Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year! (Still Alive, but barely!)

On the whole, this has not been a pleasant year. We suffered through probably the worst election possible, with our country divided more than ever. We are now narrowly averting the ramifications of the fiscal cliff - but with the next battle concerning the debt limit coming in February. The Doc Fix, the Farm Bill, unemployment extensions; every single easy piece of legislation has been delayed to the breaking point. While both sides are part of the problem, the obstruction and hostage-taking on the GOP side has been sickening. Mark my words - the GOP are going to damage this country with another Debt Ceiling debate (we already lost our AAA credit rating. We might loose the second A this time.)

So, wearily and with the faintest of optimism - here's to a New Year!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Best of Comics 2012

Warning: Spoilers

2012 has been a really good year for comics. I can't remember a time so many good titles where being put out, from Marvel's Marvel NOW, to DC's continuing New 52, there are a lot of good books out there. (You do have to look for them, though). Here's what I thought was best in comics for 2012.

Best Event/Mini-Series: Avengers vs X-Men

This big summer event promised defining changes for both the Avengers and the X-Men, and it delivered. The culmination and resolution to the Scarlet Witch and Hope Summers was long in the making - and tied together well, as both teams where split on how to handle the returning Phoenix Force.

There where several writers and artists working on different issues during the 12-issue 6-month schedule - but a coherent voice and message continued to ring throughout. Besides the fighting between characters, there where some wonderful defining moments for characters. Wolverine steadfastly stood against Cyclops, was even betrayed by Captain America, and still managed to work towards doing the right thing, amid a constantly shifting battle field.

Spider-Man had a great moment in issue #9, where he faced down a Phoenix-Empowered Colossus - and was beaten near to death, as he tried to protect everyone; he even used his smarts, in playing Colossus off of his little sister - leading them to fight each other instead of finishing him off.

Cyclops, though, was the biggest recipient of change during this series. The already militant-leaning mutant leader was desperate to use the Phoenix force to save the mutant race - and things simply went to heck, when he accidently became bearer to the Phoenix Force. A decent into madness inevitably followed, with the death of a major character at Cyclops' hands.

A wonderful mini-series, it hit all the fanboy wish lists, while also delivering a compelling story.

Best Creative Team: Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang

I only started reading the new Wonder Woman recently - but already I can see the magic springing to life between Brain Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. Issue #0 was an excellent example of how well these two mesh - as Azzarellos hardcore and uncompromising story, mixes elegantly with Cliff Chiangs classic/noble looking art style. The New Gods are now stepping up to the plate next, with Wonder Woman due to go toe-to-toe with Orion. The re-interpretation of the New Gods simply couldn't be in better hands.

Best Story Arch: Doctor Octopus is Spider-Man

Having read comics for quite a long time, there is an inevitable jaded-outlook to things you read. When a comic promises that this character is dead, and will never come back -- you're almost guaranteed to see a resurrection in no time. So to actually surprise me - shock me, even - is quite a feat! Dan Slott did it, though!

The best reveal in Comics in a long, LONG time, came as a dying Doctor Octopus, from his death bed, began saying "Peter Parker". My first thought? Oh, OK - Doc Ock knows Spidey's identity. Been there; done that. When Spider-Man is brought in, to find out what Doctor Octopus knows - its an utter bombshell when the words "P-peter P-parker..." turn into "I'm Peter Parker..." Doctor Octopus has done the unthinkable - he's managed to switch his mind with that of Spider-Man! This is all leading into issue #700 - upon which the series will end, and a new Doctor Octopus/Spider-Man era will dawn, with "Superior Spider-Man". Yes, yes - things will get reversed, in time. Still - this was such a bomb shell, and so well planned and lead-up to. Dan Slott has remarked that after this issue came out, he'd have to hide from angry Spider-Man fans. That may well be true; but they aren't angry - they are excited, as the series and character are being taken in such an amazingly unexpected direction. Good job, Mr. Slott!

Best New Series: All New X-Men

A new era of X-Men comics have begun, under the new tenure of Brian Michael Bendis - who is going to write Uncanny X-Men, and the new series "All New X-Men". The X-Men, simply put, are back! After years of isolationist policies, the X-Men are finally back - fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them.

Cyclops' tenure as the Phoenix has indeed given the world reason to fear mutants. Now that the race is revived, and new mutants are popping up - its in a world that hates them more than ever. Cyclops, though, isn't about the learn the error of his ways. Breaking out of prison, with Magneto and Magick at his side, Cyclops has started a revolution - and is in a race against Wolverine's School, to reach new mutants first. Its sort of like the old days, when Xavier and Magneto where waging a war of capturing the hearts and minds of new mutants. Cyclops, sadly, is firmly on the side once held by the Brotherhood.

