Thursday, March 25, 2010

FF 13 - Lightning Action Figure Review


I recently picked up the new Final Fantasy figure of Lightning. This new larger sized Final Fantasy figure might cost more, but you get a wonderfully detailed and solid figure in return. I only bought Lightning, instead of all three, because of the cost; though I am eyeing Fang and Sazh who come out in the next wave of figures.

This figure comes with lots of points of articulation. Sometimes that much articulation isn't always good - as it can sometimes make it too hard to enjoy, as the entire body of the figure becomes fragile when you move it around. Not so with this figure. While Lightning has a great deal of articulated movement, it's not over blown in the least. All of the figure's movements are natural, elegant, and finely tuned.

Lightning comes with two versions of her sword gun - one in sword mode, one in gun mode. I suppose it was asking too much for it to be a working version of it, able to transform it you're self. But these accessories are very detailed - so much so that you can line them up against each other to see where their common features are, and imagine how it transforms into one form from another. The only bad thing concerns the gun. While it's great in Lightning's hand, it doesn't work very being put into the gun holder. I really was looking forward to being able to place it in there, and it all looks like it should fit - but you end up having to shove it in to accomplish this, resulting in the trigger of the gun being squeezed and probably damaged if you do this enough. I have given up on trying to fit it in there - deciding it was more accurate for nothing to be holstered when she's holding the gun. (And, really, are you going to display her without her weapon in hand?)

The other concern with this figure it the display stand. The older FF figures came with an elegant black wire-frame display. To accommodate the wild poses you can put these figures in, Square-Enix decided to give them a stand allowing you to display them up in the air. The only problem with this is that the joints of the holder cannot be tightened, making it a balancing act if you want to display Lightning really flying through the air. You also have to back the stand up a ways when posing her on the ground. I've seen these types of display things before - and they usually come with a knob to tighten the joints, so there isn't any unintended movement while it holds the figure. It still works, and you can get Lightning jumping in the air well enough - but this could have been so much better if they had put in joint tighteners.

Over all I'm happy with this figure, but you might be happier with it if you can buy it at a cheaper price. This site, Anime Castle, has the figure listed at $37.99. You can also perhaps find a good deal by comparing prices on a search engine.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Final Fantasy XIII - The War (on Terror) Within

I've been playing Final Fantasy XIII the past few days. It's a truly great game. With all the news of major changes to the Final Fantasy formula, it sounded as if it might be an experiment gone wrong. Focusing primarily on story and fighting mechanics - it sounded like a lot was being left out. But I'm finding it incredibly engaging and fun - with characters instantly relatable to. The fighting in the game, as well, is so different I wasn't sure wether it would be as fun. They might make most of the action automatic - but that in no way takes away from the frenetic pace and engaging tactical decisions. I'm not that far into the game yet, but it already has my thumbs up.

What I noticed, though, is something I wasn't expecting in the plot of Final Fantasy XIII - politics. Political over-tones are not something new, to storytelling in general and FF games in particular; Final Fantasy XII had a very "nuclear" style weapon able to level entire cities, also showing the long lasting ramifications of those weapon's use.

It's not that big an over-tone, but I think the Iraq War was definitely in the back of someone's mind when this story was written out. The Iraq War was already about 4 or 5 years into it when FF13 was shown at E3, so the beginning of the war, the War on Terror, must have been fresh in creator's minds.

Am I only seeing things that aren't there? Am I leaping to conclusions. It's definitely not a story I'd point to and say it was political in nature, but there are a few broad strokes in the story (so far, at least) that reminded me of the War on Terror. The l'Cie, for example, are like terrorists. It's pointed out many times that the people of Cocoon are afraid of l'Cie, instantly labeled as enemies of Cocoon. Sort of like sleeper agents - the l'Cie can be anyone you know. Heavy handed government tactics are also employed to wipe out l'Cie, even at the cost of "Purging" an entire town at the mere suggestion that some of them could have been made into l'Cie.

The battle between the technologically superior Cocoon, versus the more natural Pulse could be seen as America and the Middle East, with Pulse being the Middle East, as that's where it's feared the l'Cie come from and are loyal to.

What really brought it home for me, though, was the mention of the Sanctum's leader Galenth Dysley, who Sazh refeers to as the Murderer in Chief - a name Bush was certainly labeled during his presidency.

