KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Mon Dec 19, 2016 9:34 pm

Dishonored 2 (2016)

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Basic Summary: A deposed Empress or her father fight to reclaim their empire from the hands of a sinister coven.
Genre: Stealth-Action
Systems: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Created by: Arkane Studios
Directed by: Harvey Smith
Written by: Sandra Duval, Terri Brosius, Austin Grossman
Designed and Programmed by: Dinga Bakaba, Hugues Tardif
Starring: Stephen Russell, Erica Luttrell, Vincent D'Onofrio, Rosario Dawson, Robin Lord Taylor
Story-Gameplay Ratio: 5:5



For the unaware, Dishonored 2 follows Emily Kaldwin and Corvo Attano, respectively the Empress of the Isles and her father / Royal Protector. Fifteen years after the assassination of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin and Corvo's bloody vengeance on the conspirators responsible, Dunwall is once again facing a crisis: a brutal serial killer dubbed the "Crown Killer" is eliminating Emily's political rivals and framing the crime scenes to appear as if she and Corvo are responsible, which is causing tension to build throughout the empire. Emily and Corvo resolve to track down the culprit, but when the anniversary of Jessamine's death hits, they find themselves suddenly cast down from power and framed for the murders by the all-powerful witch Delilah and her helper, the Duke of neighboring isle Serkonos. With one of the rightful rulers sealed away in stone, the other escapes Dunwall and sets sail for Serkonos's southern port of Karnaca, where the Duke reigns supreme and Delilah's plot began. It's up to them and them alone to claw their way back up from nothing, bring this new conspiracy down, and reclaim the throne before Delilah brings the empire to ruin...

Spoiler: show
The original Dishonored is one of my all-time favorite games -- if not my absolute favorite, then definitely in my top five. It's such an astounding title, boasting a bleak and gripping story taking place in a superbly developed and well-realized world, as well as tight stealth gameplay rivaling the genre's best and a devotion to letting you pick any number of different approaches and playstyles to accomplish your goals. I've played it more times than I can count since its release in 2012, and I still find new things to appreciate within its richly detailed and secret-filled missions. So when the sequel was announced last year, I was absolutely elated, and it easily became my most anticipated release of 2016 even as I fought to keep my expectations in check. Now the game is out, and I've completed High and Low Chaos runs with both characters, so I can finally talk about it. Does it live up to the first game's lofty standards, or is it doomed to sink into the grimy seas and be torn apart by hagfish?

Strap in, 'cause I've got a lot to say.

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We'll go with the best stuff first, so we begin with the gameplay. As I've said, Dishonored was no slouch in the gameplay department, so it would take quite a lot of work to improve meaningfully upon it. Fortunately, that's exactly what Dishonored 2 does. The core systems of sneaking around and taking out your enemies remain in place, but numerous updates and additions have been made across the board to tighten up an already fantastic experience. The addition of combat choking, knockouts from above, and assorted non-lethal weaponry makes pursuing a Low Chaos run simpler and more gratifying (which is good, because as I'll establish, Low Chaos is the preferred option in this game). Improvements to the HUD and in-game display elements make the detection system, kill/spare mechanics, and rune hunting much less aggravating, most notably giving you the ability to lock specific runes and bone charms in basic gameplay so you don't have to constantly walk around with the Heart out. Corvo's returning powers from the previous game are mostly either preserved or improved (I say "mostly" because Bend Time has gotten a lot shittier and less effective for some reason), but Emily's new abilities like Domino and Shadow Walk steal the show by being so useful and fun to use. Finally, the divisive Chaos system is much more forgiving; you can waste a few dozen guards without getting a severe penalty, and individual targets have different moral standings that make it either immoral or completely fine to murder them.

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The missions are also dramatically tightened up from a gameplay standpoint. The original game had the unforgettable "Lady Boyle's Last Party" and a few other fun change-ups, but it was otherwise pretty much straight stealth with few variations on your goals -- the variety came from how many approaches you could take to solving the problems within these environments. The sequel ramps things up another few degrees, delivering some insanely fun missions with impressive variety to them. The obvious standouts are the prominently-touted "The Clockwork Mansion" (which has you sneaking around and shifting the rooms of a labyrinthine mansion infested with fearsome clockwork sentinels) and "A Crack In The Slab" (whose gimmick is so unexpected and stunning that I won't spoil it), but a few of the other levels presented as straightforward stealth missions wind up having some kind of twist or added complication that makes them all the more fun. The final mission is a bit of a blue-baller, but I'll get to the many failings of the endgame soon.

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The final main gameplay change is that supplies are much scarcer, which has an even bigger impact than you'd think. The original game let you restock and purchase upgrades at Piero's workshop before every mission, but the boat that serves as your hub in this one doesn't have a store and comes with very few supplies of its own, forcing you to scavenge environments more thoroughly and make every little pickup count. The store is replaced by black market shops you can track down in alleyways and abandoned storefronts, but their supplies vary, their prices are frequently jacked up, and the shopkeepers can be scared away or killed accidentally. The game does give you opportunities to rob each shop by various means, but doing so prevents you from using that shop again and may lead to other criminals attempting robberies. I appreciated the feeling of desperately surviving and managing which resources I might need for the missions ahead, even if I do miss Piero and the original hub structure.

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Moving on, the game's visuals are another area of significant improvement. The original's painterly art style and distinctively unrealistic character models are preserved through the platform shift, yet the graphical fidelity shoots way up -- things are no more realistic than last time, but they look even better within their world. Karnaca is as much a beautifully realized location as Dunwall before it, with an instantly memorable aesthetic and numerous flourishes from the tiniest texture to the distant skybox that make this whole world feel like a place people actually work and live in -- and that's just the way the world is built up visually, to say nothing of the rich lore and environmental interactions. Sadly, the music is not on the same level: many of the original's memorably eerie piano-and-string tunes are gone with nothing but awkward silence to replace them, and the rousing, cathartic piece that played over the original's credits is merely followed up with a random street song that doesn't bring anything to a close, tie into any themes, or sound particularly wonderful on its own.

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Now let's focus on some characters. In the original game, Corvo Attano was silent and something of a cipher, but he managed to rise above a lot of silent protagonists with little flashes of personality in his dialogue choices and body language (and the High Chaos finale in particular made him just as compelling as if he'd been voiced). We're not talking about the new DOOM's levels of voiceless personality, but there was something nice there that made him work. Now played by Stephen Russell, I have mixed feelings about him. His weary, depressed personality shines throughout the campaign if you choose him, and his lamentations about how hard he's still taking Jessamine's death even though he brought all of the conspirators to justice feel like natural extensions of his character in the first game. However, Russell's vocal performance comes off just a few degrees too gruff and thuggish for my taste (even if it does fit Corvo's age), and his emotional range isn't going to blow any minds. He does get a few fun bits of dialogue in Karnaca, especially in the district where he grew up (look hard enough, and you might even find his childhood home), as well as an amusing exchange with the Outsider at the start; that's mostly it, though.

This is Emily's story through and through, to the point that it's no wonder Corvo's route feels kind of underdeveloped. The developers clearly intend for you to play through the game the first time with Emily -- the narrative beats work fine enough for Corvo, but it feels more right with her, and everything from the setup of the optional tutorial to her narration in the prologue signals that this is her game. Her demeanor at the beginning and what you're told of her fifteen-year reign easily fit with the little girl you spent so much time protecting in the original, and her progression into either a pragmatic saboteur or a ruthless assassin makes some level of sense even if the plot is too undercooked to make it feel completely natural. Erica Luttrell's performance is great, and her range helps her sell most of the important beats. Not to mention that her powers are ultimately much more fun to use in this setting than Corvo's.

Unfortunately, while Corvo and Emily's bond was one of the driving elements of the original game, the interaction between the two of them is almost nonexistent thanks to Delilah freezing whomever you don't choose to play as in the opening cutscene. You don't see the frozen character again until the very end of the game -- and by "very end," I literally mean the last ten seconds. They had a great opportunity with two voiced characters, but they wasted it. The most interaction Emily gets with her father is in the surprisingly heartwarming optional tutorial, which sees him training her to fend for herself on the streets of Dunwall. Could've had something there, even if it was something as simple as being able to talk to the other character bedridden in the hub boat.

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The Outsider was a critical part of giving the original game its ominous, off-kilter feeling, in no small part thanks to how powerfully eerie Billy Lush's performance was, and how it contributed to his characterization as a curious god pushing "interesting" dominos in the world to see where everything falls. Well, that Outsider is not here, and it's not just because Billy Lush got screwed over by Arkane for no reason (they didn't tell him he wouldn't reprise the role even after they brought him in to narrate the trailer!). Robin Lord Taylor does... fine, but he neither reaches Lush's iconic heights nor channels his own talents that make his Oswald Cobblepot one of the few enjoyable characters on Gotham. He's just kind of there. It might be fine if his characterization stayed the same, but this Outsider is openly more helpful, friendlier and less objective about observing where the pieces fall; he even reveals where he came from. There are plot-related reasons for this shift (albeit poor ones, since they revolve around Delilah), and much of his dialogue is at least written in the same tone as the original, but it still feels wrong.

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Finally, the villains. Main villainess Delilah Copperspoon was the central antagonist of the original game's two-part Daud DLC The Knife of Dunwall / The Brigmore Witches, and while I didn't really care for or feel threatened by her, she was a serviceable side villain who worked well within the conceit of Daud's story. I had heard that Arkane decided to bring her back for the sequel because they came up with a story worth telling for her and wanted to spend more time making her a cooler character. Everybody chant it with me: You fucked up! You fucked up! You fucked up! Yeah, I'm curious to know what the supposed "story worth telling" was, because none of that is in here. Her performance is just as flatly hammy as it was previously, and she's still characterized as an insanely entitled bitch who thinks she deserves Emily's throne. An attempt is made around the halfway point to make her a sympathetic villain, but the way it's handled and the ultimately generic content of her backstory make everything fall flat even for how intriguing these story beats could be on paper. She doesn't provoke any personal ire, and the fact that she's on the opposite side of the Isles until the last mission makes her seem too distant. Literally everyone -- including the Outsider, who is functionally God -- hypes her up as an impossibly cunning and ruthless threat, but with nothing to back that up, it feels more like the creators shilling a Mary Sue than the building of suspense. She truly is one of the game's weakest links, and things would have been better tenfold had she not been brought back.

