Watching: Pompeii (2014)

Pompeii_Cover

I’m not really into the whole disaster type films, save for a few that have sparked my interest throughout the years. Most of the time, it’s usually how the destruction is caused – rather than an actual film, it’s a messy array of explosion, deaths and fire. And although Pompeii falls into the category of “failed” disaster films, it’s not the fault of the disaster itself; but rather the fault of its lacklustre script and the almost non-existent plot.

Funnily enough, I saw this film as part of a school excursion for my Ancient history topic. We were all expecting big things – expecting a story that centred on the actual disaster of Mt Vesuvius. Instead, we were served a bland poor-boy-meets-rich-girl story  that had was filled with gladiatorial film troupes. Admittedly, the film did begin with promise yet it all quickly fell apart, revealing the dry and uninteresting love story beneath.

The film centres on Milo (Kit Harrington), the last of a Celtic Horse Tribe and an enslaved gladiator who has recently arrived in the great city of Pompeii due to his excellent fighting skills. He catches the interest of Cassia (Emily Browning) who is in turn desired by Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), the man also responsible for his tribe’s death when Milo was a child. Now with the city crumbling around him, he and others must find a way to survive and escape the oncoming disaster caused by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius.

I was really surprised by how flat and mono-dimensional the characters and story seemed. It got to the point that rather than taking interest in the main characters, I soon found myself rooting for minor characters (My favourite character being Cassia’s handmaiden). I think it’s been proven time and time again that story telling isn’t Anderson’s forte – films like Resident EvilAliens Vs Predator, and Death Race are all heavily action based and, if anything, their action sequences give the films enough credibility to be called films. In saying that, Anderson’s portrayal of the actual eruption, and all the repercussions of the initial blast, is an archaeologist’s and historian’s dream. Referring back to my textbooks (and the all important internet), not only is the eruption entertaining and engaging – it’s also surprisingly realistic and accurate. Also deserving of praise are the few gladiatorial fights that are littered in section of the film, which is a godsend considering the true destruction of Pompeii – and I’m not talking about the explosion mind you.

True to it’s historical awareness, Pompeii is a giant disaster. While I do love Game of Thrones, I have to say, It’s not exactly Harington’s best work (Keep it up though Jon Snow!), and so I expect a lot more from him in the future. Although it would otherwise get a zero for its rating, the film’s visual effects are solid and extraordinary, and I’m sure many studying effects for film production would benefit from Mt Vesuvius’s destruction. If you are not however, such a student, I suggest you keep your distance from this disaster flick.

Bry Rating: 1/5
Recommended? Like in Roman times, I give this a thumbs down
Country of Origin: Germany/Canada
Language: English

Playing: Nier (PS3) (XBOX 360)

Nier_Cover

With the upcoming international release of Drakengard 3, I wanted to review the equally emotionally-confusing spin-off game of the Drakengard series, Nier. While Cavia (rest in peace) has been known for their strange and often complex games, Nier stands to be yet another quirky entry to their list. Sporting two different versions, wherein the titular protagonist is a teenage brother and a middle aged father in Replicant and Gestalt respectively, the game provides players with an intricate, if not captivating story.

Set on Earth in a distant future, Nier’s almost unrecognisable world is the product of the fifth hidden ending of Drankengard. Nier, whose sister/daughter Yonah is stricken with the “Black Scrawl”, dreams of finding a cure for her illness. Upon teaming up with the magical tome Grimoire Weiss, the foulmouthed Kainè and the ever mellow Emil during his search, Yonah is inexplicably kidnapped by the Shadowlord – the master of the enemies known only as Shades. With an army of these enemies in his path, Nier and his team must travel ruined landscapes and the remnants of lost civilisations to find the missing Yonah.

