Harley Quinn Review

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Last year DC debuted a new animated series simply titled “Harley Quinn”; a show full of violence, gore, swearing and irreverent humour. It caught my eye but I only got around to watching it recently, and with Season 2 getting a trailer I thought I’d give some thoughts on it, partly to create a base for a potential “In for the long haul” and partly because I really enjoyed it and want to talk about it.

After realising their relationship was entirely one sided, and having been left to rot in Arkham without rescue for a whole year, Harley Quinn breaks up with The Joker. The show follows her forging her new path through Gotham’s underworld with a new crew; trying to join the Legion of Doom and show everyone that she can make it without the Clown Prince of Crime. Assisting her is her aforementioned crew: Dr Psycho; a tiny, misogynistic telepath taken in after a massive PR disaster renders him unemployable to even the most vile criminals. King Shark; a friendly, optimistic shark man computer hacker whose positive nature doesn’t prevent him from biting massive chunks out of people when required. Clayface; classic, shape-shifting Batman villain here envisioned as the greatest role Matt Berry never played; an actor fond putting the emphasis on bizarre parts of words and determined to give everyone he shifts into an elaborate backstory. Finally, despite her insistence that she’s not in the crew, there’s Poison Ivy; the caring, straight-woman best friend to Harley and most consistently competent member of the team thanks to any plant life in the vicinity rendering her essentially unstoppable. The Gotham they inhabit is both contemporary and fantastical, with a warped core. Batman is present and competent but speaks almost entirely in brief, generic hero phrases, his Robin (Damien Wayne) has the voice of a small child, which amusingly removes the weight from literally everything he says, and Jim Gordon is a strung-out lunatic in a failing marriage who desperately wants Batman to provide emotional support that the Dark Knight is clearly incapable of. The villains all work out in the open and get regular, positive news coverage and The Justice League are rarely seen. The focus is very much on the underworld, and Harley’s moves within it. As both the top crim in Gotham and the main obstacle to Harley’s success and emotional stability, The Joker is the antagonist; here portrayed as a petty bitch constantly out to undermine Harley’s attempts to steal his spotlight/precious Batman time and bullying other members of the Bat’s rogues gallery into taking his side. He’s trying to pull Harley down into the mire while Poison Ivy attempts to pull her out towards a new, happier life, which provides much of the drama for season one’s runtime. Ivy is, in my opinion, the best character in the show. She’s headstrong and determined not to get wrapped up in the more outlandish aspects of Harley’s schemes, but loves and supports her, has her own stuff going on in the form of a romance and a scheme to destroy a paving company, and is more than happy to be involved in the series’ sense of humour. Her relationship with Harley, which isn’t currently romantic but apparently will be, is really sweet, as is the friendship the whole crew shares, which provides a source of conflict when Harley is tempted to return to Joker’s side.

Of course all of this falls apart if the titular character doesn’t work, which fortunately she does. Harley is driven and focused, skilled, smart and likeable. She’s funny, eccentric and violent, while also being emotionally vulnerable in relateable ways that she seeks help for, both through her friends and in hallucinatory talks with her psychiatrist past self. Beneath the jokes, violence and swearing is really solid character work for a character who deserves better than being shipped with her abusive, piece of shit boyfriend. I’m glad to see things like this, Birds of Prey and Injustice 2’s story mode having Harley get away from him and being met with success.

As well as all that serious stuff, the show is very funny. Not every joke is a home run but there aren’t any duds that I remember. The show has a wonderful sense of absurd, silly, often dark humour running through it; an episode where Clayface’s severed hand becomes a sentient being with whom Jim Gordon becomes best friends, complete with drinking/poker/motorbike and sidecar montage. Bane being an ineffectual loser with a parody of the Tom Hardy voice and half-heartedly threatening to blow up everything that even mildly annoys him. Harley accidentally heisting a pretend vault intended for someone’s Bar Mitzvah then trying to salvage the situation by holding up a “guard” and saying “Mazel tov!” before his shattered knee gives way and he collapses after she smashed it in with a bat so hard his bone is sticking out the skin. Poison Ivy’s landlord and later member of the crew being a CIA cleaner turned elderly, wheelchair-bound Jewish cyborg called Sy Borgman. Who can turn into a car. Messily. I won’t go on listing jokes, you get the point by now; it’s a mix of gory, dark humour and goofy stuff that works wonderfully.