Some of the other prominent villains thankfully pick up the slack, at least for the most part. Luca Abele, the Duke of Serkonos, takes a few missions to make more of an impression than "evil tropical dictator archetype"; however, once his characterization kicks in, he steals the show so well that his lacking presence in the game is another huge flaw. Unlike every other antagonist in the series, he makes no pretensions about being a good or deserving ruler; he's a hedonistic, hard-partying manchild who has no justification for his actions and makes nonsensical intercom speeches that sometimes end with "Duke out!" Vincent D'Onofrio gives it his all and makes a damn fine impression; I just wanted so much more out of him than what I got. Also impressing is genius inventor Kirin Jindosh, the owner of the Clockwork Mansion and creator of the Clockwork Soldier enemies -- he only sticks around for a single chapter, but his Riddler / Jigsaw-esque taunting, casually cruel demeanor, and importance to the world give him an edge that makes the already brilliant level even more investing, and it's so fun to finally give him his comeuppance.

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The Crown Killer... is less enjoyable. I love the Dishonored world, I love serial killer characters and stories about them, and I loved fighting supernaturally empowered characters in the first game -- the Crown Killer should have been the money shot for me. Hell, you could write the entire plot around the concept of Emily's reign being threatened by a sinister, Outsider-marked killer and the steps taken to track them down. Tragically, though, this promising killer is completely wasted to the point that the very inclusion of this plot element in the game is inconsequential. Her pictured design is fearsome and her murders are sufficiently brutal, but she's tracked down far too early, her identity is obvious from the mission briefing alone, and the confrontation with her is flaccid and unsatisfying even if you deliberately try to drag it out and let her have a fighting chance (to say nothing of how dumb and effortless the Low Chaos solution is). The reasoning behind her existence in the story is questionable at best, and her motives are practically null and void. I wouldn't be so bitter over this if the setup wasn't so promising and made out to be more meaningful than it turns out to be.

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And that's as good a transition as any to Dishonored 2's most glaring drawback: the story. It starts off with a rushed coup supported on flimsy reasoning that we're supposed to believe the whole empire bought into, and your character is shuttled off to Karnaca in even less time than it took for Corvo to break out of prison. Even for how well developed Karnaca is, the journey there feels too short even though it's supposed to take place over about a month's time, and the stakes in the city don't feel as high or as bleak as they did in the first game. In fact, the whole conflict lacks a lot in the way of stakes; getting deposed by Delilah feels less like being completely screwed over and more like being faced with a mildly problematic roadblock, and despite the hand-to-mouth supply scavenging and tighter living quarters, you never really feel desperate. The missions may be extremely fun to play, but only a few are made to feel like they have any meaningful impact on how the city operates, and only the last three missions before returning to Dunwall feel like they change the city in any way. It's all distant, vague, and seriously undercooked; the coup by normal humans felt more threatening and difficult to overcome than the takeover by a godlike witch. And while a High Chaos route slowly transforms your character into a bloodthirsty avatar of vengeance, the process doesn't feel nearly as logical as the first game's events made it feel.

Which brings us to the finale, and how badly the game drops the ball here. The final mission in Dishonored changed drastically depending on your Chaos level, with the High Chaos variation and the poetic confrontations contained within it forming one of my favorite endgame scenarios in any game. In this game, you need Low Chaos to get anything out of it -- not because the final mission changes in any way (it remains exactly the same on High or Low Chaos, and exactly as disappointing), but because a critical piece of information that makes one of your main allies relevant to the story is completely withheld from you on High Chaos, making the severing of ties with your allies before the final mission feel hollow and forgettable. The actual content of the mission starts off satisfyingly eerie and atmospheric, but it quickly loses steam as you're pitted against the irritating witches in a version of Dunwall Tower filled with reused assets from the first game. It's both frustratingly quick and goes on longer than it needs to with an artificial roadblock, but at least Delilah's godlike power should make for a satisfying confrontation, right? Nope. The Low Chaos option to deal with her is literally rehashed from the DLC, and battling her straight-on takes about half a minute if you do it right and is weirdly impersonal and silent after so many attempts to build a personal rivalry between the two of you. Then comes the ending, which is just a music-less slideshow narrated by the Outsider that's structured bizarrely and ends anticlimactically. There's actually a sequel hook on Low Chaos, but it sets up a plot I'm not even sure I want.

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So the plot's a wash, but that's not the last problem I have. I could talk about how I wish they'd focused more on making a sequel to Dishonored than making a sequel to the DLCs, and I could moan about how badly I wish they hadn't ostracized High Chaos players of both the vanilla game and the DLCs. But instead, what I want to end on is the lack of ambiguity, which is a bigger problem than you might think. Part of Dishonored's mystique was how much of its world was left unexplained, and how many story elements were left to implication and interpretation. Corvo was a figure of mystery whose past was speculated on by a number of people. The Outsider's past was hinted at in supplementary materials, but his exact nature was never confirmed in-game, and the nature of his Void was left as an open, Lovecraftian question. Things like Corvo being Emily's illegitimate father and the Heart containing a fragment of Jessamine's soul were strongly implied, but none of it was outright part of the story. It all came together to give the feeling of a snapshot, a window into a much larger world full of mysteries and secrets that perhaps would have been better left to the imagination.

All of those little intricacies are just confirmed outright now, and their effect is thus dulled. Corvo and the Outsider become less intriguing, the relationship between Corvo and Emily isn't explored to much effect (and we never learn when everyone found out about the parentage), and most damningly, the Heart's commentary is less bitter and spiteful, instead having Jessamine be sorrowful and directly speak (and even manifest) to your character on some occasions. By answering the questions and then doing unsatisfying things with them, the world is made more conventional and less interesting. It feels like fan fiction trying to clarify all of the mysteries, but written by someone who didn't have the imagination to come up with fitting answers. The luster is just... lost.

All in all, Dishonored 2 is one of my most tumultuous mixed bags in this gaming year. The gameplay is superb and innovates in a number of ways over the previous game's systems, and the city of Karnaca is an immersive world that's just as well designed as Dunwall; for those elements alone, I would heartily recommend it to fans of the first game, and they are what will likely put the game on my "Best of 2016" list. However, so much of the writing falls flat, from the piss-poor story and weak main villain to the lack of mystery and displaced feeling, that at times it's just depressing to watch all of the potential fall apart. It is a superb game, but it is not the sequel that I or many other fans had hoped for, and for all of its improvements, it does not come together nearly as well as its predecessor.

Rating: Dishonorably Discharged
  • 2

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Fri Oct 13, 2017 10:36 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Wed Dec 21, 2016 9:44 am

Naked Grandma Warning: This movie starts with an extended scene of a fully nude, elderly, morbidly obese woman dancing in slow motion through the opening credits, revealed to be part of the main character's art display. Because high art and shock value and subversion of beauty standards or what-the-fuck-ever. This may inhibit your ability to get aroused for several years, even if you're exclusively into obese, elderly women.

You have been warned.


Nocturnal Animals (2016)

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Basic Summary: A woman is forced to confront her past when her ex-husband sends her a disturbing novel.
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Neo-Noir
Directed by: Tom Ford
Written by: Tom Ford
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Length: 116 minutes


(Trailer is really spoilery. Not quite to Arrival levels, but it still reveals some shots better left fresh for the movie. I'd recommend against watching it.)


For the unaware, Nocturnal Animals follows Susan Morrow, an art gallery owner whose fractured, bitter past has started giving her sleep trouble. After her husband leaves town for work and she is left alone, Susan is unexpectedly sent a soon-to-be-published manuscript by her ex-husband Edward, named after her old nickname and dedicated to her. The story is a bleak, violent tragedy following a traumatized man in the aftermath of an unimaginable crime, and the hunt for revenge he takes up with an imbalanced police detective by his side. As she sees more and more parallels between the story and her history with Edward, Susan grows obsessed with the manuscript and is forced to confront the mistakes she once made, while tension mounts in the worlds both real and fictional...

Spoiler: show
Much like Hell or High Water, I learned about this movie's existence just about a month or two before I saw it, and while it's not as good, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Also like that film, a bulk of the narrative takes place in West Texas. Funny how that works. Anywho.

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Nocturnal Animals presents us with two intercut stories, each sharing roughly equal screen time: Susan's introspective journey into self-loathing in the real world, and the allegorical revenge thriller that the novel takes us through. Unsurprisingly, one is much more interesting than the other. Simply put, while I was watching the film, I was disappointed with how the real-world framing device was handled, and I found it incredibly distracting as it interrupted the tight pace and flow of the thriller storyline. The performances are top-notch and the parallels you see to events in the story -- both obvious elements and minor details so subtle you'll likely need to re-watch to pick up on them all -- are creative and intriguing, but it just doesn't quite fit, and it's impossible to eliminate the disappointment felt when it cuts back from the fictional story to this world (it's much akin to the way the alien interaction scenes just cut away in Arrival, which coincidentally also starred Amy Adams). Multiple scenes are awkwardly paced and drag on far longer than they need to, and the ending is abrupt and predictably artsy. I'd initially come around to Tom Ford's way of thinking at the time of writing this, but I've since soured on it again.

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What you're really going into Nocturnal Animals for is the manuscript's storyline, a grim and gritty revenge tale packed with symbolism and misery. And goddamn, do I mean misery. It starts off with a drawn-out scene building up to the reason for revenge, and it's masterfully shot and paced so that you're constantly worrying about your preconceptions of what might happen even as the film fakes you out and keeps you guessing. It's one of my favorite scenes both in the film and of this year, even though it chilled the ever-loving fuck out of me. From then on, it doesn't get any less tragic or brutal, charting the path of a broken man and how he is ultimately guided in the direction of the vengeance he seeks. There is some dark, depressing shit to be had here, and those with sensitive constitutions will absolutely not be able to handle it, but it's executed so well (despite the cliched foundation for its plot elements) that my eyes couldn't leave the screen until the grimy, gory, fantastically gripping conclusion. The way the story ends is a bit abrupt and unsatisfying, and even though it fits the theme and allegories, there are a few plot threads left hanging that I really would have appreciated some kind of concrete resolution to. That's art, though, I guess.

