Sunday, December 31

It's all about the Money... Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb...

That's apparently what's in with the Filipino audience these days as the masa fantasy comedy Enteng Kabisote 3 won Best Picture in this year's Metro Manila Film Festival. Quality isn't so important these days in Filipino films as box office receipts. On a related note, sadly the comic adaptation Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah didn't fare too well, coming in only at 7th place in terms of ticket sales. Director Quark Henares' superhero team flick Super Noypi did better at 5th place.

Yeah, the movie moguls are happy, but this basically sends a message to filmmakers and directors... stick to what sells. What a blow to creativity and innovation.

What can you expect? The masa are the audience for our local film industry. Those expecting or wanting high quality films and movies go for foreign movies or are limited to niche releases like plays or experimental film. Does this mean that anyone wanting to tell stories above the usual sordid dramas, cheap scare tactics or usual tired comedy veins is fighting a futile battle? That there's no room for anything new or different in Juan the Streetwalker's brain? Hopefully not. Perhaps it's just knowing your venue and your market better. Perhaps it's about marketing your stuff better. Or maybe, yeah, the Pinoy just doesn't want anything new or different. He just wants something dumb and easy.

Oh well.

Friday, December 29

HDTV a.k.a. Hassle and Disappointment TV

As I've probably mentioned before, I'm thinking of getting a big-screen HDTV to go with my upcoming Playstation 3. Well, today I actually got a step closer to my 1080p dream, but then suddenly jumped three steps back. While affordable LCD monitors are available now, I discovered a distressing property of the Samsung Widescreen LCDs I am eyeing for The Sanctum... THEY HAVE NO VIDEO OUT.

This is a pretty big turn-off for me, considering that I love to record video with my lovely Archos AV700. Is there a way at all to capture video on the Samsung sets? Or must I look to other brands? I guess I have to do more research into this before I take the leap into the HDTV pond. For now though, I guess my ol' Sony Wega will stay for a while longer for my viewing pleasures. Oh well.

Thursday, December 28

PS3 Bound

I've more or less committed myself to getting a Playstation 3. I've decided on getting the 20GB version- the 60 GB version is considerably more expensive for simply having 40 more Gigs of HD space, built-in card reader slots, WiFi and a spiffy chrome trim.
I can always upgrade the Hard Drive myself and use a separate USB card reader, plus I don't really need the WiFi. Not having the chrome trim hurts though...

Considering that PS3s go for upwards of 40 to 50K in malls these days, I'm getting my console quite cheaply. At least I maintain my record of keeping console purchases under 30K.
My shiny new console will hopefully arrive just after the New Year's. No hurry in any case, since my main reason for getting a PS3 is still due in February. Still, I can't say I'm not pleased... I already have the spot dusted off and ready for the new console in The Sanctum. Everything comes to him who waits. Even one who hates waiting.

Wednesday, December 27

Roll Out!

Here's a good look at Optimus Prime from the upcoming Transformers movie from director Michael Bay, courtesy of Empire Magazine (issue out this January). Looks a lot more complex and spiky than the Optimus we knew in our childhood, but at least the shape of his head is recognizable... and he'll sound right since voice actor Peter Cullen will once again be voicing the Autobot leader.

I've seen the trailer, and it looks more horror movie/ID4-esque alien invasion drama than action-scifi with giant transforming robots. Early impression has me thinking it's going to delve a lot more into the human characters and how they deal with the gigantic metal warriors rather than the way the cartoons presented the Cybertronians. Still, color me curious and intrigued. Of course, since it's from Michael Bay, expect lots of explosions, bad-ass slow motion walks towards the camera and monumental pans of the heroes. Heh.

Transformers, along with a shipload of other cool flicks, will be out in mid-2007.

Tuesday, December 26

Playing it Safe

It's about a day after Christmas and already, it looks grim on the nightly news. During dinner we watched TV Patrol report on multiple fires all around the country and several hold-ups in the Metro. It's both saddening and infuriating that quite a few Filipinos will be homeless just after the Holidays, and that there will always be degenerate individuals who are willing to knife you in the ribs just to get themselves money for a frickin' DRINK. BASTARDS. The Vanishing Ray is too good for these turds. A rusty axe would be better. A DULL rusty axe. Feh.

It's a good thing I've become more of a homebody now... It's far better to stay indoors and to keep your eyes on your home and loved ones, than to go out in crowded malls where predators are likely to be on the lookout for hapless people loaded with Christmas money. Still, I'll try to catch Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah and perhaps Super Noypi before the vacation ends. Let's try to make each hour of our break count for something other than getting back lost sleep.
An Epic Fantasy Adventure in 11 Parts

If you're a regular reader of SRM, you probably know that I absolutely LOVE the RPG series Suikoden from Konami. I love it even more than that OTHER big RPG from Square. Even if the structure will usually be the same (hero must find and bring together the 108 Stars of Destiny to defeat a great evil), the telling of the epic adventures has always been full of great stuff- conspiracies, political maneuverings, personal and large-scale conflicts and lots of great characters. With the exception of Suikoden IV, I've loved pretty much every one of the games, with Suikoden II and V topping my list.
A close third is, interestingly enough, Suikoden III. While I admit I have not finished the game, I really have fond memories of this game thanks to the great characters and the cool story. And so, I committed to collecting the manga that re-tells the story of the RPG. It's been several years but FINALLY, finally, the manga adaptation of Suikoden III is complete.

Manga-ka Aki Shimizu has done an admirable job of translating the complex story of a war between various factions and nations within the embattled Grasslands, a conflict whose viewpoint is seen through not one, not two or even three sides of the story. While the main characters of Hugo, Chris and Geddoe are retained as the leads, you still find yourself caring for their comrades and families, who are themselves given good exposure. In fact, Shimizu tries and pretty much succeeds to give pretty much every 108 Star of Destiny some role in the manga... not an easy feat.
The story is complex but not that hard to follow thanks to extensive notes and recaps in every book. The art as well is quite excellent, capturing for the most part the style of the source material and even expounding on the characters. The action scenes and battles are exceptionally well done as well, with lots of cool magic and clashing weapons making for much drama.

I've not seen any other RPG given such detailed and faithful adaptation as with Suikoden III, perhaps due to the difficulty of adapting the often twisting stories in such games. Shimizu however succeeds in bringing a work that not only captures the plot and feel of the game but stands on it's own as a wonderful fantasy adventure enjoyable not only by fans of the game, but by manga lovers in general looking for great art and story.

Suikoden III manga is an 11-volume series from Tokyo Pop. Look for it at Comic Quest and other good comic book specialty stores or shops.

After reading the manga, I suddenly have the urge to bring out the old PS2 disc and start playing again. Vinay Del Zexay, here I come. Heh.

Sunday, December 24

Merry Christmas to One and All

This year wasn't the best of times. The country has had its share of devastating natural calamities and the continued depradations of corrupt politicians. Somehow though, the Filipino people have to keep the faith, stay the line and keep walking on. Stronger storms and even more corrupt politicians will come, without a doubt, but we'll manage, somehow, with God's help and mercy. The strength of the Pinoy probably is in their resilience to keep finding humor and happiness even in the most dire situations. And in no other time does the Pilipino shine than at Christmas.

