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Pokemon BDSP: Gen 4 But it’s Playable

Of all the mainstream fandoms I’m actually a part of, it kinda sucks that Pokémon is one of them. I love the games, but a lot of fans are basically the Star Wars of the videogame world; full of people who are dead set on criticizing anything that comes out after the first three core installments. You do not need to go far to find ridiculously divided opinions on every game from Gen 4 onward. I do think Pokémon has had [many] ups and downs, but I’d pick Sun and Moon with slow text over some of the horrors I’ve heard from outfits like EA and Bethesda. Anyways, the newest punching bag, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are out, and I haven’t read any reviews besides my own. Based on my experiences on the Internet, I have a gut feeling that people hate this one. I want to prove them wrong, but I would have to actually disagree with them first! Without further ado, let’s jump back into Sinnoh, specifically the Shining Pearl version!

Before I start, I must state how significant this game is for me personally. The first Pokémon game I ever played was Pokémon Platinum, and I sucked hardcore at it. We all suck at our first Pokémon game, since it’s so different from most JRPGs. Once I got to the point where I knew all the series’ nuances, I always wanted to go back and whoop Platinum’s ass. The problem is that I lost my copy. As such, this remake is FINALLY my chance to redeem myself in Sinnoh!

In the fourth generation of Pokémon, your trainer is—as per usual—given a Pokédex and a free starter. Also as per usual, you have to complete the professor’s somehow empty Pokédex. However, you and your friends end up having a run-in with Team Galactic, led by Cyrus. He wants to rewrite the entire cosmos, so… Good luck with that.

I don’t know about most of the Internet, but when I first looked at the pics for these games, I didn’t exactly like how it appeared. They reverted back to the chibi style, and made it resemble the Switch remake of Link’s Awakening, but a lot more lifeless. However, after finally getting to play them, the visuals grew on me. It’s as vibrant and cozy as the Pokémon world always was, and the water graphics are particularly appealing. The updated soundtrack is really solid as well.

Let’s discuss Gen 4’s story once again… or lack thereof. Diamond and Pearl, being before Gen 5, really don’t try to be engaging whatsoever. It is the usual formula of “go get Gym Badges until the bad guys show up and you happen to be at the right place at the right time.” There really isn’t anything else to say about it.

I was never really a fan of the characters either; everyone was pretty one-dimensional to me. While the updated look gives some personality to their mannerisms, it’s pretty inconsistent how much stock is put into them; I’ve seen random Trainers get more love than plot-relevant characters. The Gym Leaders are their usual one-off, pre-Gen-5 selves, with Crasher Wake being the only memorable one to me.

If Sinnoh’s story did anything right, it made a big leap forward in Pokémon lore. Legendaries have always played a religious role in this world, but in Gen 4, we have literal gods. The box-art Legendaries, Dialga and Palkia, control the fabric of space-time itself, while a trio of three sprites who reside in Sinnoh’s great lakes, gave humans all the aspects of, well, humanity.

Being a remake, there are some necessary quality-of-life improvements. Pokémon summaries—for the first time ever—straight-up show an up and down arrow for affected stats in Natures. X items still raise stats by +2, and the Pokétch has an app which replaces the need for any HMs. And most importantly, EVERYTHING IS FASTER. Battles are at Gen 8 speeds, and Surfing isn’t garbage.

However, at what cost do these great improvements come? For starters, TMs are now back to being consumable items (although it’s somewhat alleviated by having TMs received by NPCs come in units of three). Marts and Pokémon Centers don’t share the same building either. What’s extra-damning is that Pokémon Centers don’t have free Move Reminders anymore. Oh, and random encounters are, well, random again; no Pokémon on the field other than statics.

One of the best new perks for true Pokémon gamers is a free Mythical Pokémon! As long as you have save data from Pokémon Sword or Shield, you get a free Jirachi in Floraroma Town. It’s the first time I’ve ever used Jirachi, so it basically felt like an entirely new Pokémon. Furthermore, early buyers obtain a Manaphy Egg (sorry if you’re reading this and you missed the window). It’s also my first time ever using Manaphy, and as such, I also had access to Phione via the Daycare Center. However, I used Manaphy since Phione is objectively weaker, despite being much more annoying to obtain. 

And you better make use of those Mythicals, because through these games, I learned—the hard way—just how good Platinum was. I was looking forward to the Rotom in the haunted house and the Togepi you get from Cynthia. It would be my first time ever using the former with its new Fairy typing. However, in Diamond and Pearl, they are post-game, whereas you get them much earlier in Platinum. The Eevee you would get at Hearthome City is post-game as well. Spiritomb is still impossible to obtain without at least one friend. 

Sadly, this means that they failed to fix many bad problems with Diamond and Pearl’s game design. Fantina’s Gym is still a math class, for starters. Also, the encounter variety is garbage. Sinnoh has some solid Pokémon, sure, but man… Gen 7 and onward has spoiled me in how much variety you get in encounters. For people who don’t know, allow me to sum up Sinnoh’s Pokémon variety: the Chimchar and Ponyta families are the ONLY Fire-Types in the game! Furthermore, routes tend to have the same encounters over and over, moreso than spamming the common pure-Normal and Normal-Flying-Type families of that Gen. I’ve seen Shellos, Ponyta, Geodudes, and more common Pokémon permeate the bulk of Sinnoh.

A mechanic I’m glad to see back is the Grand Underground. This rabbit hole of a side mode is a massive and intricate series of tunnels throughout Sinnoh. You can dig fossils and other really good items in an RNG-based, Battleship-like minigame. Basically, you just smack parts of the wall with a hammer to reveal items. You keep anything that’s fully revealed by the time you run out of guesses. There are also secret bases in the Grand Underground, and new to the remakes are rooms that have Pokémon actually physically roaming around which can be battled and caught at your leisure (while some of these offer a new alternative to annoying encounters, such as Munchlax, there isn’t much better variety here). Statues found in the digging minigame can be placed to affect the spawn of the aforementioned underground encounters. Unfortunately, you can only have one statue effect at a time, dictated by whatever Typing is the majority among your display. I think the biggest flaw is the grind for Spheres to upgrade your Secret Base. You need so many, just to expand it by so little. I think this could be fixed with the ability to trade statues for spheres, because they are much more common than what you can possibly contain within your Base.

Another rabbit hole is the Super Contest Hall. I never dabbled in it back in the old days, so I don’t know if anything has changed. In any case, it’s rhythm game meets brutally long and tedious min-maxing and prep work. Before you can even think of entering, you have to farm berries to make Poffins to feet your Pokémon and increase any of its five Contest attributes. You also have to figure out what the best move to bring into the show based on its Contest effect. That move is basically an ultimate move to use at the right time. Chain with other Pokémon moves to get an even stronger effect. Oh, and make sure you’re actually good at rhythm games. Want a Milotic? Then you gotta dabble in this crap, and that’s assuming you can find the miraculously rare Feebas in the first place. To find it, you need to get to a specific body of water in Mt. Coronet, and fish on one of four specific tiles, whose locations change every day in real time. And even if you manage to find the spot, Feebas still has a low spawn rate on its own tile. 

