Ongoing Investigations: Case #215

My roommate recently bought the Humble Double Fine Bundle to get a PC version of Brutal Legend and the upcoming Broken Age game. But that left him with Steam keys for the other three games in the pack that he already bought in an earlier sale. Therefore I wound up with three new games for free. As I already played Psychonauts that gave me two new games to try out. The first game I played was Costume Quest.

On Halloween night two siblings are out trick-or-treating when one of them is kidnapped by evil candy stealing trolls. So it is up to the remaining relative to team up with other children to defeat the monsters, get back the candy, free the kidnapped hostages, and save Halloween in general. Along they way the gang can get new costumes that give them new powers both in and out of battle.

I went out of my way to be ambiguous about the gender of the protagonist. As it turns out the main characters are fraternal twins. So you pick if you want to play as the boy or the girl in the beginning and then spend the game recusing your twin of the opposite gender. As video games begin to make VERY SLOW progress to realizing a little gender equality won’t kill them this is a nice nod to both genders in the mean time. You don’t have to make a Princess Zelda saves Link mod for this game. It lets you choose which gender is heroic from the start.

There are some distinctly unique facets to this game. The fact that it is a turn based RPG was defiently surprising. Seeing a company like Double Fine work on a somewhat passed by genre was a little surprising but not outside of their normal MO. Then again up until recently adventure games were considered an all but dead genre. Now they are hardly FPS in ubiquitousness but nor are they rare crystal unicorns anymore either.

The setting is very fresh feeling. Combat trick-or-treating is not the most overused setting in video games. The costume based combat is fun. You will distinctly go out of your way to get new costumes just to use them in battle. Also they are timing based functions to increase damage and defense which makes combat much more interactive. There various costumes and battle stickers let you change-up your combat style quite a bit as well.

The biggest disadvantage of the game is the initial game is three parts but once you played the first part you pretty much have seen 85% of how the game works. While the puzzles and bosses are different in each section the quests are almost always the same in each part. There is always a bobbing for apples mini-game, you always can trade cards with the other kids, you always have to trick-or-treat at X number of houses to fight the boss which lets the party move onto the next section of the game. The game is short so the little changes between sections is enough to keep to interesting but adding 2 or three more section could have easily turned the game into a slog.

There was also a slightly bell-shaped difficulty curve. The beginning of the game is fairly easy. After that the second section in the mall was fairly tough for a while. I was often losing battles and usually only winning by the skin of my teeth. I later found out that later in the section I got a third-party member. Her addition made everything significantly less difficult after she joins. Other than some bosses I never faced anywhere near that level of difficulty again. I think I was supposed to avoid those initial battles  and the go back and with the added party member and clean house. It was an odd bump in difficulty and I’m not sure it was intentional.

There was also an additional Grubbins on Ice DLC episode. It takes place after the main game and adds an extra act on the game that takes place in the monster world this time. On the plus side it adds some great new costumes and a very different setting than the main game. On the downside the overall mission formula is exactly the same as it was for all three sections in the first game. The story is fun but if you were getting tired of the somewhat repetitive game-play than this section with seem like more of a grind. Also while you can pick the gender of the main character the person kidnapped in this DLC is always female. That sort of takes away a bit of the flair of the original game.

Overall it is a fun little story that you can easily find for dirt cheap. I knocked out the whole game in a single weekend where I also went to Free Comic Book Day and played D&D. So if you want some sort of Disgaea styled 100+ hours experience then your going to be sorely out of luck. But as an innovate return to the turn based RPGs it is a good piece of bite sized entertainment.


The plot really picks up in Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro vol. 3. Not only do we learn more about Nijuku and Sanju’s creation, we get some surprising turns in Kuro’s search as well. The ending is really surprising in a cliffhanger-like moment which was a welcome piece to this unconventional 4-koma.

Allegedly this series is ongoing but I worry we may never get the answers we are looking for.

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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Manga of the Month: Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro (棺担ぎのクロ。~懐中旅話~) by Satoko Kiyuduki

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro had the pleasure of showing me there are 4-koma manga that I like! But then again, Kiyuduki doesn’t use the format in a traditional sense. Her low-key humor and simple but precise art makes this series a real charmer.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro follows the story of a haphazard group of travelers headed up by the mysterious, coffin-carrying, black clad, girl going by the name Kuro. She along with a bunch of bats (one snarky one in particular, Sen) pick up two little cat girls along the way. Where they are headed remains a rather amorphous concept though they do seem to be looking for someone. Along the way we learn bits of pieces of character’s past. Each traveler plays off the others; Kuro being none too talkative while the kids are little balls of energy and mischief. The series has a melancholy undertone, not unlike Kino’s Journey but also not that heavy, though it is balanced out by the adorable art style and banter.

The way Kiyuduki plays with the format is of particular interest from using one giant panel to tell a story to expanding an adventure to two or three times that of usual 4-koma. At times she is using the format merely as a structure but still these adventures feel like quick bites. The printing is also nice with many color pages to enjoy.

