The Eminence in Shadow Volume 1 Review

If you know my blog, you know I tend to like a good sociopath. As a critic, I don’t like Mary/Gary Sue; sometimes I want a protagonist like Light Yagami, who smirks and says “All according to keikaku.” However, I know not everyone feels that way, and that’s why I anticipate that The Eminence in Shadow (published in English by Yen Press) is going to become one of the most contentious new isekai.

Our protagonist idolizes those who operate from behind the scenes, and he dreams of being a puppet master himself. The biggest thing standing in his way is the fact that magic isn’t real in our world. After years of training, he gets hit by a truck, and is reborn in a fantasy world as Cid Kagenou. With his wildest dreams now in his grasp, he (very quickly) builds a harem of cute girls, and calls said harem the Shadow Garden.

The Eminence in Shadow reeks of shallow wish-fulfilment, and not just because of the harem. Similar to the Secret Organization LN I reviewed (that got axed apparently), Cid pulls a non-existent enemy out of his ass by fabricating the Cult of Diablos. The women he meets fall for it hook, line, and sinker. Or at least… I think that’s the case? The opening lines in the volume are as follows: “The Cult of Diablos… That’s our enemy. Well… it’s not like they actually exist.” However, from pretty much the get-go, they’re already fighting evil scientists who seem to very much be real Diablos Cult members. I don’t know if it was implied that Cid bribed them into doing it or something, or if it was an oopsie on the author’s part (or option C: I didn’t notice it because I’m a dimwit).

Putting that logic issue aside, Eminence is pretty entertaining. It has a dark sense of humor, and that stupid level of teen angst that’s fun to cringe at. The story reads fast, and there’s plenty of gore and over-the-top action. There’s also some funny romcom-like antics that ensue as Cid tries to blend in as a side character at his school.

Speaking of characters, Cid is my favorite thus far; he’s a clever, conniving little sociopath. He’s also a pretty unique take on an overpowered protagonist, since he’s overpowered at techniques rather than, well, power. But other than him, everyone else is quite forgettable. His entourage of women are your typical tropes, and they’re all Cid’s lapdogs. The only other remotely likeable characters are this sadistic princess, Alexia, and Gamma, one of Cid’s women who is somehow both a mastermind and a ditz at the same time.

The art in Eminence is great. It has an edgy color palette which fits in perfectly with its image, and the characters at least look cool, even if they aren’t particularly enjoyable. I’ll definitely be looking forward to what the future volume covers look like.

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Verdict: 7.65/10

Although it’s a bit confusing at times, The Eminence in Shadow is off to a great start. It’s edgy, trashy, and scandalous. For now, I recommend it to fans of similarly edgy franchises, like Persona.

May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace Volume 1 Review

Time travel is always a contentious topic, both in real life and in writing. While scientists debate whether or not it’s possible, writers explore its ramifications. The results of the latter, well, vary wildly. But sometimes, you don’t need to travel in order to change the past, which is the case in May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace, published in English by Yen Press.

In May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace, two nations- one in the east and one in the west- are at war, with the latter on the winning side. For a cadet named Rain Lantz, everything changes when the Fire Nation atta- I mean- when he meets a girl named Air Arland Noah. The bullets she fires are special; a killshot from these bullets results in the target’s erasure from past, present, and future.

While not a particularly interesting concept, Leaden Battlegrounds is essentially Steins;Gate but in a military setting. It’s pretty easy to suspend disbelief, since it’s set in a sci-fi fantasy world. All bullets have magical properties, but Air’s are one of a kind. They are called Devil’s Bullets, which will henceforth be known as D-Bullets, since it would be way too coincidental if they weren’t an intentional reference to Steins;Gate‘s D-Mail.

And similar to Okarin, Rain spams the D-Bullets like a Smash player using Kirby’s Down Special. For the time being, there doesn’t seem to be many cases of time-f***ery like there usually is. That’s kind of bad because it makes the light novel have no stakes, given how serious it takes itself. The D-Bullets are almost an excuse for Rain to never have to face any form of consequence. 

There are also a couple of issues that tend to plague most light novels, especially isekai (even though this isn’t one). There is some tonal whiplash, an example being a whole chapter of typical school antics (i.e. ecchi) that have no place in the story whatsoever. The author also gets exposition-happy, oftentimes reminding us that the D-Bullets erase people from existence at least once per chapter. There are also some examples of cheap shock value that appear to just arbitrarily elicit an emotional response.

