Wednesday, December 28, 2016

DBZ Elsewhere: The Yamcha Side Story That Made Yamcha Cool Before It Was Cool

Comic Panels by RMK writer and artist of DBZ Elsewhere
Yamcha has always gotten a raw deal for as long as I can remember in the Dragon Ball community.  He's the butt of everyone's jokes and it's not difficult to see why with his huge loss record in the series.  You wouldn't believe it, but there is a sect of us who at one point or another thought Yamcha was pretty damn cool.  Most people who watched a ton of the original Dragon Ball series developed a liking for the character after watching him grow along with Goku, Krillin, Tien, and Chiaotzu.  This month, Yamcha's been getting a fair amount of attention with Dragon Ball Super's 70th episode, a fan favorite, giving him ample spotlight and comedic moments.  He even stole the show by winning the baseball game.  Now there's also a Yamcha Side Story series being planned and the 1st chapter is already out (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hYoUg8j1IY).  Yamcha has received a brief resurgence in popularity but before Toei and Shueisha put the spotlight on him, a sole fan decided to give us a glimpse into the past and the day to day worries of a man named Yamcha and that fan is RMK.

I stumbled upon DBZ Elsewhere recently, while searching for chapters of the latest Yamcha side story Dragon Ball Gaiden: Tensei-shitara Yamcha Datta Ken.  While I like the scenario of a fan being reincarnated as Yamcha and using his knowledge of Dragon Ball to make Yamcha great again, it's not really a Yamcha story because it's about another character using Yamcha's body.  RMK's DBZ Elsewhere all about Yamcha and brings up questions that many of us Yamcha fans think of such as who trained him and taught him the Wolf Fang Fist?  It also shows us how Yamcha acts when the Z Fighters aren't around.  RMK really goes in depth when it comes to Yamcha's feelings about being super strong yet parodoxically being weak.  RNK also explores what many would develop if placed in Yamcha's shoes, his failure complex.  Let's be honest, he's always had his share of bad luck and the writers simply blow it off or treat it as a gag, but RMK instead delves deeply into it and shows us how Yamcha might use it to better himself.

I was surprised to find that RMK both wrote and drew his fan comic and that he did so way back in 2003.  I found his writing to be well layered, but not so much that it doesn't resemble Dragon Ball and I found his art to be quite good.  It's not exactly professional quality near the beginning but it stays faithful to Toriyama's style throughout the parts that I read.  I noticed that RMK himself expressed disappointment in his earlier work but I thought it was well done, but I did skip ahead to his one of his later chapters to see if he'd improved and saw a drastic improvement in the fluidity of his style.  I stopped at chapter five so far and each chapter I read added something new to Yamcha's backstory which is something I've wanted from him and Tien for a really long time.

I highly recommend RMK's DBZ Elsewhere comic.  I'll be posting my review of the series once I get deeper into it and it looks like I'll have a ton of chapters to read.  If you want to check it out visit RMK's site at (http://dbzelsewhere.thecomicseries.com/comics/first).


Well that's it for me.  If any of you have read either DBZ Elsewhere or Dragon Ball Gaiden: Tensei-shitara Yamcha Datta Ken let me know what you think of both.  Let me also know what part of Yamcha or Tien's backstory you'd like to know about the most.  Have a great week everyone!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

FromSoftware Should Make An Escaflowne-esque Game And Here's Why

http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m0bgmfWrhd1qff4dco3_1280.png
Imagine a Dark Souls game with giant medieval mecha




Think about it.  The company behind titles like Dark Souls and Armored Core would be great at combining the sense of detail and scale needed for something like this.  For those of you who don't know, Escaflowne is an anime series about a fictional fantasy world called Fanelia that is now steeped in war.  In Escaflowne there are knights that pilot giant mechanized suits of armor called Guymelefs that seem to be powered by steam and dragon's blood via a dragon's magical heart.  Thanks to their knightly training guymelef pilots incorporate their swordsmanship into their piloting skills.  So just imagine playing a normal game of Dark Souls then stepping into a giant guymelef for fights on a larger scale.  Imagine having to face an opponent that's like 10x the size of the Gaping Dragon.  Or imagine actually getting to fairly challenge someone like The Dragon God from Demon's Souls.  Only something of the scale of a guymelef would allow you to do that in a non-game breaking manner.

The cool thing is I think Fromsoft is uniquely positioned to make a game like this, moreso than even than one of my other favorite studios Level 5 who had a similar premise with White Knight Chronicles.  I think making a game like this strictly action based with RPG elements like the Souls series would be a much more enticing and visceral way to go.

Also imagine something with the modification options of Armored Core, like the gear swapping I mean, and imagine being able to equip various gigantic swords, shields, axes, lances, mauls, and perhaps even side weapons like crossbows, cannons, etc.  That would be super frickin' neat!  Namco is also no stranger to handling games with a mixture of normal battle systems and mecha battle systems.  The Xenosaga series has also incorporated both, particularly in #3 where both were served up heartily.  FromSoftware has announced a new IP and so I can only hope that this is what that turns out to be, because it would truly be a dream project for a fan like myself who loves all the above creative properties.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

This Week In Gaming 11/27 - 12/4






Games Played: Urban Reign (PS2), Kinetica (PS2), Smackdown vs Raw 2006 (PS2), Borderlands Pre-Sequel (XBOne)

Had lots of fun with the games on this list, most of them favorites of mine for years.  The uptick in PS2 gaming is a direct result of sharing my HDTV with my nephew while I use the older CRT TV. It's been fun reconnecting with the console, especially these old favorites of mine.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/8/8e/SmackDown%21vsRAW2006.jpg/250px-SmackDown%21vsRAW2006.jpgSVR 2006 is still an incredibly fun game and as far as I understand is the last of those older faster paced wrestling titles.  The newer games are too slow for my tastes so SVR is always a fun game to go back to especially the laugh out loud hilarious Hell in a Cell matches where characters go into proverbial comas after falling from the top of the cell.  Me and my nephews have had a lot of fun with this one lately.
Recommendation: A really fun and solid wrestling game that has a timeless appeal in its core gameplay.  The quick pace is what I think is missing in many modern wrestling games.  Even if you like those, try this one and spend a whole day of your life creating characters and tossing them off the cell.





https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/6/6d/Urb-cover.jpg/250px-Urb-cover.jpgI played Urban Reign on a whim after playing some Tekken and wrestling games.  I'd never beaten Urban Reign before despite the many years its been in my possession, so I figured now would be the perfect time to do so.  Urban Reign is a 3D beat-em-up, a favorite genre of mine, that's made by Namco.  There is a heavy Tekken influence in the attacks and other animations of each of the game's fighters and there are even unlockable Tekken characters in the game. This time around, I had a lot of fun pulling an all-nighter to finally beat the game from start to finish.  It was tough, with some really unfair moments, but it was fun overall.
Recommendation: Solid mechanics and extra modes make this one a blast.  Too bad the characters were a little too generic to leave a lasting impression, otherwise this one would be remembered more fondly.  Still, I put this in the same vein as Def Jam: Fight For New York (which I hold in high esteem.)  So try it out if you like beat 'em ups like Streets of Rage, Final Fight, or The Warriors.



https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/8/8b/Kinetica_cover.jpg/256px-Kinetica_cover.jpgMy nephew randomly fired Kinetica up one night and asked me to play it with him.  After completely annihilating him in each race I got the urge to unlock all the tracks and racers.  Surprisingly those few skills I learn while playing this game more than ten years ago have stuck with me along with the strategies.  It felt great to boost, siphon, stunt, drift, and collect my way to victory and the topsy turvy track design was still exhilarating after all these years.  Just today alt. racer Steyer took me to victory in all three season modes.  Now to unlock the three secret racers.
Recommendation: Not an ordinary racing game by any stretch.  I think I like Kinetica so much because winning relies as much if not more on strategy than it does superb piloting skills.  The sense of speed is only really there when you're boosting and sometimes the track design does work against you even when you know what's coming, but all in all this is one of my all time favorite racing games and I don't like too many.  So if strapping into motorized roller skates and going hundreds of miles per hour on stages that would give Sonic the Hedgehog a head rush while listening to trippy techo songs sounds like fun then you should definitely give this one a try.



