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Review: Never Alone

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In 2014, Upper One Games and E-Line Media released Never Alone, a platformer based on the Iñupiat tale, “Kunuuksaayuka.” It is now playable on the PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox One, Wii U, and PC, as well as iOS and Android devices. I downloaded the game on the PlayStation 4, so that is the version that I will review.

In Never Alone, an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna leaves her village to find out why her people have been suffering from terrible blizzards every day. An arctic fox comes to her aid, giving players the option to either switch between the two characters in Single Play or work together with a friend in Co-Op.

During their journey, they face a hungry polar bear, gusts of freezing wind, spirits from the Northern Lights that try to capture them, and a terrible man who’s been destroying villages to find a bola…the same weapon that Nuna’s been using to clear obstacles. Uh-oh.

Never Alone is an important game because it was made in tandem with the Iñupiat people. As you progress through each level, you unlock short videos called “Cultural Insights,” and you can pause the game at any time to view them. They were made to teach players about the Iñupiat people’s culture and way of life. These mini-documentaries allow one to gain a better understanding of the characters and themes found in the game. It’s a fun way to learn more about an underrepresented group of people through their own voices. I hope they have the opportunity to make more games like Never Alone.

In the game itself, Nuna and Fox each have unique skills that make them essential to the adventure. You can’t simply use one and ignore the other. Fox can climb walls and call spirits to help Nuna. She uses her bola to break apart icicles and burning sticks that block their path. I did not try out the multiplayer mode with a friend, but I imagine this allows for fun cooperative play.

As it is, I found single player mode manageable, though it could become frustrating at times. When using friendly spirit helpers to bring Nuna safely from one point to the other, Fox needs to stay close or the spirit will fade away. This wasn’t a reoccurring issue throughout the game, yet there were a few instances where Fox drifted too far away and Nuna fell. If I’d had a friend controlling Fox, this wouldn’t have been an issue at all.

With that said, the game can get aggravating at times. Initially, I shrugged it off because I didn’t grow up playing the side-scrolling platformers on the NES, SNES, or Sega Genesis. I’m only just getting interested in those types of games now.  However, there were moments during my playthrough of Never Alone when I could’ve sworn I’d timed it right, and Nuna seemed to land a jump on to the back of a Spirit, only to hang in midair without catching hold and then falling to her death. I couldn’t tell you how I eventually succeeded and got her to stick the landing. I think it had to do with where Fox moved the Spirit, but there was so much delicate back-and-forth involved that I don’t know exactly.

You will always feel bad when either Nuna or Fox dies, because every time it happens, the camera focuses on the other one crying and falling to the ground in grief. But this also allows you to feel the strong bond between the two of them, given that neither character talks. Instead, narrator James Mumiġan Nageak tells the story in the Iñupiaq language as you play, with English subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

Never Alone looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous. Those are easily the best aspects of the game. I enjoyed the quiet, haunting main theme. With Nuna and Fox often exploring the harsh environment with no one else around to help them, a big, dramatic arrangement with a full orchestra would have felt out of place in this story. The music’s there just enough to enhance the experience without feeling intrusive.

And there’s such a beautiful world to explore, from floating ice on the ocean to the ruins of a village with the eerie spirits from the Northern Lights trying to catch Nuna. I would love it if Upper One Games could make something in the style of Final Fantasy or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a wide-open, exploration adventure based on other legends from First Nation cultures, with more characters, side-quests, etc. Based on what I’ve seen in Never Alone, that would be amazing.

Never Alone is currently available to purchase on the PlayStation Network at a discounted price for $4.99 until January 16th.  Although it is a short game, it’s worth checking out to support the work of the Iñupiat people.

Too Many Games 2017

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I sit here relaxing in my house at the end of day three of Too Many Games. My throat is recovering, my feet are aching, and I’m so tired I can barely string coherent thoughts together. However, I want to write about this amazingly wild ride while it’s still fresh in my mind.