I’m glad DC made a show like this, and it really paid off. Come for the swearing, violence and irreverent humour, stay for the strong character work and, well, the irreverent humour. Really looking forward to season two, which I’ll be doing an “In for the long haul” on.

By James Lambert

My Hero One’s Justice 2 Review

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Despite my love for the series on which it was based, I slept on the original One’s Justice. Not because I thought it’d be bad, I just never got around to playing it. Now the sequel’s rolled around and it focuses on the Overhaul arc, with new playable characters in addition to the previous game’s roster, and having caught up on Season 4 of the anime recently it seemed like a good idea to pick it up. Please note that the game assumes you’re familiar with the events of Seasons 3 and 4, and so I will be talking about it in a way that could be considered spoilery.

The story mode covers the anime (with still images from it) from All Might announcing his retirement after his final battle with All for One, through the Provisional License and Internship arcs, Overhaul and the Shie Hassaikai, and ending with 100% Full Cowling Deku vs body horror Kaiju Overhaul. Completing it unlocks a version from the Villains’ perspective, which ends with Shigaraki and Mr Compress mutilating the arrested Overhaul. The story mode does have the occasional in-engine cutscene, but the majority of it is told in still images that shake and bump into each other sometimes, with voice acting. Some missions are entirely cutscene based, but despite being called “Video” they’re slideshows of anime screen caps. It covers all the big fights, and does at least try to give everyone something to do, even if it often relies on generic goons to do so. The villain side suffers from this a lot; getting into scraps with lowest-tier members of Shie Hassaikai, and unfortunately Suneater’s big fight with the three “Trash” members of the Eight Bullets is one of these very same nameless goons instead. As story modes in anime games go, it’s fine. It’s clearly not the focus of the game, and it’s obviously not the best way to experience the story, but it conveys the events well and does the best with what it has. For the most part, when it’s dealing with big name characters fighting in arenas deemed important enough to be in the game, it works well. When it’s a big name character versus a nameless stand-in, in an arena that’s also acting as a stand-in for a location that didn’t make it, it’s not so good. There’s also an arcade mode, where you pick one of three paths per character and fight a linear sequence of opponents. Each fight ends with a brief exchange of dialogue between the two fighters, which is nice, and an arcade mode is always welcome in a fighting game. Personally I tend to go for free battle mode, which is this game’s term for a VS mode against the CPU or another player, but it’s nice to have the game pick a run of opponents for me. Finally there’s mission mode, where you buy characters to stock an agency that then engages in grid-based fights. The grid is stocked with opponents who destroy the area they’re in at varied speeds, you need to move around the grid one spot at a time and beat them all in one round fights.

So then, what’s it play like? Well, it’s a one-on-one, 3D arena fighter with two assist characters. There’s one button for melee attacks, two buttons for the character’s quirk (the MHA word for super powers) and moving the left analogue stick while pressing any of the three attack buttons acts as a modifier, usually a more directed or long-range attack. There’s a sprint button, which is useful given how slowly most of the characters move on the ground normally, a homing air dash thing on the same button, a dodge, a block and the aforementioned assists. There are three super attacks; a level one, a level two and a level three that is your character and their two assists all doing their level ones at once for massive damage. I prefer 2-D fighting games, and this 3-D arena take more common in anime games is varied in quality, but One’s Justice does it well for the most part. Combos are easy to pull off, unblockable attacks are useful but can just be avoided or countered with other attacks, movement is fluid and, most importantly, it’s fun to play. The only issue is that dodging and blocking aren’t easy to cancel into, and while there’s a quick recover button, it only works when you’re not under direct pressure. It’s not a big issue, but it is noticeable. The game’s best aspect is how well it implements the anime’s quirks into a fighting game environment. The obvious combat-focused characters like Deku, All Might, Bakugo and the like work as well as you’d expect, but more surprising is how fun characters like Jiro, Ashido and Toga are to play; while everyone controls the same, each character has their own spin on it. Kirisihima has super armour on his attacks, Shigaraki can create large patches of decaying energy, Jiro has long-range attacks based on her sound powers as well as solid hand-to-hand skills. Each character feels viable, even if their are ones who stand out as easier to use, or able to cause more damage quicker and easier.