Ongoing Investigations: Case #032

Got the books 18-20 of Blade of the Immortal in a recent Dark Horse sale, which makes them mildly affordable. We are at the end of the prison arc and I couldn’t be happier. I found it to be mostly boring, but it did do one very important thing. Rin has come into her own more, she is brave and decently strong. She also is thinking on her feet. Rin has just plain matured and it is very nice. Though at moments she is still a bit deer-in-the-headlights. If we didn’t know how Rin felt about Manji before (which you would be stupid not to), we certainly do now with her daring rescue attempt. Also Manji fights dudes while being chained to a wall. You have no idea how happy I am to see that man back in action. There was not enough bad-assery with him in jail. Though Doa is proving herself to be one crazy, deadly woman. Looking forward to the conclusion of this arc in 21 and then we are on the alleged home stretch.

I immediately read Hitohira book three as soon as I got my hands on it. We see the results of Mugi’s first stage performance. It uses the old manga trope of the play that is a metaphor for the main plot. It is a well done trope and quite enjoyable. We then see the the result of a bet made in book two and the fall out for all the characters. Bittersweet triumph and heartbreaking disappointment are the watchwords for this volume but that is not all there is. All in all I like this series more and more because I really see myself in Mugi. Her low self-esteem might easily turn away some readers but it is a very realistic portrayal of it. I am eagerly awaiting the next story. I am curious to see what happens now that a good deal of the relationships between the characters have changed. The art remains average but cute without veering into saccharine. I should really sit down and see if the anime adaption is any good. You can read a preview for volume three, too.

Got the second Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro at Yen Press’s booth at NYCC 2009. Thanks! This book continues the melancholy, traveling adventures. But as an added bonus we learn a lot about Kuro’s past and her travels when she was much younger. We also learn a little more about Sen (the bat), who I am very curious about. One traveler Kuro meets looks like he has stepped out of Sherlock Hound. As I was pondering if this was a reference or a coincidence, I see the manga-ka’s little comment in the back. He makes another Sherlock Hound reference so I knew it was on purpose. This is so rare so he gets extra bonus points for doing so. As with the first book, there are many beautiful color pages to enjoy throughout. Looking forward to the next one!

Tengu-Jin by Sumomo Yumeka is the story of a Japan that has been divided into two separate antagonistic nations due to a cataclysm. It centers around two brothers named, Mozuku and Shinonome. Shinonome has become a bit of an oddity at his school because anyone who pray to him has their wish granted. It turns out that Shinonome is a very important tengu that represents Eastern Japan. When a marriage between the tengu of the East and West seems to be the only way to stop a war between their respective countries how will this effect the brothers’ relationship? The first half is mostly comedy with a bit of drama. The last half is a flash back to a previous life that switches the formula with mostly drama with a bit of comedy. The art is nice with plenty of pretty boys being the majority of the cast. Once again like the Manzai Comics I get very light BL. There is nothing more than a little cheek kissing and a few longing glances. I can’t say that I really had any strong feelings on the story. Nothing in it was particularly objectionable nor did anything compel me to continue reading. I definitely enjoyed the comedy aspects more than the drama which I think is why it came off as so fulfilling. You can read a preview here.

Read the first book of Pluto which is coming out in VIZ’s newly revamped Signature line. The printing quality is a bit better, there are some color pages, and the book even has French folds (flaps). The story seems to pull influences from everywhere but maintains it’s ability to tell its own story. The mystery has already got me hooked! Are the deaths of these robots and humans related? No human traces at the crime scene, but robots aren’t supposed to be able to kill humans! It is a detective story so of course it gets extra bonus points from me. The only thing I found strange and maybe it is explained more later on, but the name Pluto is what they are calling the killer. In the story two characters are talking the deaths. They start going through all the names for the God of death in different cultures when they reach Pluto, they for some reason think that one is better than all the others! Uh. . . okay. I also really like the international setting of the series. Can’t wait for the next one!

Garden of Sinners: Paradox Spiral kicks up the length of the Garden of Sinners movies by being twice as long. It was interesting that we hardly see Mikiya but in his place for most of the movie is the proto-Shiro otherwise known as Tomoe Enjo. Shiki saves Tomoe from a pack of thugs and learns that he thinks he killed his family but it appears that his family is still alive. Tomoe is clearly troubled but what truly happened in Tomoe’s bizarre apartment complex? Has it been tied into everything else that has been happening to Shiki? Once again ufotable studio creates another beautiful movie. They continue to put a good amount of artistic flair to everything from the fight scenes to the conversations. The fight scene in the apartment complex balcony is worth the price of admission alone. You have to sit down and clear your mind before starting this movie more than the other four because they tell the story in a non-linear fashion. The parallels between Soren Araya and Kirei Kotomine are obviously lampshaded by the creators by them having the same seiyuu. Writing this review has totally reminded me that I forgot to ask for a release date for the first book from Del Rey when I was at New York Comic Con.

In honor of my Blade of the Immortal mini-marathon, this is the pic of the week: