Friday, July 2

Retro Fantasy

Take up your sword, lead armies and save the world in Dragon Force. Oh yeah.

While I was cooped up at home yesterday, I dug out my old Sega Saturn and started playing one of my all-time favorite fantasy RPG videogames. It's called Dragon Force and it's a fantasy strategy war sim/anime RPG epic starring none other than yours truly.
The game is set in the beautiful land of Legendra, your garden variety fantasy continent created by the goddesses of good for the many races of human and human-like blood. Of course, there has to be a force of evil there somewhere, and here it's a dark god called Madruk. Thousands of years ago, Madruk invaded Legendra and it was only with the help of a holy dragon sent by the goddesses that he was sealed away. Now, in present day Legendra, minions of the evil one are attempting to awaken him and throw the land into chaos once again.

Dragon Force puts you in the regal boots of one of the rulers of this realm- seven powerful overlords, each with his or her own kingdom, vassals, strengths and weaknesses. Those who want the more conventional route of the goody-twoshoes will shine to either valiant Prince Charming Wein or elf princess Teiris. A decidedly more darker path to follow is that of the masked and mysterious Junon, or the exotic swordsmaster Mikhal. Then there's the more comedic road of the beastlord Gongos, whose feral people are looked down upon by the other races. Beat the game with these first five overlords and you'll unlock two more rulers whose thrones you can try on for size- Reinhart, a young but incredibly powerful wizard king, and Goldark, the fearsome warlord who starts out as the 'bad guy' in the game.

At the heart of Dragon Force is combat between small to large numbers of various troops. Military units can number up to a hundred members, so you may see up to two hundred cartoony SD knights, monks, warriors, dragons and more clashing onscreen. You control troop movements and formation, and just watch your warriors go. While the kind of troops facing another is a big factor in deciding victory, the tide of battle can turn with a well-done maneuver or a pivotal magical spell/attack cast by your general. Worse comes to worse, battles will be decided by a one-on-one duel between the commanders, so choose your leaders well.
Despite the battles being fought by cartoony SD sprites and repetitive animation, the satisfaction of victory never seems to get old with this game. And fortunately so because you'll spend half of your time in Dragon Force fighting battles.

The other half of the game is played from a map screen of the continent, with armies and troop movements shown by cute little warriors walking about the map, going to castle to castle, invading, retreating or getting killed (and turning into cute SD angels). There are lots of short but well-written quips of dialogue as various generals talk trash or interact during battles, or in the periodic Domestic Affairs sections where you, as overlord, promote your vassals, manage your armies and push forward the plot (with well-done anime artwork).
And speaking of plot, while the story is your run-of-the-mill quest to find-the-prophesized-heroes-in-time-to-stop-an-awakening-evil" kind of thing, the execution of the short but sweet story segments, the cool replayability of playing through the game with different nations and different storylines keeps it all fresh and playable and incredibly addicting.

Cool anime artwork, addictive gameplay with strong strategy/rpg elements and easy resource management, a nice story, great music and TONS of replayability make this a classic and one of my all-time favorite games.

Which is incredible since the game first came out in, oh, 1996? Which makes it eight years old. Not bad for an old Saturn game. So if you just happen to have a Saturn and happen upon a copy of Dragon Force, try it out for some old-school anime RPG epic madness.
MAD Weekend

As the work week draws to a close (with not one but TWO TV commercials presented and approved! YAY!), there's no rest for this MADman.
I've got pages of Siglo: Passion to crank the elbow grease and grey matter on, but then again I'm supposed to work best under pressure so I'll be giving this the good 'ol college try and who knows- maybe it'll look great. Heh.

Gonna watch Spiderman 2 soon... as in, 'in a few hours' soon or 'tomorrow' soon. The sequel's been getting RAVE reviews from a couple of my blogmates, and I'm building up excitement for the movie. I expect to have a review up by... tomorrow? We'll see.

Finally (and not least), I may be part of the Siglo Comics Workshop being held at Powerbooks at Glorietta 4, in the afternoon. I say 'may' because I may just bail out and use the time for actually drawing comics rather than talking about them if there are more than enough Siglo creators to go around. Again, another wait and see.

Lots of stuff to do and not a hell of a lot of time to do it. Story of my life. HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAAHHHHHHAAAAA!!!!
Dress-up Tekken

Asuka Kazama and her alter-ego, Mirtle.

A cool new feature in the upcoming Tekken 5 will be a Customization Feature. You can unlock various items, accessories and articles of clothing to dress up your favorite Tekken fighters through gameplay. So now, if you ever wondered what Kazuya would look like as an Elvis impersonator, you can indulge. It's still not known how many options will eventually be available, but you should be able to change character costume colors, hairstyles, add headgear or add props like weapons for wacky combinations. This still isn't the same as having bikinis for the females, but it should be darn fun to see.
Tekken 5 is set for a late 2004 or early 2005 arcade release, with home versions expected soon after.

King looks a lot more kingly with a mane, don't you think?

