Weekly Shounen Jump manga often get bashed for being the same thing over and over again, with a different coat of paint. But sometimes… sometimes, a Jump manga will attempt to break free of the mold while still embracing the core values of Jump and its demographic. The Promised Neverland (published in English by Viz), is one such manga.
The children of Grace Field House are as happy as can be, living under the loving eyes of their caretaker, Isabella, while waiting for their adoption. It’s just a bit weird that they have to take tests, and that they have numbers tattooed onto their necks, and that the house is surrounded by walls, and that they never hear from the kids who go out to get adopted… Yeah, something’s off with this place, and the ones who find out first are the three smartest kids in the house: Emma, Ray, and Norman. What they find out is that the kids are all livestock being bred for consumption by a race of terrifying demons. Naturally, they put on their thinking caps and figure out how to get everyone out safely.
So, in short, The Promised Neverland is amazing. Instead of screaming “FRIENDSHIP!” and brute forcing their way out, these kids have to use their wits to fight, or- more often than not- strategically retreat from combat. It is incredibly suspenseful, with new plot twists waiting just around the corner. It is amazing how it’s able to capture that familiar Jump feeling, while exploring uncharted territory for the magazine.
However… small spoiler: the escape from Grace Field House is only the first arc. After this, we begin to find out about the world that The Promised Neverland is set in, and it only gets more complicated from there. I know that critics have exclaimed that the whole story goes to sh** from here, as it becomes more about figuring out what the hell is going on than about conducting stealth operations. And to be honest… I kind of felt the same way for a while. The manga was still good, but it didn’t have that magic from the first arc.
Fortunately, things pick up when it enters its climax. Once the puzzle pieces finally start fitting together, it becomes just about as intense as it was at the beginning.. It’s a real shame that you have to go through a pretty big chunk of inferior content to get there, but if any part had to suck, be glad that it’s the midway point! There’s no doubt that critics hate the ending, but that’s to become expected of pretty much any Jump manga, especially a popular one like this. As far as most manga go, The Promised Neverland feels satisfying enough, as far as resolving plot threads is concerned.
As for characters, er… this is where The Promised Neverland is at its most Jump-like. Even though Emma is among the smartest kids from Grace Field, she’s about as abrasive and reckless as any Jump protagonist. Fortunately, Ray and Norman are much better and smarter than her. The biggest problem with the cast is that it gets pretty large over the course of the story, with some minor characters not being that memorable. There are even a lot of characters whose names I can’t remember.
The art is what brings it all together. The Promised Neverland is drawn in an elegant, storybook-like style that can go from beauty to terror rather quickly. The designs of the demons are phenomenal, even if a lot of them look the same. The panel flow is also a key factor in building suspense; something that the anime sadly lacks due to the nature of its medium.
But if there’s any truly divisive flaw with The Promised Neverland, it’s Emma. If you couldn’t tell from this being a Jump manga, she’s a bit of a Mary Sue. Late in the series, it becomes really easy to succeed in the ultimate goal, except that it involves committing xenocide on the Demons. Since she’s such a good person who’s willing to forgive an entire race that’s indiscriminately bred and eaten human beings, she jumps in (or Jump’s in, rather) and tries to offer a more hunky-dorey solution. I’ll admit, it’s annoying, but hey, I also like lighthearted junk at times.
Final Verdict: 8.9/10
It’s not perfect, but The Promised Neverland is a great manga; definitely one of the better ones in recent days of Jump. It genuinely tries to do something that isn’t mere pandering to testosterone-y boys (like Kimetsu no Yaiba), and while it stumbles, it definitely succeeds to some extent. The manga truly has its own identity. I recommend it to any shounen fans who want something just a tad different.
My whole life, I’ve lived with the baseless impression that Western culture- specifically that of the United States- looks upon Japanese culture with disdain. Part of this is from the factual translation and- in some cases- censorship issues that plagued Japanese media when it first came overseas (for example, the One Piece dub that shall not be named). For these reasons, I completely ignored Nickelodeon’s fantasy epic, Avatar: The Last Airbender, despite it being lauded for the past fifteen years- by devout anime fans- as a true bridge between Eastern and Western animation. Well, it’s on Netflix now. I have no more excuses.
The only thing I knew about this show going into it was its simple premise. Four nations, each of which control the elements of Water, Earth, Air, and Fire, have existed together just fine. Then- to quote the show’s intro- everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. The only one who could save the world was the Avatar, but he apparently disappeared because that ALWAYS happens in these kinds of fantasy series. Then everything changed when the Fire Nation- I mean- when two Water Tribe siblings, Katara and Sokka, found a balding boy named Aang, and his- giant pet platypus?- inside of a block of ice. Spoiler alert, he’s the last Airbender, and he embarks on a quest to become the Avatar and beat up the prepubescent prince of the Fire Nation, Zuko (among others). It’s pretty simple, tbh. I don’t know why they need to remind you in every single episode.
I guess it was a precaution for any kids who came into Avatar mid-season, but since it follows anime traditions, it has to be watched in chronological order (I get that newer cartoons have similar continuity, but I’m pretty sure that no other cartoon at THIS point in time had a continuous story). Wow, that was all one sentence. Anyhoo, the thing that’s impressive right off the bat is the fact that a large number of kids were able to put up with Avatar as it aired. It takes two episodes for any real action to occur, and for a kid, that’s like a year. I definitely would’ve turned away if I had seen the pilot episode on launch date. But at the same time, DBZ and Naruto were also airing, so relatively speaking, Avatar had to have felt like a rollercoaster ride.
Enough rambling! Since Aang needs to know all four elements to actually BE the Avatar, he’s gotta go to the other locations and learn them all! As such, the show is neatly split into a single “book” (season) for each remaining element to learn. The basic structure of Avatar is to go from Point A to Point B, train in Point B until he learns the element, fight something, and move onto the next one. Simple, right?