Hopefully we all find pause tonight with the people we love and have, for one night, peace and happiness.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Saturday, December 23

A Howling Good Time

Last night, I got together at Vin's place for the yearly Christmas party with the Quest gang. It was a simple affair with good, solid food (KFC, Christmas Ham and really good Tapa from Andrew's Lola) that was made incredibly entertaining by the company. Dean and Nikki of course had us laughing to tears with their amazing stories about their... interesting relatives. Meanwhile, Jamie and fiancee Iyay made it even after getting lost... on EDSA (That's a neat trick).

After the anecdotes and fables, the group eventually settled on a rip-roaring game of Werewolf; that kind of whodunit-mystery group game that can only be entertaining and fun with the right people- and in this case, it was pretty awesome what with Dino "IT'S DEAN!!!" Yu and Iyay the Hysterical Woman giving voluminous performances in stereo (they were seated on opposite sides of the room). Just good, clean, LOUD fun.

It's that kind of party that you just remember for years to come. Next year again, Quest Gang. Seeya then! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 22

"Holy 180 Degrees, Batman!"

Akira goes multi-platform in 2007.

As I've previously posted (a lot), my prime reason for wanting a PS3 is the uber-fighting game Virtua Fighter 5, which you can only get on Sony's next-gen black monolith. Well, that was then. This is now. Sega announced yesterday that their flagship fighting game will be coming to the Xbox360 in late Summer 2007.

Hordes of Sony loyalists no doubt went ballistic on the news that another 'exclusive' game has slipped out of the cracks to Microsoft's console.(previous defectors include Assassin's Creed and Grand Theft Auto IV). It was inevitable though- with the PS3 being woefully undersupplied to the populace, any videogame publisher would be out of their minds to ignore the potentially lucrative and large installed base of Xbox360s.

It remains to be seen just how good a port the Xbox360 version of VF5 will be- obviously, it will look great, if not arcade perfect, and it will have all 17 characters, all the moves and the customization options from the arcade version. Some articles have mentioned that the 360 version will be based on an upcoming 'Version C' of VF5 (the PS3 version is based on the current Version B). With the 360 having comparable graphics to the PS3, I have no doubt that the game will look great- I just hope it comes with all the trimmings.

I'll probably STILL get a PS3, since I HATE waiting and at the earliest VF5 360 will arrive in late July or August... the PS3 game arrives February. In any case, I'm happy with this bit of news. More Virtua Fighter makes the world a better place. Heh.
Mines Closed

Yesterday was our last day of work at The Salt Mines for the year.

True to form, we were busy to our eyeballs to the last minute, but the day ended with the crew heading off south to a mates' posh home to celebrate a second phase to our Christmas party. LOTS of good food, drink and good company... and it all ended with me screaming out Bohemian Rhapsody at the every end. What a way to end the year.

Salt production continues in January. For now, it's time to rest, vegetate and enjoy a time of pause. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20

Blood, Bikinis and Babes

Sexy girls in bikinis against the Undead. Best. Idea. Ever.

Even though I just got my brand, spankin' new copy of Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, I'm not playing it. That's cause I got another game soon after that made me forget about the Further Adventures of Big Boss. I mean, how can Naked Snake compare against Half-naked Babes slashing Zombies to smithereens?

Oneechanbara Vortex for the Xbox360 is from the infamous publisher D3 of Japan, a videogame company known for their 'Simple' series of games- fan service-heavy videogame titles that pretty much always star scantily-clad anime girls in various activities (from wrestling to mahjong to water sports). The title is a combination of the words 'Oneechan', which means 'Sister', and 'Chanbara', or 'Swordplay'. So it could conceivably be titled "Sisters with Swords" if ever this title makes it across the pond to the US market.
Oneechanbara Vortex is an epic tale of drama, betrayal, sisterly love and... okay, it's actually all about sexy underaged and under-dressed girls slashing zombies and various evil creatures apart with samurai swords. While it may sound pretty hokey to some (I find it... interesting), the game has been popular enough to see multiple sequels. Vortex is actually the third in the series, and the first on a next-gen console.

As I mentioned before, Oneechanbara stars two super-powered zombie-fighting sisters. Aya is the elder sister whose chosen attire for battling evil undead is a bikini, cowboy hat and feather boa. Saki is a jailbait little urchin who wears the ubiquitous school uniform. Both have their own signature styles; Aya can switch between using one or two swords, while Saki seems to favor a quickdraw-one hit, one kill technique. Early into the adventure when the battle against the zombies gets underway, Saki gets kidnapped by some Agents (like, from The Matrix Agents). She's rescued (or at least, aided in escape) by Anna, a female officer in the Zombie Protection Force (who do NOT protect zombies at all). Anna and Saki soon meet up again with Aya, and all three girls join up to fight the menace behind the zombie plague. Thereafter, Anna becomes a playable character and she's quite cool- instead of swords, she comes with guns and lays waste to her enemies from afar... she can make it literally rain with bullets.

All three girls can lay waste to throngs of zombies with their attacks, causing blood to spray in all direction in ridiculous splashes of red stuff. The blood isn't just for show though- it actually affects gameplay. The more Aya and Saki slash, the more blood gets stuck on their swords. If a meter on the side fills up totally with red, their swords become sticky and will then get stuck into the next zombie or enemy they hit- causing them to be vulnerable to attack as they try to wrench their weapons free. A quick press of a button will shake off the blood, so you have to make sure you keep an eye on it at all times. In Anna's case, she just needs to reload her guns whenever they run dry (she has unlimited ammo).

Killing enemies yields yellow orbs which you collect for points (like a bloody version of Kingdom Hearts) that you can use to upgrade your character's skills. This opens up more attacks and combos which make dispatching the undead a lot easier and flashier. Along the way, you also need to collect items like healing crystals, holy fragments which keep Aya and Saki's dark sides under control, and other helpful knick-knacks.

The game comes with a Story Mode, a Free Play Mode (which lets you play stages of the Story Mode you've already finished again and again), Survival Mode and DressesUp Mode. The last one lets you outfit your character with various pieces of clothing- different hats or hairstyles, tops, bottoms, arm accessories and footwear- that you unlock as you play. Horny players will be glad to know that the girls start off just in their undies from the get-go... so that means you actually have to work to get them dressed. What a concept. Hehe. Of course, you can save your costume configurations (or lack of) to use in the other modes.

Even with all the gratuitous gore and fan service, if Oneechanbara Vortex was a crap game, it wouldn't fly. But interestingly enough, it's quite a playable and enjoyable game- I mean, chopping up crowds of gibbering undead is such great stress relief! The whole thing has this offbeat feel like one of those cool live-action Japanese chick-action flicks ( You know... those with the incestuous innuendo and intense glares), which is quite appealing. The story is told mostly through text-screens, but there are several very nicely-done CG cutscenes which are quite slick and cool to watch. The graphics are hi-res and easy on the eyes, with good animation (but not great though) and no slowdown even in scenes with large numbers of enemies onscreen. The controls are pretty responsive and easy, though the camera can get testy in some closed-off areas... this is the trade-off for having a player-controllable camera for appreciating the game's eye candy.

Even so, while I like the game a lot, I can't really recommend it for everyone. For one thing, it's a Japanese import and thus the english is very limited to the main menus. It's not impenetrable though... most of the kanji is in story text which are pretty much unnecessary to the basic enjoyment of the game... you can pretty much understand what's going on anyway even if a detail or two is missed in the meantime.

There ARE some rumors that Oneechanbara Vortex may make it Stateside eventually... no details yet though. For now, this title is only for the Xbox360 owner who loves fan service a lot and can afford the costly import. In that case, this game is a rare gem. It's no Dead Rising in terms of detail and gameplay depth, but darn... I'd rather stare at someone slashing zombies for hours on end, I'd rather it be a hot, scantily-clad babe than some sweaty, hairy guy. Hoho!