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In the real world, the only character I feel like talking about is Susan Morrow. Yet again, Amy Adams kills it -- between this, Arrival, and a few other recent roles, she's rapidly becoming one of my favorite actresses. Here, she sinks into the depths of regret and ennui to conjure up an engrossing character who could otherwise be badly mishandled. Engrossing and sympathetic, yet fundamentally flawed, Susan is a woman whose successful life has been built on a foundation of short-sighted mistakes and selfish endeavors. There were many points where I hated her (one particular flashback to her denouncing Edward's writing prospects struck a bit of a personal chord for me), only for her to win me over by the next scene. She's simply an extremely flawed human being, and a very well written one. I can't say much more about her because a lot of her character work gets delivered in spoilerish scenes, but suffice to say she helps make the otherwise unengaging real-world plot work.

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As for the thriller storyline, Jake Gyllenhaal once again makes a powerful mark as Tony Hastings (he also plays Edward in the real world, but there's much more to talk about for his fictional counterpart). The man has been among my favorite actors since Nightcrawler, and while his performance here isn't quite as transformative and memorable as that or some of his other roles in recent memory, it's still insane how good he is. As with Susan, I don't want to spoil the particulars of how he ends up where he is -- it would drain all of the suspense out of that critical scene -- but by the time he shaves off the Sorrow Beard and starts walking down the path to justice, you'll be fully on board for whatever that path entails. He's much more stoic and resolute than one might expect, but in his cool stare, the events of that night are visibly replaying over and over in his head. It makes the few times he well and truly breaks down -- as Gyllenhaal has shown us he's a master at -- all the sadder. There were a few moments when I thought he was slightly overdoing it, but they don't dilute how great he is.

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As fantastic as the leads are, however, it's Michael Shannon's Bobby Andes who steals the show for me. I've never been much of a Shannon fan, despite his long and storied career, but he blew me away by many degrees more than Adams or Gyllenhaal in his supporting role. Initially presenting himself as just a hard-nosed and sharp-tongued Texan cop trying to get to the bottom of Tony's case, the progress of the investigation quickly reveals that he isn't all there in the head. He's brusque with friend and foe alike, casually ignores the rights of suspects, and is more than willing to aid -- even encourage -- Tony in blatantly illegal affairs. The reasons for this are, again, tied to spoilers. Until you fully understand his logic, though, he's relentlessly captivating just by his sheer presence and the power he projects. Every one of his scenes captivated me, and part of the reason I wish the film had been exclusively this storyline is that it would give him substantially more screen time to interact with Gyllenhaal and the scumbag villains. Sadly, his involvement with the plot peters out just as he takes an exciting step forward, and his arc holds one of the most pressing loose ends I noticed in the plot.

Finally, I won't even give Aaron Taylor-Johnson's character a picture or a full paragraph, because I had no idea about it going in and it's best left for you to see. Suffice to say that the man has NEVER ONCE impressed me, and I've actively hated him in many roles and once wrote him off as a man of the same ilk as Jai Courtney, but he kills his role so hard that I didn't even realize it was him until I remembered he was supposed to be in the movie.

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Finally, the presentation of the film is a 50/50 split of perfect and not good. The cinematography is incredible. Utilizing both long shots and Edgar Wright-esque quick cuts, it maintains the off-kilter feeling of both storylines and highlights the emotional weight behind Adams and Gyllenhaal. One of the most impressive things about it is the way it transitions between real and fictional, present and flashback; lighting effects or character positions in one location or period smoothly cut from one to another with shared aesthetics, catching me completely off guard at a number of points. However, while the music isn't bad, the sweeping orchestral score frequently overpowers scenes that would be much more effective silent or simply quieter -- the final scene in the real world suffers from this most of all, and it threatened to completely take me out of the movie.

Overall, Nocturnal Animals is a grim, warped film that I walked out of the theater with mixed feelings about, and have since come to love and hate alternately over time. Absolutely do not watch it if you're sensitive to human suffering, explicit violent and sexual content, or obese dancing grandmas; to everyone else, it is one of the better films of the year and I'm glad I got to go see it.

Rating: Damn Good Movie, But Seriously, Tom Ford, What The Fuck Is Wrong With You With That Opening Scene
  • 3

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Wed May 31, 2017 6:24 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Fri Dec 23, 2016 8:19 am

Kiznaiver (2016)

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Basic Summary: Seven people are forced into an experiment where they become able to feel each other's pain.
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Created by: Studio Trigger / TRIGGER
Directed by: Hiroshi Kobayashi
Written by: Mari Okada
Starring: Yūki Kaji, Hibiku Yamamura, Yuka Terasaki, Tomoaki Maeno
Episodes: 12

For the unaware, Kiznaiver follows Katsuhira Agata, a high school student residing in the futuristic, experimental Sugomori City. For reasons he has long forgotten, Agata cannot feel pain of any kind and is almost totally emotionless, making him a frequent target of harassment and ostracizing due to people seeing him as a sociopath. Days before summer vacation is set to start, the mysterious Noriko Sonozaki -- an equally emotionless girl fixated on pain -- has Agata and six other students abducted and forcibly drafted into the Kizna System, an experiment that connects them by their wounds so they are all able to feel whatever pain one of them suffers. With Noriko's true motives a mystery and her helpers unknown, Agata and his fellow "Kiznaivers" must survive the summer in a city where new threats could be around any corner, and they only have each other to rely on...

Spoiler: show
As evidenced in my Space Patrol Luluco review, TRIGGER is by far my favorite anime studio. They've put out consistently excellent work over the years, and even before their formation, many of them were involved in the creation of several of my Gainax favorites. They just excel at what they do, and every new series they put out excites me. Kiznaiver was their other original series this year, and the very first long-form original series they've done since my beloved Kill la Kill. However, it's completely different in terms of tone, content, and pacing from the fare they usually cover. Was it a risk worth taking?

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The presentation should be noted first, because Kiznaiver is in many ways a massive step above prior TRIGGER shows. Kill la Kill was their highest-budget work, and it looked phenomenal in its own way, but it and the studio's shorter works all have a distinctly different style from the norm that can turn some viewers off. This series ramps up the production quality dramatically, coming out with more realistic character models and fluid animation while still keeping enough of the house aesthetics to tell you at a glance that it's a TRIGGER show. It actually looks quite similar to a less flashy Gurren Lagann in many respects. You won't find any stunningly-animated fight scenes or the like, but there are a lot of dramatic scenes that I would classify as "breathtaking" in how they're animated and framed. As for the music, the OP is a smooth, catchy techno-ballad that I loved listening to and can't get out of my head, but little otherwise stands out.

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So it looks great, but the content is what matters, and it's where this show tends to divide audiences. The story certainly starts off on the right foot, with an intriguing hook, some tantalizing mysteries, and a fantastic batch of initial episodes that follow the group's release from the experiment and adjustment to everyday life. In fact, I can't help but wish more of the show had been formatted like the episodes taking place in the hospital where the group wakes up post-procedure; this dark, isolated setting and the eerie monitoring by Sonozaki are what qualifies it as a thriller for the early goings. However, once they're somewhat adjusted to this new situation, the story slooooooooooooooows dooooooooooooooown, dealing with the everyday struggles of the group and the odd missions they're given as Kiznaivers instead of having them get to the bottom of their predicament. I wouldn't quite say that it grinds or counts as filler, because the majority of the remaining episodes are character-driven and packed full of memorable moments that are important to the cast, but the central plot and its mysteries just don't advance very much at all until the last batch of episodes. A twelve-episode series just cannot afford to do this, however well the material it does focus on is executed. Again, though -- the material is handled very well for what it is, and there were a couple of moments (particularly the end of the seventh episode) that successfully tugged my heartstrings.

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Once the central plot starts to pick up speed again in the last 3-4 episodes, it starts to get a lot better for the most part. A climactic conflict between various members of the cast, though initiated by some self-absorption and a stupid misunderstanding, is extremely effective at capping off the development they've all had as tentative friends. The answers that are ultimately given in the next few episodes are satisfyingly morbid, and while not all of them are unpredictable -- anyone giving it more than a second of thought beforehand will likely put together one of the major reveals, though it's thankfully not treated like you're actually supposed to be blown away -- they still work perfectly in context, and one in particular involving an abandoned playground stands out in my mind as especially fucked-up. On the other hand, these last few episodes are also dripping with long monologues on the nature of friendship and human relationships, and while they ultimately take a slightly more high-minded and realistic approach to the subject than the standard "POWER OF FRIENDSHIP" anime tropes, it still gets overwrought the more it's drawn out. A little too much focus is also given to romantic plot threads, some of which work and some of which are distractingly unnecessary, to the ultimate detriment of more complex themes.

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And then... the finale, which I wanted so badly to like. On the one hand, the setup for the final conflict is epic enough, ties off the themes and the arcs of the antagonists nicely, and has sparks of greatness, even if the nature of the premise means you can see it coming from miles off and it probably should have started an episode or two earlier to enable more interesting development. The final minutes are also, if nothing else, very sweet in a way that almost made up for the unsatisfactory elements. What sucks the whole thing down is the ultimate showdown, the confrontation which the entire show has been building up to and which the finale pivots around. It's just... mediocre, through and through. The way it's set up should be great, but the outcome is predictable from the moment it begins no matter how much I hoped they would resolve it a different way, and this sucks out the stakes to the point that it hardly feels climactic at all -- the confrontation I mentioned in the paragraph above packs more dramatic weight than this. It's a whole lot of buildup pointing toward the show finally getting a showdown worthy of TRIGGER, but it just fizzles out to the most disappointing variety of nothing one could. Doesn't help that aside from the showdown, there are a few utterly heinous villains who receive no comeuppance whatsoever. It's not the worst anime finale I've seen this year, or even a contender among them. It's just... vanilla.

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Ultimately, the cast is the most important thing here. It is a character-driven anime through and through, even if it would be so much better served with more story and a tightened pace. So we begin with our leading man, Katsuhira "Kacchon" Agata. He's not incredible, but I consistently liked him nonetheless. His lack of emotions and all but the most basic empathy make him intriguing for his non-traditional attitude (as well as the interesting dynamic of having someone unable to feel pain be transmitting what he should be feeling out to other people), but it also renders him slightly dull in places due to his lacking reactions and how one-sided a lot of his bonds with the more lively Kiznaivers sometimes feel. He's a good protagonist, and he gets more interesting in the final episodes, but he's not the shining star here.

