Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Rating the Queen's Blade Characters - Part 4

I've been getting less and less concise with these ratings, and I apologize for that. Heh, maybe I should've went with a single post for each character; after all, there was a lot I never got to about Tomoe's shame guidelines, Nyx's bipolarism, and other quirks about other characters. Oh well.

Well, this is the final part for this rating, and I'm ending with four of my favorite characters: the two master-student teams of QB ....

Story (10/10) - Echidna's story covers all of the bases. Her origin as a Dark Elf showed us that there were other elves besides the type that Alleyne and Nowa originate from. Her age is 500, and a lot of her interaction with Leina, Alleyne, Irma, and Nowa is effected by her knowledge and long lifespan. She was once the leader of the Fang Assassins under, until she left after seeing how corrupt Aldra was becoming. She raised and trained Irma from a young age until they became especially close, and most likely had a relationship. And, she was a close friend of Maria, Leina's mother, and was even asked by Maria to watch over Leina if anything should happen to her; which, in turn, leads to Echidna's master-student relationship with Leina in the first season. All of these facets of Echidna's past help forge an interesting character in herself, as well as help the QB world grow, and establish interesting relationships with those around her. Echidna's personality is also very colorful and interesting. Most of the time, Echidna is a flirtatious woman who loves freedom, relaxation, and women; however, her instincts as a teacher must have never worn off, as she is consistently giving knowledgeable advice to much of the cast, especially Leina and Irma. She is also a supreme warrior and among the strongest in the QB world; she has shown quite the bloodlust and cunning in battle when the needs come. As far as her story arc goes, Echidna doesn't really change, as she is already fully developed, and she mostly acts as a catalyst for the growth of other characters, such as Leina and Irma; luckily, her role in their character arcs is crucial and quite interesting, thus making Echidna feel much more like a central story character despite not having too much growth herself. In the end, Echidna is an essential part of the QB world in so many ways, and yet never feels like a tool within the story, rather she is just a really interesting character who is so important to so many facets of the QB world and characters that she just exudes personality and interest.

Design (10/10) - Echidna has an obvious snake theme, and the way it is executed in her design is excellent. Her green color scheme, scaled armor, Gorgon-head shield, curved sword, snake necklace, and, of course, Kiruta, her beloved pet and underwear. The fact that elves don't wear underwear is a fun ongoing theme in the QB world, and the way Echidna deals with it is having a snake for panties. Brilliant! Her design is made even better in the anime thanks to Rin-Sin's superb "sharpening" of F.S.'s original design. The more sharp and elongated eyes of her anime design are definitely the best change, as it gives Echidna a much more mature look, which coincides with her "master" role in the story much better than her more wide eyes in her combat book. Overall, a design that is not only flawless, but very interesting.

Overall (10/10) - If it wasn't obivous, Echidna is my favorite character in the QB cast. Her flirtatious attitude towards Leina, Irma, and Nowa in the anime, as well as Tomoe and other women in the manga make for a fun "flirtatious lesbian" character. However, Echidna goes beyond just being the flirtatious woman, and has a great past history to her, as well as very interesting interactions with a lot of the QB cast. Quite simply an amazing character.

Story (10/10) - Alleyne's story is a very interesting one in that it is a very focused story. Similar to the plight between Leina and Claudette; Alleyne's story is one of internal plight dealing primarily with her student Nowa. Alleyne is 1000 years old, and in those 100 years has lived the life of a legendary combat instructor and guardian of the elf forest. In these 1000 years of life, Alleyne has never found love, such is why Echidna, a former rival, teases her by calling her "the 1000 year-old virgin". However, Alleyne has recently found love in her student Nowa; however, Alleyne doesn't know if it is truly love, and if it is, how to even deal with these feelings. This internal plight doesn't dominate Alleyne's story arc, but it is a central of both her story arc as well as Nowa's. This internal plight is also spearheaded and catalyzed by Alleyne's interactions with Echidna and Nowa, and reflected in Echidna and Irma's own much-closer master-student relationship. What makes Alleyne's story arc so interesting is how it is equal parts an inner struggle as well as one catalyzed by the characters around her. And, like Echidna, Alleyne is made more interesting thanks to her "master" relationship with her student, Nowa. Her character arc also has one of the most satisfying conclusions in the cast.

Design (10/10) - Like Nyx, Alleyne has a very bold character design. Her green, red, and white color scheme works superbly well, and her strong physique shows her strength well. The ornamentation of her gloves, breast-plate, leggings, and belt are very intricate and add to the "refined" and natural (as in forest) look that Alleyne has. Her bright red hat and cape give her facial area a very bold look, and also help accentuate her movements in battle. Rounding out her superb design is her long, flowing platinum-blonde hair, which is not only really pretty to look at, but accentuates her movements even more than her cape does. Her weapon is also simple yet cool in the bo staff; adding even more to her "nature" look. An intricate and superb design all-around.

Overall (10/10) - Alleyne, like Echidna, exudes a lot of personality and intricicies in her story; albeit in a very different way to Echidna, but that's why the two character interacy so often, because they are so different in personality, yet so similar in terms of story arc. The presence that Alleyne, and Echidna, exude as part of the QB world as well as their own internal plights really makes both characters stand out as icons of the QB world, even if they aren't main characters.

Story (6/10) - Nowa is basically the typical shonen hero. She has a tragic past as a half-human  half-elf who was cast out by both peoples, but raised by a loving master in Alleyne. She isn't very strong, but hopes to become very strong in order to protect what she cares about. She desires freedom and adventure in order to have experiences in order to obtain the strength she desires. However, her last wish isn't granted to her until the end of her story arc. It's in that fact that makes Nowa rather interesting. Nowa is strong, but she's naive, and as such Alleyne, her mentor, doesn't want to let her go on her own. This leads to the question of Nowa's character arc: is it right for Nowa to remain Alleyne's student, or is her being a student holding her back from obtaining the strength she desires? It's in this question that Nowa becomes a bit more interesting than her story stereotypes lets on. While Nowa does grow a little throughout her story arc, it isn't very much, and, unfortunately, much of her growth as a warrior will probably never be known, as she doesn't set out on an adventure outside of Alleyne's tutelage until her ending. It's a good ending for Nowa, but a poor one for us. Regardless, Nowa is a fun and cute character who has some fire in her eyes. It would've been quite interesting if Nowa was the main character of Rebellion.