Oneechanbara Vortex is now available for the Xbox 360. Check your local import game shop or online game website if you're interested in this bloody fun slasher.

Monday, December 18

Snake in my Pocket

No, I'm not talking about anything lewd... I'm talking about the latest PSP blockbuster title, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. Finally a true stealth-action strategy title, instead of the card battle-based Metal Gear Acid PSP games in the past, MGS PO is a true sequel to the last MGS adventure, MGS3: Snake Eater for the PS2. It's kind of odd that Konami would put such a high-profile game onto a handheld when it would no doubt have been a more complete game on a home console... but still, MGS PO has it's own flavor and gameplay elements which translate well to the handheld.

Set a couple of years after the events in MGS3, PO sees Naked Snake AKA Big Boss captured by some mysterious new faction looking for something called "The Legacy". Unfortunately, Snake doesn't know what the heck the Legacy is (and if he did, he probably still wouldn't talk anyway), so instead of waiting around for the next torture session, he breaks out of Dodge with the help of a fellow prisoner named Roy Campbell. It is soon revealed through communication with old friend Paramedic that Snake has been taken prisoner by the now-renegade Fox Unit, and is even suspected by the US of treason. Now on his own, our lone wolf decides that going solo isn't going to cut it this time. With Campbell in tow, he sets out to form his own army, prove his innocence, take down the Fox Unit and save the world from Nuclear Holocaust. Again. And you're going to do it on commutes, between meetings and during downtime on your PSP. Impossible? Not so.

What makes things a bit hard though from the get-go is the PSP itself. The limited controls/buttons available on the handheld makes for some changes in the way you control your Naked Snake. Movement is done via the analog nub (the joystick), while the d-pad controls the camera. Every button is used for Snake's arsenal of moves, from sneaking to crouching to hand-to-hand combat to shooting weapons. The learning curve is a bit steep, but a few hours of play should have you moving like a pro. Still, it can get pretty frustrating to walk into an area when it's impossible to see if an enemy is nearby or staring at the door you're coming through. The game gives you a bit of leeway to keep from being too deadly, so hopefully you won't be throwing your PSP into orbit after a few deaths.

As mentioned earlier, MGS PO requires you to recruit your own army, which basically entails that you sneak up to individual soldiers, knock them unconscious and drag them to your truck for... convincing. These new recruits can be tech specialists, spies, operatives or grunts, and you can send them off to do missions. Instead of the linear storyline of previous MGS games, PO is mission-based, with key elements of the plot appearing as you do certain missions. These jobs are often short bursts of action, which are perfect for short play sessions on the PSP. There are online multiplayer options and modes where you can pit your soldiers against those of other PSP owners, putting at stake your hard-won recruits should you lose.

Despite the control issues, MGS PO is a must-play for fans of this iconic videogame series. The production qualities are high, though the cinematics are done this time mostly with animated comic book panels, instead of the full-on cinematics from the console games. The story, of course, is complex but gripping, and will easily keep you playing to the bitter, bloody end. At the very least, this should tide us all over till the next REAL MGS game- Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots- finally comes out of hiding on the PS3.

Sunday, December 17

Out of the Box

Today I made a big step and gave away a part of The Sanctum. Specifically, my Xbox and a whole bunch of games. The original Microsoft black box had become redundant- I was no longer playing any of its games, and the two games that were indispensable to me on it- namely Dead or Alive 3 and Dead or Alive Ultimate- are now playable on my new Xbox360 (thanks to an update for backwards compatibility). So it was with mixed feelings that I gave away the big ol' black box as a Christmas present to my nephews. On the bright side, they'll probably bring it to Canada when they leave next year, so at least part of The Sanctum will be going places.

I'll miss Ninja Gaiden (though I can get a new version on the PS3), Halo 1 and 2, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire... I never knew you, but I'll miss the possibility of playing you. Kakuto Chojin, Tao Feng and Stake... I won't miss you too much.

The original Xbox was a cool console. It was big and bulky and heavy, but I liked it. There were a lot of great games, but was just eclipsed into the background by it's younger brother. Still, there are tons of titles out there now available for it, so it's not like I gave my nephews a dead console (the Dreamcast is still in my cabinets, in storage). I hope they enjoy it for a long time to come.

Okay. I'm ready for my PS3 now. Heh.

Saturday, December 16

Old War Stories

Friendship, betrayal, love, war... in the palm of your hand.

Back in the days of the original Playstation, several games held players' attentions like no other. One such classic title was Final Fantasy Tactics. A spin-off strategy title from the best-selling RPG line from Squaresoft, FFT is still revered today as one of the very best turn-based strategy war games ever released on the Playstation.
I originally got into it simply because I had just come off Final Fantasy VII, and learned that FFVII heroes Cloud and Aerith would be appearing in the game. But while I came for the cameos, I stayed for the war. Set in Ivalice (yes, the same place where the current FFXII is set), FFT chronicles a complex tale of royal ascension, demonic invasion, high-level conspiracy and a long friendship betrayed by ambition, FFT drove players to keep fighting seemingly hopeless battles in order to see how this epic tale ended. Granted, the storytelling was a bit too complex often, but it didn't matter. I played this one hours and hours on end, trying to make my small army into the deadliest collection of killers in Ivalice. It was bliss, to say the least.

A sequel came a few years ago on the Gameboy Advance, but I didn't get into the somewhat more kiddy title. I've been waiting for the next bit of news for quite a while.

Squaresoft has announced the release of Final Fantasy Tactics: The Lions War on the Playstation Portable. This is basically a port of the original PS1 Tactics, now spiced up with slick, cel-shaded cut scenes showing the story unfold. Additionally, new job classes will make their debut, including the oddly-named Onion Knight. So... do they make the enemy cry or something? We'll just have to wait to find out.

The PSP Tactics will be coming to Japan sometime in 2007. No news yet on a US release, but seeing as how this is one of the hotter FF titles, such a thing would be inevitable. At least, I hope it is. It'll be good to go to the REAL Ivalice once more. Mmm. Final Fantasy Tactics. Good times.

Thursday, December 14

Fatal Fantasy

I'm sorry. I tried. I really did. But I just couldn't do it. I have to quit.

It's over for me.

I'm not playing Final Fantasy XII anymore.

No matter that some say that it's the next step in the series. No matter that quite a few gaming sites are calling it the coolest thing since sliced bread. This offline MMO-wannabee just doesn't grab me. The characters and the Episode One-ish story about their warring countries are uninteresting and boring and the game system just stymies me with how it throws nigh-invincible enemies at you along with regular monster encounters. The huge but often empty arenas of play are tiresome to explore, and the music just has no soul.

Call me a FFVII Loyalist, an Anime-RPG fanatic or just plain old-fashioned. But I feel that even with all the ruffles, wild hair, anime cliches and archetypes of FF's past, at least the previous games made me care. FFXII just leaves me... dry.

Moving on...

Tuesday, December 12

Oscar Night

Here's The Salt Mines Crew at our spiffiest during our very early office Christmas Party last week (the only one missing is our Head Honcho-ness, who's taking the picture).

There was quite a few things to be thankful for this year- we've filled up our formerly bare lobby area display with award statuettes and won a couple of hard-fought pitches. It's pretty cool I think to realize how far we've come after several years, from being a very low-profile ad agency to a company that's getting noticed quite a bit in the industry. We're lean and mean, and we can only get better. I'm glad to have these guys and gals to work with day to day.