But all things considered, Leaden Battlegrounds has some solid momentum. Other than the stupid ecchi chapter, there’s always some kind of new development and intrigue. Of course, being somewhat of a time travel narrative, it could fall apart quickly. But for now, I’m curious as to how things can play out from here.

Unfortunately, it has the usual crapshoot of bland characters. Rain is a pretty generic teen who sometimes feels like he’s better suited to be in a gag shounen (which may be symbolic of militarism or something but I digress). Air is basically the highest selling point of the book; a cute loli with the out-of-left-field trait of wanting to show Rain her panties. Everyone else is kind of just… there.

The art is middle-of-the-road. It’s appealing enough to make someone at least look at it, and that’s really enough when it comes to selling a light novel. I’ve definitely seen better, but Leaden Battlegrounds still has respectable visuals.

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Verdict: 8/10

May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace is off to a better start than most light novels I’ve read lately. But like I said before, there’s no telling where this story will go. For the time being, I recommend it to time travel and military science fiction fans. What are your thoughts on this volume? Leave a comment if you’d like!

Haikyuu!! Full Series Review

I was apprehensive about sports manga at first. Whenever I saw my father watch football, I was like, “Why are so many Americans’ entire lives defined by a game made for entertainment purposes?” (he says despite how videogames and stuff define his life). As a result, I never chose to read sports manga… until I read Haikyuu!!, published in English by Viz. With its rather lengthy run in Weekly Shounen Jump, simple story, and massive fanbase, Haikyuu!! has definitely become mainstream. But despite my aversion towards said mainstream, I think it deserves the praise.

In Haikyuu!!, a short boy named Shoyo Hinata dreams of becoming a volleyball champion. Despite his height, he has great reflexes and jumping skills. Unfortunately, in junior high, he is utterly schooled in a match against setting prodigy, Tobio Kageyama. In the aftermath of this humiliating defeat, Hinata attends Kararsuno Highschool, the same as his idol, the Little Giant. However… Kageyama ends up attending the school as well! With their abilities, they just might bring the school back from its long volleyball slump.

Like I said, Haikyuu!! is simple; straight as an arrow. Since it’s a sports manga, it’s an underdog story about a couple of young upstarts and their volleyball team. Compared to Eyeshield 21 and Kuroko’s Basketball, it’s really nothing special. But I always believe the execution is more important than the idea, and the execution is where Haikyuu!! delivers.

The best thing the series does is buildup. Haikyuu!! is really good at creating anticipation for upcoming matches. From Karasuno’s rival school, Nekoma, to the powerful Shiratorizawa, there’s a reason behind every fight. Unfortunately, there’s only so much that can happen in a volleyball match. It’s an inherent problem with sports narratives, but volleyball is literally just hitting and blocking a ball. Basketball and football at least have different directions and formations, while in volleyball, players are stuck on set sides of the court, and in a set position that rotates throughout the match. 

Furthermore, Karasuno’s team kinda sorta has plot armor in a sense, more so than in usual shounen manga. For the uninitiated to volleyball (myself included), the sport is played in sets. This basically means that all volleyball matches are a best two out of three (or three out of five in rare cases). From a writing standpoint, it’s a no-brainer for the really, really important matches in a volleyball narrative to last the full amount of sets. As such, I concede that the matches in Haikyuu!! aren’t too exciting during most of the early sets.

But once they hit that third set, it becomes a pure adrenaline rush. At that point, it’s easy to get fully immersed in Haikyuu!!, despite the pretty obvious plot armor. The climaxes of fights are when the manga is at its peak, and putting up with the other shounen tropes is well worth the payoff.

Even with the adrenaline rushes, Haikyuu!! wouldn’t have been the same if I couldn’t be invested in Karasuno’s volleyball team, which I’d consider to be one of the best teams in all of sports manga. Almost every one of its members has a definable personality trait, as well as some major hurdle to get over. This might be cliche, but the chemistry between Hinata and Kageyama is the best in the whole manga. Their clashing attitudes, and desire to one-up each other make them always entertaining to see.

I also must acknowledge some of Karasuno’s opponents. While the mangaka doesn’t flesh out every SINGLE member of those teams, they each have at least one or two memorable characters. They also go through the backstories of these teams during the matches with them, to hammer in the fact that Karasuno isn’t trying to beat an “evil volleyball team”, but a team of normal, likeable people who have the same aspirations that our protagonists do. It’s effective, but it gets kind of redundant over time.

