Baba Is You Is Fun And Insane

If you’re reading this, then I have managed to complete enough of this ludicrous indie puzzler to write a review of it. I had originally played Baba Is You on my Switch with my sister. However, time caught up to both of us, and since she got her own Switch with her data transferred to it (since we used to share mine), I could no longer play—or finish—Baba. Because I thought it was such a great puzzle game (with a LOT of bang for your buck), I had decided to get it on Steam, and play it over again (since we only got about less than a third of the stages done before). And, well, I both hate and love it to death.

There really isn’t a premise, nor plot to Baba Is You. Simply put, Baba is you. You is Baba. And Baba, who is You, wants to Win. That’s about it.

So, how does Baba, who is You, Win? It’s simple, really. Just touch the Flag, which is Win. However, some things get in the way, and sometimes, there isn’t Baba, nor a Flag. That’s fine, though, because that’s the whole point. Every level has an assortment of words that can be pushed like blocks, and… Okay, I should stop teasing since you probably read the description of this game already. Long overdue TL;DR: you form sentences that dictate the rules of every level.

This is definitely not the first game to be so meta, but Baba Is You is one of the best when it comes to this kind of gameplay. This simple idea branches out into an incredibly in-depth puzzle game that teaches you through level design. Every time you think you’ve seen everything, the game pulls something even crazier. 

The way to Win is for You to be touching the object that is Win. While Flag is most commonly Win, that can—and often has to be—changed. Baba doesn’t necessarily have to be You, either. You can be a rock, a crate, or the entire level, as long as the words are there to form that statement. Just be careful not to touch anything that is Defeat, or dislodge whatever statement dictates your existence, because that’s how you die in this game. Fortunately, a simple press of the X or Y button will begin to undo your actions, up to the very beginning of the level.

If the game sounds hard to you, that’s because it is. Word of warning, Baba Is You is NOT for people who have busy careers, unless you want to look at a guide. Figuring out puzzles on your own feels good, but that takes time, and we don’t have that much of it these days unless you’re a kid. In any case, Baba Is You’s puzzles are brutally mind-bending, and for the most part, ingeniously clever. The biggest battle is figuring out certain nuances with the game’s mechanics, such as what rules get priority when assigned to the same object; for example, something that is Defeat cannot kill you if it is Stop, Push, or Weak. The game also expects you to create some incredibly bizarre scenarios that completely disregard everything you understand about videogaming itself. Unfortunately, the difficulty is quite inconsistent. Either that, or it’s just a matter of how each individual thinks. I’ve had more trouble with some of the “normal” levels than some of the super-secret psychopath levels in the late-game!

Fortunately, the game is pleasing enough to look at to where it’s really hard to get mad. It has a very minimalistic pixel-art look that’s surreal and dreamy. Enabling the “wiggle” animations (or whatever they’re called) makes Baba Is You feel very cartoony and alive. The soundtrack is also very chill and atmospheric.

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Baba Is You will probably be my favorite puzzle game of all time. I haven’t gotten 100% yet; thank the passage of time for that, but I at least beat it. Baba Is You gives you insane bang for your buck: 226 levels for 14.99 USD. If you like puzzle games, there’s no reason to not play Baba for that deal alone!

Miitopia (Switch): Your Most Insane Fanfic Come to Life

If you’re reading this, then I’m a time masochist. When you’re working a full-time job along with running a blog, you don’t exactly have much time left. All of the precious recreational time I have is spent working on the blog. Every single piece of media I select must now serve some purpose for it. It’s hard. I’ve had to veto a lot of stuff. There are a lot of videogames that I’ve been juggling, and instead of playing them based on mood, I play them based on a number of factors too convoluted to go into right now. But a wrench was thrown in when Nintendo re-released the insane 3DS RPG, Miitopia, on Switch, with an improved character creator and FREAKING HORSES. I loved the crap out of the old one, but I was hesitant to play this new one ONLY because I never had raw desire take hold. So of course, this post (with an overly long preamble) is my only justification for playing Miitopia AGAIN. On Switch.

In Miitopia, the Dark Lord steals the faces from everyone in the titular kingdom of Miis. You, along with a vast number of intrepid heroes, set forth to whoop his butt and get everyone’s faces back. 

If you know RPG basics, then you know that this game has a simple and predictable plot. But unlike most RPGs, which pretend to be something they’re not, Miitopia spoofs them up. It is chock full of hilarious, tongue-and-cheek dialogue. The charm oozes out of every pixel, and we’ll get to more on that when we cover some of the gameplay elements.

I’d normally discuss the cast of the story here. However, every copy of Miitopia is kind of like a snowflake; no two are alike. This is because of the game’s main selling point: the Miis themselves. The identity of literally every character is decided by you. They can be your closest friends, or—if you’re like me and have no friends—fictional characters. You can be a light novel protagonist and insert yourself into the story, fighting alongside your favorite waifus. You can ship Arin and Dan from Game Grumps, or ship either of them with Markiplier and PewDeePie. You can even dictate the villain; take out your hatred on your most hated person by making them the Dark Lord. Hate mainstream culture? Then make the Dark Lord Billie Eilish. You also get other allies, like the Great Sage and the three Fairy Sisters. Just keep in mind that—SPOILER ALERT even though it’s a common RPG trope—whoever your Great Sage is will end up being the true final boss. If you didn’t have online in the original, you’d be given some lousy presets for non-plot-relevant characters. But in this version, you can freely dictate their identities as well, but you’d have to take the time to make them from scratch (or, you know, have an online subscription). Although the game doesn’t tell you this, you can preemptively add Miis—complete with makeup and wigs—from the Mii Characters database on the title screen. Use this if you have a plan on who to include in the story. Oh, and when it comes to your party members, you can change their in-battle phrases. 

For some reason, however, it doesn’t quite work in the Traveler’s Hub area. Every visit spawns a random, non-plot-relevant set of NPCs, and ideally, these would pull from Miitopia’s save data just like anyone else.  You can still go into the record menu and change that, but you’d have to do it every time the area reshuffles, and it kind of gets annoying. I’ve noticed that it has higher odds of pulling from the data if you have more characters with no assigned roles already made, but if that was the case, you’d have to make a LOT of Miis for it to pull from there every time.

Regardless, improvements to Miitopia’s customization mechanic are, well, massive. The Mii making system seems pretty normal at first. But when you go to the Mii Characters tab on the title screen, you can add makeup and wigs. With these, the sky’s the limit. You can make an anime character, and have it be accurate for once. Just a couple things to keep in mind. First of all, the sky isn’t quite the limit. For instance, there are no pompadours, nor any hairdos that defy gravity. More importantly, the quiz NPC doesn’t take makeup or wigs into account during the minigames. This means if you have an advanced character, like Darth Vader or something, it’s going to be tough to recognize him.

The icing on the cake is the amount of personality that oozes out of Miitopia. There are so many little charming details that make it hilarious and fun. One example is this derpy tuba-like jingle for literally EVERY new character as they show up. When the Dark Lord first appears, you hear this ominous choir, abruptly cut off by that sound, causing intentional tonal whiplash. Beyond that, there are too many examples to list, like the occasional Psycho bit after character interactions or the fact that every ability has this fancy, anime-like cinematic for it when it’s used for the first time.

The personality is also present in the game’s visual and audio presentation. Miitopia has a quirky and cartoony vibe, which is basic yet appealing. The Switch’s superior power adds lighting effects that help give it a more whimsical vibe. The soundtrack is also surprisingly fantastic. The battle theme and the titlescreen music are unique to each area in the game, and the boss track is a real bop that still lives in my head rent-free.

Although combat would be an afterthought in a game like this, Miitopia manages to have legitimately fun combat. The battles are your basic JRPG turn-based formula, but there are a number of factors to add spice (and chaos) to this formula. First off, you get to choose everyone’s personality quirk. They all have advantages and disadvantages, that range from free evades to refusing a much-needed heal. They trigger randomly, and as a result, a lot of battles end up being luck-based to an extent. The game is balanced enough around this fact… well… to a point (we’ll discuss that later).

A much more important factor is Affinity. Characters can build relationships through various, self-explanatory methods, from battle, to being roomies at the inn, as well as other means. Levelling Affinities up can cause some powerful effects to happen, some of which can turn the tide of battle in your favor. Of course, these are also luck-based, but they feel awesome when they happen. However, random events, as well as certain moves and personality traits, can cause a rift in two characters’ relationship. When this happens, you need to keep them together until they make up, or use the Popstar’s insanely powerful skill that instantly resolves their argument (this doesn’t work if the Popstar is involved in said rift; something that happened to me way too often in my playthrough).

