Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Things No One Cares About:Hamtaro,Ham-Ham Heartbreak

Hamtaro is probably one of my first anime that wasn't Pokemon. I was either scared or disinterested in most of the anime that ran during the Toonami block. So I turned to the adventure of that little orange hamster and his friends. I don't remember much of the show but really that not what I'm here to talk about. I would talk about it more but that would require me to re watch all 296 episodes and ain't nobody got time for that. Instead I'll be looking at it's video game tie-ins. The first one being Hamtaro:Ham Ham Heartbreak.

Technically it is the third game in the series and the second one released outside Japan. The first one being Ham Hams Unite for the Game boy Color which I'll get back to soon enough. Either way it was released in 2003 for the Game boy Advanced and is sort of a hidden gem for a system with a library full of found gems. That was a joke...moving on.

Hamtaro:Ham Ham Heartbreak is an adventure game that focuses less on item collection to solve puzzles and more on using words and actions.Ham Chats, a carry over from Ham Hams Unite, are the words used to solve the various problems of the hamsters.The beginning of the game explains why Hamtaro doesn't have his extensive vocabulary from last time(Spoiler:he's a klutz). All the words let Hamtaro and Bijou interact with the world and achieve their goals. Most of them have a few specific uses outside of the handful Boss teach you in the intro. As a side note Hamtaro does not seem to care if what is happening around him,if he learns a new Ham Chat then by god is he going to pull out his dictionary and write it down. Someone is crying their eyes out,screw them they just taught me how to say cry better record it real quick. I find it kind of funny.

So Ham Chats are puzzle solvers but what kind of puzzles are we solving. It's love,your basically hamster cupid and have to get hamsters to fall into or back into love. You do this by either giving people something or helping people out with a Ham chat word. That's basically the whole game and it's actually pretty fun. All the puzzles are creative if a bit on the simple side(it is a kid's game). It helps that the game is fairly short with six stages ,so the concept doesn't wear out it's welcome. There are three different ending sequences to get for fixing all the loves,beating the final boss and learning all the Ham chats. The game has a few more side things but they are mostly just for fun such as playing dress up or finding gems.

If I have to nit-pick it's that some of the puzzles can be slightly obtuse such as peeing on a fake reflection to make it lose it's cool.Luckily nothing approaching the normal moon logic this kind of game tends to run on. Then there is the fact that you have to sit through a short animation every time you want to pick something up in a room. Also Hamtaro and Bijou make this annoying squeaking sound with every step they take and it can be grating. However this are still nit picks and don't ruin an other wise solid experience.

The story is pretty simple:There is a hamster named Spat who hates love and you have to go around cleaning up his messes with the help of his nemesis,Harmony. This game is shipping Hamtaro with Bijou so she joins up and together you fight for love. Spat has no motivation beyond being a jerk but he does break down as the game goes on moving from simple rumor mongering to theft and finally attempted murder. I have a hard time believing that some characters actually trust a guy who looks like Satan in hamster form. His counterpart Harmony gets the same amount of back story and comes off as a bit loony. One could argue that her and Spat are in an alternate reality game that got way out of hand. Either that or God and Satan just got bored and decided to screw with some hamsters. It's not that complex a story but it works.Hey, it is better than the last game which is go find everybody because Boss said so. Most of the show's cast make appearances and despite not having seen this show in years I was still squealing like a 9 year old girl every time I saw one of them.

The story does explore the different kinds of love and is pretty open minded about love from friendship to romance to sibling love. I think they have a gay couple in one area that you help out but that may just be me being hopeful or them being vague on some hamster's genders. Hamtaro and Bijou play well off each other and their little love scene at the end is adorable.

The graphics and animations have been upgraded from Unite and some Ham chats have a little more complex animations now. The game looks more like the show with everything being bright and colorful and every important hamster being unique. The areas are all your basic settings(mountain,beach,jungle etc.) from a hamster 's perspective which adds a nice touch to things and lends it self to some cool looking areas. The music is nice if nothing special and you can set a dance to most of the BGM if you find the track in the levels.

