A few years ago we’d laugh at the famous line from Death Note subtitles “Just according to keikaku” but nowadays it’s becoming more and more normal to leave some words without translation even in official (crunchyroll, hidive, etc) subtitles. Who is laughing now? =) Recently we watched an anime where the parents were routinely called Otou-san and Okaa-san because why not, and in the latest episode of Bocchi the Rock the translators decided that everyone knows what seishun means anyway =) I actually think it’s a good idea, that could remove some awkwardness from translations (the same with honorifics, every time I see that -san is replaced with Mister it just feels… wrong, just leave it as is, not to mention attempts to make various Mya-nee sound more or less plausible).

I’ve been trying to get myself familiar with the Star Ocean series recently and currently playing The Last Hope. Wouldn’t say that it’s an amazing game but it’s pretty entertaining and that’s what really matters, right? Anyway, wanted to find some fan-art on this game and, surprisingly, found almost nothing of this sort. While I was searching though bumped into some pretty nice cosplay =) Yeah, it’s Reimi, Reimi and more Reimi, she’s certainly the cutest character in this game.

Trails From Zero

Finally, a new Trails game, hooray! Well, “new” is a bit of a stretch here — Zero no Kiseki came out in Japan on the PSP in 2010 — but only now we finally got the official English release, thanks to NISA and the Geofront. Not gonna lie, this is the first time I’ve heard of a fan-group translation used in an official release, that’s pretty cool.

The Crossbell duology is usually highly praised and I read multiple times that these two games might be the peak Falcom, the best ones the studio has ever released. However, I also read similar claims about Sora SC and wouldn’t say that game was better even than First Chapter, not to mention my personal favorite, Cold Steel III. This time around though I have to agree — Zero No Kiseki is a fantastic game. Not sure if it’s truly the number 1 in entire Kiseki series but I had great time with it and liked almost everything it has to offer.

Let me get my list of complaints and things that could’ve made me enjoy the game even more off my chest first, it’s going to be pretty short. Zero was released after Trails In the Sky and it uses a similar orbment and combat system. Sora games difficulty was kind of hit and miss, so based on my previous experience I picked normal difficulty. Unfortunately, turned out that Trails From Zero is on the easier side comparing to the Sky trilogy, I think I would’ve had more fun if the game was harder. Oh well, Nightmare for the second playthrough maybe? =) And now (haha) let’s address my main (haha) complaint about this game (haha). Or should’ve I said “barrier” instead of “haha”? Lloyd Bannings is a surprisingly boring main character. Yeah, more boring than our overprotective big brother Rean Schwarzer. I didn’t actively dislike Lloyd but oh boy does he have a personality of a friendly potato. It’s truly a shame considering that the rest of the cast is so, so good.

I knew in advance that Tio and Randy would be my favorites and they didn’t disappoint. Randy’s remarks are pure gold most of the time and Tio, despite being a totally different type, keeps up with him perfectly. The way she treats poor Chief Roberts… =( Elie is a surprisingly okay heroine. She doesn’t have any quirks (weeeell, well-well-well, unless you want to talk about the “dynamic duo”, as Randy once said), her past is not that mysterious, but I wouldn’t say that she’s boring, she’s just… relatable, kind of a normal person in this world. Sergei, Noel, Dudley, Grace, Rixia, Ilya, Arios, Estelle — all the supporting cast is also super likeable (yah, even Dudley). I’m desperately trying to recall any really annoying character or scene and drawing blanks. Okay, maybe Wazy is so-so? The antagonist in Zero is your typical Falcom villain. Funnily enough, in the middle of my playthrough I grabbed my Trails artbook to flip through a few pages (Estelle’s portraits bothered me a little, so I wanted to double-check that I’m not crazy and she looked differently in previous games) and spoiled myself to who the mastermind behind everything was =) Although, to be fair, if in a Trails game you see a pleasant middle-aged scientist, the only one among his colleagues who has a portrait in dialogues, and don’t automatically assume that he’s going to be either an Enforcer or at least a Really Suspicious Guy — that’s on you =) I’m a firm believer that if a game or book is good then a spoiler or two won’t matter much (detective novels are an exception of course). Not only Trails From Zero is good, to me Kiseki games’ main selling points have always been their fantastic characters, dialogues and fun combat, not the plot, so I could only chuckle when I had opened the page with Joachim =) Though the plot in Zero is built competently. What start off as relatively mundane investigations eventually transform into a large-scale operation against an evil cult. Surprisingly, Ouroboros doesn’t actively participate in this game. Yeah, they are around: we have a side quest from Phantom Thief B; Renne is running around the city; I already knew about Mariabell (although I’m not sure if she’s already with the Society in Zero) but they never actually intervene in anything. Even more surprisingly, Zero No Kiseki doesn’t end with a cliffhanger. There are some loose ends, for sure (Who is KeA? When will SSS learn about Rixia? When will Mariabell show her true colors? Will Randy finally go on a date with Cecile?) but by and large this is a finished story.

