Kill la Kill IF Review

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Having released a superb Dragon Ball game last year in Dragon Ball FighterZ, Arc System Works has set its sights on a more challenging follow up: Kill la Kill, Trigger’s skin-baring, clobber-clobbering, mental anime about a girl in a sentient sailor uniform that turns into an extremely risque battle suit. The game gives away a reveal from well into the series and I’ll be spoiling things from it and IF’s story, so bear that in mind as we go forward.

The story is split into two paths: protagonist Ryuko and antagonist Satsuki, except she’s never really viewed as the antagonist because the game immediately reveals that she’s been secretly planning to overthrow her evil mother Ragyo. There’s very little context as to who these characters are and what they’re after: the story starts at the Naturals Election where Ryuko defeats the Elite Four in thirty seconds during a cutscene so Satsuki can destroy her in a tutorial fight. From there Harime Nui pretends to be an ally to Ryuko for some reason, before the game jumps straight to the Sports and Culture festival, where she reveals herself to have killed Ryuko’s Father. We never see her Father in this version, he’s never named, nor is it revealed that Ryuko and Satsuki are sisters. Nudist Beach are given one off-hand mention but are never seen, COVERS don’t destroy anything and are quickly dealt with, and the whole thing ends on a poorly explained “We’re all in Satsuki’s dream” twist that I have two problems with. Firstly, why is she able to see Anime-quality stills of things that happened in the series? Senketsu mentions time being warped but that doesn’t really explain anything. Secondly, why, if the whole story is a dream, is the best Arc Sys could come up with a heavily truncated version of some parts of the anime, devoid of context, excitement or humour and just slightly altered in a way that illicits the response “…that’s a bit different to the anime”? Senketsu is sliced to pieces and repaired almost immediately, the tri-school raid is relegated to a paragraph of exposition, Harime Nui listens to Satsuki’s order despite the latter being knee-deep in a coup against Ragyo. It’s rushed, it takes place in four locations where they cram in as many story beats as they can, and the aforementioned dream reveal makes the whole thing feel even more unimaginative. Worse still, the story mode often pads things out by having you fight groups of COVERS until you’ve killed a certain amount, which is utterly tedious. Multiple timelines bleeding through into a dream, with Satsuki as the core who can see those timelines and possibly interact with them; that’s a good idea. What they came up with is completely forgettable at best and frustratingly bad at worst.

So the story mode is a bust, which is a shame because the gameplay is pretty good. It’s a one-on-one fighter but with free movement around an arena and a camera that moves around to try and give the most useful angle. Like DB FighterZ and JoJo All Star Battle, repeatedly mashing the attack button results in combos, but like the former you are encouraged to mix things up. Every character has close and long range attacks, launchers, sweeps, a block, a dash, a guard break and a homing dash, which supplement the barrage of attacks with variation as and when it’s needed. There are three special attacks each: close, long and break, in keeping with the attack methods, and despite the uniform control method the characters do play differently: Satsuki and Ryuko are nimble and focus on melee, Nonon uses ranged attacks, Gamagoori and Sanageyama are slow but strong, and the former’s masochism based attacks come into play, stuff like that. It’s the kind of thing Arc Sys have done well before in Persona 4 Arena and DB FighterZ; easy enough to get to grips with and fun, but with an extra layer of depth for those who are looking for it. The one thing I don’t get is the weird rock paper scissors mini game, similar to clashes from Injustice that the game made no effort to explain to me and at the time of writing still hasn’t. You pick one of three face buttons in the hope to gain things like increased damage and a health refill, alongside gaining a “Valor” level that brings different benefits, but I’ve no idea what to do and I’ve only ever won by accident.

The fighting in this Kill la Kill fighting game is enjoyable and well designed, but the roster isn’t huge and the selection of arenas is measly. The story in this Kill la Kill fighting game is utter shite. So that’s the breakdown, and unfortunately the lack of content makes it hard to recommend it in the way I could with DB FigherZ or JoJo Eyes of Heaven, which supplemented their weak story modes with excellent gameplay and extremely detailed fan service respectively (DB FighterZ has good fan service too, but it’s not on the same level). If you like Kill la Kill and want to be able to stage fights between some of the characters from the anime in a way that decently recreates the style of said anime, this is worth picking up in a sale, definitely not full price. If you have a passing interest or are new to Kill la Kill, there’s nothing here for you. I am disappointed, but I did have fun. Make of that what you will.