For the most part licensed games tend to get a bad rap and to be fair quite a few deserve the reputation. This is definitely not one of them and deserves a look for anyone who wants a good time.

Till next time Stay Positive

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Things No One Cares About: Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

A vocally straight friend and I were discussing Kill La Kill and he made mention of the teacher's weird and hilarious fan service scene. He found it gratuitous, I didn't. It reminded me of how he had mentioned Free! And it's own gratuitous male fan service. This is all the motivation I needed to watch Free! Iwatobi Swim Club.

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club is known in most circles as the swimming anime and all others as "look at that body". Notable for it's high fan service aimed at females and a guy who is often shipped with water. It should also be noted for having actual interesting characters and a half way decent plot.

The plot follows a group of boys with girly names and their re founding of the high school swimming club after meeting up with their friend turned rival. They train for tournaments,have team building adventures and get characterization on motivations. The Free in the title refers to both Freestyle swimming and the characters desire to be free from the past. Most of the boys has something holding them back from becoming a successful and fulfilling their dreams. It adds a nice layer of depth to an other wise standard sports plot and made each episode worth watching. Every episode the we learn more about the characters and why stick with this whole mess even if they don't have to.

The show moves along at a nice clip while giving the characters time to reflect and let things soak in(pun intended) .It seems like the first competition did come up somewhat fast but once I made it to the end of the show,it came at just the right time. The series is also pretty funny for not being a pure comedy series. Haruka and Rei are the comically serious while Makoto gets to over react. They are also not above poking fun at themselves with jabs at Haruka's love of water and the gratuitous amount of male physique on display.

Our main cast has five boys:First is Haruka Nanase,the boy who loves water. He sort of comes off as just plain weird; sometimes often talking about the water as if it were a person, and seems to only eat mackerel. He is also an amazing swimmer (only freestyle though) and the glue holding the swim team together. He starts of wanting to be ordinary but every encounter with childhood rival Rin has him questioning what he actually wants and how he can get that. Figuring him out can be somewhat difficult just due to him rarely speaking. It's left to pieces of flashbacks and how other characters act around him. He has a dolphin motif that nicely contrasts Rin's shark motif.

His best friend/mother figure is Makoto Tachibana, the new swim team's captain. Makoto is sort of the Wilson to Haruka's House. He's always watching out for him and trying to keep him safe. When he does become captain of the swim club he evolves into the team mom constantly looking out for the boys and putting aside his own fears for the team. He's not as troubled as Haruka outside of a fear of water but is still the emotional center of the team. He has a Killer Whale,a symbol of leadership, as his motif which fits his personality to a tee.

Nagisa Hazuki is the most enthusiastic of the boys and has a hero worship relationship with Haruka. He is all boundless enthusiasm and excitement. He doesn't learn any real lessons outside of teamwork which he's pretty well versed in from the beginning . His bouncy personality is cute and he helps to keep everyone going. His goofy/flighty nature does well to hide his strong love for the team and when things go wrong he is trying his best to set things right. He is also the only person who will tease the boys about their girly names often adding -chan to their names. His animal motif is the penguin and more specifically the Rock hopper penguin as it's the teams mascot drawn by Haruka.

The last member of the new team is Rei Ryugazaki,who shares Haruka's role as the comically serious and is a lover of beauty. He is the last member to join and also gets one of the better jokes in the series which I really don't want to spoil. His obsession with beauty is fairly low key once he joins the team and most of his arc is focused on him becoming part of the team and culminates in a crowing moment of heart warming. He constantly struggles with the fact that he doesn't have the history the others have and he eventually learns what must be done so he can be "free" to join the team.

Rin Matsuoka is the rival and main antagonist of the series. Most of the series for him is spent taunting Haruka and the team. It's all a facade to mask his own crippling failure as a solo swimmer. Like Haruka they are trying to come to terms with their reasons for swimming and by extension living. He channels his rage into beating Haruka and is baffled when he doesn't feel satisfied by beating him. He is a joy to watch struggle through his issues and finally take his life in his hands and move on. I do wish that they would explore more with of his relationship with his family as there is a bit of a goldmine there from guilt over "ruining" his father's dream and his poor relationship with his sister

The supporting cast are nothing special but do provide a good laugh or two. Rin's sister,Kou, is used as a bit of an audience surrogate in regards to the fanserivce going on. Also I swear that Rin's kohai looks like a middle school age Yu Narukami without the panache. All of them are at least memorable but not particularity well developed.