Exploration in Miitopia is divided into automated traveling courses. If a path splits off, you get to dictate where they go, and you’ll need to take EVERY PATH if you want to get everything. It can get repetitive, but using the ZR button speeds up gameplay and saves BUTTLOADS of time. It even works in cutscenes! Random events occur, from stumbling upon loot to characters suddenly being fed up with each other. It’s generally rare for these events to lead to an unfair game over, but it can happen in VERY specific circumstances.

In between each course, the party rests up at the Inn. Unlike most JRPGs, this is where the action occurs. Here, you arrange characters’ living spaces so that they can bond with one another. While in the Inn, you can feed characters food obtained throughout the adventure to permanently increase their stats. They have very random tastes, and more often than not, they will hate the food most tailored to their build. You can also gamble any Arcade Tickets found from adventuring to get money or items. I always did the latter, since you will always get something from the item roulette. These range from a random equippable item, to rare food, to a boost of XP or Affinity between two people. Spending money is another mechanic based on luck. You need to see if a character wants something, and give them the money to grab it. Equipment for characters come in tiers, which means that if a chest contains equipment, it will always be the next step up from whatever you have. Oh, and keep in mind that characters will sometimes fail to buy the equipment that you loaned them the cash to buy. New to the Switch version are Outings. These are fun little events that give sizeable Affinity boosts and are quite charming as well as varied. Also new to the Switch version is the Horse. This adorable, customizable companion is basically a fifth party member. By raising Affinity between your Horse and other characters, you can trigger new, unique assists in battle. These are insanely helpful! One of them is basically an ultimate move. It requires all MP, and has a unique effect depending on the class of whoever uses it. However, there’s one unwritten nuance that I learned the hard way: the horse will only assist as long as a character is in the stable with it, regardless of Affinity and if it accompanies you to battle.

Well, I ended up deviating from battle for a while. Anyway, though the amount of luck in this game appears daunting, Miitopia does allow some divine intervention. Sprinkles can be used to restore HP, MP, to revive a party member, and more. Your carrying capacity with these Sprinkles increases as you defeat enemies, but keep in mind that they don’t refill until after a course is done. There is also the Safe Spot, where one character can use their turn to rest and heal a percentage of HP and MP as well as cure any debuffs. Of course, this puts your party at three, so careful planning is needed.

I talked about pretty much every element in battle before the bread and butter of RPGs: classes! You can assign a class to each new party member, and after a certain point in the story, can freely change said class. They range from your usual Mage and Cleric, to the unusual Popstar, Chef, Cat, Flower, etc. For the most part, they all have good enough strengths to win no matter what. The exception is the Tank. I don’t mean the high-aggro defensive class; I mean a literal Tank. This class has high defense and high damage, but most of the latter are used at the detriment of the Tank’s Affinity. Its low base MP doesn’t help either. 

In terms of difficulty, Miitopia is surprisingly balanced. Like with any JRPG, you’ll be pretty frail at the beginning, but be relatively okay at taking control as the game goes on. Bosses, and this one type of enemy with an insta-kill attack, are pretty much the only real challenges in the main story. Unfortunately, Miitopia is one of those annoying games where three party members are A.I. despite the fact that this is a turn-based RPG and that A.I. shouldn’t be necessary. They don’t spam useless moves like Marin Karin, at least. In fact, the A.I. is pretty good at making choices that a real gamer would make. Unfortunately, the A.I. fails to take turn order into account, and will use HP Bananas even if a healer was going to go immediately after them.

The real difficulty is in the post-game. In addition to new and tougher quests, the post-game unlocks three secret areas, two of which have the secret Vampire and Elf classes (for all I know, there could be a third one because I still have yet to do everything in this game). I usually like to make new party members dedicated to these, but keep in mind that they’ll have a whole game’s worth of Affinity, equipment buying, and permanent stat building to catch up to!

The third and most involved post-game area is a massive city, split into EIGHT sectors, teeming with the most powerful mobs in the game. Each sector has a stronger version of a previous boss, all of which HURT. This place sucks, and is probably the one place where Miitopia’s chaoticness loses its novelty. It’s hard enough on its own, but when you have to worry about relationships failing, or a Stubborn character refusing to be healed, it becomes beyond irritating. And don’t get me started on the U.F.O. enemies! They can use an attack that steals all of a character’s HP Bananas, which cannot be evaded no matter what. You also don’t get the Bananas back when defeating them. This causes your coffers to be sucked DRY,  to the point where you can’t organically regain them within the game’s parameters as long as you proceed through that area; you actually need to grind for them. I can’t even imagine how it feels when you get to the end of the boss rush tower, just for a few, RNG-based boo-boos to kick in and cost the whole run. And according to the Medal list, there’s a second tower that I actually have never seen before. Who knows what that could be!

The post-game has one more nice unlock: the villa. With this, you can house a massive number of party members all at once, and freely create new ones. This helps alleviate the issue of there being more classes than party members in the main story. Unfortunately, the inn capacity doesn’t account for the addition of the horse stable, meaning that one person will always be alone if you want to build Affinity with the horse.

Oh, and one warning for true completionists: the Medals. These are in-game achievements, and the Traveler’s Hub guy tracks your progress with them. Getting all of these requires getting every class to the max level of fifty, maxing out Affinities, getting all of the different equipment items for every class, and more. This is where grinding becomes a must, and that kind of sucks. But to be honest, you’ll probably need to do it anyway to take on the aforementioned boss rush. I have never completed Miitopia, but I might make an attempt if I ever feel the need to veg out with something mindless. But if you undertake this task, do it with some music or Twitch streams in the background.

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Final Verdict: 8.75/10

An already great game is better than ever on the Switch! Miitopia is a quirky, fun adventure, perfect for relieving stress (as long as you don’t try the really BS stuff). I recommend it to anyone who just wants to be happy.

New Pokémon Snap: The Dark Souls of Casual Gaming (Either that or I just suck at it)

I was a kid when the N64 came out. That puts my parents in their early twenties when the home videogame revolution occurred. Unfortunately, they were the only people who didn’t buy into it, which would cause me to miss those classic console generations and become a Gamecube kid. And while that can definitely be considered a badge of honor, it does pain me to say that I did miss a lot of great N64 games… such as Pokémon Snap. I watched several playthroughs of it on YouTube, and it looked super fun (albeit a bit on the short side). I wouldn’t get to experience that BS grading system that had nothing to do with actual rules of composition or being told that “I was close” until New Pokémon Snap came out on Nintendo Switch. I paid good money for this thing. Let’s hope it’s at least more than three hours long.

In New Pokémon Snap, you are transferred to the pun-tastic facility known as the Laboratory of Ecology and Nature Sciences (i.e. L.E.N.S.) to study Pokémon. Under the guide of Professor Mirror (not named after a tree for once), you take pictures of the critters for science. Oh, and some of them are shiny I guess.

People hated Gen 8 for how it looked (among other things), but New Pokémon Snap ends up being a big step above… Okay, that isn’t saying much. The characters look kind of plastic, but the game still has that pleasant, cartoony feel of the Pokémon world in general. The night time segments are where it excels in terms of visuals; gotta love stylized particle effects!

This is both a photography game, and a Pokémon game that isn’t Gen 5, so it goes without saying that there really isn’t a plot. The whole thing is following the old journal of some guy named Vince to discover the Illumina phenomenon. This glow makes Pokémon shiny, but sadly, it’s not the shiny that series veterans think of. In any case, that’s literally the whole story.

The characters are also as lacking as you can expect. This game is meant to be very serene and cut off from the criminal organizations, questionable ethics, min-maxxing, and awful law enforcement of the main games, so no one can be over-the-top. And as a result, they are as flat as anyone who isn’t Gladion, and also lack the great character design that Pokémon people tend to have. The only one who stands out is Todd, and that’s only under the assumption that he’s the original game’s protagonist. 

In terms of gameplay, New Pokémon Snap will feel very familiar to experienced players of the original. You move along on an automated path and take photos. You also have the help of returning tools such as the apples, and a Poké Flute equivalent that sounds way more annoying this time around.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a long-overdue sequel without some (i.e. a lot of) new features. First off, you can scan stuff now. This helps you find things as well as elicit reactions from nearby Pokémon. Pester Balls are replaced with Illumina Orbs. This can put Pokémon into an Illumina state, allowing for new behaviors. Also, hitting special flowers will trigger a widespread Illumina effect that often results in something ideal for your endeavors. The catch is that each region has its own variant, and you’ll have to earn them as you progress.

There’s also the research level. Courses, most of which are divided into day and night variants, have their own XP bars. Fill it up by discovering varied Pokémon behavior (and getting good scores), and upon levelling it up, the Pokémon on that course will change, allowing for even more variety. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year,” said Randy Quaid. Movie references aside, this mechanic really helps bring areas to life in a way that wasn’t possible in the original. 