Nier is definitely one of the most interesting games I’ve ever played. Completely finishing the game is no easy task, and players will often find that the game is considerably more frustrating than it needs to be. This is most evident in the arduous task of finding materials for weapon upgrades, which sounds easy. But if you’ve ever played a Cavia game, you’d understand that the most simple task can take hours. Another interesting point is that completely finishing the game… also completely erases it. Upon taking the fourth ending route, the player’s save file is completely erased, along with other copies on the HDD (You have been warned). The game itself has also has a heap of extra missions to complete, so expect Nier to take quite awhile.

It’s primarily an action, hack and slash game that possesses role playing elements. It also, interestingly, has a variety of other game types interjected in sections of the story, such as platform, shooter and even text adventure. There are three weapon types (spears, one-handed swords and two-handed swords) that can be used and magic is also available, creating a solid, but average, combat experience. Both can have “words” attached to them, which augment and strengthen the power or abilities of equips. Defeating enemies results in gathering loot, words and experience, all of which are extremely useful towards the second half of the game. Nier also gains companions on his journey (typical of the JRPG genre) and attack on their own with competent attacks. Finally, finishing the game one opens of the New Game+ option, which allows players to experience the story again, but with twists and bigger revelations to the events of the story.

While Nier’s story is entertaining and sometimes actually touching, the graphics of the game weigh it down. While I praised the graphics of Bayonetta, I must say – Nier’s visuals are remarkably disappointing. It seems as though they would be rather suited to the graphic capabilities of the PS2. It does, though, have a few pleasant instances; such as the Resident Evil style graphics in Emil’s manor and the distant towers on the horizon of the port town in the game. Although the visuals of the game are about as mediocre as they can be, I cannot express just how much the soundtrack adds to the overall value of the game. I wrote about it before here, but briefly, it is beyond belief just how amazing the game’s music compels the audience to actually feel and pay attention. If Nier was ever to be completely forgotten, I guarantee  its OST would remain.

Even though Nier doesn’t shape up to be one of the better entries to the JRPG genre (or any genre for that matter), it’s overall cohesiveness,  story and soundtrack make it a worthwhile experience to enjoy. It is no way Nier (heh) the quality of other games released around the same time, but its effort in creating an emotional and captivating story redeems it (at least for me) from the more… displeasing aspects of the game. If you’d rather play a game more fixed on its story and appreciate a good soundtrack, give Nier a go – and just experience the mind-blowing story it has to offer.

Bry Rating: 3/5
Recommended? Definitely, for a compelling, and addictive story.
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Cavia

 

Playing: Resident Evil 6 (PS3) (XBOX 360) (PC)

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Every gamer throughout the world has at the very least heard of the Resident Evil franchise by Capcom. The latest instalment in the RE saga is Resident Evil 6, the first of its kind to feature 4 different story lines and story intersections. Although arguably the worst game of the series to date, the game still continues the storyline in a much wider scale than ever before, giving fans the world over another hit of one video game history’s greatest franchises.

The game’s storyline spans 7 months, starring familiar and newer faces. Leon and Helena, agents working with the president in the town of Tall Oaks, America are faced with a bio-terrorist attack that has turned the townsfolk into zombies. Chris and Piers, BSAA agents who worked in Edonia, are sent to China to rescue hostages amongst chaos and disorder. Finally Sherry, an agent chosen to escort Jake to safety in Edonia, works with her charge to find a cure for the newly developed C-Virus.

The game is by no means a traditional Resident Evil game. If anything, RE games haven’t being RE games recently. With times changing and video games with it, everything seems to be more action filled, more complex and more diverse. And RE6 is as diverse as they come. The storyline is non-linear which makes it harder then usual to understand the overall story of the game. Old characters are a welcome relief to the game which might as well no longer bear the RE tagline, yet the new characters are both refreshing and provide an exciting edge to the story. Yet amidst the heap of characters you’re given control over and the four full length stories available to play, fans quickly realise that this is no longer a survival horror… but an action horror. And that’s when all the magic disappears.