Firstly, thank you kindly to Too Many Games for having us back this year. RWOG upped our equipment and our game for this event. We had the amazing pleasure to chat with The Gaming Historian, Mr Creepy Pasta, Keith Apicary, Plus 2 Comedy and more. Fans, friends, developers… I never thought I’d talk this much. Me. ME! I TALKED TOO MUCH! SO MUCH MY VOICE TRIED TO LEAVE ME!

Too Many Games was our first press opportunity last year and I LOVED IT! This year didn’t disappoint. Incredible music all weekend made the perfect soundtrack to an incredible time. Yelling, screaming, clothes thrown (tastefully), epic cosplays, THE BEST PANEL WE’VE EVER BEEN TO, comedy – I nearly peed myself post interview. Every convention I go to, I’m convinced that it can’t be as much as the last and it’s always better.

Additionally, thank you to the AMAZING volunteers. We met some great people who were still smiling come Sunday! Vanri kept pumping so much coffee into me that at one point she was worried she’d have to carry me to the car. I was exhausted! I don’t know how you volunteers kept the energy up but you were inspiring!

Cosplay Pro Wrestling happened in front of our faces! As a once hard core ECW Fan I had a FIT because Deadpool came out as Sandman! He had the ‘CP F’N W’ shirt, the Singapore cane and cracked a soda open with a fan. It was AMAZING and I was LOSING MY MIND. I grabbed Vanri and shook her, trying and convey the importance of what was happening before her eyes. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING?!” It was a moment that threw me into nostalgia and I loved every second of it.

I cannot wait to tell you about all the amazing games we encountered. Board games, video games, mobile games… there were almost… Too Many Games. Don’t you boo me.

Stay turned for more amazing content and I will see you next time! Kthxbye!

Review: Ace Attorney Trilogy

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Written by Iris the Keyblade Master

If you’re looking for a video game that’s not too difficult to play (at least not in the way that video games usually are), has an engrossing story, and phenomenal character development, you can’t find much better than the original Ace Attorney trilogy.  Originally released in America for the Nintendo DS, all three games can now be purchased as a collection from the Nintendo eStore for the 3DS.

As the title implies, the main character’s a defense attorney, named Phoenix Wright.  He’s driven by a need to defend innocent people, even and especially when nobody else believes in their innocence.

Each game gets broken down into a number of episodes.  The first episode is always a brief one-day trial that acts as the tutorial.  The others switch back and forth between Investigation modes and Trial modes.  Phoenix will learn about a person who’s been accused of murder and all of the circumstantial evidence stacked against said person.  Then you spend the first day gathering clues, questioning other characters, etc.  Once you’ve found everything that you can possibly find, the game moves on to the second day: the actual trial.  You must badger every witness that comes to the stand and use the clues to point out contradictions in their testimony.

But Phoenix will never have enough evidence to determine the real murderer, so that leads to another day of investigating.  Then it’s time for the second and final day of the trial!

The characters are what make these games so much fun.  Phoenix and his plucky assistant, Maya Fey, play off well with one another as you lead them to different areas to search for evidence.  They’ve always got to deal with Detective Gumshoe, who isn’t the smartest man on the police force, but means well.  The same could be said for the judge, who’s willing to swallow the weakest excuses from lying witnesses.  Each of the suspects has a quirk that can range from amusing to annoying.  Phoenix’ exasperated reactions to the antics of the rest of the cast are always funny.

And finally, there are the prosecutors.  They bring so much joy for all of the grief they heap on poor Phoenix.  The first game introduces Miles Edgeworth, Phoenix’s former best friend who turned into his biggest rival.  I couldn’t stand his ego at first.  He’s the first opponent to really get under the player’s skin with the way he just casually dismantles every argument you present.  However, his character development throughout each game turned out to be so good that he ended up becoming one of my favorite fictional characters ever. 

