Spiritfarer: The Ultimate Casual Game

I’ve definitely been getting a bit more into indie games lately (mostly because they’re relatively cheap), but most of the ones I’ve played are very much in the raw gameplay category. Of course, indie games are just as well known for being more “video” than “game”; as in, they fall into the realm of artistic and emotional experiences that have definitely turned the meaning of the word “videogame” on its head. From Journey, to What Remains of Edith Finch, Gris, and more, a lot of these are highly acclaimed and have brought tons of gamers to tears. I’ve watched people play a lot of the aforementioned titles, mostly from StephenPlays and his wife, Mal. While those games definitely presented themselves really well, I never cried over them. And honestly, it does kind of make me self-deprecate when I’m literally watching people break down in sobs and I… don’t. Basically, the crux of this long-winded preface is me thinking “What if it’s because I’m not playing these games myself? What if I need to be the one moving the character and pushing the buttons and looking at them from my own TV?” This is what’s led me to trying one of the latest emotional indie games, Spiritfarer. Well, that and the fact that you get to construct a cool boat in it.

In Spiritfarer, a girl named Stella suddenly awakens in the River Styx (or something). This creepy hooded guy named Charon looms above her, and says that he’s retiring from his job as the Spiritfarer. Stella, and her cat Daffodil, are given Everlights, which make them the new Spiritfarers. Their task is to find any spirit who isn’t ready to pass on and help them to pass on (which, in terms of gameplay, is to spoil them rotten until they’re happy). When they’re ready, she is to take them to the Everdoor, where they will finally join Prince in the afterworld, a place of never-ending happiness, where the sun shines both day and night. 

Normally, I discuss story, gameplay, and audio-visuals in that order. However, because of how Spiritfarer is, I’m actually going to discuss it in reverse, mostly because I want you to writhe in suspense over whether or not I—as the heartless machine I am—cried over the game’s story. For reasons I’ll get to throughout the review, the gameplay and story rely on how the game looks and sounds.

At a glance, Spiritfarer seems just alright visually. Indie games with hand-drawn art styles are nothing new, and this one looks no better than an American graphic novel (and if you’ve read my review of The Witch Boy, you’ll know how much I don’t care for that artstyle). However, you can’t truly appreciate Spiritfarer’s visuals without actually playing the darn thing, and lemme tell you… this ended up being one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever looked at. The colors are striking and vibrant, with beautiful lighting effects. The character design is fantastic, with every person having a unique and creative look. What really surprised me was the animation. Like I said, games done in hand-drawn style are nothing new, but I daresay that Spiritfarer has phenomenal animation. They know that good animation comes down to subtle mannerisms and minute details. And despite being a silent protagonist, Stella dynamically reacts to dialogue, which helps make her feel alive as well. Word of warning, though. Remember how old videogames loved giving you seizures? Something similar occurs in this game during specific scenes, such as when you welcome a new character to your boat.

The soundtrack is just as deceptively fantastic. As one of the few people who actually loved Zelda Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack, Spiritfarer’s was just as enchanting. It’s super chill (except at certain points, which I’ll cover later) and soothing. But unlike Breath of the Wild with having one overworld theme and then the final dungeon theme, Spiritfarer has several different themes. Sometimes, I’ll play as inefficient as possible just as an excuse to chill (that, and the fact that I’m never efficient in these kinds of games).

Regardless of what I end up thinking of the story, what made me more invested than anything was Spiritfarer’s gameplay, which will be discussed at length. In essence, Spiritfarer plays like a 2-D Raft, where you collect resources through various methods in order to craft facilities and structures for your boat. The system is pretty simple and intuitive, and you can place buildings anywhere within your boat’s space, since it’ll auto-construct ladders. The tricky part, especially early-game, is wrestling with the boat’s size. The various facilities come in wild shapes and sizes, and it’s as fun as it is frustrating to try and clutter it all together. Fortunately, there is an edit feature where you can freely move the buildings without having to dismantle and rebuild them. 

There’s also plenty of upgrades for your rig. You can go to Al’s Shipyard to increase the boat’s size, unlock new facilities, and a host of other things. One of the best aspects of this is that your quest menu will actually list the next upgrades, showing you what you need without having to go to Al’s just because you forgot what was required. You can also upgrade individual facilities, but you need to unlock those upgrades as they come. Stella herself also has upgrades. You earn Obols as payment from newly welcomed spirits, and by donating those to various shrines found throughout the world, you can give her improved mobility and whatnot. It gives the game a sort of metroidvania vibe, even though it really isn’t. 

So how do you get resources? Well, the main way is to visit various islands. Your map starts out pretty small, but expands as you explore further. And while you could theoretically shoot in the dark for a new island (especially on repeat playthroughs if you know where they are), you can also receive quests and random messages in a bottle that will mark out those otherwise darkened areas. Like Wind Waker, your boat actually needs to sail to it. And honestly, I think the sailing in Spiritfarer is better than in Wind Waker by a long shot. Once you start getting new facilities, you can kill the long sailing times by doing tasks (more on that later), fishing, or just straight-up relaxing. The ship cannot move at night, but that can be remedied by going to bed. Just remember to ring the bell just outside of your room to wake your guests (and also remember to never ring it unless the time display on the HUD has the bell symbol, especially not while they’re supposed to be asleep). 

Also unlike Wind Waker, there are a lot of resource gathering areas that regularly respawn en route (although you can and should go out of your way for them if you don’t have a straight shot to your next island). THESE are where things get fun. Despite the game not having any stakes or feeling of death, these special respawning zones (with the exception of collecting drifting crates) make resource collecting fun and exhilarating. From jumping around to collide with space jellyfish that live in random rifts in space-time, to letting yourself get struck by lightning to capture it in empty bottles, Spiritfarer somehow makes an adrenaline-pumping experience even though you can’t die. The soundtrack ramps up during these sections to make it even more fun. One of the best parts is that despite how “casual” Spiritfarer is, you are still rewarded for having intrinsic platforming skills, since you get more resources that way.

That philosophy extends to the facilities in the boat. Normally, the loom or the furnace are used like normal crafting tables, except you sometimes have to wait a minute for results. Here, you have to make them yourself. From playing a rhythm game to speed up plant growth to precisely cutting logs into planks, there are different mechanics for making various resources. Again, you are not straight-up punished for doing bad, but doing good gets you a bonus increase in results. They really keep you busy while the boat is moving. If you can’t stand the long journey (or don’t have any speed upgrades), you can sail to a bus stop (once unlocked) to fast travel around the world.

Cooking is done really well in Spiritfarer. At first glance, it seems like the usual “put ingredients in, get a thing, and slam your head against the wall trying every possible combination in order to get all the recipes”, but it’s a bit more than that. One thing I learned was that you could insert up to five of the same ingredient to get five that dish at once with the cost of more cooking time. Furthermore, your kitchen is a deceptively good source of coal because the sawdust you obtain from cutting logs can be cooked into it. There are also treasures that contain recipes so you don’t always have to brute force them.

