I’ve been watching anime for years and years and gotten used to pretty much all the tropes it uses. I’m okay with school festivals, onsen episodes, misheard and misunderstood confessions, guys bumping into girls and vice versa, you name it. We’re watching the latest episode of “Love with Yamada-kun” on the weekend and I realized that there’s still one cliche that annoys me to no end, can’t even explain why. That is when one of the characters has a fever so severe, that it basically makes him or her incapable of doing anything and delirious. An episode where, for example, a heroine catches a cold and has to be in bed while her crush is caring for her is fine by itself, it can be cute and moves the relationships somewhat forward, but every time it’s accompanied by the tragedies of that girl falling down, being unable to move, not realizing what she’s doing, talking feverish nonsense etc. etc. I’m ready to curse everything and everyone. Oh well, unlikely anything will change any time soon in this department, so it’s better to gird up my loins and get ready for more overly-dramatic stuff like this =(

Neptunia ReVerse

Okay, after having finished my second Idea Factory/Compile Heart game I now can officially and confidently say that I’m their target audience. I enjoyed Dragon Star Varnir quite a bit and Neptunia ReVerse turned out to be exactly what I was hoping for — a fun and fan-servicy JRPG.

For those who played the original Neptunia games on the ps3 and perhaps Re:Birth games on the vita later this release probably looks like a shameless money-grab, because ReVerse is a remake of the first Re:Birth game (which itself was kinda a remake lol). For me it was a perfect starting point though, after all it is the beginning of the story. The fact that it’s a ps5 game is pretty funny. I mean… IF/CH used the power of the current generation console for one good cause — there are plenty of reflective surfaces you can step on and, you know, take a peek. Otherwise the game looks and plays like your average low-budget ps3 JRPG, although frankly that’s not a bad thing.

I would never be able to explain to anyone who or what exactly we’re fighting here. And why

Speaking of bad things, let me try to remember what I thought could be better while I was playing my first Neptunia game. The dungeons and enemies reuse is probably the biggest offender, I’ve never seen anything like that in any game. There are plenty of hidden dungeons in Neptunia and almost every single one of them is an exact copy-paste of another dungeon. The same layout, the same textures, the same everything. Often the same enemies, but which are called differently. It’s not unheard of for a JRPG to invent a new monster just by changing the color of an existing one, but Neptunia goes one step further — just renames the enemies and calls it a day =) To be fair, I’m talking only about hidden, optional dungeons, I think the ones you visit during the main story are unique. My second complain would be about the lack of good searching by material. This JRPG is pretty grindy and requires you to get tons of materials for Plans (basically recipes for crafting) but as far as I understand the only way to find which monster drops a particular material is to go to Nepedia and look through all the “defeated enemies” entries there. I eventually just used various websites that have that info but I wish I could find it easier in the game.

However, these minor inconveniences aside, Neptunia is really a very good JRPG! First and foremost, its cast of characters and the writing are ridiculously charming. My wife probably thought that I was turning into even a bigger creep when she was listening to me giggling while I was reading another joke about uhhmm Vert’s divine bosom. I don’t believe that anyone wouldn’t like Neptune herself. She is a perfect Yui (and even has her own capable Ui!) Yeah, she’s a bit dumb, and she’s random, she likes to have fun at other people’s expense, she for some reason decided that Broccoli’s name is Puchiko and didn’t let it go until the very end — but she is a very good protagonist. The same goes to Vert, “I’m not a loner!” Noire and even Blanc, whose CPU form makes up for her bland “normal” personality. I always appreciate a good reference and oh boy, does Neptunia have them! MAGES is looking for Dr P, Falcom is going to demonstrate Eight Blades One Sword style and suspiciously looks like a female version of the famous red-headed adventurer, Marvy-chan shamelessly references Senran Kagura and of course, being a remake of a remaster ReVerse regularly reminds the player that now it’s so much better than previous games. I’m a simple man and enjoyed this fan-service a lot. I also appreciate fan-service of another type, you know, with the game having 27 playable girls wearing fairly suggestive outfits. Yes, Idea Factory makes waifu games and I like playing waifu games and not ashamed of that.