No, actually, it’s not. Appa Airlines (patent pending) is not a very efficient transportation service. And as such, the crew needs to make a number of stops along the way. This results in some episodes being less-than plot relevant. I can imagine that this was done with the intention of meeting viewers halfway, by marrying both the episodic and continuous narrative story structure of Saturday morning cartoons and anime, respectively. Look, I get that something like this had never been done before, but the execution still results in a very unfocused narrative. Sure, some of these stops are worthwhile, either for actual plot relevance, or giving us insight on one or more of the characters. But much of the time, it’s a series of self-contained, uninteresting plots.
Like any fantasy epic, Avatar doesn’t fire on all cylinders right away. My expectations for the show were shot by the end of season one. I’d even say that season one was straight-up bad overall. Fortunately, once season two starts, the show gets significantly more involved, with almost every episode having legitimate plot relevance.
The key word here is “almost”. While the story does follow a more coherent narrative after season one, there are still blips of those Saturday morning cartoon trappings. Due to how much more infrequent the filler gets, it stands out way more when it actually decides to rear its ugly head. These episodes can contain cute interactions, but break the pacing of the plot, especially when they occur immediately following a super intense episode with a cliffhanger (btw, who was the GENIUS who decided to put one of these episodes IMMEDIATELY before the FINAL ARC?! (but for the record, it was actually a pretty great episode)). But you know what, I’ll take even the worst episode of this series over the entire seasons’ worth of filler from the long-running anime that had been airing at the time.
I must say that the show’s worldbuilding surprised me a little. While I didn’t really care much about the lore, they do some cool, clever stuff with the elements. It’s simple enough for kids to understand, but flexible enough so that it doesn’t become repetitive. If there’s any problem I have with the world of Avatar, it’s the fact that the evil Fire Nation is likely to be based off of Japan (maybe my baseless impressions were right after all…).
My biggest concern going into Avatar was if I’d laugh at the comedic bits. After all, it’s been a decade and a half; our sense of humor has changed a lot, especially compared to the 2010s cartoons I’ve seen lately. Overall, I found the humor to be kind of hit-or-miss. While I acknowledged a lot of the humor as funny, I didn’t laugh out loud anywhere near as often as, say, Gravity Falls.
Another concern was that the cast wouldn’t be so great. I figured that it would take a while to get me warmed up to most of the characters, but I was afraid it wouldn’t be enough. While most of the cast did end up growing on me, the attempt wasn’t exactly as successful as with Gravity Falls or DuckTales.
I’ll admit that they did a good job making Aang conform to shounen protagonist tropes; he’s very aloof, and tends to let his body move ahead of his brain. Furthermore, the show consistently reminds you that he’s just a kid, and that he’s been forced to do something much bigger than what his bald head can comprehend. Conversely, the Western aspect of the show makes him fall for some of the sitcom-like tropes of cartoons, such as the classic “hears negative things from his peers, leaves the room, said peers immediately say a positive flipside to those negative statements, but since he didn’t hear that particular part, he does something stupid”.
The Water Siblings are worse. Sokka is the better of the two, since he brings the bulk of Avatar’s humor to the table, and is ironically the most rational of the group. But the biggest issue with him is how they handle his character arc. Everyone has their own shortcomings to work through, but Sokka’s issues feel the most arbitrary. The first big moment in his arc rides entirely on a ship that was intentionally built to sink, and it’s pretty uninteresting during the brief time that it stays afloat. I’m sure that Sokka must’ve felt like a pitiable, tragic hero to the ten-year-olds who all related to him back when the show aired, but once you get to my age- and more modern times- the telltale signs of a NOTP are too obvious to ignore. Fortunately, it becomes a non-issue by season three.
And Katara… I don’t know what they were trying to do with her. I feel like they wanted to make her into a tsundere, but had a hard time because they weren’t allowed to use ecchi in their relationship. I appreciate that she has multiple sides- from being an absolute b**** to a complete waifu- but overall, I didn’t really enjoy her company for some reason, making her my least favorite character overall.
If I was spoiled by anything in Avatar, it was the addition of a loli to the main troupe. I gotta say I’m impressed that they hit that particular anime nail on the head, since it’s more so a niche community trope than something prevalent in the mainstream battle shounen anime at the time. Anyways, said loli- introduced in season two- is named Toph, and she’s a real wild card. With sassy one-liners and the perfect height, Toph is easily the best of the main protagonists… at least after the others work out the major kinks with her at the start of their relationship.
Then there’s Zuko. Hoo boy. First off, I reaaaaaaally didn’t like how his voice actor portrayed him; I used the word prepubescent to describe him for a reason. As a result, I may be biased in my criticism of the boy. He beats your face in with his one-dimensional irritability. But me, I put up with Bakugo… so, I had a feeling that I’d eventually like him better over time. And that feeling was correct. By season two, there’s a lot of big turning points in his character arc that show he’s much more emotionally distraught than what it looks like at first glance.
Abrasiveness seems to run in the Fire Nation’s royal family. Introduced in season two is Zuko’s sister, Azula. She’s rude, but unlike Zuko, who’s misunderstood, she’s fully aware of it, and enjoys it. Azula also has help in Aang hunting with her buddies, Mei and Tai Li. These two have fun spats with each other, but other than a certain scene late in the series, they aren’t too remarkable.
I saved the best character for last. Out of all the characters, I grew attached to Zuko’s uncle, Iroh, faster than just about anyone else. Most of my favorite scenes in the series are, tbh, interactions between him and Zuko. He supplies some of the best humor, but he’s also great when it comes to being serious.