SO… all of that covers what you can do on your way to a given island. How about when you GET to an island?! Sadly, the islands are hit-or-miss. Some are just flat albeit lovely plains, while others have a fair share of nooks and crannies. In any case, you will regularly need to visit these places to replenish your basic resources. Fortunately, the preview of it on your map will indicate if resources have respawned, which is a really nice touch. 

As expected from a resource collecting game, the platinum trophy is tied to obtaining at least one of every item in the game. These are presented to a lovely walrus named Susan, who is probably one of the best collector-type characters I have seen in any videogame. At certain milestones, you will get some great rewards, so stop by often.

Anyway, I’ve just talked about the faring part of Spiritfarer for about ten years but not the spirit part. Basically, you find wayward souls on various islands. A lot of people are dead in this world (for some reason), but the ones you want will have a silhouette over their heads. When recruited, they will begin to make the ship their own. As previously discussed, you need to make them happy.

The main way of doing this is to complete quests. This ranges from building new facilities (like their own private quarters) to going to particular areas of story relevance to them. You also have to worry about their moods. You’ll have to feed them regularly, keeping their individual tastes in mind. One of my gripes with the game is that the feed menu itself doesn’t show you their preferences, but honestly you just need to regularly look at their favorites (in the Mood tab) BEFORE you select feed. Unfortunately, they also fail to show what you’ve fed them already, making it an incredible grind to find their favorite dish. As far as I know, there is no trophy for finding everyone’s favorite food (and if there was then I missed it).

You also need to make sure you talk to them whenever an exclamation point or a random text box appears. Usually, it’s just a reminder that they’re hungry or have a quest; but sometimes, you get random tidbits of their backstory. You should pay attention to what they say, because if they talk about an unpleasant memory, it will decrease their mood, and you should respond appropriately by giving them a hug (yes that’s a thing in this game).

So, we’re finally onto the story. The story that many have said is emotional, heart-rending, and powerful. I’ll admit that I was impressed. The writing is phenomenal, with a lot of dry humor that somehow fits in well with the more emotional stuff. All of the characters have basic personalities, but are given more life by the excellent writing and emotive expressions. The game is great at building anticipation for releasing them, and the actual cinematics when that happens are breathtaking. 

And yet, I didn’t shed a tear.

There are some reasons that can be blamed on the game. While the writing is really good, a lot of the more nuanced aspects of the spirits’ character arcs are very loose. Heck, you won’t even be explicitly told exactly how they died. Also, you could literally just be checking on them while you make your rounds, and they’ll suddenly be like: “Let me share with you this traumatic memory!” I tried to pay attention for the most part, but it’s hard to pay attention while you’re trying to make sure everyone (including assorted farm animals) are fed, your windmill is actually rotating, your plants are watered, while also squeezing time to smelt ores or use the loom. This game was something that had to be left up to interpretation, but the Lily Update that came out early 2021 straight up tells you Stella’s backstory and each spirit’s role in the overarching story.

However, the blame still rests on me, and it probably has to do with my autism. I say that the characters are loose and interpretive, but that could easily be my inability to understand people. There are some aspects of the brain that completely elude our best neurologists to this day, which are part of some sense of “understanding” that I do not have. Most neurotypical people can probably read the lines of these spirits as it is, and piece together exactly what happened to them—down to their cause of death—with no problem. In fact, based on one of the patch notes I read, the fans knew more about one character than the devs themselves! Honestly, I feel jealous. Games like this are part of why I question if I like having autism. 

Regardless of what the exact backstories of these characters are, with Spiritfarer being a slice-of-life, they’re all going to amount to being a normal, realistic, human issue of some kind. People and critics seem to think that those are the most objectively and unequivocally fascinating narrative themes, but I don’t. I suppose you can blame my autism again.

Also, my impression has sort of been colored by the content updates. It’s not really the content of the updates, but the fact that they were announced when I was in position to beat the game. Since I wanted to play those first, I ended up waiting months for them. And as a result, a lot of the plot was lost to me. My clearest memories are the above passages that you just read, written while they were fresh in my mind (this review, consequently, took over a year to write to completion).

Beyond all I’ve discussed, there are still a couple of flaws with Spiritfarer. It’s nothing game-breaking, but I don’t want to sound like that guy who glosses over issues just to sound “right”. First off, while the game appears to be pretty open world, progress is deceptively linear. Usually, these kinds of games gate you from certain progression by just not giving you certain resources, and having you craft what you can in order to gradually find those resources. Spiritfarer is a lot more strict than that. The resource collection events, such as lightning and stuff, are tied to a specific character, requiring you to have them on your boat before you can obtain the resource. Also, certain regions of the game are locked behind specific boat upgrades. Those upgrades require a Spirit Flower, which is only obtained by releasing a spirit, making the game even more linear. This also, sadly, can make you look forward to releasing a spirit, which kind of kills the emotional value of the sequences. Other than that, some chests require blind leaps of faith to reach. There’s no punishment for missing, of course, but the lack of bottomless pits doesn’t make that kind of level design any less annoying.

It also gets grindy if you go for the platinum trophy. Fishing isn’t too bad if you can find the optional upgrade that allows you to catch even the most difficult fish in less than a minute. The problem is the cooking. If you don’t look up all the recipes, you’ll end up brute-forcing a lot of them. While most items take any of a given type of food, some are more specific. It didn’t make the game fun anymore, so I just gave up on it. Oh well, like Hudson Hornet said: “It’s just an empty digital cup.”

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Final Verdict: 9.65/10

Spiritfarer is one of the greatest casual gaming experiences of my life, and definitely one of my favorite indie games. It didn’t make me cry, but it’s something I will never forget. I’d try the other two games by this team, but they—in a stark contrast to this game—look rip-your-ass-off-difficult. Hopefully they’ll start working on a new project soon-ish? In any case, I recommend Spiritfarer if you like Stardew Valley and Edith Finch and stuff.

Legendborn: This Book Broke Me

I definitely have not hesitated to come down with constructive criticism on stuff that deals with racism. However, I’m only showing one side of the coin. As confidently as I make quips like “It’s too ham-fisted” or “It’s just torture porn”, I don’t entirely feel that way. To be honest, every commentary on racism—no matter how well it’s framed—has broken me, especially after the George Floyd incident. And Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn is no exception. This book made me hate my own existence. In fact, I’ve actually read—and started writing this review—not long after the book was published; I was just so indecisive about how to go about writing it. I still don’t know if the post is proper even now. Oh well, it’s here.

In Legendborn, a girl named Briana Matthews (henceforth known as Bree) has been on an incessantly long road of recovery after the tragic death of her mother. She’s been attending this super-highschool-early-college academy place, and gets herself almost immediately expelled when she joins a dumb teenager-y gathering. During this gathering, a bizarre incident occurs, and she witnesses a strapping young man slay some kind of demon thing. This dude, named Selwyn Kane, is one of many Legendborn, and is able to alter people’s memories. It’s at this point that Bree realizes that they have a connection to the cause of her mother’s death, and with the help of fellow Legendborn Nick Davis, she’s going to find the truth even if it kills her.