The combat in Neptunia felt pretty fresh to me, and it is not easy, even regular enemies can send your party to sit and enjoy the game over screen, but I wouldn’t say that it’s overly sophisticated and requires you to come up with some complex strategies. Buff your characters and debuff the opponents, heal up regularly, spread out when needed and smash that triangle button to fill up the EXE drive gauge. I initially made a mistake of trying to decrease the opponents’ guard meter by using the guard breaking attacks but turned out it’s not that important. Maybe it mattered only in one or two battles? Starting from some point of the game you just rely on EXE drives to finish off bosses as quickly as possible. Fake Purple Heart was the biggest pain the the ass considering how quickly she was gaining turns, but otherwise no one during the main story could put up a decent fight against the 4 goddesses. I’m saying “during the main story” because there are also Colosseum fights which imply that you should be at least level 900 to be ready for them. When I finished the game Neptune was about level 75 so… yeah. I liked the game a lot but probably not enough to grind nine hundred levels =)

Neptunia ReVerse is a pretty short game according to JPRG standards, I beat it in about 30 hours and that includes doing a bunch of side-activities — I opened up almost all the optional dungeons in the game for example. Again, this is not a bad thing, not every game should be 100 hours longs, 25-30 hours is often a sweet spot. I did miss a couple of important things — for example the ending I got was a normal one, not the true end and I didn’t unlock the CPUs’ sisters — my plan is to do that in the second playthrough if I ever decide to go for it.

After 2 out 2 successful attempts I think I’m ready to go down the rabbit holes of other Idea Factory games and frankly now I look forward to doing it =) The questions is what I should try next. Neptunia VII would be a logical choice, but it feels that playing two very similar games in a row would kill my enjoyment a little, so for now I’m trying to decide between Omega Quintet (idols baby!), Death End Re;Quest (the game I’ve been going to give a shot to for a while) and one of Neptunia spin-offs (4 Goddesses Online and Sisters vs Sisters both look like good options). I know that a lot of people claim that IF/CH make nothing but low-budget trash, but now, when I played their games myself, I can only laugh at such statements. These are the companies that are not afraid to experiment yet at the same time they know what their audience want and they deliver on it. I just hope that they’ll continue to do just that.

Of course the season I can’t go to the games London Knights decided to go all the way to the OHL finals. Where they lost 2-4 to the Petes =( Oh well. All 3 Canadian junior leagues are extremely competitive, so there’s no shame in losing. Especially considering that I had no faith in the Knights this year in the first place — there are no guys who really stand out, it’s a well-built but not future stars-filled team. I watched more or less the entire final series and would say that Peterborough deserved to win — they played with more confidence, their goalie (who is, ironically, from London) didn’t make any mistakes and overall they felt like they were on a mission. No wonder they defeated the best team of the regular season, North Bay, in the previous round. Speaking of goalies — the Knights’ starting goaltender was injured in the conference finals series, and in the last two games Dale Hunter started a local guy with basically no OHL experience. I doubted that decision but was proven wrong — the dude allowed 3 games total and was really solid, not sure how old he is but hopefully he’ll play in London next season as well.

Trails to Azure

Ao No Kiseki finally breaks the second-game curse that plagued all other Trails arcs! I was mentally prepared to be disappointed again and totally expected that Azure would be worse than the first game, but it totally lived up to all the hype. Well, it’s a Trails game, so hype is a strong word maybe… but anyway — Trails To Azure is probably the best game in the entire series.

