Archive for Reviews

How Minecraft Effectively Ended My Life

That’sssss a very nice houssssse you’ve got there…’twould be a shame if something happened to it…

So, you know, I have this stuff that I do in my life. I write, I blog, I do video reviews, I hang out with friends, that kind of stuff. At least I did, until I gave Mojang $21.95 and my soul for the glorious addiction known as Minecraft.

Two things set me on the path to buying this game: the insistence of my little brother, who is a mod on a fantastic Minecraft server, and the dynamic duo of Simon and Lewis over at The Yogscast, a wonderful YouTube channel chock-full of amazing Minecraft videos and features on mods for the game. Even though I finally gave in and bought the game, I figured I’d get bored of it pretty quickly.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

The first day I got it, I bought it in the late afternoon. I got a hold of my brother, and after finally convincing him that I actually did finally buy Minecraft, he logged onto the server he moderates and helped me buy a plot of land of my own from the admins so I could build my very own house and get myself set up to do some mining. I thought that the crafting was going to get overwhelming for me, but most of it is rather logical, and I even figured out how to craft some stuff on my own just by trying combinations of things. I made a plan for a simple wooden house, took some materials that my brother gave me to start off with, and went out to explore the wilderness.

By the time I looked away from my computer, it was one in the morning.

I knew I was in trouble at that point.

Since then, every time I come home and try to play another game, or watch a video, or write, I can’t concentrate; I simply have to fire up Minecraft. It’s insane how quickly I became addicted to the game. I found myself asking, what is it about this game that draws me in so deeply?

First of all, it’s my kind of game. I’m one of those rare gamers who actually enjoys item crafting, and exploration has always been a big part of video games in general. So, the two biggest points of the game happen to be two aspects of gaming that I love. That obviously makes it a good fit for me to start off with.

What’s also amazing about Minecraft is the community. Literally thousands of players have spent hours creating player skins, adventure maps, and texture mods, and even game mods to add or alter things to the game. What’s also great about this is that Notch, the game’s creator, encourages all of this, and closely pays attention to the community, implementing many of the best ideas the players come up with into the official game patches. In fact, the last patch added pistons into the game, which actually started as a player-created mod.

Another thing about this game that makes it so addicting is the fact that it is truly a sandbox game. You can go anywhere, and do and create almost anything. Don’t believe me? There is a specific kind of Minecraft server out there called a ‘creative server’, which are totally dedicated to people building statues and pictures of all sorts. Go check some out, they are incredible! I also recently downloaded my first ever adventure map, which is a fairly faithful recreation of Castlevania, pieced together from the best parts of the NES titles in the series. Not only did the creator do an amazing job, but he made an 8-bit Castlevania-themed texture pack to go with it, and specifically designed the level so that, once you’re done with the puzzles he’s included, you can make the castle your base and go out exploring like you would in any other Minecraft map. Absolute brilliance!

But the morning sun has delivered this awesome texture pack!

(You can nab the map and texture pack for yourself here.)

Notch also put a lot of effort into making the game friendly for all players. You can choose different difficulty levels to play maps on, or you can put it on Peaceful mode and remove the monsters completely. Regardless of whether you want to simply build, or go killing hoards of Creepers, you’ll be able to get your fix.

This game also inspires true emotion in its players. To illustrate this, allow me to tell you about a dig that I went on last week. Brace yourselves.

There are different towns on the multiplayer server I play on. My brother came to me and said he wanted to show me a new area that the owner of the server had created. It’s a beach area called Sexy Cove (yes, it’s a stupid name). It was beautiful, with an awesome view of the setting sun, beach towels and umbrellas that everyone could claim as their own, and to top it all off, my brother built a beautiful house for the two of us on the edge of the water out of lapis and diamond (they later made him change the lapis. Sigh.).

It was so beautiful…;_;

My brother then proceeded to tell me that there was quite a bit of untouched wilderness very nearby (people are only allowed to dig in wilderness areas, the town areas are protected). I gathered my armor, my weapons, a diamond pickaxe, some torches and some cooked pork, and I was ready to go!

As I’m digging, my brother suddenly appears underground with me (he’s a mod, so he can fly and stuff. Lucky bastard.). He then says ‘Here, I’ll help you dig’, and proceeds to bust out some TNT. I immediately panicked, screaming at him over Team Speak as I’m running and he’s laughing and my mineshaft is being blown to pieces.

He found a natural cave pretty quickly using the TNT, where there are lots of monsters and lots of resources to mine. I started going crazy, mining red stone, lapis, and my first ever deposit of gold that I’ve ever found! My anger at my brother was quickly forgotten, and I was in awe of all of the goodies I’d found.

I should have turned around and gone back up to stash my new shiny things.

But no, instead, I decide to start digging a bit lower. It isn’t long until I hit bedrock, indicating that I’m pretty much as far down as I can get. It also means that lava is very close by. I of course wind up finding some, but I’m not a moron and I don’t dig directly under me, so I was totally safe. I went to go turn around to leave and finally put my new stuff safely away in a chest.