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Unfortunately for the other Kiznaivers, since almost all of the episodes revolve around revealing the depth of the characters, highlighting them all individually would unavoidably delve into functional spoilers, so I'll give them brief examinations as a group. Chidori Takashiro (the redhead girl) is the most straitlaced of the bunch, which sometimes makes her uninteresting (and she's the biggest victim of romantic plot tumors in the last few eps), but for the most part, she's decently entertaining. Hajime Tenga (red-haired Kamina) and Nico Niyama (the bubbly-looking girl with weird hair that's usually down in giant spiral pigtails) fill out the role of comic relief most of the time, and do pretty great jobs of it; they also both have more layers to them than mere jokesters, and play an unexpectedly large role in resolving later crises. Honoka Maki (glasses girl) starts off as an abrasive bitch whom I didn't like very much, but she has a lot more going on behind those dead eyes, and there's a facet of her character that's handled with appreciated maturity and emotional value when it could have easily been fucked up thanks to cultural norms. Finally, Tsuguhito Yuta (blue hair and punchable face) is a decent, sometimes funny "stuffy popular dude" archetype who somewhat endears himself later. The only real weak link is Yoshiharu Hisomu (scrawny bishounen who looks like he's happy that he got away with hiding a body), a potentially interesting guy whose gimmick is compelling on paper but really just turns into a cringe-worthy running gag.

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Then there's Noriko Sonozaki, the cold and ruthless Kizna System mastermind who serves as the primary antagonist. Despite her emotionlessness making her run into the same pitfalls as Agata, she makes a good showing for herself for most of the series. She's sympathetic almost in spite of herself, the mysteries of her true motives and history are pretty compelling, and her frequent visits to her test subjects allow a meaningful rapport to develop that makes her character more complex and ensures that they all have grudges against her. Just when she threatens to start getting boring, we (and the Kiznaivers) learn much more about her, and she gets to be compelling again. Her character arc doesn't come to the conclusion I would have asked for, and I think she really would have benefitted from more episodes to allow the circumstances of her ultimate plan to flourish in more detail, but she's a perfectly satisfactory villain for most of the show.

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And finally, these fuckers are called Gomorins. They're minions of Sonozaki's group in weird-ass mascot suits and they are just incredible. I'll probably remember them most fondly out of everyone. That is all I can say.

Overall, Kiznaiver is nowhere near a black mark on TRIGGER's record, but it is disappointingly below their bar and only on the highest end of "moderately good" for anime in general. It gets off to a great start even if the plot takes a long time to go anywhere, a lot of the character moments are powerful, and there's some compelling stuff to be found when answers start trickling in. However, it fails to make the most of its running time, sometimes struggles to make all of the characters interesting, and doesn't stick the landing at all when it starts to set up a promising conclusion. If I used a number rating system, I would likely give it a 7.5/10, because while I very much enjoyed it while I was watching up until the end, it just doesn't hit the high notes it needs to.

Rating: Not A Lot Of Pain, Not A Lot Of Pleasure
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Last edited by KleinerKiller on Tue Oct 02, 2018 10:08 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby 52xMax » Sat Dec 24, 2016 5:06 am

If I can make a suggestion, why don't you edit spoiler tags for the images (or, come to think of it, perhaps for the whole thing) into previous posts except for the most recent one. That way you can reduce the annoying process of scrolling down over and over until all the images load while trying to read the current review. Otherwise keep up the good work, and who knows? Maybe next year we can go back and feature these on the main page along with new articles.

I haven't seen Nocturnal Animals because it's not on theaters here yet (and I haven't kept up with screeners leaks for awards season this year) but I hear it's good. I will come back to read your review once I watch it. The review for arrival was spot on, I shared my own sentiments on the other thread, but you went into further detail about some of the things I liked and those that annoyed me too.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Sat Dec 24, 2016 5:25 am

Really glad to know you're enjoying these! :mrgreen: Every little bit of feedback means a whole damn lot to me.

As for spoiler tags on previous reviews, I've contemplated doing that in the past because the image loading annoys me too when it isn't just rendering instantaneously, but... eh. I've tried it on a few reviews in previewing and I just don't like how the text and images look inside the spoiler spaces (which often cut the larger images I use off), or how the whole page would look by extension when it's full of spoiler tags. Still, I'll most likely do it some time soon, especially now that someone else has suggested it (and I'm always open to suggestions on how I can improve this thread). If you want to avoid the mad scrolling problem until I get around to that, my suggestion for now is to just wait for the page to finish loading before scrolling down to read what you wanted. If your internet speed tends to be slower than mine on a regular basis, I'll hasten myself to do it.

Again, thanks so much for reading and giving me your thoughts!
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby octoberpumpkin » Tue Dec 27, 2016 5:49 am

So I watched an analysis on the Beginner's Guide (going back to an earlier review) and it prompted a discussion about how people interpret media and the creators/authors of that media through the lens of the work itself. Which led to a discussion about the Death of the Author theory

What are your thoughts on that and do you feel that this message was presented in The Beginner's Guide?
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Tue Dec 27, 2016 8:04 am

octoberpumpkin wrote:So I watched an analysis on the Beginner's Guide (going back to an earlier review) and it prompted a discussion about how people interpret media and the creators/authors of that media through the lens of the work itself. Which led to a discussion about the Death of the Author theory

What are your thoughts on that and do you feel that this message was presented in The Beginner's Guide?


Yes, absolutely. That's one of the focal points of the plot, and one of the things that struck me so personally about it.

(I'm assuming / hoping you've already watched a playthrough of it before you watched that analysis, because herein be ending spoilers)
Spoiler: show
Davey is the ultimate personification of "Death of the Author" -- he uses Coda's mindless programming experiments and mundane creative struggles as an outlet, spinning a narrative about Coda's escalating depression and manipulating the games before sending his "interpretations" out into the world, all to project away from the meaninglessness of his own life. He's so caught up in giving different meanings to things Coda intended to be fun little games that when he's sent what's essentially one giant virtual "FUCK YOU" and has all ties cut from Coda, he has no comprehension that what he did was wrong or hurtful, and continues to spiral downward by alerting the whole world to how he interprets his "story," likely further ruining Coda's life with the publicity.

Whether an artist's creations hold an intensely personal meaning to them or they're just mindless little pieces of distracting entertainment, they know what is not there, and what was never meant to be read into it. People who subscribe to "Death of the Author" defy this -- it's mildly defensible in some cases if the creator or theory crafter admit that the work can hold multiple meanings (as is the case with The Eagles' "Hotel California" and one of my favorite novels, House of Leaves), but in cases like the one The Beginner's Guide presents, I consider it outright heinous. To so twist and distort the creation of an artist that said creation becomes entrenched in pop culture knowledge as having that meaning, to the point that the theory's name is made true and people actively shout down the creator's attempt at revealing the truth (see also: the public's documented refusal to accept that Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 as an indictment of mass media culture rather than of government censorship), is tantamount to personally stabbing the author in the gut in my eyes. A little extreme, maybe, but those are my thoughts.

And what makes The Beginner's Guide so effective in that regard is how it tricks you into welcoming that mindset. Davey's "evidence" -- both the symbolism he reads into random rooms and what he actively changes in the code -- is made to seem so convincing; we can't help but theorize along with him, since it's so embedded in our nature to want to figure out "mysteries" like this. By the end, you've formed a mental image of Coda as a bitter, depressed recluse with suicidal tendencies and a veritable banquet's worth of childhood traumas, when in fact he's just a bored game designer irritated by his leech of a former friend's refusal to stop portraying him as such. When it's revealed how far down Davey's rabbit hole goes and what the extent of his projection is, it's a masterful rug-pull that shines a light on exactly the practice you're guilty of.

There are a few more themes tackled in that ending regarding the relationship between author and audience, but that's the most obvious one, especially since real-life Davey Wreden implied that he was inspired to make the game after seeing all of the dramatic examinations of The Stanley Parable, which he'd mostly meant as a satirical love letter to game design.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby Deathclaw_Puncher » Tue Dec 27, 2016 8:09 am

Never got around to finishing Kiznaiver. They ever address the whole PMS thing or....?
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby octoberpumpkin » Tue Dec 27, 2016 8:14 am

Interesting perspective, thanks for sharing! I have friends who are firmly in the Death of the Author camp, claiming how one interprets works is an individual and personal thing and the author's intent doesn't change that. They may know the "true" meaning, but they also know what it means to them, which is sometimes different. They aren't the type to try and correct others interpretations either, because I guess the point is that different works can mean different things to different people.

I'm mostly on the other side, although not entirely. I try to see works through the eyes of the creator if/when I can (some are purposefully secretive because they want others to interpret things in their own way) because that's how I feel I'll get the most complete experience where the themes and such all make sense and connect together. I do like alternate theories on how a game can take on different meanings (all of the Majora's Mask theories, for example) because they add a new way to look at a work, but I don't think that that's the "true" meaning. Once in a while though I will reject the creator's view if it just doesn't make sense to me.

That's my thoughts on it anyways, if that made sense. It's late, I dunno xD. It's fun to theorize about different meanings of works, but the author's intent does matter, I think.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Thu Jan 05, 2017 2:05 am

IMPORTANT


1. DO NOT read this review, and definitely don't watch this anime, if you haven't played Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair and may plan on doing so in the future. Knowledge of the Ultra Despair Girls spinoff game and (to a lesser extent) the Danganronpa Zero light novel is also a prerequisite for full understanding of the narrative, but the two main games are the most important and they're the ones I can't avoid dropping RUINOUS spoilers for due to the nature of the plot. And they're damn great games (the spinoff excluded), so you should check them out regardless. Feel free to still scroll down blindly and thumb the review up since I put in all of this effort, though! ;)

2. When watching, the optimum format is viewing a Future episode followed by a Despair one, two at a time without leaving one pair unfinished, and building up to the Hope episode after the last Future episode. Just thought I should clarify that, since the two arcs intersect in interesting and creative ways, and watching either of the two arcs altogether or out of order genuinely destroys the experience.