If there was one thing they got right when it came to anime, it was the following mindset: spend money when it counts. Similar to anime, a lot of the animation in Avatar is kind of lacking. But when actual fights are happening, it looks excellent. Battles are incredibly well choreographed, especially for a kids show, and they pretty much always use the environment in some way. I can imagine that parents got angry over this show when it was airing, and I probably would’ve killed myself pretending to be a bender if I had watched Avatar as a kid. The hand-painted backgrounds also have a weirdly nostalgic look to them. The biggest issue with the art style is that although the character design is memorable, it is a bit bland. They could’ve done a lot more combining cartoon and anime styles; in fact, a lot of manga out at the time- such as One Piece– did a great job in that regard. Oh well, it’s just a nitpick anyway. Overall, the show still looks great, even when watching it in 480p and 4:3 aspect ratio.
Final Verdict: 8.5/10
It’s predictable. It’s corny. Its sense of humor is dated as all heck, and it spews sappy lessons of friendship just as about as often as any battle shounen series. But despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Avatar: The Last Airbender for the first time (even if I must respectfully disagree with anyone who calls it one of the greatest fantasy epics of all time; One Piece is still higher up there). I must also give the team appreciation for creating what was perhaps the most loving marriage of cartoon and anime at the time. It must’ve been mind-blowing for kids watching this while it aired, since I’m pretty sure it was the first cartoon of its kind. As much as I don’t like saying America is better at something that originated in another country (what is this, Beat Bobby Flay?), I must concede that Avatar is among the better “anime” I’ve seen. I recommend it if you like battle shounen anime, and/or youthful, silly fantasy with a number of wholesome life lessons.
Despite my love for JRPGs, story is ironically the one aspect of videogames that I care the least about. And yet, because of how much I enjoyed Ys VIII, I wanted to try another series by the same team, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. It is a single, mammoth, epic JRPG, spanning four entire games meant to be played in chronological order, and VERY story-driven. Let’s see if it’s good enough to stay in it for the long haul.
In Trails of Cold Steel, a boy named Rean Schwarzer begins his attendance at Thors Military Academy. But bizarrely enough, his uniform is different from everyone else’s. It doesn’t take long to find out that he’s in an experimental group called Class VII, the first class to have commoners and nobles both. Since this is part one of four games, it’s naturally going to spiral into something big.
By nature, the game can be slow at first, but it’s done thoughtfully, and tries to hook you. The game begins with a flash-forward that you play. It’s incredibly overwhelming, not just because you don’t know what’s going on, but because it gives you every party member at once, with every battle mechanic unlocked, with every characters’ abilities that they’ve learned at that point. This is to build anticipation of what’s to come in terms of both the story and the gameplay. Also, when it kicks into the proper opener, they make you do combat pretty regularly, so you can slowly become acclimated to your new life without being bored.
The story might have some common fantasy themes, such as “Ah, rich people crap on poor people. War is helpful for the economy. Make America great again bwaaah!”, but they at least made the effort to submerge you neck-deep into it. There is a butt-ton of lore in this thing, and it shows in the various books you can read, which contain important foreshadowing for later, as well as in-universe fictional books (if you can find them).
The creators were also very thoughtful with the world from a design and visual storytelling standpoint. Early drafts of this review (I wrote it in bits and pieces as I played) stated the world felt small, compact, and segmented. The segmented style is, of course, an unavoidable consequence of the whole game’s structure, but the compactness is only early on. Each place you go to outside of the school is done in a specific order. You start out in small towns, then expand to bigger and bigger places (or at least, places that seem big thanks to out-of-bounds geometry). This further helps ease you into the world of Trails, as it starts small and gradually grows bigger and bigger. In this way, I am willing to claim that Trails is the most Tolkienian JRPG I’ve ever seen (yeah, I know a lot of poetic-waxers compare fantasy stuff to Lord of the Rings, but I think this is a somewhat fair comparison, since Lord of the Rings expands its scale in a similar way).
Unfortunately, the graphics don’t help. While I hate being a stickler, Trails is not the most visually appealing JRPG I’ve seen. While most of the towns appear pleasing enough, a lot of the combat areas are bland and samey. It’s similar to Ys VIII, but that game at least did more with angles and area continuity that made a lot better looking. Yeah, I get that this was 2013 and the game’s structure results in the whole thing being divided into segmented areas, but I digress. Also similar to Ys, the character designs are by far the most appealing, as they are very vibrant in color and have that classic anime style to them (except their hands look hideous). Fortunately, the soundtrack makes up some for the graphics’ shortcomings. While not as rocking as Ys VIII, it’s more than good enough. The towns all have their own unique atmospheres, and the battle music is pumping.
As far as the overarching narrative is concerned, you can color me impressed. I’m used to having a ton of exposition dump forced down my throat in modern fantasy, but Trails is one that eases you into the plot organically. It’s pretty good at buildup, and maintaining interest, even when it’s boring school time. In fact, the boring school time tends to be a great change of pace, and doubles as a “calm before the storm”-type thing. Without spoiling much, the main narrative is divided into two main plot threads: one concerning the strange ruins of Thors’ Old Schoolhouse, and another involving a set of big political moves that slowly become more dire as the world moves towards collapse. How these two different things can possibly be connected is one of the many questions I anticipate to be answered in this series.
What you must keep in mind when playing this game is the fact that, like I said before, it’s not just the first installment of a series, but the first part of a bigger story. As a result, this game’s main narrative is all about laying the groundwork of the story and setting expectations for what’s to come. This means that it doesn’t quite rise to the fever pitch that most JRPGs would, even when you’re well past the halfway point, as well as the fact that some plot threads will be left unresolved at the end. But hey, the game does an excellent job at setting said groundwork, and this is honestly the most engaged I’ve ever been in a JRPG narrative. Now that I’m attached to the characters and the world, the later games will likely deliver the feels.
I was worried about the cast at first, because I figured that Class VII’s character development would only show during optional and limited social links. But no, they actually give a lot of time for these characters to grow on you (they better, since this is part one of four). While they do start off as typical anime tropes, the way that they’re slowly introduced is quite impressive. Also, the fact that it’s not a Persona game makes it relatively light on the teen angst. Just be wary that it has a LOT of the “I know important, plot relevant things, but I can’t tell you because reasons” trope (looking at you, EMMA).