The game is a third-person shooter with rare hints to what RE games used to be. Although most prevalent in Leon and Ada’s campaigns, the good old puzzle solving aspect of the games is present, allowing players to experience the once shining lustre of the RE franchise. The A.I system is revamped for RE6, not only giving the player the option to command the actions of their partner, but allowing the A.I to be more competent and actually useful. Moreover, multiplayer is new feature added, sporting the unique Agent Hunt and the classical Mercenaries, both of which actually highly enjoyable. Another interesting point about the gameplay is that its four campaigns are distinct in their play style: Leon’s is primarily survival horror oriented, a nod to the original games; Chris’s is clearly action themed, forcing the player to keep their fingers on the trigger; Ada’s is heavily stealth based, especially considering it’s the only campaign that does not have an A.I. partner; and Jake’s is, essentially, a mix of all three.

If every other feature of the game was to be forgotten, the few aspects that shines through are the graphics, styling and music. Graphics are absolutely breathtaking, with each scene taking place in a beautifully created setting that immerses the player into the world. Even dull, underground passageways are designed beautifully, as are the flaming debris and buildings encountered in a crumbling China. The characters and monsters of the game are, as always, uniquely styled and portrayed, acting as one of the highlights of the entire game. Their fluidity and high quality animation are also very deserving of praise. As expected of any RE instalment, the soundtrack of the game is a key feature, making players feel exactly what the producers wanted you to feel. Whether it be the suspense of a creepy mansion, or the adrenaline of high speed chases, Resident Evil 6 doesn’t let fans down with its music.

Although it’s not exactly the great addition fans were expecting, Resident Evil 6 is an average continuation of one of Capcom’s most successful franchises. In my opinion, it wasn’t too terrible, but that being said, it could have had a lot of improvements made story and gameplay wise. It is saddening to see though its great departure from survival horror that many have come to love, and hopefully one day, we’ll see the next instalment going back to its horror roots. All in all, RE6 makes a delightful game to play for simple enjoyment, allowing people to enjoy a mix of the goodness of the RE series and an action packed story.

Bry Rating: 3.5/5
Recommended? For RE and Action Enthusiasts Only
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Capcom

Playing: Lollipop Chainsaw (PS3) (XBOX 360)

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There’s not a lot I can say about Lollipop Chainsaw without communicating just how over the top the game really is. Joining the forces of game and Hollywood, with Suda 51 and James Gunn (Slither) respectively, it’s reminiscent of a good ol’ B-Rated horror film, spiced up with a little Japanese humour and a whole bunch of fan service. Although the premise may seem superficial and highly… questionable, this pleasant blend of zombies and sunshine is sure to leave you both dumbfounded and poppin’.

Like I said earlier, the game is, essentially, a B-rated film. Our protagonist, cheerleader and hot chick Juliet just so happens to be a zombie hunter. When her high school is suddenly raided by zombies one day, she takes it upon herself to stop the undead horde, battle zombie overlords, figure out why all this started and maintain her relationship with her unique family and (what remains of) her boyfriend.

The game itself is hilarious and its interesting to see the way in which American society is displayed. And don’t worry, it doesn’t confine it’s humour to any single aspect of American culture – jokes range from hillbillies to potheads and from rockabillies to jocks and cheerleaders. All in all, it’s really one giant joke. Aside from that, one of the most important aspects of the game are the lines spoken by Juliet and Nick (The line “DON’T BE RACIST AGAINST COWS NICK” being one of my favourites), and the nods to other zombie-related works (Such as Romero, Korewa Zombie Desu-ka?High School of the Dead, etc.), making playing the game a whole lot better if you’re into zombie culture.