A MADman couldn't ask for a crazier bunch to keep one's insanity intact. Here's to another year of producing salt!

On other console news, seems that the current rage among gamers who got the Nintendo Wii these days is getting people hurt. Apparently, quite a few 'energetic' gamers are gratuitously over-exerting themselves and expending far too much energy into some swings with the console's movement-sensitive controller. While waving the remote like a tennis racket or golf club, some gamers have apparently thrown the controller at their TVs, at pets or even family members. There have been quite a few bruises and broken TV screens as a result.

No matter that the remote comes with a wrist strap or that you really don't need to swing it that hard... some pretty hardheaded and homicidally clumsy individuals with a bit too much energy still manage to wreck stuff or do harm.

I think it's pretty fricking' ridiculous- no, IDIOTIC- to swing a teeny controller with enough force to crack a skull. Like, come on now. How stupid can you get? Seriously.
My First PS3 Game

The image above is the box art for the Japanese version of Virtua Fighter 5. Reported to be a pretty much perfect port of the arcade game that's been out in Japan since July 2006, the latest installment of Sega's flagship fighting game is due to impress at home on the PS3.

Aside from the usual stuff- like next-gen character models, blazing fast 60 FPS animation, character customization features, more martial arts styles and moves than a Bloodsport tournament and 17 unique fighters- VF5 for the PS3 will feature no doubt home-only features such as VS and Training Modes (as seen in the screenshot below) and supposedly, a playable End Boss.

Sega has already announced a firm release date of February 8, 2007 for the Japanese version. The game will be a bit pricier than the usual Playstation game, but will come with a nice little extra- a copy of Virtua Fighter 10th Anniversary Edition- which basically is the old-style Virtua Fighter (with 90s style blocky polygon graphics... talk about retro) but updated with VF4 moves and characters. But let's face it... I probably won't play this at all once I get VF5.

With my reason for getting a PS3 arriving in February, I guess I can consider myself lucky I'm single. Heh.

Monday, December 11

To Be Continued

A little introspection break in between the random posts about videogames, Avatar and gutter-dreaming.

Looking back on this year, I have to say that 2006 was a year of transition. It was a year of change and leaving behind things. There were things I thought would last for a while but ended up abruptly fading into little more than fond memory.

One casualty of the year was my drive for comics. A lot of what kept me going was having people around whom you could draw strength from and inspiration... and unfortunately, that drifted away like cigarette smoke in a strong wind some time ago. Once that was gone, so was the drive to tell stories and create dreams about flying superheroes and magical worlds. Simply put, it all went away. For the past few months I haven't touched a single page, haven't put a pen to paper or even thought of any story to commit to bringing to life. Who cares? Perhaps one of the, oh, dozen faithful readers might, but I really didn't know any of them. And so, I just kept living life day to day, immersing myself in work, keeping busy with the bothers at The Salt Mines and generally just being a very comfy homebody (which was easy given The Sanctum's DSL connection- easily the best thing I got this year). After a few months, I got used to staying in on Saturdays, seldom bothering to go to the crowded malls in the weekend unless my college bud Pot comes a-calling.

It doesn't help that it's so fricking EASY to just lay down and sleep. It's so fricking easy to just be mundane and watch others do stuff while you just mutter "I can do that too... If I wanted to." It's so easy to just say I earn well, I have good stuff. I don't need anything else.

Thankfully, the past Komikon re-ignited the spark of the Comicka in me. Seeing young artists with bright new stories, newbies with their xerox-copied first issues and the huge community of indie artists and writers made me realize how I love doing this stuff. I wasn't doing this just as a way to make or keep friends... I was writing and drawing and creating because I CAN. And I frickin' love doing it. And that's why, despite seemingly laying down to die these past few months, I have made it my goal to keep on drawing panels and comics. I want to see another Angel Ace story. I want to continue seeing Agent K kick butt. I want to see what happens next to Kunoichi Boy. I want to see what else is lurking in the mind of one Stark Raving MADman.

For this year, it's over. Chalked up to experience. I don't think this year was wasted, nor do I regret going through it. Change happens, as I've written before. I'll consider it a vacation at best, withdrawal period at worst. It's going back to basics and learning to do comics for the love of comics and nothing more, nothing less. I'll enjoy the Christmas season as much as I can and dream of getting new toys for the New Year to blog and rave about and complain about and keep myself occupied in the down time.

Next year is going to be hard. Next year, my family splits up as my sister takes her brood to Canada. Next year though is also the year I get a PS3 and enter the wonderful world of High Definition Gaming. Next year I have put on to somehow continue telling stories and making indie comics despite having steadily-growing costs of living and having to keep on working doubly hard in the fickle world of Advertising. Next year, our government will surely be even more crooked than this year... or it will be gone, God Willing.

Can I do it? Maybe. Maybe not. But at least there's one thing I can keep doing.

Stark Raving MAD goes on. Where will it go? Well, you'll all just have to keep on tuning in to find out.

And now, back to our regular scheduled remorseless mad blogging.

Sunday, December 10

The Next Generation of Beating People Up

The Playstation 3 may not have had a Launch to End All Launches, nor is the initial software lineup anything to scream about (at least, not in a good way), but I'm still pretty much locked into getting myself one. It's inevitable, simply because for the near future, the best fighting games of the next generation are headed for Sony's black monolith.

Delicate but deadly, Aiki-jutsu expert Aoi Umenokouji is but one of the fighters in the PS3's first big fighting game.

The first and obvious title of course is Virtua Fighter 5. The latest installment of Sega's flagship fighting game has been out for almost a year in Japan, while the rest of the world can only drool at the literally hundreds of hi-res videos uploaded on the internet by VF5 players (the Japanese arcade units allow recording of matches- awesome). Suffice to say, even after watching several hundred match videos, I'm still pumped.
This game has more martial arts moves than an entire video shop's worth of martial arts movies, oodles of gameplay depth that other fighters can only dream of attaining and graphical goodness that makes for the most detailed and gorgeous character models yet. The characters in motion are pretty amazing, with the VF fighters designed to look more realistic than, say, in rival games like Dead or Alive. The animation is unreal, and so far all I've seen are videos- I can only imagine at how this game actually looks and moves running on a on a PS3 with a really nice TV. With 17 unique characters to master and kick butt with, I'll probably be playing this game even when the PS4 comes out. Unbeatable.

Tekken 5's Asuka Kazama and Lili have gotten wider since the last time... about 1080p wider.

The second game fighting game fans will be checking out on PS3 is the next-gen version of Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection. This is basically the same game as the original arcade upgrade to Tekken 5, albeit now in High Definition. There looks to be some new aspects to arenas (the stage above was formerly only seen burning and at night) and a playable Boss character. Instead of releasing this rehash as an actual disc, Sony and Namco are apparently putting it out as a download on the PS Online Network. No word yet if us players outside of Japan or the US can get this though. In any case, I already have this game on PSP, so no big loss if I can't. Still, seeing Asuka and Nina in HD sounds cool, so I'll get this if I can.

2007 should be a great year for fighting gamers, whose genre has suffered a bit of decline in recent times. But with VF5 and Tekken 5 DR coming soon and the inevitable Tekken 6 and DOA5 on the horizon, the future looks bright for beat 'em ups.