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Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy (2016)

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Basic Summary: The last survivors of Monokuma's murder games fight to end the conflict once and for all.
Genre: Thriller
Created by: Lerche, Spike Chunsoft
Directed by: Seiji Kishi
Written by: Norimitsu Kaihou
Starring (Japanese / English): Megumi Ogata / Bryce Papenbrook, Yoko Hikasa / Caitlin Glass, Toshiyuki Morukawa / Ricco Fajardo, Mai Nakahara / Colleen Clinkenbeard
Episodes: 24
Source Material: Video game series by Kazutaka Kodaka and Spike Chunsoft

Spoiler: show
For the unaware, Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy is divided into two halves: the 12-episode Future Side and the 11-episode Despair Side, both concluding in a single Hope Side episode. Below are the summaries, spoilered for length:

Future
Danganronpa 3: Future Side follows Makoto Naegi, champion of the original Mutual Killing Game and symbol of hope for what remains of humanity. Returning from his ambiguously successful quest to rehabilitate the Remnants of Despair, he is swiftly detained by his Future Foundation colleagues and tried for collaborating with the people who destroyed civilization. However, the trial doesn't even begin to get underway before Monokuma somehow reenters the picture, kickstarting one last deadly game with Makoto, his fellow Hope's Peak survivors, and the Foundation leadership. Sealed within their headquarters and cut off from reinforcements, they are each fitted with an armlet that will put them to sleep at regular intervals and allow a traitorous killer to pick one of them off -- along with a specific rule which, if violated, will cause the armlet to inject them with a fatal poison. Separated in the chaos and hunted down by friend and foe alike, Makoto and his few remaining friends must reunite to end the game and defeat Monokuma's last master before they wind up tearing each other apart...


Despair
Danganronpa 3: Despair Side follows Chisa Yukizome, a Hope's Peak Academy graduate-turned-teacher about to take on her first year. Chisa is a boundless optimist with no small amount of faith in Hope's Peak's mission to hone and elevate the most talented students, but when she's assigned to Class 77-B, she sets off down an inescapable path of remorse and ruin. The students of 77-B are all bright and near-supernaturally talented young individuals, and she makes it her goal to get them bonded with one another so that their potential skyrockets. Little does she know that the boys and girls of Class 77-B are fated to be beaten and broken down into the sinister Remnants of Despair, and the woman who's going to gleefully push them all onto that road is fast approaching Hope's Peak...


As my Kyoko Kirigiri avatar and breathless praise of the games indicate, I am a huge fan of the Danganronpa franchise. The series is one of my favorite things ever to come out of Japan, and since Trigger Happy Havoc's release in 2010, the series has expanded exponentially with no shortage of content to choose from, though the two main games have always been what mattered most. This anime was created to put a firm conclusion on every storyline in the universe thus far, a conclusive cap on seven years of plot weaving, character development, and fan investment to allow Kodaka and crew to explore new territory in the series' upcoming third game. It has to bear the dual crosses of a finale to the current series and a prequel elaborating on events only described in backstory exposition, giving it twice the room for failure or success. I got into the series only a few months before the anime premiered, but my love for the franchise is all the more fresh because of it, and I walked in with a skeptical eye and the knowledge that the fanbase is firmly divided on almost every aspect of it. So is it a satisfying conclusion to the twisted, complex saga of Hope's Peak?

Now then, I've prepared a VERY special analysis for Danganronpa 3, the Ultimate Ending! Let's give it everything we've got! It's... REVIEWING TIME!

Ahem.

(Note: I prefer to use the English game terminology rather than the technically accurate terminology the anime dub uses, so things will be referred to as "Ultimate X" rather than "Super High School-Level X" and most characters will be referred to by their first names.)

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Before the plot or characters, I want to highlight the presentation. It's a visual stunner, especially in the Future Side, with a crisp art style and mostly fluid animation. The character designs all feel like they belong in the world, whether they're older versions of familiar characters or entirely new faces, and while the Future Side's central environment can get a little repetitive, the Despair Side does a brilliant job of rendering the familiar interiors of Hope's Peak Academy and showing the areas of the campus the first game never let players see. However, the visuals aren't what mostly pushed me to have this section first.

I'm talking about the presentation right now because of the soundtrack. Iconic tunes return from the already musically-perfected games, whether in full or as brief teasing flashes in important scenes, and a few new tracks and character themes are memorable powerhouses, but the real treats are the main songs of each arc. The Future Side's OP (currently unavailable on YouTube) is an intense rock ballad that hammers home the fact that it's the end of a deadly era, and the ED is along the same lines; both are great, though they don't hold a candle to the Despair Side. Despair's OP is superb in every respect, from its foreboding and depressing (yet absurdly catchy) tune to the evocative imagery and flashes of onscreen text; at even the happiest early hours, it reminds you of what you know is coming for these characters. It handily knocks down ERASED for what's so far my favorite opening theme of the year. The ED is no slouch, either, with its upbeat guitar, on-the-nose inspirational lyrics, and scenes of friendship making the downfall all the more depressing.

It's also important to note, in regards to presentation, how blood is used across the two arcs. The Danganronpa games are notorious for their neon pink blood, which started as part censorship workaround and part contribution to a surreal, dreamlike atmosphere, and has since become one of the franchise's most recognizable (and in some fan circles, beloved) watermarks. The Future Side marks the first time in the franchise, outside of certain executions and a few game environments, where the blood is a deep red and the grotesque deaths and injuries are on full display. It's jarring at first, but it works effectively to show how high the stakes are for the final chapter, and how far things have come since the days of the first killings. By contrast, the Despair Side maintains the pink blood and strategic barring and silhouetting of particularly gruesome sights, echoing the familiar feel of the games at first glance; as the situation spirals further downward, though, the censorship starts slipping further away until it meets the two contrasting tones in the middle for the pivotal event.

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Now to discuss some of the characters, of whom there are an absurd amount. On the Future Side, we of course start with the main trio: Makoto Naegi, Kyoko Kirigiri, and Aoi "Hina" Asahina. Makoto was always a pretty generic anime protagonist defined by his optimism and ability to inspire hope rather than any interesting flaws and traits, and though much-maligned VA Bryce Papenbrook is able to get more range out of a slightly older Makoto, he's still just kind of... that. It's always been hard to care about him when he's put next to all of the infinitely more interesting characters Danganronpa churns out. He's still a serviceable lead, and the context he's in with the Future Foundation makes him very slightly more interesting, but that's it. Meanwhile, Hina -- another character I never cared that deeply about -- undergoes a much-needed improvement from her game incarnation; while her bubbly personality doesn't change much, she's visibly more mature and intelligent about how she handles things, and she makes good use of her athletic ability and resourcefulness to become one of Makoto's most unexpectedly stalwart allies.

Kyoko has been my favorite character in the franchise since halfway through the first game, and one of the most all-around competent characters in the series, so it's her role that mattered most to me going in. I will always prefer Erika Harlacher voicing her over Caitlin Glass (who was given this role because she voiced her in the godawful anime adaptation of the first game), but with the internal justification that she's older now, the performance is still fine. As a character, she's almost as compelling as she was in the game, showcasing her unrivaled talents for examination and deduction at multiple turns, and getting in a solid bit of emotional gravitas toward the last couple of episodes. However, since she's split off from Makoto and Hina for the majority of the proceedings despite not being part of the crusade against him, she tragically gets heavily sidelined, and her skills only come into play meaningfully to provide Makoto with needed information toward the end. She still manages to be one of the better characters in Future, but only by virtue of already being an established presence.

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There are a multitude of other Future Foundation members and surprise appearances in the Future Side that I could look at, but I'll just say that most of them are decent-to-great (one notable misstep will be covered when I talk about the story) and move on to the most prominent newcomer. Kyosuke Munakata, the hitherto-unseen leader of the Future Foundation (technically second-in-command, but he holds the real power), starts off as a stoic, arrogant commander figure and then goes rapidly off the deep end within the first few hours of the killing game. Functionally the secondary antagonist of the arc, and the most active one since the mastermind keeps his or her villainy behind-the-scenes, he's a stark contrast to other antagonists in the series. Obsessed with the concept that hope can only triumph if despair is completely eliminated, he stalks the sealed-off building with a katana in hand, ruthlessly hunting down those he believes to be traitors to the cause and granting them no mercy no matter how they plead. His motives take a while to become completely clear, so he can come off as a bit one-note beforehand, and even at his peak, he barely approaches the quality of similarly hope-obsessed characters like Nagito Komaeda. However, he's still a great addition to the cast and a good foil for Makoto.

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On the Despair Side, the entire cast of Danganronpa 2 is present and in top form -- Hajime Hinata, Chiaki Nanami, and the aforementioned Komaeda are especially delightful. Thankfully, the English dub managed to secure most of the game's voice actors instead of replacing them as they did with the first anime and Future Side, so most of the memorable voices are still in place (although Team Four Star's Scott "KaizerNeko" Frerichs is an enjoyable enough replacement in the role of Gundam Tanaka). Rather than examine every one of those characters in detail, though, I'll focus on the primary newcomer to this arc: the class's schoolteacher, Chisa Yukizome. She starts off even more of an optimist than Makoto, but since her hopefulness is filtered through the lens of an energetic rookie teacher trying to band all of her contrasting students together as one, what's boring on Makoto is heartwarming and often hilarious on her. In the more lighthearted early episodes, she's a charming force of nature who goes lightyears above and beyond what's required of her in order to get everyone comfortable as friends. In the face of the atrocities that happen in the latter half, she tries to maintain a positive outlook and keep her students focused on each other, only for despair to start seeping in where she can't predict. Of all the new faces, she might just be my favorite.

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As expected, main villainess Junko Enoshima makes her grand debut in this timeline of events, but my opinion of her in this series is far more mixed than I expected (her incarnation in the games is one of my all-time favorite antagonists), and it unfortunately comes down mostly to her voice. I'm lenient with most of the casting replacements, but Funimation should have fought tooth-and-nail to bring Erin Fitzgerald back -- nobody can sell all of the Ultimate Despair's distinct identities and mannerisms like her. Jamie Marchi (the actress in the first anime adaptation, of course) tries, and whenever she drops the main voice she uses to any degree, it improves astronomically. A lot of her dialogue is also really fun in that typical Junko way, especially in her interactions with sister Mukuro, and some of it fits how it's delivered. But the stereotypical cheerleader voice she speaks in 75% of the time is terrible, capturing little of the menace and magnificence inherent to Junko's character and instead making her come off like a bitchy, self-important brat (and there's a moment where she actually says "YAS QUEEN" during a dramatic meeting that I wanted to stab the dub writer responsible). It doesn't help that she doesn't get to slip into her alternate personalities outside of a select few occasions, or that her role in the story doesn't make her out to be quite as brilliant as we assumed until way later. She still works as a villain, but the games captured her in a better way.

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And on that note, another pivotal villain and core aspect of the franchise suffers here, though not in the same way: Monokuma himself. The delightfully sadistic little bear-bot makes a stirring entrance in the first Future episode to introduce the game, but after that, we get nothing from him save a brief narrated recap toward the end and a select few intercom messages throughout. He doesn't have a physical presence in the building, the mastermind doesn't speak through him most of the time, and he gets no meaningful interaction with the members of the cast who would despise his visage the most. Monokuma is the face of the franchise, its most instantly recognizable (and quotable) character, and key to the development of the series' various masterminds by building up the protagonists' suffering with him as the Big Bad's proxy. And yet, he's utterly nonexistent here. He's just... gone. Granted, it makes complete sense from a plot perspective by the end, but it's still hard to internally justify there being no type of closure with him in the finale of the entire series thus far. At least he's showing up again in the third game's new universe and will presumably continue to be around, but that's small comfort.

But this all pales in importance to the story. This is, after all, the endpoint for one of the most complex and investing narratives this side of Zero Escape, and the satisfying wrap-up of every arc matters more than anything. It was toward this aspect that I held the most critical eye, and... well, let's see.

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The Future Side is probably the biggest mixed bag of the three arcs, but it's not as bad as the problems I have with it may make it out to be. It certainly gets off on the right foot, even if the premise is much more straightforward and a bit less interesting than Mutual Killing Games past. The vast majority of it is structured like one big cat-and-mouse chase, with Makoto, Hina, and a select few others evading Kyosuke's loyalists and other threats, while other interpersonal conflicts result in battles and deaths throughout the building. The mystery of the hidden attacker is a decent one, and the armlets' secret lethality rules make even the most peaceful conversations between friends into intense, unpredictable mental chess matches. There are a few fake-outs that lower the stakes and which I wish had been handled better, and the overall material doesn't reach the operatic highs of the games' best material, but nothing major sticks out as poor.

However, it hits some major bumps right as it seems like it's starting to improve. The episode tying up the loose ends from the Ultra Despair Girls game is the single worst one in the whole show; aside from being hinged on material from one of the few black marks on the franchise, it's paced incredibly poorly, doesn't justify its own existence in relation to the game's unsatisfactory ending, and worst of all, serves as a lackluster sendoff for several important characters (one of them genuinely might as well have gone "I have to go now, my planet needs me"). A couple of the huge emotional beats in the last couple of episodes also tend to fall flat more often than not, most of all a character death I'd predicted and hoped would be executed well, but which ended up being an anticlimactic handling of quite a few good ideas that left me disappointedly cold. And the whole chase aspect just starts to wear thin after so many confrontations in darkened hallways. All of that said, however, the mystery of the mastermind does ultimately wrap up with an unpredictable bang, tying into the themes presented throughout the franchise to conjure up an exciting scheme, a compellingly different final antagonist, and a strong lead-in for the Hope episode.

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The Despair Side, meanwhile, is consistently great despite my reservations about whether they could bring such major backstory events to life in a satisfying way. The early episodes are basically comedy scenarios starring the lovable cast of characters built up by the games, which are delightful, funny, and heartwarming even when you know in the back of your mind that these mismatched friends are headed for destruction. A bit of darkness comes through with the unexpected-but-welcome revisiting of a minor backstory note brought up in the second game, but once Junko and her sister step onto the scene and sew the first seeds of the former's grand plan, most of the comedy starts to drain away altogether and the timeline of inevitable events is visited beat by beat. A couple of hitherto-unmentioned elements about Junko's plan seriously worried me due to their potential to devalue the whole thing, but while I'm still not sure how I feel about their inclusion in the world (aside from helping set up the impressive climaxes of Future and Hope), they lead to better renditions of major scenes than I could have hoped for (the Tragedy of Hope's Peak and the creation of the Remnants being of particular note for their stunning nature). The eleventh episode ties the franchise together full circle as it leads into the main games, and it also provides its own strong hook for the finale.

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Which brings us to the finale with the single-episode Hope Side, the most important episode in the show and the biggest opportunity for everything to fall apart. This episode has become notoriously divisive in the fandom (it was never going to satisfy everybody), and I was incredibly apprehensive going into it, because I've been so burned by anime endings this year in particular. And, well... it blew me away. Count me in the camp who loves the Hope episode through and through, even though I completely recognize the flaws with it. It ties the arcs of Future and Despair, as well as those of both main games, together in a way that may present problems, but that got me smiling and fist-pumping practically from the start. It commits multiple cardinal sins I normally can't stand in writing, from the effortless reversal of a major consequence to the confrontation beats similar to the ones I criticized Kiznaiver for, but I didn't have a problem with them aside from minor nitpicks about which characters should have been allowed to survive. Why? Because after all of the events of the games and other media, what transpires within this last half-hour feels earned; the fact that it ends this way feels to me less like a betrayal of the setup and more like the ultimate, perfect culmination of the main theme. In particular, the aforementioned reversal would have filled me with rage over that small bit of lost stakes, but it both fits the context and characters present and feels like a preferable correction of a particularly unsatisfying emotional beat from earlier. By the end, it's far more bittersweet than it may appear, but it's still positive enough that it feels like the suffering mattered for something. A lot of fans may hate it, and again, I completely understand why. But for my money, they absolutely nailed it.

In the end, Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy isn't perfect, but it never could have been. After seven years of such complex and diverse storytelling, pulling off a start-to-finish perfect ending that satisfied everyone -- or even a great majority of people -- would have been an unlikely miracle. It's a bumpy road sometimes, with a lot of wasted story potential and some characters who deserved a lot more to do, but it ends on a higher note than I could possibly have hoped for and wraps up the story in a perfectly fitting way. I can't wait to see what Kodaka and Spike Chunsoft do with the series next; my only hope is that whatever the future holds lives up to the Hope's Peak saga. This is a must-watch for any franchise fan, and in the encroaching darkness the world is mired in right now, the ultimate message of it and the franchise as a whole -- that there is always a spark of hope, no matter how bad things get, and you need to do whatever you can to grab onto it and make it brighter for everyone else -- is one that's definitely needed right now.

Rating: Maybe Not Ultimate, But Pretty Damn Close
  • 2

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Fri Oct 13, 2017 10:37 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Sun Jan 15, 2017 1:46 am

The Bye-Bye Man (2017)

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Basic Summary: Three college kids are stalked by a phantom that travels by words and thoughts.
Genre: Horror, Unintentional Comedy
Directed by: Stacy Title
Written by: Jonathan Penner (a guy most notable for competing and losing thrice on Survivor)
Starring: Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas, Lucien Laviscount, Carrie-Anne Moss, Faye Dunaway
Length: 96 mins



For the unaware, The Bye-Bye Man follows Elliot, a hapless college student who moves into an old house to room with his girlfriend Sasha and best buddy John. Barely a night has passed before the trio start hearing strange noises throughout the house, and in his search for the cause, Elliot stumbles upon a dusty old nightstand with the words "don't say it, don't think it" and "the Bye-Bye Man" carved into the bottom of its drawer. Genius that he is, Elliot tells his friends about it, and soon they're fighting for the lives against a sinister entity that can't be stopped if you've heard his name, uses hallucinations to drive people to deadly violence and suicide, and has a giant hellhound for some reason. Can Elliot and friends find out how to beat the Bye-Bye Man before it's too late, or were they doomed to fail from the start?

Spoiler: show
I'm glad I was dragged to The Bye-Bye Man on opening night, because as experienced as I am with shitty horror films (especially those in the January dumping month), this is the first one I've ever seen that made me laugh myself silly. I was snickering from the first incompetent camera shot and awful line of dialogue, and by the end I was in hysterics, along with my family and those in the audience who weren't impressionable "OMG SCARIEST THING EVAR" pre-teens screaming and applauding like they'd just seen a modern day Exorcist. It's so unbelievably poor in every respect that it's more of a badly-paced comedy than a horror film, despite its very serious attempts to shock and horrify you. I mean, for fuck's sake, it's called THE FUCKING BYE-BYE MAN. I'm not sure this review's going to do justice to how much of a miserable, absurd failure it is, but I'll sure as hell try.

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We may as well start with the story, what little there is. It's a bog-standard "paranormal escalation" narrative where spooky noises and nighttime jumps eventually lead to the group running through their darkened house against a parade of murder and mayhem. At least, it would just be generic if not for the ridiculous amount of plot holes and contrivances sprinkled liberally all over every plot point, relying on far more than standard character idiocy to advance toward the stupefying conclusion. This is visibly a screenplay that was not revised once in even the most basic way. The sole notable aspects on display are some intermittent flashbacks telling a story in the 1960s that would have been far more interesting to see in full, and even then, the atrocious acting and inexplicable shaky-cam filming mean that these scenes are only redeeming conceptually. In the modern day, things end on a predictably downbeat note that you'll see coming from miles away, that provokes no emotion or thrills, and so transparently aims to set up a sequel that there may as well have been an end card reading "THE BYE-BYE MAN WILL RETURN IN THE BYE-BYE MAN 2: BYE HARDER, COMING JANUARY 2018."

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The characters are... not. They don't even have the most basic archetypical personalities -- the most memorable thing about any of them is that Elliot is petrified at the thought of his girlfriend cheating on him with John, and that's hardly used to any interesting effect except for multiple scenes where the Bye-Bye Man makes him hallucinate them in the throes of PG-13 lovemaking. That aside, you can't even apply basic slasher film roles to them, leaving them not so much characters as paper cutouts drifting in the wind on the path to their inevitable deaths. And it shouldn't need to be explicitly said that all of the acting is godawful, because it's a January horror movie that sat on a shelf since 2014 because nobody wanted to release it, but this is an all-new level; the line readings are school play quality at best, and I can't count the number of simple lines that forced me to stifle my laughter. Cressida Bonas as Sasha is especially notable: she cannot hold an American accent from word to word, sounds like Tommy Wiseau whenever she tries to emote, and at one point sneezes by covering her mouth and whispering "a-choo". The rest of 'em are subpar, but she's so bad she circles around to being one of the best parts of this drivel.

Oh, and Carrie-Anne Moss and Faye Dunaway are in this movie too, for some reason. The most I took out of their combined roles is that Trinity's pushing 50 and still looks great.

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Cinematographically, the film is a new low. It switches from shot to shot between looking like a generic zero-effort January horror film and appearing to have been shot on a low-grade camcorder by someone with ADHD and Parkinson's, first apparent in an opening shot of a car pulling into a driveway that feels actively bad to look at. The color scheme is at times too monochrome, and at times oversaturated with blown-out color, but it almost never feels right. There are also multiple jump scares that lose any modicum of cheap jolt they might have gotten because a long shot visibly cuts to let the scary thing flash into place, which shocked the kids who'd never seen a horror film and prompted muffled giggles from the rest. I'm not even going to mention the sound design, because I struggle to remember any notable atmospheric effect or musical sting other than a hilariously out-of-place scene in the climax involving the song "Bye Bye Love". Put all together, we get a final product that looks and feels very much like a student film, acceptable for a college project but so alien to the big screen that it feels like it was dropped here by mistake.

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And as always with horror movies, I must talk about how scary it is. It should be obvious at this point in the review, right? I'm not about to bust out a shocker and sing the praises of how atmospheric and chilling it. There is no atmosphere to speak of whatsoever, and anything close is consistently dismantled by something laughable or groan-worthy. Jump scares are frequent, of course, and they're both too incompetent to be jolted by and so cheap that they sometimes interrupt daytime dialogue. As for the titular entity (whom, like Charlie in The Gallows, the advertising props up as the successor to Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger), you're not exactly going to be walking out terrified of seeing him in the shadows. A haphazard mishmash of a mute Freddy and the Slender Man, his appearance is bargain bin generic and speaks to the nonexistent budget, he's exposed too much to be frightening, and his hallucination gimmick has been done before in infinitely superior films. And for whatever fucking reason, he's followed around by a giant demonic dog that doesn't do much of anything, which... doesn't exactly chill one to the bone. The concept of a mysterious phantom that spreads like a virus through words and thoughts is a neat one, but it's wasted on this tripe.

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So The Bye-Bye Man has nothing to offer in its storytelling, its cast, its filmmaking style, or its scares. It utterly fails as a piece of film, even more so than your typical January horror movies. Why am I even bothering to review it, then? Because as I've said throughout, it's fucking hilarious. It's an absurd, unbelievable fever dream of bad decisions and general incompetence, and I laughed through it about as hard and as frequently as I laughed in last year's best comedies. We have the shockingly bad acting, the ridiculous cinematography, and the scares that fail even as they shove themselves into your face and beg you to be frightened. We have the Bye-Bye Man's hellhound, which wildly fluctuates between the sizes of a mountain lion and a mid-sized car, doesn't chase or attack anyone, looks like it stepped out of a bad PS2 cutscene, and generally ruins the "tension" whenever it pads up next to the man himself. Within the spoilers are a few more of my favorite moments in no particular order, spoilered for length rather than any worry that I'll spoil something good for you.

hilarity and hijinks
- The hellhound introduces itself by poking its head out of a side closet in front of a little girl and dropping a coin for her, like something out of a live-action Disney movie. This isn't comic relief or something endearingly creepy; it's intended to be a horrifying cap on a few scenes of attempted suspense buildup.

- A woman gets shot point-blank through the heart with a 12-gauge shotgun, fails to react for a noticeable half-second, then slams back against the wall and slumps over like someone dying in a stage play. There is not a single drop of blood splatter on her body or the wall, and when we cut back to her body, she's in a completely different position than she died in.

- Elliot insists that the only way to beat the Bye-Bye Man is to avoid saying, writing, or thinking his name -- and in the very next scene, he repeatedly enters the name into multiple search engines and asks a librarian about it.

- People repeatedly refer to the coin the Bye-Bye Man uses to signal his arrival as "an old gold coin", despite it visibly being either a clean silver prop or an actual quarter.

- A recurring vision Elliot sees of a train speeding along at night culminates in a jump scare of himself, Sasha, and John standing stark naked (as seen from behind 'cause PG-13) on the tracks just before they're hit.

- Sasha gets valuable information from a flower shop owner named "Mr. Daisy", which is apparently his real name and not a business moniker. This scene is also the home of the "a-choo" I mentioned earlier.

- Elliot's actor manages to somehow oversell watching a girl get hit by a train. Speaking of, this girl ran out in front of the train because she saw an implausibly devastating accident on the tracks and jumped out of the car to try and help -- SECONDS after she explained to Elliot how the hallucinations work and told him not to believe them.

- The hellhound is once again seen in the closet, staring at Elliot with only its eyes visible in the shadows (its current size being somewhere close to a grizzly bear). Elliot says "What the hell is that?!" in a way too ridiculous for writing to express.

- A guy commits suicide when faced with the Bye-Bye Man and the hellhound by pulling a bottle of something (it appears to be either bleach or lighter fluid) out from under the sink and guzzling it. Immediately thereafter, without even a cough or a trickle of blood, we cut to a close-up of him collapsing on the floor and dying instantaneously with blood smeared all over his chin and shirt as if he was just messily downing tomato sauce.


And that's just a sampling of the things that I can remember a day later!

All in all, The Bye-Bye Man is one of the most abysmal things I've ever seen in a theater, but it stands above true misery like Unfriended and Sinister II by being gut-bustingly funny every time it wants to be dramatic and terrifying. I had a really good time watching it and exchanging whispered MST3K-esque mockeries with my sister, and if you can get a friend or two whom you have a good rapport with together to watch it, you'll probably enjoy yourself too. That's by no means my recommendation to go waste your money on it, but if anything you've read here appeals to you and you're in the mood for a modern day B-movie that somehow got into cinemas, well... there you go. The rest of you can turn away and avoid this shit like the plague.

Rating: Don't Watch It, Don't Review It... Oh, Shit
  • 4

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Wed May 31, 2017 6:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Thu Mar 02, 2017 8:55 am

Note: While this is primarily a competitive multiplayer game (and a damn great one at that), this review instead focuses on the single-player story campaign. The gameplay is identical for both, so everything about how the game works applies to both modes.

For Honor (2017)

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Basic Summary: Knights, Vikings, and samurai are forced into a never-ending war by the whims of an enigmatic warlord.
Genre: Hack-n-Slash Fighting
Systems: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Created by: Ubisoft Montreal
Directed by: Jason Vandenberghe, Roman Campos-Oriola, Damien Kieken
Written by: Jason Vandenberghe, Ariadne MacGillivray, Travis Stout, Philippe-Antoine Menard
Designed and Programmed by: Leroy Athanasoff, Louis-Philippe Dallairre, Karim Kochen
Starring: Liam O'Brien, Jennifer Hale, Travis Willingham, Courtenay Taylor, Catherine Kidd
Story-Gameplay Ratio: 2:8



For the unaware, For Honor follows multiple warriors from three factions: the European knights, the Vikings, and the samurai. Centuries after a cataclysmic earthquake restructured the Earth's geography and plunged every civilization to the brink of destruction, the formerly war-driven clans have settled into a rough peace, mostly keeping to themselves amidst sporadic invasion attempts. This peace is abruptly shattered by Apollyon, the mysterious and ruthless warlord of the formerly honorable Blackstone Legion, who strategically conducts sieges and destroys resources to manipulate the civilizations into full-blown war once again. As she slowly wreaks havoc across the land, it falls on several capable individuals on all sides to stand in the way of the warlord's disastrous plans, before the world is too far gone to recover...

Spoiler: show
Can't think of an intro paragraph so LET'S-A-GO

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Let's get the presentation out of the way, because the production values are superb, yet I have little of value to say about them. All of the character models are distinctly designed and fluidly animated, combat animations are seamless no matter what you're doing, and the environments are quite detailed and prone to being blown apart spontaneously as your time in them progresses. Even with nearly a hundred soldiers and dozens of individual "hero" fighters on screen at once, all clashing swords and bloodily executing each other, I never experienced significant lag or slowdown, nor has the game crashed at all at the time of this writing*. In terms of sound design, the music is surprisingly sparse and generally predictable, but the sounds of steel grinding against steel or a horde of Vikings barreling down a passage toward your army make up for the mediocre soundtrack.

*MASSIVE ADDENDUM: This praise only applied to the single-player and my first experiences with multiplayer. Since then, it has fallen victim to numerous crippling problems endemic to the kind of network Ubisoft chose to use across all systems, and these problems have absolutely not been addressed. Matchmaking takes ridiculously long, framerates may chug, and if a single person loses connection or quits mid-match, it may start a chain of resynchronizing dominoes that often leads to the whole match getting trashed and the players booted to the lobby. The game itself is still great, but these are very, very bad technical issues.

*SECOND MASSIVE ADDENDUM: A year after I wrote this review, Ubisoft finally implemented dedicated servers in place of the peer-to-peer network responsible for the problems. This pretty much renders that whole thing moot.

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The story is great for what it is -- I just wish there was a lot more of it. Each faction gets a six-mission arc, for eighteen missions in total, and it's just not quite enough for the tale it's telling to have the weight it's trying to have. There's enough content here for at least a Mortal Kombat-length dedicated storyline, between the actual cutscenes, the implied slices of backstory, and the "observables" (a type of collectibles that are just out-of-the-way pieces of the environment you look at with a prompt) that give you brief lore chunks narrated by Apollyon. Each faction arc boasts a lot of superb battle scenarios, and there's more than enough story supporting each one that it's visibly more than the "excuse plot" I went in expecting. Effort was put in here, and if more money had been invested in the campaign, it could have easily supported more content. But instead, we're left with these glimmers of greatness and a lot of missed opportunity.

The arcs progress logically and satisfyingly in and of themselves, but so much happens offscreen (and with multiple year-long time skips) that there isn't as much investment as I'd like. Certain characters reference events from the past and are hinted to have history with each other, but we're never treated to that knowledge. Hell, Apollyon herself barely appears, and her entire backstory and true motives are hidden away in observable pieces when they could be fodder for a genuinely great onscreen character arc. Everything just moves too fast, and not all of what's set up is satisfyingly resolved by the end. That said, I quite enjoyed a lot of what was there, and the ending it all builds to is impressively downbeat and poetic, even if I wish it had more setup.