By James Lambert

The Boys Season 1 Review

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Having done a surprisingly good job with an adaptation of Preacher superior to its source material, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have had a crack at what seems like the next logical step: Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s “The Boys”, in which Ennis’ hatred for superheroes manifests as a world where all “Supes” are complete arseholes and another bunch of arseholes, the titular Boys, keep tabs on them, blackmail them and, should the need arise, kick their heads in, all to keep them in line. It’s definitely not for everyone: it’s filled with explicit violence and gore, sex, a whole bunch of traumatic things I won’t go into here, liberal uses of that swear word Yanks really don’t like using and really does just HATE superheroes. Not all of them, there’s a good one here or there, but they’re mostly a buncha bastards. So if Preacher was about a 7 or 8 on a scale of how difficult it would be to adapt for mainstream television, The Boys is a 10. It helps that it’s an Amazon Prime original. It’s not my favourite work by Ennis (my favourite Comic author) or Robertson, but I definitely have a soft spot for it, having read it during my formative years alongside things like Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Hellblazer and The Punisher. I was initially pretty sceptical after a lacklustre trailer but I felt the same about Preacher before I watched that, so I went in with as open a mind as I could. Let’s see how they did, shall we?

In a world where Superheroes are real and have every second of their lives micromanaged and directed for maximum profit, synergy and resonance with target audiences and other awful marketing phrases, there are two central characters. Hughie Campbell’s life is torn apart figuratively when superhero A-Train, “The Fastest Man Alive” literally tears Hughie’s girlfriend apart by accidentally running through her. Meanwhile Starlight, small town, God-lovin’ nice girl local supe is elevated to “The Seven”, this universes’ top Superhero team, only to be almost immediately coerced into a sexual act by her childhood hero. From there they each take action against the superhero world their own way; Starlight (real name Annie) by rebelling against the corporate hold, dealing with her abuser and setting her own terms as a hero, and Hughie by joining up with a man named Billy Butcher, who hates all supes with a passion and reunites old allies into the titular Boys to deal with the biggest one of all: Superman expy Homelander, whom Billy especially despises. There are some big changes with this adaptation, much more notable ones than its Religion-minded predecessor. Chief among them is The Boys themselves, as a team and individually. In the comics they were CIA-backed black bag men (and woman); organised and ahead of the game. They also semi-regularly throw down with heroes and stomp them. Here they’re more of a scrappy group of criminals, scraping by with a specific goal in mind. The Female (of the Species) joins after the fact, and she and Frenchie have new, genuinely tragic backstories but the same sweet relationship, due in large part to the latter’s kind heart and eagerness to find the positive in situations. Frenchie is no longer completely out of his mind: his new role in the group is handling anything pertaining to chemistry, engineering and supplying guns, complimenting a fascination with finding out a superhero’s specific weakness and exploiting it. Hughie has more to do, taking on the lion’s share of undercover work and surveillance, alongside being the team’s heart. These new skill sets are particularly useful given that in this continuity The Boys don’t have superpowers, except for The Female, instead just being normal humans. So don’t expect much supe stomping. M.M, whose name now lacks an explanation, loses his role as a calm, professional link between leader Butcher and the two unstable members because he now has past beef with Frenchie, but still acts as “The reasonable one”. The weak link in all this is Butcher. His comic counterpart is a bloodthirsty, psychotic murder wrapped in a highly competent, ice-cold tactician wrapped in a disarmingly cheery cockney. He’s an absolute bastard, but he’s a magnificent bastard. The TV version, by contrast, is sloppy, rough around the edges and doesn’t bring anything to the table that the others couldn’t besides his burning hatred for supes. One character that has changed for the better is Homelander, who instead of being a sleazy prick chucking his weight around is more intelligent and shrewd, with ambitions and plans to go along with his powers. I’d like to see this Homelander go up against comic Butcher.

There’s not much in the way of action scenes, which is understandable given the now mostly powerless Boys, but what is here is pretty neat and occasionally creative. The hero outfits look like they actually belong to superheroes despite the rest of the world being grim and grey, and the show goes out of its way to show that, while not blameless by any means, at least some of the heroes’ actions are due to circumstance, namely the lives they lead and their upbringing, rather than them just all being complete arseholes just because. The new characterisations of both the heroes and The Boys cast Butcher in a more villainous light in a different manner to the comic, and the season ends on a major upset and cliffhanger ready for the already announced season 2.

