide for this to my knowledge, I gave up pretty quickly. As much as I love the unusual scenarios it puts Pokémon in (which I would’ve loved to see done in the main games more often), it’s just too much.

And honestly, I didn’t really want to do the musical studio either. The fun part is dressing up your Pokémon in ridiculous ways with various props, and that’s about where the fun ends. On stage, you perform a number that takes about five whole minutes, and you’re supposed to have more pizzazz than the other performers. Sadly, I have no idea how it’s measured. I know that hand-held props can be used as one-time flourishes, but I—to this day—have never had any clue on the best timing. Also, you have to do this a massive number of times to get everything out of it, and there are not enough dances to select from for variety’s sake. It’s the kind of repetitious grinding that can drive a completionist insane.

To add to the unprofessional-ality of this retrospective, I couldn’t do the competitive battle areas for crap either. The Pokémon World Tournament starts off weirdly easy (at least it was for me). You go through a cup where all eight Gym Leaders of Unova are thrown in as contestants. If you win, you unlock similar cups featuring Gym Leaders from Gens 1-4. While this is no doubt really cool, it’s also really difficult. I just can’t wrap my head around the insanity of competitive Pokémon-ing. The Battle Subway, which features different types of battle gauntlets against random trainers, is more forgiving, but it’s also less exciting.

When it comes to overall difficulty, Black and White 2 can be nasty if you don’t know the series’ mechanics REALLY well. Levels tend to hike up when it comes to gyms, creating a lot of walls if you don’t have specific Pokémon to account for them. I enjoy playing Pokémon slightly underleveled, since knowing the mechanics tends to outweigh pure stats, but man, not having the Gen 6 and onward Exp. Share is… hard to go back to. And for anyone who thinks that particular mechanic in Gen 6 makes things too easy, well… I’ll elaborate on that if I ever do a 10th Anniversary X and Y retrospective next year. I don’t really know how hard mode is, but according to Bulbapiedia… yikes.

In case Black and White 2 didn’t seem long enough to you, then get ready for its massive post-game! This opens up a ton of new areas: the northwest and southeast corners of the map (i.e. the areas around Icirrus City and the starting area of the first games). It also opens up Clay Tunnel, where you can obtain the Regis. The thing is… they’re all in the same room, and require the Key System setting to change the room to accommodate each Regi. These Keys were obtained by beating the game and doing other stuff, and had to be shared with other versions of the game. One set of keys is a difficulty modifier, however, I don’t know if you can have it to where you start a new campaign with one of those keys right off the bat (I kind of wanted to play the game on hard mode). In any case, you need both versions to obtain all three Regis, and unlock Regigigas as well. There was also a mechanic that allowed you to see N’s past, and randomly spawn Pokémon formerly owned by him into the wild. However, I don’t remember much of that mechanic nor how to do it.

It also opens up the version-exclusive Black City and White Forest. The former represents corporate greed and is really miserable and ugly, while the latter is quaint and happy. However, unlike the previous games where White was objectively better, both areas are more balanced in Black and White 2. Both of these areas have a unique challenge dungeon. Each set of floors has you go through a procedurally generated dungeon, fighting random trainers for hints on where the gatekeeper trainer is. Beating the gatekeeper trainer opens the door to the boss. Items cannot be used, but levels aren’t fixed either, so you can theoretically grind to level 100 and have an easy time. In any case, making progress opens shops in Black City and White Forest, each with unique items, and beating the final boss gives you a Shiny Gible and Shiny Dratini respectively. There is also an area that opens up after completing the Unova Regional Pokédex, but to this day, I have never managed to get it, especially since this game doesn’t have two rivals to register all three starters with (and it’s not Sinnoh where it’s programmed to make Regional Dex completion easy). 

And here’s the cherry on top: the Medal system. This is technically not post-game content, but it is part of getting to rate these games as 100% completed in your book. There are Medals for everything, from basic stuff, to completing everything in the side areas such as PokéStar Studios. This also includes completing a Pokémon League run with a single-Type team for EVERY Pokémon Type (fortunately, dual-Types count as long as one Type matches across the board), as well as a run with a single Pokémon (shouldn’t be too hard for those very first fans who just used their starter for the entirety of Red and Blue as kids because they didn’t know how the game worked). It’s a tad bit excessive.

Some of this stuff seems like it requires monumental grinding, and it does. Fortunately, Unova is by far the best generation for this sort of thing. Every day, stadiums in Nimbasa city spawn trainer battles (as long as it’s the right time of the day, otherwise they’ll be closed off). By the post-game, there are TONS of battles, enough to take at least half an hour total. In addition to this is a fight with your rival, a tag-team battle involving the trio of Gym Leaders from the first game’s Gym, and a fight with Colress (if you’re willing to go through two routes to get to him every time). ALL of these respawn daily. Furthermore, a rare Pokémon named Audino can spawn in any light-colored Pokémon grass, and that thing drops a LOT of XP!