I think that to a big extent Ao is so good because it feels like a standalone game, even though it’s a direct sequel to Zero, and Falcom are second to none at writing the first part of a story, the part that is building up the suspense. The finale can be a miss, but the beginning of any story they write, oh man, it’s usually so good. Initially all you see is a shadow of some conspiracy, a bunch of seemingly random events and it’s just so fascinating to see how the grand scheme of things is slowly being revealed. I had known who the villains were before I inserted the disc into the console, I had known what’s going to happen and it was still interesting to just play through the story. It also helps that more than half of its playtime Ao No Kiseki is focused on politics and, let’s say, real Zemurian events as opposite to dealing mostly with Ouroboros and supernatural. The trade conference and the attack on Crossbell are clearly the highest points of the game, these episodes are powerful and make you truly feel for the citizens of the city-state. Osborne has always been a great character and despite having only a few minutes of screen time in Ao the conversation with him may be one of the most memorable moments in the game. However after 4 games of Sen no Kiseki I already knew, more or less, what to expect from Blood and Iron Chancellor. With Dieter Crois Falcom surprised me though, I didn’t expect that they’d manage to write a compelling antagonist. I mean, yeah, we have Ian Grimwood and Mariabell but their motivation is too vague, as it often happens with the bad guys. “We’re going to get the power to shape the world as we like”. Hear, hear. So I’d say that Dieter is the villain of this game and the fact that in the end he’s pretty much out-villained and betrayed by his own daughter lifts the mayor of Crossbell even more as a character.

Speaking of characters — one of the minor gripes I have with Trails to Azure is that because the game is more story-focused (and oh boy, for once I don’t want to complain about the plot itself, it’s pretty good!) and because we already had Zero to show the relationships between the characters — there are not so many memorable interactions and dialogues between them. Randy and Rixia are the ones who got additional time in the spotlight, for obvious reasons: Red Constellation plays a big role in all of the events occurring in Crossbell, and Rixia’s story simply had to have some closure. It’s kind of weird that everybody just sort of moved on from the fact that she had killed quite a few people but… she’s hot and likeable, so that’s understandable I guess? Ah, Wazy also got his fair share of screen time, but for the second game in a row I couldn’t find any reason to care about him ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I wish Rixia was more useful gameplay-wise though, I really wanted to use her in the last chapter when she finally joins the party, but except for her S-Craft which hits everyone on the screen she doesn’t have any advantages over, say, Randy or Lloyd. Randy is a stronger physical attacker and Lloyd is a better evasion tank. Wazy at least has a craft impeding in a large radius, that is helpful sometimes in the last dungeon. That’s a shame because Rixia kind of grew on me after I bought her figure =) Hopefully she’s more useful in Hajimari.

After Azure I can say positively that Lloyd is the worst protagonist in Kiseki games and I’m not sorry for this statement. He’s just so bland! Everything about him screams “I’m your stereotypical anime/JRPG main character.” I spent what, 160-180 hours on Zero and Ao, and can’t recall Lloyd doing or saying anything non-standard. At the same time he’s showered with praise by everyone, something I hated in Persona 5 for example. However, in terms of gameplay Lloyd is pretty much an irreplaceable member of the team. I said before that I couldn’t find a role for him in Zero, but in Ao he has to be an evasion tank. It’s very easy to build 100% evasion for him and that will make your life much, much, much easier in this game. I played on hard this time and some of the bosses were challenging even with them hitting (and missing) Lloyd 50% of time. It was fun though! If I had to pick the best boss fight it’d be a tie between Mariabell and the second form of the final boss. The former was a bit gimmicky and I wasn’t well prepared for it — the monsters Bell summons don’t allow your party to move freely and eat up so many turns! My poor Tio was KOd like 10 times during this fight. The final boss fight is very long, it hits really hard and can dispel Tio’s Zero Field *annoyed_face.jpg* It was very satisfying to defeat it though =) The last dungeon itself… oh boy, it was a long one. The final chapter was intense, with varied activities (you’re breaking from the prison, then looking for friends, then finally fighting the big guns like Arianrhod etc. etc), it managed to replicate that sense of urgency that should be there and then… you spend 4 or 5 hours climbing the Azure Tree.