But out of all those in this massive cast, the NPCs ended up surprising me the most. Due to how the game is structured, each and every NPC- from townsfolk to miscellaneous students- have their own character arcs that progress along with the plot, some of which even foreshadow future quests. I ended up liking a lot of these people, especially Best Girl Mint. The biggest issue with them is that there aren’t enough unique NPC models. That’s normally a given in JRPGs, but the fact that, for example, the sister of one of the Thors’ instructors who you meet late in the game doesn’t just look nothing like him, she looks like a lot of other generic women in the game.
My other issue is with the antagonists. The established villains of the game are a group of terrorists who, for some reason,only go by their initials. Their leader is incredibly generic, and his minions are, guess what: brainy guy, busty woman, and muscular idiot. Fortunately, the game makes it readily apparent that the REAL mastermind is operating behind the scenes, and the terrorists make up just a small part of those involved.
Story is all well and good. But what about gameplay, the most important thing in any videogame? Due to Trails’ nature, I will divide gameplay elements into “Daily Life” and “Deadly Life” segments, similar to Danganronpa games. But first, I must discuss one gameplay aspect that’s useful in BOTH school life and combat: Turbo Mode. This feature, exclusive to the PS4 port of the game (and pretty much the only one you can actually BUY these days), makes the game move twice as fast at the push of a button. It’s incredibly useful if you ever need to save-scum and rewatch a long string of cutscenes upon reloading the save.
Trails is set in a school, and like Chi-Chi always said in Dragon Ball: studying comes before saving the world. If you couldn’t tell, this series is structured very similarly to Persona, which was initially going to be a turn-off for me. I never played a Persona game, nor do I want to, simply because I’m anal about getting all the things done in a JRPG, and Persona is against that. In those games, you need to juggle your social life and actual combat, and you must plan an arbitrary route that can involve save-scumming in order to get everything, which ultimately makes the games extremely stressful. There are also some logic issues in Persona, such as, “Oh you chose to eat some ramen for lunch? Okay, BOOM! now it’s ten o’clock at night!”
Trails‘ way of doing it isn’t perfect, but it’s substantially better… or so it seems. First off, social links are triggered by spending Bonding Points on them. But in order to narrow down your inevitable dilemma between choosing which character to hang out with, a given day of Free Time only has set people available. Spending time with them does NOT make it instantly TOMORROW like in Persona, but you only get a certain amount of Bonding Points per day. These events get you a ton of Link Points, which are essential for a mechanic in battle. Furthermore, you are only allowed to have these events with plot relevant characters. This means that you won’t have to waste time hanging out with filler characters like in Persona (even if some of them are admittedly interesting), and if you feel uncomfortable about significantly older women taking a liking to the protagonist, that is also thankfully not the case in Trails.
Despite the fact that I played the game specifically because I figured it’d be more lenient than Persona, the social links are arguably far worse, not just compared to Persona, but Danganronpa as well. In those games, no matter when you started or continued a social link, it would be the same (except for some rare cases in Danganronpa). However, social links in Trails, while no different from a gameplay standpoint, are all unique BASED ON WHERE AND WHEN THEY ARE. It’s also not possible to view every event, as the game flips you a bird and consistently gives you one Bonding Point short of viewing all available events. If you really care about all the characters, you MUST save-scum in order to view all of them, and only save after the ones that you want the Link XP for.
In addition, you have Academy Points. Most AP is done by completing quests, which comes naturally enough. Time doesn’t pass until you finish Required quests, and that’s one advantage Trails has over Persona. However, additional AP is earned for being an extra good pupil, and achieving an optimal outcome, such as riding a motorcycle without wrecking it. Advancing the story will IMMEDIATELY cause any incomplete optional quests and available events to expire, but the game is at least consistently good at warning you of these cutoff points.
However, this IS a school game, and that means being smart. And that means exams. Class VII has to take practical exams every month. These are basically mini boss battles that give you bonus AP if you meet certain conditions. The later ones can get pretty ridiculous…
…but even the hardest practical exam beats any written one. At first, I thought you could take pictures of every book in the library and you’d be fine. But no… it’s worse than that. Almost worse than Persona. In Persona, you merely had to remember any material gone over up to that point (which you can take pictures of as they come up), and then have your Academics stat above a certain threshold to get the highest grade. In Trails, you must make use of a special study day, which is a Free Day, but instead of Bonding Points, you spend Studying Points to go over test material with peers. Similar to Free Days, there are more events than what you could possibly view. HOWEVER, regardless of what NPCs actually imply as far as the relevance of what they’re studying, material from EVERY event WILL BE on the upcoming exam. Furthermore, you must also seek unmarked events that give you additional free knowledge (typically with instructors) in order to come out on top. As long as you save scum to view every event, and find the hidden knowledge blips, you should do fine…I think. The silver lining is that there’s only one of these exams in the game (excluding however many there are in subsequent games). But… you don’t know the exact outcome until after you’ve done the entire following Free Day, which includes your next run of the recurring monthly dungeon.
But just because you don’t need to memorize the books in the library for the exams doesn’t mean you don’t need to memorize them, period. Some quests result in you having to answer questions out of these books, so make sure you take time to jot down (or take pictures of) each and every page. Make sure you not only do the second floor of the library, but the recommended reading corner that gets updated every chapter. But even then it’s not enough. Some of these quiz quests require you to remember remote bits of dialogue from up to tens of hours earlier in the game (or from future chapters even). Fortunately, they’re few enough so that you can basically brute force those with save-scumming.