The second game presents Franziska von Karma, a female prosecuting prodigy who starts whipping anyone and everyone who gets in her way.  I’m not talking figuratively here.  She actually uses a bullwhip on everyone.  That includes Phoenix and the judge.  Somehow she gets away with it every single time.

Last but not least, the third game’s prosecutor, Godot, has a fearless attitude, a great backstory with ties to Phoenix’ past, and likes throwing his coffee mug at Phoenix when he gets annoyed.  Yeah, this game can get wacky.

I loved solving each of the cases.  Sometimes the developers really give your brain a workout as you try to find the lie in a witness’ testimony.  In the first game, you get five chances to make a mistake, and once you use them up, it’s game over.  The sequels replaced this system with a health bar.  It will decrease depending on how many mistakes you make and the gravity of those mistakes.  It’s a toss-up regarding which one I prefer.

Although the games tend to be silly, they do have serious moments- after all; the objective is to catch a murderer.  Each game’s final case is an emotional rollercoaster for Phoenix and his friends, and those last murderers are particularly ruthless.  I won’t say any more to avoid some very good spoilers.  I’ll just say that “Turnabout Goodbyes,” “Farewell, My Turnabout” and “Bridge to the Turnabout” are my favorite cases in the whole series.  The music theme that plays when Phoenix uncovers the killer in “Farewell, My Turnabout” gives me chills.

Finally, the series has some excellent female characters: heroes, villains, and everything in-between.  Besides Franziska von Karma and Maya Fey, there’s her older sister, Mia Fey, a defense attorney who mentored Phoenix and gives him advice on his cases.  They have an adorable little cousin named Pearl who tags along with Phoenix and Maya, and never falls into the “annoying child sidekick” trap.  Wendy Oldbag, Adrian Andrews, Dahlia Hawthorne, and Iris are all memorable suspects for different reasons.   Unfortunately, I can’t go into more detail because I’d have to spoil so much of the story.

Good stories and puzzles, well-written characters, a fun, catchy soundtrack, and constant courtroom shenanigans- what’s not to love?  The evidence clearly indicates that you should give Ace Attorney a try as soon as possible!

Thoughts on Beauty And The Beast

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(3/22/2017)

If you’ve read my December ‘top 10’ article, you may recall that the majority of the movies I watch are children’s cartoons, and that my family has been playing a game called ‘give all our money to Disney.’  My daughter is two.  Disney movies occupy a great deal of my consciousness.  On the whole, while I think that Disney films, especially those made in the nineties or later, have a positive impact on children and the world, many are also problematic.  It is important that we discuss these problems.  It is perfectly fine to enjoy problematic media, for example movies that perpetuate harmful stereotypes, but only if we are aware of the problems and discuss them.  The discussions take on even more importance if we chose to share the problematic media with our children.

There has been no shortage of harmful stereotypes in Disney movies over the years, including traditional gender roles, colorism, and some very uncomfortable portrayals of people of color (…and lack thereof.  Hey, Disney: consider making a movie that takes place in Africa and actually stars African people.  Like, human people.  Who are not white.  I’ll give you even more of my money, promise).  However, one trope that they can’t seem to shake is the ‘queer-coded villain.’  (2)

Disney’s catalog of bad guys is full of effeminate men and strong, single women.  Think Scar, Jafar, and Facilier.  Think Maleficent and Ursula (who somehow manages to check stereotype boxes for both ‘butch’ and ‘drag queen’).  I adore Moana but, given the history, it’s unfortunate that it’s two villains are a powerful female and a male character based on David Bowie.  It doesn’t exactly do anything to subvert the pattern, is what I’m saying.  Sometimes I find myself asking, “can’t we ever have a straight-coded Disney villain?”

Then I remember that we do.

