Garden Story: The Cutest Game of 2021?

A couple of months ago, I signed up for my own Steam account! I’m still learning Steam, so I don’t know how to find other users. In any case, my username is “WeebPleizGamezHere”; you’ll know it’s me because it has my same blog logo. Anyway, from the brief time I’ve been on Steam, I noticed that its discovery queue is perhaps the most accurate algorithm I have ever seen. For instance, it actually recommends things I might like that I would have never heard of! And one of those is Garden Story. It has everything I like, from whimsical graphics, to the satisfaction of restoring an area to—and beyond—its former glory. So without further ado, let’s talk about it!

In Garden Story, the lovely grove the game is set in has a problem known as the Rot. These are not adorable, marketable Totoro things from Kena: Bridge of Spirits, but rather an assortment of ugly gross things. They’re bad, and one young grape named Concord ends up shouldering the burden of having to restore the entire effing grove.

Immediately, Garden Story shows off that distinctively indie-game-like charm with its whacky, cartoon-like writing. Unfortunately, the story is pretty typical for the most part. It’s nice, and suits the game for the kind of experience it wants to be, but if you want your mind blown then Garden Story will fall short. The characters aren’t the selling point either. They’re likeable, but don’t really stand out as far as indie games are concerned.

Fortunately, it’s still easy to get lost and immersed in Garden Story‘s grove. Thanks to the simple and vibrant pixel-artstyle, and chill midi soundtrack, there is plenty of incentive to just relax. In fact, the Steam page for the game encourages doing just that!

But as relaxing as it is, Garden Story has plenty to do. Like in many games of its kind, you’ll be whacking stumps and rocks to gather resources to do all sorts of fun stuff. As expected, you progressively unlock different types of weapons to buy and use in combat. Every action consumes stamina, which needs time to replenish.

Before you think that this game is a shallow Stardew Valley wannabe, then read this paragraph. One way that Garden Story shakes things up is with different types of Dews. They mainly restore HP, but can have a wide variety of used effects. Also, weird orb thingies are scattered throughout the grove, and when broken with the proper weapon type, drop permanent stat buffs. The weird nuance with them is that some will say “Concord needs a stronger tool”, when in actuality, you can break them with a charge attack if the weapon is upgraded enough.

Another thing that Garden Story does is the Memory system. Concord will gain memories through fulfilling specific conditions, and an unlocked Memory can be assigned to his… hippocampus (or something?) to apply great perks, from stat buffs, to new combat techniques.

Building is… unusual in this game, and I mean that in both a good and bad way. The resources needed to craft buildable objects actually have to be stored in a chest. One nice feature is that Wood and Stone are essentially treated as currency, as they have their own compartments in which they can stack up to 9999 times. Unfortunately, built utilities can only be placed in limited locations. Planting crops is tied to specific spots as well, but at the very least, you only have to water them once, and can be left alone while they grow.

One of the biggest issues with Garden Story is no doubt its slow start. A lot of the rudimentary mechanics I’ve explained aren’t even doable until quite a ways into the story. Furthermore, you start off with two Stamina blocks, which is really gross. Upgrading Concord’s stats, especially his Stamina, is essential for the flow of the game, otherwise it’s a chore; I already dread the whiplash of returning to the grove with a new file (good thing I never have enough time for stuff like that). 

Inventory management can also appear to be kind of yikes. Items do not stack in Concord’s inventory. This can be alleviated by placing as many chests throughout the world as possible. However, items in chests can only be stacked fifteen times. And I don’t mean that you stack fifteen, and the sixteenth one starts a new stack; I mean fifteen of a given item type, PERIOD. But despite these very bad-sounding choices, Garden Story actually feels designed around these constraints. I honestly didn’t have a problem with inventory management as I thought I would.

Garden Story looks super simple and adorable, yet it caught me off guard several times. In addition to the limited Stamina early on, the enemies are deceptively annoying. Most notably are actually the super-basic regular blobs. When defeated, a core spits out, which needs to be struck to defeat the enemy for good. However, they bounce around and can damage you or inflict status effects. I’ve had a single one of these cores reduce me from full to half HP numerous times.