https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/6/62/Borderlands_The_Pre-Sequel_box_art.jpg/250px-Borderlands_The_Pre-Sequel_box_art.jpgBorderlands has been my favorite shooter series for the last two generations and playing through Pre-Sequel on the Xbox One has been a blast.  I purchased it digitally after my nephew was complaining about the lack of split screen games in modern gaming.  I, of course, remembered fondly playing through both BL 1 and 2 side by side with each of my best friends. After going out and buying an extra controller we started a new campaign, him with Nisha and me with Aurelia.  When he's not playing, I play as The Doppelganger.  There's not much I can say here about the game without going on at length about it, so I'll save it for a later post.  Just know that this installment is fun and unique.
Recommendation: Well worth the buy.  There's not as much content as BL2 but that game was just about perfect when it came to DLC.  Go get it now if you haven't.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Indie Book Corner: Just a Drop in the Ocean, by Grant Leishmann

https://www.amazon.com/Just-Drop-Ocean-Grant-Leishman-ebook/dp/B016ZB21HW
Click Cover for Amazon Link


Longing love, hard life, and pen pals.


Just a Drop in the Ocean was an overall enjoyable read for me, though I had quite a few problems with the book's middle act.  Throughout I was treated to the true to life, poignant, cultured, often hilarious, and deeply troublesome lives of the book's two leads Teresa Mercado and Nick Stevenson.  I was also treated to two very distinct cultures in the book, as the Philippines and New Zealand feature heavily in the story, about as much as the two leads.  So first we'll go over what I liked about the story, then what I didn't like, followed by my overall thoughts.  A Drop in the Ocean was a long book and I had tons of thoughts about it throughout (it's a thought provoker no doubt), but I'll keep this as short as I can.

This book was written in two strong mature voices that were very distinct from one another.  I found it to be overall well written with enjoyable and sympathetic protagonists, though there were times when the protagonists would push my buttons with just how much they were willing to be pushed around.  The book opens up very strong with the first third being chocked full of beautiful metaphors and deeply descriptive and thought provoking prose.  The descriptive style remains throughout along with a smattering of Filipino language and a wealth of evocative vocabulary words (that I had to highlight and look up) which all made the book a much more enjoyable read throughout.  There was also a constant undercurrent of humor both dry and standard which kept the book from falling into its oftentimes depressing subject matter.  The whole journey felt like a true human experience more times than not.

Of the two leads, I found Teresa Mercado to be the most enjoyable to read about from chapter to chapter.  Teresa is a woman with all the attributes most men would kill for.  She's smart, compassionate, fun, loyal, and ambitious, not to mention smoking hot.  Throughout the book, life continues to hit Teresa hard and yet she continues to fight back and make her way through her struggles with her family intact.  If Teresa loses a job, she will find a better one.  If Teresa if cornered, she will fight out of that corner.  That makes her the strongest lead, I'd say.  Her personal life was very interesting as well, considering all of the various careers she found herself in and she never strayed from her one true goal, keeping her family together and happy.  Nick was enjoyable (in parts) as well, but his life was much more stationary than Teresa's, which isn't to say he didn't have his problems.  He had two massive ones that haunted him throughout the book.  I just found him to be an overall weaker lead as he seemed more passive to his problems.  It was great to see how Teresa and Nick lived such diverse lives that still ran parallel to one another and how many close encounters they unknowingly had throughout, like fate was guiding them the entire time.

Another cool little thing about the book was how it was a time capsule encapsulating several moments in turning technology throughout the decades.  We got to see the start of the internet age, the boom of webcamming, the rise of social media, etc.  I loved seeing how Nick and Teresa responded to these new changes.  Beyond that the book takes some interesting twists and turns and goes on quite a few tangents (for better or worse).

As much as I loved the book, it still has some glaring flaws that hold it back from being one of my favorite reads (which it could've easily been).  The first flaw is the length of it.  I feel it's far far longer than it needs to be to tell the story it wants to tell.  I attribute this to the overreaching and repetitive middle act which follows the same formula for both Teresa and Nick for so long that it becomes predictable and boring for as long as that stretch of the story persists.  Typically for Teresa it would go something like: she builds her life up in a new city, something comes to mess up that life (usually the same antagonist), she's broke and moves elsewhere, and the cycle repeats a few times.  Usually some new friend of hers steps in and helps her out along the way, but see the problem with this is it's done enough that you see right through it.  Unfortunately the formula repeats often enough that it majorly impeded much of my enjoyment with the book and padded it out too much for me.

Feeding right in with my last problem were the two main antagonists for the book, who both happened to be the spouses of both leads.  You have Nick's gold-digging and possibly insane wife Marivic and Teresa's womanizing and abusive husband Marlon.  The two started off well enough, when you could see shades of their greed and abuse but eventually they become so over-the-top in their abuse that I could only see them as cartoon villains.  The book has such a fine autobiographical feel that this really takes me out of the experience.  A lot of books use convenient excuses to get protagonists out of trouble, but this one use convenient excuses to get the protagonists into trouble and that convenience usually comes in the form of the spouses from hell.  The antagonists also weaken the protagonists to the point where they aren't enjoyable to read.  Both protagonists become glorified yes men/women whenever confronted with their spouses and putty in their hands.  Nick especially suffers from this to the point that I wanted to skip through his chapters, but Teresa can't escape it either unfortunately.  Luckily this mostly only lasts for the middle part of the book and once through that the protagonists return to form.

Once we get to the final act things get good again and the book ends on a very enjoyable high note.  Altogether, I'd say that this was indeed a book that spoke to me on several levels and one that felt intensely personal.  It definitely felt autobiographical all the way through and once the author all but confirms it during the final chapter, I could only nod my head that my hunch was correct.  I've experienced a love like Teresa and Nick's, trading letters, texts, and emails with a few penpals in my lifetime and I've experienced unrequited love to the same degree that Teresa seems to feel throughout her life.  Both leads desires for that partner that got away, it definitely speaks to me and the hardships they faced speaks to me as well.  Their struggles were my struggles and that's what kept me turning the page.  I wanted to see if life got better for them, just like I wonder if life will get better for myself.  All in all, I found their struggles and what they gained by the end of them to be empowering.  It mimicked how I felt throughout my time reading the book, almost beat for beat.  So at the end of the day, I'd say that Just a Drop in the Ocean was an enjoyable read that began strong and ended on a high note.