Beauty And The Beast’s Gaston may not be the only villain without explicit queer coding, but he’s unique in the Disney catalogue in that his very straightness and adherence to gender norms are what makes him so villainous.  Gaston is the original Kylo Ren: a man who inserts himself into the female lead’s space, ignoring her signals and insisting that he knows what she wants when he obviously knows nothing of the sort.  He is the epitome of masculinity (there’s a whole song about it), and he wields his male privilege as a weapon against Belle and her friends.  He doesn’t have any magical powers; what makes him scary is his size and strength and lack of empathy.

I think that the ‘realness’ of the baddie is a large part of what makes Beauty And The Beast so popular, even 25 years on.

Of course, with the live action remake hitting theaters, Beauty and the Beast has been back in the news lately.  Specifically, the 2017 film has been making headlines because it features Disney’s first canonically queer character.  After a lot of fan speculation about Cogsworth, Disney revealed that the gay character is LeFou, Gaston’s obsequious sidekick.  Controversy erupted.  Many were outraged at the mere presence of a gay character is a children’s movie; one Alabama theater pulled the showing entirely. (3)  On the other side of the ideological aisle, many were thrilled to have a step forward for representation… but not every reaction was positive.

Teen Vogue’s Ryan Houlihan writes about it in his article, “Disney making LeFou gay isn’t the representation I need.”  He brings up a number of valid points, including concern that the ‘exclusively gay moment’ touted by Disney will be an afterthought that could easily be edited out, that wouldn’t be as emotionally resonant as the reveal in Laica’s Paranorman. He’s also, understandably, concerned that the first confirmed gay character in a Disney film is a villain.  Houlihan argues that Lefou doesn’t break the Disney tradition of queer-coded villains, “he’s simply an admission by the company of what viewers have believed for decades: that if a character is queer, it’s going to be the villain.” (1)

I think that, as Becca Bunch would say, “the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that.”  For one thing, LeFou as portrayed in the 1991 film doesn’t fit the mold of Jafar and his ilk.  He’s short, tubby, poorly groomed, and anything but graceful.  There is nothing feminine about him -except for his obsession with Gaston.  So, while making him gay doesn’t really affect the ‘villain’ pattern, it at least shows us a very different kind of gay villain, which is worth something.  Diversity in representation, even among gay Disney villains, leads to the breakdown of stereotypes.

Furthermore, I believe that it was a good story choice on the part of the writers.  I haven’t seen the film yet, but I think there’s a potential for LeFou’s subplot to be interesting and beneficial. There are a lot of things to love about Beauty and the Beast, but, revisiting it as an adult, the thing I love the most is that it focuses on toxic masculinity and how it affects a person. The Beast slowly learns to overcome his toxic masculinity over the course of the film, whereas Gaston acts as a foil/cautionary tale for what happens when a man lets the cultural pressures that come with masculinity take over. I think that sexual orientation, and how it interacts with identity and the societal ideas of what a ‘man’ should be, is a part of the life stories of men all over the world. It’s an idea that deserves to be explored on screen.

Furthermore, I take issue with Houlihan’s assertion that the producers of the live action adaptation, “muddled the issue by making him sexually “confused” – just to hedge their bets.” My last article was on the visual novel Ladykiller in a Bind, and a lot of the conversation around that game is about ‘messy’ queer stories and that they deserve to be told, not censored. Not everyone’s experience is the same. That ‘one day wants to be, next day wants to get with’ feeling that Houlihan references is something that I experience, and that I’m sure a lot of people with same-sex attraction experience. Most importantly, I think it’s a feeling that plenty of young people, still trying to figure out who they are, will identify with when they see the movie.

Finally, I feel the need to point out that Houlihan’s parenthetical comment describing LeFou’s live-action portrayer, Josh Gad, as straight.  I’m not entirely sure this is relevant, but more importantly, I’m not entirely sure it’s true.  He’s married to a woman (actress Ida Darvish), but I don’t recall ever hearing that ‘straight’ is how he identifies.  It seems to me that Houlihan is making a pretty big assumption about the orientation of someone he’s never met.  Director Bill Condon describes Gad’s performance as “subtle and delicious.” (4)  A friend of a friend even suggested that the entire queer subplot may have been Gad’s idea.  While there’s no way to know for sure without being told, it’s possible that he may have been drawing from personal experience.

