Bundori by Laura Joh Rowland

Bundori:: A Novel of JapanBundori: A Novel of Japan by Laura Joh Rowland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh man, this book was so hard to get through. Mostly because of its length and the way it was written, than out of dislike for the story.

I admit I have a love/hate situation going on with this series. On the one hand, I love all the historical details and how they’re woven into the story, the settings are realistic, Sano is (albeit slightly annoying to me in his personality) portrayed in a way believable to what and who he is supposed to be, and the crime/mystery aspect of the series is very well played and more or less interesting.

On the other hand, I (as I already stated) dislike Sano’s personality, don’t really care what becomes of the characters, find the repetitive descriptions dragging, and the sprinkled Japanese words reek of fanfic (and I’m not even talking about the titles of their jobs, which require a one paragraph explanation on what position it exactly is else no one [except those who know Japanese and their history] would know, because using the actual words in English like “retainer” and “captain” or whatever apparently takes it too far out of ‘the setting’).

I don’t think I’ll be continuing the series unless I’m very bored or very in need for a kick for some Feudal Japan. I know they’re not the longest books ever, but something about the writing style just makes them drag on forever. If the books were about half the length they are, I might have read on, but as they are… nope.

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Shinobi

Welcome to PS2 Review Week! Each day of this week I’ll be reviewing an old PS2 game I love and still play, focusing on the slightly lesser known or lesser played games and franchises (so no, even though I loved Final Fantasy, you won’t find reviews of it here).

For day 5 we have Shinobi! And for once it’s not set in feudal Japan.

“Once again taking the role of a sort of ninja, Shinobi follows Hotsuma as he makes his way through the Golden Palace, a mysterious place that appeared in Tokyo after suffered a massive earthquake, bringing with in a dangerous and evil sorcerer intent of bringing Hell to earth”

The game is quite hack and slash, making you go through eight levels of insanity with a horrible sense of urgency thanks to the sword your character wields: Akujiki, a demon sword that feeds off the souls of fallen enemies.

If you fail to keep the sword fed with enemy’s souls, then it will start feeding off your own. The real kicker? The gave has no real checkpoints. Good luck! You have a couple other weapons besides the sword as well, but that is your main one.

“Like any good ninja, Hotsuma is able to make amazing jumps and can run quite fast. The speed at which you move through the game makes it quite dizzying – in a good way”

You always feel like you’re making a lot of progress, even if you aren’t. Despite the hack-and-slash nature of the battle system, the rest is essentially a 3D platformer game. Trust me when I say you will be doing a lot of jumping, wall climbing, and general parkouring in between places, and that you will fail and fall more times than you’d like to.

“The graphics are quite interesting, the design of the ninja with his mask makes it quite creepy, and there’s something about his red scarf that I just love”

The music, traditional mixed with modern, upbeat themes, fits the whole sense of urgency the game has too.

While normally I don’t go for such games that make you repeat entire areas whenever you fail, the speed at which this game makes you move makes everything feel very fluid, and you will soon be at the point of your original fail in no time at all, even if re-slaying all those groups of enemies can turn quite annoying if you fail often.

Still, it’s a game I would greatly recommend even to more casual players.

 

Shinobido

Welcome to PS2 Review Week! Each day of this week I’ll be reviewing an old PS2 game I love and still play, focusing on the slightly lesser known or lesser played games and franchises (so no, even though I loved Final Fantasy, you won’t find reviews of it here).

For day 3 we have Shinobido!

“Shinobido: Way of the Ninja, throws you into the world of feudal Japan by putting you in the role of a ninja now suffering from amnesia. Everything from his name, where he is from, to his reason to being where he is or what he’s meant to do – all of it, he’s forgotten after an accident”

There is a mysterious person who begins to communicate with him by way of letter – a letter that’s attached to arrows shot to his little hideout shack. He is the one to say the memories and soul of the ninja have been stolen and somehow inserted into in eight mythical stones, which are now, of course, scattered.

This gives you the goal of the game. The way in which you accomplish it is, as advised by the mystery writer, to gain the support of one of three warlords from the area in order to make things easier for yourself.

“As you progress through the game, the various warlords offer you different missions and payments, sometimes with extra rewards (for instance, one of the eight stones), and you’re free to accept or deny any one of them”

Of course, accepting one will put you at odds with the other two – particularly if the chosen mission plots against one of them.

Shinobido has very high replayability because of this: You can play to get the favor of each lord or of none, or try to pit one against the other… In between missions, you’ll have to fend off the occasional attack to your shack by savages, which makes for good practice of your skills and of trap-setting.