Then, a skeleton came out of nowhere and shot an arrow at me, pushing me into the lava.

I died.

I lost all of my stuff.

The best part is, there happened to be water right next to the lava. I could have jumped into the water and put myself out and saved myself, if I hadn’t panicked and tried to get on a ledge instead.

I sat there in silence, fighting back tears. All of my hard work, for nothing! My brother simply said to me ‘Well, that’s Minecraft. Just go make more tools and try again’.

So I did.

I found gold again.

This time, I turned around, went back to the surface, and put it in my chest. And it was awesome.

It really is amazing how a simple game can illicit such emotion. Notch really did a beautiful job of creating this game, giving people the power to build anything, with some effort, and to put your heart and soul into it, and then cry as a Creeper blows it to smithereens.

So yes, I am horribly addicted to this game, but it isn’t a bad thing. I’m a creative creature by nature, and the process of mining and creating is actually relaxing enough for me that I often turn to it when I want to play something nice and relaxing.

Until a skeleton knocks you into lava. Douchebags.

So, go ahead and buy Minecraft yourself and play it. It’s 25% off since it’s still in beta, so now’s the best time to pick it up. You’ll want to learn the basics before the next update; it’s an adventure update, adding experience points, a hunger meter, and a bunch of other challenging aspects to the game.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some diamond to mine.

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My Perspective: Final Fantasy IX

WARNING: This post contains spoilers and opinions you probably won’t like.

I still cry every time I see this image, but not as hard as I used to.

For those of you that don’t know, I don’t like Final Fantasy IX. At all. This has garnered me quite a bit of hate (and I’m sure it will continue to do so in the future). However, my good friend Jon of JanaiBlog pointed out that i’ve never played more than the first hour or so of the game, and that I couldn’t judge it unless I gave it more of a try, and he was absolutely right.

So, I set out on a journey to experience FFIX. I certainly wasn’t going to take the time to play the game myself, as I had no doubts that the battle system and gameplay weren’t bad (and it isn’t, more on this later). It was the story that I had a real problem with. So, I decided to go to the best Final Fantasy let’s player in creation, HCBailly, to experience this game.

First off, let me start by saying that I have to admit Final Fantasy IX is not as bad as I originally thought it was. The art always bothered me (but ISN’T a reason to not like a game!), but after watching a few videos of it, I really didn’t even pay attention to the quality of the graphics, since it was the storyline that had always irked me. I wanted to delve into the characters and story and see what it was all about, and then think long and hard on my true opinions of this game.

The plot, in my opinion, is boring (I can sense the fanboy tears coming!). It seemed to have so much potential, with political intrigue, wars, manufacturing black mages, and a plethora of different races and creatures to flesh out. However, I consistently felt like the game squandered such potential. The political issues were predictable, the wars were repetitive, the black mage storyline didn’t go nearly as far as it could have (although I have to admit, it was pretty damn cool), and each race left something to be desired. The game seemed to try and make up for this with the use of Active Time Events (ATE), which allowed the player to see some short scenes of things going on outside of the scope of the main characters. This was a great idea, but they could have added a few more ATE scenes to flesh out even more then they had. I just didn’t find myself really caring about the plot. The character, however, were a different story.

The characters themselves were all-around lackluster to me. There were a few characters that I absolutely LOVED, and one or two that I liked, but for the most part, they left something to be desired. The character interactions and relationships, however, I actually very much enjoyed (more on this later). There were some characters, such as Quina, that seemed to be all but forced into the story, but other than that, the characters were handled far better than I expected them to be, which was a relief to me, since all of them were downright loathesome during the first hour or two of gameplay.

These are the issues that I was sort of split on. However, there are some things I really enjoyed and some things that I really, really didn’t. To soothe the rage that I’m sure is coursing through your veins, let’s start off by taking a look at what I loved about Final Fantasy IX.

  • Vivi. Seriously, you can’t not love him! He is honest, flawed (but not overly so), and relatable. In fact, I would dare say that he is one of the best characters in Final Fantasy history. When I began to feel like I wanted to stop watching the gameplay and spare myself, Vivi absolutely kept me going. Through his eyes, we see much of the struggle that the innocent people of Gaia feel. He is a powerful and well-made character.
  • Kuja. One of the better villains of the Final Fantasy series for sure. He doesn’t stand around hesitating, he goes off and does what he wants to do, and let’s nothing stand in his way. He orchestrates some crazy things, and he probably has more backstory to him than most other FF villains, thanks to great writing on his part and a few ATE scenes featuring him. I always love a good villain with some backstory, and Kuja definitely fit the bill.
  • Zidane, believe it or not, is one of the better main characters in the series. I usually hate main characters in just about everything, but I found Zidane to be rather bearable and realistic. This was a happy surprise for me.
  • Steiner and Beatrix’s relationship is downright fricken’ adorable. The entire debacle with the love letter actually made me laugh out loud, and I found the romance between these two to be rather endearing.
  • The battle system was great. Specifically, I enjoyed the way they handled enemy skills. Rather than standing around for 20 minutes waiting for a monster to hit a specific character with a specific attack, you just wear their HP down and have Quina ‘eat’ them. I thought this was a fantastic idea. I also was intrigued by the idea of skills attached to weapons, armor, and accessories. I can see it being annoying, but it’s a different and refreshing take on skills and equipment, and I can only imagine how much fun it is to plan out who is going to learn what skills at what point (yes, I like a good amount of micro-planning in my gameplay and yes, I am insane).
  • The music was superb, as was to be expected. All Final Fantasy games are known for their music, and this game certainly did not lack in that regard. The theme from the Black Mage Village in particular has been a favorite of mine since the game came out.
  • Dagger’s loss of her voice after the destruction of Alexandria was a very nice and well thought-out addition to the game. It’s a logical, totally believable reaction, and the fact that it plays into battles by having Dagger randomly unable to follow the battle commands given to her adds a bit of difficulty in an interesting way.
  • The Mognet and the Chocographs were fun touches to the game. They were interesting and worthwhile side-quests that really didn’t deter from trying to play through the actual game. They were integrated into everything very nicely.