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There's not much to say for the characters, because the three main ones in the story are basic archetypes whose gender and voice actor are determined by you (I went with the male Warden because I quite like Liam O'Brien, but picked women for the Viking Raider and Orochi), and while the story attempts to give each one personality and a clear arc, the lack of developing time and frequent skips across years render later developments flaccidly underwhelming. The supporting cast of named characters (some of whom get playable chapters) fare a little better -- the Orochi's hilariously enthusiastic friend Momiji and hotheaded Valkyrie Runa are highlights -- and some of the bosses are successfully painted in a sympathetic light that makes fighting and killing them very bittersweet. There's also no shortage of clever and amusing dialogue on all sides. However, there still isn't a lot to go on.

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Main villainess Apollyon is the standout character, as I'd hoped from the promotional materials. Contrary to what the above trailer (which pastes lines from different scenes into others removed of their context, to... unimpressive effect) may make you think, she's a bit more than the standard Generic Doomsday Villain out to destroy society because of social Darwinism. She's imposing, intelligent, and as manipulative as she can be in any given situation, consistently playing everyone like puppets until the final chapters. Her beliefs are supported by a fairly interesting backstory (again, hidden among the observables) that I would've liked to get more of, and her twisted moral code offers strange and intriguing layers on top of the basic "tear it all down so the wolves among us can thrive" philosophy. She's also the single most powerful fighter in the game, demonstrating this both in excellent cutscenes that are far too sparse and in a tense, challenging multi-phase final boss battle that doesn't disappoint. She's no masterclass example of villain writing by any means, but she shines for what's here, and if the story had a little more room to breathe, she might even reach a level of greatness.

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So that's the story, but as I've indicated, that isn't the draw of the game. For Honor's notoriety is based on its gameplay, and more specifically on the rich fighting system. The combat mechanics here are the best thing they could be for this kind of game: incredibly complex and full of nuances depending on your fighter, but also very intuitive and easy to get a quick grasp on. Locking on to your chosen foe, you enter a swordfight that's more like a brutal dance, requiring you to match and react to your opponent's moves with lightning reflexes to dodge, block, parry, stun, and/or strike. Getting both the direction and timing down to consistently parry blows is a challenge, but there are few more empowering experiences than watching the sparks fly at the perfect time and winding up a heavy blow as your opponent reels unsteadily back. Character-specific traits, special abilities, equippable powers and items, and various other elements add complications to every battle -- be it a 1v1 duel or a massive collision of a few dozen fighters -- but no fight feels unfair, and I was rarely even slightly frustrated even when I died countless times to the same opponent. Fighting is just... fun.

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And whether you're in the story or a multiplayer match, you'll put that genius combat system to use in both intense personal duels and massive war scenarios. Basic gameplay goals include wading into a horde of faceless mooks to push back the enemy lines, capturing zones or protecting targets by keeping the enemies out, destroying catapults or archer positions on higher ground, and hunting down specific targets in wide-open areas. The story offers more than a few unique wrinkles in the formula: you'll be treated to a pseudo-stealth mission, an explosive horseback chase, a frenzied assault on a beach that feels like ancient D-Day, and more across the 18 missions. No matter what you're doing, nothing feels out-of-place, and I was consistently compelled to see what awaited me next. All multiplayer activities also contribute to your chosen faction advancing, even offline bot fights, so that's nice.

Ultimately, For Honor is exactly as fun as I'd hoped it would be, and I simply have no great complaints about it as a game. The story frustrates me with the possibilities of what it might be like if it was even a few chapters longer, but I still had a great time playing through it, and it's a wonderful primer to the core selling point that is the multiplayer. Ubisoft may have developed a reputation for putting out games of such vastly differing qualities that it's easy to be skeptical of their projects, but rest assured that this is by far the best work they've done in years. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to help the Samurai claim our rightful throne in the next Faction War -- the Vikings will rue the day they snatched up that first victory.

Rating: *sounds of incoherent bellowing and clashing steel in the distance, plus one high-pitched "THIS IS FUN" followed by a heavy wet thump*
  • 1

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Sun Sep 30, 2018 6:09 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Tue Mar 14, 2017 8:28 am

Get Out (2017)

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Basic Summary: A black man finds himself terrorized when he goes to meet his white girlfriend's parents.
Genre: Horror-Thriller-Comedy
Directed by: Jordan Peele
Written by: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener
Length: 103 mins


(I wish this trailer didn't give away so much, but actual plot details are thankfully scarce and this is the least-spoilery trailer you'll find.)


For the unaware, Get Out follows Chris Washington, a photographer forced to go out and visit his girlfriend's parents in their isolated suburb. Chris's girlfriend hasn't revealed that Chris is black, but despite his reservations, the trip is made and he manages to stomach the awkwardness. However, he quickly catches on to something even more sinister behind the veil of condescension and insensitivity; between the inexplicable behavior of the family's servants, the high number of African-American disappearances in the area, and an unexpected gathering of distant friends and relatives, it rapidly becomes clear that his life is in danger, and those who love him might be powerless to help...

Spoiler: show
I was skeptical of this film when it was announced. I'm a big fan of Jordan Peele, and I love a good confined horror-thriller as much as the next guy who likes confined horror-thrillers, but the idea of comedian Peele directing a serious horror film seemed ridiculous, and I was worried that it would turn out to be another myopic social justice bait-piece people would only praise for being "important." As it turns out, my fears were completely unfounded. You need to watch this movie, and trust me -- it has to be in theaters.

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Let's start with the presentation. The cinematography is impeccable, each shot either contributing to the rich pool of symbolism and foreshadowing or just ratcheting up the intensity as Chris's situation grows steadily worse. The camera holds exactly on what it should hold and hides whatever it needs to to build suspense, and while there are a few jump scares peppered through the film, they're stylishly executed and almost all necessary to the narrative -- some of the early ones even present subtle hints toward the grand reveal. Chris is always framed so that his tormentors loom over him, almost crushing in on him from every direction, which especially helps once the climax hits and everyone reveals their true colors.

As for the soundtrack and sound design, total silence is used just as effectively as the occasional pulsing drum beat or chilling violin screech. Actual music is fairly sparse, but I'm in love with two recurring pieces: the exquisite main theme (sung in Swahili) and the old hunting tune / children's song "Run Rabbit Run" (used mainly in the prologue scene to disturbing effect).

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The story is phenomenal, both as a racial satire and a tight, tense narrative in its own right. The vast majority of the film is just Chris trying to put together what's going on: the exciting, climactic events shown in the trailer don't happen until... well, the last few climactic scenes. Thus, the film uses this seeming peacefulness as a vehicle to explore its issues, which feint toward the Klan-esque mindset that most racism is seen as in the modern era before diving into something much more complex: positive discrimination. How exactly this goes down and how it relates to the mystery, I can't spoil, because the film did what I thought was impossible and capped its mysteries with a couple of climactic reveals that never once crossed my mind beforehand. This is a film deserving of a few rewatches, because upon pulling back the curtain, nearly every scene is revealed to have greater significance and either directly foreshadow or otherwise illuminate the events of the climax and ending. When things finally take a turn for the worse, the outlandishness of some events and concepts is grounded by how well-established the characters, setting, and symbolism are, and the final act is frenetic, bloody, and viscerally satisfying. Then comes the ending, which is home to a downright brilliant scene that's notorious for causing nearly every theater crowd to burst into applause -- this happened in my theater, and for once the "audience participation" is more enhancing than obnoxious, giving the whole thing one last subversive punchline that I just love.

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While he could have been little more than a cipher for collective racial fears in today's social climate, Chris Washington is actually a well-developed, extremely likable and compelling protagonist. He's intelligent, resourceful, and charming, but he's not perfect and often ends up making mistakes that hurt him. The untimely death of his mother during his childhood is brought up repeatedly throughout the story, and used as both a reflection on the conflict around him and a continuously deepening hole revealing his personal issues. Daniel Kaluuya is wonderful in the role; whether he's conveying bright-eyed optimism, painful awkwardness, or weary determination, he constantly projects an aura of undeniable likability that makes it impossible not to root for him. He's the perfect protagonist for the story that's being told and the issues it tackles.

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There are a couple of other characters I could talk about, like girlfriend Rose or the creepy servants, but let's go straight to the main antagonists. Dean Armitage is an unpleasant man, as seemingly well-meaning as he is condescending and obviously evil, but he doesn't take the Big Bad role as much as the advertising makes him out to; Bradley Whitford dials up both the innocent charm and the ruthless menace, and he's certainly an effective villain, but his presence is not nearly as major as his wife's. He does carry a lot of the film's most important messages and complex issues on his shoulders, however, and his character is equally important for the full meaning of the story.

Catherine Keener as Missy Armitage is the truly terrifying one, all smiles one minute and a deeply unsettling matriarch the next. Through verbal torture and simple hypnosis, she repeatedly probes Chris's mind without his consent -- or sometimes even his knowledge -- over the course of the film, as unsettling on its own as it is a dangerous plot device. She effortlessly transitions between a sweet, understanding woman and an inscrutable emissary of whatever greater plan there is, and her active manipulation and tormenting of Chris from the very beginning makes her a constant wild card even as others take a while to openly expose their threat.

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Lastly, Lil Rel Howery as Chris's best friend Rod Williams is an unexpected treasure. He's a bumbling TSA agent who catches wind of Chris's suspicions and tries to help him out, but he's so incompetent and stuck on one absurd hypothesis that he only winds up getting sidetracked. He's not especially deep, but he's utterly hilarious in ways I can't quite convey without delving into territory that would best be left unspoiled.

All in all, I can't recommend Get Out enough, and you ought to see it as quickly as you can. It's fascinating, terrifying, hilarious, and relevant all at once, and it has impressed everyone I've spoken to about it or convinced to see it. It's the rare horror movie that maintains its tension and stone-serious scares even as it's prompting belly laughter from its audience. If this is the kind of serious talent Jordan Peele has been hiding beneath his comedic chops for so long, I can't wait to see what he does next.

Rating: Get Out Of Your House And Into A Theater
  • 6

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Wed May 31, 2017 6:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby octoberpumpkin » Thu Mar 16, 2017 2:11 am

Ahh I wanted to watch this but I won't be able to get to a theatre for at least a week and a half. I don't know how long these things stay in theatres though :(
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Thu Mar 16, 2017 2:17 am

octoberpumpkin wrote:Ahh I wanted to watch this but I won't be able to get to a theatre for at least a week and a half. I don't know how long these things stay in theatres though :(


It came out in mid-February, and usually an average movie stays in theaters about 2-3 months. You should have plenty of time, especially considering it's still raking in huge amounts of money for a film of its type.
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