Overall, One’s Justice 2 is a good time, particularly if you’re a fan of the anime and/or manga. The story mode does a decent job of adapting a large chunk of the anime, despite its reliance on screen caps and nameless goons, and the meat of the game; its fighting, is fun and implements each character’s quirk well. It’s not the best anime game I’ve played, but I enjoyed it, and if you’re a fan of My Hero Academia then it’s worth a look.

By James Lambert

Doom Eternal Review

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I never got around to reviewing 2016’s DOOM, but put simply: I loved it as much as everyone else did. The soundtrack and atmosphere, the fantastic characterisation of the Doom Slayer told entirely through his actions (and in first person, no less), the surprisingly good lore and backstory for the Slayer, and of course the intense, ultra-violent, fast-paced gameplay.

I had a bad start with Doom Eternal. If you follow me on twitter then you may well have seen an angry, drunken tweet I wrote decrying the game’s overly long, overwhelming fights, overabundance of platforming and refusal to give any context or explanation for what’s going on. Well, with the benefit of hindsight, and replaying the levels I had issue with (sober this time), I realise what’s happened. It didn’t take long for me to come around and realise how mistaken I was, as I’ll elaborate on as we go.

So my problem with the plot was that, even by the standards of Doom 2016’s full-on opening, it felt like proceedings were in a rush and not keen on being explained. Unlike its predecessor, the story here is far more relevant and personal to the Doom Slayer from the off, and given the speed with which you move from area to area, and codex entries being missable collectibles, it seemed like said personal story would be largely untold, or at least kept in the background. As it turns out, the opening sections are designed to tease future reveals and pique your interest, they all make sense and have added weight in context, and the story itself is surprisingly good. After being teleported to parts unknown by Dr Samuel Hayden, the Doom Slayer is now hanging out on a sort of flying space castle, enacting a plan to track down and kill three Hell Priests in order to stop a demonic invasion of Earth that’s about 60% complete. The Slayer requires technology from his old home of Argent D’Nur; an alien planet that fell to the demons in the past, and Hell seems to be allied with another race of supernatural beings that are linked to both the fallen planet and the Slayer himself. That’s all I can say to avoid spoilers, but through environmental story telling, lore and the odd third person cutscene, the game does a really good job of adding an extra layer of tragedy, determination and depth to the silent, ripping and tearing space marine; following on from the great work 2016 did. Elements of his past are revealed, everything ties together in a satisfying way and all of this is achieved without slowing anything down or stopping for exposition dumps, unless you count the codex entries. The excellent foundation laid in the previous game is built upon by a more personal story for the Doom Slayer, and despite how odd it may sound, it really works.