What I ended up enjoying the least was getting completion. Normally, games of this kind are tedious, but since Garden Story is so compact and streamlined, I figured it would be easy. And while completing the four libraries and finding all of Concord’s Memories is more than doable, maxing out every Village’s stats is the real problem. They cap at Level 5, and the transition to that from Level 4 is significantly longer than any other level gain. It doesn’t help that this will require repeat runs through the game’s dungeons, and the problem there is that it resets the puzzles AND bosses every time. Fortunately, upgraded weapons can make rematches go real fast.

But perhaps the biggest issue with Garden Story is that it doesn’t exactly feel rewarding to finish. There is a post-game, but all it gets you is the fifth and final Jar; nothing else changes in terms of content. Also, there are no Steam Achievements for things like completing libraries, maxing village stats, or getting all Memories. Furthermore, I’ve learned the coldest, hardest truth of all: that there is no Steam Badge for getting 100% Achievements in a given game.

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Final Verdict: 8.6/10

I’ve knocked games for being overly simple, but for some reason, I loved Garden Story from beginning to end, flaws and all. It’s one of those games that are just “nice”. I can’t really describe it any other way. One of the things that definitely offsets the game’s issues is its very reasonable ~11-15 hour length to finish. In the end, you’re the only one who can decide if you’d like this game. Now you know what you’ll be getting into.

ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero: More Like “The All-Caps Hero” (First Impressions, Volumes 1 and 2)

I’m not one to normally read a new series just over a year after serialization. My first impressions of ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero consist of the first two volumes, but that could end up being half or two-thirds of the story. A lot of manga, especially battle shounen, tend to get axed as swiftly and mercilessly as a Danganronpa character. But sometimes you gotta live life on the edge, and by the edge, I mean invest early in something that could easily get cancelled even after a cliffhanger. 

In ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero, the world is full of robots called droids. Fortunately, people in this world are naturally born with two cybernetic arms coming out of their shoulder blades. However, because we HAVE to have racism, anyone who has more than one pair of arms is considered to be in league with Satan, and are persecuted. The titular Ashidaka (whose name is thankfully not in all caps like the title) is named after the Moses of this world, and he inevitably ends up on a mission to take down Mecha Satan (henceforth known as the Centipede). 

The immediate issue with ASHIDAKA is that it kind of dumps a ton of crap on you at once. It jumps right into combat when you don’t even know how anything works yet, you get a Biblical lore dump, Centipede destroys Ashidaka’s hometown that you’re expected to have an emotional attachment toward over the course of five minutes, and he’s roped into some secret Anti-Centipede resistance. Yeah, it’s a lot. 

There are also some things that seem inconsistent to me, but it could be because of either the fast pacing, or the mangaka didn’t put much thought into the story. For example, why are people racist against those with four or more arms when the specific count has to be a hundred in order to be Satanic? I feel like that was just thrown in there just to be symbolic for the sake of symbolism. There’s also someone who’s a massive jerk to Ashidaka exactly one time for what seems like nothing more than shock value. Maybe if the manga runs long enough it’ll get to flesh this stuff out.

Another sad thing is that the writing is pretty bare-bones. It’s not as copy-paste as Kimetsu no Yaiba (which I may or not be saying out of spite against Kimetsu no Yaiba but I digress), but it’s enough to where you could probably read the Japanese version and more-or-less know exactly what’s going on. It’s a real shame, since it looks like it has potential to have a pretty good story moving forward.

The big plus with ASHIDAKA is definitely the arms. Usually, only one character in a series would have robot arms, but for that to be the standard for everyone in the world makes it a bit more interesting. There are many types of arms, along with a whole bunch of rules that will likely be amended on the fly because battle shounen love doing that. At least they look cool; that’s what matters most!

Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the characters. Similar to Musashi from Orient, among others, Ashidaka is a case of a “shounen protagonist in a seinen world”. He has absolutely zero rationality, and will throw a hissy fit if anyone dies for any reason, even if it’s for the greater good. He aims to find a less costly way of fighting, but that’s definitely not going to come into play for a while.

Supporting him is Geji, who is a bit more composed, even if he is super abrasive. And honestly, that’s kind of it so far. There’s several people in the aforementioned resistance movement, but they all consist of extremely basic tropes. At least they look cool?

