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” =)

Blue Reflection Second Light

I was one of a dozen people who genuinely liked the first Blue Reflection and when we unexpectedly got Blue Reflection Second Light and I was simultaneously excited and suspicious. Apparently the first game had a lukewarm reception, so what did Gust change to make the sequel more successful? Did they make the combat realtime?! Or maybe (gasp!) they removed the see-through-when-it’s-raining shirts?! Maybe they made swimsuit DLCs free?! (Lol, who am I kidding, the last thing would never have happened.)

As a side note — it’s a shame that we have so few 魔法少女 games. With transformations and everything. Feels like it would be an ideal setting for a JRPG but oh well.

Turned out that Second Light is indeed quite different from its predecessor but my fears were for nothing — it became better in almost every department.

First of all I will quickly go through the list of things I didn’t like. The most obvious change is combat. At a glance it looks similar to the first game but it’s actually not purely turn-based anymore. Luckily, it’s not an abomination like Ryza’s combat either. Blue Reflection 2 utilizes “smart pause”, unless you want to rely on AI for 2 out of 3 girls in battle. I would lie if I said that this system is better than what we had before, you basically have to glue your eyes to the timeline instead of looking at the battlefield, but it’s not terrible. Especially considering that the game is ridiculously easy. It may be a good thing to some extent — the first game was very relaxing and cozy and SL has the same gentle vacation-like atmosphere, which could’ve been ruined by brutal fights — but I still wish there was an option to switch to hard mode from the beginning, it becomes available only after you beat the game once. I got ridiculously overpowered already by the end of chapter 4 I think, and the game never offered any real challenge after that. For example, I avoided the combat in the final dungeon entirely, simply because I had no reason to waste time on regular enemies. The last but not least, it sucks that you are basically forced to play the game twice to get the platinum and it won’t be enough to just run through the game quickly like I did with Ys IX. There’s a bunch of trophies requiring you to raise the talent level for every girl to level 10 and as far as I can tell it’s impossible to achieve that in a single playthrough. If there’s a way — I couldn’t figure it out. The problem is that you get only half of the talent points in NG+, so you’ll have to do side-quests and go on dates again.

It’s so nice to see these locations again!

Ufff. Despite the length of the previous paragraph Blue Reflection Second Light is a very fun game, which I enjoyed a lot. First and foremost because it has a great new main heroine, Ao. She’s a normal high-school girl who likes manga and light novels, a bit lazy, doesn’t mind having a snack in the middle of the night, can be reckless and yet she’s a caring friend and ready to step up when it’s needed. That, supposedly, average (read: boring) main character works perfectly! Hinako was fine but her ballet troubles were a bit over-the-top, I will take an Ao as a protagonist any day. By the way Hinako returns in this game and she’s totally fine as a supporting character here. To be frank, I liked pretty much all the other girls as well, except maybe Mio, who wasn’t terrible but just bland — I can’t recall a single fact about her.

But even with a great cast a game can be boring af, right? That’s not the case with the second Blue Reflection. Even though I liked its predecessor I will be the first to admit that that game felt way too small and repetitive sometimes. Second Light fixes that by giving each girl a brand new location, which all look fantastic. Funny enough, you’ll visit all the locations from the first game here as well, and now they are just a single Heartscape =) I already wrote about the combat — it’s not mind-blowing but serviceable. The transformations and Reflectors’ costumes look awesome, even though in the last chapter I gave up and disabled the “now I’m becoming a Reflector” animation. Shame on me.

The crafting in this game is perfect for a lazy bastard like myself. Complex alchemy system is the reason I never was able to get into the Atelier series but in Blue Reflection crafting is simple nice side activity. There’s a couple of ingredients I had to backtrack for, but mostly crafting and school development was just something to distract myself for a couple of minutes.

The dates get some, let’s say, disdain online, but I personally didn’t mind them, they are a source of some funny dialogues and, in general, a way to learn more about the girls. There is a lot of them, at least 120-130, but they are mostly short and sweet. Just don’t forget about the “go to the date destination” button!

What else I’ve got… Ah, the UI is still one of the best I’ve seen in games. It’s clean, easy to use and overall looks great. Now the game has a photomode! It seems to be a little unintuitive at the beginning but I got used to it eventually and have to say that it’s a much needed addition. What can possibly go wrong when you have a game with 10 girls and an ability to position them on the screen the way you want? Hehe.