Positives:


+Strong Mature Voice
+Well written
+Enjoyable and sympathetic protagonists
+An in-depth look into Filipino and New Zealand culture and characters.
+A smattering of Filipino language.
+A wealth of evocative and useful vocabulary words.
+Well rounded vocabulary of words
+Loads of humor throughout.
+The story speaks to me on many levels, encompassing much of real life
+Pen pals in love also speaks to me, and the pain of unrequited love
+Some nice subtle mature touches early on
+Strong friendships (mainly due to Teresa's appeal)
+Descriptive
+nice use of metaphor early on
+Lots of deep descriptive thought provoking writing at beginning
+Teresa's career choices and ambition, her political life, leadership
+Many time capsule moments, such as the start of the internet age, webcamming, the rise of social media,
+Teresa is pleasantly open-minded
+Book takes some surprising turns and tangents (for better or worse)
+A few risqué and funny moments.  Lots of deep and profound ones too
+A decent amount of forethought, detail, and research are put into each situation
+I do like the realism of life that occurs in the book
+I like the ending (very hard fought happiness)


Negatives:


-Probably longer than it needs to be.
-Repetitive middle act (build up to happiness, brief happiness, convenient problem).
-Middle act paints everyone as mostly unenjoyable Nick and Teresa's weakness, their husband and wife's callousness, other characters suddenly turning antagonistic, though there are some sub characters who remain enjoyable.
-Many books use convenient excuses to solve problems.  This one uses them to create problems.
-Nick's lack of backbone really is troublesome and stretches on so long that it borders on unreadable for me.
-Occasional odd punctuation, sometimes thoughts don't have quotes or italics to separate them.
-The antagonists of the book are sometimes cartoonishly malicious to the point it's unbelievable.
-Some subtly would have been nice in some places, like when Nick and Teresa cross paths, the author instead spells it out with intruding narration.
-Narration spoilers oftentimes ruin later scenes scene we're told the outcome ahead of time, most egregiously, the scene with Mr. Aguilar.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sunborn Rising Shirt, Soundtrack, and Swag



One of my favorite reads this year was Sunborn Rising, a book filled with beautiful sprawling artwork and immeasurable creativity.  Neoglyphic Entertainment, the group behind the ambitious title had recently had a sale on some Sunborn Rising items and apparel.  Seeing an opportunity to support an independent venture and one I liked, I happily purchased a few of the items for a pretty good price.




I ended up purchasing a shirt, a soundtrack, and a swag bag.  It all came in only a few days (like two I think).  The shirt's cool, with the book's villain, Argus, standing out in all white against the black backdrop of the fabric and stylishly inside of him or rather in front is the book's hero, Barra, as an all black shade.  I like how Argus' roots spell out the title of the book.  It's a very clever design.  The swag bag had all types of items in it that I show off below and the soundtrack was signed by the composer, Sean Beeson.






You can click the photos to get a better view of the CD and cover.  The left flap of the cover's inside shows the credits which includes sixteen tracks all performed by composer Sean Beeson and one track performed the Contemporary Youth Orchestra. 

I love the first track, the Sunborn Rising theme. It gives the the feeling of some of the more popular adventure movies. There's a suitably heroic theme for Barra and a very menacing and slow theme for Argus.  My favorite so far has to be the final orchestra track, which I thought closed the album neatly.  The whole soundtrack makes for some pleasant ambiant reading music, perfect for the book.  For whatever reason, I listened to atmospheric dance music during my time reading the book which proved to be a wonderful decision. 

As you can see, the CD is signed and the inside flaps have some gorgeous art displaying a scene stretching from one side to the next.  There is a track listing on the back of the cover for all seventeen tracks.




The swag bag was filled with all sorts of knick-knacks including four temporary tattoos with two distinct designs, three elastic wristbands, two bookmarks, and one decal.  I'll probably end up giving most of this out to the nieces and nephews.  I'll be selfishly keeping those bookmarks though.  I do need a good bookmark...or two.




This is the two designs on the front and the back of the wristband, the book's title and the swirling symbol of the book.  The wristbands themselves were too small for my man-sized wrist, so I'll be giving at least two of them out.  I like the color choice since it reminds me of the book's title.




So yeah, that's my Sunborn Rising swag in a nutshell.  I'm very happy with my purchases and will be looking out for more deals on the SR store in the future.  The book in the picture above is the original review copy I received from Aaron and Neoglyphic.  I hope to one day get it signed.  You can find my thoughts about the book right here the blog (http://belartscorner.blogspot.com/2016/06/indie-book-corner-sunborn-rising.html).  You can find information about Sunborn Rising books, games, and artworks as well as a link to the Neoglyphic shop here at (http://sunbornrising.com/)


Anyways, thanks for checking out this post everyone.

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Dragon Ball Fanboy vs Akira Toriyama and Toei on Transformation Usefulness vs Cool Factor p1

Z Forms: SSJ - SSGSSJ

Super Saiyan


Cool Factor: Straight up legendary.
The iconic form that's represented the most in the movies and games.  This form was instantly legendary when it was unveiled in the Goku vs. Frieza fight on Namek.  The first transformations of Goku, Trunks, Vegeta, and Gohan to this form were all epic, if not seminal moments in the Dragon Ball Z anime.  Though it was soon outclassed by other forms, nothing really comes close to the original Super Saiyan form when it comes to effectiveness, epicness, and great design.  Pale yellow/golden hair along with the aqua blue eyes and golden aura give this form a majestic feel and it is very striking to see characters normally with deep black hair and eyes transform this way.  The gain in muscle mass and the fierce expression that normally accompanies the transformation really strikes the point that it is the form of legendary warriors ... that is until the children get it, then it quickly becomes a lame and unearned plaything.

Usefulness: Useful and versatile.
Inside the show, the form grants a 50x power boost and can seemingly be improved upon and fully mastered to grant even more power.  This makes it extremely useful when it's first introduced especially since the boost had very little drawbacks to it.  It was the pinnacle of powerups for a short while, probably longer than any other powerup that the show has had.  Everyone with Saiyan DNA tried to attain then master it.  Outside the show, the form was great for creating a new sort of hype and coolness around the show.  When other characters sought out and gained the form, it made for some really good drama and payoff for the viewers.  Not to mention that the form is easily recognizable to anyone who has even glanced at Dragon Ball Z in passing.  It's been featured in the most movies, of course, since everyone uses it.  There are two versions of the form, raw and full power/mastered.  Such a spectrum of power and utility makes it the most effective transformation yet.


Super Saiyan 1 - Grade 2 

Super Vegeta


Cool Factor: Pretty freakin' cool...but we've seen it before.
Buff Roshi anyone?  Buff Frieza?  Filler Buff Piccolo?  I think you get it by now.  Still, even though it's not 100% original it's still very awesome to see Vegeta ascend to this form for the first time and beat the ever loving hell out of Cell.  I think this form is deserving of the title Ascended Super Saiyan.


Usefuless: Great stepping stone to mastery.
A very useful upgrade to the original Super Saiyan form.  Increases speed, power, and durability to greater levels.  It's not officially known how much it does, but it is significant.  I wish we got to see more of the form actually, but it's eventually greatly outclassed by Super Saiyan 2, so in the end it ends up not being very useful.  I do think it was and remains an effective transformation though, at least until one perfects the first form outright.


Super Saiyan 1 - Grade 3

Cool Factor: Looks cool but quickly ends up in a trash bin.
When we first saw Trunks' eyes turn all white and him bulk up to ridiculous levels I thought that it was the end for Cell (not really but I thought Trunks would win at least).  Trunks took an episode or two to power up and Perfect Cell even admitted that Trunks was stronger, but then proceeds to school the young Saiyan and even humiliate him to the point he gave up on life.  Probably the worst showing for any new transformation.

Usefuless: Not useful (so far).
Even in the show it wasn't a very useful form.  While the form greatly increases power it also greatly reduces speed.  That tradeoff is a death nail for most characters in the DB-verse.  Speed is key to winning fights.  Slow characters have no way to use all that power to hit faster characters especially since no one really uses Solar Flare effectively.


Super Saiyan 2


Cool Factor: Badass as all hell but no lasting appeal (unless Gohan's using it).
You can't mention Super Saiyan 2 without mentioning Gohan's epic transformation into the form against Cell.  It was a character defining moment for Gohan and one that still blows fans away to this day.  Gohan has and will always have the best Super Saiyan 2 transformation in the show.  If Gohan had never attained the form then it would actually be a pretty boring one compared to the original Super Saiyan transformation.  The hair gets spikier and there's a very slight charge of lightning around the body.  Not much of a change if you ask me, and seeing Goku and Vegeta transform really drives that point home.  Young Gohan's first Super Saiyan 2 transformation was very distinct though.  It has always been a beloved fan favorite transformation and one that I still consider badass though in the grand scheme of things, since it was only a power boost, it wasn't around for very long, and since it didn't look that distinct from Super Saiyan 1, it faded into the background pretty quickly.  If it did something specific or changed the character's look a little more, then I think it would have left a stronger impression on people.