Okay, now it’s time for random ramblings. As I said the attack on Crossbell was one of the most powerful moments in the game and it was kind of touching to visit the hospital in the last chapter to check on people who suffered during the attack. Ilya’s injury and her resolve to get back on stage against all odds is one thing, but for some reason it felt really heartwarming to see inspector Donovan there — who is a minor character! — and who saved other police officers that day. The best side-quest, no doubts, was the one where Tio was forced to take the next step into adulthood. Hmm, hold on, that doesn’t sound right. Where she had to face the bitter truth about Mishy? “Actor? Costume? Stomachache?” Yeah, our precious Tio knows what pain is. Azure added a couple of new things comparing to Zero in terms of gameplay: now there are Master Quartz, which behave slightly differently comparing to Cold Steel games but generally the idea is the same, and there’s a Burst gauge which activates at some particular points of the story and is super useful to spam arts like there’s no tomorrow (I think CSII has the same but my memory is a bit hazy). I got most of the trophies which could be obtained during the first playthrough (missed a couple of treasure chests, didn’t see any of the final bonding events except for the one with Ellie), so in theory could go for the second run on Nightmare to get the platinum, but it feels like an overkill to play a story- and dialogue-heavy game two times in a row. Maybe one day. Kind of sucks that you are forced to play the game twice to get 100% completion for no other reason but to get entries in the combat notebook for the monsters available only in NG+, curious if Hajimari is like this — I think I’m experienced enough at this point to at least try playing on Nightmare from the beginning, so who knows, maybe will aim for my first Trails platinum trophy!

Oh man, it took me two years but I caught up with all the Trails games and I’m super happy that back in 2020 I gave Cold Steel 3 a chance. Ao was fantastic and now I’m weirdly excited for Hajimari no Kiseki. I know that it’s going to be a pretty different game comparing to others, but I remember looking at the cover art and screenshots in the internet when it just came out in Japan and fidgeting in anticipation — and in a couple of months I will finally be able to lay my dirty hands on it. Hajimari is also going to be the first limited edition game I’ve ever owned and now I kind of regret not getting LEs of Zero and Azure considering how much I enjoyed them. Regrets, I have a few. It’s kind of fun how in a couple of years I transformed from someone who didn’t want to play Kiseki games because there were too many of them into a guy who is obsessed with all things Trails =) I can only hope that I won’t go the same route with Neptunia, the game that I’m playing currently (and, oh horror, liking it so far!) — I will go bankrupt just trying to buy all of the figures based on it =)

Invicta — Triumph and Torment

I bet that few people heard of this band from Kitchener (if you’re not very familiar with Canadian geography — it’s located roughly halfway between London and Toronto) and in my opinion they deserve more recognition. Invicta is usually called a thrash-metal band, although I think this is album is closer to Black Dahlia Murder than to, for example, Sacrifice (Triumph and Torment is their second longplay I think, the first one was a bit more thrash-y). I actually learned about their existence accidentally — they played in London and their logo looked promising, so I checked them out =) They are certainly not a band I will be running around telling everyone about, but hey, they are local guys who write and play quality music.

Just why?

I have to get it off my chest — I bought the remake of the remake of the first Neptunia game, and for some reason it bothers me a lot how the cover art was changed for the American market (maybe for European as well, not sure).

Left is the American version, right — the original Japanese art (which luckily is included as the backside). Maybe I’m too old but I don’t see why the original image would be considered inappropriate, in my opinion it’s pretty benign, so I’m genuinely confused why IF decided to make it uglier for the western release.

It’s always a good day when something is delivered from amiami. Just look at this gorgeous Rixia!

I’m totally not an expert when it comes to anime figures, but in my opinion Kotobukya did a great job with her. The downside is that I’m gonna have to be super careful with all these small details like ribbons, wasn’t really a problem with Altina =) As a bonus I also bought an Urusei Yatsura calendar (yeah, in April).