As a usual wrap-up — Blue Reflection Second Light is a great sequel of a very good game and I do hope that it’s sold well enough that one day, when Gust have some time in-between the games about a particular alchemist with the most famous thighs in the universe, they’ll make the third Blue Reflection game. Will definitely be a must-buy for me =)

I mentioned the other day that I was going to buy a car, and actually I decided to strike the iron while it’s hot and already got one. First of all I have to say that yeah, the market now is crazy. It’s probably better to buy a new car as long as you can afford to wait for at least 3 months to get it delivered to a dealership, and that may be not the worst case scenario. Some guys at work say the wait time will be 9 months or even more for some models. I need a car right now, so I spent a week looking at the prices online and complaining that there’s nothing that I’d like and within the price range I’d be willing to pay. By the end of the week I gave up and was about to bite the bullet and get a 2019 Civic with decent mileage for a ridiculous price of $23.5K (a new one costs like $28K). The dealership had two of them so I was positive I’d get one without any problems. Only to receive the message that they both had already been sold. But! Turned out they’re getting a 2016 Civic in an ostensibly great shape the next day and they asked whether I’d be interested. The weird part was that they asked for $250 deposit, in the case if I liked the car I’d be the first to buy it. That sounded a bit sketchy but I was desperate and reckless =) Not very reckless, to be honest, because it is a legit dealership but still, I’m not a fan of this practice.

Considering how all that started the odd thing, to me at least, is that overall the process of purchasing was pretty smooth and not annoying. The next day I came over there accompanied by Sean, who was kind enough to agree to check out the car with me. We didn’t find anything suspicious on the inside or outside, the sales guy told me that the only owner of the car was a nice old lady, after that he just gave us the keys and we drove around the city for maybe 30 minutes. I don’t know if it’s a standard approach but it’s really nice that he wasn’t driving with us, that would’ve made the experience more awkward I guess. After that we shook hands, I left $500 deposit (they didn’t even withdraw the $250 he told me about the previous day!) and a week later I picked up the car (it had to be cleaned up, washed, inspected, painted a bit + they were doing all the licensing) and drove home, the end. I still think that the price was rough but I’m happy it was over quickly.

“When will Ayumu make his move?” is my guilty pleasure anime, the one that I would like to recommend to anyone, but probably will never be able to explain why exactly I’m recommending it =) Yamamoto Souichirou has an ability to create amazingly adorable characters, whether we’re talking about Takagi-san (another anime I like a lot and that’s getting better and better with every new season; and oh boy I hope that one day we’ll get either an anime adaptation of (元)高木さん or at least it’ll be released in English) or yeah, the story of Ayumu and Urushi. You can complain a lot about the total lack of plot in this anime, about the fact that you predict every Ayumu’s response perfectly, about its useless main characters, about it being maybe even too sweet and all this criticism will be perfectly valid and reasonable. Yet, it still is the only show this season that I watch as soon as there’s a new episode available =)

Star Ocean: First Departure R

Maybe 50% of potential enjoyment of any media is to set the expectations right. For instance, when I was looking for a new game on the Switch to poke for 20-30 minutes in the evening and decided to get the remake of the first Star Ocean I had a pretty good idea what it’s going to look like. I mean, it’s a SNES game that came out in 1996 for Aidios’ sake! What can you expect from it? Also I’m not a stranger to the Star Ocean universe — I played the second SO back in the day and even translated the last 7 or 8 episodes of the anime, because for some reason the guys who’d been working on the subs for that TV stopped doing that. Heh, maybe fansub.ru or whatever this site is now still has those (probably awful) subtitles =) Anyways, I knew that it would be a relatively dated JRPG with random encounters, my main fears were that I wouldn’t enjoy the combat and wouldn’t understand how the skills system works — Tri-Ace are notorious for making unusual game-design decisions which require some getting used to.

I love the character design in this game

Overall, it was a very smooth experience. Star Ocean: First Departure is charming, simple and short — I don’t remember the last time I’d finish a game in under 20 hours. The gameplay is kind of meh, objectively, “find the best attacking skill and spam it non-stop”; the plot might be overly simplistic, even though it starts amazingly — when you meet Ilia and Ronyx you think that you’re in for an epic adventure only to go on, essentially, a long fetch quest in your typical fantasy world — but the game makes up for it with an adorable cast of characters and the fact that it respects your time. As I said, it’s short and sweet. I was mentally prepared for some crazy grinding here and there but somehow it never happened. There was a slight difficulty spike at some point but getting the necessary level was a matter of maybe 15 or 20 minutes. I didn’t check out the optional post-game dungeon though, have never been a fan of those in any game. The downside of the game being relatively simple is that I didn’t have to figure out what most of the skills do. Cooking was useful, for sure; I tried crafting, with humiliating results (“You made an ugly earring, let’s pretend it didn’t happen”), but art/writing/musical skills didn’t appear to be needed to finish the game at all.

Star Ocean First Departure didn’t shatter my world but it’s a good nostalgic JRPG and I’m really curious to buy and play the Second Evolution, which is widely considered to be the pinnacle of the series, again. Maybe after The Divine Force though =) Oh boy, first world problems — so many games and so little time.