The animation is gorgeous with bright colors and a clean look. The character design does leave a little to be desired as it's pretty much stock bishonen stereotypes. Being bishonen they do look very handsome so that helps. Apparently their bodies are also accurate to what a swimmers build would look like. I personally wouldn't know as I'm no expert on muscles outside of well that looks nice. The ending animation is bizarre and oddly compelling telling a weird little tale about Haruka in the desert looking for water with a random club scene thrown in. I couldn't tear my self away from it and was sort of disappointed the last episode lacked it. The music all around is not bad with the OP and ED being kind of catchy if generic. Also the rest of the OST does answer my question: What if Shoji Meguro tried to compose while massively drunk. The answer:not bad.

So in the end is Free! worth your time if you're not a lover of the male body? I'd say yes. If you can look past that there is a interesting plot with some fun characters. If you are a lover of the male body then hey your getting a pretty good show with some eye candy to boot. Till next time, Stay Positive.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Things No One Cares About:Chantelise: A Tale of Two Sisters

A few months back I picked up the Carpe Fulgur collection on sale mostly to play Recettear because last time I checked three games for twenty dollars is better than one game for twenty. I think that is how value works,wouldn't know really. Oddly enough I still haven't touched Recettear instead opting to start with its' predecessor Chantelise: A Tale of Two Sisters. Then I stopped playing it because darn it the game was hard and the controls were being mean.

Fast forward to the present where I have a wired controller to play it and suddenly the game was...just as hard but hey at least me and the controller are on the same page. As I made my way through this tale of sisters I really started enjoying myself whaping monsters in the face and discovering the hidden chests. Mind you they game never went into greatness territory but it had a small encampment nearby. Anyway on with the review.

Chantelise is an action RPG with less a focus on leveling up(i.e there is none) and more on proper item set up. The melee combat is fun and works well, your sword never failing to cleave a slime in two. Chatelise's hook is in it's very odd magic system. There is no mana pool to draw from instead it's fueled by magic stones dropped from monsters at random. It does get quite annoying but the magic system will rarely leave you in an unwinable scenario in normal battle.Plus it will never do so in a boss fight. In the beginning you can only use two magic stones at a time and it eventually goes up to four at a time. There are different spells for charging up like colored stones and different effects on existing spells with different colored stone combinations. It adds a nice layer of strategy with the magic that is a bit undercut by the randomness factor. Though I hardly used the top tier spells as the were more trouble than they're worth.

The games other major element is treasure hunting. You have the basic random drops to sell to the shopkeeper to help pay her exorbitant prices. Then there are the hidden treasures that can be found in each section of the dungeons. It's actually pretty fun trying to complete all of them for the great items they yield. Sadly the hints you pay for to find the treasures  are vague and mostly unhelpful. Plus to get a hint you have to pay a bit of your maximum Hit Points,so your better of using a guide to help you.The game has a fishing side quest that plays like Mario Golf,a fact the game lampshades. The fishing itself is enjoyable and it's always funny to use Chante herself as the lure.

If I'm going to have any real gripes on the game play side it would be these. First the targeting system is less than helpful. Preferring to lock on to an enemy two rooms back as opposed to the giant crab starring you down. It is possible to switch targets with the camera However it's less than helpful and you are better off just canceling targeting and try again.

Second is what this game laughably calls a difficulty curve that is all over the place. The game starts out just pounding you in to the ground,especially with the first boss and his immunity to a sword in the face. After that the game just keeps beating on you with loads of enemies till about the third dungeon where everything becomes a cake walk. I breezed through the remaining three dungeons with only a slight hiccup on the first phase of the final boss. The final boss' attacks do minimal damage with a low level shield equipped and are so easy to dodge that it's hardly necessary to have a shield on. Overall though the game play is really fun and the game's short length ensures it won't wear out it's welcome.