As much as I’d like to say that Bree’s Blackness is irrelevant, I can’t because I’d be wrong. It’s ham-fisted, but necessarily so, considering its 2020 release year. Bree is frequently harassed by authority figures and other people in the Legendborn’s secret society of angsty special teens. That’s to be expected, but it goes further when some developments regarding slavery and the Civil War come up later. It’s so on-the-nose that it absolutely crushed my nose, and the momentum from that weight crushed my soul as well. 

But as integral to the plot racism is, the social commentaries feel like a vehicle to make otherwise uninteresting worldbuilding interesting. Beyond the racism, Legendborn’s basic lore is just Jujutsu Kaisen meets Last Round Arthurs. The reason for its resemblance to the latter is the fact that the Legendborn’s Order has King Arthur symbolism. They use lengthy exposition to make it seem like a really deep system, but the basic idea is that some kids are descended from King Arthur and his knights and can awaken those individuals’ powers once the demons decide to reenact the Battle of Camlann Hill (or something). This, along with Bree’s character arc, exists to cater to that fascination that individuals have with their family histories. The Order’s enemies are the Shadowborn, which are the same old “demons that feed off of human negativity” that have been used billions of times.

Despite my nitpicks, I have found Legendborn to be one of the better YA novels I’ve read. They ham in the mother’s death in that blatant “start with a tragic event as an easy emotional hook” scheme, but it’s done exquisitely. The writing is very descriptive, and gives the action sequences some punch that is often lacking in the genre. And although the story is pretty generic, it’s still fun to read. Last but not least, its portrayal of racism and its history is bone-crushing. My soul was broken, and the pieces were ground into dust. To be perfectly blunt, I barely remember how the book ended, mainly because the raw emotion of it took complete hold over me.

Bree is perhaps one of the best YA protagonists simply because she actually is what most YA authors try and fail to make their female leads. Her struggles are real, and her ability to be strong through all this grief is something else. Unfortunately, she is a case of “has unique powers for no reason”, but that doesn’t dampen her arc.

Most of the other characters aren’t that interesting. Nick Davis is an exception; his Prince Charming-esque relationship with Bree feels legit because neither of them exactly wanted the hands they were dealt in life. Selwyn, however, is your super-edgelord, and I have a bad feeling that he will reluctantly be part of a love triangle with Bree and Nick (since there is an upcoming sequel and all). That’s kind of where the likable characters end, as everyone else is either unremarkable and/or racist.

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Final Verdict: 9.2/10

Legendborn is a dime a dozen, but it’s a really, REALLY well-polished dime (wait, is that right? Well, you know what I mean). I am excited for the sequel, but I don’t exactly know what direction it could go in. As of now, Legendborn is more than worthy enough to be in a list of best #BlackGirlMagic books.

Dragon Quest XI Shows that Simplicity is a Double-Edged Sword (Full Game Review)

JRPGs are my favorite genre of videogames by far. Even though I understand that a lot of them are time sinks and take a long time to really strut their stuff. Just how much benefit of the doubt should they get? After my first impressions of Dragon Quest XI… about a year ago, I finally managed to finish the game. Let’s see how it measures up now.

Hopefully you don’t play JRPGs for the story because DQXI goes out of its way to be a bog-standard JRPG. The plot is about the main character, whom you get to name whatever you want. He is a special hero guy who needs to fight a big bad atop the same World Tree that’s been ripped from Norse mythology for about the 12,221st time to date. 

First things first, I do get that this game is meant to be an homage to simpler times. JRPGs these days get so layered that it’s near impossible to keep up (looking at you, Trails of Cold Steel), and DQXI is a good break from that. However, cliche is cliche.

But of course, I believe in execution over ideas. And for DQXI, I feel kind of mixed. At first, the cutscenes seemed pretty short and sweet; enough to get the point across since they know you’ve seen all this before. But in the second half of the game, it started to take itself super seriously, and the cutscenes got more abundant. The cinematics felt bog-standard, and even half-assed at times. I felt like this game didn’t know if it wanted to provide a streamlined narrative or if it wanted to pass itself off as something more epic.

And to be honest, it’s more so me instead of the game. In my life, I’ve seen variations of the same lines of dialogue hundreds, if not thousands, of times. I decided that I needed to pick my battles when it came down to if I wanted to be emotionally invested in a story, and DQXI did not make the cut. I see comments like “It’s cliche, but it has a ton of heart” for stuff like this, and that’s when I realized that the appeal of Dragon Quest as a whole is that human emotional mindset that eludes me to this day.

In addition to the narrative, the characters embody JRPG tropes at their most uninspired and cliche; the very definition of by-the-book. The only character that I liked was Sylvando, but that’s more so because his archetype is inherently difficult to mess up compared to everyone else. And Toriyama… I’m sorry, but it feels like this man’s finally starting to run out of steam as an artist. While the art style itself is timeless, after this many years, one can only come up with so many ideas. Either a character is more or less ripped straight from Dragon Ball (like the main character, who looks too much like Android 17), or it appears Toriyama just took a stock fantasy design and slapped his signature face style on it.

I am ragging on the story and characters a lot, but if there’s one positive, it’s… the fact that this game came out in the 2010s. If anyone’s familiar with the good ol’ days (or watches a lot of YouTubers who play old games), you’d know that localization was a BIT terrible back then. They botched numerous translations, and straight-up censored any presence of Japanese culture (which Yo-Kai Watch does anyway *grumble* *grumble*), and anything that Westerners would consider taboo. As a result, it’s weird to see a lot of old tropes not censored in DQXI. We have plenty of porno mags, actually translated as such, and the game’s weird obsession with trying to involve the main character and his older half-sister in an incestuous relationship. They do censor prostitution with the onomatopoeia “*puff* *puff*”, but that could be chalked up as a timeless Dragon Quest meme that just stuck over the years. Another BIG distinction is that this is the first JRPG I have ever played that refers to KO’d party members as “dead”. SO EDGY. The story writing might be meh, but at least the flavor text isn’t!

And even then, sometimes the flavor text has TOO much personality. For example, if there’s anything you are unable to do in the game, the text is arbitrarily read as “You can’t currently do XYZ yet”. As a writer, I learned to not have such redundancy in text, and it bothers me that it’s in an official game; it felt like they were just bragging about how good their localization is. Another standout feature is that every area has its own [racist] dialect. While some of them are cute, these accents are often so thick that I had legitimate trouble reading them. Sometimes, too much of a good thing is bad.

