Berserk

Posted in anime with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2009 by themongomania

This just in……Berserk…..kicks…..ass!

Berserk 1

If you don’t know what Berserk is, I’ll give you a little background, and don’t worry I’ll try to be as spoiler free as I can.

Berserk is the story of Guts, a badass with a huge sword. Seriously, the sword is effing huge! Not only he a badass, but he is a mercenary. I think that mercenaries are usually pretty compelling characters. They are mysterious, and usually have an interesting dark past that unravels as the plot gets going.

The anime mainly deals with Guts joining the Band of the Hawk because he loses a fight with their leader. The show takes off from there telling the tale of how the Band of the Hawk rises to power and importance fighting for an empire at war with another. It has a very European fantasy style to it that we’re all familiar with. If you’ve ever seen Lord of the Rings or anything it inspired, then you’ll feel right at home with this.

Another plot element worth mentioning is the show’s use of demons. During the anime, you don’t really see this. At some points they cut that plotline out of the show, but the manga almost relies on this as a plot tool. Demons are intro arc in the first 3 vols of the manga, which the anime kind of tries to put all into the 1st episode. From the point where the anime leaves off, demons becomes very important to everything that the characters encounter.

Speaking of characters, there is some great character development in this show too. The main relationship between Guts and the Band of the Hawk leader Griffith is the spotlight in the show. Their chemistry changes and adapts to how the story progresses and I don’t want to give too much away, but it gets pretty crazy. Another character who gets ample screen time is Caska, a girl in the mercenary group who constantly needs to prove herself in this world. Her character eventually comes into her own and acts as part of the trigger for the climax of the anime. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say this, it get’s disturbing.

guts caska

If you have problems with blood and brutality in your entertainment then stay the hell away from this show. Berserk is one of the bloodiest shows I’ve ever seen. The last time I watched it, I tried to keep a body count….it was impossible. Guts leaves a trail of destruction that is unheard of, at one point he basically takes on a whole army by himself. Like I said, he is badass!

The only flaw I can find on this show is not the shows problem at all. See, in Japan the manga is still going on and at the time the show was created it had to stop in the middle of an arc. It literally ends in one of the worst places I have ever seen an anime end. You finish watching the show, your jaw drops, and you say “Are you serious? That’s all I get!?!?!?” The ending is so disturbing and graphic the the ending could have it’s own discussion all on its own.

guts griffith

Don’t worry though. The manga keeps going where the anime left off. As of this post 29 vols of the manga have been released in America. The anime leaves off I believe around vol 13, so there is a whole lot of material to sink your teeth into if you haven’t read it, but your a fan of the show. Even if you haven’t watched it yet and love it, know that there is more. It may not be in anime form, but it’s at your local bookstore.

What else can I say. I think that Berserk is a great show that gets a decent amount of recognition. It’s bloody, fast paced, and fun to watch. Anyone who enjoys action anime show def give it a try.

Final Grade –
Anime – 8/10
Manga – 9/10

Hajime no Ippo

Posted in anime with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2009 by themongomania

Seeing that the new season of Hajime no Ippo is airing in a few days, I will take it upon myself to talk about the greatness that is Hajime no ippo.  This manga is one of the most long running manga still in print, in fact as of this post it has 835 chapters.  There are 84 collected volumes of the manga, and has been written since 1989.

That’s a whole lot!

From 2000-2002 an anime adaptation was created.  It was 75 episodes long, followed by a dvd release episode, a movie and an ova that continues from where the anime left off.

Now that I got some background information out of the way, let’s get to the meat of this, what the hell is Hajime no Ippo?  This is the story of Makunouchi Ippo, average high school student –

who one day meets a boxer by the name of Takamura.

Ippo proves that he has a love for boxing and starts training in the same gym to find the true meaning of being strong.

I have to say that this is not only one of the best sports anime I’ve ever seen, but one of the best anime period.  The author does an amazing job at properly fleshing out all of the characters in the story.  Nobody is introduced into the story for absolutely no reason.  There are no characters that are meaningless and just hang around just to have more characters.  Ippo is also one of the funniest anime I’ve ever seen.  It’s characters are so well mixed and the humor is so well written.  There have actually been very few times in anime I have laughed harder than during this series.

