Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dragon Age: Origins & Awakening Expansion [Game][PC]

Amount Completed - Original game and expansion. 

Story - Dragon Age is a massive collection of mini-stories with a couple primary veins to follow along with. In the end it is simply about a marauding army of grotesque creatures apparently mindlessly following some guide. Unfortunately the story fails to deliver any sense of anything grand. It is not as though you play as someone on the sidelines, it is just not as over-the-top as role playing games often are. The character stories were more a source of entertainment than some of the major plot developments. A ton of information is embedded in the game in a written form within a codex. If you are completely dedicated I suggest reading them all. I eventually just stopped looking at them to continue to slog through the mostly mediocre story lines. There are some twists and turns to keep you just at the level of "interested enough" to complete the game.

Art - The art of Dragon Age is simply meh. It lacks a lot of detail and attention to making things look remotely realistic. There is no reason for a cloth to reflect light like a metal. 

Gameplay - If you know Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect you have a general idea of what the game play is like.You run around in a third person view and can pause time to make tactical decisions throughout combat. You spend a lot of time talking to a variety of characters and build up a supporting cast of characters to help you in combat and otherwise. You also attempt to persuade or dissuade characters in or out of your favor. Decisions made by the main character will influence the support of individuals within your party. 

The game suffers from an inventory bloat that blows Mass Effect 1's inventory way out of the water. I picked up so much garbage throughout the game. I stopped even caring if new gear was better just so I would not have to slog through my inventory.

Gut - For a game called Dragon Age I think I fought about 6 total. Dragon Age was more mindless fun than I expected. The characters are generally entertaining and the non-expansion story was enough to keep my attention. The expansion really fell flat even with some of the unique elements going for it. I wish the main character was voice acted throughout... an advantage Mass Effect definitely has over Dragon Age.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Modern Family [DVD][Television]

Amount Viewed - 40 episodes

Story - Modern Family centers around three branches of a larger family. Each branch consists of parents and a number of children. One set of parents is the stereotypical wife and husband of the same age, another is of an older husband with a much younger wife, and the third is a gay couple with an adopted toddler. Every character on the show is reasonably unique though not completely inaccessible. The writers are able to have characters in opposition in one story and have them working together in another. The main source of stories and conflict definitely center around the parents in each of the families. While the children do often play a major role, the interactions of the parents almost always take center stage.

Each of the families could arguably carry their own show. Luckily for the viewers and writers this is not the case. Instead of three mediocre shows we have something a bit more special. The stories are often layered between families and take advantage of the entertaining aspects of each character. The pacing is quick and filled with comedy. The structure of each episode begins with basic hints as to what conflict each family will work through. While some of the plots are boring or just a bit weird the others within the same episode seem to balance things out. I have yet to see an episode without a plot I could easily relate to.

Modern Family does not shy away from presenting some drama. Characters are shown in the lightest of bad situations, such as the eldest daughter becoming drunk in Hawaii. The result was presented as bad and showed her mother as caring and understanding. Unfortunately the consequences were limited as to avoid affecting the show in significant ways. There are a very small number of elements of the show that indicate an actual time-line with people growing and changing. I believe this is both a blessing and a curse.

Presentation - Modern Family is presented as a semi-documentary with free moving cameras and cuts to characters speaking directly to the camera about a subject. While entertaining, I have to acknowledge that presenting comedy in the form where you can hear the mental voice of a character is a lot easier than without.

Arrested Development (had to be pointed out) - Modern Family is a very grounded Arrested Development. The wackiness of the characters and stories are toned down and limited to the boxes created for the characters. Arrested Development was much more free and had a flowing story episode to episode. Modern Family is more rigid but definitely does more to explore their characters' extreme sides. The resulting drama generally works but honestly can feel a bit weird in a comedy.

Gut - Great! Every episode delivers at least a couple of good laughs. Any flaws are covered with entertaining writing, acting, and reasonably realistic situations.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Braid [Game] [PC]

Amount Completed - Finished (all puzzle pieces collected - through epilogue)

Story - Braid comes off as a standard run and jump side scroller with no story whatsoever beyond get to the end of the level / world / game. Books throughout the game reveal weird components of the story hinting towards something being masked behind a very simple presentation.