It was an interesting change of pace to spend the entire game in a single city. In Cold Steel I and III we had the “base” towns of Leeves and Trista, and because you spend quite a bit of time in these places you eventually get to know all the people there, learn what kinds of relationships they have with each other and see how these relationships are changing as the game is progressing. Crossbell offers the same but on a grander scale. I’d been trying to talk to everyone in the city at least once a day (NPCs can change their dialogues after some plot event during the same day) but frankly burned out a little after a few days of the festival chapter. I had already missed a bunch of collectibles anyway (guides are for weaklings), so decided to just speak with the people whose stories seemed to be the most interesting. As a side note I want to express my displeasure with the fact that Juna’s family (and Juna herself) are pretty much missing from this game (her little brother and sister can be seen a couple of times but that’s that).

I was thinking to write something about gameplay as well but, honestly, it’s a case of “if it’s not broken why fix it?” Gameplay-wise Zero is more or less a copy-paste of Trails in the Sky the 3rd. The camera outside of battles is fixed now and in combat we have access to combo-crafts, I think that covers most of the changes =) So instead of some gameplay-related wisdoms here comes just a list of random things from my playthrough.

The party of Lloyd, Randy, Elie and Tio is well balanced and fun to use. Randy is obviously a Crossbell version of Laura, all he needs is love accessories increasing the amount of CP and as many ATK cranking quartz as possible. Elie and Tio are both decent mages and can be used interchangeably. In my opinion Elie has better attacking crafts, so my “primary” mage was Tio (meaning I sped up casting for her as much as possible) but the roles can be reversed for sure. Lloyd is a bit of an oddball, because he doesn’t have a clearly defined “class”, but it’s the fate of all Trails protagonists.

Whereas I said that I don’t remember any really weak scenes there were episodes which were the highlights of the game for me. I liked how Tio and Randy were joking about Lloyd and Elie’s relationships (were they joking though?), the running gag with Cecile having fun at Lloyd’s expense (“Lloyd, I hope today you’ll finally tell me who you’re dating!”) is cute and, well, funny; the same goes to the scene when Noel is interrogating her sister about the “man she loves”: “Is it Lloyd? It’s Lloyd, isn’t it? No, please, no, please don’t tell me it’s Randy!” It was surprisingly touching to see how Renne was learning the truth about her family and their reunion with Estelle and Joshua was equally heartwarming. Goddamn, and I don’t even like Renne!

Trails games don’t surprised me anymore, that would be an impossible task after I’ve played so many of them, but every time it feels so nice to return to Zemuria and see all these characters again. Can’t wait to play Ao and Hajimari next year! And Kuro of course too… one day =)

P.S. And as a bonus some random screenshots from the game =)

Ataru’s sharing some wisdom!

I know that we’re only 3 episodes in but so far the remake of Urusei Yatsura has been fantastic! I’m so happy that the studio didn’t modernize the show itself, so we still get to see all that old-school awkward jokes but in modern graphics and with amazing seyuu. And Darlings of the world, rejoice — Lum, the best waifu from the 80s, is back!

Summer Time Render

Summer Time Render is an anime that looked all good and dandy on paper and was supposed to be right up my alley. A finished story told in mere 25 episodes, with the pretty standard now but still exciting key idea about time-rewinding, that simultaneously offered a fresh twist on who the opponents of the main characters are. The concept of the Shadows and shadow sickness was fresh enough to keep me invested during the first 10 or so episodes. Truth to be told though, the only two reasons I continued to watch the second half of the show were inertia and the lack of competition.