On the story side of things it all flows well and has nothing really to say about anything. The story scenes are minimal but do well with what little there is to foreshadow some of the weirdness that makes up the plot's later half. The characters themselves of which there are four major players are likable if not particularly well rounded. Elise is a sword maiden and is kind if a bit dimwitted and her big sister Chante is a human turned fairy with a bad temper. Their relationship actually works very well and I could tell that they were sisters without the game having to say so. The other two women are basically the same personality wise but in a mentor like position. Again everything works and the ending does tie most loose ends up. Except for one...I think,it could just me being a ditz. Finally the translated script is very fun and witty. It doesn't rely on cursing and fart jokes instead going for violence being threatened upon character's shins. It works wonderfully and gets in quite a few good jokes.

The art style is reminiscent of one of the RPG maker games and I do mean that in a good way. The sprites are detailed and the backgrounds are pretty. It just lacks any real stand out locations,all being variations on ancient ruins and forests. A special mention to Elise's fishing catching animation in that my god is it cute. Other than that nothing terrible,noting outstanding.

In the end I consider this a good game with no real deal breakers in it. It may be nothing special but it has a heart and a sense of humor. It's the cheapest of the Carpe Fulgur games on Steam and well worth it if your needing an RPG fix. Just make sure use a game pad of some sort to save yourself from the poor keyboard controls.
Till next time Stay Positive.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Things No One Cares About: Requiem in Phony Brian

R.I.P or Requiem in Phony Brian is a one volume shojo manga by "Goth queen" Mitsuzaku Mihara. This is what happens when you let a goth kid try to write Hell Girl and this is their very first writing assignment after suffering a concussion at Hot Topic. It's not very good is what I'm trying to get at. I picked this up a used bookstore based on it's ridiculous sounding back blurb. It sounded so terrible that I just had to read it and now you get to suffer with me.

The plot follows an angel named Transylvania Rose,yes really, who I'll call TR for short taking a suicidal undertaker as a pet after he makes good on the suicide part. What follows is an angst ridden journey about why the undertaker is the way he is. Every other chapter is about getting TR to go back to Heaven or what appears to be heaven. It seems to be only populated by four people total so I can understand why they'd be lonely without her. The undertaker can purify suicides for no apparent reasons. However up till about chapter seven or eight it all basically works as a poor man's Hell Girl without the revenge. However once it goes full into the Undertaker's, Phony Brian, back story do things just get silly. His parents named him that because he was born out of wedlock and his dead girlfriend killed herself by drinking her own I.V fluid. I'd actually like this if it didn't take itself so seriously because this would be a decent black comedy. The book likes to think that it's smarter than it is dropping lines like: Who takes care of the undertaker when he's dead? All in all the plot is a sham that thinks otherwise.

The characters are not much better,all of the angel characters are flatter than my chest and are all unlikable and selfish. Phony Brian and his girlfriend have the chemistry of dead fish and are in an eternal angst off. I will admit that Brian does have at least reasonable reactions about being forced into being TR's pet,though he may be using that as an excuse to just mope some more. TR is again wholly unlikable and never seems to learn anything. I do understand her though when heaven is populated by a clingy valley girl and Mr. tall ,dark and brooding,I'd get out of there as often as possible. So,yeah the characters are a sham too.

Then there is the art which succeeds by being average. It's all very elaborate and flowing without being overwhelming. The character models are distinct enough that I can tell everyone apart and their outfits do look nice. For some reason TR's hair changes for no reason in the finale and it took me a minute to realize it was her. It's all just your bog standard Gothic art work,not great but not horrid either. It's a manga so I can't talk out the soundtrack but I'd imagine it being done by a garage band who goes on about how life is pain because the singer's boy/girlfriend of two days didn't text them good morning.

In the end we have poor characters in a poor plot that is at least drawn well. It barely edges into so bad it's good territory but it still falls short of that. Avoid this little train wreak and go watch Hell Girl since I can't stop bringing it up. Alternatively check out Mihara's other one shots,Slice of Black Chocolate is pretty good. Till next time: Stay Positive