Now, let’s take a look at the things that I had Kefka-level hate for in this game. Yes, I will probably be nitpicking. Take a deep breath, folks.

  • Zidane’s tail is never even mentioned until somewhere in the second disc. Seriously, why does nobody question him on this? People even question Freya about being a rat, and her people are a well-known race! Even if someone like Vivi would have asked toward the beginning and Zidane would have shrugged and said he had no idea why he was born with it, it would have made much more sense! Only through subtle lines do we realize that Zidane really has no idea exactly where he comes from. It felt like the writers decided somewhere close to the halfway point to make Zidane’s tail part of the plot.
  • Steiner. Just everything about him, from his stubbornness to his inability to shut up to that annoying clanging sound from his armor when he jumps up and down in panic and/or rage. This will probably earn me more ire than anything else, since I am well aware that Steiner is a rather beloved character. I cannot stand him.
  • Tetra Master. Come on, even those of you that like this game have to admit that this is probably the most useless thing they threw in there. Triple Triad in Final Fantasy VIII was one thing, but Tetra Master is nothing but a failed attempt to emulate the success that Triple Triad had.
  • Zorn and Thorn are probably one of the worst attempts at comic relief I’ve ever seen in a video game. They serve no purpose. You could have replaced them with unnamed soldiers and it would have taken nothing away from the game.
  • Dagger’s backstory was one of the more predictable things in the game. The moment it was revealed that Eiko was a summoner who had lived in Madain Sari all of her life, I knew what was coming. Besides, there is no way Dagger was naturally born from someone like Queen Brahne. Just…no. In fact, the idea that they just named Dagger after their dead child was creepy and just odd to me. Seriously, who does that?

So, all in all, Final Fantasy IX wasn’t as bad of a game as I thought. In fact, it really isn’t a bad game at all. I feel the same way about it that I do Final Fantasy X in the sense that the gameplay was great, but everything else was pretty bad. The one thing FFIX does have over FFX though is the characters, all of whom, whether I liked them or not, were much better than the ones in it’s successor.

Still, the plot left me bored and uninspired, and at times I felt like I was beating myself over the head to try and get through the let’s play, so I can’t even imagine what I would have gone through trying to actually play it myself. Even so, I must concede that there are far worse games out there, and it certainly isn’t the worst Final Fantasy game ever made. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and I’m glad that this game enthralled so many people, but it just didn’t do it for me.

Oh, and if you’re still raging, go read the Final Fantasy IX review on Real Otaku Gamer. It’ll make you feel better.

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First Impressions: Fall 2010 Anime Season

As he does for every season, Jon Ingoglia of JanaiBlog recently held one of his Anime Samplers, where we all vote on which new shows of the season look the best, and we then watch 1 or 2 episodes of each (ending in a few extra episodes of our favorite of the night!). There were some big hits and big misses among the bunch. Here for you are my quick first impressions of some of this season’s biggest new titles!

Iron Man (Episodes 1 & 2)

This anime is based off of the Marvel character of the same name. Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, comes to Japan with the intent on finding a way to give the country clean, free energy and, in the process, announce his retirement as Iron Man. He has new Iron Man suits all built and is ready to pass the torch on when he is attacked by combat machines from a group only known as Zodiac. Now before he can retire, Tony has to don the Iron Man suit once more.

I heard a LOT of negative things about this title, but it really wasn’t that bad. The animation was great, but that was expected with Marvel behind it. The story however was average at best, and while it kept us entertained enough to watch two episodes, we were more than ready to move on when all was said and done. If you’re an Iron Man fan, you’ll surely enjoy this, but otherwise you might find it to be rather lackluster.

Star Driver: Kagayaki no Takuto (Episode 1)

More like Star FABULOUS!

This is about a school on an island, and a kid named Takuto that misses his boat and actually swims all the way to said island. He says he just wants to live a good school life, but he clearly has a whole other agenda involving a legacy that his father left him. A group of masked people are stealing shrine maidens from the island and ‘unlocking’ certain gates using battle mecha called Cybodies. Only chosen people can use these mecha, but Takuto happens to be a special, fabled person that will shake things up with his presence.