“As a ninja you will be able to buy and make use of several skills, upgrades, and extra items, not only to set up as traps, but also for active use (such as various type of bombs)”

Each mission happens in a different map, sometimes you might revisit the map in another mission, sometimes you’ll get a different one. The lords’ castles are the most fun to explore. Like any ninja, you’re supposed to avoid detection, the game leaving it up to you if you want to skulk around unnoticed or sneakily kill people, but usually it’s a lost case to go in guns blazing… and in some particular missions, will take you straight to a game over. While the game isn’t exactly open world, within each mission you will be able to choose which path to take to your goal, some being easier and others harder.

“There are also various types of missions you can choose from: retrieving items, killing everyone, find and steal from a convoy, or guard the convoy, assassinate a single person, etc; giving you plenty of choice to avoid things you don’t like doing”

The controls are surprisingly intuitive, and you have so many things you can do as a ninja that you actually make use of each and every button in your controller. The characters move smoothly, the AI is fairly good, noises might attract people, you can use distraction techniques, and much more.

The graphics are really good for a PS2 game, the story is compelling and interesting, and the sounds and looks fit perfectly. Then again, I have a thing for old Japanese sites, in case you couldn’t tell.

Shinobido is a game I often find myself going back to play over and over, and if you’re into stealth, you will too.

Dishonored

If you don’t know Dishonored at least by name, then, my friend, you’ve been sorely missing out.

Arkane Studios and Bethesda brought to us one of the most amazing stealth games I’ve ever played. Biased? Maybe a little.

I don’t think I need to start with what Dishonored is about, as it’s such a well-known game already, but in case you’ve been living under a rock (admittedly as I was until I got it, haha), then here: Take on the role of Corvo, the late Empress’ bodyguard, now framed for her murder and deemed an assassin. As you search for the ones who are truly at guilt and try to regain your good name (or make a new name for your own), as well as get revenge, you go through the most amazingly crafted story and world, finding out about the plague that has struck the city, as well as many other things I shall not spoil for you.

Onto a more technical aspect: Dishonored is a first-person stealth/action game set in a steampunk type of world with some fantasy/magic/supernatural elements in it; I found it quite reminiscent of Bioshock in some ways, and it is an amazing, amazing] game. And this coming from someone who normally doesn’t like first person games that much, and who really sucks at stealth. The only thing that would make Dishonored any better to me right now would be if it had an option for third person.

So, what’s so great about this game, you ask? For starters, the graphics are breath taking, even in the lowest settings; and it works on lower end PCs without a hitch, which goes to prove you can have pretty cool graphics without sacrificing playability on toasters.

The sound in the game and the voice acting too, is beautifully done. The voice, the music, everything seems to fit just perfect with the setting and characters. What’s more amazing is that the sounds your character makes when moving aren’t just filler for your enjoyment. If you’re far too loud, enemies will hear you, and will find you.

Dishonored provides you with a varied style of gameplay, not the least of which is the supernatural aspect. It has many powers to choose from, and using them is not as hard as it appears at first. Once you get used to the controls, you find they’re reasonably comfortable, although not all of them precisely handy.

But my favorite thing of all has to be the many ways you can play this game, and many ways you have to approach a mission, which just ups the replayability up to a hundred; you can try different power combinations on different playthroughs, approach everything in a rather YOLO kind of way or try to stealth your way around and be a ghost, you can even mix and match! Choose to use or even not use your supernatural powers at all, and make several moral choices that will determine what kind of ending you get after all, and what kind of person Corvo becomes. Every moral choice you make, every person you kill or not, will change how people perceive you, how you as Corvo see yourself, and the ending you get. You also have more than one path to choose for each mission, which makes it feel far more like an open world, even if it’s not really an open world game.

I would definitely recommend everyone to play it at least once; it’s too much of a fantastic game, you simply can’t miss it.

Never Alone – Kisima Ingitchuna

Data Break Up
Game: Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Platformer
Developer: Upper One Games, E-Line Media
Publisher: E-Line Media
Release Date: Nov 18, 2014
Platform: PC / Windows 7
Overall rating:  7/10
Graphics: 9/10
Controls: 7/10
Level/Puzzle Design: 6/10
Sound: 9/10
Story: 9/10
Replay Value: 6/10
Community: N/A

Never Alone is an action-adventure puzzle platformer in 2.5D that will take you through a wonderful folk story told by the Iñupiat (Alaska Natives) through the ages. While I’m not familiar with the story itself, so I can’t speak for how close it is to the original or how well adapted it was, I can say it is (at least in so far as I played it) definitely a very beautiful story, with gorgeous graphics and sound effects/music to match.

Visually, the game is striking. Playing it… it leaves a lot to be desired.