Fortunately, what I really care about is gameplay. DQXI is a good, old fashioned, rootin’ tootin’, retro JRPG. When battle starts, you pick your character’s command when it’s their turn, and do the move. Everything is as it says on the tin. If you’ve played a JRPG, you’ve played this one. Battles can also be set to go extra fast, just in case you need to grind, but this game isn’t designed to be grindy (but that doesn’t mean grinding isn’t encouraged, like for materials and stuff). 

Thankfully, DQXI has a lot of modern quality-of-life mechanics. For example, you can press Y on the pause menu to instantly heal every party member in the most MP-friendly way possible (THANK YOU). Also, whenever you sell an item, the shopkeep will warn you if you’re about to sell something one-of-a-kind. 

Conversely, there is a very Earthbound-like inventory management mechanic. Each party member can carry only so many items, including equipment. Fortunately, there are infinitely large bags for excess items, equipment, as well as a slot for key items. Transferring items is pretty easy, but you gotta remember to do it, or else you’ll be thirty-plus hours into the game, in a tough battle, and only have poop-tier healing items.

The modern twist that Dragon Quest XI uses to stand out is Pep Powers. With Pep Powers, your character basically goes Super Saiyan (since this is an Akira Toriyama game, after all), and if the right party members are Pepped, you get access to what essentially are Dual and Triple Techs from Chrono Trigger, and as expected, being able to try out all these combinations is no doubt the best aspect of the game. However, there are a number of issues. Although the game says that Pep kicks in after your character takes a lot of damage, similar to a Tales Of game’s Overlimit, in my experience it seems to be purely random. Furthermore, the Pep status goes away as soon as you use one Pep Power, or after a certain number of turns, which the game thankfully gives a visual indication on the last turn that it’s available on. What sucks is that the Pep Powers are the coolest aspect of the game, yet you cannot control the conditions at which you use them other than with items that you don’t get until AFTER YOU BEAT THE FINAL BOSS. Fortunately, ending a battle in the Pep state causes it to carry over, which can help in a tougher battle; but at the same time you’d have to grind battles if you wish to rely on Pep for said situations. 

Another thing I find tedious is the game’s skill tree. Normally, I love skill trees in JRPGs, however, Dragon Quest XI‘s is really stingy. You only get skill points on level up, which starts off small but comes in bigger chunks at higher levels. This is good because most skills require 6, 10, or even more skill points each. There is a mechanic to unlearn skills, but it can only work on entire categories, which is a pain if you only want to drop one skill.

One of the most interesting aspects of the game is that everyone has different weapons they can use, such as a regular sword or a greatsword for the main protagonist. Each section of their skill tree is devoted to one of the weapon styles, plus an additional style that’s unique to them only. I’ve been doing skill trees by committing to a single section at a time, which is likely not the way the game intends, since skills are pricier the further out from the center you go, and it’s a real pain. The game lets you re-equip different weapons mid-battle without taking up your turn, which is nice, so it’s possible that the game wants you to fill in multiple branches at once.

The crafting system in Dragon Quest XI is really fun. With the Fun-time Forge, you can craft new equipment with materials you find around the world (as well as their recipes). This starts a minigame where you have a limited number of strikes to fill up gauges on different areas of the equipment. You want to fill it up to the green section, but REALLY want to fill up to the arrow on each gauge (which will be indicated by it turning yellow). The closer you get, the better the final product will be, with the best being a Perfection. Forging things successfully gives you Perfectionist Pearls, which can be consumed to reforge something to make it stronger. Make sure you reforge as many things as possible, because it doesn’t just increase stats, but the power of bonus effects, like elemental and status resistances. Levelling up the main character also boosts your forging skills, which can increase your Focus and allow him to learn Flourishes, which are special moves that make the minigame even more interesting than before. Options are limited early on, but it gets rather interesting on the tougher equipment.

The world of DQXI is- although colorful and vibrant- very large and bland. I get that this world was designed with the ability to be played in old school top-down style or 3D, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less uninspired. Also, the game’s soundtrack is kind of meh, but it doesn’t grate on you unless you start doing tedious stuff like material farming. The towns have the best personality and the most thought put into them, but they seem to act like vehicles for padding the game more than anything else.

Oh, speaking of padding: get used to that a lot. Like I said before, each first arrival in a new town has you running around towards numerous objectives that take place throughout the town itself. The worst case is the interlude in between the first two acts of the game. In it, you have to play through four consecutive scenarios, each starting a party member by themselves, and none of them are even remotely enjoyable besides the first one. You can also potentially permanently miss collectibles during these scenes, and I only say “potentially” because it’s not entirely clear if optional stuff done in these scenarios has impact for later (if this was a Final Fantasy or Tales Of game, it definitely would). 

But after that agonizing section, the game truly starts. It sucks that it takes about thirty-five hours, but it really does go from a slightly-above-average JRPG to a straight-up great JRPG. There is so much more depth, and each party member gets a ton of new abilities after going through huge epiphanies in their character arcs. Once you start this part of the game, it appears that you can tackle things in any order you choose… until you are gated time and time again by several annoying prerequisites. I hate it when games do this, and DQXI is no exception.

As far as side quests go, there aren’t as many as most JRPGs. However, there is also a side section where you find weird ghosts that unlock different areas of past Dragon Quest worlds in a special, 2D only zone. The biggest problem with 2D mode is that the text box color and font color can be very straining to read. Plus, you can’t save in this place at all, which reduces the incentive to knock out many quests at once. These never expire, so it’s ideal to do them all at onces towards the end of the game (also, you don’t have to gouge your eyes out at the freakin’ UI for as long since you’d be higher level).

The game also has a Draconian Quest setting, which lets you custom set some handicaps which will make the game harder. I chose one where NPCs can sometimes lie, because I thought they would give me false game advice, such as, “Use this ability on this enemy, whoops that actually does the opposite of killing them,” but the lies are all gobble-di-gook and the game plays a jingle whenever one actually occurred. It’s funny if it happens with a story-important NPC, but I imagine it gets really hard if you have tough enemies and no armor handicaps. The later parts of the game would be nightmarish like this.

When it comes to a casual campaign, DQXI is relatively tame. As long as your party is at its proper level, and you understand the mechanics, it isn’t too difficult. There are some dumb quirks, however, such as the fact that enemies can randomly start with an advantage even when you get a pre-emptive strike. Another really stupid thing is the case with any status that can be cured by attacking the afflicted person. If you use an attack that targets all enemies, you will target the person with the status as well. I have gotten characters killed because of this. Also, I have a pet peeve for any JRPG where you can’t see the turn order in battle, and DQXI is one such case.

Like any JRPG, DQXI has gambling. Fortunately, DQXI has one of the most generous cases of gambling in any JRPG. The game has two casinos, the second of which comes up during the second act. Naturally, the latter casino has the better prizes. In fact, the first casino doesn’t have anything worth buying long term, except for some recipe book. The other casino has a great weapon for Sylvando, some really useful equipment, and the only purchasable MP restoratives in the game. 