Sound vague and confusing? It is! This was by far the worst title of the night. The character designs were insane and the story failed to hold my interest. The only thing that DID catch my eye was the FABULOUS nature of these characters and mecha. It made for a few laughs, but other than that, this series just wasn’t worth it to me.

To Aru Majutsu no Index II (Episode 1)

This is the second season of To Aru Majutsu no Index, a story about a girl named Index who has a bunch of magical books stored in her brain and the events that surround her. Although I’ve watched a few episodes of the spin-off series To Aru Kagaku no Railgun, I’ve never seen Index itself. I enjoyed it more than I thought I was going to, and it did a decent job of explaining some of the major plot points that are needed to understand the anime without watching the first season, but in the end than that I wasn’t really thrilled by it.

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt (Episode 1)

One of my personal favorites of the season! This wasn’t even on our agenda for the evening, but we watched it anyway! This anime is about two angels on Earth named Panty and Stocking who are searching for heaven coins, and they get them by fighting off demons with the help of a priest named Garterbelt. It is animated very much like an American cartoon, and each episode consists of two 15-minute stories, much like cartoons in America are.

Despite that, it has a very Japanese feel to it, and the music and art direction are unique, funky, and superb. If you can deal with the sometimes jeuvenile comedy, then you will LOVE this show!

Super Robor Taisen OG: The Inspector (Episode 1)

This mecha anime centers around humans trying to rebuild after losing a war. This is thrown into a spin as the president of the Unified Colonies publicly acknowleges the existence of aliens, and reveals a plan to get rid of the aliens so that they can continue living in peace.

Now THIS was a mind-blowing show! The mecha action was absolutely breathtaking, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. It was engaging, interesting, and all-around entertaining. If you like mecha or just action anime in general, check this one out!

The World God Only Knows (Episodes 1-3)

This anime centers around Keima, an otaku who spends all of his free time (and much of his school time) engrossed in dating sims. He is known online as “The Capturing God”, and runs a blog telling people how to get every story branch in all of the visual novels he’s played. He accepts a challenge from a blog reader of his, only to find out that it was really a contract with Hell! Now he has Elsie, a demon, following him around, and he must help her get rid of all of the ‘loose souls’, or demons that reside in people’s hearts, and he can only do this by taking the evil spirit’s place in that person’s heart by making them fall in love with him! The worst part is that if he doesn’t succeed, the collars around both Keima and Elsie’s necks will decapitate them!

This was the favorite of the night! It was funny, witty, enjoyable, and incredibly heartfelt. You really fall for Keima, and as he is forced to pull away from his games and integrate into real life, you begin to see him change and grow, even in the first three episodes! I HIGHLY recommend this anime to everyone!

Samurai Girls (Episode 1)

This anime takes place during the Tokugawa Shogunate, where all of the famous warlords from history have passed on their names to young girls who are in opposing schools. The student councils are responsible for waging war against the other schools, but when one of the girls decides to rebel, it causes some major problems.

I found this show to be pretty boring. There was quite a bit of fanservice in it, however, so if you’re into that kind of thing, you might enjoy it. There isn’t much else for me to say about it other than that the music was pretty good, at least.

Bakuman (Episodes 1 & 2)

Masahiro is a failing school student who only wants to be a manga artist, but never really tried his hand at story writing. Takagi is in his class and has the best grades in class, and his dream is to be a manga writer, but he can’t draw at all. Takagi spies Masahiro drawing in class and ropes him into promising to team up with him and create a manga. It gets even better from Masahiro when he finds out that the girl of his dreams, Miho, wants to be a voice actress! She promises to voice their heroine when they make it big, and so Masahiro goes along with Takagi on a quest to make it big so he can marry Miho and live his dreams.

This was the other big hit of the night! It was downright hilarious, entertaining, and oddly addicting; both episodes seemed to fly by way too fast because they were so enjoyable! If you’re into romantic comedies with some fairly dark drama mixed in, you will definitely want to check this show out!

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Chu★Review: Boogiepop Phantom

When I decided to review a horror anime for Halloween last-minute, I knew I needed something good and something short enough for me to get through quickly. What fit the bill was an anime that I experienced many years ago that I never got to finish. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of Boogiepop Phantom!


The story of Boogiepop Phantom takes place in an unnamed town in Japan and starts five years after a slew of serial murders, and one year after a mysterious beam of light had struck the city. Now people are randomly developing some odd and rather creepy powers and abilities. This has caught the attention of a high school girl named Nagi, who decides that she must find out what is causing all of the chaos and put an end to it. Her investigation leads her to a handful of evil beings, including the Boogiepop, a goddess of death. However, it seems like she is not even a concern next to the Boogiepop Phantom, a creature who seems to be an evil and capricious copy of the Boogiepop that could very well be the key to undoing all of this insanity. In the process, Nagi very well may see how all of these supernatural occurrences play into the beam of light, as well as the rash of serial murders that took place so many years ago.