Braid apparently has an obfuscated story that does not even come close to presenting itself to me. I am clearly too naive and oblivious to pick up on the depth. In the end I just did not care to dive into the story of the game and the concepts behind it. I was simply not enticed by the story due to the overwhelmingly unique (at times) gameplay. Skimming FAQs about the game further solidified my desire to just let my knowledge of the story remain limited. The game just felt like the wrong vehicle for delivering the apparent story behind the game. I dare say the game now feels pretentious from reading about it.

Art - The style of Braid is certainly vibrant and interesting. I found the graphics effective and clear. The painted style is unique and the game art is simplistic and enjoyable. The game elements are clearly defined by their art and there is little confusion between the back and foregrounds. For a basic 2D game the art and animation is perfectly acceptable if not very good.

Gameplay - Braid at the base is a side scroller with rewind/fast-foward capability. As the player progresses through a number of world other elements are added to tweak the experience. I found that personally the difficulty of the tweaks was out of order. In one world you have a shadow that acts out your actions when you rewind time. Another world offered a ring that you could drop to slow down time within the proximity of the location you left it at. Unfortunately the previous two were after the tweak I found the most difficult. In the world before those you have to play the game where time automatically rolls forward as you move right and backward as you move left. While I struggled through the section I found that the others were more fun and a lot less frustrating/difficult.

At times I would simply make up some random goal and just haphazardly go for it. Often this would work out making me wonder if the designer intended for methodical thinking and planning or just "hoping something works out" style gameplay.

The game also is quite short if you have an idea of how to complete the puzzles... even without it will not take long to complete.

Gut - Fun at times, frustrating at other times. If you are looking for a story, look elsewhere unless you really like to unravel and explore layers of references and otherwise in your side scrollers.

Trigun and Trigun Maximum [Manga] [English Translation]

Amount Read - Complete story (14 volumes)

Story - Trigun is about a young male character named Vash on a desert planet and his adventures involving a number of interesting situations and characters. He is notorious for being involved with destruction and seems to leave a path behind him. More characters are mixed in and the back story unfolds revealing a number of interesting details and plot points. From a minor hero to the savior of the planet, Vash does it all.

Unfortunately the author is more of an artist and less of a story teller. I have read other manga so I felt as though I had a decent idea of how things generally flow in a graphic novel story. Trigun is a major exception in this realm. At some point the art over takes the storytelling to the point where I completely lost track of what was going on. From panel to panel I had no idea how things happened and where things were going. Page by page the time and location would change so dramatically I could have been switching to entirely different stories.

When the climax of the story starts to build it drags for multiple volumes. I pushed through the final volumes in hopes of something interesting occurring. Instead I was fed a number of battles between characters with conclusions I could not honestly even figure out. I swear one character died and I did not even know it. I am not even sure now if they actually died.

Art - The beginning of the series has well done and reasonably clear artwork. As the series reaches the climax the art work became less and less clear. In the end I believe the art was a complete mess. I could not tell what in the world was going on at times.

Gut - Good for 40%... After a while I lost complete track of what was going on. In the end Trigun Maximum was a major letdown. I do not recommend it.

Anime Fan Note - Fans of the anime series should stick with that, even if the conclusion is actually different. You are not missing much beyond a weird replacement for Wolfwood later on that seems strangely like yet another Vash.

Eden of the East [DVD] [Anime]

Amount Viewed - Entire series (11 episodes)

Story - The show is about a young male character learning about his recent memory loss in conjunction with major events occurring within Japan. He begins the story in Washington D.C. with a gun in one hand and a phone with a huge amount of money tied to it in the other. To make things interesting the phone includes a service to allow him to use the money to do just about anything he sees fit. A young woman is thrown into the mix, though never seems to do anything whatsoever other than drag the pace of the show down. The story unfolds slowly and oddly. I could not take the show seriously due to the excessive amount of "johnny" references (as in male genitalia). Almost nothing is ever really explained or wrapped up. As with many anime, the concept of following the rules established within the fictional world is not critical. I was left wondering why within 11 episodes so much time was wasted destroying any respect given to the viewer. Eden of the East had a chance to shine though. Early on a character is shown abusing his power, killing others. Unfortunately the direction of the show did not continue along the somewhat dark path I expected (and wanted from the series). Instead a convoluted mess of college graduates and a social network internet site somehow took hold.

Animation - The animation of the show is well done. This is far from enough to make it enjoyable though. Nothing ever felt cheap so I was pleased with the presentation overall.

Gut - Almost good... but no... Eden of the East was a dud. The hype and reviews I have read elsewhere are either an indication that people are completely devoid of critical thinking or this really is the best anime of the last few years.