The only method I used to earn tokens was the good old slots. I wasn’t old (read as: stupid) enough to gamble IRL, so I never got to understand how things like blackjack and roulettes work. The Slime Quest slots had twelve pages of instructions, and I couldn’t understand crap. I presume the regular slots are the least lucrative method, but they’re reliable. Use save scumming often, and build up enough tokens off of the low paying machines to bet big on the red, high paying machines. The slots are very generous; once you build two of a kind, the game is likely to indulge and complete it for you. You also have a chance of a Mrs. Slime giving you a push if you’re one away from completing a combination. The best thing that can happen is Metal Mode, which will temporarily double the value of everything. Generally, I had much more luck during this state than regular slots. Earning Free Spins is also great because it prioritizes using them over Silver Spins. Thus, earning them during Metal Mode will effectively give you extra Silver Spins. Getting five 7s in Metal Mode gives you the jackpot, and I’ve earned around seven of them during my gameplay. This is by far the easiest gambling area in any JRPG.

If there’s anything I’ll give props to Dragon Quest XI for, it’s perhaps having one the most substantial post-games of any JRPG I’ve ever played. It doesn’t just open up an entirely new story arc, but it gives you tons of new quests, the Ultimate Key to help access new areas, and more. Unfortunately, the whole premise of the post-game is so bad that it makes any remotely salvageable aspect of the main story null and void.

To sum up the post-game, you basically travel back in time to pre-emptively defeat the final boss (don’t worry; it’s a completely different fight the second time), which causes an EVEN EVILER EVIL to appear. While it’s typical for new villains to show up for no reason in battle shounen, the time travel aspect is what kills it. Toriyama is no stranger to the trope, but in this particular instance, a lot of the genuine struggles of the latter half of the game are completely wiped off the slate. One of your main party members dies, and is brought back with no consequence. Any amount of character development is out the window. With the exception of two party members, you just experience abridged versions of those same struggles that feel way stiffer than the first time around. And all the new abilities that they awakened at that point? Mr. Popo just waves some pixie dust and they learn it all back instantly! I was willing to give the plot some sort of benefit of the doubt, but this post-game arc crosses the line. I mean, wow.

One final confession before I give the final score: I’m publishing this review without having completely completed the post-game. I’m sorry, but I have next to no time in my life. I simply do not like DQXI enough to effectively double the length of the game (yes that’s how much there is to do after the final boss). But honestly, I doubt that beating the final FINAL boss will single-handedly change my opinion of the WHOLE game.

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Final Verdict: 8/10

Dragon Quest XI is a great JRPG, but it’s not the best. I find it baffling that a lot of people in the community seem to absolutely adore this game, as if it was one of the greatest JRPGs ever. Maybe they figured out how to manipulate the Pep Powers, which could’ve enhanced the experience. It could be a generational thing; it borrows elements from Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger, and while veterans might see an inferior variant, kids who’re playing DQXI as their first ever JRPG would have their minds blown nonetheless. Overall, I’d recommend DQXI if you’re a JRPG junkie, but there are a lot of other things that outclass it.

Torture Princess Volume 4 and Konosuba Volume 11 Reviews

Last time on Torture Princess, Kaito and Elisabeth are dispatched to the capital to kill a giant mound of flesh, which happens to be the three remaining Demons fused together. There, they meet a powerful paladin named Izabella Vicker, who naturally does not like Elisabeth very much, as well as the not-exactly-dead Godd Deos, who’s using a mechanic similar to that of Vlad to project his soul throughout the world. In order to not have to rely on her, Izabella resolves herself to kill the mutants of the townsfolk that are spawned by the flesh blob (and is the only soldier who doesn’t get scarred for life). They manage to hold it back on the first day, at least. Later that night, Kaito overhears a conversation with Izabella and some other soldiers and realizes that the Knight was actually her brother, who was one of the many people that Elisabeth slaughtered in her backstory. The next day, the Church’s trump card appears: La Mules, a young girl who can vomit big birds. They manage to cut a big gash in the blob, causing the Monarch’s body to split off from it, which Kaito captures alive. Unfortunately, the blob forms the face of the King, and zaps La Mules with a mental attack that makes her kill herself. Elisabeth must finish it off tomorrow while it’s wounded. Since she’ll die no matter what tomorrow- either from the blob or being executed- Kaito goes on a wholesome date with her. Later that night, he uses pain-sharing magic to inflict massive pain on both the Monarch and himself, so that his magic is supercharged for the final battle. When the fated day dawns, they launch a full-on offensive (with the help of Hina, who just fully recovered), and infiltrate the flesh blob. Inside its core, they manage to destroy the King and Grand Monarch’s fused hearts, as well as the grotesque demon baby that they give birth to. With this, Elisabeth’s mission is complete. On the day of execution, she complies without resistance. However, Kaito shows up and attacks, threatening to destroy mankind. Yup, Kaito is now the fifteenth contractor, and he saved Elisabeth’s life by having her ordered to vanquish him.

Sure, this sounds like a cheap excuse to pad out a series that was CLEARLY over, and… well… it is. But hey, that doesn’t mean that the series is BAD. At least not for the time being, because this volume is the start of a rootin’ tootin’ new arc of Torture Princess

One final warning before getting into the actual review: DO NOT READ THE CHARACTER BIOS at the beginning! It mentions a new character introduced in this volume, and spoils a very standout trait of theirs. It kinda-sorta ruined a good half of the book for me, so seriously, do what I said.

Kaito is on the run as usual, because he- you know- declared war on the world. Sadly, the series once again shows that it is indeed a generic wish fulfillment isekai in the fact that he doesn’t choose to kill anyone who goes after him (which is not bad, but it’s still worth pointing out). But on the way, he meets the designated beastfolk, who seek his aid. There’s been a series of massacres in their community, and Kaito needs to find the culprit. 

This volume has a ton of new (and maybe kinda predictable) revelations about the overarching narrative as a whole. And most of it is provided courtesy of Jeanne de Rais, the new character whose trait I got spoiled of. Fortunately, I can tell you about her personality without spoiling anything. She’s an absolute lunatic, in the best way possible. She randomly swings from talking super politely to something a bit more… bold (literally; her text turns boldfaced in this state), and begins cursing people off.

But not a single character has yet to surpass Best Girl Hina (who has recently become my favorite character in the series). I get that her relationship with Kaito is a one-dimensional yandere-servant and self-insert-protag, but it’s an incredibly well-written one. Their chemistry is bubbling more excitedly than ever, and I’m loving every minute of it. And you know what… I’m officially going to declare that Kaito and Hina are a better Subaru and Rem than Subaru and Rem. THERE. I SAID IT. NO TAKESIES BACKSIES.