Of course, no sports manga can be good without amazing art, and Haikyuu!! has some amazing art. While the artstyle looks disjointed and sketchy at first, the mangaka ramps it up to eleven when the emotional tensity warrants it. They’re also a master at gesture drawing, which really sells the power and speed of each shot. The panel flow is amazing, and always kept me on my toes; I never knew if a spike was actually going to count until the little scoreboard popped up in the panel.

However, there’s one last thing about Haikyuu!! that sets it apart from its contemporaries. But I can’t mention it without spoiling endgame content big time. On the flipside, it’s something that could make or break the entire series for you. As such, I made the following paragraphs the same color as the background. If you want to read the spoiler, then highlight the section of your own free will. Otherwise, skip to the end of the post.

A lot of sports manga- and Jump manga in general- are meant to be inspirational and lighthearted. They give hope to the underdogs out there, and have themes oriented around never giving up and achieving your dreams. However… Haikyuu!! is not a manga about success, but a manga about failure. Karasuno fails. Sure, they lose some early tournaments, but that always happens in sports manga. If the team loses, there’s usually some loophole in the tournament rules, or a magical secret tournament that they can use to reach some sort of glory. But that doesn’t happen with Haikyuu!! Karasuno FAIL-fails. Even after the third-years graduate, the first-years are not able to avenge them. Despite my aversion towards cynicism, I actually love that this happened. I have mad respect for the mangaka for taking such a big risk with a mainstream I.P. like this. I have no idea if any sports manga has ever done this before (except Hikaru no Go, but that manga doesn’t count because it’s not very good and it doesn’t go into any sort of aftermath either), but Haikyuu!! does it really well.

I know, I sound like a hypocrite, saying that this tonal shift is a good thing. It makes me sound like the people (*cough* Western critics *cough*) who say that cynical narratives are more “realistic” because “people don’t achieve their dreams by force of will alone” and that “life is meant to be miserable”. Normally, when we see a cynical narrative, it’s a long process of seeing the main character fall into pieces and wax poetic about how “suffering is the only truth in the world”. But Haikyuu!! takes cynicism and twists it into something truly unique. Instead of wallowing in misery, the cast of Haikyuu!! just… lives. Haikyuu!! is about being able to make like a cat poster and “hang in there” even if you never achieve your dreams. Sad to say, I do truly believe that a lot of people can never achieve their dreams, just because of how our society works. But that doesn’t mean you kill yourself. That’s the lesson. The final arc of Haikyuu!! is just adult Hinata having fun playing volleyball with new and old friends. Narratively, it’s not very exciting, but it ends in the best way possible: a rematch between Hinata and Kageyama, using all the skills they’ve learned throughout the course of the story.

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Haikyuu!! is an amazing manga, and is definitely among one of my favorite Jump manga of all time. It’s more grounded than most shounen, so I can more easily recommend it to critics. For once, Haikyuu!! actually deserves swimming in the mainstream, and I’m glad that a lot of people love it.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II Full Game Review

PREFACE: In case you do not already know, I should warn you the Trails of Cold Steel Franchise is explicitly designed to be played in chronological order. No, it doesn’t have a stupidly convoluted plot like Metal Gear or Kingdom Hearts, but this is nonetheless a direct continuation of the first game. As such, this review will contain unmarked spoilers of the first game. I will also not explain any basic mechanics of the first game, as you are expected to know already from playing it. If you are interested in this franchise, click on this link to read my review of Trails of Cold Steel I.


Intro

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has its strengths and weaknesses, but overall, it was never meant to be a full game; no, it exists solely to lay down the groundwork for a truly epic tale, spanning four massive games. I was more engaged in the story of Cold Steel than any JRPG I’ve ever played, and it was definitely one of the best turn-based JRPGs in terms of gameplay. With that ridiculous ending- Crow being one of the main antagonists, mechs existing, Crossbell’s declaration of independence, mechs existing, Ouroboros and Fie’s old squad have been helping the Noble Alliance pull all the political strings, MECHS EXISTING- my body was beyond ready for the sequel. The first Cold Steel set the expectations, now it’s up to The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, to meet said expectations.