Beast, who in the first opening pages is revealed to be undergoing a new mutation (which will probably kill him), decides on a radical course of action to try and stop Cyclops from committing mutant genocide. Going back in time, Beast brings back the original 5 X-Men - bringing them face to face with a future they will consider a horror. The idea is for younger Cyclops to confront, and show the elder Cyclops, how far he's actually fallen.

I don't know if its simply a case of Bendis tapping into the rage against the machine, the 99% mentality, or the undercurrent of new racism in America -- but Bendis perfectly captures whatever it is that makes the X-Men the stellar team, and morality tale, that it has always striven to be. The spirit of the X-Men, as an analogy for race relations, hasn't been this palpable in years! This is the start of the grand new era for the X-Men, and here everyone has a perfect jumping on point - as the Younger X-Men confront their older selves.

Best Ongoing: Batman

Here's a concise way of telling you how good Batman has been the past year: I had planned to drop the book after 6 or so issues. Once the Court of Owls storyline ramped up, suddenly I'm swearing to drop it once that story was over with. Now, 14 issues later, I'm still firmly on the book - as Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo deliver one compelling issue after another. The Court of Owls, which concluded with "Night of the Owls" pitted Batman against his greatest (and newest) foes ever - as an illuminati-style organization, dating back centuries in Gotham's past, have revealed themselves as the true masters of Gotham -- and some rich billionaire in a Bat costume isn't going to stand in their way.

Nearly being driven insane, trapped in the the Court of Owl's Labyrinth maze, Batman fights back against this shadowy organization - and manages to escape the Court's clutches.

A full scale attack is launched on Wayne Manor, as Court assassins, called "Talons", are revived en-mass. The entire Batman line of books tied into this, but never once was it required to enjoy this single narrative. Oh, and Batman broke out his awesome new Bat Armor!

There's even a personal revelation given at the end, supposedly revealing Bruce Waynes' lost younger brother. There simply hasn't been this good of a modern Batman story since No Man's Land!

The series continued afterword with a wonderful one-shot story about a young girl, who works the electrical grid beneath Gotham, and her confrontation with Batman.

The next big storyline, though, promised the long awaited return of the Joker -- who, last we saw him in Detective Comics #1, had cut off his own face. Well, he's come back, with his cut-off face strapped to his head - making for one of the scariest version of the Joker, ever! I don't know wether a re-transplant will occur, but for now Joker is on a mission to hurt everyone in Batman's inner circle. The stakes have never seemed higher - as I'm unsure wether certain characters will come out of this story alive or maimed.

I was thinking of dropping the series after the Joker storyline was over. If things go as expected, I won't be dropping this title until Snyder ends his run. Its seriously been THAT good.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Best Video Games of 2012

There are three games I wanted to highlight for 2012, that for me where the best games of the year.

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance

I already went over this title (click here), when giving my thoughts on good games finally being released for the Nintnedo 3DS. Suffice to say, the game still stands as one of the most outstanding games released for the system.

So much of what they did with in this game, simply shouldn't work. The 3D performs elegantly - despite mad-dash action and bright colors -- this should literally be giving you a seizure, instead of a fun video game.

The story is meaningful, and finally pushes forward the Kingdom Hearts narrative into new frontiers. Simply a stellar game, and a Must Have for any Nintendo 3DS owner.

Fortune Street

This game, technically, came out near the end of December, 2011. Its so close to 2012, when I rented and then bought a copy, that I'm including it on this list.

A game about finances, and playing the stock market! What shouldn't be a fun game has actually been a long standing franchise in Japan. With Monopoly-like sensibilities, the game gives you a challenging experience, as you try to outmaneuver opponents and rise to the top with the most amount of cash. Its a very fun and enjoyable experience - and would make a great party game for family and friends. (Especially for family members not up to moving around a lot, like other Mario Party games). To make the experience more palatable, stars from Mario and Dragon Quest games proliferate the board. The characters are fun to interact with, and are given a nice dose of personality when competing against the AI. The games supports on-line play, which worked pretty decently - once a match is found and people start playing. Its not perfect, but it works - and playing against real people can either make things easier, or harder, depending on who you're facing. I really just adore this title, becoming a valued addition to my collection of Wii games. It only came out just at the end of last year - so its still available online and in stores.

Okami HD

Okami is an older game, but the recently released Downloadable-version improved on an already stellar product, achieving new levels of beauty. Once a PS2 title, the cell-shaded Okami stunned players with its unique calligraphy animation style, alongside excellent Legend of Zelda-style gameplay. Now those graphics are made crystal clear - giving a new sense of vibrancy to literally EVERYTHING! Colors pop like never before, and details in characters are now more visible than they use to be. (Below are comparisons, with HD screen on the left, and the PS2 version on the right.)