The game incorporates a bunch of different game genres, but for the most part, it’s an action hack and slash game. You battle the undead while waving your chainsaw in all sorts of ways, using your skills as a cheerleader to your advantage. The ever-so-helpful head of your boyfriend acts as a special weapon, being used to deal large stun damage to enemies and you use a variety of chainsaw upgrades to help you fight through your enemies. Game modes include timed and scored runs of the story levels, both of which depend highly on the totes awesome Sparkle Hunting (a multikill of 3 or more) to boost scores. It’s all pretty rad once you get the hang of it.

The graphics of the game happen to be one of the most distinct and visually pleasing styles that I’ve ever seen. The game is filled bright visuals, sunshines and a whole lot of rainbows amidst dark backdrops and chaos. It’s even better when it’s set across a pile of rotting corpses that just make Juliet shine across the field. That being said, story cutscenes, American comic book-like renders and boss stages are anything but just divine. In fact, the boss battles and the story scenes are among some of my favourite parts of the game. The only short fall of these graphics are the few, if not rare, awkward camera angles, which made it difficult to play. Voice acting roles were without a doubt perfectly played and the whole Juliet x Nick storyline is made all the more convincing because of it. Although these visuals are great though, in my opinion, the highlight of the entire game was the soundtrack. Featuring songs like “Lollipop” by The Chordettes, “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” by the Dead or Alive, “Mickey” by Toni Basil and “Cherry Bomb” by  Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, the music of the entire game is absolutely in-cre-di-ble.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting the game to be much more than a giant mixture of sexual innuendo and cheap laugh. I’m certainly glad it was more satisfying and more entertaining than what I originally expected. In saying all this, the game measures up to be a pleasant mix of retro and modern gaming, making it a good time for old and newer gamers alike. But beware though – it’s not exactly a hardcore or a big production game, and it’s definitely not one for saints. And if that’s no problem for you and you’re looking for an easy play, be sure to check out Lollipop Chainsaw.  It’s SOOOO COOL.

Bry Rating: 4.25
Recommended? Don’t be a total buzz kill! Play it.
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture

Playing: Bayonetta (PS3) (XBOX 360)

Bayonetta_Cover

Let’s face it: SEGA’s games have lately been on the decline, not only in quantity, but in quality. Of the few gems that it has to offer, Bayonetta stands out in all its raunchy, addictive and intoxicating glory. It’s an action packed, hack-and-slash third person shooter – so naturally, its was impossible to pass up.

Bayonetta, an Umbra Witch that has lost her memories, sets out to uncover the mysteries of her past and the “Eye of the World”, a jewel she has owned from as far as she remembers. Sporting a wide of range of weapons, four guns being her favourite, she battles the armies of Paradiso Angels who impede her progress. Why they do this delves deeper into the world of Bayonetta (which is in turn, beyond the realm of this blog). She meets a handful of character who she seems to be connected to somehow – of interest a small girl named Cereza who calls her “Mommy”.

Bayonetta herself is a fiery, smart-mouthed, glasses-wearing woman with a flare for… sexual innuendo. Whilst on the surface she may seem like eye-candy for the teen male, her character is fleshed out through her relationships with other characters. Her development as a selfish character to one that acknowledges the value of compassion demonstrates not only the way people can change through life – but also how “sexual” characters in games (Especially women) can have a perfectly good story that adds depth.

Admittedly, the story of the game is hard to follow, choppy at best. In “compensation” players are given the satisfaction of an extremely intriguing and flashy form of fighting. The player controls Bayonetta as she glides across the screen performing amazing combos. It’s awfully satisfying – gaining momentum, performing timed backflips and executing a string of commands that makes her dance (Seriously). The game also has two additional mechanics when fighting – Witch Time and Torture Attacks. With Witch Time, the player has to narrowly dodge attacks to slow down the passage of time whereas with Torture Attacks, players complete a series of QTEs to finish of their enemies  (in an ever-so-flashy manner). Items that can be equipped consists of an array of weapons (ranging from katanas to magical ice skates) and magical ornaments whereas consumable items appear in the form of lollipops.

