Ongoing Investigations: Case #180

I am still rather dubious about Otome game adaptions, with the exception of Prince-sama of course, so it took me a while to pick up the Alice in the Country of Hearts omnibus vol. 1 manga. But with so many different manga series based on the game coming out in English I became really curious about it. It also helped that I have a weakness for Alice in Wonderland.

Alice is in her garden when she falls asleep, upon awakening she is dragged into a gaping hole in the ground by guy named Peter White (who happens to have bunny ears). After he forces her to drink a potion (by forcing a kiss on her) she enters the Country of Hearts where she meets all kinds of quirky and cute (mostly male) characters. As the story progresses, you and Alice begin to realize the world isn’t a simple one and things are not always as they seem. Three kingdoms are at war with each other over territory; there are mysterious shadows roaming the land; people are heavily armed; and of course Alice is told time and again it won’t be too easy to leave.

All of the storybook characters are here, plus some new ones, but they are reworked to be very different. My favorite is easily the Mad Hatter who is a mafia boss. If the very fact of this series being an Otome game didn’t give you a clue, there is every kind of guy with all kinds of personalities to pick from as a favorite. There is also the Queen of Hearts who may or may not have a crush on Alice as well.

One thing that I have to give the story props for is not trying to shoehorn in any big plot reasons for the guys falling in love with Alice. Nightmare clearly tells her that that is simply what will happen in this world. And Alice’s way home turns out to be refilling the vial of potion she drank by making friends and interacting with the inhabitants of the world. And actually the world does setup some intriguing mysteries which I am invested in which helps a lot.

That being said, this story only stays good if Alice doesn’t end up with creepy Peter White. His obsession with her is not attractive and most of the time he comes off as a sociopath. Luckily, it seems rather likely that Ace is “true path guy” because he is the only one not for fall in love with Alice right away. He is also carrying around a lot of secrets and mentioned wishing to leave the world.

I had a lot of fun reading this and will be picking up more.

There is no clearer sign the Witch Hunt has gone as close to pro as you can get without leaving the realm of fan project than the fact that they have been given the official permission to release the Rose Gun Days demo by 07th Expansion. I have to say that is extremely impressive.

Rose Gun Days is the newest series by Ryukishi07 who most people probably know as the When They Cry guy. The series is set in its own universe as opposed to the supernatural murder mystery setting he is more famous for. It is set in an alternate post WWII Japan were a major earthquake devastated Tokyo letting a joint Chinese/American task-force radically transform the country. This new Japan is more like a mixture of poverty of the depression era and the zeitgeist of prohibition era in the US. The opening gives you a distinct impression of the visual novels style (It also lets you know someone really liked Cowboy Bebop). There is also a concurrent story happening in an alternate version of the present where someone involved in the adventure is telling the tale to a reporter as a way of setting the story of those chaotic times straight for the public.

The story centers around Leo Shishigami who is a down on his luck former solider who gets caught up being a bodyguard in the middle of gang war when he saves the life of a beautiful bordello madam named Rose. The demo mostly seems to be an introduction to the setting and the characters. Knowing Ryukishi07 there will be a bigger plot but for now the demo mostly wants to just show you how Rose and Leo come to trust each other.

It is also there to show off the new fighting mini-game mechanic. Since Leo is a rough and tumble guy he and his associates are constantly getting into fights. The mechanic itself it fairly simple. Not losing the fights in the beginning is fairly easy. The thing is there is an attack and defense mode of the mini-game. The defense is fairly straight forward. You block all the attack on the screen with the mouse before time is up. The attacks however can be pass fairly effortlessly with 3 hits BUT you can try to rack up points by getting in as many hits as you can before time runs out. This leads to points chicken where you can get a ton of extra points or none at all if you get greedy.

But if you get enough points you can get higher fighting ranks for Leo. I do have to wonder if the ranks are just there for fun or if they have some greater plot relevance. Maybe you have to be a certain rank to win later fights or open up new story paths. Maybe you can only get the good/true/best ending if you do so well. Unlike other 07th Expansion games you can only save at certain checkpoints instead or at any time. I am curious to see how this plays out.

Other than that I am so glad to see that Ryukishi07 has finally learned that maybe art is not his strong suit and that he finally has enough dinero to let someone else to the heavy lifting when it comes to character design and art work. Claudia Kurosaki and Alfred Akagi still have that distinct Ryukishi07 feel at least they have been cleaned up a bit.

The story itself as I mentioned before is mostly set up. They give you a good idea of how desperate people are in this era and what it at stake for all the players. I did notice that more than any of his other works there is a good deal of nationalism almost to the point of jingoism in the story. It is not Hiroyuki Yoshino’s Guilty Crown level but it is hard to miss. Looking back Higurashi and Umineko had that at brief points but in this game it is fairly close to the surface. It does not really turn me off from the game but it is worth bringing up. It would make an interesting point of examination when the full game is out.