The first half of the anime is a pretty solid thriller. You have to guess whether this or that person is actually a Shadow and whether he or she already was one at some particular point before; Subaru Shinpei, armed with the knowledge from the previous loop, is trying to get a better outcome for everyone… fun stuff, really! Not groundbreaking but fun. The second part went full EoE though. It became much, much, much more action-oriented and kinda lost those thriller vibes, I don’t think that I had a feeling that I was about to see something unexpected during the last 10 or so episodes. The anime still would throw some facts and rules about the Shadows at you here and there, but I had already lost interest and really didn’t care whether these rules made any sense, so it was difficult to me to appreciate the brains and spunk the heroes demonstrated exploiting those rules in the face of adversity. Also, speaking of characters, surprisingly enough the cast turned out to be pretty bland. You’d think that 25 episodes should be enough to make you care for at least some of them but somehow all the people in Summer Timer Render ended up being nothing more than bunch of walking bullet point lists (“I’m a grumpy but actually nice old dude, whose wife is a Shadow”, “I’m a writer sharing the body with my long-dead twin brother”, “I’m your normal main character”), with no real personality, who didn’t give a single reason to sympathize with them.

Overall, I’d say that Summer Time Render is a disappointment. It’s not bad but it’s just sad that it had all the potential to become a good action-thriller, the one that you maybe won’t watch again any time soon but still will remember (something like Mirai Nikki comes to mind), but instead ended up being a drag.

Random pictures from places around London we visited recently (yeah, we now can do this and that).

St Thomas has some nice views (and some pretty decent graveyards)

Heeman’s

Port Stanley looks almost like a seaside town from some angles

Ingersoll

Soul Hackers 2

I have to say from the beginning that I liked Soul Hackers 2. Moreover, it was a day one purchase for me — maybe the trailer came out at the right time, I had just finished SMT V and after that questionable experience was excited to try another, non-open-world-like SMT game — but the idea of getting these cards as a preorder bonus sealed the deal (this is a shitty screenshot from amazon — the cards look great in real life):

I’m a simple man (and a hoarder), give me some crap as a bonus and you get me heh =) By the way, by the time I pre-ordered the disc I had already read and watched some reviews, so I was aware that “Ringo’s ass is nice” and the main complaints were “the dungeons are boring” and “I wish Ringo could run faster”. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I knew that it was going to be a dungeon-crawler, with minimum side activities, and, frankly, was fine with. Who knows, maybe I was the target audience, one of the people who wanted to play a kinda PS2-era JRPG in 2022 — a turn-based one, without an open-world, at the same time without some crazy maze-like randomly generated dungeons. I spent about 60 hours with Soul Hackers 2, finished all the side-quests, 4 floors of Soul Matrix for each character and whereas it’s definitely a game made on a budget it never felt like a chore.

So, about those dungeons… it’s true that they are not especially spectacular. They are definitely not Persona 5-quality and it’s truly a shame that everything in Soul Matrix looks the same. I mean, they could’ve at least used a different color palette for every character, even Tartarus in Persona 3 had more variety. However, frankly, it’s not such a big deal as people claim it to be. The dungeons in Soul Hackers 2 are not huge, their layout is fixed and relatively simple, so I think I finished even the most complicated ones (Soul Matrix 4F) in about 1.5 hours, so they never felt truly annoying. On top of that, somehow I always visited Soul Matrix when I was already overpowered for a particular floor, so I didn’t even have to fight much there.