The big thing that gives New Pokémon Snap its replay value is the way completing the Photodex works. Each photo of a Pokémon has a ranking system that ranges from bronze to platinum. As expected of a game where a machine judges art… yeah, good luck. However, there’s more than just getting a good photo of a Pokémon. As I said earlier with research level, Pokémon exhibit different behaviors. In fact, each Pokémon has FOUR states that it can be photographed in, each of which has its own ranking system. The completionist run requires every photograph of every Pokémon in every state with a platinum rating. Like I said, good luck.

Since machines aren’t sentient enough to have an eye for art, photo evaluation is the same “get the Pokémon in the center of the frame” BS as it always was. If you’re used to the ever-picky Professor Oak, then it’ll feel like second nature. However, Mirror doesn’t straight-up shit on you like Oak does. Whether or not that’s a disappointment is your prerogative. In any case, it’s also about as buggy as it was before; for every shot that should be awful, you get platinum, and a bronze for every shot that appears to more-than-adequately meet the game’s parameters (okay, to be honest, it’s not like that ALL the time but it’s noticeable).

When it comes to finding the four poses,  they’re mostly fun to figure out. These states can be triggered through your various tools, or by just having good reflexes. The problem with this system is the fact that you can only submit one photo of a Pokémon at a time. This sucks, since it’s more than likely you’ll have photos of Pokémon in more than one pose in a single run. This issue is most evident when in the special Illumina Pokémon stages. These are like Rainbow Cloud from the original; just you and a glowing Pokémon that you gotta go to town on. Although more Pokémon show up when replaying these stages, the bulk of their time is taken by the Illumina Pokémon. As such, it’s more than possible to get two, three, or possibly all four poses in a single run (and they’re generally not easy shots to get either). But because you can only do one at a time at the end… yeah. I can just imagine Professor Mirror saying, “Wow, you captured this one Pokémon in a wide variety of behaviors all at once!” as he heartlessly shreds all but one of those photos you poured your blood, sweat, and tears into. And to be logic police for a second, this system is not at all efficient to doing ecology research. 

At the very least, you won’t be thrown in like cold turkey when it comes to figuring out the different poses of Pokémon; characters often provide photo requests that clue you in on what to do. However, a lot of these requests SUCK, and can make the game a hellscape if you’re going for completion. They range from pretty intuitive to Famicom-levels of obtuse, and at the time of posting this, I sure as hell didn’t get them all! And even if you know what to do, execution ends up being the hard part. While you can retry a stage anytime, there are actually slight variations within a given stage that are completely random, even if you didn’t increase the Research Level (looking at you, Elsewhere Forest). As a result, many of your retries can end up being just for the opportunity to take that photo (on top of having to set everything up for said photo). Oh, and if you end up preemptively taking a photo for a request before it comes up, then you’ll have to take it again, and waste the chance to submit a new pose from that run. And if you DO complete the request, you gotta manually turn it in!

One issue I will acknowledge that puts this game beneath the original is how progression is done. With exactly one exception at the butt end of the game, it’s all tied to raising the research level, as opposed to being observant and solving a puzzle in a given stage with intuition and timing. You don’t have to do any of the BS to raise it up to adequate levels, but it nonetheless doesn’t feel as accomplishing.

Beyond that, this game is just plain brutal at times. While it’s arguable whether or not any challenge in New Pokémon Snap is as hard as getting the 10k Mew shot in the original, a lot of this stuff really piles up, and the cumulative difficulty surpasses that of the Mew fight. Oftentimes, you’ll have to make ridiculously precise throws, sometimes at moving targets from within your also-moving vehicle, in very short windows of time. There are also a number of occasions where you have to kite Pokémon with apples for obnoxiously long periods of time. The problem with this last example is that Pokémon aren’t as responsive to apples as before, making it a real pain to maintain their attention. And if you mess up once, they go back to their starting point.

Let’s stop talking about the problems with the game and discuss some nice positives. One big help is that it gives you a visual indication of what is considered the subject of your next shot. Plus, you can take pictures while not zoomed in, as well as throw items while zoomed in. Most notably, photos are put into individual folders during evaluation, making it a lot less messy when choosing what to show to Mirror.

And need I mention the phenomenal photo customization? Every photo registered in the Photodex—as well as ones saved in your album—can be edited in some way. You can give them funny captions that are a lot better than the in-game ones, for starters. There is also the ability to re-snap a photo taken with the ability to modify angle and color balance settings (although this is only available at the end of a given run). The fun part is plopping stickers and effects onto your photos to make them hilarious. You get more and more stickers as you accomplish stuff, and it’s actually worth trying to knock out requests since they have a lot of the better stickers.

Before getting to the final evaluation, I should point out that New Pokémon Snap does have a bit of a post-game. You unlock the challenge score system from the original’s post-game (assuming you even care about it), as well as the Burst Mode setting for your camera that allows you to capture photos at rapid speed. Most notably, you unlock a beautiful new stage… that would’ve been spoiled to you if you happened to look at the Nintendo eShop pics for this game. It also spawns some Legendary Pokémon in earlier stages, if you want even more headaches. 

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Final Verdict: 8.95/10

It has more depth, better replay value, a great photo customization system, and a wider variety of Pokémon. Yet… for some completely arbitrary reason, it completely lacks the heart, personality, charm, and [insert other esoteric thing here] that the N64 Pokémon Snap had. …Look, I’m kidding, okay?! I think New Pokémon Snap was well worth the wait, and has more than enough positive qualities to outclass its predecessor. Just… for the love of Arceus… attempt to 100% it at your own risk!

Bravely Default II: It’s… a Game

I was curious about Bravely Default ever since it came out. However, by the time I wanted to bite the bullet and try it, new copies somehow shot up to the triple digits, even before the death of the 3DS. I had also heard that the game ends on a whimper and that it had… microtransactions? Yeah, no thanks. Instead, I ended up jumping into the Bravely series with Bravely Default II for the Nintendo Switch.

In Bravely Default II, a young man is shipwrecked… somewhere. He runs into some lady named Gloria who is on a mission to find the four elemental Crystals (traditional MacGuffins). With the help of two other people, named Elvis and Adelle, he ends up helping Gloria find the MacGuffins. And yeah, that’s it.

Before covering the story, I need to lay down some groundwork. The game allows you to name the main protagonist, which is fun. Also, Bravely Default II has the option to play with the Japanese voice acting, like with most JRPGs these days. But for some reason, either variety or self-deprecation, I decided to play the whole game with the dub. Keep in mind that the dub might color my impression of the story and characters.

I’m not a big fan of Final Fantasy or Octopath Traveler’s plots, but at least they tried. Bravely Default II feels so half-assed it comes off as intentional. The story is so generic to the point of… nothingness. At least Dragon Quest has different dialects to give it more charm. I tried my darndest to give the writing a chance, but it didn’t take me long to start mashing A during cutscenes. Other times, I’d actually watch Twitch or YouTube while playing through; I was THAT uninvested in the story.

The game is also rather silly when it comes to chapter cutoff points. Normally, when you beat the boss of the current chapter, it starts the next one in the following cutscene. However, that’s not the case here. Instead, you have to be well on your way to the next town, and then randomly, the next chapter will start. And as you can expect, this will open up new quests in previous towns. As someone who prioritizes sidequesting, this really bothers me! Why couldn’t they have just ended the chapters right after the major boss fights like normal people?!

And to rub salt in the wound, the game has  next to no sense of accomplishment. You collect these MacGuffins that are messing up the various regions of the game, but it doesn’t fix anything. I know it’s really rare for a JRPG to allow you to explore the world after you’ve saved it, but Bravely Default II straight-up doesn’t care. For example, when you collect the Water MacGuffin flooding the one town, said town does not revert back to normal. Even having it gradually revert back as you advance through the game would be nice, but nope!

As far as the voice acting is concerned… Eh. I feel like the voices do fit the characters, but the performances themselves are inconsistent. When they’re being normal, it’s alright. However, a lot of the attempts at being emotional are about as effective as the one notorious instance of bad acting in the 1952 adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Of course, because I hate myself, I kept the dub on for the whole game. The only lines I enjoyed were some of the in-battle commentaries (like Adelle saying “What the?! You suck!” when inflicted with a debuff), but like any JRPG with in-battle commentaries (hi, Xenoblade), they got very grating. 

The characters are… meh. It’s not like there isn’t character development, but it is very bare-bones basic. There’s nothing that completely changes how I view a character, compared to—say—Sanji’s backstory in One Piece (the FULL backstory to be exact). The only remotely likeable character is Elvis, and that’s simply because it’s really hard to not like anyone with his dialect.

So, the gameplay. Since this is my first Bravely game, I have no idea what mechanics carry over from Bravely Default and what mechanics are new. As such, I’ll just explain everything! Hooray!