When it all comes down to it, Ippo is the story of a group of boxers that all want to achieve the dream of being a champion.  Some achieve it, while others still dream.  My favorite aspect of the storytelling in Hajime no Ippo is that even though you are supposed to root for the boxers in the main gym that the main characters are in, the author doesn’t villainize their opponents.  You know the backstory of each boxer and what is going on in their lives, what is pushing them forward, and why they want to win.  I truly believe that this is what sets Ippo above the rest; just because someone is an opponent, that doesn’t mean that they have the be the most evil person in the world.

Hajime no Ippo is a rewarding anime that not that many people I have come in contact with know about/have seen.  I’m glad that because of the new season, there is a renewed interest in the series.  To newcomers looking for a story that is well crafted, funny, emotional, and leaves you hanging on the edge of your seat each episode, look into it.  You shouldn’t be disappointed.

Here is a link to the 1st opening to get a feel for the show.

Castlevania Retrospective Part 4

Posted in video games with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2008 by themongomania

With the NES on its way out, Konami put one more great effort to give NES fans a game that is still highly regarded to this day. In 1990, a year before the SNES would come to US shores, we got Konami’s final NES effort, Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse. This game returned the series to its roots with sidescrolling action reminiscent of the original Castlevania.

The story itself is supposed to take place way before Castlevania 1. In fact, the game’s protagonist, Trevor Belmont, is supposed to be Simon Belmont’s ancestor. Yet again this game pits the whip ready Belmont against their clan’s eternal opposition: Dracula.

Something very different from the structure of the first NES game and this ones is the stage layout. The game abandoned the linear paths of the first game and let the gamer make choices about which levels they wanted to go to at certain points. This greatly increases the replay value of the game because you will want to see the other levels that you missed. This multiple level design will be revisited in a later entry; Rondo of Blood.

Along with choosing your paths, depending on what route you take you will be aided by 1 of 3 different characters. They are Alucard, Grant, and Sypha. Instead of using Trevor the entire game, you can freely switch the character you chose in and out at any time. Each one of these characters has their pros and cons.

If you choose Alucard (yes, the Alucard from other Castlevania games) you will be playing as Dracula’s son. He has the same 3 way fireball that his father has, as well as the ability to turn into a bat. This is very useful because it allows you to completely avoid otherwise annoying battles with certain enemies. Using his bat form, however, uses hearts, so you have to keep an eye on how you use this ability. The biggest con about Alucard is that his jumping is truly awful. It’s almost like he isn’t even trying. If you choose him, get ready to switch to Trevor for all your platforming needs.

The next character you can use is Grant. Grant is interesting because playing as him is completely unorthodox in comparison to the other heroes you will play as in the series. Grant can climb walls and even climb onto the ceiling. He is also the first Castlevania hero that is able to change his jump in midair. The main problem with Grant is that for gaining all this maneuverability, you are losing an offensive and defensive force. His offense/defense is completely underpowered in comparison to any other character you can use in this game.

Finally, we have Slypha. Slypha is the first magical character in the series. Her magic attacks are among the strongest the game has to offer and will decimate bosses easier than any of your other attack options. Again, like Grant, everything else but her magic is sacrificed in order for her magic attacks to do this much damage. She lacks offense, defense, and agility- she is however, very fun to play as because of how much damage her magic attacks use.

Trevor is your default hero and controls very much like every other Belmont on the NES. If you’ve played one NES Castlevania, you know how he’s gonna feel. He has free reign of subweapons like previous Belmonts and his whip deals out the most melee damage out of the four.

When you choose a character to have alongside Trevor, that might not be the end of the road. During the game you will have opportunities to switch characters, but if you do that you can’t be the original character you recruited until you start a new game again.

Finally, with enough luck, skill, and hope you will reach Dracula himself. You will fight him in 3 phases. The first phase is a nod to the 1st Castlevania’s boss fight with him. He will throw 3 fireballs at you and you have to jump over them while avoiding pillars of fire trying to destroy you.