Design (5/10) - With the exception of a nice, bright orange color scheme, Nowa's design is quite boring. She doesn't wear much, and while it does go along with her "wild girl" look, it doesn't really do much for her design. Ru is an interesting addition, as Nowa is one of the few characters with a companion, but he can only do so much. Nowa's bo staff has a nice design to it, and is reminiscent of the nyo-bo used by Son Goku in the Journey to the West legends. Other than that, not much to say about Nowa.

Overall (6/10) - Nowa is a character that gets a lot of points for her cute look and innocent love for Alleyne. She has a decent story, good character growth, and some nice character interaction with other cast members, especially Alleyne, but "interesting" is not the word to really describe Nowa, as a lot of her interactions and growth is part of the typical shonen lead formula.

Story (7/10) - Irma's story is a straight-forward revenge scenario where a pillage initiated by Aldra results in the death of her brother. After being rescued by Echidna, Irma is trained by her to become a powerful assassin. Like Alleyne, Irma's interesting character features come from her interaction with a single other character, in this case being Echidna. Echidna was once Irma's master and perhaps lover at some point; regardless of the type of relationship, they were very close. When Echidna left the Fang Assassins, she wanted Irma to come with her, but Irma refused due to being set on assassinating Aldra. Irma took Echidna leaving as a betrayal of their relationship, and thus came to outwardly hate Echidna, though deep inside she still loved her. The rest of Irma's story arc comes simply from her contemplating the path she's chosen, and what the right choice would be: revenge or happiness. Her constant interactions with Echidna throughout her story arc only add fuel to the flame that is her muddled mind. It makes for a cliche, but still interesting story arc for Irma. In the end, Irma learns the hard way that revenge isn't always the best choice, but even through the rough patch, find her happy ending with Echidna. A satisfying conclusion to a good story arc.

Design (6/10) - Irma's armor is that of the Fang Assassins, thus it has a very formal look to it. While Echidna had a snake theme, Irma has a cat theme, and while it is only relevant in her face, her piercing eyes and short blue hair help give her a nice look. She also uses two short swords as her weapons, which, for some reason, look pretty cool; perhaps they work well with her "metal" color scheme. In the end, Irma's design is a bit too one-toned, but her charming face and strong body help keep her out of mediocrity.

Overall (6.5/10) - Irma doesn't stand particularly well on her own, both in terms of design and story, but when Echidna is involved, she becomes a much more interesting character. Because of this, she can only be so great on her own. Regardless, Irma's interaction with Echidna is one of the highlights of the second season, and she still has a very charming face.


So that's it for the cast of the first series of Queen's Blade. I may do some other ratings or rankings for the QB cast, such as best couples or best fights. I'm going to hold off on doing ratings for the Rebellion cast until the story comes to a close with the second season of the Rebellion anime and the official ends get released in a Complete Visual Book.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Rating the Queen's Blade Characters - Part 3

I'll apologize now about how these posts aren't that well written. I'm trying to be pretty consice in the entries, but sometimes I ramble on anyway, heh. So, with that said, let's move on to the villains of the series ...

Story (5/10) - Despite being one of the major antagonists in the QB story, Melona doesn't do much other than, well, antagonize the protagonists. She is a shape-shifter under the command of the Marshland Witch, though she tends to simply do as she wishes, its just that it happens to line up with what the Marshland Witch wants. Melona gets some extra points for having a fun personality, and the way her personality clashes with her sister-in-arms Airi is always funny to watch. In the end, Melona is simply an antagonist, but she's a pretty fun one; often joking around and being happy-go-lucky, though she isn't opposed to being serious when she needs to be. 

Design (8/10) - Melona's design very charismatic and unique. Her bunny ears, clover-shaped irises, the way her hair holds her breasts, and her intensely pink color scheme all make for a simply yet interesting design. What I like most about Melona's design, especially in the anime, is how her main draw is her cute face. Her large eyes, blush marks, large lips, and pink hair and bunny ears really draw attention to a small area, and that's something very unique to Melona within the large cast. 

Overall (7/10) - There may be nothing too compelling about Melona, but she's still a very fun character, and has a unique design. Her interactions with all of the characters, especially Leina, Menace, and Airi, are the real treat of her character.

Story (5/10) - Menace's story is one of a child who never grew up. Menace once ruled a kingdom, but it fell in a coup that came as a result of her poor leadership. The story isn't bad, as it shows her character flaws and the realistic turnabouts there-of; however, it's a shame that Menace's character never really evolves past what she once was. She still acts childish, she still desires to be spoiled rotten, and feels that what she desires should always be given to her as her right as a princess, even if the Amaran kingdom is gone. So while her backstory may be kinda interesting, having Menace be a static character throughout the series is pretty disappointing. In terms of personality, Menace can be fun at times, though is often overshadowed by the more fun Melona. The little details, such as her powers, martial arts capabilities, and tragic relationship with her most trusted maid, do help Melona from being completely boring, but there simply isn't much to Menace at all within the confines of the QB story involving the tournament. Sure, she is the one Marshland Witch soldier who isn't loyal to the Witch herself, but there are no repercussions of her lack of loyalty, so it doesn't make for interesting conflict. Overall, a character with potential that is never really lived up to.

Design (6/10) - Menace doesn't wear much clothing, but not in a good way like Claudette or Echidna; rather, her design feels as if it should have more clothing and ornamentation, but all she has of note are an ornamental crown and breast-plate. It makes for a design that feels incomplete. A positive point about her design is that, similar to Melona, her design draws attention to her face with large eyes, shiny hair, ornamental crown and earrings, and an ornamental breast-plate. Overall, a decent design from the chest and up, but one that feels incomplete when taken as a whole.