The visuals of the game are definitely encapsulating, especially when you consider that this was pre 2010Enemies are detailed and interesting to view, although in the later game colour pallets are swapped to make room for new enemies. Character designs in particular stand out though – they range in shapes and sizes but are all believable and executed well. As for the music in the game, all I can really say is that I’ve downloaded “Fly Me To The Moon” and “Let’s Dance Boys” and both are on the top of my playlist my phone. And computer. And music player.

All in all, Bayonetta is remarkable game that utilises incredible fighting mechanics, powerful visuals and a striking soundtrack. Although the story lacks a sense of clarity and is begging for more (Pst, Sequel), the characters in the game more than make up for it through their quirky personalities and backstories. If similar games like Devil May Cry bother you, or you have an unreasonable hate towards the rings from Sonic (Oh Sega references), then this game is probably not for you. But if you’re more than happy to experience the diamond that is Bayonetta – “Let’s Rock Baby!”

Bry Rating: 4.25
Recommended? Of Course
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Sega ; Platinum Games

Playing: The World Ends With You (DS)

The_World_Ends_With_You_ Cover

Very rarely does a game surpass my expectations of it, yet The World Ends With You proved to be one of those few. With an deep plot, interesting game mechanics and a superb soundtrack, TWEWY will surely exceed your expectations too.

The story takes an interesting spin on purgatory – those who die in the RG (Realground) are given the chance to return to life in the UG (Underground). Neku, after waking up in the middle of the scramble crossing in Shibuya, is forced to flee after being attacked by beings later called “Noise”. He meets with Shiki, a fellow “Player”, who explains the basic idea of the world they find themselves in and how to survive. Players meet the bad guys, meet some new friends and go forth into battle (Typical of Square Enix titles, no?)

The playable characters (And a handful of NPCs) themselves are highly relatable, each with their own agendas, dreams and regrets. Whilst it’s arguable that some characters are overrated or cliché, its interesting to note that they raise a variety of modernist ideas. In a sense, the characters are used to acknowledge modern social issues, ranging from depression, ideas of beauty, perfection and even familial disorder. The best part? These are all aimed towards young adults.

The art style of the game is, in my opinion, addictive, original and exciting. The characters themselves are detailed sprites in both the over-world and battle screens. The story art and backgrounds are extremely stimulating –  almost as if hip hop was translated into 2D art (Which isn’t surprising when listening to the music of the game). Song tracks in the game are a reflection of typical “teen” interests, with most of them being upbeat and highly rhythmic (It’s one of them cool hits, Yo).

Most of the game is controlled via the touch screen of the DS, with certain functions and the story being in the upper screen. The weapons and items of the game are also “modernised” – traditional Square Enix swords, magics and potions are transformed into “Pins” that are controlled by the mind. Armour gets a makeover too – shields, chest plates and helmets become dresses, accessories and clothes that augment the user’s abilities.

“Psych” Pins can be levelled up and evolved through three different methods and there’s even a mini-game that details the in-game popularity of the Pins. Players can also scan the area they are in with a special Pin, allowing them to see surrounding noise and the inner thoughts of RG inhabitants. Battle gameplay is slightly awkward and complex as the game allows players to control Neku (with swipes, taps and holds) whilst also controlling his partner on the upper screen (with the D-pad). Overall, the mechanics of the game are overwhelming and understandably difficult to follow for both the inexperienced and the more seasoned gamer alike.

Yet despite these faults, the game is intoxicating to play. With a plethora of secrets, collectibles and side-quests (Apparently, style is very important – as is befriending all those cute storekeepers), TWEWY is a refreshing change to traditional RPGs within the world of hand-held gaming. Despite being one of the lesser known games of Square Enix, this interesting mix of pop culture and gaming makes it one of the more memorable titles of video games.

Bry Rating: 4.8/5
Recommended? Yes
Country Of Origin: Japan
Developer: Square Enix ; Jupiter