After that, the battle takes a strange turn where you are fighting a floating ball of heads. (Yes, I just said that) The heads will float around trying to drop what looks like blood all over you. It’s a pretty easy to defeat this part

Then it’s on to the last phase of the battle. Dracula somewhat looks like a vulture and throws lasers at you while you desperately try to climb onto a floating platform to attack him and defeat him once and for all!

Once the battle is over, sit back, and watch the credits roll. Dracula is dead – For Now!

Now for the review:

Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse –

Controls: 7.5/10 – Same old NES controls, just like you’d expect them to be.

Level Design: 9/10 – This game’s levels are just great. Add in great music, multiple paths, multiple characters, you’ll be playing this game over and over just to do different levels with different characters. Lots of replay to be had here.

Overall Difficulty: 8.5/10 – This game is hard. It just is. If this is your first Castlevania outing then prepare for some frustration. The learning curve on this game might be a bit steep, but there is a password system. You can try again and again, unlike Castlevania 1. Once you get the hang of it, it gets easier.

Overall Enjoyment: 9.5/10 – This is my favorite NES Castlevania. It just has it all. Great levels, fun characters to play as, and gives you a strong sense of accomplishment because of the difficultly. Some NES games don’t stand the test of time, but Castlevania 3 is every bit as charming, challenging, and fun as it was 18 years ago.

In our next installment, we’ll be jumping into the 16-bit era of the Super Nintendo and one of the first games out for the system, Super Castlevania 4. I hope you look forward to it.

Castlevania Retrospective Part 3

Posted in video games with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2008 by themongomania

Today I’m reluctantly looking back at Castlevania: The Adventure for the original gameboy. I do not have many good things to say about this game. This was the series’ first entry into the portable market in the fall of 1989. It is also notable because it is the first game in the series to not star Simon Belmont as the protagonist. Instead, for this adventure we get Christopher Belmont, whip ready in hand to do what the Belmonts do best.

The first thing you’re going to notice playing this game is that Christopher moves so sluggish that it’s not even funny. You will scratch your head wondering why this did not happen in other nes to gameboy transitions. When Mario jumped into the world of portable gaming he never got this treatment, he still moved at a good clip. The speed problem was eventually corrected though, it only took till the year 2000 in Konami’s GB Collection Vol 1 released in Europe. Christopher is colorized and moving at the speed he originally should have been moving.

After you get over the speed of the game and really start getting into it, all you will find is more problems unfortunately. The level designs leave a lot to be desired. The main problem with the levels is that there is no variety. You will see the same type of levels throughout the entire game, which isn’t very long. Your adventure sees you through 4 levels each with their own boss, the last boss of course being the man of the hour, Dracula himself.

Sub Weapons have gone on the wayside in this game, instead the game lets you shoot a fireball out of your whip if you get 2 whip upgrades. However, if you get hit then your whip gets degraded and you no longer have the fireball until you get the whip upgrade again. Something else added to this version was a timer that told you how much longer you had in each level. Most of the time you beat each level with more than enough time, so it’s never something you should worry about.

Something different that works out pretty well in all of the original gameboy Castlevania’s is the use of ropes. Instead of stairs as you were previously used to in all the other Castlevania games, the gameboy decided to throw all that out and make you climb ropes. The feel of the game is changed by this little thing, because you will have to switch ropes and watch out for enemies while climbing the ropes to reach your destination. It reminds me a bit of Super Mario Bros 2’s vines.

If you are good at this game, you can beat it in about an hour. I do not regret playing it, but it will be an incredible long time before I play this again.

Alright, now it’s review time:

Castlevania: The Adventure –

Controls: 1/10 – this game’s controls make Haunted Castle’s look like a godsend.
Level Design: 2/10 – Did I mention that the level design is repetitive?
Overall Difficulty: 3.5/10 – Not very difficult at all really, just slow moving
Overall Enjoyment: 1.5/10 – Sad to say, but this is not Castlevania’s brightest star.