The story is engaging and addicting, but at times very confusing. I remember being extremely confused when I watched it years ago, and while I understood it a lot better this time around, I was still very confused up until the last two episodes, where they explain how several of the supernatural creatures were created and what their purpose actually was. Still, be prepared for some of the smaller questions that pop up in the series to be left unanswered. I found the ending to be slightly confusing, but satisfying nonetheless.

The characters in this anime are memorable, but plentiful. While I’m normally very good at keeping track of characters, many of them in this show look similar and I found myself losing track of who was who several times. Each of the 12 episodes of the show feature a different character, going into their past and explaining their unique power. We see how the power changes them and how they play into the designs of the Boogiepop Phantom and the other creatures roaming around the city. What is so well-done about this process is that each episodes ties into other episodes; you may see a character going crazy in the background of an episode, and then see how he got to that point in a later episode. This makes each episode stand on its own while also tieing all of them together into one cohesive story, and it works brilliantly.

Sound and Visuals

The music in Boogiepop Phantom is catchy and top-notch, as is the Japanese voice work. However, the English dub is where this anime falls short. It feels forced and cheesy, and simply doesn’t stand up to the quality of the Japanese vocal track. Another problem with the English track is that it leaves out a lot of background voices and ambient sound, which is unacceptable in my opinion.

The art is middle-ground as far as quality goes. It’s great for it’s time, but some scenes have the characters faces looking a bit odd. Also, since this is a horror anime, most of the color is drab and monotone. While this plays into the feel and theme of the anime very well, it does make watching the show a bit tiring on the eyes at times. The animation is also spiked with several scenes of live-action shots of people walking through streets in Japan. This isn’t jarring at all and actually plays very well into the art direction.

In short, the art and the sounds together make for a spine-tingling experience, so long as you stay away from the English dub. The cheesiness of it simply ruins the atmosphere of the show.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a horror anime that is short and sweet and satisfying, Boogiepop Phantom is definitely worth a try! It can be confusing at times, but that just gives you more reason to watch it a second time and enjoy it all over again. Get some friends together this Halloween (or anytime!) and have a Boogiepop marathon, I guarantee you it will be a bone-chilling good time!

SCORE: 8/10

Boogiepop Phantom was produced by Studio Madhouse, and licensed and distributed by Nozomi Entertainment.

Buy the Boogiepop Phantom Complete Series Boxset, which includes the live-action movie, via this link, and you’ll be supporting Chu★Blog at no extra cost to you! Thanks in advance!

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Chu★Review: The Essential Dungeons & Dragons Starter

In 1974, two great game creators named Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson created a little something called Dungeons and Dragons, a pen-and-paper roleplaying game. Although both of these men are no longer with us, the game and legacy they left behind certainly is.

How does the game work? You get a bunch of friends together and pick one person to be the dungeon master, or DM, to tell the story, run the game, and play the part of non-player characters. You then follow the rules in the core rulebook and use the character creation sheet to create your character and your stats, then use different sided dice to roll and based on different combinations of what you roll, your stats, the stats of your enemy, and the difficulty of the action you’re trying to perform, you can succeed or fail in varying degrees at said action.

Sound confusing? It is! Luckily for us, the wonderful people at Wizards of the Coast saw this and created a fantastic product called The Essential Dungeons & Dragons Starter, a box full of goodies that will get even the most green pen-and-paper players into the groove of the game!

Luckily at New York ComicCon / New York Anime Festival 2010, the people manning the Wizards of the Coast booth were more than happy to let me sort through the product and snap some pictures. First off, let’s take a look at the box itself!

The box is a pretty color of red and has some gorgeous old-timey D&D art on the front! Also adorning classic artwork are the 64-page Dungeon Master’s Book filled with rules and advice for running a game as well as some adventure content, and a 32-page Player’s Guide, filled with simple rules for playing the game and a sample solo adventure to play so you can experience the rules on your own.

In order to create your characters, you’ll need character sheets, and the box comes with a pad of simplistic character sheets that each player can use to keep track of their stats, their powers and abilities, and the items they have on them. This character sheet is much more streamlined and simplistic than the classic D&D character sheets for sure.

Along with the easy-to-use character sheets are these cards which outline different spells, abilities, powers, and magic items. They have all the information you need on what they do and what stats you use to determine whether you use them effectively or not. Everything you need to know is right on the cards!

Also included in the box is a double-sided dungeon map that you can use to help create a layout for locations in your game. To help with this even further, there are two sheets of punch-out tokens representing different characters and monsters. You can use these in combination with the map to outline where everyone and everything is placed in relation to the players.

And of course, you can’t play Dungeons and Dragons without dice! The game comes with six different sided dice consisting of a d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and the classic d20.

All of these items combined make for a truly easy and user-friendly gaming experience. I have played quite a few D&D games in my time, but even as a practiced player I am enticed by the ease of use that this box offers. I absolutely will be picking one up for myself, and even that is a treat when compared to the original game, which consists of several large, bulky books that cost upwards of $30-$35 a piece (but are so worth it!).