There are also scenes where TV News is shown, broadcasting the always heroic efforts of the Sanctum, with patently biased reporting.

When invading the Sanctum's main flag ship, there is an odd colored-themed emergency system. Code Purple, Code White - making a little fun of the Terror-Level Color system we employ.

These are, though, very broad brush strokes - and may not have even been intended by the writers. But it's still interesting to see how this very commercial video game product could also has a small bit of political commentary. Final Fantasy XIII was delayed a lot, and I have to now wonder what kind of reception it might have had if it had released sooner, before Bush was out of office. Would it have been pointed out and smeared on Fox News, similar to what happened to Mass Effect? As it stands, even supporters of the war have soured on the entire affair (I supported the action at the time - and feel terribly let down and mislead by our leaders.) So I think now it's not even an issue.

Am I reading too much into it? Either way - it's a small element, very broad brush strokes.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Cutie Honey

I have never seen Cutie Honey, neither the Manga, TV series - nothing. It's apparently been a long running franchise in Japan, and I think the first female lead hero to appear in a Shonen (Boys) Magazine. From all acounts, it's a series that has nudity and action. I'm from the West, so my puritan heritage would probably stop me from watching this series.

Yet - this live Action Adaptation of Cutie Honey is great fun! Instead of being overly sexualized, it goes a smarter route of being campy. Cutie Honey does have quite a few moments to appreciate her cuteness - but it never gets out of hand, nudity or otherwise. What's great about this movie, though, is the incredible Anime-Style action they create, using tokusatsu effects and CGI - to creative this hyper energetic action, with over the top explosions!

The rest of the movie, showing the menace of "Sister Jill" (who doesn't look like a girl at all) wants to acquire Cutie Honey's I-System, which gives her her powers. The story also nicely revolved around the female police chief Natsuko (soon refereed to as Nat-Chan!) and her friendship with Cutie Honey. Along with a secret NSA agent to help out - these three fight to defeat Sister Jill. The enemies of this film are both outlandish and outrageous, with over the top performances to put day time soap operas to shame.

My only real complaint with the movie is that all the good action is used up in the opening battle. After that grand sequence of insanity - all the other battles seem tamer in comparison. Plus the finale battle is more pychological than action packed. It's still a funny and weird movie, though.

You can get a good sense of what the movie is like with the Trailer here. Sorry, I couldn't find one with subtitles.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mega Man 10 - I Hate the Borders

It's complaining time again. I try to generally stay positive, and not needlessly trash anything - but sometimes I have a gripe that I just have to complain about.

I just bought Mega Man 10 on the Playstation Network. I was at first really annoyed that it took until 10PM for the game to actually be available in the store. If they say it comes out on the 11th -it should be there by at least 8AM. That's just annoying to the customers who have been patiently waiting this long - and then having to be held up all day.

But that's minor compared to my second problem -- the Borders Capcom decided to put on Mega Man 10! Who's stupid idea was this? Not only are the borders distracting, but it's impossible to remove them! Mega Man 9 didn't have borders - and it looked fine. Is there something so terribly wrong with having blank space on the screen? Does everything have to be filled with graphics?

I simply find this inexcusable! There is no justifiable reason to ruin this game by sticking needless boarders on it. I'd be more ok with them if they simply gave us, the player, the option of deleting them - but Capcom didn't do that. Really - when developing this game - did no one actually look at the damn screen and say "Hey, isn't that boarder a bit distracting?"

I know, I know - it's not the end of the world. The game is still great, and I still recommend it. And sometimes you do forget the boarder is there - and some people might say "what's so wrong with a border on the game?" The answer? Go watch any movie, with black bars above and below it for wide-screen, and imagine watching the movie with this kind of wallpaper right next to it.

I really hope Capcom might hears some complaints, and maybe put out an update - giving us the option to delete the borders. But, that requires forethought - something Capcom was defiantly lacking this time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

God and the DCU Pantheon

At a comic convention it was once asked, to the DCU head honchos, wether God existed in the DCU. They replied yes, thought it should be noted any DCU concept of God is vague and undetermined, so as not to espouse any particular religion. God also sort of has to be in the DCU, since he's the boss of characters like the Spectre.