Speaking of looks, ASHIDAKA is decent enough in the art department. The fights are flashy, but it can be tough to tell what’s going on since everything has robot parts.

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Current Verdict: 6/10

ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero is nothing spectacular so far. But hey, I only read two volumes. Hopefully, it’ll get better in the future.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Full Series Review

This was honestly a very tough review to write. I got into Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (published in English by Viz) months before the anime- that freaking anime- aired. At that time, it had a pretty niche fanbase, like any anime-less manga would in the West. But my whole perspective of it changed when the anime launched- especially the viral nineteenth episode- and made the franchise mainstream overnight. Kimetsu no Yaiba has become one of Jump’s bestselling manga in recent years, even overtaking One Piece as the #1 bestseller of 2019. It has now become the embodiment of everything I hate about mainstream culture and marketing, similar to how I feel about BABYMETAL (which I’ll cover in a future post). I was going to give it a relatively high-ish score at first, but how much will my contrarian-ness affect the score now?

So, Kimetsu no Yaiba’s premise is as simple and unoriginal as it gets. In Taisho Era rural Japan, Tanjiro Kamado lives a happy life with his mother and siblings. But of course, he comes home one day to find his whole family dead (easy emotional hook, check), i.e. slaughtered by a demon. Only his sister, Nezuko, has survived, but she’s become a demon herself (cute girl who needs to be protecc, check). He then goes on a journey to become the #1 Demon Slayer (lofty goal, check) and kill the guy who orchestrated it all.

If you couldn’t tell, Kimetsu no Yaiba is mainstream to the Nth degree, following each shounen trope with little to no deviation. Fortunately, the mangaka at least seemed pretty aware of this, and chose to breeze through a lot of training and entrance exams to get to the real demon-whooping that readers actually want. After Tanjiro joins the Demon Slayers, he basically goes out with Nezuko (who is conveniently small enough to carry in a box) and fights whatever demon is terrorizing whatever area. The only saving grace of the narrative is its fast pacing.

The characters aren’t much better. Tanjiro is your typical, wish fulfilment protagonist. He runs on plot armor, and is inexplicably loved by everyone, even the demons that he cuts down; every single one of them goes through their “tragic backstory” to make you sympathize with them at the last second before Tanjiro kills them, and then they thank him for being a good person in their final breath. His sister, Nezuko, is marketing incarnate. She basically exists to be cute (which works, as I have seen on the message boards when the anime aired). Sure, she can actually hold her own in combat, but her cuteness is definitely a higher priority and a big factor to the franchise’s success.

There are a couple of saving graces, however. Joining Tanjiro are Zenitsu and Inosuke. Zenitsu can be annoying, given that he’s a big fat wuss who exists to provide comic mischief, but when he falls asleep like Bodkin from Wizards of Once, he becomes a super powerful bad-ass. Inosuke is a buff chuunibyou who wears a cool boar mask. These two aren’t the best characters in the world, but they’re enough to make Kimetsu no Yaiba more enjoyable.

Given the traditional battle shounen structure, Kimestu no Yaiba is full of throwaway antagonists who rarely last more than an arc. But among them is the actual main antagonist, Muzan Kibutsuji. He is a legitimately intimidating villain who has a very suave aura about him. He might be an a-hole to his minions, but he’s at least dressed fabulously.

Sadly, that’s pretty much it for the cast. What remains to be discussed are the many other Demon Slayer people that Tanjiro looks up to. I always forget who they are almost immediately after every reading session of the manga, so that really speaks of how unremarkable they are. The only one I remember is Giyuu, but that’s just because he’s the first one encountered, and his name is funny.

In the end, the one thing I can appreciate about Kimetsu no Yaiba is the fact that it ends startlingly quickly; clocking in at 205 chapters despite its insane popularity. Out of everything in the manga, the best thing that could’ve happened was for it to end, so that the mangaka didn’t have to worry about shoehorning in unremarkable antagonists just to pad it out for ten more years (like DBZ and Naruto).

The art is, uh, an effort. I’m not gonna crap on the art like everyone did when the anime came out. Sure, it’s not as “clean and crisp” as the anime, but it has a unique charm to it. Also, the fights are more than visually appealing enough. But like what critics said about the anime, the great art can only go so far to offset such a cookie-cutter narrative.