Usefulness: Powerful but proves to be a one trick pony.
Inside the show, the Super Saiyan 2 transformation is twice as strong as the original Super Saiyan transformation, making it much better than the first.  The improvements include strength, speed, and durability.  Gaining the form required a high level of training and for Gohan a traumatic emotional catalyst, but after gaining it, it seemed effortless to maintain it as long as you trained regularly.  In the show it proves to be the most balanced form until the god forms are introduced.

Outside the show however, the form was never played up to be a big deal unless Gohan was using it.  Images of Super Saiyan 2 Goku and Vegeta are not as iconic as images of their Super Saiyan 1 versions.  I don't think the form was striking enough to gain much attention, whereas every other Super Saiyan form has a standout quality.  Super Saiyan 2 is definitely the most subtle so for marketing purposes Super Saiyan 2 is fairly useless.  Not to say that Super Saiyan 2 stuff looks bad.  I believe the opposite, that it looks really cool.  But outside of us hardcore fans, who can really tell the difference between the forms without having it explained to them?

Now, in my personal opinion, it's a wasted form after Gohan uses it against Cell.  Just giving Gohan a rage boost would've accomplish the same effect.  I think either the form should be reserved for Gohan only, or Toriyama should've had it specialize in something, like speed for instance.  It's definitely wasted since Super Saiyan 3, Fusion, and the Elder Kai powerup are all introduced right after.  Making it double the power of the previous form was also a mistake since it doomed the first form of Super Saiyan to obsoletion and set the stage for its own obsoletion later on.  That was the death nail for the show when it came to power balancing especially for Saiyans and other characters who were already struggling to keep up.

Super Saiyan 3
 

Cool Factor: Highly original, sticks with you.
A drastic new look along with a huge power boost accompanied this new form that Goku hid from Vegeta as they pounded each other's faces in in Super Saiyan 2 form.  Now this form looks GODLY!  The only thing I never understood about it was the lack of eyebrows.  I still don't get that.  I think it would look even more cool with eyebrows, but as is, it's great!  I think a Saiyan's muscle mass and height gets bigger as well which makes it a very intimidating form.

Usefuless: Like new technology, powerful as heck, but drains all the batteries.
In the grand scheme of things it's not a very useful form, but then again, I suppose we've never seen it completely mastered.  What SSJ3 grants is a huge boost in just about every category.  The "official" boost for it is 4x whatever SSJ2 is which makes it 400x a saiyan's normal base level.  BUT SSJ3 comes with a humungous drawback called stamina drain.  This transformation seems to be the most taxing one yet.  Goku can't hold the form for very long and has to recharge in the middle of a fight with an opponent of similar strength.  It's quickly thrown away in the new material in favor of a more simplified god form.  I would still like to see a mastered SSJ3 form, preferably with mastered eyebrows XD.

Super Saiyan God



Cool Factor: Takes time to get used to, but actually a badass form with potential.
I'll admit, I hated this form at first.  I thought it was a lazy palette swap and an unimaginative retread of the Kaioken technique.  And the way you attain it is the biggest asspull in Dragon Ball history in my opinion.  After looking at it for a while and truly understanding what it was and where it could go, I began to see it as brilliant.  I like Toriyama's philosophy for it.  He wanted something simple and striking and he succeeded.  For me the form is at its weakest when it's motionless and doesn't have the fiery aura like you see in the picture above.  The flat magenta color of Goku's eyes and hair just looks too plastic-like to me.  But once the fighting starts and Goku starts "burning up" the form truly begins to shine.  I was hoping there'd be more to it too.  I wanted to see its concept and design pushed forward even more.

Usefuless: Great potential, but grossly underutilized.
The power boost granted from the power up is off the scales.  It's probably the biggest power boost that the show has ever had.  In universe it's considered a temporary form, though those with genius level fighting instincts, like Goku, can absorb the power into themselves permanently and make it their own.  In the anime the form even grants the ability to heal mortal wounds.  In the manga the form seems more permanent as Goku is seen transforming into it in the U6 Tournament arc.

As I said above, I wish we got to see more of the form.  I think the potential for a design that expanded upon it would have been better than what we ended up getting in FnF.  The flame-like design of the aura and hair and how unique, mysterious and temporary the powers seemed to be opened a new path forward into the Dragon Ball universe that made it truly exciting again.  But it was never really expanded upon and what replaced it turned out to be particularly flat and incongruent.  So I feel this particular form never really achieved it's ultimate potential, which I think could've saved the franchise.


Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan/Super Saiyan Blue/Super Saiyan Beyond God



Cool Factor: Every bad thing a transformation could be in one...cool aura though.
Flat. Boring. Unimaginative. Asspull. Recolor of previous form. Dumb name. Does nothing knew. Completely forgettable. Laughable even.  Okay, to be fair Super Saiyan 2 just made the hair spikier and added lighting to the aura, but at least it felt like an organic transformation.  This form just looks and feels like plastic.  It's almost as if it were made to be a toy.  The red form was jarring but it at least simplified things again and made them fresh, with new concepts such as making a character more lean.  Blooper Saiyan is just a plain ol' retread with different coloring.  The only thing I like about it is the aura and the way it looks all static-y.  If they had that aura, plain black hair and maybe some glowing blue eyes, then I think I could get behind this as the ascended form of Super Saiyan God.  As is it just feels like a cheap attempt to make new toys.  Nothing organic about it.

Usefuless: Just an obligatory power boost, move along.
It doesn't really do much either, so of course it's temporary until they get the next new form.  I think it's telling how even with the form Vegeta gets schooled against Hit.  It's already been demystified as nothing special.  As a matter of fact since it's conception Goku and Vegeta have done nothing but get their asses kicked while using it.  At full power Golden Frieza wrecked SSB Goku pretty bad.  Normal Frieza killed SSB Vegeta with a planet explosion.  Hit absolutely wrecked Vegeta so bad that they had to retcon SSB being a form with perfect ki control since the transformation itself now drains stamina and greatly reduces ki apparently.  Without the aura to back it up, it proves to be the flattest looking form yet and clashes with the character's uniforms, making them both took like vibrant taffy.  When the aura is done right, you can kind of forgive the form.  Can't wait until it gets replaced though.

When the aura is done right, you can kind of forgive the form.



Honorable Mention:
Legendary Super Saiyan


Cool Factor: Absolutely dominating.
Say what you will about Broly, but Legendary Super Saiyan is pretty damn badass.  It was especially so when it was first introduced.  The green color of the hair and huge muscle mass also made me see this as the Incredible Hulk form.  Definitely one of the more unique forms, up there with SSJ3.  One thing I never got was how it was so fast compared to Super Saiyan Grade 3.  The first movie Broly appeared in made this form absolutely stick in the minds of the fans and a lot of the DBZ fan community believe that Broly has the potential to be the strongest character of them all.  I don't fall into that camp since I've observed many of Broly's limitations in his many appearances, but there's definitely room for other interpretations.

Usefuless: The best of the ascended forms.
What if you take all that power from Super Saiyan Grade 3 and add a proportional speed increase as well?  You get Legendary Super Saiyans, that's what.  Broly wipes the floor with all grades of Super Saiyan 1 including the mastered version of the form.  Even an (arguably) mastered Super Saiyan Goku stands no chance against him without the combined power of the other Z Senshi.  Broly ran through four Super Saiyans and a Super Namek during his road trip of carnage.  And I say road trip because Broly was a Mack truck while the Z Senshi were helpless pedestrians.  The form does lose all usefulness compared to Super Saiyan 2.  It's possible that it could have surpassed it (if Gohan was indeed using it in the Broly sequel), but I just don't believe it did.  Though at the end of the day I still don't get why this form has so much speed and grade 3 is so slow. *shrugs*


Final opinions:
So all in all you can see that I'm a major fan of the more original transformations.  Some have more potential for expansion than others.  I am starting to get fatigued on them all though.  They've already lost what made them special since there's a new one with each new arc or movie, etc.  By making them palette swaps now it quickens that fatigue.  I believe the forms each need something more unique to them.  They need a real reason for their use otherwise it's just a countdown until they are obsolete and that's no fun.