I wasn't able to use the Playstation Move control scheme - but my worries of going from the Wii version, to the regular controller-setup completely vanished. The brush work and gameplay works exactly (sometimes even better) than it did on the Wii. It originally was a PS2 title - before motion controllers - so I suppose it isn't a surprise that it works; but I didn't know exactly how well it would work in comparison.

There isn't any new content to the game - but there doesn't have to be. The story and land are huge - giving you hours upon hours of gameplay. There are even several points in the game where you think the story is ending -- but it then continues right along, to even more haunting dangers. The funny, exciting, and above all emotional story continues to impress me to this day.

If you've never played Okami, the $20 price for this PS3 exclusive downloadable title is a great value. Even for long-time Okami fans -- the graphics really are that good.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dragon Quest Commercials

Being of the most popular franchises in Japan, it comes as no surprise that some effort is put into the advertising for commercials. I thought I'd highlight a few, and also list some of the odder ones. (Sorry, I didn't see many videos with translations.)

Dragon Quest VI Ad (featuring cos-playing)

Dragon Quest IX Ad - This one is American, featuring Seth Green

Dragon Quest V Making of Advertisement - The Cosplay might look silly, but you can see its not shabbily put together. Click here for the finished advertisement.

Dragon Quest X Ad - Anime

Dragon Quest - Original Game, Advertisement (with other ads listed as well)

Dragon Quest III Ad - Cosplay; not best quality (its old, after all)

Dragon Quest III Gameboy Color Ad

Dragon Quest IV Ad - Cosplay

Dragon Quest VII Ad - Cosplay

Dragon Quest VII Ad

Dragon Quest VIII, Two Ads - Creepy Weird

Dragon Quest IX Humorous Ad

Dragon Quest X Ad

Dragon Quest Monsters Ad

Dragon Quest Monsters Joker Ad - American Ad

Dragon Quest Rocket Slime Ad - Anime, and here's another

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dragon Quest X

I do not like MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games). Given their immense popularity, I've on occasion tried some, to see what everyone was talking about. For me, it's basically the combination of a monthly fee, and also not being able to play the game after the servers have dried up, and the company has moved on. There is the one exception I'm making in my life, though, and thats going to be for Dragon Quest X. If it has a pay subscription (it does in Japan), then its the one title I'm going to go all-in on.

Dragon Quest, besides being a pop-culture hallmark of my favorite foreign country - it has a good deal of resonance for me, as it was one of my first NES games - and the first (and only) time my Dad participated playing a game with me. Not only that, but its a classic-style of gameplay that has stood the test of time - and has always been a fun series to play.

A US Release date for Dragon Quest X hasn't been announced, but a promising hint, was revealed in a press release.
"This might be an hint to a possible western release. Why mentioning that the series is “actively expanding” in the foreign market in a press release related to Dragon Quest X, if you aren’t planning for it to be part of that expansion?"
So far Nintendo and Square-Enix have yet to let us down on a US Release of the main series, and accompanying side-titles. It takes time, though, to properly translate the series to english. An MMORPG is a much larger thing - but I have confidence it will be brought to America. (The Wii U, frankly, needs all the new quality titles it can get)

If released over here, we'd likely get the Wii U version, which is releasing in Japan soon. Its exactly like the regular Wii version, but with HD Graphics. Add in the touch screen, which can handily be used as a keyboard, and I think it will be a great experience for players. Here, below, is a trailer for Dragon Quest X on the Wii U.

I don't know a whole lot about what to expect from the series, but from all that I've heard - it blends traditional roleplaying with MMORPG mechanics. I can, however, give you an idea of what the story is going to be about. Titled Mezameshi Itsutsu no Shuzoku, or "Rise of the Five Tribes" - the story has your character transformed into one of 5 different races.

The different races include Ogres, Wedi, Elves, Dwarves, and the cute and adorable wee-little Pukuripos. They all feature different strengths - Ogres are obviously more physical in battle, Dwarves excel with machines, and Pukuripos excel in magic.

The game features an extensive storyline, being regularly updated - with plans, I've heard, extending for 10 years. Japan loves Dragon Quest, and this game isn't going to become obsolete for a very long time. Given the amount of money put into this series, I'd think it would be a shame, both financially and creatively, to not expand into the worldwide market. Plus, given that this is a Nintendo-Exclusive game - it gives players the first unique chance to join an MMORPG, exclusively through a console (instead of a PC). While Dragon Quest isn't as popular in America, its been making significant in-roads -- and this could be the type of game to rival World of Warcraft, for more casual players, uninterested in the complexities of a PC set-up.

I hope the series get a US release, and that it is announced soon. Fingers crossed!