It got me to thinking about the pantheon of the DCU. It doesn't begin and end with God, but rather branches out in a number of directions, as different stories and characters, over the years, have helped to coalesce the DCU pantheon. Here's the map of the DCU Pantheon as far as I've seen it, starting with God and working my way down.

God

Vague and Undefined, the concept of God in the DCU is rarely seen, but is always assumed to be at the very top of this list. He is also sometimes known as as "The Presence".

The Source


The Source is the other-worldly authority for the New Gods on New Genesis. It's un-seen, except for when it writes a message in flames upon a wall - usually delivering a message of grave importance, but usually wrapped in a riddle. The Source has been described as an aspect of God, or an other-worldly being altogether.

Zauriel


This character, I think, is one of God' Angels, brought down to the mortal plane to join the Justice League. (It was during Grant Morrison's run on the series) I suppose, on the grand scale of things, he's not a big member of the DCU Heaven - he just works there.

The Spectre


The Spectre is God's go-to guy to take care of some of the more nasty corners of the DCU. It does beg the question, would God really approve of all the grizzly deaths the Spectre commits in his name? Probably not - but the Spectre also serves as a balance to a greater foe...

Eclipso


The Spectre's opposite number, having the same post the Spectre now has. He causes all sorts of messes for Earth. Just like the Spectre,Eclipso needs a human host.

The Kindly Ones

These three ladies, also known as the Furies and the Fates, are said to be above the Gods - even being able to kill them if they commit a crime of murder against a family member. The Kindly Ones killed Morpheus for the death of Morpheus son, who he had killed so he could be at peace.

The Lords of Chaos and Order

The two sides of Chaos and Order usually effect the magical side of the DCU, with agents like Doctor Fate, Hawk, and Dove acting to balance the scales when Chaos gets out of hand.

The Endless


Seven separate beings who are the personification of their respective concepts. Destiny, Dream, Death, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium/Delight. The Endless are said to be more than Gods - being the actual concepts they are named after. From the creation of the Universe, down to it's final end, the Endless represent their respective domains and influence and serve the people who enter their realms.

The Endless seem less like over-seeing gods, and are more like facts - they exist, and they control and maintain their respective domains. They can die, as Death and Despair once did - but they replaced with a new, yet similar, being. Also - it is not necessary for the Endless to be proactive in their roles. Destruction famously left his job when the Atomic Age began, deciding it was best to let destruction happen on it's own, instead of orchestrating it. BUT - there is a cost to one of the Endless leaving their job. When Dream was captured by a wizard for nearly a century, it effected many people in respects to their dreams. (Thus effecting characters like Wesley Dodds, who became the 1940s Sandman)

Emotional Spectrum


The Endless cover a lot of the human condition, but not all of it. I think that's where the Emotional Spectrum comes in. It's not like the Endless, where they are personified concepts or emotions, but rather a more tangible power. We're so far seen a few of the sources of the Emotional Spectrum, like Ion, who represents Will Power for the Green Lantern Corps, and Parallax, who represents fear for the Sinestro Corps. These creatures are not necessarily as powerful as the Endless - but they definitely fill any gaps the Endless left out, and vice-versa. (There's no color of Depression, for example - but that Emotion is cover by "Despair of the Endless".)

The New Gods


While seemingly just as mortal as other Super-Humans, the New Gods certainly serve a purpose in the DCU Celestial Hierarchy. Being representatives of the 4th World (The Universe apparently having gone through 3 previous iterations.) Evil is equally represented with Darkseid on his planet of Apocalypse. Something about the New Gods is important to the DCU - as evidenced by one occassion of the Spectre deciding to destroy Darkseid - but having Darkseid instantly reform - being untouchable by the Spectre. Something in the Universe demands the presence of New Gods - but it is never explicitly explained. Also - the New Gods eventually do die out, having their souls returned to the Source. How this plays in the grand scheme of things is unexplained.

Human-Inspired Pantheons


Like the Greek Gods who appear in Wonder Woman, these are probably the lowest gods on the totem pole, as they can interact with mortals, and can even be killed. They are dependent on faith from those who believe - and as such are less powerful in the modern day, forcing them to find other roles to fuel their powers. (Athena, for example, gains more power from the concept of Knowledge, since few actually believe in her a god anymore)

The human-inspired pantheon covers a wide range of mythological characters - and not just human ones. For example, Flamebird (in Action Comics) has manifested it's self through Thara Ak-Var.