If you’ve played Final Fantasy and/or Octopath Traveler, a lot of mechanics will be super familiar. The stats are more-or-less self-explanatory. However, I must point out two outliers in the stats. For starters, aggro is a base stat that all characters have. Naturally, you want it to be higher on tanky people. There’s also a weight stat. All equipment increases weight, and if it goes over the maximum capacity, their base stats decrease even if the actual equipment is better than what they have.

In terms of combat, stuff if pretty self-explanatory. It plays more like classic Final Fantasy than anything else. You can toggle between single-targeting and multi-targeting for magic. Also, you can freely target enemies or allies with a move. Obviously, this means that zombies’ weakness to healing spells is accounted for. Enemies also have the annoying ability to counterattack, but thankfully, the game specifies if their attack is a counter. However, you’re going to want to have a plan to deal with counterattacks FAST. Eventually, it gets to the point where enemies—specifically bosses—will counter literally everything, and it’s obnoxious.

There are some new things, and by new, I mean things that were probably introduced in Bravely Default but since this is my first Bravely game it’s new to me. This game has BP, which sounds similar to the mechanic from Octopath Traveler. It’s not even remotely similar. Up to 3 BP can be used, sure, but instead of boosting one move, it adds multiple actions to a single turn. As much as I love the boosting in Octopath Traveler, this use of BP has a lot more utility; you can heal and then immediately attack an enemy, for instance.

The catch is that BP is not used in the same way as Octopath. Keeping in with the game’s title, every character has a Brave and Default action. Brave is what consumes BP, and Default is a defensive stance that gains BP. You more-or-less have to just spam Default, which can make battles kind of slow, especially early game. However, you don’t actually NEED BP in order to use Brave. You can go into the negatives with BP if you really want to. The risk is that the character will lose as many turns as they are in the negatives, and must wait until BP goes back to 0. To make things scarier, enemies can use Brave and Default, but are thankfully subject to the same penalties.

If there’s anything I don’t like about combat, it’s how stat modifiers work. Like in any good JRPG, stat buffs and debuffs can be stacked. The game makes sure to specifically tell you the maximum stacking effect, which is nice. But the problem is… it takes forever, and it feels like they don’t last long at all. Reusing the same buff does not add to the duration like in Octopath Traveler, so you have to constantly be watching for the visual indicator that the buffs are about to expire.

Although you only get four characters, jobs more than make up for it. The system works pretty much like it does in any JRPG with jobs. You have a main job and a sub-job. The important thing to know is that sub-jobs do not level-up in battle. What you’re encouraged to do is max-out a job, then make it a sub-job, since you’ll have all the abilities of that job no matter what. Every job has a passive skill that can be set to an ability list, even if you aren’t that job. The game straight-up recommends that you prioritize Freelancer, and use its JP-boosting skills to level up subsequent jobs.

Special moves are also different than in Octopath. Unlike in that game, where you learn the special after completely mastering the job, Bravely Default II‘s system has it to where each MacGuffin has to bless a character, allowing them to use the special of whatever job they have. The conditions to using a special are not by consuming 3 BP, but by using specific commands a LOT. They provide buffs to the entire party, but instead of lasting for a fixed number of turns, they expire in real time when the special theme that plays after using the move ends. These buffs aren’t helpful until more characters are blessed, in which case you can immediately use another special when the first one is about to end, to carry over the current buff along with the new one.

One problem I have with the jobs is that a number of them are… bad… ish. The Beastmaster, like Octopath Traveler, is capable of being really powerful, but I hate it. Just like in Octopath, you can capture weakened monsters to use in battle. Unlike Octopath, where you have a limited stock of monsters and a fixed amount of usages for them, Bravely Default II gives you unlimited stock, but only one use per monster. As such, you pretty much have to grind captures. It’s a pain to do, however. While you are able to see the monsters’ HP (unlike Octopath), your odds of capturing are pretty much impossible unless they have exactly one HP (which is easy to deal with thanks to the Mercy Strike move but it’s still annoying). Also, there are rare unique monsters that can be captured, and like Octopath, capturing them sucks. In fact, I couldn’t capture a single one of them! Since they’re rare, you probably would never use them, even when fighting the final boss. In the end, capturing monsters IS well worth it, for many bosses would’ve walled me if I hadn’t.

There are a few subtle distinctions that make this game different from classic Final Fantasy. For starters, gravity magic is real nasty because it does a fixed percentage of your MAX HP as opposed to your current HP. However, the most important distinction is weapons with special effects. For example, the staff that casts Cure is in this game, but unlike the classic games, where its attack is changed to Cure, you actually need to use it as an item to cast Cure in this game. This change does give these weapons more utility, but it would be nice if the game’s eighty thousand hints included one about that mechanic.

Just in case you didn’t want to finish the game in under a hundred hours, the protagonist has the ability to explore the seven seas on his own. To put it bluntly, this game has one of those “send characters off to do something then come back the next day for goodies” things. The thing about this mechanic is that it only works with the Switch in sleep mode while the game is running, meaning that you’ll be increasing playtime by a LOT. It’s a good mechanic if you have a full-time job that isn’t gaming; you can boot up Bravely Default II, have him shove off, and reap the rewards after work.

They also have a new Triple Triad: B ‘n’ D. It’s a simple yet insanely complex card game about occupying territories. I have accumulated many losses (since I suck at tabletop ANYTHING, even a fake tabletop anything). But in the end, it’s worth doing (even if it will gouge out your eyes). There is a “No Keepsies” rule that you can use so that you don’t lose cards when you are defeated, but you can’t dictate the rules until you obtain one of each card the opponent has. If there’s someone you really don’t want to fight multiple times, fight someone you can change the rules with to get extra card points, and then take all of the tougher opponent’s cards in one fell swoop after beating them once. As is Triple Triad tradition, make sure you save scum before a tough match!

As much as I loved Octopath Traveler visually and audio-ly, Bravely Default II disappoints by comparison. While the towns are created in beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds (which you can actually tell where to go since it’s not a PS1 game), the overworld is about as bare-bones as the story. There’s next-to-no variety in terms of landmarks and geography, plus dungeons tend to be very easy to get lost in. The soundtrack is one of the more forgettable I’ve heard in a JRPG. In fact, most of the songs are all remixes of a basic theme depending on the region.

In terms of difficulty, Bravely Default II is just like any JRPG, at least on Normal Mode; early game is rough because of a lack of options, then it steadily gets easier as you get more powerful. Also similar to the genre, most regular mobs won’t be that troublesome (as long as you don’t have too many jobs that clash with each other), but bosses can rough you up, even if the game considers you overleveled. There are superbosses on the world map, and those are what you’d expect them to be.

I was already over ninety hours by the time I beat this game, but guess what—it has a post-game. However, it’s not just a post-game, it’s the true endgame. Beating the “final boss” gives you a lousy ending, and reloading the save will grant the cast a premonition of that ending, triggering an entirely new chapter. There’s new quests and story beats, as well as the true final boss and ending. The big addition is the ability to go into portals where you fight past bosses to be able to raise corresponding Jobs three additional levels. They’re worth doing, but they SUCK. The past bosses attack in groups of several at a time, and all gain 1 BP as a counterattack for literally EVERY action. Even if you could use a move to reduce their BP, that move could in itself trigger the counterattack.

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Final Verdict: 7.35/10

Bravely Default II is a solid JRPG which harkens back to the good old days. But to be honest, I wasn’t entirely fond of it. I think Octopath Traveller—by comparison—would be a far better game if it weren’t for the invisible encounters and the tedium that comes with its Hunter job. Heck, part of me thinks Octopath is irrefutably better DESPITE those flaws. Double heck, I like DQXI better than this. I dunno, this could be the fact that I maranthoned Bravely Default II talking, but the game feels kind of just… there. To tell the truth, I didn’t even bother finishing the post-game content. I recommend Bravely Default II if you’re a diehard JRPG fan who doesn’t have a full-time job outside of gaming.

Attack on Titan: A Mainstream Series That I… Love?

Preface: If you’re wondering how I already have a review of Attack on Titan the day after it finished, don’t worry; I didn’t pirate it! There are official channels through which to finish this manga right now, at least in the U.S. One is to read the last leg of it on Crunchyroll’s manga tab that they actually updated after the death of Flash even though most people never use it. Alternatively, you can buy the remaining chapters on BookWalker for about 2 USD each. Of course, you’ll have to have read all thirty-two currently published U.S. releases for it to work. But you know what, at least you’d be supporting the actual creator!


There are types of stories that have existed since the dawn of man. Romance, for example, as full of BS as it is, is one of the most enduring story types of all time. Stories like Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan are insanely common; plucky teens thrust into a world of strife against some “mysterious enemy” that the main character “happens” to be “special” enough to save the world from. However, Attack on Titan is probably one of the best variations of this story ever created. And here’s why.