Wednesday, June 30

Advent Rising

The original butt-kicking babe in Final Fantasy, Tifa Lockhart, returns. And she's put on quite a few polygons.

Square has released more tantalizing images of their impending DVD movie/sequel to the classic Playstation One RPG Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. The images include stills of heroine Tifa Lockhart, who's looking FINE, party members Red XIII and Cid and former enemies The Turks ("We are Turks!"). Lastly, there's a mysterious scene showing Cloud standing in a field of flowers with none other than Aeris herself. A dream? A flashback? Or a reunion?

Reno and Rude are back, but where's Elena? The Turks will apparently have a significant role in Advent Children. They are shown talking with Cloud, and later locked in combat with the new silver-haired enemies.

You can't keep a good flower girl down...

With pretty much all of the cast members from FFVII now accounted for, FFVII: Advent Children is a must for fans of the most acclaimed chapter of the Final Fantasy series. The movie is scheduled for release on DVD/Video and on the Playstation Portable later this year.
Blow wind, blow

Outside, the storm winds are howling non-stop. The sky is a grey curtain, and the intermittent volleys of rain pelt the windows like little thumbtacks.
I actually ventured outdoors for a while, braving the storm with nothing more than a jacket- an umbrella would be suicide in the strong winds. My steps eventually took me down the streets to Makati Cinema Square and the DVD kiosks (Heh). There I got the first two seasons of Futurama, Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, Battle Royale 2 and Zero Woman. The last disc is a live-action Japanese film about a female assassin, one of a series. That, and the Battle Royale 2 disc, are region 9 dvds from abroad... I hope they work on my player with no problem, and with suitable subtitles. I was tempted to get the Third Season of Alias, but I'll save that for when I am actually raring to watch the show.

I took a cab back to the office, which set me down on the curb near the entrance. Again, a wall of force blew against me as I made my way to the building's interiors, stronger this time than before. My jacket was almost blown off, threatening to escape into the wild grey yonder. With luck, I should finish up whatever work I have for the day shortly so I can make my way home early. Stormy, windy days aren't so bad, but stormy windy nights are best weathered through at home.

I'm actually looking forward to watching Spiderman 2, which starts showing today in local theaters. While I don't consider myself a fan of the character and I didn't like the first movie that much (Green Goblin sucked), seeing the trailers and rave reviews have me psyched. I am looking to be entertained when we inevitably watch the film later this week, or this weekend. We'll see.
Hurrah Redux

Today we presented our mostly-finished TV commercial to client (no less than the President of the company) and our job's pretty much done. We've been working on this particular job ever since I joined the agency, and it's been a long journey to say the least. But it's refreshing to finally see your work pay off in a TV spot that will hopefully be insightful and memorable over most other ads in the category. Of course, it helped that we had a top-notch team with the likes of director Raymond Red on board. Hurray! Here's to more nice TV ads to come in the near future.

Tuesday, June 29

Windy City

As I got off the cab and headed for the entrance to our office building, strong gusts of wind blew into me continuously, flapping and pressing my shirt and jeans to my body, buffeting even my heavy bag. I was almost walking with an effort against the cold, relentless force that howled all around me. Turns out there's another Super Typhoon headed our way. Lots of wind, a bit of rain and coldness throughout.

My kind of weather. Heh.

Monday, June 28

Angel Ace Next NEXT

Tonight I had dinner with Vin and Andrew at Classic Roast, in Megamall. There, as we chowed down on chicken ala kiev, chicken ala king and roast pork, we talked about comics.
It's been a long time since I've raised a pen to page... the past couple of months have been dominated by work, collapsing in fatigue and just vegetating on weekends and... blogging. Andrew asked me some pointers about doing a comic book series, since I'm the one in the group who's been doing one title continuously all this time.
I talked about what I thought I'd do... about having a goal in mind and mapping your characters' stories and progress towards it. Spacing out issues by events such as filler episodes meant to endear your cast to the reader and to reveal more about them, to significant story points such as a betrayal, a death of a character or a moment of truth. And then, you have to move into a sufficient climax which reveals your series' secrets and ends it all in a bang.

I just told it according to how I wanted my own Angel Ace to go. Things have been slow recently, but I am still committed to going through with the series. I ended Angel Ace Next as a good starting point for newer, fresher stories, conveniently giving Kai her own book and independence of a sort from Angel's adventures. I'm not totally committed to the exact storyline, but it will again be a stand-alone story, featuring Angel and her guys on an adventure that will be fun and action-packed and reveal more of their personalities and quirks... perhaps Angel Ace goes to Manila could be a possibility? We'll see.