All in all I had a good time with the game. It gave me a good taste of what is to come. I am partially curious if a supernatural element is going to creep in later or is this all going to be played straight. Either way I look forward to the full game soon.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching and reading outside of our main posts on the blog. We each pick three things that we were interested in a week and talk a bit about them. There is often not much rhyme or reason to what we pick. They are just the most interesting things we saw since the last Ongoing Investigation.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #159

I remember hearing about Friends with Boys when I was listening to Manga Out Loud podcast and thinking it sounded interesting but I forgot to look into the title further. But when I remembered I could read the comic online as web comic as mentioned again on the 3 Chicks Review Comics podcast I set aside some time to read Friends with Boys. The first thing that stuck me was the art reminded me of the art of Chynna Clugston. Both women have a style that is clearly manga aware but is equally informed by a wide variety of comic traditions. Faith Erin Hicks will discuss Tezuka as quickly as Bone when she is commenting on a page of her comic. She has an expressive style that lends itself equally well to web comics as well as traditional print comics. The story itself has two main layers. The first is the story of how Maggie McKay has to deal with going to a public high school after being home schooled all her life. At the same time there is a supernatural element of Maggie being able to see ghosts. The highest praise I can give the story is that if you removed all of the supernatural parts I would have found the story equally enjoyable. Maggie learning to make friends outside of her brothers with the punk Lucy and her brother Alistair was perfectly wonderful. While the ghost story tied the mundane drama together it was never forced to pick up the slack on the story. If anything it felt slightly thrown it just to make the story stand out as more than a mundane tale of friendship and self discovery. It did not detract from the story but it was an unusual addition. I will mention that not every plot element is wrapped up. If you want answers to every question the story poses you will be disappointed. The main story arc is resolved satisfactorily but certain side elements are left to your imagination. I don’t think the story is purposefully written to be a ongoing series. A sequel could be written but nothing in the book demands it. I would read more about the life of Maggie McKay and her friends and family but do not feel cheated if I never got more. The story itself is only up as a web comic for a few more days if you want to sample it but you can buy the physical book right now as well. As a side note what has Chynna Clugston been up to recently?

Avatar the Last Airbender: The Lost Adventures is a collection of short comics with mini-stories that happened during each of the seasons of the TV series. The book is divided into sections based on the books in which each story takes place. It is a little disconcerting if only because you are somewhat forced to remember what was happening at that particular moment, but you get on board fairly quickly. There are lots of different artists and writers so some are more stand out than others. I particularly liked the stylization by Brian Ralph for Momo’s adventure and the youthfulness of Gurihiru’s art. The greatest and most hilarious moments include the return of Wang Fire. It is a fun collection of mostly humorous anecdotes but nothing that screams buy this!

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #148

I’ve started playing Professor Layton and the Last Specter which is the start of the prequel arc featuring the first meeting of Layton and Luke. Since this is the case, the game begins with Layton meeting his new assistant Emmy who quickly became a favorite of mine. She is a new addition with her high energy and physical nature. At times she even acts as the audience to the strange happenings making comments like these villagers are so weird and the like. And it is a good thing I fell in love with her quickly, I just started a new chapter where she has broken off from Layton and Luke to go solo in London. So far the story has been in line with previous games which is a positive; I’ve been able to deduce small mysteries but the Specter remains elusive. The town seems more sprawling complete with canals and boat transportation but like the last two games it tends to box you into a path and only lets you explore at its discretion which I always take issue with. Puzzles are Layton puzzles and nothing has stood out though there does seem to be more real math than before. I’m happy to say the car path mini-game is back, but made way better because it is with trains! I haven’t gotten to London Life yet. If you’ve seen the movie Eternal Diva you know a little more about this game, but I’m looking forward to now go back and watch it with a fuller knowledge.

Mass Effect is a series that has a rich back story and world building aspects that can be totally ignored if you wish to play the game as a straight sci-fi action game. I being a Type-Moon fan of course am the sort of person who will pour over all the in-game encyclopedia entries and journals. So that fact alone won the game major bonus points with me. That aside I think the game lives up to all the praise the fans give to the series. It has a solid plot that you can play through fairly quickly if you skip all the side material. But half the fun is all the side missions you can do. The main plot line maybe be the entrée but the side dishes are equally important to the meal in its entirety although you might not want to do all the silly collect all the tchotchkes missions like I did. But the cool thing is so many of your decisions carry over to the next two games be it huge decisions you make in the main plot line or little choices you make in side quests. It gives you a reason to seek out missions just so you can impact the world as opposed to just collecting more money and experience. Knowing that the people you kill or tasks that you accomplish carry over give every decision you make a satisfying weight and consequence. The dialog and charterers are not War and Peace or Citizen Kane levels but you will get attached to most people and the writing is usually pithy. The morality system is one of the best for a modern video game. There are still some kick the dog ridiculously evil choices but most of the time picking the renegade choice is an acceptably gray moral decision. It makes playing the path other than the white knight choices viable to people who don’t just shoot the scientists in Half-Life because it is cool. As for the two biggest complaints I always hear about the game I agree with one and did not really care about the other. The Mako is sort of annoying as everyone says it is. It’s hardly unbearable but it is clunkier than it needs to be. When you are moving along it is fine but when you spend 10 minutes getting from one location of the map to another when is should have taken 30 seconds because of the terrain you quickly understand why people were glad they removed the tank driving from everything but some optional missions in the second game. The other major complain it’s the inventory system. I thought that about 90% of gear you pick up was just vendor trash but I did not find it that hard to deal with even on the 360. I just wish the shops were not just filled with random inventory as opposed to a fixed stock. I almost always had mediocre to poor armor because of this. Those flaws aside Mass Effect was pretty amazing. I beat it in about a week and missed quite a bit of sleep due to it keeping me up. If you any sort of American RPG fan it is worth trying it out.

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