When we last left our intrepid hero, Rean Schwarzer, he- in his mech, Valimar- was forced to leave his buddies in Class VII behind during a losing battle against Crow, the leader of the Imperial Liberation Front. A month later, Rean wakes up on a mountain range with Emma’s mysterious cat, Celine. Now it’s time for him to make like a battle shounen protagonist and pick himself back off the ground and find what’s left of Class VII! 

Same World, New Problem

Immediately, the game starts off way sadder than Cold Steel I (even if the opening sorta ruins it a little by showing that EVERY student in Class VII is still alive). As soon as you start the game, the familiar title card appears dark, with the words singed by fire. A minor-key remix of the original game’s titlescreen music plays, and zooms in on Rean’s unconscious body. His voice actor sounds much more distraught than usual at first, and his portrait in the menu looks like someone who’s been through hell and back. Then, mere minutes after you find respite in his hometown of Ymir during the prologue, the town gets attacked. In most JRPGs, I’d say that an opening like this would constitute little more than shock value. But since this is a continuation of an existing story, it’s actually more effective, since you’re likely to be invested in the story if you’re picking up this game up after playing the previous one.

If you’re still new to the series, and you’re STILL reading this review anyway, I should SERIOUSLY warn you that the game basically gives you the finger for not starting from the beginning. There are two reasons why it’s seriously important to start from Cold Steel I, and the first of which is merely because it will be way too overwhelming if you don’t. The title screen does have a menu to read a recap of the first game, but honestly, the first game is so involved, you’d spend hours of Cold Steel II trying to memorize everything while trying to follow the present plot. 

But even for a returning player, it can be confusing knowing who’s on what team. So here, I’ll remind you. The Imperial Liberation Front is in cahoots with Fie’s old jaeger squad, Zephyr, who both report to Duke Ceyenne, the leader of the Noble Alliance. Ouroboros is with them as well, but Sharon seems to be a double agent; someone on both our and their side. Vita, the sexy sorceress lady, seems to be in a third group, containing space wizards (or something) who’ve been working on a completely separate thing. 

I pointed out that you need to keep in mind that Cold Steel I is the start of a larger story in order to enjoy it. In Cold Steel II, you need to keep in mind that it’s a continuation of a larger story. As a result, there are a lot of reused assets. While the world is big enough that you do get to visit areas that have only been mentioned, there are times where you return to old places. It really plays on your nostalgia bug, like at the start of chapter one, which has you go through a previous Field Study dungeon backwards.

Unfortunately, playing this game has kind of broken my immersion when it comes to Erebonia itself. Cold Steel I was split into multiple, self-contained areas, connected by long train rides. This was an effective way to make you use your imagination, and imagine the grandiose scope of the world. However, in Cold Steel II, you end up taking the roads that connect various areas in foot… and this is where the immersion breaks. It’s as soon as you set foot into Trista Highway for the first time that it’s made apparent; those train rides that took hours of in-game time were the alternative to roads that took minutes to traverse. It’s a nitpick, I know, but Erebonia definitely feels less Tolkienian since the world feels so much smaller now.

As far as the narrative is concerned, it’s actually… kind of lacking for a direct continuation, especially after an ending like Cold Steel I. Similar to how the first game’s purpose is to acquaint us with the world of Erebonia and all who inhabit it, Cold Steel II starts by reacquainting us with it, and seeing how much has changed as a result of the war. But even after the point where the story is supposed to ramp up, most of the game boils down to reclaiming areas from the first game, and gaining more support. It’s satisfying to do, but you don’t learn much about the core narrative, at least not until around the 75% point of the game, when it vomits information at you like any JRPG would.

The biggest issue with the narrative is that it never ends. After you defeat what is very much intended to be the final boss (which took me two and a half hours by itself because there’s, like, five phases), you end up playing a side section that serves no purpose other than to get players interested in another franchise set within the same universe (which, I’ll admit, was pretty darn effective, even if those games aren’t released in the U.S.). And then, you get an entire in-game day’s worth of content to do. AND AFTER THAT, the true final dungeon appears for no discernible reason. It got so annoying. The issue is that this game hypes itself up to be the conclusion of Cold Steel, and while it does a pretty good job at conveying that on an emotional level, it is very watered down by the known presence of two more games.

Same Faces… Plus a Few New Ones

Fortunately, there’s a surprising amount of stuff to learn from the characters. We get closer looks at characters like Claire and Sharon, and even deeper looks at the students of Class VII. I love them even more than I did before. To think that I brushed most of them off as bland anime tropes at first… that’s character development at its finest. I’ve grown so attached to them, that I even gave some of them nicknames, such as “Reany-Beany” and “Useless Jusis” (even though the latter is my favorite of the supporting male characters).