Overall (5.5/10) - Menace makes for some interesting scenes, but is often overshadowed by her fellow sisters-in-arms and doesn't present enough growth as a character to be considered interesting beyond her OK backstory.

Story (9/10) - Airi's story is one of the highlights of the anime. While in the manga and online story, Airi is simply just the Marshland Witch's most loyal soldier, the anime took the character into a more complex role as a dedicated warrior, a monster, and an "onee-san"; ultimately, having her choose her side between her new friends found in Rana's family, or stay loyal to the Marshland Witch. What made Airi's story arc so interesting was that it was never clear as to what side she would ultimately choose, thus making the end of her story arc pretty satisfying, as it had been something quietly anticipated. There isn't much to Airi's past, but her relationship with her fellow sisters-in-arms is always interesting to watch, as she is definitely the most strict of them all, and her relationship with Rana was both surprising and interesting to see unfold. Overall, one of the most interesting side characters.

Design (5/10) - She's a twin-tailed ghost girl in a maid costume who uses a scythe. There's nothing bad about it, but nothing great either. One of the more boring designs in the series.

Overall (8/10) - Airi was a great character thanks to her changing from simply an antagonist to a heartfelt character; her story arc became one of the more interesting elements of the second season, and her ghostly powers also made her pretty interesting to witness in battles. 

Story (9/10) - Nyx is by all means a background character, but she has the complexity that a main character would have in a Lovecraftian novel. Nyx is a tragic character. She is a young woman with a good heart, but lacks strength and confidence; so when she is given the power of a demon from the "living staff" Funikura, so begins the tragic story of Nyx. What makes Nyx so interesting is how doesn't necessarily like using Funikura, as the staff constricts her body whenever she shows any weakness, but she continues to use Funikura and refuses to let him go because she never wants to be weak again. The end result is a tragic relationship between Nyx and Funikura. This tragic story continues as several characters try to convince Nyx to throw away Funikura, but she can't bring herself to do it. Then there's Nyx's antagonizing relationship with Elina, whom she hates immensely. Elina and her family are the reason Nyx is in the position she's in, and after seeing Nyx's past, Nyx's actions feel much more logical. In the end, what makes Nyx such a compelling character is how she's one of the nicest people in the series, and that she could easily find happiness if she were to meet the right people, but because of her fear and lack of confidence, she is a slave to her insecurities and, as a result, Funikura. I could go on about Nyx's great portrayal in the manga, but I'll end by pointing out the one weakness of Nyx's character portrayal: the obvious parody of hentai tentacle rape that her character represents (heck, the character designer behind La Blue Girl did her design), and even though the anime throws it in the viewers face a lot, it rarely makes me forget how good of a character Nyx is.

Design (10/10) - Nyx has one of the best designs in the series, and is one of the few characters who looks better in her combat book than in the anime (though her anime design is excellent as well). Her dress is revealing, but bold thanks to the bright red color and her arm ornaments. Her long, brown hair is striking, and her bright green eyes and delightful smirk help give her face a lot of personality. Funikura itself has a great design as well, being a mass of tentacles with an eerie, bright red eye; and the way it coils around Nyx helps give them both a strong presence. And that's Nyx's greatest strength: her visual presence, which is truly excellent on all fronts.

Overall (9.5/10) - Despite Nyx's sometimes annoying portrayal in the anime, she is a superb character that shows a dark side of character execution often reserved for more Lovecraftian tales. The only downside to Nyx's story is that it's never given true closure.

Story (7/10) - Like Elina, you either love or hate Nanael. But, also like Elina, her presence in the series cannot be denied. Nanael is often the comic relief of the series, and basically always cares about herself. She doesn't really have a character arc until her final episode, but her character is rarely boring thanks to the many emotions she displays throughout the series. Her relationship with Melpha is a strange one, as Nanael is mainly a freeloader taking advantage of Melpha's piety, but Melpha doesn't necessarily mind, so whether this relationship is hurting anyone or not, is a matter of opinion. The climax of their relationship in the fifth OVA episode is pretty satisfying, as it helps both of their character arcs come to a good ending. While it may sound biased, I find Nanael's hate for women and love for men to be a little detrimental to her character, mainly because it feels like the creator's only implemented this facet of her character due to nearly every other character has yuri subtext as part of their character, so they needed a "straight" character. Nanael constantly states how she hates women and how she wants to become super powerful so that she can create a male harem (which she does for a short period of time); it just feels a little forced, imo, rather than a natural type of attraction, like Echidna's lust for women feels. Then again, Nanael is pretty young and reckless, so perhaps it is wrong to hold such traits against her. Plus, her backstory may hold some reason as to why she acts the way she does towards other women; through its never stated. Speaking of which, Nanael's backstory as an angel trying to prove herself until she gets fed up with it, is rather interesting and humorous. She also has a very nice conclusion to her character arc alongside Melpha. In the end, Nanael is a fun character, even if she can be annoying at times.

Design (8/10) - Nanael's design may seem simple at first glance due to almost all-white color scheme, but it hides some interesting little details; the most striking being her different-sized wings. Then there are her different gloves, her heart barret, and floating sword weapon. It's almost as if Nanael's design revolves around being unsymmetrical, and the end result is a design that's pleasant to the eyes at first glance, but holds lots of nice small details. Also, her polka-dot panties have almost become a symbol within QB.

Overall (7.5/10) - Nanael's personality may be hit-or-miss, but it definitely stands out within the cast for many reasons. She definitely brings an energy to the scene within both the anime and manga; Aya Hirano's voice definitely helps.