The Phantom Stranger


There are a number of magically endowed figures in the DCU who act as guides. While not gods, they are more likely servants, playing the roles they have. They do play an important part in the DCU as a whole - managing and protecting the balance of Magic and protecting the Earth and Universe. A being like Shazam, for example, might do his part through the Champions he chooses - like Captain Marvel.

The Devil and Hell


Probably on the same level as the Greek gods in Wonder Woman comics, there is also the opposite of the gods and Heaven - demons and hell. The way demons interact with the DCU world, almost on a daily basis, seems to prescribe that what they lack in power, they make up for in numbers - giving the heroes of the DCU plenty to fight against and battle. Characters like John Constantine probably deal more with this side of the DCU far more than a character like Superman.

There is also a complex hierarchy of hell, with the original devil, dubbed "Lucifer Morningstar" having abdicating his throne. Other demons of similar power-level serve to fill that void, like "The First of the Fallen" - the defacto representation of the devil for characters like John Constantine. (The pantheon of hell developed this way because of various different writers, often-times wanting to use the same character - "The Devil" -, instead use creations similar to the original concept. Basically, it's writers trying not to step on each other's toes.)


That's the DCU Pantheon as far as I can see it. The mix of Vertigo-Titles, regular DC Comic books - all of it develops this incredible and rich concept of both heaven and hell - and everything in between. It's all predicated on the need for the heroes and villains to interact with either celestial or demonic characters - but it still forms a interesting story when weaved together.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mega Man 10 and Final Fantasy XIII Reviews

There are two games coming out this month that I am very much looking forward to. One is trying to be a major leap forward in video gaming, while the other is striving to recapture the magic of the 8-Bit era.

So here you can check out two early reviews of these games. I am very excited for both of them.

Mega Man 10

Mega Man, one of my most favorite video game franchises, is releasing a second Retro-Style sequel with Mega Man 10, due to hit the PS3 March 11th. I absolutely loved Mega Man 9, and this game doesn't look to be any less spectacular. The return to 8-Bit style graphics has been a stroke of genius, - making excellent gameplay the center piece of the experience. This time you get to play as Mega Man and Protoman, with Bass being introduced as DLC later. I'm proud to say I was one of the people who thrived on the harder style gameplay. I had always though Mega Man games became too easy when he kept developing newer and newer powers. Take away a charging Mega Buster and Sliding, and you take Mega Man back to the grand type of challenge seen in Mega Man 1 and 2. The bosses this time look great, if not a little big funny. Oh - and for those who didn't like the hard challenge (it does take a LOT of tries to get good at it), there is going to be an easy mode.

The game is incredible, with solid gameplay and re-playability. But, there was one thing wrong with it.


Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fantasy XIII is the long delayed gaming experience we've all been waiting for - but they made a boat load of changes to the gameplay that not everyone might like. It's MUCH more linear, and makes some bold choices to stream-line the story experience, like regenerated health at the end of any battle, and buying items from save-spots instead of towns. It reminds me a lot of Final Fantasy X, which was also labeled as being more linear than other Final Fantasy games. But the trade off apparently is a great character-based story line, one which I hope will succeed like it did with FFX. The graphical effects look nothing short of amazing, and the new fighting system looks very deep and complex. I'm really not sure what to expect, and wether I'll like all of these changes or not - but Final Fantasy has always strived to do something new with each sequel. They haven't disappointed... yet.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Daily Show - More Trusted than Regular News

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I often times trust the Daily Show more than regular news. I know that is not good - but, darn it, I watched the news all this weekend to hear about the Unemployment Obstruction by Republican Senator Jim Bunning. They mentioned it, in passing, but they gave a more focused view of that killer Whale at Sea World than they did the possibility of millions of Americans loosing their unemployment!

My sister literally came to me the following morning, asking why the only journalist talking about this story was Jon Stewart.

Part of my frustration and anger was also about the news barely covering this story at all. I know, I know, the Earthquake in Chile took up a lot of the news - but that didn't stop them from covering that damn whale also!

You can find the clip from the Daily Show here.