Final Thoughts:

Every series that goes on as long as the Castlevania series has gone on for hits a few snags here and there. It is a game that might have been rushed to market given that it came out late fall, trying to meet the Christmas season buying rush. I hope that isn’t true, but you never know. I will say that the next entry in the retrospective is a game that is held in higher regard. It is arguably the greatest achievement the series achieved on the NES, Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse.

Castlevania Retrospective Part 2

Posted in video games with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2008 by themongomania

Last time I covered the first entries into the Castlevania series: Vampire Killer on the japanese MSX2 and Castlevania on the NES. Most of this post will be dedicated to the game that most of you know as the sequel on the NES called Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. However, I must briefly touch on a game that some of you might not know even exists. There was an arcade version of Castlevania that came out in 1988, the same year Simon’s Quest hit the NES. That game is called Haunted Castle.

Haunted Castle the 3rd retelling of the same story we have seen thus far. It is just another version of the original Castlevania story we already know. Simon Belmont is going to Dracula’s castle to kill him. My problem with this game is that it is just bad; I’m serious, it’s terrible.

The first thing you notice when you start playing Haunted Castle is that the controls are some of the clunkiest controls you have ever had the misfortune of playing with. Also, Simon is now a steroid induced bodybuilder and looks more like the Incredible Hulk than Simon Belmont.

The level design is what you would think of a sidescrolling arcade game from 1988, no multiple paths, very linear, but this game is unforgiving. If you manage to make it to level 6, be prepared to never look back. If you second guess yourself and want to go back to collect something or take down an enemy, you will regret it. This time Dracula has sent every creature imaginable to stop you from making it to his lair and if you stop moving and take your eye off the prize, YOU WILL DIE!

The game is something that I hope Konami wants to forget about and apparently has. This game has never been included in any kind of compilation of any kind, and I hope that it stays that way.

Alright, let’s get back to the main game I wanted to talk about. Simon’s Quest came out for the NES in 1988. It was dramatically different from the 1st NES Castlevania. Instead of simply going from point A to point B, they added a town system, merchants, puzzle solving, and a day/night system that took gamers by surprise.

I’m not exactly sure what was going on in 1988, but it was the year of unusual sequels to popular franchises. Super Mario Bros 2 and Zelda 2: Adventures of Link also came out the same year, which if you’ve played either you know how different they are from the 1st game in both series. (Yes, I know that Mario 2 is really a Japanese game with Mario chars slapped on and given to America and that the real Mario 2 is the Lost Levels.)

The story of Simon’s Quest is that after Simon defeated Dracula in the original Castlevania he now has Dracula’s curse. The only way to destroy the curse is to gather all of Dracula’s body parts and burn them in his Castle. My only problem with this plot is that why if Simon defeated Dracula in his castle are his body parts no longer there?

At the start of the game, Simon starts out in a town and this is where things get different. Simon’s Quest now has an open environment and can go anywhere. Simon also has an inventory where you can change sub weapons and use different items to solve puzzles. Some puzzles aren’t very intuitive, such as where you have to kneel down facing a cliff. Not only do you need to kneel facing a cliff for a few seconds, but you need to also have the blue crystal equipped. When I was a kid, I couldn’t figure this out by myself at all.

I have no bad things to say about the controls, in fact I feel that they are identical to the controls in the NES version of the 1st game. One thing I wish the game improved on is clues given by townspeople. My problem is that they really don’t help you with your quest.

Something that is weird about the game is as you fight your way through castles to collect parts of Dracula’s body, is that not every castle has a boss fight. In a few instances you just collect the body part and go back to your adventure. I’m not exactly sure why they went with this, but it bothers me that you don’t always have to defeat a boss to collect an item. It just doesn’t feel right getting an item needed to beat the game without earning it.

In the game you will quickly notice the day/night system that is implemented. Once day turns to night the enemies become harder and take more hits. Most of the time, if possible, I tend to stay in the town and fight off enemies in a safe place. The game actually has an internal timer and counts the number of times day turns to night. The ending you get is based off this information, reminiscent of Metroid.