Save scumming might be dirty, but you should have no shame playing dirty because Trails does the same by giving you HIDDEN QUESTS. Not only will random, missable NPCs give random, missable items, but they can also give quests not marked on a given tasks envelope. Like I said before, since talking to every NPC at every opportunity is encouraged from a story standpoint, it’s not TOO bad. At least it’s not a Tails Of game which doesn’t even mark quests at all, regardless of if you found them, and some of them are the starts of chains but don’t continue until fifty hours later and by then you’ll FORGET you even STARTED it and- *huff* *huff* Just keep in mind that Trails does give a bit of leeway. You get 15 AP for beating the final dungeon, so you’ll need at least 415 by the time it opens up in order to get the highest rank at the end, which I BARELY got.
In order to discuss other missable events, I must also briefly touch on combat, specifically the areas where it will occur. Most combat is fought in the Old Schoolhouse, which is literally Tartaros from Persona 3. As you progress the main story, more floors of this dungeon open up, and it’s encouraged to check it out (or grind). Just keep in mind that the day will advance to evening once you leave, so do it last. It pressures you to select a set team, but you can always change it by examining the exit of the dungeon.
While Trails proves to be just as stressful as Persona, it’s good to note that it feels much faster paced. Each chapter has one single Free Day, split into daytime and evening segments. So even though social links are just about as limited, you don’t have to worry about wasting 85% of them just to grind out enough personality stats to actually talk to girls. However, Trails still clocks in at eighty to a hundred hours of playtime, so it’s really just an illusion.
Similar to Persona‘s special story segments that happen on set dates (like the full moon, TV rescue, etc.), Trails has field studies. These are excursions to new areas with their own quests to do, along with new story developments. Finishing one gives everyone a heap of link XP (thank GOD). But as soon as you finish a story arc here, YOU CAN NEVER GO BACK. So make sure you do everything while you can.
The field studies locations can take a while to get to, even on express trains. This is plenty of time to… PLAY A CHILDREN’S CARD GAME. Fortunately, Blade is not even remotely as agonizing as Final Fantasy VIII‘s notorious Triple Triad (and the music is nowhere near as annoying). Blade basically plays like War, but with Trap Cards. It kinda sucks, honestly. I don’t entirely remember how War works, but Blade is basically decided entirely by the players’ starting hands. If you draw too many trap cards, not enough high value cards, and not enough 1 cards to counter one of the types of trap cards, you’ve pretty much lost. I’ve genuinely tried to win, but I’m pretty sure it’s impossible depending on the setup (obviously, the fact that I’m saying a card game is entirely reliant on luck means that I’m a filthy casual at card games, and lack the ability to read opponents and use basic logic to deduce their next move). Fortunately, you only need to fight every available character once to get link XP.
There’s a lot of things you can miss! Fortunately, the pawn shop in the main town can sell items from previous areas, including items found in the chests there, and book chapters. The pawn shop is also good if you have a surplus of crappy items that you can trade for a single better version.
Like in any JRPG, cooking and fishing are the most important things in the game. When it comes to cooking, you can somehow cook anywhere in the world as long as you have the ingredients. Depending on the skill levels of Rean and who you cook with, the dish could end up ranging from Regular, to Superb, to Peculiar, to Unique. Unique dishes can only be formed by someone who has a secret knack for cooking that particular item (but it’s always someone who shows a high likelihood for a good result). These are objectively the best, however there is an NPC who wants to see such dishes, so be frugal (and for the record, there’s someone who wants peculiar dishes as well). Most recipes can be learned by NPCs who will randomly give you one. And of course, these can be missed.
Of all the different school facilities, you’ll be visiting the Engineering department more often than any other. The guys here use variously colored Sepith earned from enemies and can mod your Arcus with them. You also earn generic Sepith Mass, which is exchanged at shops for actual money. Anyway, Sepith is used to unlock new slots on your Arcus, as well as craft new quartz (which I’ll get to later).
Fishing isn’t as exciting, though. Basically, you just fish and mash the prompted face buttons, and you get a fish. There are only a set amount of times you can fish per day, which means a finite amount of times you can fish total. You can use groundbait to make more spawn, but the only way to farm for it is to farm U-Materials off of assorted enemies, then trade them at the pawn shop for groundbait.
One final quip that I have in the Daily Life segment is fast travel. For some reason, fast travel is either excessively helpful, or nonexistent. Basically, if you’re in a town, you can fast travel to buildings that are, like, two feet from each other. But in a combat area, you can’t fast travel back to the hub. This becomes a big issue if you’re trying to talk to every NPC to find hidden quests (especially in chapter 3).
Combat is limited, but when it happens, it’s really good and really involved. Fortunately, Trails does a great job of easing you into all the different aspects as you go along. The main issue with it is the same issue as most JRPGs: that most characters have limited abilities and customization early game. But once you get more utility, it becomes incredibly rewarding.
For the most part, Trails operates like an old-school turn-based JRPG. Then turn order is displayed on the left, and it cycles through everyone. However, you will have to take Delay into account (which it’ll show on the turn order when selecting a target). Some attacks, mainly magic, will take a while to go through, and you will need to plan ahead in order to come out on top. There are also turn bonuses, which can give free heals and boosts just by it coming to your turn. Enemies can also get bonuses, requiring you to plan even harder. Sometimes, you’ll need to cast spells specifically to use the Delay to steel turn bonuses. The mechanics behind the turn order are very nuanced, and take a lot of self-teaching to figure out. It’ll make the difference if you desperately need to cast an Art in a pinch.
For the first time since maybe Chrono Trigger, position matters. When using moves that have AOE, you need to carefully aim the attack in order to catch as many enemies in its range as possible. If you’re too far, you’ll have to waste a turn to move within range (which enemies might also have to do). Some attacks will also change a character’s position, and that must be taken into account as well.