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Verdict: 9.35/10

With the amazing character interactions, Jeanne’s entertaining personality, and the new plot developments, this may be my favorite volume of Torture Princess thus far. And the irony behind that is that this volume has the least amount of gore. As much as I was saying that the gore is what will carry this series, I was proven wrong. This volume shows that Torture Princess is a legitimately well-crafted masterpiece that stands out among other isekai rabble, and I’m hoping it continues to stay this way (and for the love of God never get an anime adaptation).


Normally, I’d give an overly detailed recap of a previous LN volume at the start of these posts. But I goofed this time… again, just like with No Game No Life Volume 10. I’m really sorry. But hey, maybe not having a recap is better? Well, the basic gist is that Iris is the Best Girl. That’s what’s important.

This volume is titled The Archwizard’s Little Sister. That means it’s all about Megumin’s sister, Komekko (who I had completely forgotten was introduced in volume 5 and thought that she was a brand new character), right? Heh-heh-heh, WROOONG. The book pulls a Monogatari and spends a third of itself with Kazuma lazing around at Iris’, which becomes its own mini-arc where they try to convince him to come home.

Unlike Monogatari, this part’s entertaining in its own right. He literally fights tooth and nail to stay with his little sister, Iris, and this causes the usual Konosuba Khaos (had to change the letter for alliteration) to ensue. It’s your usual Kazuma being a buttmonkey stuff that’s karried Konosuba (alliteration again) all this time… and it’s kind of getting old. I love these characters, but their comedy hasn’t really evolved. For example, the third volume of Cautious Hero introduces a lot of new abilities for Seiya that creates even more ridiculous scenarios than before. But here… Kazuma’s still being lazy, Aqua’s still being a whiny brat, Megumin’s still the Best Girl, and Darkness is still a punching bag.

Fortunately, this volume of Konosuba is a return to the series’ roots. For the first time in what feels like a long time, we have the cast doing just normal quests. We also have a reference to Combatants Will Be Dispatched!, with a brief mention of the goddess who is supposed to be the sister of Zenarith, the goddess of undeath that Grimm worships. Overall, the volume was pretty nostalgic in a way.

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Verdict: 8.75/10

With six volumes left for us Westerners, Konosuba is still coming in strong. This volume is a nice little romp, and the twist ending definitely has me curious. Let’s hope it can stay good all the way through!

Eighty-Six Volume 4 Review

Last time on Eighty-Six, Shin’s team sets out to fight the Morpho, the giant Legion that fired the railgun at the Federacy, and is controlled by the mind of one of Shin’s relatives, Kiriya Nouzen. Well, he beats it, to say the least (and by himself, of course). And just like it was foreshadowed in volume 1, Lena shows up and they meet IRL! Now we can FINALLY know what happens next!

So, I haven’t been enjoying the past two volumes of Eighty-Six. A lot of it felt like torture porn as Shin and the others get exploited, and have to fight to save people who treat them like crap, even in the Federacy. There were also a lot of boring military people who got all introduced at once and had really boring personalities. 

But now… hoo boy, Lena is back, making the power couple that carried Eighty-Six’s first volume so good! I know I normally don’t like romance, but these two established themselves as one of the most organic and interesting relationships out there, and it once again shows. They even had some great interactions together (even if it resulted in some misplaced comedy scenes).

Since this is the first volume with Lena in a while, this it’s going to be about her. As established, she transferred to the multicultural Federacy from the whi- I mean- Alba Supremacist Republic. The racist practices of the Republic are well known to the Federacy by now, and because of this, Lena gets crapped on from the powers that be. Fortunately, Shin exists as a cushion for her guilt complex. It’s actually something that I felt when I was a kid, when I first learned about Martin Luther King. I wanted the African-American kids in my class to bully me, so I could be punished for something that I didn’t even do, just because people from a generation ago did it.

But Lena doesn’t have much time to get used to her situation, for today’s mission actually starts pretty darn early (much sooner than taking a whole volume and a half in the previous arc). This mission involves going into what’s left of the Republic that got overtaken by the Legion and, well, taking it back. This means going back to Nazi-Germany-Meets-Overly-Patriotic-White-Supremacist-America once more.

And as you can expect, the only thing waiting for Shin, besides some angry Legion, is racism. While the racism came off as torture porn last time, this time we get some interesting and differing perspectives from Lena and Shin. The irony here is that Lena, a whi- I mean- Alba person is much more offended than the actual victims. It’s almost implying that certain people shouldn’t respond to certain other people who are just being jerks, or trolls.

Overall, the only problem I had was kind of telling where people were in 3D space. A lot of times, during the actual operation, the story would flip perspectives rapidly, and it confused me a lot. It also was pretty inconsistent with whether or not it wanted to mark transitional points with a simple page break, or an actual symbol. Maybe if they- say- used the symbol to transition between P.O.V.s in particular, I would’ve understood what was going on a lot better. 

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Verdict: 8.9/10

Finally, Eighty-Six is back with a vengeance! My interest in the story is reinvigorated, especially with the new development at the end, and now I can’t wait for the next volume. Here’s hoping that it stays strong all the way through!

Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Volume 12 Review

Last time on Re:ZERO, we learned that Subaru has WAY too much to do to get through this arc. First off, Emilia has to pass this trial at the sanctuary so that they can get through the forest, and even though Subaru got through the first part with no problem, Emilia is the one who needs to pass it because reasons. However, at the same time, Elsa- back from volume 1- attacks Roswaal mansion, where the comatose Rem is. Oh, and if they take too long with either, their camp will be ravaged by a hive-mind of demon bunnies created by the Witch of Gluttony. I should also mention that Beatrice is potentially a Witch cultist, since she has a Gospel-looking book in her room. But when Subaru presses Roswaal, he’s real adamant that she isn’t. And after he returns to New Best Girl Echidna’s place for advice, the camp gets attacked by-!

Holy crap, finally! It’s mother-effing Satella! As I mentioned in my overview of the series, my curiosity of what Satella is like has been my driving force to commit to Re:ZERO. Unfortunately, you don’t really get to see much of her personality, other than that yandere crap that she’s been displaying in all of Subaru’s previous encounters with her. But hey, it’s freaking Satella. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Minor spoilers; Subaru dies again, which further compounds the layercake of conflicts in this arc. Now, he has to: help Emilia get through the trial, deal with Garfiel, save Rem from the attack of Elsa and her cohort at Roswaal Mansion, the attack from that rabbit demon, AND the subsequent attack from Satella! Have fun, Subaru.

I never got to talk about this arc properly in the original overview, so I’ll sum up my thoughts on it up to this point. I wasn’t too into this arc at first. Garfiel felt like a very arbitrary antagonist, just stuck there to be annoying, and Echidna came off as merely a replacement for Rem; someone for Subaru to confide in.  It was also agonizing that they’re just stuck in this stupid Sanctuary in the first place.

Also, as far as the story as a whole is concerned, Re:ZERO is as padding-happy as ever. The reason why the previous arc, with Petelgeuse (or whatever his name is), was my least favorite thus far was because it just took forever. 

