Persona 5 OTP Sketch

I just finished Persona 5 and it is without a doubt my GOTY for 2017. That said, it is only mid year and so many amazing things have come out already. The latter half of the year is looking fantastic too. P5 just gave me something that I’ve wanted for a while now with JRPGs and it’s that total package feeling. From start to finish this game is polished in terms of visuals, menu mechanics, battle flow, storytelling, crafting, and everything else, top to bottom. And in conjunction with its previous entries, it’s a billion lightyears ahead of its predecessors. Persona 3 and 4 were in no way bad games, and are still in my top lineup for solid JRPGs, but Persona 5 just took every aspect of them to a new heightened level.

In honor of my completion of the game and just before I spend another 120 hours on my New Game + playthrough, I’ve sketched my OTP (One True Pairing) favorite couple for Persona. Futaba and Akira. It may seem odd, since she is considerably younger than the fans of the series, but in terms of both she and Akira, the age gap is very small. Her bond is unique compared to all the others because it’s one of perfect trust on a very vulnerable level. Futaba has to overcome both her trauma regarding the death of her mother and her own fear of socializing after years of seclusion. Akira brings out the best in her and supports her in a way that nobody else could. Combined with Sojoiro’s moving story about her, the story makes perfect sense for Akira to take care of her heart as someone that both she and Sojiro trust.

Also, she’s awesome and takes no shit. Strong-willed and super smart with a kind heart and a cruel sense of humor. This girl deserves the world.

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Nisekoi: False Love—A Love Story For Everyone

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Imagine two crime bosses coming together while their ranks fight it out in the streets.  Instead of fighting themselves, they devise a plan to keep their city from falling apart from their gang wars.  One of them offers a son, and the other his daughter.  The plan—they start dating and the syndicates use it as a bridge to stop their fighting for good.  The problem—their kids don’t like each other.  This is the premise to Naoshi Komi’s 2012 hit manga and now anime called Nisekoi:  False Love that currently runs in Weekly Shonen Jump magazine.  This twist on the average love story has garnered much popularity and sparked 2 seasons of an anime and counting.  Its premise seems simple at first, but add to that multiple love interests and a confused male hero and you’ve got yourself a hit rom-com that connects with everyone.

The story centers on Raku, a boy whose father runs the Yakuza in the area.  He’s well-mannered, he cooks, he cleans, and he does well in school.  All traits of most female characters.  The other main character is Chitoge, a girl whose father runs the mafia in her part of town.  She’s athletic, she’s often insensitive, and she’s super good looking.  Traits of a typical male character in a love story.  Together, they make our fake couple with the goal of keeping their family organizations convinced that they truly care for each other so the city doesn’t suffer.  The only hitch is that they are complete opposites and can’t stand each other.  This problem becomes the funniest and most compelling part of the story to watch and genuinely keeps you invested to the end.

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What makes Nisekoi interesting lies in the premise’s ability to make its way into every part of the characters’ lives.  And unfortunately, though it helps their families, it has some negative effects on their social lives.  On top of the entire school touting them as a new power couple, Raku is unable to tell the girl he truly likes that it’s just a fake relationship.  Of course, in true romance fashion, Raku has no idea that the girl he likes, Onodera, actually likes him back.  To complicate it more, other girls fall in love and compete for Raku’s love which challenges Chitoge’s fake love.  But what follows is not a tale of just competition, but honestly a tale of friendship and honesty.  Each character’s affections for Raku only bring them closer to each other as they realize they all want the same things in a romantic partner.  It also allows Raku to showcase his caring personality that reflects the idea that a truly good person will be good to anyone without having to have a reason.

Now, you’re probably wondering how is this in Shonen Jump?  Where are the action pages and crazy super powers?  I thought this was for boys who like action and not some Shōjo manga for girls?  Well, here’s where Komi really shows his stuff.  Certain characters in the mafia or Yakuza will showcase prowess beyond human belief.  Chitoge even displays unearthly strength and athleticism and her bodyguard, Tsugumi, is actually a trained assassin.  That’s right, assassin.  It’s the mafia, so it works.  The action here is rare, but the dosage is right on the mark for the magazine’s usual crowd and it always makes sense in the narrative.  But what’s interesting is that a romance manga can be clever enough to be both semi-action oriented while also presenting itself as a non-typical romance story and get away with it in an action magazine for boys.