Friday, December 8

Early Christmas

The Salt Mines had it's Christmas Party yesterday, which was a nice little shindig with good music (care of the Madrigal Singers Choir), good food and lots of lovely people. Everyone was in their formal wear, given the party's theme of "Hollywood Glam". It was, incidentally, my first time to ever wear a suit (at least, the jacket) to an occasion. Aside from the eating and the singing and some dancing (or attempts to dance, on my part), there was lots of mingling with our clients into the night. A raffle held later didn't yield anything for me, which is nothing new. Heh.

The worst thing though about celebrating your office Christmas party early is, as our boss mentioned, that NO ONE wants to work anymore afterwards. Well, there's still a couple of weeks to go before closing the door on the Salt Mines for the year, so we're going to have to cope. Somehow. Oh well.

Wednesday, December 6

Tekken for the PS3...

... is Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection???

Just hot off the news press of Famitsu Weekly in Japan is this somewhat irritating bit of news. Apparently, since obviously Namco is nowhere near ready to announce anything about the phantom sequel, Tekken 6, they're putting up this little hold-over to keep fighting fanatics busy. Based off the arcade version of Tekken DR, which powered the excellent PSP version, Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection for the PS3 will be available for download from the Playstation Network in the near future.
The PS3 version will feature full 1080p visuals and have a playable Boss (the ultra-cheap Jinpachi with his man-high fireballs... yay) as an extra. The various game modes will be updated to the PS3.

Okay. This is just... nothing. I already have the PSP version, which is already great and upgraded from the barebones arcade game. The PS2 version still works just fine. Now, what else can they do with this oldie for the PS3? CG-quality updated skins? New costumes? The playable cheapo boss does NOTHING for me. While arguably the best Tekken in years, this game is old news. I want Tekken 6. If I am going to get a PS3 fighting game with a title that ends with '5', it's going to have to start with the words 'Virtua Fighter'. Damn straight.

This is just a delay tactic, a stop-gap gimmick, all I can say. I don't even know if we non-Japanese or non-US people can download the thing (hopefully we will be able to drink from the PS Network pool as well). In any case, this reeks of 'Tekken 6 is still in Limbo, chew on this for a while'. Feh.

But if they give us bikini outfits for the girls, I'll bite. Hahaha.

Saturday, December 2

Season Shocker

I just watched the Second Season Finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and all I can say is... Whoa.

Once again, this TV kid's cartoon demonstrates why its fans are dedicated to the extreme. No other show is this mature, this deep and unconventional. Going into the Finale, no doubt countless fans thought they knew where the story was heading, what certain characters would do or wouldn't do, where black was black and white was white. Well. That was pretty much wrong. The Book of Earth ends with a truly shocking cliffhanger... by the end of the 40th episode, the Earth Kingdom capital of Ba Sing Se is under enemy control and Aang the Avatar himself is barely alive.

If there's one thing that threw viewers for a loop, it was the choice a certain character made which was opposite to the direction that had been the apparent obvious choice to make. However, the unexpected (or perhaps undesired) happened and that was that.
It's a gutsy move, but then again, Avatar has always been a gutsy show- once again demonstrating this in one of the finale's most striking moments; when an opponent starts charging up for a super-duper power attack, one does not just stop and stare... You strike first. And strike hard. Ouch.

Unfortunately, while the action-packed finale was certainly intense (perhaps the most intense yet), it does not satisfy. There are plot threads left flying free all over, and the enemy has swept the board but for a couple of pieces. It's the proverbial "Empire Strikes Back" chapter for Avatar, and it just leaves me craving more. I need to see the next episode NOW. I want to know what happens next NOW.


Damn it all. It's going to be a long frickin' wait till Season 3. Damn it.cas

Thursday, November 30

Time Flies

Days seem to fly by fast these days... either it's a sign that the earth is spinning faster as it steadily builds towards it's inevitable cosmic end... or I'm just getting older and sleeping longer. In any case, I'm glad that the hours seem to tick away faster. There are things I want to come quicker and sooner, and my hatred of waiting flares unabated.

With this coming weekend comes as well the END of the Second Season of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Book of Earth ends with a one-hour special (2 episodes back-to-back) that airs in the US on Nickelodeon this Friday, December 1. The buildup towards this climactic finale has been nothing short of phenomenal, and I can very well assure you that every single Avatar fan will be perched like vultures on TVs and computers everywhere come this weekend. Thank goodness for the Internet that I have access to this incomparable show. After this, one more season of Avatar Awesomeness to go. Fans willing though, this series should go on indefinitely. Sigh.

Just a couple more days. I can wait a couple more days. Darn it.

Monday, November 27

Toys for the Big Boys

Yesterday, me and my college bud Pot went over to Megamall to check out a couple of things. One was the Playstation 3, which we speculated was already available at the mall's Toy Kingdom. Well, it was... for a frickin' 59K for the deluxe 60 GB version (the 20GB version is available as well for a slightly less scandalous 45K). Luckily, I was pretty prepared to just shrug the thing off, though deep inside a voice was screaming for me to bust out my ATM card and blow all my savings on this expensive black toaster. Nah... the only games that were available were a two Gundam titles (zzzz), Ridge Racer 7 (zzzzzz) and Tales of Genji 2 (zzzz). Hardly compelling games. And so, after a slight longing glance, I turned from the temptation and resolved to return when the games were better and the price cheaper.

Right next to the PS3 on display was a Nintendo Wii, starkly contrasting to the black PS3 box with its white packaging. Although much cheaper than the PS3 at 30K (which is quite affordable for a brand-new console), I wasn't really interested in it since I didn't like NIntendo's game lineup, or their 'kiddie' mentality when it comes to their general gaming content. Still, it was interesting to note. But I didn't fall for the Gamecube, so I probably won't go with this one either.

After that, we headed off to the fourth floor to the Megatrade Hall, where a Gun Show was being held. Pot is a total gun freak and sad to say, it was catching. Of course, I have always been fascinated with guns (you can't be a gamer with all these shooters and war games without at least being curious about the real thing), and in this case I was kind of interested to acquire a fire arm, but strictly for home defense. The Gun Show was packed- it was crowded to the extreme with all kinds of people, all united by one thing- they were all gun owners. Guns were on display, and available for browsing (though safely neutered), and I couldn't resist taking one up and feeling the weight. So... that's how heavy a human life is. I walked down the aisles and looked to the booths, the sight of bullets in big bottles reminding me of candy in a candy shop. Everyone was looking over guns, buying guns, handling guns. Honestly, I felt like I was in some kind of foreign nation, deep in some weird culture. Still, it was something that one couldn't totally dismiss in these dangerous times.

Despite a slight gnawing which was the Impulse Buyer in me, I decided to put off getting a weapon for now... perhaps someday, if I really feel the need for it, or when I can afford spending several thousand and hope to never use it.

Afterwards, we were off back to home, dinner and winding down to the next work week. That was different, to say the least.

Thursday, November 23

A Day at the Beach

Yes, I went ahead and took a day off after about three days of intensive pitch work. But no, I didn't actually go to the beach. My copy of Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 arrived today, and I gave it the once over. I paid for a so-called 'Limited Edition' copy of the game, and it came in packed in a nice box with those cute little foam biscuits, along with a limited edition pack of DOAX2 Playing Cards. Well, I don't really play cards so I'll just keep the pack in storage and maybe sell it on eBay someday... anyway, on to the game.
Thankfully, despite being a Japanese version, DOAX2 has both english and Japanese language tracks, as well as subtitles. The english-dub is satisfactory; I didn't find myself turning to the regular Japanese voices, though I have to admit I initially winced at hearing Helena speak english with a French accent.