If you’re afraid that you will begin to find this box too easy and will outgrow it, don’t be. Wizards of the Coast also has a Dungeons & Dragons Essentials line of books and products that are perfect for upgrading to when you’re ready to delve even deeper into the d20 gaming system. The entire line is designed to make a truly enjoyable and streamlined playing experience for players of all ages and varying levels of role-playing experience.

So if you’re interested in jumping into the world of pen-and-paper role-playing, looking for something new for your gaming group, or even trying to rope in some friends to join in on the fun, The Essential Dungeons & Dragons Starter is an excellently priced and well put-together addition to any gaming collection that is destined to usher in a new generation of D&D players.

If you’re interested in supporting Wizards of the Coast in this exciting endeavor while supporting Chu★Blog (at no extra cost to you!), feel free to use these links to order these products:

The Dungeons & Dragons series of products are published by Wizards of the Coast.

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Chu★Review: New York ComicCon / New York Anime Festival 2010

This was my second year to New York Anime Festival, but my first experiencing New York ComicCon, and let me tell you, it was intense! I was bubbling with excitement over the many guests and panels that were going on, and it certainly did not disappoint!

So, let’s go through each aspect of this powerful convention duo!

Travel and Surroundings
Once again the con was held at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York. While only a small portion of the building was used for NYAF last year, both cons being put together forced them to truly utilize the entire building this year, and boy did they ever!

The weather was beautiful, so taking the train from Long Island to Penn Station was a breeze. Then it was just a short cab ride over to the convention center!

First Impressions
I was very impressed with how the con was handled! Although it was frantic, the staff, for the most part, had everything under control. The energy at the con was intense and vibrant, and everybody was running around excited to see all that there was to see.

General Overview
Unfortunately, as time went on the cracks began to show in the convention planning, especially on Saturday. Friday morning it was announced that they were no longer selling weekend or Saturday passes. When the absolutely ridiculous amount of people squeezed themselves into the convention center on Saturday, it was clear why they had made that decision.

Also, the Anime Festival part of the con were crammed into the sidelines, with most of the anime-related goodness condemned to the basement, which was sad and made it rather tedious to travel from NYAF panels to NYCC panels.

Another issue was food. While I myself don’t condone eating at a convention as it is rather overpriced, it was downright impossible for me to get outside for food when I had to run from one side of the building to the other. In the middle of the building was the food court, but unless you had a good hour or two on your hands, waiting on the insanely long lines wasn’t even worth your time. More than once I went hungry and thirsty this weekend.

The biggest issue for us bloggers, however, was the lack of internet. Sure, you could get internet, if you wanted to pony up $70 for the weekend, or $30 for the day. I cringed as poor, sweet Gia from Anime News Network paid for this service so that she could do what she had to. Most people were satisfied using their 3G service, but the reception was terrible in the convention center, which made it pretty much impossible to post immediate updates and news.

My personal biggest issue, especially since my days were jam-packed with stuff I wanted to cover, was the poor scheduling. I don’t think I attended a single panel that started on time, although many of them did wind up ending on time and cutting off the panel early. I missed out on several panels and signings because of this issue. I think the problem was that there was so much going on that they didn’t have time to schedule 15-minute breaks between panels like many conventions do, which gives time for the previous panel to clear out and for the next one to set up.

Besides that, the con goers actually meshed rather well together! Attendees from one side curiously checked out samplings from the other, and it seemed to expose a lot of people to new things. Everybody got along well and that made for a positive atmosphere overall. Most of the qualms I had with the con resulted from the sheer number of people, which is something that the con staff will hopefully have under better control next year.

So, at the end of the day, the con attendee’s played nice with eachother, but the cons themselves did not. There needs to be a much better balance between both cons next year in my opinion.

The Panels

Veronica Taylor and Misako Rocks! prepare for their panel on anime voice acting and art

The panels were fantastic this year! For the first time I got to attend Disorganization XIII’s Spoiler: The Panel, and it was hilarious! I also got to attend a panel on culinary manga, as well as panels on the hit CW shows Nikita and The Vampire Diaries, which were chock-full of stars.

One of the top panels for me, however, had to be the Robot Chicken panel, which was attended by Seth Green and co-creator Matt, Seth’s wife, and special guest Macauley Culkin, who will be starring in their Christmas special this year (which, by the way, will be a full hour long!). We also got sneak-peek footage of the special, as well as of their third Star Wars parody and the upcoming 5th season, which will include an “epic” 100th episode.

Another great panel was one celebrating Butters of South Park fame. Trivia games were played and tons of swag was thrown into the crowd, making for a fun and energetic half hour!

On the work side of things, I also attended the Bandai and FUNimation panels (you can read my round-up of the announcements they made here), which were both exciting.

The only panel that didn’t work was Anime Clue, and that was purely an error of location. It took place on the Variant Stage, which was located in the ComicCon Artist’s Alley. The noise from the Alley made it difficult to follow along with the panel, and that killed the audience participation.

The Guests

Taliesin Jaffe and Chris Bevins show how close their friendship really is as they promoted Sengoku Basara at the FUNimation booth.