Houlihan ends his article saying, “Taking a villain that was already coded as gay and letting him finally, blessedly, come out is a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to do so that LGBTQ people feel truly recognized, not just pandered to.”  I agree.  There is a long road ahead, but I’m glad that this story is being told.  Back in 2015, Vice’s Hugh Ryan wrote, “Personally, I hope we see more gay villains—just ones who are gay gay. Gay heroes as well, and sidekicks and straight men and bit parts, too. I hope the pansy doesn’t disappear just because he’s a stereotype, but I hope he’s allowed to be more than just a stereotype.“  LeFou shows us that those hopes are starting to come true.  At the very least it’s gotten us all talking about queer representation in children’s movies, and that’s worthwhile in and of itself.

 

References:

(1) http://www.teenvogue.com/story/disney-lefou-gay-villain-lgbtq-representation

(2)https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/the-number-of-gay-animated-villains-will-surprise-you-456

(3) http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/03/us/theater-shuns-disney-beauty-over-gay-moment/

(4) http://attitude.co.uk/world-exclusive-beauty-and-the-beast-set-to-make-disney-history-with-gay-character/

Review: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

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Written by Iris the Keyblade Master

The Theatrhythm Final Fantasy games celebrate one of the best aspects of the series: the music.  Both rhythm games are available for the Nintendo 3DS.  Although if you’re interested in giving Theatrhythm a try, don’t waste your money purchasing both of them.  The sequel, Curtain Call, has all of the same songs and lots more.

I debated with myself about whether to get the original Theatrhythm when it was first released on the Nintendo 3DS.   Having gotten booed out of levels of Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, and surviving the infamous Little Mermaid sidequest in Kingdom Hearts 2…my experiences with rhythm games weren’t very good ones.  But someone at GameStop encouraged me to give it a try, and that’s how I ended up losing countless hours of my life to this game.  I have no regrets.

The gameplay’s divided into three types of stages: Field, Battle, and Event.  Field songs consist of tracks like “Terra’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VI, the main theme from VII, and “A Place to Call Home” from IX.  An adorable chibi Final Fantasy character of your choosing strolls along a path to the music, while you try to hit as many notes correctly as possible.  Although the notes can come across the screen quickly, depending on the song and the difficulty level, Field Stages are generally slower in pace than their Battle counterparts.

In Battle, you create a party of four chibi characters who fight different monsters and villains who have appeared throughout the Final Fantasy series.  When you hit the right notes, their attacks are successful.  If you miss a note, they lose health.  (This actually applies to the Field and Event stages too, except you’re not attacking anything. You’re just trying to keep the character’s health bar full.)  The songs you can choose from include the always classic “One-Winged Angel,” as well as “Dancing Mad,” “The Man With the Machine Gun,” and “Battle on the Big Bridge.”

Last, but not least, we have the Event stages.  These stages were more prevalent in the original game, because every entry from the series had one.  In Curtain Call, all of the songs that originally appeared as Event stages got turned into Field or Battle stages instead.  It’s a shame, because even if they’re difficult to play, they’re beautiful to watch.  Instead of battling enemies or walking through a field, you watch a video that highlights the most memorable moments from the featured Final Fantasy game.  The selected songs are popular themes from the game that people tend to think about when they think of that particular entry, i.e. “Sutaki da ne,” “Aerith’s Theme,” and “Answers” from Final Fantasy XIV.  The best, by far, appears in Curtain Call.  It’s a gorgeous medley of Final Fantasy themes played over highlights from the entire franchise.  If you’re a fan of any Final Fantasy games, I dare you not to cry while watching it.

