Thursday, December 19, 2013

Dragon Ball Z

Though the Manga never actually splintered off with a "Z" - the Anime, and American Version of the Manga maintain the distinction between the two properties. Thematically, though, there was a HUGE shift for the series, with use and relying on Mythology and Martial Arts, now was introducing sci-fi elements, like aliens and time travel. Smoothly mixed together with the existing Dragon Ball world, we where now introduced to new facts: Goku is an alien, a Saiyan, who arrived on Earth as a baby (explaining his early tail, and ability to transform into a giant ape during a full moon). Piccolo was now a Namekian - an alien visitor from a far off planet. None of this is strictly ret-conning the already established story -- Piccolo and Goku's history, beyond being weird, or being labeled as a demon, was never previously discussed. I have to wonder if that was deliberately done so.

One thing about the series I wanted to mention, which I feel is a misconception (at least when it comes to the Manga version), is that events and fights don't necessarily take AS long, as was seen in the Anime. The TV series had to stretch out battles for episodes on end -- somewhat to buy time for the Manga to be continued and finished. A battle that takes place for endless episodes, for example, might be dealt with and handled within 1 or 2 volumes of the book series. (And thats only for major, top tier villains) I think Akira Toriyama has a tremendous sense of pacing, which goes unrecognized because of overshadowing from the Anime.

Another shift in the series was that Goku was now married, and was raising his first born child: Gohan! Gohan is at first a coddled little child - but upon the Saiyan Invasion, it was soon discovered that Gohan held tremendous power within his tiny frame. Goku, however, was not able to be there for his son - as he died in battle against his long-lost brother Raditz, the first invading Saiyan. It became clear that Raditz was only the beginning -- with fellow Saiyans Vegeta and Nappa coming on their way, upon learning the rumor of the fabled Dragon Balls.

Piccolo has fought Raditz alongside Goku, even though they still considered each other enemies. Upon Goku's death, and the Earth still being in danger, Piccolo took the initiative, telling everyone else to prepare -in addition to kidnapping Gohan, intent on training the young boy to his potential, to fight the powerful Saiyans.

Through this act of kidnapping, Piccolo was sudden thrust into the uneasy role of mentor. A harsh mentor, but someone who nonetheless taught Gohan how to be stronger. Being an ally of Goku, and now training Gohan, was the beginning of a softening of the character -- so much so that Piccolo would one day be good enough to restore himself with Kami, and become a single being again. That was still a ways off -- but the redemption and inspiring moral transformation of many, many hardened enemies throughout the Dragon Ball series became a vibrant and trilling theme. I literally can only count a few other heroes, who through sheer example, evolve and change the morality of their villains (Superman, the Flash, in some respects Spider-Man...)

Anyway - the Saiyans Nappa and Vegeta arrive on Earth and put the protectors of Earth through the wringer. Meanwhile, Goku has been undergoing extensive training in the afterlife, under Kaio, the Lord of Worlds. Once again, the idea of gravity is used as an explanation for why Goku is able to increase his powers so dramatically.

Upon his return to life, thanks to the Dragon Balls, Goku makes a triumphant return - though many of his friends where killed by Nappa during their fight. Piccolo, notably, died fighting alongside the powered up, yet still in-formidable Gohan. Goku handily defeats Nappa - to which Vegeta kills Nappa for his failure. For all the goodness Goku represents, Vegeta is his complete opposite. Vegeta gives Goku the fight of all time, but luckily comes through in the end the victor. Though, through Goku's mercy (and really, a desire to fight such a worthy opponent again) Vegeta is able to escape back into space.

The Dragon Ball gang's adventures soon take them into space, following Vegeta -- all the way to the planet Namek (Piccolo's world) Its here we find a deeper meaning to Vegeta's constant rage and ruthlessness -- as he has an enemy who he serves: Freeza. No more, though: Vegeta discerned that the Dragon Balls origins come from this alien planet, and he's correct: Namek has their own set of Dragon Balls. Freeza is quickly on the same hunt for the Balls, hoping to attain immortality, to suit his already incredible powers and vast interstellar army.