There were a ton of incredible guests at the con. While I didn’t even attempt to try and meet the big names like Stan Lee and Bruce Campbell, I did meet my fair share of people I was excited to see. The first three I met were Taliesin Jaffe, Chris Bevins, and Michael Sinterniklaas, who were all there with FUNimation promoting the new Sengoku Basara game, which looked like a ton of fun! I got to chat with them until I got kicked out of the booth so they could do their signing. I also got to meet Stephanie Sheh, who signed my cover of Persona 3: FES, as she plays Metis.

There were a few people I sadly didn’t get to see, however. I showed up to the Bandai booth 2 hours early to meet Crispin Freeman, but the line to do so was already wrapped around the booth and out the dealer’s room door, so I didn’t even attempt it. I also wanted to meet the Vampire Diaries cast, but when I showed up 2 1/2 hours early to the signing, there were already over a thousand people in line, so again, I didn’t even try.

The Dealer’s Room

Gumby, Chun-Li, and Cammy played The Michael Jackson Experience at the Ubisoft booth!

The dealer’s room (called the ‘exhibit hall’) was a double-edged sword. It was full of incredible vendors and sights to see, but it was laid out poorly. They shoved all of the anime-related booths against one wall, and that one aisle was absolutely impossible to move through because it was so crowded.

There were tons of computers at the Square Enix booth where people were playing Final Fantasy XIV, and the gigantic Wii booth had playable versions of Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby’s Epic Yarn. The Sega booth had a playable version of Sonic Colors, which looked AMAZING (yes, a GOOD Sonic game!). They also let me into a special room in the middle of their booth where I got to see a sneak-peek at the making of their upcoming Thor video game. It looked great and was extremely true to its Norse Mythology roots, which greatly impressed me.

There was also tons of swag that was being given away. I didn’t grab much since most of it was given away by comic book vendors and I’m not a huge comic book fan, but I did get a few cool things. Manga Entertainment had a booth and I got some free pins from them, and I got a Golden Eye 007 lanyard from the game’s booth, which was handled in a really cool way; they had the game playable, and they let people play in groups of four. Whoever won the game got a free t-shirt! The line to play it was long, so I only got to observe, but it looked fantastic!

I also snuck a peek at a playable demo of the XBox 360’s motion sensor, the Kinect. It looked like it was responding well, but slowly. I couldn’t get close enough to try it myself, of course.

The best part of the dealer’s room for me, however, was the Disney booth. They had a playable version of Disney Epic Mickey, and I was lucky enough to get a quick interview with one of the game’s programmers, Sean Barton! Check it out!

All in all, New York ComicCon / New York Anime Festival 2010 was a great con with plenty of room for improvement, but that was expected for their first time running a convention of this size. I was absolutely enchanted by it, especially by the exhibition hall. I have never seen anything like it before in person, and the energy of the dealer’s booths alone is going to ensure that I will do my best to attend again next year!

If you’d like more goodies from the con, then check some of this stuff out:

  • Check out my YouTube Playlist of all the videos I took at the con, including a live drawing session with Misako Rocks!, voice acting warm-ups with Veronica Taylor, and an impromptu K-ON!! concert starring Christina Vee!
  • Check out my photo gallery of all the photos I took during the con!
  • Listen to my podcast on the con, featuring Jon Ingoglia!

As a final bit, check out some other great reviews on the con from some fantastic writers!

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Chu*Review: Guild Wars

Yes, I know this game has been out for quite some time, but I must admit that even with all of my love for video games, I am pretty much brand newe to the world of MMORPGs. Don’t believe me? Listen to the episode of Chu*Cast where my brother and I discuss the genre!

In fact, recording that podcast episode got me thinking about the genre. I have had one previous foray into the world of MMORPGs before this point, and that was with City of Heroes, which I happen to adore. Unfortunately this game has monthly fees. These fees aren’t too out of the question ($15 a month), but for someone like me who is on a tight budget, I simply can’t afford it. Still, I was almost overcome with the temptation to just buy monthly subscription cards whenever I had the money to do so. There is something so delightfully intoxicating about this game to me, and I had assumed it was unique to this game. That all changed when I picked up Guild Wars.

Guild Wars is and always has been a free-to-play MMORPG, which was rare for its time; nowadays, many mainstream MMORPGs such as Lord of the Rings Online are becoming free-to-play (my theory is that the economy is clearly hitting this genre hard, but I digress). Now, when you look at this situation, you may assume that if it’s free, the quality of the game and the service won’t be up to par with those that have monthly fees to drive such things. However, this is absolutely not the case with this game.

You start the game as a warrior in the kingdom of Ascalon, which is under attack by a group of beasts known as the Charr. You quickly become inducted into the Ascalon Vanguard, a group of people dedicated to fighting the Charr, led by the prince of the kingdom himself. The story grows from this point as you work to try and protect the innocent and rid the kingdom of the Charr. How you go about this, however, is up to you.