Generally, I consider Unova to have excellent design in terms of layout and stuff to do (especially the latter), but I do have one qualm with it: seasons. There’s a reason that this only occured in Gen 5, because it’s handled stupidly. Basically, the game will track the date and time on your DS, and dynamically change the overworld depending on the seasons. While this is a nice detail, it results in some areas that cannot be reached except on specific seasons. And what’s worse is that autumn and winter are—to my knowledge—the only ones that really matter in terms of gameplay. 

For this passage, I need to make something clear: for some reason, I really love the world of Pokémon. It does have questionable ethics (and a lack of law enforcement), but I always loved existing in it. It always felt like a lucid dream to me (which is ironic since dreams are a theme in this game), and Unova always felt like one of the dreamiest. Pretty much every town has some sort of personality that makes it stand out, and a lot of them have my favorite atmospheres in the series. One such example is Village Bridge, which is an area that you just go through, with no plot relevance in either games. As a result, I always felt like it was a place removed from the rest of society, and it had a sense of quaintness to it.

I also love the visuals of Gen 5. This was the first generation where the POKÉMONS’ NAMES WEREN’T ALL CAPS, and more importantly, the first where their sprites were animated, showing off their full bodies in battle. The 3D is also much more intricate than Sinnoh’s, and the games run better as well. It’s also the first game where Abilities have a flashy visual that appears when they are activated.

The soundtrack is also one of my favorites in the series, with awesome overworld and battle themes. People generally love Route 10 from the first game, but as great as that song is, I also love the Route 23 that replaces it in the sequels. Colress also has one of my favorite boss themes in the series, but Ghetsis’ ominous, minimalist theme gets a remix in the sequels which kind of kills the impact of the original. One thing that Gen 5 does that is never revisited until Gen 7 is dynamic themes. Gym Leaders play an alternate theme when on their last Pokémon, but it doesn’t stop there. Certain NPCs in towns can play music which adds to the actual town’s theme. The most prevalent example is the aforementioned Village Bridge, which becomes a fully composed song complete with lyrics after you talk to all the NPCs involved.

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After All These Years: 9/10

I love Pokémon Black and White 2, but since then, Game Freak has greatly streamlined gameplay. It’s just really nice that the newer games are programmed so that all your Pokémon will be fairly balanced for each challenge as long as you fight every regular trainer battle. Oh, and those side mechanics… ew. Since the DS is kind of dead, I obviously can’t recommend these games whatsoever. But hey, if you somehow have copies lying around that you bought ten years ago and never played, then I think you should play them.

Ashes of Gold: The Sequel Curse Strikes Again

J. Elle’s Wings of Ebony was one of my favorite books of 2021. As someone who loved it, I would naturally want to read its sequel, Ashes of Gold. However, what other plot points could there be to explore? Only one way to find out!

Rue’s first year at Ghizon’s magic school was pretty lively. She ran away almost immediately, reconciled her relationship with her father, captured a White supremacist Ghizoni general, and—most importantly—made out with a strapping young man. Of course, the job isn’t done. She still has to take down the Chancellor, a.k.a. the mastermind behind it all. 

To be perfectly honest, I already had concerns for this one right out of the gate, simply because I wasn’t grabbed immediately like in the first book. It starts with Rue and Co. getting captured by the Chancellor’s goons, sure. However, Rue ends up displaying the tired trope of “doing a reckless thing and screwing up”, which ends up haunting her throughout most of the novel. This is one reason why I felt like she was downgraded in Ashes of Gold, which will be elaborated on later.

Fortunately, they escape pretty early, but they still have a mean ol’ White supremacist to take down. The goal ends up being to use a spell to bring back the Ghizoni people’s ancestors (sorry, Ancestors) and have them restore their descendants’ magic. Pretty simple, right?

However, that wasn’t exactly the case. A lot of Ashes of Gold is Rue and Co. traipsing around town and seeing how beat-up it is now, giving us more and more reasons to hate the Chancellor. Unfortunately, that’s about it for half the book. There’s some action, but it felt less impactful this time around.

It’s been exactly a year since I read Wings of Ebony, and I haven’t reread it since then. As such, I forgot who a lot of supporting characters were. Like, who are Zora, Shaun, or Bati? Was I supposed to remember them? I do, however, want to rectify my failure to elaborate on Bri’s character arc, since it’s kind of fascinating… and uncomfortable. Basically, Bri seems to represent those White people who want to fight racism, but simply don’t understand enough of the issue to contribute substantially. Rue has had to savagely tear into Bri multiple times throughout the duology, and she gets even more hate in this book simply because she’s Grey (a.k.a. the Ghizon’s equivalent of being White). To be fair, she is incredibly dense. One example is of her complaining about poor people stealing food; girl, it’s pretty damn obvious why someone would be reduced to committing those crimes.