What’s even more complicated is that you have two sets of special moves: Arts and Crafts. No, you don’t make paper peacocks by tracing your hand over construction paper; the different types are literally called Arts, followed by Crafts. Each consumes a separate stat, EP and CP. EP is traditional MP, and can easily run out if you get trigger happy. It can only be restored from turn bonuses or consumables. CP is like a Special gauge in an action game, and fills from dealing and receiving damage. Characters get 200 max CP that they can store. However, as abundant as it is, there are special S-Crafts that you learn over the course of the story. These take from 100 to all of a character’s CP, and are insanely powerful. It is more incentivized to use the 200, since it’s stronger. The most important part of S-Crafts is that they can be used out-of-turn. This causes an S-Break, which can be a lifesaver if used to steal a turn bonus that you don’t want the enemy to have. The issue with them is that recovering from them is ROUGH. For most of the game, the only good way to restore CP is with Alisa’s Blessed Arrow, which comes at the cost of some of her own. In a lot of boss battles, I’d end up having to whittle them down with regular attacks just to slowly regain it back.
The way each set of skills are learned is different. Crafts are learned by levelling up, and Arts are learned by setting quartzes to your Arcus thingy. First, you set a Master Quartz, which gives a set of stat boosts and bonus effect s. Each Master Quartz can be levelled up, and you’ll definitely be getting new ones to play around with. Additional quartzes can be set to learn new Arts, gain stat bonuses, or in rare cases, both in a single quartz.
It’s generally a good rule of thumb to know your enemies in order to win, and it’s really important in Trails. By either battling a lot of the same enemy, or using an Analysis spell, you can find out a lot of stuff about them. The most important thing is not just their elemental resistances, but their status resistances as well. This is really useful when planning out attacks, especially with status ailments. Once you get the ability to inflict status ailments with your attacks, you will NEED them, for they will be your friend. Also, Trails is one of the few games where bosses are susceptible to status ailments, so make good use of them!
While the game is pretty good at holding your hand, there is one important mechanic that they don’t teach you, and that’s Impeding. Basically, certain specific Crafts will cancel an enemy when it takes a turn to cast an Art (indicated by a red glowy thingy). The game expects you to know about this, so just be aware of it. There are also quartzes that can give all a character’s attacks an Impede percentage, but the specific Crafts are guaranteed to do it.
The Ys series makes a crossover into Trails with the Unbalancing mechanic. Monsters can be staggered by hitting them with an effective weapon type, be it Slash, Thrust, Pierce, or Strike. Doing this allows for a Combat Link to work. Set a Link in the camp menu or during battle and linked characters can assist when the enemy is Unbalanced. After a certain time, you begin to earn Bravery Points through Link Attacks, and can spend them during an Unbalance to perform a stronger attack. Like in Miitopia, Link Abilities get better and better when you level up their link levels. Similar to Persona, crits will automatically Unbalance an enemy no matter what.
If there is any flaw with the combat- and it’s moreso a nitpick than anything else- it’s that the difficulty is all over the place. You don’t need to grind in order to be able to beat the game smoothly, but it follows the JRPG rule of “equipment is everything” to the letter. When it comes to status ailments, any enemy that can inflict it WILL if you don’t have the equipment to make yourself immune to it. The early game is particularly rough because you won’t even have enough of this equipment to put on the whole active party. But when you do get the equipment, you’re gonna need it. A lot of bosses can wall you if you’re unprepared, and even if you are prepared, it can be rough. It’s also really bad that there are no multi-targeting healing items in the game without the use of a specific Master Quartz.
Final Verdict: 9.15/10
It’s stressful, but Trails of Cold Steel is nonetheless a fantastic series opener. Since this is the first game, you have plenty of time to learn how it works. But as much as I’ve learned about the game, I don’t know how ready I am for the sequels.
One thing that I do know about this series is that Trails IV, the finale, has A TRUE ENDING. That is so mean… to make such a long story that people would need to spend at least 500 hours to see to its conclusion, just to troll them right at the end because they didn’t do enough stuff. It could be generous like in Ys VIII, but it could also require every single Academy Point in the game to get it. I could look up the conditions now, but I might spoil something for myself, which would be bad, since I actually LIKE this story so far.
Since this is just the hors d’oeuvres, and an incredibly stressful helping of hors d’oeuvres at that, I can’t recommend this series easily. I’m going to have to wait for Trails II, the first of a three-piece entree, to arrive at the metaphorical table first. For now, I recommend Trails of Cold Steel to any fans of Persona, Danganronpa, and Tails Of… since those fans are used to eighty hour games where you can miss a million things.
When I’m writing these blogs, I try to stray from the hyperbole that both fans and critics commonly use, and instead tell you exactly what you’re getting into. But sometimes, a work is just so spectacularly bad, and makes you so livid, that it’s almost impossible to not mudsling in a review. I will try my hardest to describe one of my least favorite light novels on the market, Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation (published in English by Seven Seas), as honestly as possible. But I cannot make any promises.
Mushoku Tensei starts out like any isekai: a NEET gets killed in the real world, awakens in a new one, and becomes insanely powerful with absolutely no effort. This one’s model is a thirty-odd-year-old man who gets reborn as a baby and grows up in real time. But even at a single-digit age, he- with his new name of Rudeus Greyrat- already has absurd levels of power.
This is one of the absolute worst instances of the isekai formula that I have ever seen in my life. I don’t inherently hate the formula; after all, almost all of my favorite light novels are isekai. What makes Mushoku Tensei so bad is that it exaggerates the overpowered protagonist aspect to galactic proportions, and does it with a completely straight face. It’s something that would work fine if handled as a parody or satire, but the execution feels like every decision that was made was made thinking it was a genuinely good one.
