Posts Tagged ‘review’

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The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

February 27, 2010

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has two fascinating premises: Enslaved gods being used as the foundation for an empire, and a young woman, Yeine, thrust into a battle for the throne in a nest of hateful political intrigue.

Instead of the typical “Fantasy quest” format, 100K Kingdoms chooses to follow more along the lines of brutal detective fiction – it’s all about secrets, betrayals, forbidden affairs and revenge, revenge, revenge. And this is what makes it work – the story stays strong in the characters and the situation, not falling into fantasy element fanboyism. The characters are all multilayered, with interesting motivations, even the secondary characters.

As I read this book, I could only think more and more to the detective genre, especially as Yeine just finds each answer providing more questions, and the pressure being turned up, each step of the way. Yeine’s portrayal skillfully manages to stay in the space of an intelligent and determined protagonist, yet inexperienced and under extreme pressure – her mistakes are understandable and human.

Bonus: People of color! Gay characters! In fantasy! And it doesn’t have to be “special interest”!

Overall: I highly recommend it! It’s a fun read, has fantastic characters, scary magic, and shady, shady drama.

If I wanted to do this in an RPG

Sorcerer. 100K Kingdoms goes straight for the kind of brutal relationship-map drama out of the Sorcerer’s Soul, the Gods work just like unhappy demons who are tired of being bound, and Humanity is basic human empathy towards others – something in short supply in the book.

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Anima: Beyond Fantasy

October 6, 2008

I had picked this up only because Anima: Shadow of Omega, the cardgame, is such an awesome game.  Sadly, it seems none of the design logic behind the cardgame made crossover to the rpg, which brings us the state of the art rpg design from the late 80’s.  I liken it to Artesia, Exalted and Rolemaster getting into a boating accident.

What’s good?

Well, it is very pretty.  The artwork great and there’s lots of characters and neat monsters.  There’s tons of powers.  It has a couple of neat ideas about siloing powers and abilities with a point build system.  And, uh… that’s about it.

System Hurts, Setting Scattered

I’d like to say this is a could be a cousin to Artesia.  Like Artesia, there’s lots of crunchy subsystems to navigate.  Unlike Artesia, there’s a lack of cohesive vision of setting to hold it together, AND, the subsystems are pretty crucial to the system- even playing a simple combat monkey means you have to look hard at the Ki and martial arts stuff.

And combat.  Whew.  You have to cross reference at least 2 charts anytime you make an attack.  And then maybe a hit location chart.  And then maybe a critical chart.   There’s just a general kludgy-ness and inelegance to everything that makes you think of bad Rolemaster house rules.

Experience is rewarded typical “handwavey” style- points for showing up, points for roleplaying (“Interpretation”), points for challenges.  All at GM’s discretion.

And then the setting.  Which is classic heartbreaker.  Tens of thousands of years of history, a cruddy fantasy version of Earth set of nations,  poorly described shadowy organizations (it’s repeated at least a dozen times how powerful they are, without, you know, any indication of what they do ), and my favorite heartbreaker cliche that pops up here and there – “Jesus is a lie” thrown in as a footnote (somewhere, I see some designer is getting his or her adolescent “So there!” jollies).  The writing tone is pedantic and lots of “Realistically” admonitions towards “good roleplaying”.

To be honest, I have no idea what characters DO in this game.  The fact that the setting stuff is not in the Player’s section also makes me wonder what exactly players are supposed to work with other than powers to define their character.

Representation

The art is pretty.  But not without it’s problems.  

The biggest being that female is synonymous with cleavage.  To their credit, most of the women are wielding swords, summoning demons, or at least being kind of badass.  But of course, there’s the classic “Too weak to stand” poses and at least two pictures with a male figure looming over them.  Bleh.

The fantasy setting version of Earth includes a fake China, Japan, Mid-east, and South America.  The Euro/anime nations are basically Renaissance with better hygeine and more enlightened, while all the other areas fulfill stereotypes- fake China has martial arts competitions, fake Mid-east revels in slavery, and Latin America?  “Uncivilized Aborigines”.  Yeah.  Like that.  There’s also a remark that the enlightened areas abolished slavery “regardless of skin color”, though there’s no mention of color based slavery anywhere in the book.  

On the other hand, this game was produced in Spain, where we saw the “Chinky Olympic team photos”, so I suppose I shouldn’t expect much there.

All in all

Go buy Anima: Shadow of Omega.  It’s a great card game that really gives you the Final Fantasy epic feel and is an awesome game.

Do not buy Anima: Beyond Fantasy.  The system and the setting hurt.  You can probably find the images online somewhere if you want the pretty art.

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Batman: Gotham Knight

August 31, 2008

If you enjoyed the depth of Dark Knight Returns, you’ll probably also dig Gotham Knight.

An animated movie of 6 chapters, with different directors and writers, but connected, Gotham Knight manages to hit the best kinds of Batman stories and surprisingly gets deeper than what I expected. All of the chapters manage to avoid the #1 pitfall to a Batman story- making it all about the villains. These stories manage to swing the focus back to the real relationships: Batman to Gotham and Batman to himself.

The first two chapters focus on the people of Gotham living and what Batman means to them- skater kids bragging to each other about seeing him, detectives arguing about the morality of a vigilante on the streets. After that, we swing into questions about Batman’s morals, and even throw some grey areas on him (Bruce keeps a gun collection – “Know your enemy. Though I never fired one, I can see the appeal…”).