Out of all the newer forms, I believe Super Saiyan 3 and the original Super Saiyan God (red) form have the most potential for expansion of abilities and updated designs.  I think the forms should specialize to give the Saiyans a reason for using lesser forms other than the need to hold back or test opponent's strength.  SSJ3 could be the new grade 3, a form that maximizes power at the cost of stamina and some speed.  SSJ2 can be the speed focused form as already emphasized by the lightning bolts and svelte designs.

For the higher forms, I think it's not too late to branch from SSG and go back to the fire motif.  Emphasize the auras and make the hair changes more subtle and not candy-like.  It cheapens it.  If they're going to keep transforming then each of the forms needs to specialize too.  Maybe SSB can be that form that they can conserve ki by fighting in while other forms burn through it like mad, or a form that powers ki blast attacks or something.  What I'm saying is that the forms need to do something and if not, they at least need to look stylish or functional.  Now, I can't say that for SSB or the rumored Super Saiyan Rose.  I think the coolest thing they could do is have the hair become more and more fire-like until maybe it blends in with the aura almost.

Anyways, thanks for reading my ramblings glorious readers and please share your opinions as well.  Til next time, everyone.  Take care.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Indie Book Corner: Sky Ghost: The Night Before, by Alexandra Engellmann (Free Download)

https://www.amazon.com/Sky-Ghosts-Before-Fantasy-adults-ebook/dp/B01JOC3GBY
Click for download page.


Action packed short story with plenty of cutthroat humor.


Sky Ghosts: The Night Before is a fast-paced action comedy with a lot of brutal swordplay and appropriately dark humor.  It stars a young adult age girl named Pain who's out to protect the streets of New York from the big bad Sky Beasts, a rival gang composed of those with powers like hers.  I've been a fan of these SG books for a while now.  This brand of metaphysical fantasy and supernatural action is just my cup of tea.  This short introduction story serves up more of what I like about the series, namely the bloody action and awesome characters.  You won't find very many characters out there quite like my favorite pair of Pain and Marco, both stars of their own books that I also enjoyed immensely.  This one hit my action junkie spot quite nicely and also gave me more than enough “inappropriate” jokes to laugh at.

As someone who's been with this series since the beginning and who is privileged enough to call the author friend, it's quite a joy to see the progression in the writing style.  This one hits all the right points at just the right time which creates a little powerhouse of a short story that hits with great impact.  Because of that, I'll be patiently awaiting the proper series sequel whenever Alexandra gets to finishing the damn thing.

Anyways, check out the free preview guys and gals and that me know what you think of it.


My Other Sky Ghosts Reviews:


Sky Ghosts: All For One - http://belartscorner.blogspot.com/2015/02/indie-corner-sky-ghosts-all-for-one-by.html (still the most viewed review)
Sky Ghosts: Marco - http://belartscorner.blogspot.com/2015/09/indie-book-corner-sky-ghosts-marco-by.html


Where to find Alexandra


Monday, August 22, 2016

Indie Book Corner: The Family: The Brotherhood, by Donte M. McNeal

https://www.amazon.com/Family-Brotherhood-Donte-M-McNeal-ebook/dp/B01GZ7IP0I
Click for purchase page.


Strong character drama amidst violent futuristic gang warfare.


The Family: The Brotherhood is Donte McNeal's first published outing and it is a wonderful debut.  I've been keeping up with many of Donte's Wattpad.com stories such as Godhood: The Ascension and Stardust.  I loved those stories for their over the top combat, unique worlds, and colorful characters.  The Brotherhood exemplifies many similar qualities to those books, but it is also vastly different and I'll tell you why.

For starters, the Brotherhood is a much more grounded book.  The story stars Leone King, a noble young man who is just out to do the right thing.  Leone lives in a world ruled by poverty, corruption, and violence.  It's a world where those who can't protect themselves are subjected to the violent whims of local gangland overlords.  Leone grew up in such a world along with his best friend Nicholas Black.  Both boys grew up with differing upbringings and mentalities and thanks to a life changing event both gain very different visions of how to handle this violent lawlessness and thus is born the major conflict of the book.  We have Leone opting to bring people together in a vast community of well-meaning people just out to make a better world and we have Nicholas who wants to climb to the top of the food chain and simply rule over all the chaos himself.  What comes of all of this is a very interesting drama filled with a ton of great character relationships and conflicts.

While this book is very different from the other Wattpad stories of Donte's, a single thread links them all and that is strong characterization.  I can't help but to really care for the characters in each of his stories, especially this one.  These characters honestly feel like people I've known over my 27 years and many of them of people I'd like to know.  Not only do the characters possess several dimensions, but each of them serves more than one purpose in the story as well.  No one really feels wasted here.  Leone and Nick could carry the book entirely by themselves, but Donte's superb cast of sub-characters really make it all stand out as something more enjoyable.  For me to memorize ANYTHING, especially character names is an accomplishment and so me memorizing them all deserves some kind of gold metal on the part of the author.

The plot itself is very straightforward, but teases at more complexity in the sequel.  Here, it simply serves to move Leone and Nick's character drama forward at a nice pace.  I have no problem with that here because the leads and their conflict were so strong.  Their scenes together were definitely the highlights of the book, especially the bloody tension-filled climax.  There were also a few subplots thrown into the mix to keep things interesting.  The overall concept of the story, one of a good gang vs. a bad gang, is handled nicely.  There is some retrospection on the very nature of what a "good" gang is with Leone questioning the role he and his group plays, so it elevates the book beyond simply being a simple action book.

I had one hell of a good time with this book and feel that it sets the tone greatly for a successful series run.  I can't wait to see what else Donte has in store for these characters since the ending teased something absolutely insane.  Being a friend of Donte's, I can't help but feel it'll be something very unexpected.  Have a look at it yourselves and tell me what you think.


The Quick and Dirty


+Leone King is a very relatable lead who just wants to do the right thing.
+Nicholas Black is a great foil for Leone and a very fun character to read.
+The Family is a unique organization with interesting, far reaching, and noble goals.
+The sub-characters all shine brilliantly.  The Family feels like a...well, a family.
+A good and satisfying portrayal of leadership and its hardships.


Where to find Donte


Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Dragon Ball Fanboy vs Akira Toriyama and Toei part 3: Transformations

Transformations have been a mainstay in the Dragon Ball series since Frieza uttered his lines about second, third, and final forms.  Even before that you had people turning into giant apes, turning into younger version of themselves, bulking up, growing giant, growing multiple arms, and even Garlic Jr.  So it comes as no surprise that transformations have become a cornerstone in the series development.



Transformations are so vital to the series, that when you can't get a new one, you aren't important anymore.  Look at characters like Piccolo, Tien, Krillin and now even the half human Saiyans.  No new transformations equals no more use for you in the plot based fights.

So today I'm here to discuss with you all the usefulness of transformations in the show.  Are they still necessary?  Will continuing to create new ones break the show even more?  Will we fans ever stop being interested in Dragon Ball if the transformations stop?  I'd like to talk about that stuff as well as my overall feelings on the new transformations introduced in Dragon Ball Super.  Then I'd like to talk about the resounding effects transformations have had on other shounen manga as well as if transformations were an overall good idea for the Dragon Ball franchise overall.