But right at the start of volume 12, I finally got to enjoy this arc for the first time. The story went from nothing happening to everything happening all at once. There are so many huge moments, from Echidna’s backstory, to a powerful scene between Subaru and Beatrice of all people, to Roswaal finally coming clean, and the proper introduction of Satella, volume 12 cranks it up a notch and then some. And that scene at the end… holy crap. We are likely on the cusp of a big turning point here.

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Verdict: 9.5/10

This volume was lit. Scratch that, this is my favorite volume in Re:ZERO to this point. It was completely worth getting to read this far ahead before the second anime season! Let’s hope that it continues to get better from here.

Ride Your Wave Movie Review

Recently, I’ve realized that anime feature films are where Japanese animation puts its best foot forward. By a long shot. So, I decided to go against my gut and see Ride Your Wave, a new romance film from the studio Science SARU. Were mistakes made that day?

Can’t answer that question without a brief rundown of the premise first. A cute surfer girl named Hinako Mukaimizu moves from Chiba to a new town. One night, her life almost- literally- goes up in flames when her apartment catches fire. She is saved by a young fireman named Minato Hinageshi. They fall in love immediately and live happily ever after. Nothing goes south whatsoever.

Spoiler alert, it goes south. No, this isn’t even a spoiler, because if you’ve seen ANY romance for teens, or Up, then you likely figured what was going to happen just based on that last paragraph. What happens is that Minato drowns.

But don’t worry, this is magical YA-land! In the aftermath of his death, Hinako starts seeing Minato in bodies of water. You know, like you do.

There are three reasons why I wasn’t even remotely invested emotionally in Ride Your Wave. First, I never fell in love with a real life human ever, so I can’t relate. Second, as someone who’s been a teenager, I KNOW that love at first sight is the most BS thing ever; merely just some hormones going off in response to primal urges and other stimuli. Third, and most importantly, it is incredibly cut and dry (despite being water-themed). I even spent more than half of the movie thinking about the movie previews that they showed, and I was still able to follow Ride Your Wave‘s plot without missing a beat.

Ride Your Wave is basically your typical YA novel, except with that touch of anime whimsy. I can’t really say anything else about the story, because there isn’t anything else to say. The characters are all typical teen templates, too. I’m probably going to forget all of their names after completing this post.

The music, though, is the absolute WORST aspect of the movie. While half of it is pretty harmless BGM, the other half is the freaking overused song: “Brand New Story” by GENERATIONS from Exile Tribe. I had seen the band’s name come up occasionally on Apple Music’s Similar Artists tab, but I never got around to trying their music. Because of how it’s used in Ride Your Wave, I was not given a good first impression. While it’s not the worst song by itself, it is a plot relevant song in the movie. This means that you will have to hear it ad naaaaaaaauseuuuuum! Blech.

But hey, the visuals are all worth it, right (*sarcasm*)? I’m sure a lot of people will go gaga over Ride Your Wave‘s bright, Wind Waker-esque art style and fluid animation. I’ll admit that I might’ve silently gawked at a couple of shots. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to serve any purpose to the story’s themes.

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Final Verdict: 6.8/10

Ride Your Wave is nothing special; it’ll likely be forgotten when the next “pulse-pounding, break-your-heart-and-put-it-back-together” thing comes out (especially if it’s directed by Shinkai). I only saw it because the anime movies that I’ve seen have consistently maintained a higher standard than their TV counterparts, and despite all the salt, Ride Your Wave does the same. I can’t exactly recommend it, mainly because it was one-night only. So if the Blu-Ray comes out, borrow it from a friend, since there’s no such thing as a movie rental store in this world. 

Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen Volume 3 Review

Last time on Torture Princess, Elisabeth and Co. went to Vlad’s castle to find information on the remaining demons. Kaito pockets a strange orb, but otherwise they have as much luck as two Spaceballs combing the desert. Later, they get invited to the castle of a new demon, the governor. Upon arrival, they see a gruesome scene where innocent people are gorging endlessly on poison foodstuffs. Elisabeth puts them out of their misery, and they go to the Governor’s bedroom where they find him already dead. Suddenly, the guy’s heart ruptures and Elisabeth is afflicted with some spell. Then, another new demon, the Grand King Fiore (female), shows up. Apparently, she has the ability to control other demons, and set this all up for Elisabeth. They manage to escape, but Elisabeth’s magic is heavily drained. However, the church immediately makes her fight two more demons that are attacking the same area. But before that, Kaito discovers that Vlad’s orb contains his spirit, and he teaches Kaito how to use some magic. With this, they’re able to fight the demons, but one of them is used in the same spell again, and Elisabeth is in even deeper doo-doo. What’s worse is that the Grand King, in control of two MORE demons, is attacking Elisabeth’s HQ directly. Desperate to help, Kaito forms a contract with Vlad’s Kaiser. Hina finds out, and he involves her in a plan. Hina uses a weapon that makes Kaito feel the pain of all the minions that are killed in order to power up his Kaiser. By the time he shows up, she’s got her arms and legs burnt off.  Unfortunately, Kaito’s magic isn’t enough to fight off the Grand King in her final form. But he has a backup plan. He stabs himself and uses the blood- fused with the Kaiser’s- to cure Elisabeth, and she whoops the Grand King’s booty. YEAH! YEAH! BEST GIRL ELISABETH IN THE HIZ-OUSE! However, they barely manage to restore Hina’s limbs before they get an emergency summons to the capital city, which is seriously getting wrecked.

Unfortunately, Hina’s “gears have to realign” or whatever, so she’s not actually IN this volume. But hey, given that volume 2 was all about the S.S. KaitoHina, this volume is all about the S.S. KaitoElisabeth. It’s about freakin’ time, am I right? 

Anyway, the situation in the capital is about what you’d expect. The three remaining Demons have fused together into a giant flesh blob, and it sucks in people, turning them into mutants that throw other people into it and repeat the cycle. The description of it, as well how Elisabeth dispatches the mutants, is about as excessively violent as you’d expect.

This volume gives us a new girl named Izabella Vicker, a commanding officer of the paladins who are sided with the church. She’s your typical hyper-morally-correct Mary Sue who wouldn’t be caught dead doing something dishonorable. But she’s an extreme case; in order for them to not have to rely on Elisabeth, she chooses to bathe in sin by killing the innocent people who’ve been turned into mutants. She’s my least favorite character so far, but there’s a good chance she’ll have a bigger role to play later.

Despite this volume centering around an entire battle, this is actually the least action-packed volume so far. Normally, I would be like, “Ugh… more boring crap where nothing happens,” but Torture Princess once again shows its surprising strength in character interactions. There’s an entire chapter of Kaito and Elisabeth just hanging out together, and it’s a really good chapter. Their relationship is probably one of the best that I have ever seen; much better than the BS from the actual romance genre.

But of course, what we all want to know is what happens at the end of the volume. After all, as established in volume 1, Elisabeth’s only reward for defeating all these demons is public execution. I personally saw it coming, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something entirely predictable. You’ll have to read this volume and see.