Story (6/10) - Melpha has very little to do with the main story of QB, but she brings some good character interaction as well as some decent world building for the QB world. Melpha is a very good-hearted character, and as such, Melpha's interactions with other characters, who are often more flawed, is rather charming. Her interactions with Nanael, one of the more devious characters in the cast, are some of the more interesting exchanges among the cast, and how she brings Nanael to be a more well-mannered person shows the strength of her charm. She also helps bring about Tomoe's central conflict in the second season. However, the most memorable of Melpha's character quirks are the Holy Poses. I find the holy poses to be pretty interesting, as they help establish the strange church culture in the QB world, as well as bring out an interesting execution of fanservice. In the end, Melpha is an interesting character, as she shows the strange practices of the church in the QB world, as well as bring a pacifist personality to the cast (Tomoe's pacifism is a bit darker). 

Design (8/10) - Melpha's design is a beautiful one. Her bright color scheme helps establish her pacifist nature, as well as provide a humorous visual foil to her holy pose techniques. Melpha's voluptuous body helps establish that she is an adult woman, as opposed to many other young girls in the cast, as well as make her blushing face when performing holy poses more cute. The only flaw of her design is her mace weapon, which is very disappointing visually. It's a shame she couldn't have had a more interesting weapon. Regardless, Melpha has a very charming design overall that matches her personality very well. 

Overall (7/10) - Melpha brings about a soft personality unique to herself within the QB cast, some unique world building, and a design that is very charming. Furthermore, her holy pose techniques have helped make her a legendary fanservice factor within the series. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Do I Even Care?

Such is the question that plagues my mind when I come across many anime, manga, and videogames that many have praised but I don't enjoy. And, honesty, the fact that I may not care about a stories' characters, world, and motivations there-of is often the main reason why I don't like a particular manga, anime, or game.

For example, the main reason why I didn't enjoy Final Fantasy X was simply because I didn't care at all about the characters, and whenever they acted so dramatic about certain events, I just couldn't get investd because I simply didn't care. And, basically, if you didn't care about Yuna, then you probably didn't enjoy FFX.

Another case is with Gainax anime. I can never get into Gaianax anime or their stories because I never care about the characters or their struggles; simple as that. Many would find that to be crazy, especially concerning something like EVA, but I suppose I just have different standards, or perhaps I'm just looking for something else.

For example, two anime/manga where I find myself truly caring about the characters and events of the story are One Piece and Astro Boy. In these two anime series I have found myself crying on more than one occasion, and its because I really care about the characters. When I care, I feel. When I don't care, I shrug it off.

So what does it take to make me care? Well, I'm rather picky in this case I think. Less so in terms of the situation, and more-so in terms of writing and structure. For example, Astro Boy's world of humans and robots living side-by-side is ripe for drama revolving around what it means to live and think. And in One Piece, the central focus is on the theme of friendship, and how deep those feelings can drive a person. I really like these types of themes, as it hits home stronger than others themes like romance, drug abuse, living in poverty, etc. Which makes sense considering we all have our own lives and we've all lived through different events, and depending on what you've gone through, it could effect how much you care about specific characters and specific stories.

That's not to say I can't care about a story involving someone who lived in poverty simply because I haven't, but that's where good writing has to come in. A writer can't simply rely on a stories' themes create the majority of an impact a story has (something I think Gainax is very guilty of); a story requires well written characters and scenarios to bring about those themes. It's in this careful structure where the writer makes me care, rather than me caring just because of a certain theme being present in the story. For example, just because you have a woman die in your story doesn't make the story suddenly "heavy" and suddenly make me care for the woman; there has to be an arc to that woman's story. Does it need to be an expansive arc? No. But it has to be well written and executed. The best example of this being Belle-mere in One Piece, or Pluto in Astro Boy. Both characters were only present for a short time, but their execution within the story was so well done that when they died, I couldn't help but cry for them, because I cared for them.

I know it sounds strange to speak about caring for fictional characters, but that's the magic of story-telling. A great story can engross a person, so much so, that the line between real and fake becomes blurred, and you feel as if you're reading/watching real people within their own conflicts. That is the might of the story.

And, you know what, I find the most engrossing stories to always be the ones aimed at younger children. I wonder why? Perhaps I just have a child's mind-set, and thus I enjoy them more? Or maybe, when writers create stories for an older audience, they know how much more difficult it will be to engross a well-lived adult, so they don't try as hard because they can't take on the challenge? Well, whatever the reason, I can see myself still reading Shonen manga long into my adulthood, and reading One Piece and Astro Boy to my children; because that's where the heart of storytelling lies: in the creative and wild mind of children and the stories made for them.

My Thoughts on Sonic and What I Would've Done Different

Sonic the Hedgehog is a huge part of my videogame upbringing. The very first videogame I remember playing was Sonic the Hedgehog for Genesis; I could never get past the second level, but the challenge and bright atmosphere of the game kept me coming back even at a young age when I was normally easily frustrated. Skip ahead 8 years to the birth of the Dreamcast, which brought about Sonic Adventure 1 and 2; two games that would make me an even bigger Sonic fan and really show me how invested in a game I could get.

I bring this up because I am one of those people who believe Sonic has lost a lot of the magic that he had in the past. Now, I won't say that the Sonic games to come after Sonic Heroes are bad (yes, I consider Sonic Heroes to be the last great Sonic game), but I will say that they've lost focus. The blame for this mainly goes to SEGA and Sonic Team.

You see, I don't believe that developers should listen to their fans. Lately, Sonic Team has been so focused on trying to please fans by creating different types of Sonic game, but really they're just adding gimmicks to some solid formulas. It's as if Sonic Team (ST) really want to make a more simple, straight-forward Sonic game, but finds that its not enough. I find this to be a huge fault in their judgement, if it's the case, for straight-forward design was what Sonic was all about, even in the Dreamcast era. The player was given a goal and the abilities to achieve the goal, and then sent on their way. Adding gimmicks is just hurting the formula.

Now, I know what your thinking, if straight-forward game design is what I want, then why wasn't I pleased with Sonic Generations? Well, because SG didn't have good level design. You see, Sonic, like Mario, was a master of the fundamentals back on the Genesis. Level design was top notch, the difficulty was balanced, and it was always fun. SG sacrificed fun and good level design for fanservice; and that's no good.