The Purpose of Transformations


Having characters that are able to transform does a few things for the Dragon Ball franchise.  As far as the story goes, it can add a sudden shot of tension to the story when a villain or hero gets a new form in the middle of combat.  It can also add length to an epic confrontation and allow for others to have epic fights against an arc's main villain like with Frieza, Cell, and Buu.  It adds a level of excitement and hype as fans wait week to week for heroes and villains to achieve new forms and show off what they can do.  When it comes to merchandising, transforming characters can potentially rake in a lot of $$$.  Look no further than franchises such as Digimon, Pokemon, and Transformers for confirmation on this.  Then of course you have Dragon Ball and the countless shounen products that have followed Dragon Ball's blueprint for success.  Each form represents a chance to market it with new toys, clothes, games, and other accessories.

So with all that said, it sounds like a no-brainer to include as many cool transformations into a show as possible, right?  Not really, when you think about it.  While transformations are cool and do a great job at bringing a dose of hype into a show, overusing them can cause them to lose any sort of meaningfulness and become downright silly.  So let's now go over the usefulness of transformations.



Negatives of overusing character transformations

We're quickly moving in this direction

 

Towards the end of Dragon Ball Z things became a bit of a mess.  It started with the introduction of power levels and power multiplications and just ran rampant after alternate forms of Super Saiyan were introduced.  The original form being a 50x boost was soon outclassed after its introduction and so a boost was needed for that to thwart another transforming foe and so we get a "new form" which doubles the power of the Super Saiyan boost, giving Saiyans a 100x boost to power overall or so the guides tell me.  So when another power transforming villain is introduced, even that's not enough and so yet again the heroes must gain a new form that quadruples that, or so the guides tell me.  But no, the show must go on, so new, more powerful villains are again introduced.

In GT we have the likes of Baby, Super 17, and Omega Shenron who are all also technically transforming villains.  For that, even Super Saiyan 3 and 400x boost isn't enough, so Goku and Vegeta need to get a new form that's even more powerful than that.  Enter Super Saiyan 4 which is 10x as strong as Super Saiyan 3 which makes it 4,000x stronger than a Saiyans base form.

In Super we have Super Saiyan God greatly outclassing Super Saiyan 3 by at least ten times, putting it on par or above the Super Saiyan 4 boost in GT.  Then we get into vague and even laughable territory with the horribly named Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan since we're never told how strong the form really is in comparison to Super Saiyan God (later they make it more clear that it is superior).

Where I'm going with this is, where does it stop?  It's already gotten silly and even a tad pointless with forms that are just recolored versions of stuff we've already seen.  SSG Goku just looks like a skinnier version of Goku when he uses Kaioken.  It's a very basic design but on its own you get used to it and can see it as a cool new form.  I do like the idea of taking things back to basics so I got into the form and actually liked the way that the aura looked.  The aura gave the form a 'godly' feel.  It gave me a feeling of fire and I figured each new extension of the form would give it more of a "red hot" feel.  Instead of taking that form to it's next evolution Toriyama gave us something completely different (really more of the same) and incongruent with his current ideas called Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan, which is really just photoshopped Super Saiyan 1.  We didn't even have a chance to get used to SSG before it was replaced with a new laughable transformation.

I think transformations have overall been a great thing for the Dragon Ball franchise and served a great purpose at hyping the fanbase up.  But it was only hype when it was given to a character that we thought was already far outclassed and when it came out of nowhere it blew us away.  Now only the already strong people get them and it's not much of a surprise anymore.  Even the reveal for some of the newer forms have been lackluster. What I'm saying is that the series is becoming too reliant on them and that the newer forms have not and will not sustain the hype if they continue to be creatively stagnant.


Transformations should grant alternate abilities, not just power.

 


Killua using Godspeed in HxH
For Frieza, it was cool to see new transformations power him up, because each of his forms besides his final one was a suppressed state.  He was purposely limiting himself in a sort of armor.  Cell's transformation power ups were cool because he literally absorbed vital components into his structure to become a more complete being.  Buu's power ups made a lot of sense because he was literally absorbing other people.  He even inherited abilities (like Piccolo's intelligence) and weaknesses (like Gotenk's fusion limit and Daikaioshin's purity) of those he absorbed.  Now though, I think the time for huge powerups from transformations should be at an end.

I think the show needs to rethink its direction and have each transformation provide some useful ability so that the form has a real use and not just quickly get outclassed and discarded when someone else reveals a new form.  That is my wish for the show going forward so that it doesn't continue to discard characters every time an arc goes forward.  Other shows have already figured this out.  I need Toriyama, Toei, Toyotaro and company to figure it out too before they fatigue even the most diehard Dragon Ball fans.


Influence on other shounen anime and videogames

 

I'm not sure exactly what DBZ has influenced over the years, but I would hazard to guess that it's a lot.  I think the transformation trope, now prevalent in most shounen battle mangas comes directly from Dragon Ball.  I have a feeling that the trope of transforming boss characters in videogames may come from Dragon Ball as well, but it's just a hunch more than anything.  Over time, I believe these other shounen mangas have capitalized on the trope better than Dragon Ball in its later years.

Newer anime and manga series have taken what Dragon Ball made popular and added a fresh and tactical spin to it.  Thankfully we're past the early 2000s where everything was an ex machina hidden demon form and now things are generally more creative.  I think for DB to stay viable it has to learn from its students or at the very least Toriyama has to dig further for better ideas and more inspiration.  The original SSG form was very similar in concept and design to Luffy's Gear 2 in One Piece which itself was similar to Kaioken in Dragon Ball.  What I'm saying is that the three above transformations/powerups were very good and Toriyama needs to capitalize on fresh and organic ideas like that instead of shoehorned ideas like SSGSS, Golden Frieza, and now Super Saiyan Rose.

Anyways, that's my two cents.  What are your favorite forms from Dragon Ball and from other shounen series?  Thanks for browsing, my glorious readers!  Take care.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Introducing the story that made me an author: Hell Warriors

Hey guys and gals, Belart here.  Corny intros aside, I'm here to tell you about something near and dear to my heart and that is my first still unreleased novel, Hell Warriors: A Hero in the Flames.




Hell Warriors has been an important project of mine since 2008. I've been drawing characters for it since like 1998. I finished my first draft for it in some old ratty school notebooks back in 2008 when I lived alone and did nothing but write, work, draw, and play videogames. Hell Warriors has always been a story about badass demon hunters. In that first story, we are introduced to 3 of the youngest core members: BRAK, Devilin, and Creepy. BRAK is the only human member of the group and was raised by the group's leader, Sergio. Before meeting Sergio, BRAK grew up alone in Detroit, living under different aliases that lived different lives connected only by violence. BRAK's new name is currently an acronym of all of his previous aliases.

BRAK is currently raising Devilin, the self proclaimed son of the devil whose appearance and powers back up his claims. They have a mean back and forth relationship, with Devilin adopting many of BRAK's worst habits, though at the end of the day they have a brotherly bond. BRAK is also looking after a young ghost boy named Creepy, whose family was brutally murdered in front of his own eyes. Together the three attempt to reign in demonic crime in Detroit, while the rest of their allies are overseas tackling another problem.

I've decided to upload my third or so draft of the book to Wattpad so that others can read it before I drastically alter the story for official release. I am satisfied with this story as it is and enjoy how it reflects much of who I was back then nearly ten years ago. But I don't think it's viable as a consumer product. I do think it's a very fun story that has a strong narrative and some interesting themes and I do think a lot of people will enjoy it as is. Hell, nearly a thousand people have already begun to enjoy it on Wattpad already. So please check it out and let me know what you think of it. I'm looking forward to updating the story in the near future.