We also get more development on the antagonists, such as Crow. Plus, there are some interesting new antagonists with quirky personalities, such as the cocky yet socially awkward Duvalie, and the sleepy McBurn. Unfortunately, Duke Cayenne proves to be a pretty one-dimensional villain for the post part.

Audiovisuals

Unsurprisingly, Cold Steel II‘s graphics aren’t too different from the first game. I shouldn’t have expected them to be since it’s both the same system and the same world, but I still had to mention it. But one thing I didn’t acknowledge in my review of the first game is that a lot of the animations for attacks, especially S-Crafts, have aged very well. They look soooooooo animeeeeeee!

The soundtrack is also more-or-less the same. A lot of tracks are reused, but there are also some new, updated battle themes. Unfortunately, a lot of tracks overstay their welcome. One bad example is that there’s a point where you tackle four dungeons in quick succession, and music for all of them is some really grating opera. Furthermore, the previous game’s issue of “having the dungeon theme play over the battle theme because it’s INTENSE” comes back even more in this game. And similar to the other example, those themes get reused as well.

Gameplay (Intro)

For the gameplay section, I will still split it into Daily Life and Deadly Life. But like I said before, I will go over mechanics as if you’re already familiar with the first game. I will also bring up the fact that this version of the game, Relentless Edition, SPOILS you. First off, the amazing Turbo Mode feature is still present. Second off, you get WAY more items in the DLC than last time, including 99 U-Materials. 

Before we start, I must also bring up the other important reason to play Cold Steel I first. When starting a new game of Cold Steel II, you will be asked if you want to load Clear Save Data from Trails I on your system. Doing this will give you items based on Rean’s previous Academy Rank, and change dialogue based on various accomplishments, as well as the person you chose to dance with at the end of Cold Steel I (G.G. for anyone who chose Crow). It felt really satisfying to have my actions acknowledged, and it helped maintain a sense of continuity.

Daily Life

JRPGs Always Need an Airship

So, the first question I- and probably a lot of people asked- going into Cold Steel II was, “Without Thors, how’re we gonna have the same school mechanics?” Well, the answer is a minor spoiler, and one that is spoiled in the game’s intro at that. After a certain point, your main base of operations is on the Courageous.

But the problem with the Courageous is that it needs some help. Fortunately, scattered throughout the world are your fellow peers from Thors. Whenever you see them, it is encouraged to recruit them to the ship, as many of them unlock new facilities. Most of these are carry-over mechanics from Cold Steel I, so I will only discuss new things here.

For starters, there’s new training facilities. These are basically your Practical Exams from Cold Steel I, except you can do them whenever. They are split into Melee, Range, and Arts, where you are locked into using characters who are built around those fighting styles. The biggest issue with them (other than how stupid hard they get) is that you don’t get to prep anyone before the fight itself like you can in the first game. Furthermore, you don’t get to see the conditions until the battle starts, which can be annoying.

There’s also the new Triple Tri- I mean- Blade II. This game plays like the first one, but with meaner trap cards: Blast and Force. Blast Cards allow you to destroy a card in your opponent’s hand (but you can’t look at it), and Force Cards double your total. Even with how game-breaking these new cards are, I still lost 95% of the time because I suck. 

Once you recruit Munk, you are able to bribe him to apply to radio contests on your behalf. There’s a cheap one where you win a modest prize, and a high-risk, high-rewards one. The results come in after five battles (excluding the training facilities in the Courageous), so make sure you use it before you go out into a combat area.

“Hey, Rean! Have you finished those errands?”

Quests are pretty much unchanged, except with the added feature of reporting manually by Skyping Olivert. And despite the hard times, people can afford to pay up. In addition to the usual rewards for completing a quest, you get a monetary donation for reporting it. There are still hidden quests, and they are sneakier than ever. Some require you to have or not have certain people in your party (but I have no idea if the game indicates it to you because I was always lucky enough to already have met the conditions).

But unlike the first game, you cannot miss ANY quests if you want to max out your Academy Rank. Last time, I missed three and still barely got it. But now, even after doing every quest (with the trophy to confirm it), I ended the game with only ONE excess AP. There is only a sliver of leeway, as I didn’t get all S-Ranks despite getting all quests. I guess some of them had more favorable outcomes and I didn’t realize it. Fortunately, due to the game’s circumstances, there are no exams this time! Yay!