When you enter character creation, you have a choice of creating a roleplaying character or a PvP (player versus player) character. A roleplaying character can be used to play through the storyline of the game and complete all of the quests. If you’re not interested in any of that and just want to bust some heads, you can create a PvP character which is used on a special island that is purely for squaring off against other players in group combats in different arenas. You cannot use a PvP character to go through the storyline and visa versa, so this is an important choice to make.

Creating your character on its own is a lot of fun. You can choose your face, hair, and hair color, as well as the colors of different parts of your outfit. After that, you get to choose between several different classes, and then get to choose another class as your secondary class fairly soon into the game. The primary class you choose will designate what kind of armor and abilities you use. Your secondary class will allow you to gain some of the abilities from that class without being tied down to its armor and weapon restrictions. For example, if you want to run in and tank your way through enemies while still being able to heal yourself and your allies, then you can create a Warrior character and choose to be a Monk as your secondary class, giving you the fighting power while still having spells that can heal your party or smite your enemies. The game makes this choice easy by allowing you to go to leaders of each class and try out a mission for them along with some of their abilities. If you don’t like what you tried out, just tell the questgiver that you changed your mind after you turn in the quest and go try another!

As for the gameplay, I found it to be a lot of fun. I realized quickly as I started playing that the things I loved so much about City of Heroes were things that are the basis of MMORPGs. I found it a lot of fun to run around town and see who had a quest for me. This is a sinch to do; you will see a glowing green exclamation point over their head if they have a quest for you, eliminating the need to stop and talk to every single person. Another thing that makes playing this game very streamlined is the ability to automatically teleport to a location once you’ve been there. This cuts out a lot of time that you would spend running back and fourth to turn quests in, and also negates the possibility of you getting killed on your way to and from places.

This point brings me to the battle system. It’s very simple; you click on a monster and you automatically go and attack it. You can have up to 8 abilities at your disposal at one time. These are mapped to your number keys, so throwing a spell is as easy as clicking and pressing the button of the ability you wish to use. Another thing I like about this game (since I am usually horrible at combat) is that if you stay out of battle for several seconds, you will begin to naturally regenerate your health. The lower your health is, however, the longer it takes to regenerate. This is a great failsafe at first when you’re just starting out, but later on it could take several minutes to stand there and let your health regenerate, and at that point you will be better off just using a healing spell. After the battle, you can collect whatever gold or items the monster dropped. Don’t worry if you’re fighting in a crowded area; the items dropped by monsters you killed are assigned to you and only you, so you don’t have any risk of someone stealing your loot.

The game also has a great quest log and map system. You click on a quest in the quest log and the map automatically shows you the way to the next point in the quest. This is a HUGE plus for me, since I have a busy schedule and often forget what I was doing or where things were when I last left off. As for things outside of battle, there are your normal armor and weapons sellers that will make weapons for you if you give them the right materials, general item sellers, and collectors who will trade you items for items they like to collect. These people are easy to distinguish from regular townsfolk since their names will indicate what kind of merchant they are. They can also be found either in towns or along roads.

My favorite part of the game by far are the visuals. This game is gorgeous in every sense of the word. The lands and backgrounds are lush and breathtaking, the character designs are beautiful, and the music and sound effects are top-notch. This game is also chock-filled with voice acting, and all of the voice work i’ve heard in this game so far has been excellent.

Of course, no game can be perfect. The way that this game handles dieing is a double-edged sword for me. If you have someone with the ability to resurrect people in your party, they may do so within 10 seconds of your death; otherwise, you will be teleported to the nearest respawn point. This only works out in your favor about half of the time when your party is full of AI characters; most of the time when I died, the Monk in my party was too engrossed in battle to resurrect me. Also, when you die, you are ‘weakened by death’ and suffer a hit to your experience points, as well as certain percentage of your strength and health going down, starting in 20% incriments and never going higher than stripping you of 60% of your strength. The only way you can gain your strength back is by fighting killing monsters and bosses. This is very frustrating; if I couldn’t survive with all of my health, what makes you think I’m going to survive with 40% of it? I understand that they don’t want to make death seem like its not a big deal, but perhaps weakening you in smaller increments would make it feel more balanced.

Another thing I wanted to mention is the quest difficulty. You can solo most of the quests, but later on it will become important to travel with a party. You can always get a party of NPCs, but from what I can gather they wind up being downright ineffective later on in the game. This will make you want to turn to the dreaded task of finding actual players to quest with. While its easy enough to find a populated area and advertise that you’re looking for a party (or just want to join one for kicks), it can be a long time before you find one willing to help you. This can be an issue with any MMO though, so it’s hard to hold it against this game.

So if you’re looking for a great MMORPG with no monthly fees, Guild Wars is definitely something to check out! You can pick up a trilogy pack of the base game and two main expansions, plus you can buy a plethora of smaller expansions and add-ons, ensuring that it will be quite some time before you run out of stuff to do. Go check it out!

Pick up the Guild Wars Trilogyor a copy of the sequel Guild Wars 2via these links, and you’ll be supporting Chu*Blog at no additional cost to you! Thanks in advance!

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