Hell Warriors 2010

Monday, June 27, 2016

Indie Book Corner: Sunborn Rising: Beneath The Fall, by Aaron Safronoff

https://www.amazon.com/Sunborn-Rising-Beneath-Aaron-Safronoff-ebook/dp/B01B5BE7KQ
Highly Creative, Incredibly Fun, and Full of Heart


The Quick and Dirty


+Fantastic fantasy world building.
+Creative ideas
+Exceptional fully colored illustrations highlighting major chapter events.  I can't overstate how much I loved these.
+A lovable cast of rascally characters along an enjoyable cast of sub-characters.
+Truly beautiful descriptions and vibrant world that seems like a character all its own,
+Black and white drawings throughout chapter than flesh out characters and events.
+A well rounded tone that's not too cheery and not too dark.
+Gives a Pixar movie vibe.  Who doesn't love Pixar?


-Slow beginning buildup.
-I needed a dictionary at all times.  There were more than 30 words I needed to look up as I read.  My ignorance is the main issue here, but I still found it annoyingly world breaking to have to look so many words up.  Some knowledge of the natural world helps too.
-Some illustrations don't match the action leaving some occasional temporary head scratching.


Full Review


I am reviewing a reviewer's copy of the book, though I liked it so much that I bought my own. 

It takes me a while to get into each book that I read.  During those first few chapters my mind is always screaming at me to go do something else.  It just yells, "Distraction, distraction, distraction" while I try to concentrate and slip into my new book.  I couldn't escape it during my first few chapters of Sunborn Rising either.

The book starts slow, as most fantasy tales do, and like most stories we are slowly introduced to the world and the book's cast of characters.  Barra, our main character, is joined by two others Plicks and Tory for the bulk of her journey.  It's established early on how close as friends they are and it’s also established that they always get into a lot of trouble together.  Barra and her mother seem to have a tumultuous relationship thanks to Barra's bad behavior and Barra herself is trying to investigate a mystery that was uncovered by her missing father.  It takes a while to get the adventure going, but when it does it rarely slows down.



Once our daring protagonists leave the village and start their adventure, we are introduced to a world (Cerulean) that is so strange and beautiful that I could read ecology books about it for days on end.  I love the way the sun is at the center of this vast ocean teeming with all sorts of life forms alien to me and how these massive trees float in the ocean and house all of the Arboreals.  Many of the organisms even have an out of this world cosmic feel to them.  I was left with a legitimate feeling of awe and wonder when I read the elaborate descriptions and gazed at the illustrations of this truly unique world with its wondrous creatures.




The amount of creativity that went into this book seems staggering to be honest.  I'm an indie author (and wannabe game designer) as well and just seeing how well-crafted this thing is makes me tired just looking at it.  The artwork brings this project to life in untold ways.  I'm not kidding when I say that I marveled at most of the illustrations for several minutes before moving forward.  They're just so rich and have so much to look at, so much detail to take in and it synergizes really well with the chapter you're reading.  You'll be reading a big scene and then the next page over may get an illustration that looks 100 times better than whatever you were imagining.  I love it!  I can't state that enough.  There are a few parts where the art doesn't match the scene, but it's so infrequent that it's not a real problem.  There were just two illustrations that come to mind and the most it did was cause me to scratch my head a bit and reread a description or two.

I loved the characters as well.  Barra's relationship with her friends and mom was really touching.  I like the whole community of Arboreals that make up the book.  The book features protagonists that are anthropomorphic animals.  Barra and her mother are Listlespurs, Arboreals that are human-like felines with whip like tails and purple fur.  The Arboreals have a unique set of customs and history that was interesting to read about.  And the journey is a journey to save the world and there are some big time consequences for failure.



I thought everything in the book felt organic and fleshed out including the way the story was told and how it unfolded.  There is never an overloading of one type of emotion and the book never tells you how to feel.  The book has a wealth of tone that ranges from light to dark, ebbing and flowing constantly.  There's some sad moments and there's a good amount of levity as well.  I must say I enjoyed the journey.  So I'll wrap this up here by saying that this book is a truly inspiring book, if for its ambition alone.  It has my endorsement and is well worth the buy.  I will be keeping up with the various Sunborn Rising media and will be purchasing any subsequent sequels in the future.  Kudos to Aaron Safronoff and his team!  I've posted the Amazon.com link for the book in the first image above.  Click the kolalabat below for the author's website.

www.sunbornrising.com

Friday, June 3, 2016

Indie Book Corner: Bookminder by MK Wiseman

https://www.amazon.com/Bookminder-M-K-Wiseman-ebook/dp/B0198HKWSU
A well written book about a klepto wannabe mage and her reluctant guardian mage.


The Quick and Dirty


+Well written. Detailed descriptions, good pacing, and dialogue that flows and feels natural.
+Multi-layered, flawed, and sympathetic characters.
+Well thought out magic system with uniqueness to it.
+There is legitimate excitement to be found whenever magic is used. There's such a build up for it thanks to our magic starved protagonist and we get a detailed description of how it works usually making the unreal seem real.
+Magic isn't just some limitless ability. It requires resources, focus, and skill. Liara's learning is tempered with great realism.
+Wiseman's subtlety and understanding of human nature made Liara a complex and interesting character to read about, despite her frustrating tirades. Very good stuff.
+Takes place in the real world.

-It takes a while for the plot to get moving
-Towards the middle and end Liara's self importance and poor decision making really make many of her chapters detestable to read despite the great writing.
-Nagarath's apologetic nature and unwillingness to put Liara in her place also tended to grate on my nerves because it was repeated so often. I wish he stood up to the foolhardy Liara more. Same can be said of Father Phenlick.


Review


Bookminder, by M.K. Wiseman, is a clever book to read for fans of complex and unique magic systems. As a matter of fact, the whole book is dripping with this sort of magick from start to finish. It's two protagonists are mages, from Liara the wannabe to Nagarath the master mage. One of the coolest aspects about this book is that it takes place in the real world, some time in the past. Great references are even made to historical events, fairy tales, and even that famous wizard Merlin.

The book is also very well written. I had no problems slipping into the Croatian locales of Dvigrad, Parentino, and Vrsar. All the dialogue between the characters felt natural and nothing of note took me out of the story. I mostly enjoyed the multi-layered and flawed characters such as Father Phenlick, Nagarath, and even the impetuous Liara (though she frustrated me to no end). I felt great sympathy for them as they tried to succeed in their various goals and lamented past mistakes as we all do. Their flaws, failures, and desires to fix them resonated deeply with me.

One of the cooler and funner aspects about the book is its magick system, which is based in real life lore. I had fun learning about some of the origins of the magick here as well as the rules to its use such as the Laws of Magick Creatio and Transferre. Very unique stuff that also happened to have a huge impact on the story. With the way that the magick was explained and implemented, there was excitement each time that it was used. There was a weight and consequences to using this world's magick. Magick isn't just some limitless resource in Bookminder. It requires resources all its own, great focus, and great skill. I thought Liara's learning of it had a nice grounded realism to it, which I always enjoy when I read fantasy. I like touches of reality that add consequences and weight to the story.

I loved this book in every possible way except for one. The only thing that annoyed me about the book at many turns was Liara's own selfishness and the way that the other characters seemed to get wrapped up in trying to help her but be made the villain by her and their own guilt-ridden consciences. It wasn't pleasant to read, I must admit. I hate seeing brats get their way and this happened more often than not. But...it was handled very well at the end of the day. One scene comes to mind as Liara makes horrible decision after horrible decision and comes to lament past mistakes about trust right as she is making the exact same mistake. She can't see that she is making a series of the worst mistakes in her life even while continuously making them because she is young, foolish, and way too wrapped up in her current existential crisis. That's good writing in my book (ugh, no pun intended).

Though this portrayal makes the characters involved unlikable at many turns in the story, it is also true to character and true to circumstances. The circumstances that each of the characters find themselves in along with the reasons they are connected to Liara properly setup their motivations. Though annoyed with Liara's self importance and stubbornness and the other character's lack of willingness to simply tell her to shut up, by the end I found her to be someone that I could root for.