The game really isn’t that hard, especially in comparison to the 1st title. The game utilized a password system which made completing it easier than its predecessor. The game, while having a large fanbase, is still seen as the black sheep of the series. Some love it, some hate it (AVGN), but it is undeniable that this game influenced the series as a whole. It was not until what is considered the pinnacle of the series, Symphony of the Night, that a free roaming environment was reinstated.

Ok now for the reviews:

Haunted Castle –

Controls: 2.5/10

Level Design: 2/10

Overall Difficulty: 9/10 All I have to say is that this game is unforgiving.

Overall Enjoyment: 1/10 I completely dislike this game and try to forget is is part of the Castlevania series. If you haven’t played this game, do yourself a favor and stay away. If you must play it because you must play every Castlevania game that ever existed, well good luck.

Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest –

Controls: 7.5/10

Level Design: 5/10

Overall Difficulty: 3/10 Most of the difficulty comes from figuring out what you need to do next.

Overall Enjoyment: 6/10 The game is a change of pace. I feel that Konami was trying to try something different and make their version of Metroid or Rygar. I feel that they were mostly successful. I think that the game is pretty fun, but not my favorite Castlevania.

My next entry into the ongoing Castlevania Retrospective will be the series 1st venture into the handheld market. Castlevania Adventure on the Gameboy.

Groove Adventure Rave

Posted in anime with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2008 by themongomania

rave

Groove Adventure Rave is a manga by Mashima Hiro. It’s anime counterpart shares the same name. The manga’s run lasted from 1998 to 2005 and ran for 35 volumes. The anime on the other hand stopped its run at 51 eps, way before the actual conclusion of the story.

Let’s get to the story itself –

Groove Adventure Rave (or as the manga and anime are both called in the US, Rave Master) is the story about a boy named Haru Glory who becomes the Rave Master. The Rave Master must collect all the pieces of Rave in order to unlock Star Memory to save the world. Pretty standard plot line, I know, seems like it wouldn’t be special at all right? That’s where most people would be wrong.

If you can look past the generic basic story structure of a boy on a quest to become stronger and save his friends and save the world, you will enjoy a fun quirky adventure story that leaves you always wanting more.

haruelie

What upsets me most about the anime is that the story concludes on vol 12 of the manga. So the anime is missing vols 13-35. I still have not finished the story of Rave because the distributer in America is Tokyopop and the last vol they have released is vol 28. For years I have wanted to know how this story finishes and I will still have to wait over a year to find out.

One thing you will notice when you watch/read Rave is that the character designs are very over the top. There are some crazy looking people in the Rave universe. Mashima Hiro at one point was a assisstant to One Piece mangaka Eiichiro Oda. I can only assume that some of Oda’s design choices rubbed off.

villians

The anime dvd’s originally came out as a dub only release from Tokyopop but was shortly canceled. Poor sales were the reason. What is unfortunate is that not a lot of people have watched Rave because it has not seen an official region 1 release. The only way to watch the anime is to watch the outdated fansubs which have poor video quality and a subpar translation to what fansubs have become years since its release.

The manga sales are another story. Rave Master is a big hit for Tokyopop, especially for teens. I find this to be unfortunate because many times, especially in Barnes and Nobles, I will not see Rave manga with all the other manga. For whatever reason, they have chosen to put Rave manga with books for teens. I understand that a bookstore wants to sell their product in the most profitable way, but I strongly feel that Rave has a strong stigma for being a children’s manga because of this.

heroes

If you enjoy any type of adventure or action story I suggest giving Rave a shot. If you have read/watched One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, or many other popular shounen manga/anime and enjoyed it, I see no reason why you wouldn’t enjoy Groove Adventure Rave. Even though I will only be able to finish the story in manga form, the anime is still worth watching. It is a shame and upsets me that it will never be done, but I will take what I can get.