Bulma, Gohan, and Kuririn travel to Namek -- to find the planet under complete assault by Freeza's forces. The group where lucky, though, as Goku was right behind them - finally having recovered from his injuries fighting Vegeta, and was underway to planet Namek in a special space ship designed to (again) increase gravity around him, and enable himself to train like never before. When Goku finally does arrive, he is more powerful than EVER before! His eventual fight with Freeza, who lives up to his name as the most feared villain in the universe, rips the planet apart!

Using the Namekian and Earth Dragon Balls, the people killed by Freeza's men are revived - and everyone is transported off the planet. Everyone, except Goku and Freeza -- Goku desperately wanted to finish his fight with Freeza, who because of his cruelty of killing Kuririn, awakened a new form in Goku: Super Saiyan. His eyes light up, and his hair glows yellow -- not merely a cosmetic change - Goku fought with a fury he never knew he possessed before. Even though rage fueled this new form, Goku gave Freeza every opportunity to walk away, and not end up killed. Goku really proved himself a true hero when he does this, giving the unrepentant Freeza every opportunity to amend his ways. Goku's habit to reforming notable villains, though, has its limits. Eventually the planet Namek blew up, seemingly with Goku and Freeza still on it.

A year passes, and many people are revived with the Dragon Balls, along with Kuririn and others. When an attempt to resurrect Son Goku comes, everyone is surprised to hear that Goku is actually alive! He's off somewhere in space, and tells them through the Dragon God that he will return by himself soon.

The series takes a wild turn next, introducing Time Travel into the mix. Trunks, the soon to be born son of Bulma and Vegeta, arrives in the present to predict Goku's arrival on Earth. Before that, though, Freeza returns as a robotic shell of a creature - but with just as much malice towards the Earth as before. Trunks, however, proves a match for Freeza - wiping him off the map within minutes! Trunks is able to become a Super Saiyan -- though, no matter how powerful he is, he brings dire warnings of a new menace: that of Androids, created to kill Son Goku, and later the World.

The Android Saga seemed to up the level of violence to a high degree. We had seen blood and guts before, every so often, in the series -- but here we have broken necks, splattered guts -- the works. The androids are completely ruthless! During this saga Trunks reappears, and tried to change history by preparing the warriors for these battles. But Vegeta, who through sheer arrogance achieved Super Saiyan status himself, is humiliated to be defeated by one of the androids during this time.

The Android Saga takes an even wilder turn - when an even more powerful menace is unleashed: that of Cell -- a genetic being made with the cells of all the greatest fighters. He achieves new levels of power -- forcing Goku, Gohan, Vegeta and Trunks, to train in a mysterious Hyperbolic Time Chamber, on Kami's lookout. For every minute outside, 6 hours pass inside the chamber - so a lot of training is able to be done. Cell evolves much like Freeza once did - until he achieves his perfect state. He decides he wants a challenge, and creates a makeshift arena to fight upon.

Goku and everyone come to fight against Cell -- but to everyone's surprise, its Gohan who is pushed forward as the savior of the day, as Goku, when training with his son, felt how increased Gohan had become - surely able to surpass even himself. End of the day, though, Goku ends up sacrificing himself to save the world -- but its a world he knows is in good hands, with his son to protect it. Goku asks not to be revived - believing his presence on Earth was perhaps what brought so much menace to Earth.

Essentially, Toriyama was attempting to transition the series over to Gohan as lead player. I really enjoyed the new era - as time passed. Trunks of the future went away -- but Young Trunks was now growing up, and had a rambunctious playmate of Goten (Chi-Chi and Goku's 2ed child). Gohan grew up and began going to collage. Its here he meets his future wife, Videl - the Daughter of Mr. Satan (or Hercule, as he's sometime translated) Mr. Satan is an opportunist schemer, who took credit for Cells' destruction and saving the planet.