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Final Verdict: 6.75/10

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is a fairly enjoyable manga that managed to end on the best possible note. Is its popularity undeserved? Hell yes. Is it the worst thing ever? Not quite. Like I said in the beginning, I’m being extra harsh on the manga because the anime was insanely successful due to the inherent appeal of Tanjiro’s simple and idealized personality, Nezuko’s cuteness, the visual spectacle, and the presence of famed composer Yuki Kajiura. Raw, human emotion, not perturbed by critical thinking, is imperative in order to enjoy Kimetsu no Yaiba; enough to have your heart melt from the backstories of people that you know for five seconds. By now, it should be obvious if this manga’s your cup of tea, so decide accordingly.

Chainsaw Man First Impressions (Chapters 1-37)

Aaaah, you gotta love a good Jump manga. Unfortunately, a lot of them have similar running themes, such as having a goody-two-shoes main protagonist; a privileged young man that anyone can relate to. But a new series, Chainsaw Man, published in English by Viz, looks to be attempting to tell its story with an utter turd of a protagonist instead.

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.

Normally, I’d go over the overarching plot as it is. However, Chainsaw Man’s appeal seems to revolve entirely around the characters and their interactions. Otherwise, it’s the standard Jump fare; bad thing appears, kill bad thing, get stronger. There is some strange fascination with Denji shared between Makima and some of the other devils, but that’s likely going to be an endgame reveal.

Like I mentioned before, Denji is a very unusual protagonist for Jump. He’s a guy who’s down on his luck, who gets lucky when he gets to work for the devil hunters. However, a lot of people there treat him poorly. It’s even made very apparent that Makima only sees him as a dog. But hey, he takes it because it’s all he’s got. He’s not someone who has a lofty goal, like becoming the #1 Pirate Devil Hunter King of the Hokage Wizard National Volleyball Basketball Baseball Champion; no, he just wants to… er… touch a breast. Thing is, he does get that very early on in the story, but he realizes that it was a shallow dream. He’s still as relatable as any Jump protag, but instead of throwing women on his lap and expecting the reader to pretend to be him, Chainsaw Man shows the more vulnerable side of the emotionally insecure target demographic in Denji.

Denji is treated like crap at first, but he starts to grow closer to his squadmates over time, all of which have devil powers like him. Most of them aren’t too interesting, except for Best Girl Power (Power’s her actual name). She’s a fiend- a devil that’s possessing a corpse. She’s awesome, and her interactions with Denji are some of the best moments throughout the entirety of the manga.

Makima is very beautiful and mysterious. Denji’s whole MO is to kiss her, but we- the readers- get an exclusive sneak preview of what kind of a person she is. A lot of bits and pieces of intrigue regarding her pop up every now and then, and I’m curious as to what’s going on with her.

The art is also pretty good. It has a very rough and gritty style. The devils’ designs are very unsettling, and there’s an uncharacteristically large amount of gore. The action is great as well! And most importantly, the girls are very cute.

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Current Verdict: 8.15/10

Chainsaw Man has a lot of great ideas, but at this time, I’m a bit underwhelmed. It has a number of risque tropes that wouldn’t normally be in Jump, but are prevalent in Jump Plus or any seinen magazine. And that’s why Chainsaw Man stands out; because it’s in Jump. I gotta admit that I’m curious about the direction it could head in, so I’ll keep my eye on it for a while (let’s see how much sooner this ends than Kimetsu no Yaiba, which’ll likely run for ten more years at least).

5 Worlds First Impressions (Volumes 1 -2)

Covers of books 1 and 2.

I did not expect the first comic I covered would be a Western graphic novel instead of a manga, considering the fact that I’ve been reading manga for over seven years. Since this is a Weeb Revues first, let me explain how I’m thinking of approaching comics. Most individual volumes don’t have enough material for me to write a good blog about them one at a time. Plus, there’s the fact that I have read ahead to the more recent chapter releases, thanks to things like Viz’s Jump subscription. So what I’m thinking of doing is to do a first impression of comics I haven’t read before, then a full review when I finish them. The problem is that you won’t get to know my general thoughts on the 100-odd manga I’ve already read prior to starting this blog… I’ll figure something out.