You Never Have Enough Sepith in This Game

One thing I noticed in Cold Steel II was that everyone’s Arcus slots are still fully opened. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. In this game, you spend Sepith to UPGRADE your slots, and I blew through most of my DLC Sepith just to be barely close to maxing out one character. If you don’t do this, you can’t equip rare quartz. It’s annoying, but they had to change it up somehow. As a side note, you eventually get the ability to create EX Orbs, which are equipped to Valimar to boost its stats.

Wow, this game has an actual overworld!

The most standout improvement in Cold Steel II is the ability to go to older areas at will. The Courageous makes it really easy to do so, and you can leave from almost any point on the map. There are times where you will be asked for specific party members, but fortunately, summoning the Courageous from the overworld allows you to reorganize your team without having to leave and come back.

So, what did Cold Steel II do to replace the Old Schoolhouse? Peppered throughout the world are these strange shrines. Gameplay-wise, they’re the same as the Old Schoolhouse; do the floor, beat the boss. You can’t complete them at first, but you obtain bonus AP for knocking out what you can early on (plus they got good loot in them).

The whole Courageous thing is the best and worst aspect of the game. It does open up a lot stuff, and adds much variety when you’re running errands for people. One thing I noticed is that there aren’t as many hidden quests once you obtain the Courageous (in fact, I only had one in Act 2 Part 4 and one in the Final Act), which is nice. However, this new level of accessibility makes it so that you can get said missable items out of sequence. And it’s not based on the order that the areas come up in the story; for example, a single shop can have both the first recipe and last book chapter of that particular time bracket. As a result, I think I spent even more time repeatedly talking to the same NPCs over and over again than I did last time.

Saving the World? Nah, I’d Rather Fish and Cook

Cooking and fishing have both been buffed since last time. While fishing is mechanically unchanged, fishing spots get marked on the map after being used once, which is nice. And due to the ability to travel to older areas, you get a lot more respawning fishing spots that you can use. Unfortunately, this also means completing the fishing is a nightmare. In Cold Steel I, all fish eventually end up in Trista. However, that’s not the case here. Furthermore, the fishing locations don’t respawn as quickly as they should, meaning that you’ll need more groundbait than ever (or save-scumming) if you want to get all the fish… on top of having to try each and every location without knowing which one has a fish you missed. In fact, I resorted to looking up the fish just to save time. But hey, at least recipes are only cooked by one character now, which simplifies the process of getting a specific type of dish.

Nakama Power, the Most Important Superpower in Any Anime

Bonding Events are much more important in this game. While there are some Bonding Events early on, the bulk of them take place on Stopover Days that occur at the end of a chapter once you obtain the Courageous. Unlike the first game, EVERY party member, as well as Alfin and Towa, are available to spend time with. While you get more Bonding Points than last time, it’s not enough to make it easier to decide. “We’ll, it’s not gonna kill me if I don’t know EVERYTHING about EVERYBODY,” you think. We’ll, you might just want to save-scum to view every event, because Bonding Events have a new and trollish effect. Some SPECIFIC events will allow a character to learn new abilities earlier than they would’ve from levelling up, which is kind of annoying. I only saw one of these particular events, and the game doesn’t even tell you about them in the first place.

There’s also the case of Final Bonding Events. These are exclusive scenes between Rean and assorted characters towards the end of the game. In order to unlock a character’s Final Bonding Event, you must get their link level to its second-highest level, which is now six out of seven (technically, it only needs to be up to five and a half or so since finishing Act 2 boosts everyone’s links by 1000), as well as fulfill specific other conditions. You can also have Towa and Alfin in line for this, but you will need to do every single Bonding Event with them in order to be able to satisfy the conditions with them. Fortunately, the game will tell you when you have an opportunity to satisfy one of said conditions, which is something much appreciated that most JRPGs don’t bother doing. Also, once you recruit Beryl, you can use her services to confirm with whom you have met the conditions for. Unfortunately, when the time comes, you can only do one per playthrough, so save-scumming at that point is essential. It is also impossible to meet the conditions with everyone at once. This means that you will have to play through again in New Game+ to see everything (which you would’ve had to do anyway to complete the character notebook entries).

What is this, Sonic Adventure 1?