Although I don’t agree with Tokyopop and other bookstores marketing of Rave to mostly children, I am happy that they chose to bring the manga here and can’t wait until it is one day complete and on my shelf.

cast

Castlevania Retrospective Part 1

Posted in video games with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2008 by themongomania

castlevania title screen

A few summers ago me and a friend hatched an idea to play every single Castlevania game that was available to play in order of release date. We would then rate each one to find out what we thought would be the best Castlevania game ever released. So I will be sharing with you the fruits of all our labor. I will discuss every Castlevania game ever released in this retrospective.

For those of you new to the series, Castlevania games always pit you as a hero who is trying to vanquish Dracula. The series’s protagonist is usually a member of the Belmont clan which hunts vampires and their weapon of choice is a whip named the Vampire Killer.

In almost all the games of the series, you explore Dracula’s castle, gaining different sub weapons that you can use against your enemies. Some examples of these sub weapons are a knife that you can throw straight at your enemies, a stopwatch that will stop time, and a cross that acts like a boomerang that attacks and comes back to you.

The first game we played is a game that many people might not even know exists; Vampire Killer for MSX2. The MSX2 is a Japanese home computer system that never saw the light of day in America, but caught on in Japan.

Vampire Killer shares many similarities with another game, a game that is probably many old school gamers’ first experience with the Castlevania series – Castlevania on NES. The main protagonist in both versions is Simon Belmont.

One big difference that you notice while playing this game is that the screen doesn’t scroll the same way that it does on the NES. Instead when you get to the end of a screen, it shifts almost like a Mega Man game to the next screen.

The MSX version has better graphics than its NES counterpart, but the level designs and controls are far worse. While the controls on the original Castlevania on NES are not as polished as Super Mario Bros and other platformers on the System, Vampire Killer’s are just bad. The collision detection for the whip is abysmal, you can literally try to whip the same candle to get a powerup 5 times in a row and not have it register.

In the both versions once you ran and jumped, that was it, there was no going back. Once you were in the air you couldn’t readjust Simon’s position which led to many Medusa attacks and unnecessary pitfalls.

Something that bothers me just about the MSX2 version is it’s level design. On the NES the level structure was go to point A to point B and not die. It was a simple and effective system that worked. On the MSX2 version, you had to check everywhere for secret passages to even move on with the game. I have to say, there was a lot of backtracking and it got quite confusing sometimes.

To progress through the game you had to whip the walls in order to get secret keys that were needed to open doors to make your way through the level. This sounds like it wouldn’t be too bad, because games like Metroid made you backtrack and do the same thing, but in Metroid it was fun, Vampire Killer just made it tedious.

Both Vampire Killer and Castlevania on NES are challenging games even today. There are no save points, so you have to hope that you beat these games in one shot. I have memories of playing the NES version when I was a kid and getting so frustrated at the game. Not throw your controller across the room frustrating, but it tested your patience.

The NES version of this game is available everywhere, its on NES, Virtual Console, and on GBA. If you haven’t played the first Castlevania game in some form and you enjoy playing old school platformers, then it is a game that you have to try. The satisfaction of destroying Dracula is something worth experiencing.

cv boxart

This scaling system is very subjective but I factor in control, level design, difficultly, and overall enjoyment. The final score is taking these into account as well as my general feeling is about the game when I sit down and play it.

On Vampire Killer I rank it as

Controls: 2.5/10
Level Design: 3/10
Overall Difficulty: 9/10
Overall Enjoyment: 3/10
Final Score: 4/10 – If you have the opportunity to play this game and you are a real hardcore Castlevania fan, then go for it. Will I ever play it again? Probably not.

Castlevania (NES)

Controls: 7.5/10
Level Design: 5/10
Overall Difficulty: 4/10
Overall Enjoyment: 9/10
Final Score: 9/10 – Maybe it is just the nostalgia of playing this game again, but it is always an enjoyable day when I put this in. If you have never played a Castlevania game and love 2D side scrolling platformers, this is a great place to start. It is primitive and does not implement all the gameplay features that people now think of standard Castlevania games, but that doesn’t take away from it’s enjoyment one bit.

Next time I will go into the black sheep of the Castlevania collection – Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest for the NES.