Before we get started, I need to give my background on Western comics. I grew up not reading a single comic book- with my only exposure to the culture being the Christopher Reeve Superman movie. I only just got into comics earlier this year- 2019. My first graphic novel was Amulet. I read the first three volumes, and I hated it. I don’t use that word all the time, but Amulet pushed me over the edge. I could have an entirely separate blog detailing exactly why I hate it so much, but I won’t, because there would be a LOT of salt. Later on, I read Cleopatra in Space. I found that one to be much better, but it seemed to be too fast-paced for its own good. I had planned to tackle 5 Worlds, published by Random House, third because it looked the best out of all the graphic novels I’d seen, and boy did I make a good call!

Being a kids graphic novel, the premise of 5 Worlds is pretty simple. The titular five worlds, consisting of Mon Domani and its four moon-planets, are going through real tough crap, thanks to deteriorating ecosystems and some evil whatsit called the Mimic. Apparently, the only way to turn things back to normal is to light beacons built on each of the worlds. Fortunately, we have people called sand dancers, who do interpretive dance to manipulate, well, sand. However, the beacons can only be lit by a special dancer who has the Living Fire. It’s a good premise with a lot of wiggle room for a fantastic adventure.

The characters, however, are less than fantastic. Oona Lee, the main protagonist, is a marginally better version of Emily from Amulet, but she’s still kind of generic. She’s also just about as much of an overpowered protagonist as Emily was; the dialogue has this “the sand knows” line often that lets us know how she’s able to do some of the things, that according to the rules established, she shouldn’t be able to do because she’s supposed to suck at sand dancing. An Tzu is my least favorite character; he jumps to conclusions way too fast, plus he’s been the least useful in terms of abilities. Jax Amboy is the best character, relatively speaking. He’s got a decent lover-boy personality, plus he’s pretty nifty in battle. But overall, this cast just doesn’t wow me. It’s not the authors’ fault; I had the same issue with both Amulet and Cleopatra in Space. I just can’t help but compare these comics to manga. The pacing and structure is very different between the two mediums.

For some reason, Western graphic novels seem to have quicker plot progression than manga, and the panels in them seem to be incredibly large, which means that they need more pages in order to convey the same content. 5 Worlds seems to be the most efficient out of what I’ve read thus far. It helps that the books themselves have averaged at 240 pages a pop, but even then it still moves too fast. As a consequence, they’ve had to “pull a Disney” (you know, like how parents commonly get killed off in Disney movies) so we can sympathize with the characters immediately: Oona Lee’s sister having run away from home, An Tzu having some kind of Back to the Future disease, and Jax Amboy not having any real friends (well, that’s what the description says). To compare this to a manga with similarly fast pacing, Made in Abyss, that manga might’ve had two unremarkable main characters, but it also had a cast of phenomenal side characters that left a strong impression on me, despite how brief their screentime was.

Similarly, when a big character-based plot twist happens, the emotional impact of it didn’t resonate with me since it occurs just as I’m getting acquainted with the character. I can appreciate that the authors don’t beat around the bush, but in this case, they’re beating the exact location that the bush will be in before it’s even existed yet! But keep in mind that I love One Piece, where you don’t get most characters’ full backstory until over ten years worth of published material.

The art of 5 Worlds is the best out of the three graphic novels I’ve read. It’s a very cartoony and whimsical style with eye-catching colors. Western comics seem to stack similarly sized panels together in order to showcase motion in a sort of flipbook style. I do not find this as impactful as with manga that normally use gesture drawing lines and foreshortening. I did flip through some DC and Marvel comics at my local library, and the action seems to be done similarly, to my surprise. I would’ve expected more from the significantly more complex artwork. Is it a strictly Western thing? Regardless of if it is or not, I can’t get used to it, as opposed to my first manga, where I could understand the medium almost right away.

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Current Verdict: 7.85/10

Despite all my nitpicks, 5 Worlds is shaping up to be one of the better Western comics out there. It’s just a real shame that the story moves too fast to really let it grow on me. It’s entertaining and appealing. I’ve read two volumes thus far, and I’ll try to finish this series and put out a full review. But with new volumes only coming out annually, it’s going to be a long process!