Gen 4 was pretty tough back in the day. Mars’ Purugly, Jupiter’s Skuntank, Cynthia’s everything… but in the remakes, it becomes almost excessively easy. The more balanced XP distribution from Gen 8 saves on grinding and keeping your team in check, but unlike Gen 8, it doesn’t reach that Goldilocks-zone challenge that I felt Gen 8 had. Even when skipping Trainers, you’ll be overleveled for most of the game. It doesn’t balance out until the Pokémon League, which proves to be about as tough as it was in the old days.

But as admirably I performed this time around, Gen 4 still gets the last laugh on me. For over ten years, I couldn’t do anything in the post-game, and here’s why: for the only time in the series, the pre-requisite for the National Pokédex is to complete the Regional Pokédex. It’s actually quite doable, as long as you fight every Trainer (which the game itself will point out), and talking to Cynthia’s grandma registers each games’ opposite box-art Legendary in your Pokédex, and after that, it’s just a matter of knowing to go after Uxie, Mesprit, and Azelf. Mesprit is a Roaming Legendary, which is annoying, but the initial encounter in its cave that triggers its Roaming status counts toward your Pokédex, so it really is no problem at all. I fought every Trainer, encountered all three lake spirits, and Dialga and Palkia in Platinum, so I have no idea how I failed to complete its Pokédex. Maybe I actually did, but since it was my first Pokémon game and didn’t know the difference between Regional and National Pokédex, I thought I had to literally see all Gen 1-4 Pokémon. But with my old cartridge lost, we’ll never know for sure.

Despite how easy it is to do, I still think it’s a pretty arbitrary prerequisite for the post-game, especially after one of the hardest final bosses in the series. With all that said and done, it’s time to experience the post-game in earnest! Whatever’s carried over seems to be the same, although I couldn’t really tell you that since I only ever experienced the post-game through Chuggaaconroy’s Platinum playthrough up until now. In any case, there’s a lot to do! You have an entire new region to explore, with Heatran slumbering at Stark Mountain. There is also a sidequest that nets you Cresselia, as well as an encounter with Rotom at night in a specific area. One thing I don’t remember is the ability to challenge every Gym Leader again, as well as fights with the Professor’s assistant and your friend that refresh daily.

Of course, the thing to be hype for is the new Ramanas Park. Here, you can catch every Legendary from Gens 1-3, including the Regis needed to get into the Snowpoint Temple to get Regigigas. Since everything has to have extra prerequisites in Sinnoh, it’s not that simple. To fight them, you need to trade Mysterious Shards for Slates that correspond to their room. These Shards are found—rarely, I might add—in the underground. It’s a grind to get all of them, because it’s not like you need one Slate to unlock each room; the cost is one Slate per encounter. That means you’ll need three small Mysterious Shard or one of the far rarer large Mysterious Shards for every Legendary from Gens 1-3. Good luck with that!

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Final Verdict: 9/10

I wish it had some of Platinum‘s perks, but nonetheless, these remakes of Diamond and Pearl really do Gen 4 justice. It makes a great entry point, since it doesn’t overwhelm you with massive amounts of encounters right at the beginning. I think there’s supposed to be DLC, but unless it’s a whole campaign like in Sword and Shield, I probably won’t dedicate a whole post to it.

Cynicism in Entertainment: When is it Too Much? Can There be Too Much?

This is probably something you can type into Google and find a scholarly Harvard thesis on. But since this topic has been bugging me for quite some time, I thought I could put in my two cents. I feel like the amount of cynicism in entertainment, or lack thereof, has been largely under debate since forever. And it’s something that’s come to a head for me on a personal level since the start of the pandemic, and as of finishing Volume 8 of RWBY. For this post, I’ll try to lay down both sides of the coin in a civil manner. There will be spoilers for RWBY and Re:ZERO among others throughout this discussion.

The first thing to bring up is the fact that darker times are hard to face in real life. And for some people, the SOLE counter to that is in Escapist fantasies such as those put out by Disney. That company has continued to inspire hope for generations, and is almost at the one-century mark of its running. On the flipside, Disney doesn’t make the bad things go away in real life. You will not only be faced with personal issues, but societal ones as well (more on the latter later). Even if you watch something like Soul for example, which has the lesson of living life to the fullest, you’ll still have to toil at school or a job even if you take that lesson to heart. 

But let’s flip it back again, and discuss the question I asked at the beginning: When is cynicism too much? At the point I’m at in Re:ZERO and RWBY, there have been so many deaths that it has completely desensitized me. The fourth (or is it fifth?) arc of Re:ZERO starts with a child being thrown from the top of a building, after which an entire crowd of people explode into blood and guts. This happens after the main character has died and respawned after at least a dozen gruesome deaths, including being eaten alive by hundreds of demon rabbits. And RWBY? There’s death everywhere! RWBY is particularly controversial because it started off as a very silly battle shounen, then took an incredibly dark direction following the passing of its creator. And for the record, it has legitimately made me depressed. While I have no doubt that any American drama is still darker, RWBY is the most cynical work of fiction I have ever consumed. It has literally made me think to myself: “Life was not God’s gift to us; it was a punishment.”

To define how cynical a narrative work is, you should first find a definitive answer to how dark real life is. The problem is that everyone suffers in different ways and amounts. Re:ZERO seems exaggerated, since I definitely haven’t lived a life where I watch a close friend die right before my eyes every single day. But what about someone living in the Middle East? There are refugees for a reason, you know.

But here’s the kicker. While I have written off stuff as “torture porn”, and accused people of reading too much into social media, I must admit that I’ve become like that as well. The pandemic has affected the lives of pretty much every human, yet instead of bringing people together, it bolstered existing issues and—in essence—ruined everything. It doesn’t take long to find news about fully vaccinated people dying of COVID, countries re-entering lockdown (heck, the bands I follow are still having gigs cancelled left and right), governments stripping unvaccinated people of human rights, California slowly burning to the ground, the slaughterhouse that was Travis Scott’s Astroworld concert, and other human failures. You don’t even need these past couple of years to see how miserable life has always been. America has violated its own Constitution, and created racist and misogynist propaganda since its birth. How can I write off series as torture porn, when they seem perfectly apropos to actual life?

The argument I see the most in favor of cynicism is that it makes the story more mature and intellectual. But sometimes I feel like it’s actually more childish than even Disney. One example that comes to mind is Dungeon Busters, which is an urban fantasy that shows the political ramifications of RPG tropes existing in the real world. I want to say it’s a really thoughtful series, but I’m not sure I can. Trump is portrayed in it as a whiny brat who wants to nuke everything. I don’t know if that portrayal is actually mature, and since we’ll probably never know what Trump was truly like during his term, I can’t say that Dungeon Busters’ Trump is effective. Also, there’s a scene where a supporting protagonist shows a deep prejudice towards Americans entirely because of America’s past crimes against Japan, such as the atomic bombings at the end of WWII, decades before her birth. You’re meant to sympathize with her. However, in real life, Japan allows and welcomes American tourists with open arms (at least before COVID). I can’t judge if such deep-seeded grudges are actually mature or not. I just can’t.