I’d jump into a paragraph saying that the characters are the biggest problem in this light novel. But although the characters are a big issue, the real problem is how everything is presented. First off, for some reason Seven Seas light novels seem to be typeset in the weirdest way possible, which is basically this: all paragraphs left aligned, with normal line spacing within paragraphs, but a double space in between each paragraph itself. Bizarrely, the fourth volume started to look normal, so it could be an issue with reading them on nook versus Bookwalker. Whatever the reason, I think it looks terrible when it does occur, and for some reason, it definitely seems to affect the reading experience. The other issue is the words themselves. Other than a few satirical remarks, the story is written in the emptiest, most bare-bone basic way. This feels like a rough draft, and not a final publication (especially not of something this popular). “Oh, how do YOU know what’s a rough draft?!” you snap. Look, I’ve written several web novels before starting this blog, and they all sucked just as badly as this. The only difference is that I didn’t publish them. Sure, Mushoku Tensei has some blips of neat lore here and there, but it’s not presented in a way that piques my interest. Keep in mind that this could be a translation issue.
In addition to the typesetting and potential translation issues, the story and characters are just about as bad. The reason why I didn’t mention an actual goal for Rudeus in the outline of the premise is because he doesn’t have one. Sure, he wants to learn magic and become powerful (which he practically already accomplished), but there’s no real point. This is a slice-of-life isekai, which isn’t bad (heck, Konosuba’s one as well), but it’s done poorly in Mushoku Tensei. While it admittedly lays the groundwork for an interesting overarching story by the end of volume 2, the aforementioned bad writing makes it so that I have no interest in said story whatsoever.
As for the characters, they are walking tropes. Rudeus is a perfect prodigy, and everyone else in the world is at his mercy. The only character who seems remotely interesting is a loli named Eris, but that’s just relatively speaking; she’s still boring. Technically, there’s still development, but it feels empty and stiff. The only interesting thing about any character is that Rudeus seems to gradually come to terms with his NEETness and tries to be a better person, but it’s offset when his reward is just the continued perpetuance of his old fetishes. I don’t care about this cast, and I don’t see myself caring about them down the line. One thing I never understood is that people seem to think that any character development at all automatically makes them better characters, but that’s personally not how I roll. If you feel that way, then you’re more likely to enjoy the characters than I did.
The art is also one of the weakest I’ve seen. While it has more flourishes than, say, SAO, it’s still very bland. Eris is also the only interesting-looking character, but that’s- again- relatively speaking.
So, why did I read as much as I did? There is one reason alone: controversy. The anime for Mushoku Tensei is going to come out later this year, and it’s going to be a brouhaha. One thing that has been consistent in this series is questionable decisions. Series of minor spoilers ahead (skip to next paragraph if you want to avoid them): Rudeus falls in love with two different girls of single-digit age. “That’s not so bad, because he’s also eight, you idiot.” But recall… developmentally, HE’S STILL AND ADULT. So, essentially, a thirty-odd-year-old man grows sexually attracted to eight-year-old girls. There are also some cases of child abuse, children being naked (both of which include Rudeus), and adultery. Plus, he even gropes Eris’ breasts at one point, and she forgives him because it was his birthday.
People are gonna be livid when the anime airs, but I think it’s better being someone who gets to laugh and watch the community engage in heated debates than to engage with them. The potential for how far down the rabbit hole this can go is what’s driven me to read as many volumes as I have. In fact, I might read even more (but I really should just drop it).
Mushoku Tensei is bafflingly bad. I cannot recommend it to anyone with a straight face. I suppose that if you love the wish fulfillment aspect of isekai, along with the ideas it presents over the execution of said ideas, then you could enjoy this. But why would you when there’s so much better (and cheaper) on the market? Why read this when you could read Konosuba, No Game No Life, Torture Princess, Cautious Hero, or Otherside Picnic? The only way I could recommend Mushoku Tensei is to cringe at all the controversial stuff.
Last time on Log Horizon, Marielle and Co. get attacked by fishmen. But Naogutsu’s group also has some goblins to fight! In fact, there’s a lot of goblins. Oh, and these super important Knights of Izumo, who are supposed to protect everyone, decide to just disappear. According to Krusty, this many goblins can only mean that the Return of the Goblin King event has begun. Naogutsu and Marielle’s groups manage to meet up,but they notice a goblin unit making its way to the helpless village of Choushi. Shiroe also spills the beans on the memory loss thing, and Krusty confirms it, as it’s happened to him. Meanwhile, the kids manage to hold off some of the goblins attacking Choushi. While the politics heat up, Princess Raynesia breaks the ice by just offering to recruit people from Akiba herself. When they arrive, Akatsuki changes her into “proper” (a.k.a. fanservice-y) clothes. She and Shiroe give an epic speech, and a bunch of people join to fight back. Also, the twins arrive at Choushi and there is no goblin issue whatsoever, mainly because Marielle’s group already beat them to the punch. The group of 1,200 players splits into units and agrees to meet up at the Midrount Equestrian Gardens. The thumb-twiddlers are at odds with what Raynesia did, but Michitaka smooths them over (I think? I can’t understand any of this political crap…). While Shiroe is organizing stuff, a bunch of Fishmen appear in Choushi. They win, but they lose Rudy, who was a Person of the Earth, and can’t be revived… But Shiroe uses the power of Buddhism and his super-crafting skills to bring him back for long enough to have him sign a contract for him to join Log Horizon, making him an Adventurer who can’t die. Meanwhile, Raynesia and Krusty’s group are attacked by goblins and Dire Wolves, but they’re dealt with smoothly. In the end, the Goblin King was a scrub and never actually showed himself.
I’m sorry, but volume 5 was about as bad as I expected. The whole volume revolved around this Libra Festival thing, as well as the cliche love triangle between Minori and Akatsuki. There was no way for me to write a whole post about that volume alone, so that’s why I’m condensing these two volumes into one post.
The only interesting thing that occurs is what happens in the interlude at the end of the volume. The world of Log Horizon gets a lot bigger and scarier in one fell swoop, and it made me mildly interested in the story for the first time since volume 1.