In Never Alone you switch between two characters: a young girl named Nuna and an Arctic Fox, who go in search of the source of a neverending blizzard in order to stop it and save her people. The puzzles are fairly average, and the controls for the game aren’t what I would call the most comfortable ever but they are also not too bad (WASD, space, and a couple other keys)… when they work. For you see, as beautiful as the game is, the performance leaves a lot to be desired.

It took 4 levels of menu to reach the detailed video settings, and even at its lowest, it performed poorly on my computer. This is rather undesirable, particularly when your introduction to the game involves being chased by a polar bear who likes to glitch back and forth when performance falls, and having to jump lots. Failure to run from it or jump properly results in your death and having to begin from the last checkpoint. Or, you know, glitching the game and running as an invisible form until you reach the fox and then running on and on and having to restart yourself because that’s clearly getting you nowhere…

The game does have many glitches and annoyances. Walls are sometimes impossible to jump onto, the camera can become uncomfortable, the fox can become a little bit unhelpful, you may fall forever from the map, and you will die because of all of these… a lot. It’s one of those games that when it works, it’s a wonder to play for the story and visuals, but when it doesn’t you just want to flip a table and never touch it again.

Never Alone Kisima Ingitchuna Review

If you manage to get through the entire eight chapters, you will be rewarded by unlocking the entirety of a documentary on the Iñupiat. What little I managed to unlock of it looked both interesting and very well done, but as beautiful as the game was, the annoyances were much greater than my desire to watch the documentary.

All in all, for the story, looks and sounds, and the documentary, as well as the obvious interest in making more people aware of the Iñupiat, I would like to rate this game higher; but the amount of times low performance and glitches caused my death ended up bumping it down quite a bit. If you have a low specs PC I would definitely not recommend you try it. If you have a decent PC you may still get some glitches, but if you’re interested in the story, it might be worth seeing if it works.

[Prototype]

 

Data
Break Up
Game: [Prototype]
Genre: Action, Adventure
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: Jun 10, 2009
Platform: PC / Played on Windows 7
Overall rating:  6/10
Graphics: 6/10
Controls: 7/10
Level/Puzzle Design:N/A
Sound: 7/10
Story: 7/10
Replay Value: 3/10
Community: N/A

 

Review

Take on the role of Alex Mercer, a man who has no recollection of what’s happened to him or why, or how he came to acquire the shape-shifting powers he now possesses. Find the people who’ve done that to you and make them pay.
The game -action, adventure, open worldish- sounded fun and looked fun, and I was very hyped to play it. I was also very disappointed when I finally did. Controls, though a bit wonky, are not difficult. You can change your body “at will” to attack enemies and destroy things, and when I say “at will” I mean you only have so many things you can change into. I think the most fun aspect of the game is the fact that you can ‘consume’ random people and then turn into them, and run/jump your way around pretty freely.

I’d say the graphics are dated, but it’s an oldish game, so it gets a slight pass for that. What it doesn’t get a pass for, however, is the shitty performance. For a 2009 game that should run like a charm on my computer, it sure worked like crap even at the lowest settings, lagging worse than Assassin’s Creed III – and at least that one had a reason to lag (no “low” video settings, hey). I’m also not particularly fond of the reddish/orangeish filter they use on later cinematics and gameplay time, I find it bothersome to look at.

Your character is overpowered, which is not bad in itself if you like an easy game, but it does make things boring after a while as it’s all the same; to tell the truth, it reminded me a little of God Hand for some reason, only that one was actually fun to keep playing. With Prototype, I did the first few missions and was bored out of my mind – that along with the slightly eye-hurting graphics and slight, random spikes of lag made the game truly disappointing.
The gameplay is pretty repetitive otherwise. Fight a bunch of bad guys, have them call in tanks and an airstrike, be chased, shake them off, rinse and repeat with a moderate variety of enemies and mutants to fight against.

It’s not a completely unplayable game, mind you. If you’re extremely bored and want to play something that doesn’t pose a huge challenge, it’s not a bad game and could even be considered entertaining. I liked the city, the chance to explore it some, the general idea of the game was good (though the story was a bit hit and miss with me), but the execution left a lot to be desired.
Perhaps if the game had lagged a bit less I would have enjoyed it a bit better.

I wouldn’t recommend this game, but I would certainly not tell you to steer clear from it either, as I feel it could be a lot more fun if you can actually play it sans the lag.

Deeper by Gordon Roderick

Profundidades (Tunnels, #2)Deeper by Roderick Gordon
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Both the first book and this one suffer from the same issue: It’s a very interesting concept, but kinda slow and boring in execution. I guess it’s because I’m a bit too old for these books, I surely would’ve loved it as a kid, for it has sufficient action and adventure. I would definitely recommend it for younger children.

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