Of course the meat of the game is its combat, and while fights are long and overwhelming like I said, it quickly stops being an issue. As a base, the game still has the same core gameplay of fast, intense first person shooting mixed with melee glory kills and a chainsaw that provide a wealth of health and ammo pick ups respectively. Layered on top of that is a sort of tier system for enemies; lower level ones like imps, zombies and the like who can be killed with one pip of chainsaw fuel, which now regenerates over time, and are there both for supplies and to distract you from the bigger enemies. Big powerhouses like Barons of Hell, the returning Arch-Vile (who is now an absolute pain in the arse to fight) and Pain Elementals, who can soak up a lot of damage, and an in-between middle tier, most of which have this game’s USP of weak points. Weak points are usually the enemy’s weapon; the mounted turrets on the backs and shoulders of Arachnotrons and Revenants, the flamethrowers on a Mancubus, that sort of thing and can be removed either with enough damage or in one shot with certain weapon mods. The game teaches you early on to pick out these enemies in a crowd, quickly nerf their offensive capabilities and focus on the more prominent threats, and gradually ramps up over the course of the game. Ammo capacity is quite low but the chainsaw is almost always available, and the Slayer now has a Predator-style shoulder cannon that can launch freezing rounds, grenades or bursts of flame, the latter of which causes enemies to drop armour shards. There’s also a new rechargeable melee attack called “Blood Punch” which does immense damage, sends out a shock wave and can destroy weak points.  The game gives you the tools to constantly make a comeback as long as you’re good enough, and while it does feel like there’s a “Correct”, or at least better way to deal with threats, you don’t have to use them; demons still react to the super shotgun like a child being punched in the face by Mike Tyson. Two of the new enemies do require you to use one specific strategy however, and act as the two ends of the spectrum as far as combat goes. At the bottom, being a nuisance is the Doom Hunter; a reanimated corpse bolted onto a flying tank who hovers around pelting you with homing rockets until you lower his shield with the plasma rifle, damage him enough to separate him from said tank and then do enough subsequent damage to finally kill him. I never enjoyed fighting him, unlike my favourite enemy in the game, The Marauder; an undead, corrupted member of the Night Sentinels the Slayer once led, armed with an energy axe, super shotgun, shield and GHOST WOLF. There’s only one way to fight them, but it feels like a duel; he attacks and keeps his shield up, you dodge and wait for him to attack you, at which point you counterattack and punish. His introduction is one of the coolest moments in the game, too; he turns up through a portal and calls the Slayer out as a fraud as the big man silently circles him; his wary, focused gaze taking in every inch of his fallen comrade-turned-foe. The combat has more of a defined structure to it this time around, but if anything feels more intense because it knows that having taught you that structure it can throw all manner of grief your way and expect you to handle it. Finally, on the subject of platforming; it’s alright actually. It’s mostly air-dashing, double jumping and climbing walls and it all works as well as everything else really.

Also worth mentioning is the game’s gorgeous art design; having moved away from Mars to a bright, colourful Earth clad in neon signs, flesh walls and fused together damned souls. Argent D’Nur has a sort of Gears of War feeling to it; similar architecture and lots of grass, and what little time you spend in Hell itself is just a glorious mess of flesh and gore strewn about the place. The game looks great, and not spending the whole time on Mars is a big improvement. The monster designs are also top-notch, and every enemy now takes drastic locational damage when attacked; skin and muscle stripped away, leaving exposed bone.

As I say; I had a bad start with Doom Eternal, but it didn’t last. The story moves quickly but once you adjust it’s engaging and has surprising depth, as well as some awesome set pieces. It takes the groundwork laid by Doom 2016 and runs with it, and once again the Doom Slayer can do more with a stare, a hand movement and complete silence than some characters can do with entire monologues. The combat is a glorious ballet of gore and violence, and the more structured approach with the enemy tiers and weak points add an extra layer of depth on which to lay even more intensity. I won big fights and internally bellowed at the top of my lungs like Star Platinum. I ripped and teared until it was done. Doom Eternal is an exquisite first person shooter. Doom Eternal is a masterpiece.