To be honest, there isn't much more to say when it comes to criticizing modern Sonic games that hasn't already been said, so I'll just say what I would've done if I was running the show over at SEGA:

First, after Sonic Heroes, I would have made 3 main lines of Sonic games: Sonic Adventure, Sonic Advance, and Sonic Heroes.

The Sonic Adventure formula was perfected in Sonic Adventure 2, and I would have kept the series going with more numbered iterations that would continue the stories of Sonic and his friends. I honestly don't get the hate for the Sonic family of characters; some can be annoying, but they all have their charm; in fact, my two favorite Sonic characters aren't the main three, but Shadow and Rouge. I say keep the Sonic family growing; though there would be limits, heh. Still, the various gameplay styles brought about by the multiple playable characters was a major part of what made the Adventure games so great; that would be the main draw of the series. Also, console-specific control gimmicks could be added to certain characters if the big guys upstairs demanded it; though these would be small or added to new characters in order to keep Sonic running and Knuckles fighting.

The Sonic Advance series developed by Dimps was fantastic, and I would have kept it going, adding elements like more playable characters and more dynamic bosses. Sonic Rush was a great follow up to Advance, but its a shame these games didn't keep going. This series would be for those who desired the "classic" Sonic experience.

The Sonic Heroes games wouldn't have as many iterations as the others, as they would mainly be fanservice-y team-up games. Perhaps in the second Heroes game, Sonic, Shadow, and Silver would be a team, and Rouge, Amy, and Cream could make up another. As the series went on, fans would get excited just to see who was going to team up with who. The gameplay style would remain the same, but Heroes would have its own story canon outside of the Adventure series.

So, there you go, that's what I'd do with Sonic if I had the power. Honestly, the newer Sonic games haven't even been that bad, after all, they're still well made games. It's just that when it comes to gameplay, Sonic either is given gimmicky gameplay styles or runs so fast that its impossible to provide good level design.

I think SEGA can go two ways: either keep doing what they're doing, and constantly trying new things to get the fans back (after all, they're trying, and the games are never terrible), or reboot Sonic (again) with a new game a la Sonic Adventure or Sonic Advance. I know that they've already tried this with Sonic 4 and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), but I think they should really pour their money into a big project. Sonic Unleashed was really close, but suffered from a poor overworld style, so-so level design, and the werehog (which wasn't terrible, but still felt unnecessary).

Also, SEGA has to get Sonic music back to Genesis days. It's not terrible in the modern Sonic games, but I want a return of legendary music in my Sonic games.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Rating the Queen's Blade Characters - Part 2

Just to make a note: for this series of posts, I'm rating the character solely on their roles in the original Queen's Blade story, heir Rebellion roles will be rated later on with the other Rebellion characters. Also, my "overall" score is not an average of the first two scores; it's simply my choice for the overall rating, because sometimes little things matter. And with that said, let's begin with one of my personal favorite characters ...

- Story (6/10) - Most of Risty's story is told simply by her appearance and title: she is a bandit of the wilderness outside the confines of the small kingdoms spread throughout the continent; to put it simply, Risty is the Robin Hood of the QB world. However, what keeps Risty from feeling like the generic Robin Hood character found in many stories is her humanity. Risty's money is given to an old church that takes in orphans from the conflicts that occur throughout the continent, Risty once being one of them, and she truly cares about these kids and will go to great lengths to protect them, even attempting to take on the Queen outside of the tournament. She also has a large group of fellow bandits who look up to her as a great leader. Risty's psuedo-friendship with Leina which switched between master-student, friend, and "bad friend" was always interesting too see evolve. Furthermore, Risty is one of the strongest fighters in the QB world, thus making her Leina's "goal" a satisfying story element. What wasn't so satisfying, however, was the anime mainly using Risty as a plot device more than an actual character, this is especially the case in the second season where Risty is brainwashed for 95% of the story; well, despite that it was a cliche story tactic, brainwashed Risty did bring about some interesting story elements so I can't criticize it too much. In the end, Risty is a character that didn't get the spotlight much, but her presence as Leina's ultimate goal and the anti-hero to Leina's heroine role made her a likable character.

- Design (8/10) - Risty's design was the first done by Eiwa for the QB character line-up, and while it can be a bit plain, she still has a strong presence due to one critical element: her body. Risty is one of several characters whose body is more the main draw of her design than her armor/clothes. First to note is Risty's wild red hair, which goes a long way to giving her that "amazon warrior" look, and working even more towards the amazon look is Risty's very well-sculpted body. Perhaps second only to Cattleya, Risty is the most, for lack of a better term, "ripped" of the QB cast (this can be seen more in Eiwa's original art than Rin-Sin's more slender design). Risty's red color scheme and morning star weapon round out the package to give her a strong presence. A simple yet effective design.

- Overall (7/10) - Risty may not be the most memorable character in the cast, but when she's on screen, she demands attention.

- Story (5/10) - Ymir's story has a fair amount of details: she's the princess of the dwarven kingdom, her goal is to show the world that dwarven weapons are stronger than those made by the newly rising alchemy methods, she finds a rival in Cattleya, and she's much older than she actually looks. The end result is a character that may not have much bearing on the story, but does a lot to show what the world of QB is like and that it's filled with more than just humans. Ymir acts as a benefactor to Leina in the second season by giving her good advice and reforging her sword. The highlight of Ymir is easily her personality and her interactions with Leina, Cattleya, and Rana. You'll either find Ymir to be amusing or annoying; I personally love Ymir's personality. She may not be the most important character to tell, but in an alternate universe, Ymir could have been the main character of QB, on a journey to save her people and show the strength of her weapons.

- Design (7/10) - I'm not sure what Ymir's clothing is supposed to be: a maid costume, maybe? But the pink and white color scheme works very will with her platinum-blonde hair, so no complaints there. The standout factor of Ymir's design is easily her weapon and massive gauntlet. A small-bodied person using a large weapon is always cool, and Ymir makes it even cooler. Her giant red axe gives Ymir a strong presence and her huge gauntlet is just awesome looking. Ymir's design really stands out in the anime during her fight scenes; Ymir in motion looks great. However, I feel that Ymir's weapon has more presence than she, herself, does, and thus can't rate her design to high. 