A new mechanic is snowboarding. Throughout the story, you unlock new courses to snowboard in. Beating these gets you great prizes, but like in any videogame, it gets really difficult late on.  In addition to snowboards, you also get to ride Angelica’s bike. It can be used almost anywhere and greatly makes up for the lack of fast travel points on highways.

Deadly Life

A Steep Learning Curve Just got Even Steeper

Here’s the final reason as to why Cold Steel II does not like newcomers: All the combat mechanics learned over the course of more than half of Cold Steel I… is taught all at once during the Prologue. So seriously… if you’re somehow still reading this and not familiar with the series. FOR THE LOVE OF AIDIOS, PLAY COLD STEEL I

For returning players, this brings some immediate positives. In Cold Steel II, every character has all their Craft and S-Craft from the first game. Your Link levels are also higher at the start, with Rean starting at Link Level 2 with everyone. This at least makes it easier for returning players to get reacclimated to the game.

A new mechanic is Overdrive. Use this between a pair of Linked characters to give them a free heal, and a set of three free attack turns with no delay. This also guarantees Unbalancing. The gauge fills by doing things in battle, but it fills up much faster based on your tactical bonuses at the end of a battle. Unfortunately, only people paired with Rean can do it…

…at first. New to Cold Steel II are Trial Chests. These chests make a set pair of party members fight a tough battle. But as a reward, you get great items, a heap of Link XP for that pair, and unlock the ability for them to use Overdrive together. It’s a great way for characters that aren’t Rean to get large amounts of Link XP, since the bonding events from Cold Steel I kinda threw off the balance of everyone’s link levels (but it still ends up being way off-balanced).

Mech Battles Before Xenoblade X Made it Cool

My biggest concern when it came to combat was how Cold Steel II would expand on the Divine Knight (a.k.a. mech) battles. Introduced during the final boss of Cold Steel I, mech battles felt very stressful and iffy. Basically, mech battles were a game of rock-paper-scissors, where you had to attack a section of the target that was weak- the head, the body, or the arms. Attacking a weak point resulted in a crit, which allowed you to press X for an immediate Follow-up, and after obtaining three Bravery Points, you could use a powerful Finisher (basically an S-Craft). The catch is that the weakness changed based on the enemy’s stance, which resulted in having to memorize a lot of combinations. Attacking the wrong spot could result in getting the attack blocked, or worse, evaded. This, as always, gives enemies the chance to counter. You also couldn’t Impede attacks that enemies were charging up last time, even if you inflicted a crit, so you were basically screwed.

Fortunately, Cold Steel II greatly fixes some of these issues. The game adds a Defend command, which allows you to greatly reduce damage and recover a small chunk of HP. But one of the best additions by far is the fact they show the Unbalance Efficacy of each piece- in each stance- after you attack it once. THANK YOU.

Although Rean is on his own in mech battles, his buddies can at least help with EX Arts. Basically, you have another character who takes their own turn in the fights. When it’s their turn, you can have them cast some EX Arts, the nature of which are determined by the person. This greatly fleshes out the mech battles, plus every person has a charge function to restore Valimar’s EP (which doesn’t really justify the parts of the game where you wait for him to recharge…). You also have a Unity Attack that you can do with five Bravery Points.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

Rean also gets some significant boosts in this game. After a while, he is able to summon Valimar to regular battles for three turns, and is able to activate his Super Saiyan form at will. These can be very useful in some super-tough battles, especially if you play it on Nightmare difficulty.

One new feature is the optional bosses, the Cryptids. These enemies appear throughout the world after certain points in the story. Defeating them nets you a rare quartz containing a Lost Art. These Arts are really powerful, but consume all of a character’s EP. Fortunately, they are affected by the Zero-Arts turn bonus, which can seriously save your bum. I didn’t use them too often, but I imagine they are essential in Hard and Nightmare difficulties.

Either This Game is Hard… or I Suck

If it wasn’t obvious enough that this game alienates newcomers, they also make it much harder than Cold Steel I. I died way more often than before, and in this game I actually knew what I was doing. They really expect you to have mastered the turn order system, along with all the other mechanics, ‘cuz the kid gloves are off this time! The game also introduces a rare case of enemy attacks that ignore and remove all buffs, and some of these attacks happen to be their strongest attack. The Zeram Capsule + Moebius setup I utilized in the last game made its final dungeon a joke, but that same setup was a necessity in this game. If I hadn’t gotten forty of them as DLC, I would’ve been sunk.