Another example I can place is the famous videogame, A Way Out. I’ve seen three playthroughs of it on YouTube, and that final plot twist will always be infamous. You know, the one where Vincent was actually a police officer trying to nail Leo, and Harvey—the game’s villain—at the same time? It’s SUPER cynical, because it basically implies that your closest friend will stab you in the back someday, that no one can mutually agree on anything, and that there’s no point in ever trying to be nice to anyone. They completely throw away logic (such as parts where Vincent commits other crimes while undercover and endangers civilian lives) in order to make a purely cynical gaming experience, and cause mental whiplash for the people playing by turning the game from co-op to PvP right at the end, with a different—equally sad—ending based on who lives. Does that really make it better, though?

There is no end to different examples of arguments over whether or not cynicism is too much. But regardless, I’m starting to think that there can never be too much of it. Thanks to what COVID has done to me, in conjunction with social media being itself, I have lost all hope. How much cynicism can you handle? Let me know in the comments!

Hyrule Warriors Age of Calamity: A Relativily Short Beat ‘Em Up (Relativily Speaking)

So, long story with this game (and why this review is out such a long time after the game’s release). I had thought about buying Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, the prequel to my current favorite game of all time, at great length last year. I recalled how the original Hyrule Warriors was—and is still—the longest Zelda game of all time, with over 300 hours for a completionist run, according to the website How Long to Beat (or over a thousand according to Jirard the Completionist). I had made a lot of progress, just for the Definitive Edition to come out on Switch, which was a basic eff-you to all my hard work on the Wii U version. However, I got more incentive to play Age of Calamity when I asked how long it is on one of my old Facebook groups, and saw that it was a much more lenient (but still chunky) length. I resolved to get it as a Christmas present for myself… when my sister bought me One Piece Pirate Warriors 4. I was tied to playing through that game, and by the time I finished it, I decided I had no time for Age of Calamity. More recently, I decided to make a soulful decision to suck it up and MAKE time for games that I legitimately want. And so here we are… My third jump into a Warriors game.

In Age of Calamity, well… if you’ve played Breath of the Wild, you know the story. Ganon has become his most monstrous form yet: Calamity Ganon (and if you’ve beaten Breath of the Wild, you know how terrifying he is). Not only are there truckloads of Moblins, even the Guardians meant to defend Hyrule have been corrupted, and turned against the very kingdom they were meant to protect. Link, along with the most waifu-like Zelda of the series, and four Champions, have to unleash one heck of a butt-whooping to get out of this one!

This game gives a lot of context to Breath of the Wild‘s lack of a plot. Apparently, Link isn’t even the hero this time; instead, it’s a robot that time travels from the future to assist Link and Zelda. Confusing, right? Thing is, a Zelda game is a Zelda game. While it isn’t as simple as finding the Divine Beasts and the Master Sword, Age of Calamity is quite straightforward. 

The whole thing with this game was supposed to be getting to know the Champions better. But… there really isn’t much. These guys are more-or-less exactly how they’re seen in Breath of the Wild; even Rivali’s resentment of Link is just arbitrary. Zelda is the same waifu as ever, and Link is… Link. Fortunately, Zelda’s dad learns to eat his words after how strict he was to her.

THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS STORY SPOILERS. Okay, so… in terms of story, Age of Calamity is a massive let-down. Based on how things progress in the game, this is NOT Breath of the Wild’s prequel, but an alternate timeline of the events before Breath of the Wild. Like, seriously. When you complete the final stage, you actually beat Calamity Ganon successfully. None of Link’s memories from Breath of the Wild are reintroduced with their full context nor chronological order like I had hoped. The time travel mechanic, I felt, was done solely to bring in other characters from Breath of the Wild, since their roster was so limited. Kohga also joins in, which is cool, but not supposed to happen. Of course, all of this could be me not remembering Breath of the Wild. Chances are, Sidon might’ve said something like: “Hey, Link! Remember when I time traveled to the past and helped you fight stuff? Oh, you don’t? Ah well, that sucks” at some point in the game.

Gameplay-wise, Age of Calamity is typical Warriors stuff. You have your regular attacks, strong attacks, combos, midair attacks, special attacks, and a unique ability for every character. Like with Hyrule Warriors, strong enemies have weak point gauges that need to be depleted during openings to be able to execute a finishing move. Age of Calamity, however, mixes things up and utilizes the Shiekah Slate. Every character will have access to those lovely powerups such as Remote Bombs, and they are VERY helpful. The basic mechanics for them are pretty much unchanged from Breath of the Wild, but in this game, they can be used to disrupt specific enemy attacks.

The big learning curve, however, is with the characters’ abilities. There aren’t as many to play as in most Warriors games, but they make up for it with depth. While the game is nice enough to give you button prompts for abilities as you play as them, they are still very confusing. Link is a safe bet, since he’s your basic dude. But everyone else… geez. To make it more confusing, the Shiekah Slate powers have unique effects based on who’s using it! 

But if there’s one thing that doesn’t, it’s the Rods. These are your typical elemental Rods from the Zelda series. They have limited ammo, but can be refilled by beating elemental enemies and breaking some crates. Enemies with elemental attributes can easily be trivialized by Rods, but most enemies will at least suffer some effect from them.

One of my biggest concerns playing a Warriors game solo was what to do in the event of multiple urgent objectives happening at opposite points on the map. It never felt balanced except for co-op. However, Age of Calamity fixes that… to a point. You can change which ally you’re playing as at the push of a button. Also, you can pause the game and order the A.I. to go to a specific spot. One important thing that they don’t tell you is that you need to go to the menu and cancel the order once they arrive at the spot. I learned this the hard way, and found my allies doing a 180 and heading back to where I originally wanted them to go instead of forward.

Fortunately, stages aren’t as much of a mess this time around. There are some points where a ton of mobs appear, but it’s not constant. The reason is that they knew that you would need down time in these stages, as there is stuff to find per Zelda tradition. Any out of the way part of the map is likely to contain a special treasure chest. Oh, and guess what else you’ll have to look out for… Yep, those sumbitch Koroks are back (hang on, if this is the prequel, doesn’t that actually mean they’re here for the first time?), but there aren’t nine hundred this time around. 

Of course, fighting is only half the battle. One of the towers from Breath of the Wild serves as Link’s base of operation. Here, you can check equipment and select battles to embark on. You can also solve quests throughout Hyrule, which increases character abilities and increases a lovely Affinity gauge with the region. Later ones will require a LOT of materials, as expected from a Warriors game.