The plot is nothing new. We have the Titans—the “mysterious enemy”—ravaging mankind and driving them into hiding behind some walls (“But what about the possibility of an AERIAL ATTACK?!” Squidward Tentacles exclaims). After the designated first-chapter-death, the “plucky teens” join the designated “cool fighter people” and, well, fight the Titans.

I’m gonna tell you straight. You likely already know what’s going to happen, thankfully minus the dumb romance sideplot. As much as this series excels at foreshadowing and build-up, you don’t need it. If you’ve read stuff like this before, then you can probably make several ballpark guesses on what the low-down of this manga’s world is and at least one guess would probably be correct.

But you know what, strong execution beats lack of originality. The rules of how the different units of the military work are all thought out (even if the Survey Corps are the only ones who matter), the “parkour gear” or whatever it’s called is one of the coolest things I have ever seen, and there’s always something engaging going on in terms of plot progress. Even during a later arc that is notorious for its utter lack of Titan combat, the manga consistently keeps the momentum going.

Most of the time, I’m not a fan of “human” characters. But unlike cardboard boxes such as Rimuru Tempest from TenSura, Isayama actually seems to understand the definition OF a human being in the first place, especially what it’s like to be a teenager who has to live in a world of despair, and to have their perception of their established facts of life turned upside down numerous times. Wow, that was all one sentence…

First off, the three main characters—Eren, Armin, and Mikasa—somehow manage to maintain a relatively platonic relationship throughout the whole series. Two male characters and one female character, all of which are childhood friends, is a perfect love triangle, and any [bad] YA author would’ve done it in a heartbeat and ruined the story forever. Mikasa clearly has some level of “thing”-ness for Eren, but it’s seldom ham-fisted into your face but instead shown visually merely by the scarf that she wears; a gift from him when they first met. The fourth main character is Best Boy Levi, who is raw badassery and intellect rolled into one handsome boy. What’s there to dislike? The supporting cast is also phenomenal. From gambit-happy Erwin Smith, to potato-eating Sasha Blouse, to Actual Best Girl Krista, these kids are surprisingly easy to love.

This manga warrants a reread, because re-experiencing the story by watching the anime from the beginning, after having read past chapter ninety, really shows how organically they have developed over time. I cringed at the first episode, at Eren’s incessant whining, thinking, “Is this really the SAME GUY who I grew emotionally attached to?” THIS is character development at its finest.

“Rough around the edges” is an understatement for the art in this manga. Based on the “rules of art” that have been established over the years, Attack on Titan has “objectively” bad art. It’s not smooth nor crisp, but for me, it somehow “works” (It’s as if art was never meant to be assigned rules to begin with…).

If there is one “rule of art” that it follows, it’s gesture drawing. The many (MANY) tiny strokes in Isayama’s technique helps to convey motion in a spectacular fashion. I didn’t need the anime’s sakuga to feel the force of the parkour gear as our intrepid heroes flew through cities and forests, striking Titans as they went. All this in addition to his great sense of good panelwork makes Attack on Titan a tightly paced read. Not even the dialogue-driven chapters feel like a waste of time.

For the last paragraph, I’ll touch on the one thing that always ends up being divisive for long-running battle shounen series: the final act. Don’t worry; I’ll word it in the least spoilery way possible. Late-ish in Attack on Titan, an epic battle—one of the best in the series—unfolds in spectacular glory. But the aftermath opens up a can of worms that drastically changes the entire tone of the manga. Although it is still a great arc, the biggest problem is that it introduces a metric ton of new characters that I honestly didn’t care about, let alone remember their names in the first place. It also didn’t help that this was the arc where I had caught up on the most recent chapters, and ended up playing the waiting game most often. Since I’m always pressed for time, I can’t reread volumes to make sure I still remember stuff. 

And honestly, like a lot of long battle shounen, the plot gets pretty complicated. There’s even the possibility that it was retconned at some point. But you know what, I still love this manga to death. You gotta give mangakas some benefit of the doubt, since a lot of them are forced to make this stuff up as they go along. No matter how confusing it got, I still loved Attack on Titan all the way through. Isayama knows how to make a story feel engaging regardless of what’s happening. That takes talent.

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Final Verdict: 9.8/10

Attack on Titan is one of my favorite manga of all time. Isayama draws (no pun intended) influence from the very best of Western culture, without using any of the BS, to make a fantastic battle shounen series that miraculously maintains a consistent state of cohesion for a decade-long runtime. I’d recommend it if you want a shounen series that’s light on the fanservice, but I also just recommend it in general. The biggest issue will likely be the art if it doesn’t suit your tastes, but other than that this manga is a masterpiece through and through.

DuckTales 2017: The Reboot I Have Zero Nostalgia For

PREFACE: I know I’m supposed to be on hiatus, but I ended up backed up with way too many posts. I finished THREE more Oz books in this time, plus I decided to review Amphibia by each individual season. I also have a several that have been ready to go for months, but never had the time to publish them. Since I deactivated my Twitter, and don’t even read posts on my Facebook outside of the bands I follow (thank goodness they have a Favorites system), I should have no worries about spoilers for the Attack on Titan finale coming out very soon, especially since the final season of the anime is getting a part two.


Before we begin (Hooray! Another preface!), I have a confession to make. I was a sheltered nineties kid. I never watched Spongebob Squarepants until I was well into middle school because it and other cartoons were too extreme for me (and, well, because I would’ve probably mimicked some of the dangerous cartoon stunts and killed myself). As a result, there were a LOT of popular shows from the late 20th Century through the turn of the 21st Century that I never watched, and would always feel a little disconnected whenever my favorite YouTubers would discuss them at length. I never got to see Dexter’s Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, Wild Thornberrys, Hey Arnold… and even as a budding Disney fan, I never got to see DuckTales (I was only allowed to watch Mickey’s House of Mouse, among some of the stuff on Disney Jr. back when it was Playhouse Disney). But because I heard good things, I reluctantly dove into the 2017 reboot of DuckTales without any of the nostalgia and prior experience that I would’ve wanted to have going into it. Well, I suppose I can view it OBJECTIVELY then. Oh, by the way, since I know nothing about the old DuckTales or the other ‘90s Disney shows, I don’t know what’s new or old (also, I didn’t bother looking any of it up).

In DuckTales, Donald Duck is unemployed (not surprising). So, he dumps his three nephews onto his rich Uncle, Scrooge McDuck. The guy doesn’t give a rat’s arse about them… at least not until after they end up accompanying him to the lost city of Atlantis. After that, the boys go on all sorts of wild adventures with Scrooge (and plucky girl-duck, Webbey), where all kinds of hilarity ensues.

But it sure doesn’t feel that way sometimes. Similar to Gravity Falls, DuckTales has some semblance of an overarching narrative, but it’s disjointed in season one. Some early episodes end in unresolved cliffhangers, and made me do a double-take a couple of times. Fortunately, once season two starts, it’s practically a straight-up linear narrative, with episodes picking up from where the previous ones left off. Sometimes.

Unfortunately, the context of the thing is also not entirely clear. I figured that, as a reboot, it would have a number of nods and carry-overs from the original show for the sake of being faithful. However, the way everything is all reintroduced leads me to believe it’s a sequel. The villains clearly already know Scrooge, after all. At the same time, it could be a prequel, because it’s established as the first time in a decade that Donald speaks to Scrooge, plus it’s the first time that the triplets see Scrooge at all. Also, Daisy Duck is introduced in Season 3, and it is very apparent that they had never met her before. But then… how do you explain the lack of Webby and others in stuff like Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas? OR MAYBE it’s in a different universe entirely?! Regardless, DuckTales definitely expects you to be acquainted with Donald Duck, his three nephews, and Scrooge McDuck at the very least. If you grew up with a TV, then you probably passed that part.

So, enough about structure… is the SHOW actually any good?! The answer is a resounding “Yes, Definitely, Absolutely!” (Oh wait, wrong show…). DuckTales has the same modern and clever sense of humor that Disney has consistently been able to nail since the start of the 2010s (knowing what audiences find funny is part of being as mainstream as Disney). There are also some great meta commentaries, like the first Darkwing Duck episode, which is a commentary on reboots of popular I.P.s (and a commentary on the show itself as a result). The show also sets out to answer some of the age-old questions surrounding the cast… such as the identity of the triplet’s mother, Della Duck. Additionally, I’m pretty sure that this is the first time in Disney history that they started making fun of Donald’s… er… accent. Unfortunately, there is some melodrama at various points in this series, but it’s a bit more justified than Gravity Falls, as it helps resolve flaws that these beloved characters have had for decades. It’s so weird seeing new developments for these characters who’ve been around for so long… and I love it (and they probably did half of this stuff in the old show).