And it’s not just for boys!  It’s easy to think that Chitoge or Onodera could end up as just eye candy for the male fanbase, but the modesty in which Komi draws them with is unheard of for the medium.  Never are they presented as pinups or sexual figures.  In fact, Raku ends up shirtless probably more times than any of them even approach the line of sexually appealing in an overt way.  There are even other male characters that get the spotlight like Raku’s best friend Shu and he even gets his own love triangle too.  This story is just as much for boys as it is girls in that it showcases both sides’ thoughts and feelings equally.  What Nisekoi achieves is a balance between what both sexes would like to see in a manga about real relationships while maintaining the expectations of a shonen manga.

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Onscreen, the anime does the series justice in that we get to see the humorous situations and reactions in real time, and it honestly translates better that way.  Much of the humor of the series is in physical comedy, so the show really gets an advantage there.  The anime covers everything almost perfectly and the art style is well-mimicked from the pages.  No character feels flat at any time and the music always sets the scenes well.

If you’re interested in a funny and different kind of love story, then check out Nisekoi: False Love.  It’s a must read for both Shonen and Shojo fans.  If you’re like me and you get invested pretty quickly, you’ll even find yourself rooting for one of the girls in particular and hoping their dreams come true.  I’m unashamedly on Team Chitoge.

You can check out both seasons of Nisekoi on Hulu and purchase the manga at any major bookstore.

Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans S1 Review

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In the year 2000, most Americans were introduced to the idea of Gundam through Cartoon Network’s Tonnami block with the hit series Mobile Suit Gundam Wing like I was was.  Its popularity guaranteed almost every release of the Gundam franchise since then on either Cartoon Network or the Sci-Fi channel, and hopefully the latest, Iron-Blooded Orphans, won’t be an exception since a dubbing cast has already been announced.  It has already sparked model kits and fan art across the internet, and honestly made this Gundam fan consider it to be possibly the very best of the bunch.

Like Gundam Wing and all other entries before it, Iron-Blooded Orphans (IBO) exists in a harsh reality where kids are soldiers against a corrupt government.  But this Gundam show goes a bit further than its previous series, and despite much controversy overseas it brazenly confronts realistic depictions of child soldiers, child slavery, children murdering, and the effects of mass poverty.  The sheer brutality of IBO’s world is only matched by the determination of its victims, a group of orphans enslaved by the military on Mars.  The two main characters are Orga and Mikazuki, two orphans that were forced to survive by killing and stealing at as young children.  Mikazuki and many of the other children were forced to undergo a risky surgery to attach themselves to mobile suits in order to work and fight for their oppressors—a surgery most of them did not survive.  Those that did, under Orga’s command, overthrow their captors and embark on a galaxy-wide journey toward freedom.  Calling themselves “Tekkadan” or Iron Flower Brigade, the children continue to fight as an organization that vows to help a political activist garner better rights for the people of Mars who are dominated completely by a galaxy governing agency known as Gjallarhorn.  As they make their way toward Earth, it becomes very clear that no one is safe and that the only positive outcome is the fact that they got to choose their fates for themselves.

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From the first episode, IBO shows no mercy in its depiction of child slaves.  More surprisingly, it makes it clearer that none of its main characters are safe from the hand they’ve been dealt in this world.  Orga is constantly tormented by the burden of leading the children in battle as well as the crushing weight of Mikazuki’s expectations that he’s held for him since they were very young.  Mikazuki is drawn with wide, unblinking eyes that demand unwavering answers from his childhood leader and his intensity carries through to the battlefield.  He cuts down his enemies without a second thought and without remorse—actions of what most would consider a sociopath created by war.  Actions that are mirrored from his childhood when he had to kill to survive.  All of this is framed by the perspective of a young woman named Kudelia, the aforementioned activist, who vows to stand up to the corrupt government and make real change for the people of Mars.

The style of IBO is clean and beautiful, but the weight of the series is harsh and unrelenting.  Some of the character designs stand out like a sore thumb, like Orga’s visor-like hair, but the majority are easy to look at and remember.  Each episode’s narrative is action packed and emotional in a very balanced way that keeps you coming back for more.  And each time you return you just wish things could be better for these characters, but it keeps you wondering who will even survive the end.

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The Gundam designs are some of the most unique in the franchise’s history in that there is no one style of Gundam.  Each one seems to be designed specifically toward what its main approach to fighting may be.  The main suit, Gundam Barbatos, is a sleek and quick machine like its pilot Mikazuki and it is versatile in that it can wield almost any kind of weapon.  Gundam Gusion eventually shows up in completely opposite fashion, sporting a bulky frame and a giant hammer—clearly a wall of power to be reckoned with.  As more and more appear, it becomes obvious that each suit is a reflection of its pilot in some way and this provides a unique connection and easy association visually for viewers.  It never pours on the action scenes in the mobile suits too heavily, and it spends most of its time developing the world and the characters in it.