You also have the blacksmith, which allows for the fusion of weapons you pick up in battle. However, it’s kind of complicated in this game. In Hyrule Warriors, you just choose one weapon ability to transfer to the base weapon. But here, there are a whole bunch of nuances with stat bonuses, as well as an extra perk for abilities with matching shapes on their icon. One important thing that they don’t tell you (either that or I skipped it like an idiot) is that an ability slot is added every fifth weapon level up. Just like with Hyrule Warriors, it’s worth experimenting with this system to create something stupid powerful!

Difficulty-wise, Age of Calamity is about as tough as you can expect. It can be overwhelming to get used to the controls, but as you level up and gain more powerful weapons, it becomes a bit more manageable. However, some of the side missions can be a bit of a pain (plus some of the DLC ones can have large difficulty spikes). Some timed missions were incredibly sting twitch respawning mobs, resulting in some uncomfortably close shaves. Also, they have no-damage missions, which are my absolute weakness in Warriors games. Knowing Breath of the Wild mechanics is a great advantage, since most enemies have the same attack patterns (with some new ones thrown into the mix), and certain nuances are carried over.

Like with any Warriors game, Age of Calamity has a post-game. This spawns some of the usual extra quests and missions that are harder than the final boss. It also spawns a large quest chain, and completing it unlocks the time traveling Guardian as a playable character. Based on the character select grid, there’s one character I never figured out how to unlock. Knowing my luck, I would need to complete everything as a prerequisite, and since there are no damage challenges, that’s not gonna happen in my case!

The reason why it took me until almost the end of the year to put this review out is because of Age of Calamity’s Expansion Pass. Since this DLC isn’t involved enough to warrant a whole review, like with Pokémon Sword and Shield’s, I had to wait to discuss each of them here! The first wave of DLC unlocks Robbie and Purah’s Research Lab. This includes a whole extra set of requests, most of which require a new type of material called research papers, which are basically earned just by doing your usual thing. The rewards are REALLY good, and like a lot of Nintendo DLC, feel like something that would be a  middle finger to those who already beat the base game. Rewards also include a weapon for Link that’s literally two Guardian legs stitched together, the motorcycle from Breath of the Wild’s DLC for Zelda, and—the most important thing—a Guardian as a playable character. Unfortunately, the research requests can be very grindy, often requiring vast numbers of resources as well as defeating a specific number of enemies with specific items. This DLC also causes Vicious Monster encounters to spawn at random throughout the world. Each region’s fight is the same, with the exception of the Vicious Monster itself. The difficulty level for some of these can be well above what you should be at for the main story. You can still fight them, but they’re hard enough even when properly levelled. What makes these fights hard is that elemental enemies infinitely spawn, and you can get juggled between them. At the very least, this makes these stages great for grinding Rod ammo. 

The second set of DLC makes little-to-no sense to me. What it’s supposed to be is a series of hidden memories stored inside the time travelling Guardian. This starts with a short level from its perspective, which makes sense considering that they are its memories. However, after that is just a series of one-off fights, implied to have taken place during the second act of the story, that the Guardian isn’t even involved in (with the exception of the final mission). It makes no sense that everyone else wouldn’t have remembered these battles, and even less sense as to why the time traveller alone recalls them. 

In terms of gameplay, these missions are a bit of a pain. Each has a bonus objective, one of which is always hidden until you magically happen upon it. Beating these extra missions, along with the bonus objectives, nets you some powerful upgrades to the characters’ movepools. Finishing the campaign unlocks Robbie and Purah as a tag-team playable character, which is quite worth it if I do say so myself.

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

For a bunch of cobbled together assets made to tide us over for the sequel that we actually care about, Age of Calamity isn’t just a great game; it’s the best Warriors experience I have ever played. It’s still grindy, however, but there’s no achievement system for getting everyone to max level (and other headaches like that). I recommend it to any Zelda fan who isn’t The Completionist (and if he’s already played Age of Calamity, at least it’s not as bad as Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition).

Encanto: Smart House but Cranked up to Eleven

Does anyone remember the one good thing about COVID-19, i.e. when movie studios streamed new movies as an additional option on release? Nowadays, studios are like “Yeah, we can go back to making theaters the only option again”. And guess what, Disney’s Encanto is no exception! As the first animated movie since Moana to have potential future Disney Legend Lin-Manuel Miranda at the helm, risking my life would be more than worth it (albeit a bit inconvenient). 

Encanto begins when the Madrigal family narrowly escapes what I presume to be the Conquistadors. They get saved by a candle, of all things. A candle that creates the enclosed world of Encanto, with a magic house at the center. Over the course of fifty years, every Madrigal is blessed with a gift. And like any media ever with a “gift” system, our main protagonist, Mirabelle Madrigal, gets nothing. And like any media where that happens, it’s the person without a gift who has to save everyone.

Disney movies will always be very predictable, especially since this is their sixtieth animated feature. As soon as you hear Abuela utter the T-shirt-worthy phrase, “Make your family proud”, you know the theme, or rather, themes. Encanto is about family and trauma. Specifically, it’s about how families place burdens on one another because they want to keep things peachy keen.

One of the most interesting aspects of Encanto is its setting. Being enclosed from the rest of the world, the house—La Casita—is where the bulk of the movie takes place. This makes it feel much more compact than most Disney settings I’ve seen. Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of Disney magic. La Casita has as many surprises as its personality!

Speaking of personality, the cast is full to bursting with it. Mirabelle is probably one of the best female leads Disney has cooked up. She’s not banging you over the head with feminism (although that was never a Disney issue as much as an issue with Western culture in general), but she shows that she’s a big-hearted girl who loves her family. 

But wait, there’s more! Mirabelle’s family is… big to say the least. Each person, from Best Girl Luise, to drop-dead gorgeous Isabel, have fully realized character designs and flaws. Bruno is likely my favorite character, what with his tragic backstory and quirky personality. Abuela is kind of a weak spot, being a traditional bad Disney parent like Miguel’s grandma in Coco. But you know what, at least Abuela had a more tangible reason to be dense! Hang on, did I say Bruno was the best character? No, that’d be La Casita; the house, like a loyal animal companion, is the only one to actually stand by Mirabelle from start to finish (okay, technically Antonio did too, but he’s not a magic house).

Of course, what always separates Disney from what I’d call the “superficial at best” mainstream is how much stock they actually put in to bring their stuff to life. As expected, every aspect of the movie is intricately well thought out, down to every particle. Also, they once again manage to perfectly border photorealism without ever entering an uncanny valley. 

Last but not least is the one thing I was looking forward to the most in Encanto: the soundtrack. Between Hamilton, Moana, and Mary Poppins Returns, master maestro Lin-Manuel Miranda hasn’t only crafted top quality numbers, but a high quantity as well. Sadly, Encanto has a whopping not many songs. What’s there is top-notch stuff, but as of writing this review (mere minutes after seeing the movie), I already have withdrawal! Next Lin-Manuel Miranda movie when?