Trails of Cold Steel — Northern War

TOCS — Northern War is legit the worst anime I’ve ever watched and completed. For the longest time this questionable honor belonged to Tsukuyomi Moon Phase, but let me be honest — I don’t think that it was objectively bad, just I probably watched it at a wrong time and maybe should give it another try. On the other hand, this Trails anime is objectively awful. It’s bad through and through — its animation is terrible, the plot is incoherent, the cast of characters is laughably unmemorable. This should not have been released at all and I regret that I spent about 2.5 hours of my life watching this mess (I got so sick and tired of it by the 8th episode so just scrolled through the last few to get the gist of what’s going on.) The anime was probably supposed to make the franchise more recognizable and attract new people, but I have a feeling that Falcom hurt Kiseki with this half-assed effort more than helped.

It’s a cliche but I have no idea who the target audience of this garbage should’ve been. Those who haven’t played the game will not find anything appealing in this show, they have zero reasons to watch it past the first few minutes. The fans… I for example was silently throwing up in my mouth during most of the scenes. I know that people like to complain about Trails in the Sky OVA but at least it was a purely fan-service product. “Liked our game? There you go, a two-episode long OVA featuring some of the scenes from them”. I actually didn’t even find it to be that bad for a straight-to-DVD show. However, Northern War doesn’t just retell the plot of the game. It is supposed to fill the gap between CS 2 and 3 and show the conflict we only read about in the game. As you can guess it does it poorly. Nothing even remotely interesting happens for 11 episodes and the war itself, the war that was an important and difficult event in Rean’s life, compactly fits into 10 to 12 minutes of the last episode and makes me wish they didn’t show it at all.

One more thing to mention. Erebonian Empire can’t really be called the good guys in the Kiseki universe. They are not shy to use their military power and they annex their neighbors left and right. In this anime we are probably supposed to cheer for North Ambria and hope that they’ll preserve their independence but… everyone from this country who shows up in this show is so unlikable that it’s really much easier to root for Osborne. We know the guy, we know people who work for him or with him, and we are not given a single reason to care about the characters on the other side.

It’s truly a shame that this series of games that have amazing characters, well-written dialogues and detailed lore got such a pathetic adaptation. Ironically, this winter A-1 released another anime based on a game, and the difference in quality comparing to Northern War is like day and night. I didn’t watch Nier Automata 1.1 entirely yet, but the first 4 episodes were basically flawless. Oh well… I’m happy for Nier fans and that makes me wish again this Trails anime didn’t exist.

Urusei Yatsura

Urusei Yatsura 2022-23 is a fantastic remake and even though I may be deemed a heretic for this claim — it may even be better than the original anime. The new rendition of Rumiko Takahashi’s classic story features amazing seiyu, pretty simple but fitting animation and, most importantly, it has the same spirit as Mamoru Oshii’s show that came out in the 80s. It’s silly, simple, not living up to the High Moral Standards of the 21st century — and I loved every single minute of it. I actually enjoyed the old Urusei Yatsura anime but never was able to watch it entirely, simply because, well, it’s almost two goddamn hundred episodes long, so it was so, so much easier to watch the new TV show weekly.

I’m not going to go into any details because, hey, it’s Urusei Yatsura — if you watched one episode you watched all of them. Hiroshi Kamiya is perfect in the role of Ataru, Sumire Uesaka nailed Lum’s voice, openings and endings were surprisingly catchy and felt properly old-school, exactly what was needed. Lum is still a great character and a perfect mother for any unplanned child, I like her new design and like how many of her outfits we got to see (nothing can beat Lum in her summer uniform, nothing!). It’s kind of fun how whereas the show toys with the modern stuff like tinder in the opening, the anime itself is stubbornly set in the 80s and features rotary dial phones and what not =)

I don’t believe that this new Urusei Yatsura was very popular outside of Japan, as I said it’s too old-school and goofy and, for instance, MAL score reflects that. Not that it matters though because the second season has already been already announced for 2024 and I can’t wait to see more Lum, Ataru, Ten-chan (早い早い) and… pretty much everyone here really ^_^