As with the first game, DOAX2 puts you onto a resurfaced, resurrected Zack Island, a tropical vacationer's paradise created by the easy-going Muay Thai expert from the DOA fighting game. Once again, the DOA girls are lured into the island on various pretenses, but in the end it's all the same. Your chosen girl for the game spends 2 weeks on the island, relaxing at the poolside, engaging in various diversions like minigames and the title's two main activities (volleyball and jetski races) and using the proceeds earned to purchase tons of items and sexy swimsuits.

Once again, instrumental to the game is making and keeping relationships with other characters through gift-giving and doing well in volleyball games. The friendlier your team is with each other, the better they play and the more rewards you'll get in terms of gifts from your partner and in some little extra bits. The sexy Gravure Scenes have returned ranging from the girls frolicking on the beach to looking a bit too interested in some large trees, to a scandalously hot pole dancing scene you have to unlock. These scenes are a lot sexier than in the previous game, and there are even two-girl scenes if you're good enough. Fan service, T&A and lots of bouncy boobs are the name of the game here, and if you enjoy anime and videogame babes, this is one slick title.

So far, I've played through the 2-week Vacation mode three times- getting money is hard at first, but gets easier once you get the hang of the slightly revised volleyball game- which is still let down a bit by an occasionally restrictive camera. The camera for taking snaps in the Gravure Scenes will also take getting used to, even going as far as having detailed camera settings if you want to take in-game photos of your virtual models.

The game, of course, looks incredible- virtual skin never looked so nice. Next generation graphics right there. Heheh. This is a nice fun title for anyone who owns an Xbox360 and loves virtual vixens- those looking for serious sports or deep gameplay will probably be disappointed. It's all just shallow, depthless but quite fetchingly gorgeous fun here. A nice getaway every now and then, and that's all I can ask for these days.
Now, if you'll excuse me... I have to go buy some bikinis.

Wednesday, November 22

Back from the Salt Mines

I haven't been able to post lately thanks to a big pitch at the Salt Mines which had me and everyone else in the Creative Department working overtime every day since last week. A pitch basically entails intensive brainstorming and group work for hours and hours on end, seeing us all wail away the night and early morning in the office, sustained only by our sense of teamwork, professional duty and bottles and bottles of caffeine-heavy beverages. Work piles on and things get re-worked again and again until the last second when no more modifications or adjustments can be made. Then, we go and sell the stuff to the client... and hope our stuff is better than, oh, some of the sharpest ad agencies in the country.

But even though there's a dull pain in the back of my head and in the area of my face just between by eyes and hair line (due to lack of sleep... I probably had less than eight hours total sleep in the past three days), I feel content and happy. Happy that I was able to work alongside a great team and give the job at hand our darndest best. That's what matters, really. Though bagging a multi-million peso account would be fricking sweet too.

Gonna take a rest though. A little break and a pause to stop and smell the flowers, enjoy a game or two and just catch up on Z's.

Break starts... NOW.

Monday, November 20

Going Elemental

Here's some awesome elemental action from my favorite series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The current episode, The Earth King, sees Aang and friends racing to warn the mysterious leader of the vast Earth Kingdom of the threat being posed by the Fire Nation outside Ba Sing Se's walls, and the danger of the ruthless Dai Li within. Unfortunately, one doesn't just "pop in" to see the Earth King, and now they have to go through an army to reach their quarry. Air, Earth and Water join in the young heroes' hands as their rush into battle.

Action this good isn't the only reason why I love Avatar, but darn it's one of the better ones. Enjoy!

Two weeks to the Season Finale of Avatar's second season... darn... it's going to be a long wait.

Sunday, November 19

The Dark Side of Gaming

The Playstation 3 is out in both Japan and the US, and already there have been some less-than-savoury incidents. There have been reports of armed robbers breaking into stores and carting away the valuable consoles, and even of some guy getting shot when he refused to give up his newly-purchased Sony console. Ouch! Don't die for your PS3, gamers... you can always get a new PS3, but unlike videogame characters, we don't come with extra lives or continues.
No doubt stolen PS3s are destined to be resold at astronomical prices for desperate gamers. I really don't see these thieves actually going through all that trouble just to play Resistance: Fall of Man.
Anyway, I haven't seen PS3s locally, but I'll be standing off getting one until games like the super-slick Virtua Fighter 5 show up on it. That's still a ways off- perhaps some time in the first quarter of 2007. Hopefully the price will have gone down from the 50K+ amount it is now. Well, I have the Christmas break to mull things over, but gaming should be good in the New Year. Though I may have to make allowances for a gun to go with a new PS3 for my own protection... Sigh.

Wednesday, November 15

All that Jiggles isn't Gold

Tecmo's sexy sequel, Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 is out in the US, and gaming sites have so far been uniformly blasting the fan service title with low review scores. Reasons cited include the game not addressing issues from the previous game, and in some cases worsening the already scant amount of actual gameplay. The newly-added minigames are described as one-shot ponies and the new main game of Jetskiing didn't live up to the hype. The volleyball, which returns from the first release, has been made a bit harder- in the views of several reviewers, more frustrating.
Still, the reviews all still concede that if you're looking for digital divas to ogle as they cavort about in bikinis, this is THE game to have. I'll see it myself though, when my own copy arrives. Oh well.

Monday, November 13

The Adventure Continues...

Work is going well on the 2nd issue of Kunoichi Boy. I'm on the pencilling stage, with more than half of the pages done. I'm targetting the issue to finish by mid-December, so I can release copies of both Issue 1 and 2 back in Comic Quest and other comic shops, hopefully. I'm thinking of finishing at least 4 issues before working on compiling them all into one trade paperback release that should be in time for the next Kon.
Kunoichi Boy follows the journey of Jin, a travelling artist, and his reluctant bodyguard and companion Mikoto, a buff female brawler, through the strife-ridden land of Tao. Along the way, they cross paths with the mysterious Pink Ninja, who may or may not be Jin in drag...

Issue 2 has Jin and Mikoto entering a quiet little village... which would be kinda boring if not for the band of bandits and rogue ninja who are holding the whole place hostage. Expect the new issue of KBoy out by mid-to-late December. Just keep on tuned to the blog for further developments.

Sunday, November 12

Go, Go, Gadget!

Thanks to a sudden windfall, I got a new gadget. It's the Sony Ericsson W700i, the latest itineration of Walkman Phone. The lovely little mobile comes with 2 Megapixel camera with flash, all the Walkman music features, Memory Stick Pro Duo support (up to 4 Gigs), FM radio and lots of other perkies. Plus, it comes in Titanium Gold. WOOHOO!

Okay, you'll probably say, why downgrade? Yeah, it's a downgrade from my present O2 XDA IIi. But hey... no problem! It's not for me... it's for my Mom, a sort of early Christmas gift. I give her this, and I basically give her a new phone, an mp3 player and a nice digicam- three gadgets that she has expressed interest for.
The phone looks quite slick, with the metallic exterior being a world away from the candy-white and orange colors of the original W800i Walkman Phone (which I learned is by now being 'phased out' at the legit cellphone shops). Placing the Sim card and setting up the phone was pretty easy, but then it's my Mom who has to come to grips with the thing, not me. This is her first phone with a joystick, so she'll have to get used to that. Still, even this early she is really enjoying hearing her tunes and being able to get her favorite radio station with her phone.