- Overall (7/10) - Ymir gets a boost in score mainly due to her personality. In the anime, the manga, even the online chapters, Ymir always stands out thanks to the humor she provide; resulting in a very charming character despite having some flaws.

- Story (5/10) - Like Ymir, Cattelya's story doesn't have much bearing on the story at all, but the little details of her story help bring the QB world into a brighter light. Cattelya was once a famous adventurer who traveled the world with her future husband, Owen. They were known as the "dragon slayers", and Cattleya alongside her giant sword became legends, until both Cattleya and Owen retired to become blacksmiths and raise their son, Rana. In an episode of the anime, Leina, in a flashback, can be seen reading a book chronicling Cattleya's adventures. It's this presence as a legend from a time long past that gives Cattleya a strong bearing in Leina's story when they meet each other. To Leina, Cattleya represents what she can become one day, as both a strong warrior and a knowledgeable person. So, while Cattelya may not have much bearing on the main story, she still has a notable presence within it. My favorite aspect of Cattelya is that she is perhaps the strongest fighter in the QB world, but because she chooses to fight with Rana, it gives her a handicap and significantly lowers her strength as a fighter; I love that detail.

- Design (6/10) - Surprised my Cattleya pic doesn't feature her massive breasts? Well that's because I find it a bit disheartening that her character has become known for just her breasts; though I can understand why considering her design doesn't have much else going for it. After all, did you recognize Cattleya right away when looking at the above pic? Anyway, Cattelya's design is meant to be a big hyperbolic symbol of motherhood: she wears an apron (with almost nothing underneath), her large breasts, she's kinda chubby, and she fights alongside her son, Rana. Cattleya's huge sword does make her look pretty cool, and the fact that Rana is just as much part of her as her sword is makes for an interesting character visually, especially in battle. Still, Cattleya's design is rather uninteresting; there's just nothing that really stands out other than her curves, which is a shame. Also, to note, I find Rin-Sin's more slender looking Cattleya design to be better than her original in the combat book.

- Overall (5/10) - Cattleya will always have a place in the QB world, whether its in her in-world legacy or her physique, but none of that really changes that her character and personality don't standout much at all. 

- Story (7/10) - So, why am I rating Rana alongside the other QB characters? Because, in the anime, this little kid was great! Right from the start, Rana acted as a catalyst for Cattelya's decisions as well as a strong moral supporter to his mother. Then in the second season, Rana came into his own as a strong little boy who stood alongside his mother in her time of grief and befriended an enemy. Rana, himself, showed some great character growth by showing a lot of courage in the dangerous world around him (pic related), and even fighting for his loved ones. Rana may have been more of a catalyst for certain plot elements, but his presence in the story was definitely known; something some of the other bitoushi cannot even say.

- Design (6/10) - He's adorable. He may not have much more going for him other than that, but it's definitely enough.

- Overall (6/10) - He may not have weapon or defeated any big foe, but he did a lot for Cattleya and Airi within the story, and the end result was a very likable character, even more-so than his own mother.

- Story (8/10) - making deals with the devil a story element found in many dark fairy tales, and Queen's Blade is no exception with the character of Aldra. The dark backstory of Aldra and her sister, both half-demons, is one filled with strife, which makes the decisions Aldra makes and the extremes she goes through feel a little sympathetic, though still not enough to make her a villain worthy of compassion. This story strikes a good balance between sympathy and hate for the character of Aldra. And while she may be redeemed at the end of the story, her goals are still not met, thus avoiding the all too common story element of a sympathetic villain being rewarded for no good reason. Aldra's main flaw is her reliance on the powers of the demon within her; as a result, we never get a really good look at what Aldra can do on her own in terms of strength.

- Design (9/10) - Aldra's design is the opposite of plain. She has so much going on in her design, that it is both a good and bad thing, but mostly good. The beauty of Aldra is in the little details, such as the many belts, the metal eye patch, and small armor pieces spread around her, as well as clothing that covers only specific parts of her body, thus making Aldra have an almost battle-damaged look to her. Her "secret weapon" is also a nice touch, despite its obvious phallic implications. Aldra's sword is also a well designed weapon that looks less like a sword and more like a sword incarnate of violence itself, with its many spikes and awkward shape and handle. I never understood the "cat-ears", perhaps an ornamental crown would have been more fitting.

- Overall (8.5/10) - A great villain with a strong presence both in terms of story and design. It's also worth noting that its very nice that the QB designers avoided making cliche story choices with her.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Appreciation of the Past - Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil

Klonoa 2 was the very first game I owned for my PS2. I bought it because I was a huge Sonic fan at the time, and I thought Klonoa looked a lot like Sonic. Little did I know that the game I was about to play wouldn't be a Sonic clone, nor a simple platformer; rather, the game I was about to play would be one of the best gaming experiences of my life, and go a long way in forging the way I see videogames.

Prior to Klonoa 2, the games that I played that I would call charming experiences were limited to those made by Nintendo and Rare. Klonoa 2 changed all that. Similar to Okami, Klonoa took an existing concept and game design from a classic Nintendo franchise and expanded upon it. With Okami it was Zelda, with Klonoa it was Kirby. The game design of using enemies as weapons against other enemies, and the concept of using cute character in a fantastical world to tell a dark story both come from Kirby, and while the game design of Klonoa may not outshine Kirby's, Klonoa truly took its story to amazing heights.

To get the basics out of the way: Klonoa 2 is a superb game in every facet of design. The gameplay is varied and fun, controls are tight, music is excellent and of high caliber, the graphics and art direction are still impressive to this day, and the story is excellent. But what makes Klonoa 2 really stand out is how incredibly focused it's direction is. No level feels like fodder, no cutscene feels unnecessary, and every location and accompanying music feels like it was done with true passion. And that's what Klonoa 2 truly feels like: a work of passion; a term that is very hard to use nowadays on videogames.