Overall, The Boys is a success. While not as good as the Preacher adaptation and missing the mark with Billy Butcher, Rogen and Goldberg have once again made enough changes to make an adaptation interesting and put their own stamp on it, with positive results. I like these Boys and I’m looking forward to season 2, which I’m hoping takes this solid base and builds something great on it.

By James Lambert

Blasphemous Review

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I want to open this review with a little story about my time with Blasphemous. It could easily be considered a spoiler, so if that bothers you, skip to the next paragraph. Late in the game I stumbled upon a character called Socorro, “Our Pious Lady of the Perpetual Agony”, who I would find out later prayed for the pain inflicted on prisoners to be transferred to her, and so is magically struck by terrible wounds constantly. All I saw was a scarred, bloodied woman apparently being whipped repeatedly, and so when the game gave me the option to end her suffering, I took it. After getting over his initial dismay, her attendant asked no one in particular if perhaps this was an act of true mercy. As I left I said, out loud: “It’s my mercy.” I felt like I had actually changed something, in a world that had abandoned itself entirely to the machinations of the divine.

Blasphemous is a kickstarted game made by The Game Kitchen, which caught my eye back in 2017 when it was first announced. What appeared to be a gorgeous, gruesome 2-D action platformer has turned out to be an unabashed love letter to Castlevania Symphony of the Night specifically and Metroidvania in general. The game’s setting of Cvstodia, heavily influenced by Spanish art and architecture, is one big level, mapped out in the same way SOTN was, linked together with shortcuts and filled with inaccessible areas you’ll pass by time and time again until you finally reach them much later in the game. Blasphemous does Metroidvania really well; finding a shortcut back to an earlier area offers a sense of ease and comfort, exploring the world feels rewarding and there’s incentive to go rooting through every nook and cranny, partly due to the nature of the genre but also due to the game’s collectables. Chief among them are body parts of famous people in Cvstodia, all of them giving a few sentences about who they were and how they died, usually in a depressing fashion. Every item in the game has lore attached to it, and they all paint a picture of what this place is like, and what it’s become. Cvstodia is in the thrall of something called “The Grievous Miracle”, which has made a country already suffering at the hands of a brutal theocracy have to contend with monsters, and constant feelings of guilt and a desire for pain and punishment. Everyone is repenting, everyone is undergoing some kind of penance. It’s that Catholic style of religion, the “We’re all utter bastards, let’s make it up to God forever” school of thought. You are “The Penitent One”; the last surviving member of “The Brotherhood of the Silent Sorrow”, whose penance takes the form of a vow of silence. TPO sets out from their corpse-filled place of worship on a journey to find the source of The Miracle and end the cycle of penance, pain and punishment, putting down anything that opposes them along the way.

It plays a lot like SOTN too. 2-D platforming, some of which requires keen timing and/or positioning, and fortunately the jumping works well. The Penitent One’s weapons are the sword Mea Culpa, which can be upgraded at certain shrines hidden around the map, an unlockable ranged attack and a variety of Prayers that act as magic attacks. There’s a satisfying parry, a baseball slide dodge and a limited combo system, all of which end with a more damaging attack. TPO can collect rosaries that provide a variety of buffs; things like specific damage resistances, more health and the like, Mea Culpa hearts that provide a boost that usually comes with a downside, and Relics, that in classic Metroidvania style provide access to new paths throughout the various environments. The game has a couple of Dark Souls-esque elements: checkpoints work the same way, as do the healing items that refill upon death or resting at checkpoint shrines. Dying leaves behind a physical manifestation of The Penintent One’s guilt at failing in their penance, shortens their Fervour bar (which governs the use of Prayers) and makes it harder to fill. Multiple manifestations can be dropped, but crucially that’s the only thing they affect: you don’t lose any money, your health isn’t affected, there’s no equivalent to going hollow or anything like that. Boss fights are present and correct, and they’re all great. I won’t spoil them as all the trailers have, but they’re one of the best examples of the game’s gorgeous art design and offer some fun fights, particularly one late in the game against another human that plays like a Fromsoft-style duel. The combat is simple but satisfying, easy to get to grips with and feels thematically relevant to a story about bloodshed, pain and suffering.

I’ve been looking forward to Blasphemous for a while, and it did not disappoint. Combat, platforming and exploration in a well designed Metroidvania map, excellent world building, bosses and tone all combine to make a memorable experience that I enjoyed from start to finish. The visuals, soundtrack (laced with gorgeous Spanish guitar), lore and combat paint a beautiful picture of a cruel, painful existence in a country soaked in blood and misery.

By James Lambert