Eventually a new evil surfaced, called Majin Buu. Buu was controlled by a wizard named Babidi, and brought ruin to the Earth. Vegeta, also, sold his soul to Babidi, in exchange for more power. It ultimately lead to his death. Buu evolved quite a lot, first from an innocent dupe, eventually to an unquenchable being of evil. Gohan fought this creature, but eventually had to retreat for training in the afterlife where his father was.

Little Trunks and Goten took center stage, performing a technique that allowed them to become a single being: Gotenks! Gohan eventually returned as well, but instead found himself and his friends absorbed by Buu -- leaving only two people left to save the day: Goku and Vegeta. Both where given new leases on life, and fought Buu into his new form of Kid Buu. A fusion technique seemed like the answer - as there was little left in the way of Goku and Vegeta becoming more powerful than they already are. They use the fusion technique for a while - but when they are faced with using the technique, and it not being reversible, Goku and Vegeta refuse to use the technique, wishing to fight Kid Buu like true Saiyans. This sort of solidarity seemed to be the final affirmation of respect between the two characters. They fought Kid Buu, and of course won -- with everyone killed by Buu able to be restored by the Dragon Balls.

The series had a great epilogue - as we are shown years later, the new Strongest Under the Heavens Tournament. Here we get to see Gohan and Videl married, with their daughter Pan showing the strongest competitors that she was no tike to be underestimated. Goku likewise is still alive - and was very eager for this tournament. You see -- in the final act of mercy to a nothingness-evil like Buu, Goku managed to put in a good word - and asked for Buu to be reincarnated as a good person. Sure enough -- Uub was in the tournament, meet Goku, and received an offer to train with him. Flying off with his new student, Goku flew off to adventures unknown.

I really thought that was a good ending to the series. From beginning to end, Dragon Ball is an enjoyable Manga which only gets better the more you get into it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dragon Ball

One of the best, the pinnacle and hallmark of Manga is the Dragon Ball series. For TV (and us American audiences), the series was split into two halfs, first Dragon Ball, and then Dragon Ball Z. Created by Akira Toriyama, it seemed like he created the definition of modern-day fighting Manga - as his techniques and storytelling ideas can be seen emulated by any number of Anime and Manga series today.

Coming off of his popular humor series, Dr Slump, Dragon Ball began as a loose retelling of Journey to the West. The stories where more simple, and more humor based -- but had definite charm and appeal, as Son Goku and a spunky girl named Bulma went on a search for the legendary Dragon Balls. If all seven of the ball are collected, they can be used to summon Shenron -- a mighty dragon who will grant you a single wish. Friends and former foes are gathered together along for this journey, with humorous highjinks throughout. Goku eventually lost his notable monkey tail, because it was discovered that during a full moon, he will turn into a gigantic and destructive ape; simple solution is to cut it off! Eventually a wish is made, and the Dragon Balls scatter again to the ends of the Earth - dormant for another year, before they can be collected once again.

Goku trained under the Turtle Hermit, Roshi - where the basic idea of adding weight, or psychical resistance, to a training regimen can make you stronger. I really like this idea, as its simple and cute - and has some merit in real life; though it strains credibility the more and more powerful Goku becomes.

Goku's training partner, the short and bald Kuririn (Krillin in the Anime), starts out as a rival to Goku, but soon enough becomes a life long friend.

My favorite moments in the series are when Tournament time comes around -- and we get to see the fruition of all the training of the characters. Goku doesn't actually win these tournaments at first -- as there are always interesting and challenging opponents and wrinkles added to the mix.

The series progressively became more and more action oriented, with running themes and sagas beginning to structure the series. The introduction of King Piccolo - the Demon King - was particularly note-worthy, as Son Goku fought to save the world from a fierce and unstoppable enemy.