By the end of the first season, I was left breathless and exhausted as much as the characters were after what they went through.  It never falters on the seriousness of their situation and though you get small moments of humor, it is only to build character and further twist the knife in your heart when the pain of their world hits them another time.  As the newest entry in the Gundam universe, I can honestly say that none of the previous shows have come close to covering the issues of our real world the way that IBO does.  It’s not overly preachy about how awful these things are, but it definitely makes sure that you see the horrors and you lament the losses that the characters endure.  There are no throwaway characters and there are few annoying stereotypes to detract from the experience.

Iron-Blooded Orphans is powerful and one of the most unique entries in the Gundam franchise.  The entire first season is available on Hulu as well as Crunchyroll at 25 episodes and it will return for a second season in the Fall of 2016.

Review: Tales of Link

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Finally released in the U.S., Tales of Link hit the android store and summoned up 300,000 players in just one week.  Longtime fans are familiar with the Tales Series’ characters and their numerous composite games like Tales of the World, but this one brought us a brand new system made just for the mobile market–without all the pay to play nonsense.

Tales of Link is a matching game where you link the shapes and colors underneath your characters on a 3×3 grid to have them attack and simultaneously build up mana for special abilities.  You can get all your favorite characters from levels 1 to 5 stars which indicate the tiers of their abilities to use in battle.  The game runs on Hero Stones which are awarded at the end of every completed quest and they allow you to continue if you lose a match, buy new characters, or expand the limits on how many characters or materials you can hold.  The materials are used in a very in-depth crafting system to create weapons and armor for your characters to use in battle.  Most of this part is still unearthed in that there are no guides that really explain how most of the synthesis works, but some of it comes in the form of Events.

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Weekly events pop up in the Notice box that allow you to test your skills in order to gain higher level characters or rare materials.  Luckily, in the first week, one such event actually detailed the progression of a synthesis that created multiple new items if you gathered all the materials together.  Unfortunately, the rest of the game doesn’t explain or include any information on the progressions for any of the other weapons or materials, so it’s all just guessing from here.

The game follows a well thought out story that surprisingly features lots of dialogue and voice acting.  Most of the game is in the form of the Tales Series’ well known skit features, so it’s really just anime stills talking to each other, but it’s clear there was a lot of work put into it since the game introduces over 75 new characters just for this game alone.

The difficulty increases as you go along and the whole story took maybe 3 weeks to complete off and on since you’re given a stamina meter and only so much play time per meter.  You can use items to recover your stamina, but once you’re out you’ll have to purchase more with real money.  You can even purchase more Hero Stones as well, but honestly the game practically throws them at you.  And that’s what really kept me hooked—the game never forced you to buy in and never gave you a reason beyond your own fandom.  Sure you can buy as many characters as you want, but once you reach the end of the game there’s no reason to.  I finished with about 30 Hero Stones to spare and I was able to spend 150+ just getting characters without buying them.

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The downside is that when you finish the game, there isn’t much to do other than replay levels or wait for weekly events.  Replay value is really non-existent since you don’t need to get more Hero Stones and you don’t need to get new characters.  As a pay-to-play model, I’m not sure Bandai-Namco really thought it through, but maybe that wasn’t their intention.  Maybe they wanted you to play just to enjoy it and if you wanted more you could buy more.  The best comparison I can make is to Pokemon Shuffle, where the puzzle play is limited to 5 an hour and if you want to play more you buy in.  If you have a difficult time in the game you can buy items to help.  This forces the player to purchase if they want to continue, which works for some, but mostly makes me play for a short time and then turn it off.  For Tales of Link, I get the feeling they wanted you to play it and get as much enjoyment out of it at all times as you would one of their full length RPGs.  Pay to play only if you have a hard time.

As a free game, Tales of Link is solid and mindless fun until you hit the higher levels.  Then it becomes a game of timing and resources to make sure you survive.  I still play it for fun and I still play the events, but I do wish there were more story missions or new levels.  That’s one thing that mobile puzzle games have on this one—infinite play versus capped.  But as a whole, Tales of Link is for the fans and it feels like it through and through.  Pick your favorite characters and run a team of them against all odds for the hell of it.

My team:  Reala, Philia, Cress, Leon, Sophie, Kohaku, Lloyd, Hubert, and Leia

You can pick up Tales of link on any Android device today.