The end result of the passionate direction of Klonoa 2 is its greatest strength: its charm. Klonoa 2 tells a fantastic story, accompanied by fantastic music, and superb graphics and art direction. There is nothing numerical or by-the-books with Klonoa 2. It is simply an amazing work of art that not only tells a great story worthy of being told, but plays great music worthy of being heard, in a world worthy of being seen, all on the foundation of gameplay worthy of being played.

Nowadays, so many games feel like chores to play. Videogames people play simply because they don't want to let go of one of their favorite hobbies of their childhood, and developers make simple because they know people will buy them if they put x and y in it. Videogames nowadays are suffering because there is simply little to no passion put into most of them.

Klonoa 2: Lunetea's Veil is not only a classic of videogame history, but it is also a true symbol of how increidbly charming and impactful videogames can be as not just a hobby, but as an art medium. I truly hope the days of games like Klonoa 2 will come again; where videogames are works of passion and not simply a business. If that day never comes, then I can take a note from Klonoa 2's story and remember the sorrow of the moment when passionately made videogames died so that I may remember those happy days of a bygone era forever.

And now to wrap up, one of the stand-out tracks from the superb Klonoa 2 soundtrack:

Thanks Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil. Thanks for starting off my PS2's life with a bang, and giving me one of the best gaming experiences I've ever had.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rating the Queen's Blade Characters - Part 1

Just as the title says, I will be rating the many characters of Queen's Blade. The rating I give will be based upon character design and story. The character design is judged upon both the original seen within the combat books and Rin-Sin's designs in the anime, and the story portion will be based upon all forms of canon, mostly the anime, but I will also include the various manga and HobbyJapan storyline. I will try my best to keep this concise, as I could go on and on about just one character, heh.

And with all that said, let's begin ...

- Story (6/10) - Leina is a character that gets a lot of hate, but I find it to be undeserved. Her main flaw, and why she gets a lot of hate, is because, well, she's kinda boring. Leina is the main protagonist (in most of the stories), and thus begins as basically an empty slate of a warrior so that she can grow and learn. The problem is that the people she learns so much from are more experienced and "cooler" than she is, so she tends to get out-shined a lot. Regardless, Leina is good character due to her having a good heart and a strong will to become stronger. At first it was odd how Leina's one goal was simply to get stronger, but as we learn more about her upbringing and her love for her mother, it makes a lot more sense. In the finale, Leina was a bit annoying in the plot due to her plot-armor (thus inability to lose), but it was nice seeing her grow throughout the series.

- Design (7/10) - Leina's design is deceptively simple at first glance, but when taking notice of the little details like the belt wrapped around her body, her unique shield, and decorative breast-plate, it makes for a design that may show a fair amount of skin, but is still powerful in appearance.

- Overall (6.5/10) - a good character who doesn't stand-out much other than being the main character; nothing bad about her, but nothing great either.

- Story (8/10) - You either love or hate Elina. It is very true that Elina is an overall bad person; she looks down on anyone that isn't her sisters and treats them like trash. This attitude was created by Elina's upbringing as an aristocrat and her natural strength as a warrior; this led her to feel she was superior to everyone who wasn't a member of her family. When you think about it, it makes sense; after all, not everyone can be as humble as Leina. Speaking of Leina, she is always the catalyst of anything Elina does as a result of Elina's deep infatuation for her sister, one of Elina's most endearing traits. The story of why she loves Leina so much is great, and really helps forge her character, and it also helps bring about Elina's inner struggle where she contemplates if Leina returns her deep feelings or not, and if Claudette, perhaps, will giver her the love she desires. All-in-all, Elina, despite her evil nature, is a complex and interesting character, as well as the star of my favorite episode of the QB anime series.

- Design (8/10) - Elina's design has a playful cat theme, and it works superbly alongside her personality and fighting style. Her hook-spear is also a very unique weapon, which she uses to great effect. The fur on her collar also helps set the pompous attitude she has towards most people; a nice touch. A great design all-around.

- Overall (8/10) - a great character with a great backstory, interesting, if not sometimes humorous, personal inner struggle, and dynamic interactions with the other characters around her. 

Claudette - (9/10)
- Story (9/10) - One of the more complex characters in the series, Claudette is one of the few characters with a strong arc throughout the story. She begins as an antagonist, but slowly grows into a powerful benefactor for both her sisters, but especially Leina. Her complex relationship with Leina, Elina, her father, and Maria (Leina and Elina's mother), make for a very interesting story. It was great seeing Leina and Claudette have a happy ending to their plight and both of them moving forward in their personal goals, even if everything didn't turn out perfectly. In the end, Claudette's character arc is one of the most interesting in the QB series, and it was always exciting to see just what decisions she would make as a knight, a sister, and a person.

- Design (9/10) - In terms of design, Claudette's more stern and imposing design by rin-sin in the anime stands out stronger than her original design; even if they are very similar. Claudette easily has one of the stronger designs in the series, thanks to her red hair, unique ornamental crown, powerful physique, huge sword, and lightning powers. Her design alone shows that she is one of the most powerful warriors in the series, and I love that about her design.

- Overall (9/10) - A really stand-out character in the QB cast thanks to a powerful design and an equally powerful story that may begin in an atypical fashion but eventually comes to a good conclusion that ends Claudette's character evolution in a great way. A character with true presence.

WARNING: Tomoe and Shizuka's entries contain a major story spoiler.

Tomoe -
- Story (9/10) - one of the major reasons Leina gets heavily criticized is because of how Tomoe tends to outshine her at every turn. A foreigner in a strange land, Tomoe's journey is one of discovery and desperation, and, as a result, Tomoe's journey is equally a light-hearted journey of self-discovery and a dark fight against her own weaknesses. And it's in her weaknesses that Tomoe's character really shines, for Tomoe is, simply put, too nice. She is a great warrior, but she is a pacifist at the same time. This leads her to make many hard decisions, eventually leading to her ultimate test of fighting her true love, Shizuka, in a battle to the death, and the way Shizuka's death effects Tomoe is very well executed in the story. Tomoe's story arc may not end in the best way, but it's still a satisfying end to one of QB's most stand-out characters. "Complete" is the word that comes to mind when thinking about Tomoe's story arc.