I love the introduction, later, of Kami (or God), who Goku is shocked to learn is a duel image of Piccolo! (They where once a single being, but separated when Kami wished to purge himself of all evil)

What I suspect must have been even more shocking, was the reveal of the next tournament match, when Goku returned from training -- yet had grown into a tall young man!! Akira Toriyama apparently did this to help make it easier to depict martial arts with a full grown body. At the time, it was quite controversial to change a lead character of a manga like that. (Though it has since been repeated in modern Manga, like in Naruto)

Also entering the tournament was Piccolo Jr -- a spawned offspring of the Demon King. Essentially he's a reincarnation - he's different from King Piccolo, but his desire to defeat Goku is strong, alive and well.

The tournament also featured the return of a briefly seen character from ages ago, Chi-Chi, who had returned to find Goku, and get married together. (Goku had made such a promise when they where both little kids, especially when Goku didn't know what was going on)

The series is really fantastic, light and fun! Everyone should check it out if they can. I'll come back next time to talk about Dragon Ball Z!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Best Video Game of 2013 (Part 2): Zelda A Link Between Worlds

I choose Pikmin 3 as a tie between my favorite games of the year, right alongside the trilling new entry in the Zelda series: "The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds" for the 3DS.

This new entry could be highlighted as nothing more than a re-tread or cash-in on the popularity and love people have for the original SNES title "Zelda: A Link to the Past". On the surface, that might appear true -- but anyone picking up this title, who has played the original, will not see just another adventure in the same land - but rather a new, and startlingly punchy and quick paced Zelda, like nothing we've ever seen before, and all without loosing anything that helped define the series.

What makes this game so great? Strangely enough -- it's the rental system, introduced to you by a strange fellow named Ravio. He not only worms his way into your house - but eventually takes it over, as a new rental store. Unlike any Zelda game before it - nearly every key item is available for your use right from the word: GO. BUT, there is a catch! If you loose in battle (without any fairies to revive you), you will loose all of your rented items. You could be literally be left empty handed, in the middle of a boss fight -- giving new pressure and consequence to falling in battle. You can mitigate all of this, though, by buying up certain items. Collecting rubies is quite fun in the game -- and there are plenty to be had all over! Over half way through the game I was able to afford to buy every item.

There's an added advantage to buying, over renting -- you can bring your items to a creature called Mother Maimai - who has lost her many children to all corners of the world. For each 10 of her Children found, she will upgrade a weapon of your choosing. (But only items you own) This adds yet another fun and meaningful search to the game, as you are always on the look out for the little squeaks for help, from carefully hidden Maimai Children!

Now, none of this would mean anything if the dungeons and overworld where not a challenge. While nothing is made to be impossibly hard -- you are not given implicit instructions on where to go after your first 3 or 4 dungeons. You can tackle them in any order - potentially getting your in trouble, if you bit off more than you can chew. The dungeons are meticulously constructed, as well -- adding both a level of punchy action, with one secret discovered or solved after another -- and leading to a satisfying boss fight, usually with a weapon that you better hope you brought along with you! Check points, and game-saving Weather Vanes are found all throughout the world - so this quick and punchy puzzle solving combat can be put on hold, usually at a moments notice.

Everything about this game, from the over world to the dungeons, is simply fun -- pure Zelda fun -- clocked up, and appealing to both new and old fans alike. Nintendo has been struggling with what they want to do with the next console Zelda title -- and a game like this affirms my belief that they will come up with something new and truly worth our while.

The story in this game is sparse - but engaging. You are on the hunt for an evil sorcerer, who can turn people and Sages into living pictures. A gem you received from Ravio protects you from this very spell - even allowing you to turn the tide and use it to your advantage. Being able to turn into a 2D drawing, walking along walls and such, is such a fresh new mechanic - that it deserves to be the centerpiece of the game.

The story eventually takes you away from Hyrule - and sends you to Lorule -- an upside down kingdom, ruled by Hilda, who is in desperate need of Hyrule's hero. Lorule is essentially the Dark World, from a Link to the Past -- but, while it uses the same assets from the previous game - that in no way makes this world less enjoyable or scary to venture into. My thought, on why Lorule even exists, is that, when the Dark World ceased to see be, upon Ganon's defeat, the existence of the Dark World had to go somewhere -- giving birth to the similar, but different, Lorule. That's my theory, at least.