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Final Verdict: 9.85/10

Honestly, I don’t remember having been so captivated by an iteration of the traditional Disney formula in quite some time, but that could also be because the last two years have felt like a lifetime. Encanto is a masterpiece of Latinx culture, introspection, and most of all… family! I highly recommend it to any Disney fan, and to anyone who wants a brief respite from the depressant that is being alive during a pandemic.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles: I MISS THIS SERIES SO MUCH

PREFACE: I originally split this review into two parts, the first of which I recently deleted. The reason was that I wanted to jump in on the hype of Great Ace Attorney, but I couldn’t possibly beat both games in time. I’m sorry for not keeping my usual standards to heart. My second part of the review was so awful, I decided to shift gears to a full, proper review. I hope you enjoy it!


Time for a long story. While this is the first Ace Attorney game I’m covering on my blog, this is definitely NOT the first Ace Attorney game I’ve played. In fact, I’ve played through these games with my sister for years. Thing is, that was way before I had this blog. We played up through Spirit of Justice (with the exception of the Edgeworth games, but thankfully NintendoCaprisun had his videos of them for us), but that was five years ago. Now, we both have jobs. However, that didn’t stop us from squeezing what little time we had for a massive and unexpected adventure: an official U.S. release of The Great Ace Attorney spinoff series, with HD remasters for the Switch. 

In The Great Ace Attorney, we turn back the clock to the early 1900s, to Phoenix Wright’s ancestor, Ryunosuke Naruhodo. His lawyering career begins when he has to defend himself after a man is shot to death while he happens to be holding a gun found at the scene. Thus starts a saga that continues for generations.

The story structure will seem pretty familiar; episodic cases that build up to a bigger plot. And similar to the Edgeworth spinoffs, this one plays with your expectations. In fact, despite the lack of returning characters, The Great Ace Attorney felt very emotionally tense, considering its entirely new setting and cast. Some cases feature a jury (who actually exist this time, unlike Apollo’s game), and they change their minds a lot, making trials even more nerve-wracking when the scale leans toward guilt. While there are no straight-up bad cases, the third case is definitely where the game starts in earnest.

The writing in The Great Ace Attorney is great as always. From wry humor, to raw emotion, and spine-tingling suspense, Capcom once again demonstrates their writing prowess (if only that carried over to other games (*cough* Monster Hunter Stories 2 *cough*)). However, there are some big changes in the overall feel, more so due to this localization. And if I may write one more sentence, I’ll have an excuse to elaborate in a nice and organized new paragraph.

First off, the localization retcons the Ace Attorney universe. The main games have been set in an ambiguous country that could pass as just about anywhere, with the U.S. localization being set somewhere in California. However, The Great Ace Attorney universe doesn’t just scream Japan, but other countries as well. Fortunately, you aren’t required to know anything about old-timey world culture in order to solve a case, but Japanese honorifics are used without explanation.

Furthermore, the humor is very… hm, at times. It’s the 1900s, which means… racism. Ace Attorney has never held back on stereotypes, but it’s really nasty here. Foreigners act like Japan is a massive sh**hole, like an anime fan who hates ecchi. Their culture is even insulted right in the middle of their most supreme courtroom. You’re meant to chalk it up to English people being hotiy-toity, but I actually own a Japanese mythology research book, written at around that time, by an Englishman who fell in love with Japan, even shaming his own culture in one chapter. But when the story shifts to the U.K. itself, even our Japanese intrepid heroes act as if their own nation is a sh**hole. The U.K. definitely has the more advanced technology, but they even imply that the country has a richer history, which is a very subjective thing that’s neither right nor wrong (and is probably just meant to hype up London in the context of the story and I shouldn’t be reading into it this hard). 

ANYWAY, the characters, despite being all newcomers, stand within Ace Attorney’s cast as my favorite in any visual novel franchise. Ryunosuke is another new face, and I mean NEW. The first case isn’t just his first case as a lawyer, but he’s also had no experience in law whatsoever. He has a really unique arc where he gradually acquires the confident Ace Attorney animations we know and love over the course of the first case, and it’s wonderful to see. The Maya Fey of this game is a waifu named Susato, who is a bit of a kuudere; she’s condescending in a deadpan way, but some Maya-like qualities shine through at times (and she often proves herself a better lawyer than Ryunosuke). The Gumshoe is none other than Sherlock Holmes. Yes, I know the text says “Herlock Sholmes”, but if you play with Japanese audio, he is referred to as Sherlock Holmes. Based on this, I assume the reason for a lack of localization was a copyright thing, similar to the Stands in Jojo. In any case, he’s as confident as he is wrong about his deductions, i.e. he’s wrong a LOT but loves himself nonetheless. As much as I love Gumshoe, this guy grew on me very quickly. Screw it; he’s my favorite detective in the series, second only to Gumshoe (sorry Ema). Our prosecutor is Barok van Zieks. As one of the hunkiest antagonists thus far, he behaves like a scarier, more aggressive Klavier Gavin, where he’s sometimes willing to help the defense if things happen to go a certain way in the trial.

While the first game is great, the second game—Resolve—is truly a work of art. It’s the first linear sequel in the series, being a direct continuation from the first game, Great Ace Attorney Adventures. Resolve is easily as intense as Edgeworth 2 and Spirit of Justice. Resolve introduces the designated “case from a long time ago that started everything”, and this latest—or rather, first—incident is of a serial killer called The Professor.

Whenever I think they have run out of ways to play Ace Attorney, Capcom manages to surprise me. The Great Ace Attorney tries (no pun intended) fun new ideas both in and out of court. For instance, multiple witnesses can take the stand at once, and have their own testimonies. As a result, one person can have a reaction to what the other person says, and naturally, it’s a good idea to pursue that nervous tick. Unfortunately, this mechanic might be one of my least favorite gimmicks in the series. With one exception, each instance has a big “!” pop up, so it’s not even a case of having to know their poses enough. Also, it requires suspension of disbelief because the court itself proves to be the most braindead it has ever been. One example is when a witness is seen practically strangling another witness right on the stand. I know that Ryunosuke is supposed to have powers of observation, but you don’t need that power to notice these tells.

In trials with a jury present, you also have the power of the Summation Exam. Basically, when the jury unanimously votes guilty (which, in series tradition, will happen often), you get to hear their reasoning. At this juncture, you take a pair of statements from the jurors’ that contradict one another, and reveal said contradiction. Ryunosuke paces like a badass when tearing their reasoning apart, and it feels really good. The one dumb thing about it is that you’re warned not to press anyone during the tutorial, but you actually will need to press jurors for every solution after the first examination.

What’s extra super fun is the Deductions. Sherlock has a ridiculously over-the-top routine where he makes a wildly incorrect series of statements about an NPC, and it’s up to you to correct them by examining the NPC, the location, or by presenting evidence. These sequences kind of take a while, since you basically have to go through them twice, one to hear the initial take and two to correct it, but they’re awesome.