I really like the phone myself, but really, it's not for me. I tried putting a video on it, and the viewing experience is... not good. The 3GP video isn't at all nice to look at, and the dinky screen is just far too small. I'd miss all my Pocket PC perks if I downgrade to a 'normal' phone, even a smartphone like the Nokia N73 (which caught my eye a bit) or the Sony Ericsson P990i. I guess I should be happy that I have at present everything I need in a mobile. Still, it was nice to feel the aura of newness with a new device... even if it isn't mine. Heh.

Thursday, November 9

The Price of Gaming

Are you ready for the PS3? More importantly, is your wallet?

The Death Star of Gaming, Sony's Playstation 3 is on the horizon- literally just a week away. Online, some gaming shops already have it in their inventory for pre-order. How much is the uber-gaming console? Well, according to, the Japanese version PS3 with a 60GB hard drive can be yours for a paltry 990 dollars. That amounts to about 50,228 pesos. Got that? FIFTY THOUSAND PETOTS.
What else can you buy with 50K? Well, you can probably buy the most expensive PDA phone, like the O2 XDA Exec, or a cheap laptop. You can buy a pretty souped-up Desktop PC with a lot of trimmings like Mega-sound, big monitor, 200+GB HDs, DVD writer drives and a nifty table. Or you can buy an Xbox 360 and several legit games. Or you can live vicariously for a week or two.
Also according to Play Asia, the PS3 20GB version sells for a slightly lesser $899, or Php45,200. Still quite a price. 40+ was the most expensive price I saw for an original Xbox a couple of years ago.

Games for the PS3 at launch, however, are hardly must haves. There will probably be a Ridge Racer title, and the shooter/action title Resistance: Fall of Man. Bigger titles like FFXIII, Metal Gear Solid 4 and Virtua Fighter 5 aren't due out until next year, while some like Tekken 6 are still... shudder... TBA. Not exactly a lineup that will drive me into the game store with my life savings.

Even with the prospects of a happy end of the year, I don't think I'll be getting a PS3 anytime soon. Give me a lower price and next-gen fighters and Solid Snake and I'll bite. But thankfully, that won't be for a while. Still, if anyone has 50K to throw away, I'll be happy to come over and test the unit for you, absolutely for free. Heheh.

Wednesday, November 8

Vengeance Online

Lately, the anime series Girl from Hell or Jigoku Shoujo has started showing on Animax. This supernatural/drama series is based on the overall idea that there is a website which allows the wronged, the bullied and the oppressed to send their tormentors to HELL. The website, which can only be accessed at midnight (and only once by any person) has a very simple interface- all you need to is input the name of the guilty party in the blank space. In a flash, the titular Girl from Hell, Enma Ai, will appear and give the 'client' a small straw doll with a red string wound around its neck. To seal the contract, the client must untie the string. Immediately after, the tormentor will be sent to hell.

Unfortunately, all isn't wine and roses. As Enma Ai says, "Whenever a person is condemned, two graves are dug." That means that while the accused is immediately consigned to Hell, the accuser him/herself will follow as well, once he or she dies. To mark their inevitable fate, a black mark appears on the breast of the person who contracted the services of the Jigoku Shoujo. Better think before you act, I guess.

Animax has been promoting the... well, the hell out of this series, and perhaps the hype was a bit too much as when I finally got to watch an episode or two, I was kinda disappointed. The episodes are all stand-alone stories of some person being wronged and how his or her plight escalates to the point where they can't stands no more... and the only recourse is to contract the services of Enma Ai.
After that, like the Lazer Sword of Voltez V, it's all academic as Enma and her cohorts- which include a young man, a geisha girl and an old geezer- give a little payback by confronting the guilty party with their sins. In the end, Ai takes the condemned person to hell on a boat, and that's that. After a few episodes it all gets kinda repetitious, and I can't say that I am particularly impressed by how the 'punishments' are dished out. The guilty don't seem to ever reach the point where they are overly terrorized or are driven to repent or remorse, which makes the part where they are being confronted kind of empty and hollow- or just unsatisfying. Plus, I don't find it clear- what happens to these people? Do they disappear as if they are physically dragged into Hell? Or do their physical bodies die? The series seems a bit vague on these points.
I have to say as well that some of the situations make me angry more at the ones being tormented, rather than the tormentors. There simply HAS to be other ways to resolve some of these problems, without condemning yourself to a hellish afterlife, right?

It doesn't help either that the viewings of GFH have so far been with Animax's less-than-excellent english dubs (ah, Animax and their vast complement of five voices). The stories are very Japanese and perhaps would benefit from more authentic vocal performances.

Still, lovers of drama anime (dranime?) will probably get absorbed in the masochistic pleasure of watching poor saps get hammered before lashing out in revenge with supernatural aid. The series already has proven popular enough for a Second Season, as well as a live-action series. For me, this kind of vengeance doesn't really cut it. I'll hire Golgo 13 over Enma Ai any day of the week. Beats going to Hell, I think.

Tuesday, November 7

Fighting Fire with Fire

If you've been reading my blog for the past couple of months, you'll probably remember me posting some videos showing off the awesome elemental action from Avatar. Well, I've already posted for earth and water... here's a video showing off Firebenders in action. The video is from the Season 1 episode, "The Southern Air Temple", and has the show's anti-hero Prince Zuko squaring off with Season 1's eventual main baddie, Admiral Zhao. Many Avatar fans consider this fight one of the best in the whole series. Don't try this at home, kids.
Chit Chat

Thanks to our one-and-only Webmistress, Cynthia, the DEAD tagboard has finally been removed and replaced with a nice little Chatterbox for short messages and notes. Thanks, Cyn! But of course, as always, any SPAMMING or TROLLING is prohibited and will be deleted on sight. So keep your chatter nice, people!

Saturday, November 4

Afternoon with Avatar

My sister and her family came by ysterday, and I brought out episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender for them to watch. Since they can only catch the mega-popular Nickelodeon series on local cable TV, they haven't watched the last few Season 1 episodes, or ANY of the already released 17 episodes of Season 2. What happened then was an Avatar MARATHON as the kids watched episode after episode after episode. The funny thing was, their dad and even my mom (their grandmother) soon got into watching Avatar as well. It just goes to show that the quality of this show- the great dialogue, superb action, continuing storyline and excellent drama and direction- has universal appeal. There was only one break in the watching- dinner- before the last several episodes available were watched and enjoyed. Thankfully, the newest episode Lake Laogai (episode 37) ends with at least quite a bit of closure. Still, the kids (and their dad) were asking me when the next episode would be available before they left.
It was truly an enjoyable time, and I have to say that I can thank Avatar for a cool bonding experience with my niece and nephews. I'll be counting the days myself to the next new Avatar- two weeks to the next one. Darn it. Well, I can always have an Avatar Marathon again myself, to keep the wait bearable. Barely. Heh.

Friday, November 3

Wannabee Comic Book Movie

I finally got to watch Ultraviolet, starring Milla Jovovich. Some may be surprised that it took me so long to actually watch the flick, seeing as how it's an anime-styled superbabe-girlpower action flick... something I'd probably want to see as soon as possible. Well, bad reviews made me just push watching the movie back again and again... even with the movie loaded onto my XDAIIi, I still didn't have any time or inclination to watch it. The opportunity and the mood finally came early this week, as I was trapped home by a bad stomach, during the afternoon.