The overall plot was not really anything too special, but it was a nice setup to motivate these characters and see them in action. The ending mostly wraps up everything, but leaves some possibilities open for a sequel. I'm not sure if one is planned or not but I would certainly get read it as I found Bookminder to be highly enjoyable.


Purchase at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Bookminder-M-K-Wiseman-ebook/dp/B0198HKWSU

Monday, May 2, 2016

Weaksauce Reviews (when time is of the essence): Bayonetta


Amazing visuals, super solid and fun combat, majorly overrated

Playstyle
Difficulty: Normal Mode
Gameplay Focus: Beat the Game, Find Secret Lore
and Hidden Items, Get Good at the Combat


Review


I love the fighting in this game.  You can really tell that the minds behind the original Devil May Cry series have conceptualized this game and taken their core ideas to the next level.  With its combat, Bayonetta exudes all sorts of challenge, fun, and creativity.  With everything else, not so much.

To give some insight into my experience with the game, I played through it on Normal difficulty once at the time of this Weaksauce Review.  I am the type of gamer who likes a good challenging game, but needs something else besides the challenge to hook me.  That something could include the game's characters, atmosphere, art style, story, but very rarely will the gameplay alone be enough to hook me.  Bayonetta had plenty of chances to hook me, but it just didn't and it actually consistently did a lot to repulse me to be honest.  My repulsion has nothing to do with anything like oversexualization.  I just think that's a style choice for the character.  My repulsion comes from some frustrating and annoying game design decisions made by Team Little Angels.


Gameplay


The overall gameplay is a mixed bag for me.  On the one hand you have tight, engaging, highly fun, and challenging combat with extremely well designed enemies.  On the other hand, you have mindless mandatory minigames and platforming sections that seem to drag on forever and constantly interrupt the most fun aspect that the game has going for it, the combat.

I'll talk about the combat first.  There are a nice amount of weapons, each with their own types of attacks and combos.  Everything feels unique from the default handgun punches and kicks to the samurai sword to the whip, shotgun, claws, and bazooka.  There's probably even more weapons that I didn't find.  You can also perform a variant of purchased special moves with each weapon.  While the combat does indeed feel near perfect, certain things hold it back as well.  The first is the fact that the game, in some ways, discourages player experimentation during the first playthrough of the game.  Every technique and weapon you can buy costs several completed levels worth of in-game currency.  The game gets around this with its techniques by having a "Try it" function available so that you can practice with the technique in a training space before buying it.  It's a great function that many other similar action games can definitely implement themselves.  But beyond that, the weapons themselves that you unlock are ridiculously expensive and so is everything else including the accessories that you'd have to save up the whole game to buy.

There's also the fact that the game introduces a new enemy to you every few moments so you don't ever really get a chance to master strategies against certain enemies before you're pitted against new ones.  The game loves to mix and match enemy types too.  One particular enemy that really frustrated me was Gracious and Glorious, two golden "super" version of two enemies you fight earlier, Grace and Glory.  Grace and Glory were difficult enough because they could each attack you through your own attacks with "superarmored" strikes and also attacked you together.  Gracious and Glorious can do that and can't be frozen with Witch Time.  This would be a tough fight regardless without that core gameplay mechanic, given how they fight.  The situation was made tougher for me because I had no clue why my Witch Time wasn't working.  There was no previous indication that it wouldn't work against certain enemies and the game gave me no clue why it wasn't working on them even after dying about six times to them.  They even introduce these characters in a cutscene so I have no clue why Bayonetta didn't at least make an effort to say that her Witch Time wouldn't work.  Situations like that made the combat a little bit less than perfect.


Graphics


Top notch visuals, especially when in motion.  But when the action slows down and you're allowed to stop and look at buildings and objects up close there is definitely a lack of details.  Sometimes it just looks like prettied up PS2/Dreamcast objects.  There's a clunkiness to many of the objects like cars.  Some of it is to do with the art style but the models themselves look pretty clunky compared to the concept art.  But when in combat you'll never notice these things.  The effects during combat are really vibrant and Bayonetta and enemy special attacks get some nice looking special effects.  The enemies (especially giant bosses) have an extraordinary level of detail put into them.  Oh and Bayonetta's transformations are great touches for her speed and flying abilities as well.  The game tells more story in its visual effects than its actual narrative at times.


Audio


Pretty good audio.  Nothing much to say.  The soundtrack is kind of catchy, but not my type of music.  The music did manage pump me up during the combat.  The voice acting was okay.  The dialogue itself was pretty hokey and purposefully cliche, but some would say it adds to the charm.  There were one-liners everywhere from just about every character.  The sound design helps give weight to much of the fighting.


Story


A hot mess, but the lore's good. There's a lot of time and attention given to characters and scenarios that don't contribute much to the overall story.  For instance, Luka's story seems superfluous to everything and the time spent on characters like him, Enzo, and Rodin seems like a waste given how disjointed the story feels with their inclusion. 

Most of the interesting backstory that's in the game can be found in the lore through scattered pages of Antonio's Notebook.  You can pick these pages up throughout each level and read them at your leisure.  Or you can wait until chapter 11 where all the lore and backstory are dumped unto you at once.  Before chapter 11 you just randomly chase bosses or Jeanne while Bayonetta's memory slowly returns the they pretty much reveal all the lore you've been reading in Antonio's Notebook beforehand in a chapter 11 cutscene which is nearly at the end. 

The rest of the time you're presented with cutscenes and character dialog that barely reveals anything or moves the story forward in any meaningful way.  It's all corny, cliche riddled dialogue and awkward character interactions.  Though I do like the characters, at the end of the day I feel they weren't utilized very well in the game.  Everything felt shoehorned in.  The Bayonetta, Jeanne, Balder, Cereza story arcs were pretty simple but good overall.  There were some neat though predictable twists and character drama.  More of that and less Luka/boss chasing randomness would've benefited the game a lot.  Of course, I didn't expect much from the story going in since story has never been this team's strong suit.


Presentation


Very clean and familiar presentation.  Reminiscent of Devil May Cry in every way except art direction.  I found everything to be easily accessible, with the exception of the item mixing menus which confused me for a while.



The Quick and Dirty


Positives:

+Great Visuals
+Amazingly Solid Combat
+Very Creative Enemy Design
+Challenging Gameplay
+Much Lore To Find
+Trying Out Techniques Before You Buy Them
+Gallery Mode With Concept Art, Music, Model Viewer, etc.
+Harder Difficulties and Hidden Challenges and Secrets For Gameplay Value


Negatives:

-Too Many Other Types of Gameplay Forced In.
-Anything Besides Combat Feels Wonky (platforming, minigames, etc.)
-Lore Isn't Shown Naturally In The Game.  It's Also a Wordy Mess.
-Story is Incoherent From Start to Finish.  Everything Feels Shoehorned In From The Mobster Guy, To Rodin, To Lucca.  Could've Been Much More Focused.
-Cutscenes Are Mostly Used For Fun Moments But Time Could Be Made To Expand The Story as Well.
-Could Use More Fighting in the Main Playthrough.
-Story Relies on Cliches and Overdoes the Cheeseball Moments, Creating Something That Feels Cheaper Than It Is.
-Boring, Chatty, Weaksauce Main Villain.
-SUCKY MINIGAMES!!!
-Last 4 Levels Bored Me to Death When I Wasn't Fighting and the Ending Dragged On and On.

What is a weaksauce review?
A weaksauce review is a review of a game, based on it's surface impressions.  Weaksauce reviews are born from me not having a lot of time or maybe interest to delve deeply into a game's deeper mechanics or systems which I do in my Deeper Look series.  So I'll do a first impressions type of review about my standard gameplay experience.