As a spinoff, Great Ace Attorney proves to be very difficult because it plays with your expectations of the series’ tropes. If there’s any pro-tip I feel like I should give, it’s to REALLY examine any new evidence as soon as you receive it. There aren’t many times where they’re like “If you didn’t examine any evidence you should do it now”, either. Also, dialogue in a specific case is actually affected by whether or not you examined a piece of evidence at the earliest opportunity. 

For a port made from the ground up during a thing-I-should-probably-not-bring-up-because-you’re-probably-sick-of-seeing-it-attributed-to-things-that-shouldn’t-have-anything-to-do-with-it, The Great Ace Attorney looks beautiful. The models are as on-point as always, but the environments are lovelier than ever, thanks to the Switch. They even have light sources flickering just like they would be in that time period. 

Unfortunately, this game probably has the weakest soundtrack I’ve heard in the whole series. Some of the character themes are good, but by keeping true to the time, I feel like they might’ve trapped themselves. And worst of all, the “Pursuit” theme shows up the least often in this game. Maybe that’s because of Ryunosuke’s character arc, but it still stinks.

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Final Verdict: 9.75/10

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles was a better duology than I could have ever imagined. And the worst part about it is that it’s over; no more Susato Takedown, and no more Holmes. And until the mysterious seventh core Ace Attorney game comes out, there’s no more of the series as a whole right now. But as much as I loved these games, finishing lifts a weight off me because of how much harder it is to schedule play sessions. Regardless, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a must for series veterans. That’s just elementary, my dear fellows.

Weeb Reads Monthly: October and November 2021

Ugh, light novels. As you might’ve read in my “There’s Too Much” post, I’ve been getting burnt hardcore by these things. I’ve even dreaded the ones I truly enjoy and really want to finish. Every time I go through the Pre-Orders at BookWalker, I feel sick to my stomach at all the stuff I have to veto (also, I’ve become way less tolerable toward ecchi and hentai, so now I have a better moral compass I guess). I should probably make use of the BookWalker notifications. Anyway, let’s see if it’s colored how I read these newest volumes, consisting of ONLY favorites… and Re:ZERO.


Cautious Hero Volume 7

This volume continues the Warped Gaeabrande Arc! And it begins with Seiya being controversial as usual. He trains Rosalie, but is extremely abusive to her, his justification being that she isn’t real. Of course, this won’t stop Rista (or you) from being triggered. Hooray, antiheroes!

However, if you’ve somehow managed to put up with him for this long, then you’ll finally get your reward. This volume is where Seiya and Rista’s values come to a head, and it’s actually quite powerful. He actually learns a lesson for once! Seriously, every time I think this series is going to get stale, something crazy happens. Hopefully, it can stay that way.

Verdict: 9.15/10


Re:ZERO Volume 17

Okay, so what happened last time? Without context, it looked like the mummy-cult-person kidnapped a child, and used her powers to make people happy at the fact that she threw said child off of a skyscraper. And as soon as the kid died, everyone in the crowd exploded. Literally. And Subaru’s checkpoint is only minutes from that mess, meaning that he doesn’t have much time to think (not that he’s ever figured any of these plot points out on his own before).

With next to no time to plan things out, the volume had some of the tightest pacing in a while. In addition to that, some of the previously introduced Archbishops make an appearance as well. But as far as the newcomer, Sirius, is concerned, I’d say she’s one of the better villains. She’s cartoonishly evil as expected for an isekai, but that personality coupled with her mummy-like look will probably make her pretty iconic if this arc ever got animated. Also introduced is Capella, the Archbishop of Lust. She’s also very cartoonishly evil, with no shortage of personality as lewd as her character design.

This arc is off to a great start! The fights are still kind of meh, but at least they go faster than they did before. For the first time in a while, I actually find myself excited for the next volume.

Verdict: 8.5/10


Konosuba Volume 15

The main conflict of this volume is to deal with Seresdina, a dark priestess under orders from the Demon King. She has an uncanny ability to control people, and gains a large number of followers… including Kazuma! However, due to Kazuma being Kazuma, Seresdina ends up regretting her life choices.

It’s another straightforward volume, with a lot more drama than laughs. I admit I’m getting burnt out with Konosuba, which is a shame since I’ve loved it for such a long time. I’ll try to make a push for the remaining two volumes, but I’m not making any promises.

Verdict: 8.25/10


Infinite Dendrogram Volume 15

This volume is set at the same time as the previous volume. In case you forgot, another war against Altar has broken out, with the summit and Altar itself being attacked at the same time. We finally get to know what happened with the latter in this volume!

For the most part, this is a pretty standard Dendro volume. Not to say it’s bad of course; there is no shortage of high-octane battles and even more ridiculous Embryo abilities, in addition to a great fight where Tian soldiers take on a Superior player. The most important thing in this volume is that we establish, of all things, the final boss of the series. It’s a very unexpected twist, however, it’s a very light novel-y twist. To say it in the least spoiler-y way possible, the final boss is in a dormant state, which basically means the author can pad out Dendro as long as they want. Hooray… Overall, it’s a great volume.

Verdict: 8.75/10


Otherside Picnic Volume 6

This volume starts with the tired trope of amnesia. Fortunately, Otherside Picnic doesn’t sell out like that. Sorawo’s amnesia ends pretty quickly, but this volume is about dealing with the guy who caused it: a boy who calls himself Templeborn. 

With only one big chapter, this is the most focused volume thus far. While it sounds like bad pacing to spend the entire volume hunting down one guy, don’t worry; Otherside Picnic does it right. There are plenty of twists and turns, ending off in a climax that meets the series standard. Every time I finish a volume, I want the next volume immediately!

Verdict: 9.45/10


Conclusion

Light novels are hard. But somehow, I managed to work in these volumes. One pro-tip is that it’s a lot less stressful when you handpick only the ones you actually care about. I am aware that I failed to notice the impending release of The Executioner and Her Way of Life Vol. 3, so I’ll have to cover that later. With all said and done, see you next month!

TOEM: The Actual Cutest Game of 2021

I’ve had to rearrange my lifestyle in order to make room for more videogames, and also, to be in a better financial position. As I’ve stated, numerous times, light novels and manga (with the exception of Viz) have no subscription service. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on those things, and that’s with prices almost halved by getting digital versions. By filtering out the stuff I can live without, as hard as that is sometimes, I can spare the cash on little games like TOEM on Steam.

In TOEM, you are a little bird cartoon fellow who wants to take a picture of the titular TOEM, whatever that is. He sets off on a journey to find it, and that’s literally it for the plot. 

The story is simple and pure; perfect Escapism. The writing is pretty grounded for the most part, but there’s still enough humor for it to be charming without coming off as try-hard. 