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Verdict: 9/10

This brings us to the end of the first arc of Torture Princess. I have no clue of how things are going to play out moving forward. But as long as it’s edgy beyond all reason, I’ll see it through to the bitter end.

Eighty-Six Overview (Volumes 1-3)

Covers of volume 1-3

I’ve been reading Eighty-Six since its English release courtesy of Yen Press. Due to the fact that volumes 2 and 3 all happen during the epilogue of volume 1, I decided to cover all three of them in one blog post because it’s technically still a review of volume 1(?).

Eighty-Six is set in the Republic of Mongolia, in a world at war with the Legion: surviving robot weapons of an empire long gone (supposedly). The pale-skinned people of Mongolia live in paradise within the 85-sector city, leaving the dark-skinned people in the 86th sector to fight the Legion. It’s justified because the Eighty-Six (the derogatory term for this people) are considered pigs, and nobody cries when pigs are killed. …Yeeeeeeah, this is a light novel about racism. 

Racism is such a universal issue that it can also be used, in writing, as an easy emotional hook to make something that sucks seem good. However, the portrayal of racism in Eighty-Six is executed really well. The writing is so evil and devious, it’s as if each passage is like firing a railgun bullet straight into your throbbing aortic pump.

The biggest strength of Eighty-Six lies in the main protagonists.. Like in classic forbidden romance fashion, the lead female is a white girl in the military- Lena- who is assigned as an operator who corresponds via some kind of brain-Skype to a squadron of Eighty-Six soldiers, captained by the male lead Shin. The experiences that they have with and away from each other are very engaging, and makes their relationship one of the better romances, despite how they don’t communicate in person (at least not yet). 

Unfortunately, they are marred by a lackluster supporting cast. It seems you need to be SERIOUSLY emotional and not analytical, because the rest of the characters are either blatantly wearing red shirts, or are of almost no consequence. These people tend to be really one-note and forgettable. The only character I liked besides Shin and Lena was Frederica, a military loli introduced in volume 2, but that’s only because she actually has plot relevance. You’d think that the characters who are higher-ups in command, such as *takes out notes* Lena’s supervisor, Karlstahl, or Ernst Zimmerman from the city introduced in volume 2, would be very important. However, these people just end up twiddling their thumbs, stalling out the story discussing different strategies when we KNOW that Shin’s squad is going to just tackle any given conflict head-on because Shin is a lead protagonist. If that’s meant to be a commentary on the actual military’s competence, then I applaud the author on that one. 

Due to this miserably sad cast (both in the emotional sense and the writing sense), a lot of Eighty-Six really drones on. The basic formula seems to mainly be slice-of-life and drama, followed by actual battles. However, since I didn’t grow emotionally attached to these characters, I got bored fast, especially in volume 2, which didn’t even have a fight. There isn’t much character development outside of Shin either; most of his squad complains about how miserable they are, while other people complain about how unjust it is for kids to be in the military (yet Shin ends up getting sent out anyway). In a manga very similar thematically, Attack on Titan, I could at least grow attached to the characters because there were more defining traits, and instead of Shin being the only one who matters, everyone in Attack on Titan (well, mostly everyone), has some important role to play in the story. Shin could literally be a one-man squad and nothing would change in terms of what actually goes down on the battlefield.

The art is middle-of-the-road for me. The characters look okay, but the real juicy stuff is in the schematics of various Legion and other machines as well as maps of the areas where strategies are being planned. The color art’s also great.

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Verdict: 8/10

Eighty-Six is torture porn, but damn good torture porn. Despite the low quantity of good characters, the series has great worldbuilding, and great tryhard writing to boot. Now that volume 3 has contextualized volume 1’s epilogue, maybe we’ll FINALLY GET TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IN VOLUME 4!!

Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen Volume 1 Review

The cover of volume 1

Welcome to the first Thursday blog! I’m hoping to include Thursday evenings in the regular schedule from here on out. Today is my review of Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen, published in English by Yen Press.

The issue of gore and inhumane crimes’ presence in entertainment has always been a subject of much controversy. In the anime community, shows such as Elfen Lied and Goblin Slayer have ignited wildfires on message boards. Torture Princess has the potential to cause a volcanic eruption. And what a beautiful eruption it would be!

Torture Princess shows it’s edginess in its premise. Sena Kaito is summoned to another world in the body of a golem- after he is strangled to death by his father- to serve Elisabeth la Fanu, a lowly sow who has committed a ton of crimes and whose punishment is to hunt thirteen demons. As Kaito helps her on her quest, he learns about her and the cruel world she lives in and is slowly changed during his new life there. The events taking place in this volume are consistently violent and unsettling, but that’s not a surprise given the title of the series.

The characters, however, end up being a big surprise. I expected Best Girl Elisabeth to be a one-dimensional sadist and for Kaito to be a one-dimensional masochist. However, this volume quickly proved me wrong. In the case of the titular torture princess, Elisabeth is a strange combination of several dere types that somehow manage to work. She’s a two-sided coin where one side is the sadistic badass you’d expect, but on the other side is an emotionally insecure waifu that you just want to offer your shoulder for her to cry on.

Speaking of emotionally insecure, Kaito is one dark and disturbed kid. Who wouldn’t be, with a father like that? Although the numerous illegal practices of his father are a bit over-the-top, the mere presence of an abusive parents makes Kaito much more relatable to audiences than his Goody Two-Shoes cousins in other isekai. He’s also got a snarky personality, which leads to some great interactions with Elisabeth.

The third major player is Hina, an autonomous doll girl who ends up taking the role of yandere. I admit that she’s the weakest link out of the trio so far, but in terms of sheer personality she is one of the better yandere I have seen.

All of this wouldn’t be possible without the author’s prose. Torture Princess doesn’t try to pull off its angst with a straight face and end up falling apart; it embraces its angst and doesn’t care what you think. The prose portrays violence with elegance and grace, which is suitable to how Elisabeth looks when she takes down her foes. One of the few concerns I have is that the dark pasts of both Elisabeth and Kaito seem to be tackled in their entirety in this volume. I have no idea where it’ll go from here, but I’m going to put faith in the author.

I really like the art in this one. Elisabeth looks awesome on the cover, plus I commend anyone able to draw chain links and still have a hand attached to their body.

~~~~~

Verdict: 9/10

Torture Princess is– surprisingly- one of my new favorite isekai of all time. I found it very immersive, and difficult to put down. It’s no Berserk, but you can probably count on actually being able to READ the conclusion to this one.

If you cannot stand things like blood and murder (of children, among other things), then STAY AWAY from this. If Goblin Slayer went over the line, then that line is a dot to Torture Princess!

But if you DO read it, I recommend reading it on Barnes & Noble’s nook app, just for the ability to change the style to white font on black paper. I decided to try that out halfway into the volume and it legitimately helped with the immersion!