By James Lambert

Netflix Castlevania Season 3 Review

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What’s a Castlevania series without Dracula? Really good, as it turns out. After two seasons dealing with Vlad Tepes’ quest for revenge against the human race for the death of his wife Lisa, the big man is dead and the key players have all moved on, for the most part. Sypha and Trevor (now a couple) have become travelling monster hunters and are, for now at least, staying in the town of Lindenfeld where a Scholar named Saint Germain is attempting to infiltrate a priory full of antsy, armed monks who worship Dracula after one of his creatures shared some kind of eldritch knowledge with them. Carmilla has taken the captured Hector to Styria where she rules with three other vampire women who she quickly convinces to militarily seize a huge corridor of land, lock it down and feed on its human denizens indefinitely. Isaac is making his way towards Styria to avenge Dracula after Hector and Carmilla’s unsuccessful betrayal and finally Alucard, having started to lose his mind due to living alone, takes on Japanese vampire hunters Sumi and Taka as students, forming a personal bond with them as well as bolstering their skills for when they return to rid their home country of vampires. Rather than separate stories that all convene on a single, unified finale, the stories are isolated from one another. This by no means a bad thing, as for the most part it gives each story room to breathe, allowing for some excellent character moments, particularly for the newcomers. Chief among them is Lenore; a member of Carmilla’s cabal who acts as a diplomat trying to win over Hector, and prides herself on a strictly give-and-take approach to negotiations which has some interesting, grim ramifications. Lance Reddick makes a brief appearance as a ship captain who gets Isaac to open up about his views on the human race and his place in Dracula’s plan to kill them all, reasoning with him that while humanity is complete shit, it’s not all bad and maybe wiping them all out isn’t the way forward. Isaac’s story has some nice introspective moments mixed in with the best action scene in the season, but it’s largely a transitional arc to get him into a confrontation with Carmilla’s group. I was pleasantly surprised to see how long Sypha and Trevor stay in Lindenfeld gradually dealing with the Priory with the help of Saint Germain’s sleuthing, leading to a pay off that, while slightly obvious, works really well, and both this and Isaac’s story have more appearances from game monsters, which is always a plus. Carmilla and her fellow rulers are largely in the background with Lenore taking centre stage, but it’s a role she absolutely deserves. It’s a slow burn over the course of the season, but it’s a good one. Unfortunately, Alucard’s story is the weak link. It’s not bad, but it wraps up a lot more suddenly than I expected, and while its climax doesn’t ruin what preceded it or anything drastic like that, it seems like a waste, and I would have liked to see it go on for longer, and do more with its potential

The writing and voice acting are as excellent as they have been in the last two seasons, though there seems to be less humour than before, maybe because Trevor and Alucard are apart. There also seems to be less gore, and less action in general, though the gradually unravelling plots, particularly in Trevor and Carmilla’s, are so engaging that you don’t notice, or at least I didn’t until it was over. Having set up a suite of supporting characters during the Dracula arc, the series is now focused on slowing down and developing said characters further while introducing new ones, which so far is working wonderfully. It’s due in large part to Warren Ellis; having taken a faithful adaptation of the series as a framework on which to lay his own approach to tone, dialogue and character development, resulting in a series that feels like both a Castlevania story and a Warren Ellis story, with unmistakable traits from both. While watching it I was thinking about how weird it would have sounded if I’d been told that Netflix was going to make a Castlevania anime full of English people, swearing, gore and humour, and that on top of that it’d be great, but here we are.

Overall, any worries about Netflix’s Castlevania series in a post-Dracula world are entirely assuaged by Season 3; taking its interesting characters and developing them in new situations while adding new ones that slot into the story wonderfully. Now I’m on the other side, the thought of keeping Vlad alive any longer seems like it would have spoilt things, and the show is all the better for having a dramatic, hectic journey to his end. Season 3 is confident in itself, rightly so, and the series shows no signs of slowing down. Despite the slight issues I have with it, it’s an excellent season and I look forward to whatever comes next.

By James Lambert

Dragon Ball Z Kakarot Review

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Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is an RPG covering, as the title suggests, the events of Dragon Ball Z from Raditz to Buu and the tale of Kakarot, better known as Son Goku. Please note that as it covers DBZ directly I will be talking about things in DBZ that could be considered spoilers, so if you’ve never read or watched it, or haven’t done so for a while and want this game to serve as a refresher, you might want to leave now.