What drives TOEM home is the presentation. The grayscale style gives it a cozy feel, and the areas are very ambient, provided you don’t pay any mind to the empty void that surrounds you outside the boundaries of the game world. The soundtrack is beautifully relaxing and atmospheric. Plus, a really nice detail is that the main character is actually listening to it through headphones, and you can freely manipulate what music is playing in the pause menu.

The gameplay of TOEM is very simple. You use your camera to take pictures. The game makes it clear when it’s acknowledging a subject of the photo by showing brackets around it. Of course, there are many different things you need photos of. The biggest thing is the Compendium, which is basically an encyclopedia of different animals. Anything for the Compendium is given a snail symbol, which also has a check mark to indicate that you got it already. Every area also has a landmark that can have a picture taken, so get snapping!

To advance through the game, you must collect stamps in each area. To do this, you solve light puzzles by either finding stuff or presenting a certain photo. It’s pretty simple to figure out, but the annoying thing is that some tasks need stuff from all four areas. There are some surprisingly clever puzzles, but if you’ve played Baba Is You, then there isn’t much to worry about.

Getting full completion can be a bit tricky, but don’t get too hung up on getting it before the credits roll; in fact, you can’t, since you need to bring a photo from the endgame area to an older area for an achievement. The hardest one is probably the Cosplayer Achievement, which requires you to wear every clothing item. There’s no real way to track if you have all the clothing items in an area, plus some are in gift boxes, while others are earned from NPCs. You also have to take some photos of specific NPCs, who are indicated by shojou-style sparkles. If you did it, the photo will pop up with a glittering frame and artwork that looks nothing like the picture you took.

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

TOEM is a short, sweet little game that you can play when you don’t feel in the mood to play the latest iteration of The Dark Souls of Dark Souls. I recommend it to pretty much anyone.

Magistellus Bad Trip Volume 1: SAO Meets GTA Meets Monopoly Meets Ready Player One

I hate myself so much. I swore off all light novel series I haven’t read (and some I haven’t finished), yet this one—Magistellus Bad Trip—beckoned me into its world. It wasn’t even the cover art that got me, but the premise. It was something so inherently appealing that it couldn’t possibly suck. Despite having read a lot of LNs with fool-proof premises that end up sucking, I took the plunge once more.

In Magistellus Bad Trip, Suou Kaname is filthy rich in the world of Money (Game) Master, a VRMMO where your worth is measured in stonks and bonds. As good as he is, however, he’s not satisfied with his currents setup. No, he wants to track down the Legacies, which are ridiculously OP equipment left behind by a legendary player. Can he do it? Probably. It’s just a matter of when.

What immediately makes Magistellus Bad Trip appealing is its setting, Money (Game) Master. It is an open-world sandbox game where you buy properties, and make bank by utilizing the world’s wildly fluctuating stonk market. Of course, you can blow up in-game facilities and other players to give yourself an edge. But since every VRMMO series is morally bound to have some allegory to our actual society, the in-game currency in Money (Game) Master has ramifications in the real world. And with the Legacies in hand, one can effectively rule over all mankind.

However, the real world isn’t much better. In Magistellus Bad Trip, A.I are on their way to assuming full control of the world. And while low-income families are funded by these A.I., this effectively makes them slaves until their debts can be paid somehow.

Of course, good writing and storytelling matters the most. Fortunately, this is one of the better-written light novels I have read. There is a lot of thought put into the nuance of the world and its logic. Plus, there is no shortage of over-the-top action, which can be compared to the spectacle of Platinum Games.

And, for once, the characters aren’t completely unremarkable! Kaname is the best character for sure. While his uncanny sense of danger comes off as an overpowered protagonist trait, the stuff he does fits within the logic of the game world. Oh, and by the way, every player has an A.I. partner, the titular Magistellus. His is a succubus named Tsileka. And while her character design is what you’d expect, she actually has a fun relationship with Kaname that isn’t at all sexual. Unfortunately, that’s about it. The other plot-relevant characters are pretty meh, especially Midori, the sister of the legendary player that created the Legacies, who fulfills the role of waifu that needs protecc-tion.

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Verdict: 8.75/10

I’m actually glad I gave Magistellus Bad Trip a chance. The series promises to be intricate and engaging; a rarity in the light novel market. It’s also one of the scariest cyberpunks I have read, since it expands upon stuff that already exists right now. Let’s just hope I can figure out how to juggle it with the rest of my life.

Metroid Dread: SA-X Chase Sequences, the Game

Have you ever heard of the videogame protagonist Samus Aran? I spent the last decade thinking of her as only a Smash Bros. character. It wasn’t until this year’s E3 that I remembered: “Oh right, she has a franchise, and an important one at that!” You’ve seen tons of metroidvania games, right? Well, her game series—Metroid—is where the genre all started. You’d think that such a monumentally important Nintendo I.P. would have a consistent track record of new releases. But after the lukewarm reception of Metroid: Other M, there hasn’t been a single tried-and-true Metroid game… until now, with Metroid Dread for Nintendo Switch (and for the record I was being sarcastic at the beginning).

Metroid Dread picks up where Fusion left off. After dealing with the X, the Federation gets sent a little TikTok of an X Parasite alive on planet ZDR. They investigate, and of course, lose contact with mission control. Time for Samus to take care of business AGAIN. Of course, it doesn’t take long for some Power Rangers villain to show up and kick Samus’ ass, making her lose her power-ups AGAIN.

Metroid Dread has a pretty standard plot for the most part. They revisit the X, which is cool, and have what I think to be the first living Chozo in the entire series, which is even cooler. But other than that, it’s your typical “run around maze-like world and do stuff” Metroid experience. It goes from zero to a hundred at the end, though. Plus, Samus is the most bad-ass she has ever been in the series.

People wanted classic 2D Metroid gameplay to return, and that’s what they got. The controls should immediately be familiar to anyone who has knowledge of the series. They even brought back hidden blocks! However, there are plenty of new toys to play with as well; it would suck if we waited this long for “just” another 2D Metroid. In addition to new power-ups, Samus can parry enemy attacks by smacking them with her arm cannon.

As a follow-up to Fusion, Metroid Dread is very scary, and very difficult. While regular combat is pretty easy, things get spicy in the E.M.M.I. Zones. Each zone has an E.M.M.I. unit within, and they REALLY wanna give Samus a shot of that COVID vaccine. But apparently, the side effects include instant death! Unless you can master the ludicrously difficult parry timing to escape, getting caught is GG. Luckily, the game has plenty of checkpoints, so it’s not a time-waster, but that fact is kind of like putting a free 1-Up at the beginning of a tough Mario level; Nintendo knew they made something that was complete BS.

Death counts will easily go into the double digits if you’re a first-timer, and aren’t good at stealth. Pretty early on, you get an item that temporarily makes you invisible, which made me think, “Well that makes things much easier.” However, there were a ton of times where I would cloak up and wait for the robot to sneak by, just for it to casually stroll right where I was. Your computer friend tells you to study their pathing carefully, but sometimes you have to think fast, and if you’re not fast enough, it’s GG. Also, there is some sort of randomness. What I think is happening is that the robot is patrolling constantly even when you’re not in the room. I think this because there were times where I came in and found the robot there, and other times where it’s wasn’t.