Fortunately, I learned some important things about the series that I didn’t know last time. Stat changes do stack in Cold Steel, which I honestly should’ve noticed before. Also, Evasion is a broken stat in this series, especially if you give your most dodgy character (preferably Fie) the Wrath Quartz, which makes all counterattacks crit. I also had her paired with the Master Quartz, Mirage, which adds a good chance of evading magic. This game was my first time trying an Evasion build on a character; I’ve always prioritized defense in JRPGs in the past. Furthermore, Speed is immensely important, as it reduces characters’ Delay between turns, which again, is something I should’ve known last time.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Trails of Cold Steel II is a massive improvement over the first game in almost every way (except strictness, and knowing when to roll credits). At this point, I am hooked on this story and I fully intend to see it to its end (and pray that I get the True Ending of the fourth game). However, I am concerned about the third game. Based on the one thing I know about it, it feels like it will be a step backward for the series. Well, with my job opened back up, you won’t know how I feel about it for a while. Anyways, as far as recommendations for Trails of Cold Steel is concerned, I think it’s definitely worth giving a shot, even if you are uncomfortable with missing things. The game is good at letting you know when you’re at a cut-off point, making it a lot less stressful than most JRPGs.

Last Round Arthurs Volume 1 Review

Pulling inspiration from the legend of King Arthur, and battle royales… these are two things that have been done A LOT in entertainment media. But what happens if you combine the two? The result is a light novel series called Last Round Arthurs: Scum Arthur & Heretic Merlin (published in English by Yen Press)… and one that I’m very late to reading.

In Last Round Arthurs, there is a magical, man-made island called Avalonia. Hidden here are four relics that have the power to revive King Arthur himself. One out of eleven of his descendants-called Kings- must fight and obtain the four relics in order to become the next Once and Future King. A boy named Rintaro Magami transfers to Camelot International High School to serve the weakest and most… morally incorrect King, Luna Artur. Together, they just might win this thing.

Right off the bat, Last Round Arthurs seriously commits to the King Arthur theme. The Kings’ swords are called Excaliburs (except that Luna sold hers off for money). Additionally, each King has a Jack assigned to them. Jacks are basically the spirits of actual Round Table Knights, and can be summoned at will (except Luna sells her Jack’s body for money). Even the writing of the novel is inspired off of the pretent- I mean- poetic Old English style from ye old days of Yore and Yesteryear.

The main purpose of this volume is to familiarize us with the rules of the succession battle, as well as the lore of the world itself. Last Round Arthurs is relatively sparing with exposition dumps, and does a good job of easing readers into the story. The fights are fast-paced and intense, but lean a lot more towards spectacle than, well, actual thought. It’s typical battle shounen stuff, which can be a deal breaker to some people.

But the most divisive deal breaker is in the cast. For some reason, critics seem to want this impossible Goldilocks Zone of morality in protagonists; if they’re too good, then they’re a Mary/Gary Sue self-insert character (like Tanjiro from Kimetsu no Yaiba), and if they’re too bad, then they’re an insufferable narcissist (like Ranta from Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash). If you couldn’t tell from the title saying Scum Arthur in it, this volume’s main protagonists fall into the latter.

Best Girl Luna is as scummy as her ego is large. Like I said before, Luna uses her Jack, Sir Kay, to extort money from the other students. Her eccentric, tomboyish personality makes her a blast to be with. Kay, unfortunately, exists to be the fanservice character. As the weakest of the Round Table knights, she doesn’t do much in battle, either.

But the same can’t be said for Rintaro Magami. They try to make him a subversion of the overpowered protagonist by having him be an outcast as a result of how good he is at everything. But as a result, he ends up being the “dejected guy who’s conveniently saved by the girl”. Fortunately, he has great chemistry with Luna. Plus, he’s got a great ego of his own.

I can’t say that the rest of the cast is particularly likeable. The only other character of interest is Tsugumi Mimori, the leader of the school’s Ethics Committee. She’s one of Luna’s many enemies, and it’s crazy to see how badly she wants Luna destroyed. But yeah… everyone else I’ve seen so far is kind of boring.

Last Round Arthurs looks a lot more like a manga than a light novel. The textures are simple, but the linework has a nice style to it. The coloring for the cover art is also pretty nice as well.

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Current Verdict: 8.75/10

Last Round Arthurs starts with a great first impression. It’s mindlessly fun, with a lovable pair of anti-heroes at the helm. I recommend it to fans of battle royales and shounen.