Behold! That scary Soul Matrix

Speaking of being overpowered and all that — Soul Hackers 2 is not a super difficult game. I’d definitely recommend to play on Hard, it was pretty well-balanced and never felt unfair. It will not make anyone familiar with turn-based JRPGs sweat bullets, so for, you know, “real challenge” Very Hard may be a better option but you are unable to use items in battle on that difficulty, so it was a no-no for me, I’m not a die-hard SMT fan who’s ready to spend hours to fuse demons for every situation. The combat system in Soul Hackers is a bit different comparing to, say, Persona yet at the same time familiar and comfortable. I loved the idea of a separate Ruin skills category, in other games I’d rarely use Sleep/Poison/etc,. because they are rarely successful and usually end up being just a waste of a turn but here they also deal damage and enemies can be weak to them. I know some also didn’t like that you don’t see demons in battle, but I found a silver lining in that — I didn’t feel particularly attached to any demon, so I fused them away mercilessly (I kept Idun and Alice in SMT V until the very end of the game, even though they were absolutely useless at the point, just because I couldn’t force myself to discard or fuse them).

What a hunk!

Where Soul Hackers 2 truly shines is its characters and dialogues. The cast is very small, so you have enough time to get to know every of the five main heroes and I, a bit surprisingly, liked all of them. Yeah, even Saizo, whose design implied that he’s going to be one shady dude. I don’t know if she’s the best character but Ringo is definitely a great protagonist. Unlike in many, many, many games I didn’t want to facepalm every time I read another one of her lines. I would suggest to try and go to every hangout event — not only because they will open up new gates in Soul Matrix but they are just well-written.

Overall, I’d say that it was a very right and timely decision by Atlus to release a spin-off SMT game. I hope that Soul Hackers 2 was sold well enough for Sega/Atlus to justify more experiments and not just release Persona and SMT games every 2-3 years.

Phantom of the Idol

Phantom of the Idol may well be the hidden gem this season. MAL users were clearly not impressed with it (the average score currently stands at about 6-something), and I think the first episode played a huge role in that, probably a lot of people dropped it immediately. Heck, I would’ve dropped it too if Nastya hadn’t convinced me to give it another chance and watch a few more episodes. At a glance this anime just didn’t have anything to differ from dozens of other idol shows. “Oh, we’re a small idol group with 2 fans but by working really hard and not giving up we’ll reach the top!” What a novel idea eh? Except that in reality Phantom of the Idol turned out to be more of a comedy than idol anime. Kind of like “If My Favorite Idol Made It to Budokan I could Die”, which was also unexpectedly awesome. I even assumed that both these anime are made by the same people but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I have to admit though, that “Phantom” is an “one joke comedy”, that may be not for everyone. Technically, there are two jokes but you get the point. Either Niyodo does something totally inappropriate for an idol or his fans switch to full-otaku mode and start to behave like savages. I have nothing against this type of comedy if it works (Komi-san, *glaaaaare*), moreover, this show is only 10 episodes long, so there’s not much time to get tired of all that. Unfortunately, the length of the show is a double-edged sword, because even two weaker episodes can spoil the overall impression a bit. I already said that the first episode was not great but the last one was also on the meh side. The show ended in a way you’d expect, with an anniversary concert and a lot of questionable 3D during the performances. There still were some decent jokes here and there (“– I just can’t memorize the name of this song, is it In-and-Out or Out-and-In? — In-and-Out or Out-and-In, this is so deep!”) but that was certainly not the show’s finest hour. However, all things considered I’m happy that I didn’t drop this anime and it became my probably second-favorite show this season. It’s funny, short, has a great main character and there are lots of scenes with expressions like this, what’s not to like?!

Niyoda is a sniper of love. Or something

Annihilator is probably the only thrash band well-known outside of Canada (some perverts also would mention Voivod, so let’s say that we’re talking about classic thrash-metal here, right?) and that’s, honestly, a shame, because there are two more bands which deserve much wider recognition. One of them is Razor and these dudes just released an absolute banger of an album (the first in 25 years! Decibels came out in 1997) — Cycle Of Contempt. This is that rare case when an album doesn’t contain a single weak song. I’ve listened to it 3 times already and it’s 40 minutes of pure relentless thrash, Razor at its best (their old albums are kind of similar, also can highly recommend them).

Were in Komoka provincial park on the weekend. Nothing mind-blowing but it’s a nice place. Was quite an adventure as well, because we relied on google maps to get back to the parking lot and turned out that that trail was actually closed off. Our first attempt was “ah well, closed doesn’t mean that we won’t be able to use it, right?”, but when we ended up in some kind of swampy place with deer footprints all around we’re like “okay, we’re gonna have to find another route” =)