This game does repeat on many trends, or secrets, from the previous game - but sometimes to your complete surprise. Its an excellent new entry in the Zelda franchise - and I have high hopes for what it means, when Nintendo creates the next Zelda console title.

Best Video Game of 2013 (Part 1): Pikmin 3

I wanted to highlight two games that I thought I'd dub my picks for games of the year -- one of of them being Pikmin 3, for the Wii U.

Created by Shigeru Miyamoto, the original Pikmin (on the Gamecube), followed the exploits of Captain Olimar, a little pint-sized alien who, with the use of helpful indigenous creatures called Pikmin, helped him survive and collect treasure. The idea was inspired by Miyamoto through gardening - these cute little creatures could be commanded by Olimar to help him retrieve objects and solve puzzles. While not the game-changer we'd come to expect from the creator of Mario and Zelda - Pikmin carved out its own place in the video game sphere, through pluck and determination, giving us one of the most unique strategy simulators you've ever played.

This new Wii U exclusive now departs from Captain Olimar's journey, and has us joining a three-man crew from a new planet, in search of food. They crash land on the planet of the Pikmin, and are aided by the little friendly creatures as they explore the wilds of this world.

The Pikmin themselves have been updated, beyond the regular Red, Yellow, and Blue variety. We now have Rock Pikmin, who can shatter glass, and flying Pikmin, who can reach previous inaccessible heights. These two new Pikmin take the place of Pikmin 2's Black and White Pikmin -- and largely it's an improvement over the previous ones.

One of the biggest challenges of the game is the every present sense of urgency. You see -- each day your crew consumes a glass of fruit juice. If you don't replenish your supply of fruit, you'll see you're stores of consumables dwindle.

Luckily, wether you can store a bunch of drink supply or not - your given a even more important mission: finding Captain Olimar. Captain Olimar runs into the much needed Cosmic Key Drive, from your crash - so pursuing the previous game hero is a top priority! You are lead from one area to the next, with light to very difficult to solve puzzles. You can walk past the same area a dozen times - but only on that 12th time actually see the path forward. It can become somewhat frustrating, especially when you don't know what to do. The dwindling juice supply only adds to the urgency.

One thing kept from the previous games is the ever present Day and Night cycle time limit. You must accomplish your goals before sundown, when nocturnal predators will force you to flee into the upper atmosphere. This can become quite trying, especially when facing a ferocious and dangerous boss!!! Pikmin 2 usually had you facing creates underground -- meaning the time limit of Dusk was suspended. Not so here. It can even take quite a few trips to defeat a particularly aggressive boss.

Simply put - there is a lot of challenge here. But nothing debilitating - by any means. Clues and hints are sprinkled around by the quicker-than-you Captain Olimar - so you are rarely left hanging with no clue as to what to do. Plus - the introduction of each new Pikmin species makes travel around much easier -- as impediments and puzzles can only be performed by certain Pikmin.

Pikmin 3 is a fun game -- but too often there's the temptation to curse at the screen, because dusk is coming too soon, or your unable to retrieve an item in the alloted time. Its still a fun and charming game - but not one I want to sugar coat unnecessarily.

The control scheme of the game, though, is excellent - melding use of the Wii U Game Pad with the Wii Mote. Though the game pad rarely serves a function beyond map usage, and directing a party leader to a destination, it's still a good implementation of the two controllers. I was lucky enough to play the original Pikmin on their Wii versions, so I've never actually used an analogue control scheme to control the Pikmin. Wether it's good or not here, I can't tell you; using the Wii Mote is my only preference.

If you have a Wii U, I highly recommend at least checking this game out. It's charming, full of challenge and fun - and stands nicely among the other Nintendo Pantheon, like Mario, and Zelda.