I remembered loving Rue in Wings of Ebony. In Ashes of Gold, however, she’s… flawed. Sure, a good character needs some flaws through which to grow. However, Rue seems to be nothing but flaws this time around. She isn’t fierce or powerful, and is constantly hounded by the failed encounter with the Patrol at the beginning of the novel. And instead of bettering herself, she spends the whole book trying to get the damn Ancestors to fix everything for her.

Fortunately, things do pick up toward the end. There are sufficient twists, and the climax is satisfying enough. There are no plot threads left unresolved (as far as I could tell at least).

One thing to consider about me not having overwhelmingly positive thoughts on Ashes of Gold is the fact that I’ve since read Iron Widow. That book is just *chef’s kiss*. It’s so good that it makes a lot of YA novels—including the ones I like—seem like crap. And sadly, J. Elle’s works ended up not being exceptions. With that being said… 

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Final Verdict: 7.85/10

Ashes of Gold is a solid conclusion to a great duology. However, there’s a lot better you can do, such as Iron Widow and Tristan Strong. 

I Review a Pop Album for Once?: millennium parade — THE MILLENNIUM PARADE Album Review

I’m a big metalhead, but as much as I want to say I listen to metal 100% of the time, I don’t. The total is 99%, which feels like more than most metalheads, who enjoy even mainstream pop from time to time. If I can like a band as light as The Hu, then I really have no excuse. This review is super-late and unprofessional, but here it is anyway: my review of millennium parade’s debut album, THE MILLENNIUM PARADE.

My story with millennium parade is a long one. The band was formed quite recently as a side project of Daiki Tsuneta, the lead vocalist of super-popular Japanese rock band King Gnu. I had tried King Gnu in my pre-metal days and didn’t quite like it. At that time, however, millennium parade had released a few singles, most notably the opening theme of Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. 2045. I liked it significantly more than King Gnu, but it wasn’t long after that I got into metal. Their full-length debut has now premiered, and the band’s newest release happens to be one of the theme songs in Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle

Normally, rock bands have crap cover art (as much as I love BAND-MAID, they could use better art a lot of the time). However, millennium parade already stands out with their first album’s artwork. It’s an ukiyo-e-inspired illustration of yokai dancing about. It ties into the album’s intro track, ‘Hyakki-yagyo,’ which bleeds into the already-famous ‘Fly With Me’ (the aforementioned GitS OP). 

millennium parade’s basic style consists of an overwhelming amount of strange synthesizers and autotuning to create a vast and otherworldly soundscape. Apple Music calls it “alternative”, a genre that I still don’t know how to recognize, considering I’ve listened to a lot of the metal take on alternative (apparently). However, if I could call a pop artist “alternative”, then it would be millennium parade. 

The other draw to them is that they are definitely from Japan. That nation’s long history of social isolation that ended only one hundred and twenty years ago has created a very complicated society that can almost be described as “dystopian”. A lot of what initially enchants Westerners is just the unadulterated, unhinged strangeness of what they’ve put out, which contrasts with the centuries of ancient traditions. That shows in THE MILLENNIUM PARADE, whose incredibly modern sound contradicts the old-timey style of the cover art.

Sadly, that’s about where the positives end. Alternative or not, I think pop is superficial to the core, and so far, millennium parade is no exception. I had the same problem with King Gnu. Just like millennium parade, King Gnu had a lot of weird effects and crap in it, but musically, it was basic rock. The weird sounds might help millennium parade stand out among pop artists, but it doesn’t add anything. While I can appreciate them having animated music videos, they only serve to further disguise the basic pop beats beneath.

The vocals are… okay I guess? While ‘Fly With Me’ is sung by a masucline vocalist who sounds like Tsuneta himself, most tracks are by what sound like a female vocalist. Of course, how can I tell, when they all have eighty autotunes going on? Whatever person or people are singing, I do suppose they give THE MILLENNIUM PARADE its desired feel. However, the caveat is that they sound very robotic and deadpan; not at all my speed.

I might sound like I’m just being biased as a metalhead, but here’s the thing: there’s a pop band that I DO unconditionally love. The band is Mili, and ironically, they’re also from Japan. Mili is an independent outfit that I’ve discussed before, and despite my migration into the metal hole, Mili always has me coming out for a spell. They manage to sound perfectly “alternative” but without sensory overload; the core of most of their songs are vocals, percussion, and a piano. The melodies are legitimately not mainstream pop, and their vocalist Cassie is phenomenally talented, packing both personality and a memorable voice. Of course, it’s me of all people who says that a couple of people with no record label are significantly better than one of Japan’s most popular musicians. 

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Final Verdict: 7/10

THE MILLENNIUM PARADE is decent-at-best. Similar to King Gnu, I can’t exactly say I’m a fan of this band, especially when compared to Mili. At the very least, they’re marginally better than most of today’s biggest popstars. You can give them a try if you’re sick of hearing ‘Shake It Off’ on the radio ad nauseum.