- Design (8/10) - "Simple yet effective" is the the phrase that comes to mind when thinking of Tomoe's design. The strong contrast between red and white colors of her clothing are great, and really give her design a strong presence despite being rather simple; combine this with her long black hair and the color pallete of Tomoe's design is beautiful. Overall, a strong design that demands attention.

- Overall (9/10) - Tomoe is a character truly defined by her character arc and strong relationship with Tomoe. Her conversation with Elina during their fight is one of the standout moments of the anime, as Elina brings up the major character flaw that character's like Tomoe have: they fight and kill while still speaking of pacifism, thus making Tomoe a powerful hypocrite. Such development of character really makes Tomoe standout in terms of story, and her simple design, ironically, helps her standout as well. A great character overall.

- Story (8/10) - even though she may not be an "official" character in the QB cast, Shizuka is given prominent roles in both the anime and manga. She was originally Shizuka's enemy, but after being defeated by her and hearing her ideals, Shizuka decides to become Tomoe's servant and always stay by her side. Shizuka's aloof attitude and more down-to-earth way of thinking act as a foil to Tomoe, making them a great pair. Shizuka mostly acts as a supporting character for Tomoe throughout their journey, but her character arc comes to a powerful close with her death at the hands of Tomoe. The lead-in and outcome of their fight is superbly executed, making Shizuka's death one of the best-handled I've seen. Shizuka and Tomoe's relationship is one of deep affection and would most likely have become romantic if Shizuka had lived. That said, Shizuka only dies in the anime, in all of the manga storylines Shizuka lives, and her and Tomoe have a happy ending together. Would I have preferred if Shizuka lived? Yes, definitely. But her death was not poorly executed, so I'm OK with it. 

- Design (9/10) - In terms of design, Shizuka has one of the best designs in the series. Her one long bang in her hair is my favorite aspect about her design. Her purple color scheme is distinctive and works well with her hair color; and, of course, her trademark horns became a major symbol within the series thanks to her powerful death. 

- Overall (8/10) - In the end, Shizuka was mainly a supporting character, thus she didn't really standout on her own much, but she was a  very important part of Tomoe's character, not just in the anime but in the manga as well. She's a fun and lively character and acts as a great foil to Tomoe. Combine all of this with a great design, it's no wonder she's a fan favorite of many, and her and Tomoe are constantly seen as one of the better couples of the series. It's also worthy to note that unlike many characters like her, Shizuka is not defined by her death, it is impactful, yes, but it is far from what most remember most about her; and I think that's shows how great of a character Shizuka is.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Thought Venting - Vol. 2

- I hate how whenever I say I like Queen's Blade or explain why I like QB so much, I always feel like whoever is reading it thinks I'm joking or setting up for some punch-line. Not much I can do about it, but it's still kinda annoying. Luckily there are some folks out there who also watch Queen's Blade for the plot and characters like I do, so the whole situation doesn't bother me too much.

- Am I the only person who thinks the Jak series is much, much better than the Uncharted series on almost every level. I wish Naughty Dog continued the series on the PS3 like Insomniac did with the Ratchet series.

- I am really sick of Metroid: Other M still getting hate from people. I understand that the game was a lot of change to take in at once, but I wish people would at least respect the game for what it did so well, which was nearly everything. You don't have to like a product, but at least respect the product and those who made it when the product is so well made.

- I don't care what people say, The Fairly Oddparents is funnier than its ever been. I love nostalgia as much as the next guy, but its not so hard to admit when something new is better than it used to be.

- I hate what the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show on Nickelodeon looks like. It could still end up having some good writing and stories, but the visuals of that show are terrible, imo.

- The sports genre is SO perfect for shonen manga. The underdog rising up to beat the tougher opponent, the intensity of the "battle", and the emotional friendships among the colorful people you meet; all of it meets with the sports genre so well. Nothing gets me pumped like a great sports manga.

- I really wish great games weren't so rare these days. I won't go and say "videogames suck now", because we still get some stellar stuff, though it is mainly from Nintendo. Regardless, I miss the N64, PS1, GC, and PS2 days when there was a lot more options for a gamer to sink their teeth into; nowadays, you either have to really expand your tastes or wait 6 months or more for a game perfectly suited to your tastes.

- If Dragon's Crown does not have a trailer and an info dump at Toyko Game Show, I am going to rage pretty hard. On that note, after TGS, expect either a raging post or a fanboy post from me on the subject of Dragon's Crown.

- I'm listening to the Queen's Blade Rebellion soundtrack right now, and it is truly superb; seriously, its movie-level stuff. Masaru Yokoyama is a genius.

- I'm happy that the fighting genre has come back in full force, but I hope we see more unique stuff like P4A and Skullgirls in the future instead of just Street Fighter and Vs. style fighters.

- I really like Skullgirls, and I'm not entirely sure why. I feel like I've known these characters for a long time and yet it's only been a little over 6 months since SG came out. Maybe because SG characters and style remind me so much of Batman: The Animated Series, and I get a strong sense of nostalgia from it. Well, whatever it is, I like every aspect about SG, and I hope to see a lot more of these characters in the future.

- So, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII was just announced, and I actually don't have too much to say about it. I'm really intrigued by the new gameplay ideas and how Square will execute them, and the focus on Lightning makes me relieved after FFXIII-2. Of course, we don't know too much at the moment, so I won't make too many assumptions. At the moment, I'm excited to see what happens, but I won't get my hopes too high.

Well, here's hoping this year's Tokyo Game show is gonna be amazing. And to wrap up, here's a beautiful track from the Queen's Blade OST:

I love this track because it really reminds me of how character-driven the story of QB was and how there were many highs and lows to the character's relationships with one another without ever getting cliche or angtsy; it was just good, straight-forward story-telling.