Of course, all this will have to follow AFTER my other commitments- namely illustrating for Siglo: Passion and finishing up K.I.A.. In good time though, I promise... we'll see Angela Windsor Gale fly again.
War in the Pocket

I've just wasted quite a bit of time (and cellphone battery charge) playing a nice Java game called Ancient Empires on my phone. The game's a fantasy themed turn-based strategy war game, with you commanding knights, archers, mages and supernatural units against the armies of your evil arch-enemy and brother. The graphics and gameplay bring to mind gameboy titles like Advance Wars, with split screen animations showing the armies (well, groups of up to five units) attacking and/or getting eliminated. There's a nice amount of depth in the game, with various terrain having an effect on your units' movement and combat strength, and the ability to manufacture new units with gold you collect from occupied towns being a vital part of winning in prolonged campaigns.
Another fun little game I've downloaded and installed in my phone is DOAX. Yep, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball! Okay, it's the mini-pocket version, 2-D and with itsy-bitsy SD sprites instead of sexy 3-D DOA girls, but what can you expect? At least the volleyball gameplay's actually fun, and there are several DOAX artworks thrown in to give it all a nice mood. The game's supposedly by Tecmo, but that can't be... can it?

It's really amazing to see how far games in mobile phones has come from simple Snake and Alien Scum. Who knows what may be possible in a year or two? Mobile Tekken? Cellphone Final Fantasy? It's exciting to imagine what.

Had a lot of fun, but I'd better take care not to get too addicted... I might end up eating up all my battery power... and time... taking on the portable forces of evil.

Sunday, June 27

Hip Hop Samurai

From the makers of Cowboy Bebop.

Cowboy Bebop, the funky series about bouny hunters in outer space, may not be my favorite anime, but I recognize the quality. Director Shinichiro Watanabe is known for many acclaimed series like Bebop, and his latest work, Samurai Champloo hits the right chords with me.
Samurai Champloo is an action anime set in ancient, feudal Japan, yet rendered and often set to modern sensibilities and hip-hop music. It's probably the closest I've seen yet to Blade of the Immortal in anime form.

Two exceptionally deadly ronin- Mugen and Jin clash swords after separate altercations with the corrupt town prefect, and end up being imprisoned and sentenced to die. They eventually escape in a storm of blades and blood with the help of Fuu, a young girl who enlists their aid to find 'a samurai who smells of sunflowers'. And so, the story begins...

Champloo boasts quite fluid and impressive animation during fight scenes, depicting Mugen's quick, fast-on-his-feet fighting style and Jin's more refined techniques. The character designs are also excellent and expressive, and the overall quality is very high. The series so far seems to be very close as well to other Watanabe series- there's an underlying sense of humor and lightness, though the show doesn't hold back when it comes to action and death-dealing. Baddies get cut down quick and hard here, like in real samurai cinema.
I've watched two episodes, and I can say that I am sold on this cool new series. Anyone looking for tough, action-packed, sexy and high quality anime may want to check this out.
Second Honeymoon

The Bride meets Bill FINALLY in Kill Bill Vol. 2.

It's been several months since the first volume and first half of director Quentin Tarantino's fourth film, Kill Bill. The first film was a bloody tableau of revenge, black humor, martial arts and swordplay, an homage to samurai and yakuza cinema, anime and exploitation flicks. The Bride (Uma Thurman) locked swords with two of the DIVAS, or Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad, literally cutting a path through dozens of yakuza swordsmen in the first film's gory finale. It was loud, it was ridiculous, it was incredible and we pretty much ate it up. But of course, it ended at a cliffhanger, with the promise of a final confrontation with the titular quarry still to come.

Kill Bill Volume 2 has come and gone from US theaters, yet it still has to come out locally. Well, I got a pretty clear copy of the film to watch so I took the plunge. I actually knew a lot of what was going to happen- I read the whole script of Kill BIll about a year or two ago, so I actually know the ending. But a script can change from paper to theater and so there was still a degree of mystique to this viewing. Well, I've seen it.

Be prepared for a totally different film with a totally different pulse.

That's all that I can say without spoiling too much. The second part of Kill Bill is almost devoid of big action scenes... in fact, I may venture to say that there aren't any big action scenes. The mega-body count and blood splatter of the first part has given way to a whole lot more dialogue, character moments, more dialogue, exposition and more dialogue- which may not be a minus for some people. But to action fans who loved the slashing action of the first and who are expecting even bigger, more flashy stuff in the climax, you WILL be disappointed. As for me, I wasn't bored watching the MANY long talky moments- there is interesting stuff to listen to- but I probably WILL be on any future viewings.

So, did I like it or not? I liked it for what it is... an ending to the movie, and for closure. I just wished they had added a bit more- more of Bill in particular. David Carradine is quite good in the screen time that he has. Bill is one mix of a character- angel/devil, good yet evil, charismatic but despicable... but always dangerous. I wanted to see more of him, to see him in action. The film would have also benefited from a deleted (and never filmed) scene involving character Go Go Yubari's sister, Yuki, from the original script. A bit more action, fun and another killer schoolgirl may have made me like Vol. 2 a bit more.

In the end though, I find Kill Bill Vol. 2 a forgettable end to a great start. Where the title started out with a bang and a scream, it ends with a whisper. I like it, but I like the first part a LOT better, and that's the Kill Bill I will remember. I guess in this case, it isn't sweeter the second time around.

Moving on, moving on...