Still with me? So Kakarot is a direct adaptation of the manga, with the main quests almost entirely consisting of canonical story beats and sidequests providing opportunities to see characters who otherwise don’t get much of a look in, including several from the original Dragon Ball. I was particularly pleased to see Launch come back (with a cheeky reference to Toriyama just forgetting she exists) as well as the Pilaf Gang and Eighter. In the midst of DBZ’s more serious tone it’s nice to take a break with the more lighthearted, fun adventure feel that DB had, and it’s one of this game’s biggest selling points. It is worth noting however that, as a direct adaptation, outside of limited free-roam opportunities Goku gets as much screen time as he did in the source material, where being indisposed and/or dead meant Gohan, Vegeta and Piccolo had to handle things until he swooped in to save the day. It’s not a bad thing, personally I really enjoyed all the time I spent as Gohan in particular, and it’s always nice to see my man Piccolo have things to do, but it is worth mentioning that “Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot” doesn’t have an abundance of Kakarot. It’s a largely faithful adaptation of the manga, with some of the filler from the anime added alongside new scenes that add a bit extra to the story, like some nice foreshadowing with Gohan and 16. On the other hand, there’s a surprising amount of things cut out; Vegeta’s more ruthless moments on Namek are removed (which I’m pretty sure means the Ginyu Force are all still alive when the planet blows up), his Final Flash moment against Perfect Cell is gone (it’s just a move you have to unlock), and Trunks’ subsequent failed attempt to overpower Cell happens off-screen. The entire Tenkaichi Budokai after Goku and friends leave with the Supreme Kai in the Buu Saga is cut, as is the children’s division, and Super Buu destroying the lookout doesn’t happen. My problem with the censored violence isn’t the censorship itself but that it removes Vegeta’s ruthlessly pragmatic edge in finishing off the Ginyus while they’re down, in contrast to Goku’s decision to let them off with a humiliating beating. Cutting the other scenes feel odd when everything else is carried over. It’s doubly strange when you consider that certain arcs are padded, like during Gohan’s time stranded in the woods when you play as Piccolo challenging Krillin, Yamcha, Tien and Chiaotzu to ascertain their readiness for the coming Saiyan threat. I’m happy to spend more time in this world; the game doesn’t need to be in any rush, and why adapt Dragon Ball Z if you’re going to cut bits out? It’s also worth mentioning that some parts of the story are relegated to text boxes on a black screen, most humorously everything between Vegetto being absorbed and escaping Buu’s body, it’s like the budget suddenly ran out.

Gameplay wise it’s an RPG but it really doesn’t need to be. Grinding is a waste of time, and whenever you switch to a character you haven’t played as for a while the game dumps a load of XP on them to get them up to the level they want them to be; really the RPG elements just give you an edge when you’re using a character for an extended period of time, which doesn’t happen that often. Sidequests are character-specific and appear at set times, so the level requirements are superfluous, and they’re all simple, easy missions. Characters you meet become friends and can be placed on a series of “Spirit Boards” based on things like cooking, training and gods that provide various buffs and passive skills. Cooking is its own separate element too; finding ingredients and having Chi-Chi make dishes and full course meals that provide massive permanent and temporary stat boosts. Unfortunately though none of this really matters. Fights are stacked in or against your favour as the game dictates and the abundance of healing items makes it possible to just smash through anything that isn’t a much higher level than you, at which point it becomes untenable. The combat is simple but satisfying though: one button for melee, a suite of super moves powered by a manually recharged ki bar, transformations and the ability to teleport behind enemies as a counter and smack them into the ground. It’s largely based on timing and the proper angle of attack, especially when you’re using a beam, although depending on the character you can cheese it pretty dramatically: any attack that explodes in a sphere with splash damage, like Vegeta’s Big Bang Attack, is something the A.I just can’t handle. That aside, when you’re in the thick of it; dodging ki attacks, charging and launching counter attacks it all works well.

So DBZ Kakarot isn’t much of an RPG and it cuts bits out of the story for some reason, but if you want to fly around the Dragon Ball universe meeting and helping out characters from both Z and the original Dragon Ball and getting into simple but fun fights then this is a good time. If you’ve never seen or read DBZ then this is not the way to experience it, but if you know the story and just want to spend some time in that world without jumping from fight to fight, Kakarot is worth a look.