The best of the chapters is written by Brian Azzarello (of 100 Bullets fame). “Working through the Pain” where we get a flashback to Bruce traveling to India, seeking the training to overcome pain.

Whereas this could have been a simple cultural appropriation montage, instead, we see him get rejected by the Fakirs (“He said you were not being honest with him. You’re not here for enlightenment.”) and instead, learning from Cassandra, an Indian woman (British raised? Hmm. Maybe.) who had to steal the knowledge because she was forbidden to learn the techniques herself. She’s hard, and real, and neither subservient nor a romantic interest- she’s her own character and pretty badass. And she doesn’t spend the chapter spouting mysticisms either. By the end of the story, you even see how broken Bruce is- that which makes him strong cripples him at the same time.

The other thing- all 6 chapters are surprisingly well done in terms of representation- tons of POC (which makes sense if you go with the Gotham = Chicago idea) and they’re not criminals, nor victims. (ETA: also, they called out the corruption of gentrification through “redevelopment”. Nice.)

Overall, this gets 4/5 from me, for being an awesome DVD, and well worth picking up if you’re a Batman fan.

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Baldr Force EXE: Don’t bother

August 30, 2008

So… this short series started off with incredible promise, then completely fell apart.

It’s a cyberpunk Japan, where virtual hacking all takes the form of virtual mecha fights. The mech designs aren’t that great, but the fight scenes are pretty awesome- lots of fast, hyperkinetic fighting, without cheating the animation or doing the “slow motion for saving frams- I mean, dramatic effect”. This part, at least, remains consistent over the 4 episodes.

Episode one, we get introduced to Steppen Wolf- a hacking group that has decided to give up hacking as the whole virtual Wired experience is now full of crooks and anti-terrorist government squads brainkilling each other instead of old school fun hacking for the hell of it. After making this pretty reasonable choice, they decide to do “one more job” for the sake of memory… which of course goes horribly wrong – their leader, Yuuya, gets killed, and the rest are captured by government agents (“FLAK”)

The lead protagonist, Toru Soma, is offered amnesty provided he works for FLAK. He accepts, not to protect his own life, but rather, to try to find out which of FLAK’s agents is responsible for Yuuya’s death- so he can take revenge. We get introduced to a bunch of kickass female characters- Ayane- the maverick badass, Liang – cyber terrorist of the chinese hacker group- Fei Tao, Reika Tachibana- head of VSS, a cyber security corporation, Bachelor, a 13 year old uberhacker, all of whom could basically get their own story.

So at this point, I’m expecting pretty good things from this series… We’ve got an active non-emo protagonist, lots of competent female characters, and awesome mecha fighting.

Then we hit episode two. Toru ends up meeting this mysterious girl (“Ren”)in virtual space, going on a virtual date, she asks, “Can I call you big brother?” (STRIKE ONE: INCEST VIBES. NOT COOL.) Later, FLAK ends up running a mission to stop Fei Tao from a hack job- but Toru has already spent too much time online- the human body doesn’t do too well spending too much time in a 24 hour period- so he’s left out of this mission.

So the mission involves Ayane fighting some uber baddie, Genha, who then proceeds to virtually/mind rape her. (STRIKE TWO, THREE, and well, just keep counting, the most badass/promising character is now declawed and raped, in the second episode. REALLY?). So Toru risks his life, jumps back in, manages to fight off Genha, but then discovers that Ayane is also the one who killed Yuuya. And also his other old Steppenwolf buddy, Akira, now works for Fei Tao.

You end up with a pretty awesome moral choice- he’s supposed to stop Fei Tao as part of his cover, plus Akira is apparently ok with rapists, but on the other hand it’s his buddy from the old days, and well, the murderer he’s after is right here, but then again, she’s just been raped. Toru freaks out, and starts attacking Ayane (they’re both in mecha) and then the rest of FLAK shows up and arrests everyone.

After this, pretty much the series bites it. Turns out Ren actually was Toru’s sister (INCEST VIBE? YEP, I CALLED IT), she also now only exists virtually, her body having died years ago, most of the kickass characters were experimented on as kids, Ren is harboring an ubervirus that’s flatlining people in virtual space, Toru emos and can’t kill his sister and, apparently also not do much else while moping about it (If you didn’t count strike three back up there, the emo hero finishes any hope at this point), and Ren goes the fuck off and starts consuming all virtual space and blowing stuff up in realspace.

The only reason I was watching? Ayane gets revenge, but not before getting more violation (this time, at least, it’s not graphic, but…), and the revenge is so short and unsatisfying that if the animators only spent one fourth the effort and love on the revenge that they clearly spent on the mind rape I could have said, “At least, some minor bit of justice”, but alas, no.

Doing some research online, turns out the entire anime was based on a Japanese shooter/porn game, which at least explains the fucked up focus on the rape scene in episode two, and the brother/sister incest vibe, as well as the general harem anime feel.

GAARGH. What pisses me off the most about this stuff is that if they didn’t give me any empowered female characters to begin with I would have not gotten my hopes up. Of course, maybe that’s the lesson in that- if you’re empowered, you have to be “put back in your place” until the hero can rescue you. Even if he’s weaker, wimpier, and falls apart under stress.

Bleh.