As expected, DuckTales has a large ensemble of memorable characters. Scrooge is pretty much exactly the same as he always was: daft, yet a freaking bad-ass. Donald is also the same, which I’m not complaining about, because… well… he’s been my favorite out of the three O.G.s for twenty years. I know he can be a big S.O.B., but I dunno, I always loved the guy. Also, whenever he enters his berserker state, it’s a show of force that should place him on any Top Ten Most Powerful Anime Characters list. Like I said before, he gets amazing new character development thanks to the whole Della thing, but you also get inside Donald’s head on a much more intimate level than ever before, and possibly the most in Disney history.

Most surprisingly, the triplets are legitimately enjoyable… at times. Huey, Dewey, and Louie were once all little turds who always caused trouble, but now they’re little turds who always cause trouble while having defined personalities. Huey’s brainy, Dewey’s reckless, and Louie is… er… unchanged. They also must’ve entered puberty, because they actually sound like people instead of high-pitched Donalds. They get great character development that helps resolve their shortcomings, which is why I thought this was a sequel, because they’re definitely turds all the way through in older stuff. Unfortunately, due to the fact that this is a Saturday morning cartoon, it hardly feels like they really grow. Louie can learn to not be a greedy jerk in one episode, but then proceeds to keep being a greedy jerk in another episode. These characters need to have poor judgement, or else… Who can teach our kids important American values?!

In addition to the main ducks, we have some newcomers… I think (this is what happens when you don’t watch the old show!). One of them is Webbey (whose grandmother is swole as all heck, and may or may not be in a doujin with Donald). She is literally Mabel from Gravity Falls (down to having a grappling hook), so I have no complaints here. What I do have complaints about is a girl named Lena that she befriends early on. While I have no problem with her personality, the audience is shown that Lena is in cahoots with one of Scrooge’s old nemeses (who I presume is carried over from the old show?). This results in, yes, an American Dragon-type situation, and if you read my old review of Marissa Meyer’s Renegades, you’d know how I feel about that. (at least that whole arc concludes by the end of season 1). 

Fortunately, there’s always a silver lining, and that lining is Launchpad. He’s basically Soos from Gravity Falls, except even more brawn-over-brain. His dialogue and lovable idioticness is always entertaining. In addition, there’s Scrooge’s kind-of-evil mad scientist, Gyro Gearloose. Gyro has an intern named Fenton, who ends up becoming a tokusatsu hero named Gizmoduck. A ways into season 2, Della does return to the McDuck household. Other than being—pardon my French—a hot mom, she doesn’t have much experience at being a mom, and she has a lot of character development to go through. They also integrate some obscure characters, such as the aforementioned Darkwing Duck, as well as the Three Caballeros, to introduce them to a new generation (and me). 

Unlike Gravity Falls, DuckTales has some great antagonists (Oh snap). Flintheart Glomgold (who I assume is a carryover?) is basically the Scottish villain from Kim Possible combined with Drakken from Kim Possible, making him a fun guy with hilariously over-the-top plans—I mean—schemes. There’s also the Beagle Boys (who are all brothers from a single mother), and Mark Beaks, a living incarnation of social media and clickbait. Oh right, and there’s Magica de Spell, who is just Duck Maleficent.

Disney doesn’t cheap out (well, not always). The animation in DuckTales is fluid, vibrant, and appealing, with a neat, comic book aesthetic. The new designs aren’t as jarring to get used to as the thing that I refer to as “Modern Mouse” (unless you can’t handle Donald’s EDGY, BLACK sailor suit). The instances of CG are pretty obvious, but that’s probably my anime-watching PTSD talking.

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Final Verdict: 9.75/10

This version of DuckTales has been fantastic from start to finish. Of course, it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely my favorite Disney Channel program (sorry, Gravity Falls). I recommend it if you want to see classic Disney characters in a new, modern light.

A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem: A Criminally Underrated Trilogy

American history can be one of the most boring subjects in school. If only there was a more fun way to learn about it, specifically about America in the late 19th Century. While not ENTIRELY accurate, Christopher Healy’s A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem series is perhaps one of the best historical fictions ever.

A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem stars Molly and Cassandra Pepper; a rare daughter and mother pair (respectively). Cassandra’s aspiring to be an inventor, and submit a machine to the 1883 World’s Fair. But you know, sexism, so… she’s SOL. When she and Molly break into the venue to sabotage a competitor’s machine, they discover a Dastardly Plot (book 1 title drop) to take over the world!

The story is incredibly simple. A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem is more-or-less an episodic trilogy where Molly and Co. go on adventures to stop the Saturday morning cartoon villain. There’s no real depth, but unlike those cerebral critics, I’m fine with that. Children’s media has evolved to where people aren’t afraid to expose them to horrific things, from sexual assault to racism to PTSD to the Holocaust, etc. But seriously, sometimes we just need to be entertained, especially since this generation is being exposed to social media, allowing news networks to beat all the despair in the world into their innocent little skulls. 

What brings this series to life is the amazing writing. The descriptions are vivid, and it’s so freaking funny. I don’t think I’ve ever LOL’d so consistently in a kids’ book series ever in my life! The pacing is also lightning quick, with sequences that would normally mark the end of an installment happening less than halfway through instead. Most importantly, the humor is absolutely on fire. But if you don’t like sarcastic comments, you might not enjoy this one.

The characters are also some of the best I’ve seen in Western fiction. Molly and Cassandra have great chemistry together, instead of the mom normally holding the kid back. The male lead is Emmet Lee, and since this is an inventor-themed series, I had to picture him as my boy Senku from Dr. Stone. Healy could’ve made real torture porn out of him, because he’s a Chinese-American living in a country that would ban Chinese immigrants at that point in history, but thankfully he didn’t. The biggest issue with the cast overall is that they sort of have the same delivery when it comes to comedy, despite all being different people…

…Well, except for my favorite character, Robot. Due to story events, an automaton made by Bell ends up gaining sentience, and Molly adopts it and names it Robot. He delivers some of the best lines in the entire series, in that robotic deadpan manner. And by the way, I can’t actually discuss the main antagonist, since they’re identity is a spoiler for book one. Just know that they’re the silly, mad-scientist-type villain.

If there are any real issues, it’s that there are snippets of that Disney-movie-trope of character-drama-that-you-know-will-inevitably-resolve-itself-because-it’s-too-light-hearted-to-not-do-so. Every instance is very short-lived, making it feel like the author put them in as a formality. Regardless, as the reader, you can choose to blitz through that crap and get back to the good stuff in a jiffy. There’s also kind of a bad case of virtue signaling, specifically with Feminism. I wouldn’t normally bring it up, but the difference here is that the story is good enough to not need to rely on the “Secret Club of Empowered Female Historical Figures.”

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Final Verdict: 9.45/10

I know that this is a really short review given that I covered an entire trilogy of books, but like I said before, A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem is a clear-cut, silly little ride. It’s absolutely fantastic (and most importantly, not pretentious… for the most part), and I loved it to the bitter end. I recommend it if you are uncultured enough to want to have fun.

Soul: Pixar’s Most Existential Film

I’m not one of those vocal people who thinks things like “2020 is the year of suffering” because of the media’s scare tactics regarding COVID-19, and their ability to withhold anything legitimately positive. Despite me knowing the actual facts about COVID, it was hard on me as well. Even as someone who’s not active on social media, I am around a number of people who are, and they happen to only focus on one side of the story. So yeah, I’ve broken into tears at least once a week all year. Overly long preface aside, Pixar decided to give us a Christmas present: Soul. I didn’t know what it was about, but I had to see it.

Mild spoilers in this paragraph, if you have no idea what the movie is about. In Soul, a man named Joe Gardner dreams of playing jazz with the big boys—wait, wrong movie—some lady named Dorthea Williams. He manages to land a gig, but dies on the way over to the venue. Now that he’s in purgatory, he’s gotta find a way back into his body. And his only ticket is in a literal wayward soul named Twenty-Two, who wants nothing to do with life.

Boy, this movie is sure… something else. First off, it’s definitely a twist for Disney to have a movie about one of its many, many, MANY deceased characters instead of someone who’s, well, alive. It’s kind of hilarious, actually. In any case, Pixar’s interpretation of the afterworld is more than just a world of never ending happiness where the sun shines both day and night; it’s that usual Pixar sense of imagination. Also, this movie shows just how much more lenient we’ve become with cursing in front of kids. They say the words “hell” and “crap”, which were more than enough to earn you a trip to the former back when I was a kid. Well, Disney was also the first to depict a clergyman and humanity itself in villainous roles in animated media, so… yeah.