By James Lambert

Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- Review

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Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- is a point and click detective story with an anime visual style, and caught my eye due to it being that exact combination of things. It starts with one of those very serious “YOUR CHOICES MATTER” messages, though in this case backs it up by having the game constantly autosave, setting any choices made in stone. You play Detective Ayami Ito: a mysterious mask causes her to lose control of herself and shoot a hostage taker named Reina, and later her partner and boyfriend goes missing only to reappear and be killed before Ito’s eyes by Reina, seemingly back from the dead. She’s understandably shaken, medicated, and put on paid leave pending a reassignment from violent crime. Paid leave can do one though, because Ito’s going to solve this thing herself; taking the mask and fleeing the station to find out the truth behind Reina’s reappearance.

It’s quite a simple story, and while I won’t go into detail for spoiler reasons I will say that it spends a lot of time addressing the darker parts of humanity. Abuse, violence, grieving, despair and suicide are all present; Reina’s backstory and how she became tangled up in the mask and the effect it has on Ito, and how Ito goes about her investigation depending on your choices. The game has a stat system called SPIN: Sanity, Professionalism, Investigation and Neurosis. Sanity is pretty self-explanatory; seeing horrible things has a negative impact on Ito’s already damaged mental health, as well as certain actions that tie into the next stat: professionalism. Despite being on leave Ito is still tied to the police, and has to weigh up a by-the-book approach against more direct, often quicker methods: using her sidearm to shoot locks off things, accepting a drink when offered, threatening and hitting people to get information, even straight up murdering someone at one point: these are all viable options to get what you want, but doing them leaves Ayami shaken and wondering why she’d take such a drastic route. Investigation points are earned by doing just that: investigating, and the stat lowers in direct contrast to a rise in sanity when you have Ito take her medication (pleasingly this isn’t some bullshit “Going off your meds makes you more creative” thing but just because the pills make her sedated and drowsy), though I didn’t notice the stat having an effect on what you find in the environment. The game highlights everything you can interact with, and you jump from point to point rather than moving a cursor around, so it’s not like you’ll miss anything. The final stat, neurosis, is increased by doing things like repeatedly talking to people you’ve already exhausted dialogue options with, pacing back and forth, wandering aimlessly, things like that. It’s an interesting stat but didn’t come up all that often compared to the more general sanity stat. It’s unclear how much of an effect SPIN actually has on the gameplay, but the constant updates add to the impact the choices have, and the constant implementation of said choices, alongside how drastic they can be, keeps things interesting for the game’s short duration.

The choices are also what stop the game being just a visual novel, which is what makes up the rest of the gameplay. Conversations aren’t voiced and rarely have dialogue options, every character has a still portrait, with cut-ins appearing for certain actions and choices, but outside of them Ito has free movement, and every choice is made in real time, sometimes with a time limit. There are eleven endings in total, as well as dramatically different choices to make and side characters to talk to and have an effect on, which combined with the short length means I am planning to play through it again sometime.

So that’s Tokyo Dark -Remembrance-: a neat little detective story visual novel with a focus on choices. It kept me entertained throughout, and if you’re interested in a game where you can choose between playing things cool and calm and just going completely off the rails, it’s definitely worth a look.

By James Lambert

Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order Review

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Having stirred up a shitstorm so diabolical that governments got involved with Star Wars Battlefront 2, EA wisely decided to go in the opposite direction and get Respawn (creators of Titanfall and, more importantly, Titanfall 2) to make a single player only, microtransaction-free Star Wars game.