Fortunately, you don’t have to deal with them forever. Finding the Central Unit in each E.M.M.I. Zone and defeating the miniboss there gives you a use of the Omega Blaster. A fully charged shot from these defeats the stupid vaccine-o-trons. However, the next battle becomes finding a proper space to charge it up from, and this gets straight-up tedious.

At the very least, the boss battles are fun. They’re more complicated than past games’ strategy of spamming missiles, and they also have parry-able attacks that allow you to earn a LOT of free hits. And for the sake of nostalgia, some old friends show up once again. Just keep in mind that you take a LOT of damage in this game. Expect some tougher enemies to take up to three Energy Tanks in one hit.

Of course, nothing is more universally hated in a metroidvania than a lack of nonlinear exploration. And… *sigh* Metroid Dread is a very linear Metroid game. Not only is it linear, but it very often gates you from backtracking when you get a new upgrade. At the very least, it doesn’t straight-up hold your hand when it comes to where to go. However, they have a tendency of sneakily hiding required paths in hidden blocks. If you’re knowledgeable of the series, you should have no problem spotting them. Oh, and here’s another caveat. As you know, metroidvanias are influenced by both Metroid, and the non-linear Castlevania games (ex. Symphony of the Night). The latter had fast travel points, while Metroid never had it… and still doesn’t have it in Dread. So yeah, if you do want to get everything, prepare to do a TON of walking.

Another standout feature is that, for the first time in the entire series, the map is useful. It marks everything, from items, to types of doors, to discovered blocks, and even gives vague hints as to where an item is hidden. As nice as this is, you could argue that the charm of metroidvanias is having to decipher an intentionally unhelpful map. However, as accurate as this map is, it doesn’t give you the intrinsic skills needed to collect the items. This game has a number of obnoxious puzzles with the Shinespark, requiring mechanics new to the series that you have to figure out yourself, as well as killer reflexes.

Unfortunately, the audio and visuals leave much to be desired. While the characters look good enough, the environments are a bit bland. Nintendo’s always been better at cartoony styles, and Metroid isn’t like that. Also ,the music—other than remixes of classic tracks—is pretty forgettable. 

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

I don’t quite know what to think of Metroid Dread. For all intents and purposes, it’s a great Metroid game, albeit with some annoying insta-death scenarios. I think the circumstances around its release have colored my impressions of it, as I initially feared it would. For being the first 2D Metroid in almost twenty years, the fact that it feels like “just another Metroid game” feels kind of like a disappointment. Plus, the $60 for a game that can easily be beaten in under fifteen hours 100% is kind of yikes. The biggest caveat is that the metroidvania subgenre has exploded in the indie scene, and considerably raised the bar (while lowering the price per product). Mechanics like fast travel are pretty much expected, plus we have Hollow Knight, which is objectively one of the most non-linear games of its kind, even moreso than Super Metroid. And as fun as this game was, it’s not one I can see myself playing again, due to its linearity and obnoxious Shinespark puzzles (even if there is probably a bonus ending if you beat it faster or something, but I’m going to play the ignorance is bliss card here (also I’m not gamer enough to beat it faster)). I can’t recommend Dread for newcomers, since it expects a lot of knowledge of the series to understand its game design. Thus, I recommend it only to devout Metroid fans.

This Town Ain’t METAL Enough for the Two of Us: Untamed Land — Like Creatures Seeking Their Own Forms Album Review

These days, it’s easy to assume that America’s culture consists mainly of racism, memes, and failed promises. However, this nation—as much of a zoomer as it is—has about two centuries of history, and thus, about two centuries’ worth of culture. And one extreme metal outfit known as Untamed Land has set up a roaring campfire in the wild west, ripe for some Americana storytelling. 

Untamed Land hasn’t been around for too long. The band was founded in Ohio by Patrick Kern, and—like Mammoth WVH—he’s the only member. Today’s album review is of its second record, Like Creatures Seeking Their Own Forms. I already listened to its debut, 2018’s Between the Winds, and I was sold pretty darn quickly. Let’s see if the follow-up, well, follows up.

Most atmospheric bands I’ve seen have very hand-painted-looking, beautiful cover art of landscapes that don’t at all look like it would belong to an extreme metal band. That is also the case with Untamed Land’s previous album art. Like Creatures Seeking Their Own Forms, however, is a lot different from that. It’s darker, with a sketchy, cross-hatching-covered aesthetic. The Neanderthal-looking dude in the center is kind of creepy, but the background art has a weird, abstract beauty. Something about the red sun on the right, contrasting the weird castle-looking structure on the left… I don’t know. I just love how it looks.

In terms of the basic style, Untamed Land has what you expect: a lot of riffs, the “duduholaduhdoladuhdola” guitar thing, and some “AAAAAAAH!” screechy vocals (those are professional Layman’s terms, btw). And to be honest, THIS is the band I should’ve compared to Sojourner, instead of Stormruler. Like Sojourner, Untamed Land is slower and more ambient.

But what’s different from Sojourner is, of course, the actual theme. In addition to the essential metal components, Untamed Land uses… er… crap, I have no idea what the instruments I’m about to describe are called, so I’ll use my professional Layman’s terms again! If you’re familiar with Clint Eastwood and High Noon, you’ll recognize the very U.S.-Western-style saloon piano, cowboy trumpet, and twangy string instrument (see? Professional!). But as novel as these additional instruments make the band sound, it feels like they come from a synthesizer. I’m not so hard on that, since the intent gets through well enough.

Like Creatures isn’t just the same thing over again; in fact, as with the cover art, it’s much darker than its predecessor. While the previous album feels like a cowboy shoot ’em up starring Clint Eastwood and Daniel Boone, this album—by comparison—feels like telling ghost stories by the campfire. However, the more somber theme doesn’t make it less epic; expect the same extreme riffs, rumbling drums, and very un-cowboy-ish growling.

If there is any tangible flaw with this album, it’s the record’s short-lived-ness. Despite it being considered full-length, it’s really an EP; there are only seven tracks, two of which are shortened versions of existing tracks. I don’t want to sound like that guy who’s all “NEXT ALBUM WHEN”, but the fact remains that this was a three-year wait following Between the Winds; I can only assume it’ll be a similar case in years to come. With less than twenty tracks total in its discography, coupled with the band’s novelty, expect new music withdrawal to hit fast.

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Final Verdict: 8.8/10

Yeeeeeeeeee-haaaaaw! Untamed Land has proven itself to be one of the most novel and underrated metal projects in recent years. And not only that, I feel like I’ve learned a little bit about the nation I was born and raised in. Recommending it now is a hard sell right now because there isn’t much, but what is there is worth its weight in California gold. I reckon you’ll like it if you give it a chance!