It’s worth mentioning that the way you progress through the game changed in a few significant ways from the first Theatrhythm to Curtain Call.  In the original game, you could select any of the main musical stages for each of the games featured in Theatrhythm, from the original Final Fantasy to XIII.  However, once you committed yourself to one of the entries, i.e. Final Fantasy IX, you had to play through all three musical stages before being allowed to go back and play whichever one you wanted.

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Ouran High School Host Club Review

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Ouran High School Host Club Review

199744-ouran-high-school-host-club-ouran-high-school-host-club The first time I sat down to watch Ouron Highschool Host Club, I had a lot of questions and some very strong feelings from the start. In fact, there was a lot of yelling at the screen. I am actually half convinced that part of my watching this anime was so that Crymson, and later Vanri, could watch me watching it. I didn’t turn it off, though. In fact, I marathoned Ouron till the last two episodes because, at that point, I was emotionally invested and didn’t want it to end.

Ouron Highschool Host Club is an anime based off a successful series of a manga that was written by Bisco Hatori. The anime debuted in 2006. Fans have not so patiently been waiting for a second season ever since. The characters are all parodies of shojuo manga stereotypes.

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In the pilot, we meet Haruhi Fujioka, the main character and honor student. Haruhi is attending the prestigious Ouran Academy on scholarship and looking for a quiet place to study. What Haruhi finds in an “abandoned” music room that is actually the home of the Host Club. The Host Club is run by six attractive and wealthy male students who entertain the school’s bored and equally wealthy female students.

Tamaki Suoh is the president of the club and its princely/king character. Kyoya Ootori is the vice president and the real brains behind the club while he represents the glasses/cool character. Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachii are identical twins in Haruhi’s class and the mischievous characters. Mitsukuni “Honey” Haninozuka is the sweet boy lolita character and his cousin Takashi “Mori” Morinozuka is the protector with a soft heart character of the club. Haruhi breaks an expensive vase and becomes indebted to the Host Club during this first meeting.my fav

Haruhi starts to run errands for the club to work off the debt. Soon the club finds out that Haruhi is a natural with their female customers and offer to let Haruhi become a Host to pay the debt faster. The series shows Haruhi becoming friends and learning that the Hosts are more than their roles in the club. These friendships are written beautifully. The information about the Hosts are given slowly throughout the series in different episodes. We even get more information about some of the secondary characters; such as my favorite, the head of the Dark Magic Club Umehito Nekozawa.

The Hosts also strive to understand Haruhi better as the series progresses. Since Haruhi comes from a very different socio-economic world, the group clashes at times. These clashes usually lead to some cringe worthy moments for me while I was watching. The Hosts make each other better throughout the series. It is wonderful to watch them all evolve.

I did have a hard time with some of the verbiage of the show. Some situations also made me uncomfortable. Overall, I really did enjoy the show. The characters are fun. The animation is a great mix of beautiful and silly. The music is very catchy as well.

There is even a live action version of the show which I desperately want to watch. 

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I can understand why people love this anime. Ouran High School Host Club is silly and fun. It also has a lot more depth than you expect.

I would rate this anime as: Yes watch! 

Always keep sparkling!

Game Review: Randal’s Monday

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Game Review: Randal’s Monday

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Daedalic has a winner here with Randal’s Monday, a point-and-click adventure game currently available on Steam. The humor is crass, vulgar, and full of nostalgia.  Randal is a kleptomaniac douche who swipes his buddy’s wallet and the engagement ring within.

The bad news, for Randal, is the ring is cursed. What follows is a time-loop scenario with a slight twist: whatever Randal changes stays changed and alters the space-time continuum wreaking havoc on reality.

The dialogue is all spoken, sometimes though with a speed that left me frantically clicking to advance it. The artwork is decent with many hidden Easter-eggs to well known fandoms. There’s even a sci-fi convention, and a guest star (voiced by the actual actor, if my ears are correct) who has slightly more than a cameo in the tribulations of Randal.

8/10 paws