Set between Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One, you play Cal Kestis; a young Jedi hiding out on a planet that’s one big eldritch monster covered in mouths, scrapping space ships and avoiding the Empire having lost his master to Order 66. Using the Force to save his friend from the aforementioned eldritch monster brings Cal face to helmet with the Second Sister; a brutal Jedi hunter and leader of a squad of black clad “Inquisitors” who do the same. Cal barely escapes with the help of pilot Greez and ex-Jedi Cere, who want Cal’s help retrieving a list of Force-sensitive children in order to train the next generation of Jedi. From there it’s a planet-hopping adventure following the trail of Cere’s master Eno Cordova, to the tombs of an ancient race of Force users called the Zeffo. The story is pretty solid all round, largely because the actual list of children is just a Mcguffin and the focus of the piece is on the characters. Cere has a troubled past is far more comfortable with the Dark Side than she would like, Cal has a deep well of guilt over his master’s death, and Order 66 happened when he was still a child so he’s had to basically raise himself into adulthood and this whole “Save the Jedi Order” thing is a pretty massive undertaking. Other characters you meet are struggling to fight back the encroaching Empire, who are still fresh but already doing their best to make everyone miserable. Spearheading this is the Second Sister, who has the use of both the Force and a double-bladed lightsaber, whose backstory I won’t spoil but both in terms of that and her design, she’s a strong villain. Personally I would have liked her to feature more, but you do get to clash with her on multiple occasions. She has a great reveal where she takes off her helmet, then hacks into Cal’s comms and taunts him for a while, but then Cal shuts her out and she’s placed firmly on the back burner until a lot later. The opportunities to encounter and fight cool, humanoid villains are definitely present but few, and unfortunately the game tends to fall back on fighting alien animals and monsters, which isn’t nearly as fun. However, the inquisition’s purge troopers act as minibosses dotted around the levels; strong, swift enemies with a variety of weapons that all pack a punch and different fighting styles. The story itself ends on a strong, satisfying note and that type of sequel hook that can be taken up or left, and fortunately doesn’t try to awkwardly cram itself into canon, apart from two cameos that in my opinion at least fit in fine.

I’ve heard two main comparisons in regards to Jedi Fallen Order: Uncharted and Sekiro. Now while I can sort of see where the former comes from, for me the game feels a lot more like the most recent God of War. Same Metroidvania gameplay, similar environment and art designs in a lot of areas, similar puzzles, that sort of thing. The Sekiro comparison is slightly more founded. Cal and enemies have block meters, once you’ve drained an enemy’s you can either kill them in one hit if they’re weak enough or get a clean hit in if they’re strong. That’s the only real similarity, because as we all know, blocking and parrying in melee combat have existed for years now, and the mere presence of them doesn’t suggest a Dark Souls inspiration. The combat has a definite weight to it but Cal is very quick and agile, has the ability to pull, push and slow down enemies with the Force and, crucially, the game has difficulty levels. They balance parry timing, enemy damage and enemy aggression, with the lowest having them all in your favour, the highest having them weighed heavily against you, and two inbetweeny ones. I started the game on the highest on recommendation, but restarted and then played the whole thing on one difficulty lower, which provides the best balance of the three criteria. The game can be tricky, and that block meter is definitely Sekiro-esque but for the most part it feels like a third person melee action game rather than a Soulslike. The Metroidvania elements are front and centre also; opening up new paths through the planets you visit, finding shortcuts, items and upgrades to traverse previously inaccessible paths. Oh it bares mentioning at this point, because I forgot to earlier and they’re responsible for a lot of the new path opening; Cal has a robot friend called BD-1: a tiny, two-legged droid with dog mannerisms that rides on his back, and they’re adorable. I love them. Baby Yoda can do one. The art design of the planets is nicely varied, ranging from things like ice, swamps and greenery to what’s basically a Mortal Kombat planet. It was surprising just how much Dathomir, birth place of Darth Maul, feels like Mortal Kombat. In a good way though.

Overall, Jedi Fallen Order is great. Enjoyable lightsaber combat, rewarding Metroidvania exploration and a strong Star Wars story with a focus on characters all make it worth playing. I had fun with it, and it kept me engaged from start to finish despite not being a particularly big Star Wars fan.

By James Lambert