Soul has your usual Pixar magic in terms of the storytelling. It knows how to bounce between being hilarious and emotional without feeling inorganic. This one knows how to hammer in the feels, but it gets bizarrely terrifying at times. It’s not outright horror; think along the lines of one of those psychological indie games like Arise: A Simple Story

Like any Disney or Pixar movie, Soul is definitely not new in terms of social commentary. Not to spoil it, but the takeaway is definitely something you’ve seen before, unless you’re literally the target demographic of the movie and have never seen it before. Once again, it’s something that anyone can relate to. Unfortunately, due to the fact that we HAVE to go to work and pay our bills, Soul‘s message will probably be forgotten as easily as the other times the message has been communicated.

The characters are some of the better in Pixar’s filmography. Joe Gardner is an interesting case, not just because he dies, but because he’s the oldest lead protagonist I’ve seen in a Disney animated feature. Given the nature of the movie, his journey is a bit more spiritual than most Disney flicks; definitely keeping up the trend of abandoning the tired “good vs. evil” themes of their past. As you can expect, his father is dead. Big surprise for Disney. But honestly, I feel like this is the first time a Disney parent’s death actually meant something to the plot since Bambi. That’s something at least.

Other than Joe, we have the aforementioned Twenty-Two, who’s the sarcastic and rambunctious type. She and Joe end up learning the same life lesson through each other. Running purgatory is/are a bizarre being named Jerry, along with what serves as the main antagonist: Terry. They’re pretty deadpan, but have some of the better lines in the movie. 

I shouldn’t even bother discussing visuals because Pixar pretty much always nails it. Soul is simply stunning, as good at looking both photorealistic and undeniably cartoony as any Pixar film. The movie does, at least, showcase some of the most abstract and experimental visuals I’ve seen in their entire career. Soul honestly feels like a Pixar short but as a feature film instead. I’d say that they did a great job considering COVID separated the whole team, but this movie was probably in post production since 2018.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Soul is one of the best Pixar movies I’ve ever seen. Everything about it is impeccably executed, and is definitely what the doctor ordered for this year. I recommend Soul if you want a straight-up great movie, especially if you’re a Disney fan.

And P.S.: Disney, can you please do the whole “release movies on Disney+ the same day they would’ve come out in theatres” more often, maybe forever?

Dragon Quest Builders 2: The Best Minecraft Clone

It might seem like I was pretty level-headed during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, but if you knew me in my personal life, you’d see that I was anything BUT that. I had literal panic attacks on a weekly basis, and in the aftermath, I’m now having to be practically held at gunpoint to remove my face mask, as opposed to putting it on. In addition to Covid anxiety, I realized that I didn’t have enough videogames that don’t stress me out . But then, I watched NintendoCaprisun’s Dragon Quest Builders video series, and saw what a great, superior clone of Minecraft it is. It didn’t take long for me to start playing Dragon Quest Builders 2 (henceforth known as DQB2), in hope of destressing my Covid woes.

In DQB2, a character that you name wakes up on a ship full of the Children of Hargon, a religious cult that formed in the aftermath of some other core Dragon Quest game. When you escape, you wash up on an island with a girl and this vampire-looking guy named Malroth. Since you have nothing better to do, you decide to turn the island into a pimp-ass kingdom.

I wasn’t fond of the story in the other Dragon Quest game I played, which  was Dragon Quest XI, but DQB2’s story made me LIVID. It has one of the tropes that triggers me with next to no exception: dramatic irony. Almost immediately, the game tells you that Malroth is secretly a bad guy, and it takes up to 80% of the game to reveal it. It’s so annoying, because they constantly have developments like “Whoa, why can’t Malroth build things? Everyone else and their grandma can build but not Malroth! How mysterious!” 

It gets worse than that. Based on DQXI, DQB1, and this game, Dragon Quest seems to love following clichés to the letter! While some of the dialogue is charming (specifically in the second chapter), it’s just… boring. The worst offender is the third chapter, where they’re all like “There’s a traitor here!” and stuff. At a certain point, it becomes incredibly obvious who it is, but they still play it off as if they were a galaxy-brain Impostor in Among Us. If there was a way to pre-emptively sus’ them out, that would be cool, but it seems that modern Dragon Quests do not care for multiple outcomes (which is ironic because Dragon Warrior had a very famous alternate outcome). 

The cast isn’t much better; DQB2’s characters make DQXI‘s look like Monogatari protagonists! The only character with any real arc is Malroth. And while I’d say his existential crisis is at least done relatively well, there is one annoying feature that offsets any good they did with him. Throughout the game, an omnipotent being screams “Haha you suck” in his head, and for some reason, you cannot advance its dialogue. These scenes objectively suck, and I have no idea why they had this unskippable dialogue that wasn’t even voice acted.

Well, I’ve been complaining about this game for three paragraphs, so let’s get to the good stuff already! DQB2 has some of the best Minecraftvania gameplay that I have ever experienced. There are so many different things you can build, it gets overwhelming at times. There’s also a lot of options to make it easier than in Minecraft. For example, you can learn a charged swing with your Hammer to take out big chunks at once, or use the Bottomless Pot to create bodies of water. You have the ability to switch between first and third-person perspective, which makes a difference when it comes to building. While you can use the L1 and L2 triggers to lock onto a position and hold R2 to make a lot of blocks in a row, first-person gives you more reach with your cursor. Furthermore, if you see an arrow appear next to a block, you can hold R2 to rapidly build a line of about eight blocks in that direction.

Another advantage that the DQB series in general has over Minecraft is Rooms. Placing objects in a closed off space can create a Room with a function built into the game. These really help make your bases feel alive and organic. DQB2 introduces the Fanciness and Ambience mechanics, which is determined by what items are placed in each room. They also add Sets, which are smaller, but serve their own functions. Some of them need to be placed within a Room to make a specific type of Room. There are some weird nuances with how the game considers Rooms, though. I learned that you can make the walls of a Room more than three blocks high, but any wall decoratives will only be considered part of the Room if they’re placed within the first two blocks up from the floor. It also acts weird if you have any part of the floor raised vertically, even if you put a staircase in front of it. 

Furthermore, the game has a better sense of progression than in DQB1. In DQB1, you had four self-contained islands where you started from scratch every time, down to your stats being reset to Level 1. Although someone confiscates your materials when advancing to a new story island in DQB2, you at least keep your stats and tools. Plus, the mechanics you learn have a much more cohesive sense of flow than in DQB1. In DQB1, there’s no real rhyme or reason; you get automated defenses and ores and have to re-gather existing ores and it’s weird. In DQB2, it’s more organized; the first island teaches you farming, the second teaches you mining, etc. I loved how this sense of progression was handled… to a point. As cool as the automated defenses are, they’re very short-lived. You go through a whole chapter to get them, but after that, you use them in a whopping ONE mob battle on your main island, and they’re never used again. Mob attacks on your main island straight-up STOP at this point, making them quite unnecessary.

Villagers also have a much more important role. A lot of rooms can compel them to do automated tasks, like cooking, and it really makes them feel like they’re working with you instead of you being their lapdog. This is further showcased when you inspire them to build things entirely on their own. And you’re gonna need that; you build some seriously colossal structures in this game compared to DQB1. Villagers are also more helpful in combat, plus you can give them weapons (which is your incentive to create multiples since they no longer break in this game). It can get annoying to keep track of who has what, but that’s alleviated once you can build an Armory, where they can automatically equip whatever item is stored in a chest. Also, whenever your base takes damage in a mob battle, they rebuild it in the aftermath.

Saving these other islands is well and good, but it’s all a means to an end; finding people to help build your main island. Between story bits, you help them with all sorts of tasks on your island to make it the kingdom of your dreams. In these sections, DQB2 feels like a sandbox game. I love combining mechanics from multiple islands into the same area (you get a total of three sections to manage on the main island). There’s also a ton of optional tasks that are well-worth your time. 

In addition to that, there are Explorer’s Shores. These are procedurally generated islands with exclusive resources. When arriving at one for the first time, you are tasked with examining specific objects. This can get frustrating, but a certain tool makes it relatively painless to find these objects. The issue with this is that finding more of those resources after-the-fact is a pain, because the aforementioned tool only works when the item is on your checklist. It’s annoying because one of the rarest ores in the game is hidden inside poison swampwater, which you can’t see through. I’ve had to painstakingly drain the whole thing with my Bottomless Pot, taking minutes just to find ONE deposit of that ore. In any case, your reward is an infinite supply of a certain resource, which is really helpful, mostly because that saves an inventory slot. 

And you NEED inventory slots. Colossal Coffers are nerfed, but early on, you obtain a Bag, which serves the Coffers’ function in DQB1. The Bag has seven pages of items, but it fills up shockingly fast. Even when being conscious of my inventory, I topped it off by the time I finished the final area. And as nice as these infinite items are, you have to constantly be aware of getting those items normally, in which you’ll have to open your Bag over and over again to delete them and save that inventory slot.