The layer cake of conflicts gets even thicker in volume 6. For the first time in the series, a murderer attacks Akiba in the dead of night, and somehow, no alerts go off. Also, the Goblin King returns, and since they didn’t kill him the first time, this raid’s gonna be a lot tougher. But as far as the former conflict is concerned… well, the guy’s only been targeting adventurers, who get revived… Yeah, as established ages ago, Log Horizon is not meant to be an emotional rollercoaster. In fact, every time something serious happens, it’s almost immediately followed up with something goofy. Chapter 1 of this volume ends on such an ominous note, and the first thing that happens next chapter is Henrietta trying to put Raynesia into a skimpy nurse’s outfit.
If you couldn’t tell from volume 6 being titled Lost Child of the Dawn, this one’s all about Akatsuki. She deals with an existential crisis because she’s an Assassin. She devotes herself to protecting Shiroe (because she wuvs him or something arbitrary like that), but realizes that she can’t cut it. Her skills are great for stealth-killing single targets, but, naturally, that doesn’t help in big groups or head-on fights. Get ready to be constantly reminded that Akatsuki’s short, and that she’s sad, and weak!
In fact, that’s been a running theme in Log Horizon’s writing: redundancy. For some reason, the author is telling you rudimentary aspects of the series over and over again. They repeatedly tell you that Adventurers are immortal, People of the Earth are not, Henrietta is a lolicon, and even that Raynesia is a woman. In addition to the boring characters, this is the biggest reason for my declining joy in Log Horizon. I assume that the anime would naturally be better because of the lack of writing, but I’m not so sure anymore, given that I’m not the biggest fan of TV anime.
Oh, and for the record, the climax of the volume has a REALLY abrupt ending. I read the last few pages like eight times because I legitimately couldn’t understand what was occurring. Maybe I was just sick of Log Horizon at this point…
Verdict (Volume 5): 5.5/10
Verdict (Volume 6): 6.9/10
After the boring bonanza of volume 5, volume 6 at least shows some semblance of… er… being interesting? I’m at my wits end with this franchise. I tend to side with critics more often than not, but this is one time when I do not. What do you like about Log Horizon? Seriously, I desperately want to know. I’ve already acknowledged that I like the idea of the world, and Shiroe being a clever-leader-type guy as positives. But that’s not enough. I’ll try to give future volumes a shot, but I’d still love some input.
Last time on Log Horizon, the group returned to Akiba with Serera and Nyanta (while learning how to cook real food). But meanwhile, some old friends of Shiroe’s are in a bind: the twin newbs, Minori and Touya. They are kind of being held hostage by the guild, Hamelin, and forced to work their butts off. Shiroe responds by forming his own guild, the titular Log Horizon… and they raise money by selling food. Some clever negotiations help the business boom. But the real battle is when Shiroe attends a meeting with all the other guild leaders, and proposes that they form a governing body. Shiroe sways (i.e. blackmails) them by announcing that he purchased the guild center. Meanwhile, the operation to free the twins commences at the same time. While that goes down incredibly smoothly (as you’d expect), Shiroe brings up the secret to Snack Shop Crescent Moon’s success, as well as the revelation that anything can be invented by hand, such as steam engines and radios. He also proposes human rights laws for both players and People of the Earth. With this, his proposal for the new government- the Round Table Council- is approved with unanimous decision.
This volume tackles what I think is one of the hardest things to do well in the fantasy genre: in-universe politics. Most “plebian” folks will find politics, at first glance, to be absolute nonsense and rubbish, and writers can use that to justify wasting a lot of time in a fantasy narrative. There are times when fantasy politics can be good, like in One Piece‘s Reverie Arc, but most of the time, it’s just boring banter between unmemorable characters who will never appear again.
But hey, Log Horizon did have a great political meeting in the last volume. Shiroe was real clever buying out the guild center in order to sway the meeting, and it utilized an established mechanic of Log Horizon to boot.
Unfortunately, the politics in this volume are less than stellar. Basically, as a result of Akiba establishing a governing body, the Round Table, right next to the territory of Eastal, the League of Free Cities, Shiroe and others are invited (read as: demanded) to come to the Ancient Court of Eternal Ice to discuss their policies going forward. This was some seriously boring crap, and I was not engaged with anything happening at all.
But hey, there’s some action in here somewhere. While the politics are happening, Minori and Touya go with Noagutsu and some other people to a forest dungeon to train. Here, you see just how newbish they are in combat, and how long of a road they must traverse to not be baggage protagonists.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t too engaged by this stuff either. I get that the psychology of fighting with your physical bodies is much more intense than a traditional JRPG; that much was demonstrated in volume 1. But, in all honesty, the fear factor became a non-issue rather quickly, once Shiroe fought those PK’ers. So it stands to reason that it’ll be the same case for these kids, once the author decides to sprinkle on that nakama power. But to be fair, that’s kind of realistic with JRPGs in general, at least for me. A lot of times, I think I understand the rules, but then I notice some nuance, and I think, “Wow, I could’ve been doing this really helpful thing since the beginning of the game? Man, I’m an idiot!” But to be unfair, it just makes watching these kids struggle feel like watching a YouTuber’s blind playthrough of a game that you know really well.
As much as it sounds like I didn’t enjoy this volume, it still has some merits. The story goes from 0 to 100 towards the end, when this guy tells Shiroe the entire backstory of Elder Tales‘ world. This leads to a big revelation that’s, to be honest, kind of expected for Log Horizon, but no less important.
Is there something wrong with me? I was so excited to finally get to read Log Horizon, and so far, I’m on a very gradual road towards ultimately disliking it. From what I had heard, it seemed like an intellectual and well-built isekai, which it is for the most part. But the characters are still as bland, and exposition is as heavy, as any isekai. Also, the fact that all the events in this volume happen in conjunction with a beach fanservice subplot really bothered me. I did not think Log Horizon would do something like this (even if the scene does segue into plot relevant content in the next volume). I know that I’m like a twelve-year-old inside, but I have been known to love some very non-mainstream stuff. Well, there’s still plenty of volumes left to convince me otherwise!