This is where some of the game’s issues come up. I love collecting resources, but I constantly felt overwhelmed with DQB2. You DROWN in resources in this game. When you have villagers doing multiple automated tasks, you end up having to check a lot of chests to see what they cooked up for you. The farm area of my island was always full of literally hundreds of crops. The only good way to get rid of some of these items is throwing them in Supper Sets, but I ended up having too many even with those in place. Even then, you never run out of Gratitude, which is earned by providing for your Villagers. You spend then on new recipes, but for a while, I still found myself well into the quintuple-digits with nothing to spend them on.

The big irony is that there are some resources you don’t have enough of. One thing I hated was raw meat. You can’t plant meat, so you have to kill these demon bunnies (among other things) to obtain it. They are common enough, but you need a LOT in order to cook food, or feed your pets (which can add up fast). Other things can be gathered in good quantities on trips to Explorer’s Shores, but meat always eluded me.

Let’s discuss combat now. DQB combat is pretty simple. You only have a sword slash, and a spin attack, and that’s it. While it can still get intense when they throw in specific mobs, DQB2 is pretty easy. The game also holds your hand on boss battles, but it’s not like it’s hard to figure those out anyway. The hardest parts of this game are likely the start of the story islands, since you have little resources and food. I wouldn’t complain about the game’s ease if it weren’t for the issue with your resource inflation. You get so many healing items because there’s two common enemies that frequently drop Medicinal Leaves, and you don’t NEED any healing items on the main island. While some of the later Explorer’s Shores do have pretty tough boss monsters, they’re not hard enough to justify having hundreds of Healing Herbs, nor taking the time to set up a ton of spike traps and stuff. Maybe there are secret optional mobs, but I could never find any such thing.

There are two more big flaws with DQB2, the first of which makes replay value a hard sell. At one point in the game, you are abruptly ejected from your main island and have to go through an agonizingly tedious segment that takes over an hour at best. While a similar arc in DQXI at least gives you some kind of story bits (even if it’s not much), the arc in DQB2 gives you nothing. It does give you some better context for the situation at hand, but it’s not really necessary information in the long run, plus it doesn’t develop any major protagonists involved.

The other flaw is that completion is asinine. One aspect is getting 100% on items; blocks, decoratives, cooking, etc. This gets crazy, because some items are blocks that you can’t obtain by mining them. You need to remember to use a specific tool to swap those blocks with blocks in your inventory to actually obtain them. Not only that, but there are a TON of Rooms and Sets that you aren’t told how to build. Despite how many options you have, some of them are pretty obtuse. While you are told what some of these optional Rooms are via Tablet Targets, it’s still not easy. There are also two cases of having to build a specific “place” in order to learn recipes, and since they aren’t Tablet Targets, you get no indication of what exactly the game wants. You can never tell if you are missing a decorative, or if you don’t have enough of a decorative that’s already in the room. Sometimes, one of your NPCs will occasionally tell you the requirements for a specific room, but it’s not enough to account for all the Rooms. The fun is in experimenting with stuff (I ended up building a Sculpture Gallery by accident during a story mission), but with how little time I have in my life, I don’t know how willing I am to complete the Builderpedia guideless. Also, I’m pretty sure the game has at least one missable item.

This game seems to borrow from DQXI and have a very substantial post-game. The world becomes your oyster, and you can build to your heart’s content. Three extra Explorer’s Shores are unlocked, and you get two new perks that really open things up. The first and most important one is the ability to spend that excess Gratitude to obtain any item you’ve collected before. This is a really good feature, and it can help with getting uncommon resources, as long as you’ve found it once. You also unlock the ability to craft the final Hammer upgrade, which has a very unique property. Basically, if it destroys an object that would turn into materials (like trees turning into wood), it will instead make the object itself into an item. This doesn’t really open much up in terms of crafting, plus you’ll also have to have your regular hammer take up a quick select slot if you actually want the materials. If you’re going for completion, keep in mind that you’ll need to strike crops with this hammer, for there’s a separate, decorative version of every single crop (including the rare ones) that count as different items. It does make your options extremely overwhelming, but it’s still a cool feature, and definitely helps if you really want to pimp up your island.

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Final Verdict: 9/10

Dragon Quest Builders 2 isn’t perfect, but overall, it’s a fantastic game. If you want a game that plays like Minecraft, but with more depth and the fact that the stuff you build matters, then this is the game for you. But seriously, if you want to go for completion, then godspeed, buddy.

Chainsaw Man: Too Seinen for Shounen Jump?!

It’s no secret that Weekly Shounen Jump has not had the best run in the late 2010s. The newest manga by Naruto’s author got axed, among MANY other 2019 and 2020 debuts. And when they actually had a good series, it would either end off on a bad note (Shokugeki no Soma), or one of its writers would end up being a felon (ACT-AGE). But one series managed to be a standout franchise until the bitter end: Chainsaw Man, published in English by Viz. I gave it a good word in my First Impressions. Let’s see if it’s held out.

In Chainsaw Man, a dreg named Denji makes a living by hunting devils, with the help of a chainsaw-dog-devil named Pochita. But “makes a living” can be read as “barely scraping by”, for he’s shouldering a serious debt from his late father. However, when he’s almost cut to pieces, he fuses with Pochita and becomes a chainsaw man, after which he is taken under the wing of Makima, a beautiful girl from an official team of devil hunters.

Chainsaw Man is, for the most part, a very straightforward manga. The plot is very traditional shounen at first: bad guy appears, kill it, then wait for the next one. Denji’s heart becomes a major MacGuffin, but we aren’t informed of why for a pretty long time. Things heat up in the second half, and by the final third, it goes absolutely berserk with insanity.

What makes Chainsaw Man a great manga is its characters. The mangaka takes common shounen tropes and puts a seinen twist on them with Denji and the people around him. Denji himself seems to be a generic, self-insert shounen protagonist, but he’s more complicated than that. He’s very attracted to women, but he at least tries to maintain his feelings for Makima, despite the amount of other beautiful women who tempt him. I don’t like using the word “human” to describe a character, but it’s done exceptionally well with Denji. He’s an innocent kid thrust into an adult world, and his simple-mindedness made me sympathize with him.

The other thing is that the women in his life subvert common conventions as well, especially with Makima. Us readers are informed very early on of how suspicious she is. But Denji doesn’t know any of it, and he’s naively in love with her. Unfortunately, she takes advantage of his love for her to essentially exploit him, which I think is a great commentary on the idea of waifus in general. 

Of course, Makima ain’t crap compared to Best Girl Power. She’s just… effing awesome. She’s like the best friend that you’re so close to that you just start busting each other’s chops. Her chemistry with Denji is one of the best I’ve seen in all of Jump. Sadly, I didn’t really care for the rest of the protagonists. For one, I forgot a lot of their names, which is a bad sign for me. Fortunately, the antagonists are as fun as they are plentiful. They have some of the more memorable character designs and personalities, especially compared to the supporting protagonists. 

Somehow, I went almost the entire review without discussing exactly why Chainsaw Man is big (or would be if it weren’t for Kimetsu no Yaiba). Weekly Shounen Jump has some cute girls with cleavage, but that’s usually about it; the magazine is for early-teens kids after all. Chainsaw Man, however, has R18+ stuff; pretty much everything except for female private parts are shown. The manga is full of extremely visceral gore, and one character just straight-up asks Denji if he wants to have sex. The fact that something like this ran in Jump is insane.

That’s where my biggest gripe with Chainsaw Man lies. Its whole thing is that it’s very mature for a Jump manga. But the thing is—and the reason why I’m posting this so soon—that Chainsaw Man is getting a part two in Shounen Jump+, home to a lot of seinen series, from Jigokuraku to World’s End Harem. As a result, Chainsaw Man loses the one thing that makes it stand out from its ilk. This was probably inevitable because, you know, minors.

Anyhow, the artwork is fantastic. It’s rough, and dirty, with some phenomenal action scenes, and a surprising amount of abstract panels late in the series. The managaka is also able to contrast such insanity with some genuinely heartfelt and emotional scenes. It’s going to be so sad to see this twisted beauty dumbed down in the upcoming anime.

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Final Verdict: 9.15/10

Chainsaw Man is one of my favorite Jump manga of the 2010s. It’s over-the-top, with a lot of quirky characters, and a very alluring charm. Seriously, how in the world did Kimetsu no Yaiba beat this?! I highly recommend Chainsaw Man to anyone who likes their battle shounen super dark and edgy. Hopefully, if Viz licenses the sequel, I’ll be doing a post or two on that!