Ultraviolet opens up with a series of comic book covers starring the titular heroine- of course setting the tone for the over-the-top action to be featured in the flick. Set in a futuristic world where fear of disease has resulted in a future of sealed buildings and people wearing masks all the time, Ultraviolet sees the world divided in a war between normal humans and the Hemophages- or 'vampires' thanks to their pointy teeth and enhanced physical powers. The Hemophages were initially made out to be the ultimate warriors, but are eventually marked for extermination. Miss Jovovich plays Violent, an exceptionally-gifted and deadly vampiress and assassin who is out to grab a secret weapon the ruling regime (which incorporates religious/medical and corporate tyranny) is supposedly preparing to finish the war against the Hemophages.

Well, it turns out the 'weapon' is a little boy who seems to awaken deep maternal feelings in the superbitchy warrior, and soon she's fighting to save his life along with trying to bring down the evil government/corporate/pharmaceutical overlord. Along the way she kills lots of enemies. Cross that- she kills armies of enemies, hacking them down in droves. Gas-mask wearing, glass-like body armor-clad thugs fall to Violet's many guns (which are conveniently 'digitized' until needed) or her oddly-oriental katana-ish sword.

With all the action, you'd think that Ultraviolet would be incredibly cool. The movie looks pretty slick, with nice production values, but it ultimately looks kinda... not there. It seems to be lacking a lot, perhaps since the world Violet lives in seems vacuous, impersonal and empty- it's just a large setting for lots of videogame-like fighting, and that's not very deep or too engaging after a while. It's certainly not as visually stimulating as, say, the world of The Fifth Element (another Jovovich-starrer).
It also kinda takes away from the movie that you never feel that Violent will ever be in any danger- despite her actually saying that she doubts her survival at several points in the movie, she plows through hordes and hordes of enemies like a hot knife through lukewarm butter- the enemies are really STOOPID in this movie. The fights themselves aren't particularly well done, or impressive, and it's kinda weird to see jumpsuited, masked generic hitmen running around with katanas like some kind of industrial ninja. On paper, this would be kinda cool- here in a movie, it just feels... iffy.

Everything else... eeeh. The script is blah, the acting bleh, and the storyline really doesn't matter. Maybe that's all irrelevant anyway... Ultraviolet pleases with visuals, and in that it's pretty-looking, shallow but entertaining fun for a while. After Violent kills her, oh, 600th enemy, you just know that the end boss doesn't stand a chance.

Darn... Aeon Flux. Elektra. Ultraviolet. All superbabe movies, all kinda crappy. At least, when I ever think of making a K.I.A. movie, I am well-versed in what it shouldn't be like. Oh well.

I love watching G4TV's X-Play. Really, it's more gag show than actual serious videogaming reviews, but I try to catch it everytime online since Jack TV only has like, four episodes to show all year.

Still, I have to say that hosts Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb get on my bad side a lot- not for any of their scathing reviews of their general anti-anime stance, but for insulting gamers every opportunity they get. And, if I saw that skanky Webb on the street, I'd punch her teeth in for being a hater of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and then shove a katana through her flat chest for being so bitchy against Aeris and Final Fantasy VII.


Anyway, I loved their Scariest Games special. That was pretty funny.

Wednesday, November 1

Todos Los Santos

Today is the Philippines' day for the dead- Todos Los Santos or Undas. All over the country, thousands of Filipinos head for cemeteries to spend time with their loved ones who have gone on before them. Years ago, me and my family used to go to Marikina, where we have our dead at Loyola Memorial Park. We'd leave early in the morning since we needed to avoid traffic.
Trips to the cemetery then were like mini-vacations; we'd pack a big tent, lots of food for the day, tables and chairs and other necessities. To kill boredom, decks of cards, board games or books would also be packed along. We'd then spend the whole day from sun-up to sunset before finally calling it a day and packing for home.

That changed quite a bit after we moved to Marikina more than fifteen years ago. Since the cemetery was so close, there was no need to pack stuff, or even bring a tent. We'd just walk the whole way, bringing only the bare essentials- candles, flowers and our prayers. Umbrellas too, since it would either be sunny or rainy.

This year, the cemetery crowds are supposedly aren't as thick, thanks probably mainly to the weird schedule which placed All Saints' Day in the middle of the week, a one-day holiday break. With so short a time, many preferred to celebrate the day at home. Still, many flooded into the cemeteries.
The government as well as private institutions set up services like first aid stations to keep things safe, while the police and military banned gambling, alcohol, deadly weapons and even music from cemeteries to prevent any untoward incidents. Politicians of course didn't miss the opportunity to do a bit of indirect campaigning, via giveaways marked with their names or likenesses. Some things never change.

As the sun went down, so did the rain. In fact, as of this writing, it's raining cats and dogs here in Marikina- sure to be a bit of an annoyance for the people crowding in the cemeteries, or stuck clogged on the road in traffic. I'm just glad to be inside at home, dry and cozy.

Tomorrow, despite being All Souls' Day, it's back to the world of the working and the living. Life goes on.
Digital Hauntings

Thanks to the wonders of cellphones and mobile technology, anyone can keep in touch with anyone anywhere, whether they're at home or at work or on the road. And it seems, thanks to camera-equipped phones, anyone can catch a ghost on video. Photographs and videos of supposed ghosts aren't new- but lately thanks to TV shows like my favorite Ghost Hunters, spirits from the other side are showing off their spooky mugs more than usual.

Even on recent local news and information programs, ghost videos are in the spotlight. The video above is from the local program Sa Pulso, and features quite a few ghost videos. Some seem real, some cheezy, all dubious. But it's still creepy fun to watch.
Another dubious bit of footage appeared on the news tonight- a man took a cellphone video of his wife clearing shrubs from their loved ones' grave, and captured what appears to be the voice of a ghostly child crying out at them. Of course, they didn't hear anything at the time. Again, dubious, though the man doesn't seem the type to hoax it.

I myself have heard a story about some ghostly footage taken by some officemates of mine during a shoot, where a hand appears in frame during one of the takes. When they check it out though, they discover that no one was there at the time. Eerie.

Well, it's really hard to say if it's really possible to capture the supernatural on our cells. Perhaps at the right place, at the right time, if you happen by some creepy place oozing of the unknown, you may be inclined to bring out your cell and start shooting. Then... would you dare to see if your lens captured more than what the naked eye can see?
If I just had more inclination, I'd probably rustle up some buds and jaunt on down to some old hospital or school house with the ol' cell or digital cam. Or maybe down to Balete Drive (though it's already widely believed that the so-called 'White Lady' was just some psychology class experiment) to see what we can catch on cam. Unfortunately, I DON'T have that much free time, so I'll just leave it to the professionals like the TAPS team, or the Spirit Questers. One thing's for sure though... I'll always be intrigued by this stuff. I love getting creeped out. Heh.

Tuesday, October 31

Avatar Watch

Season 2 of my favorite animated show is nearing its end- only 4 episodes left, with no Fire Nation invasion in sight. Looks like 'The Drill' was the Flame Country's big card for this season- apparently the climax of 'Book of Earth' will have Aang and company dealing with the evil Earthbenders Long Feng and the Dai Li society. It's a refreshing change from last Season (Book of Water) and once again demonstrates the dynamism of this Nickelodeon show.

Some online tidbits about Avatar have been very interesting, so much so that I'd like to share a few of them.

Despite the death of Mako recently, don't expect the loveable General Iroh to pass away as well. The 'Dragon of the West' has many mysteries to his character, which may be revealed in future episodes. As for his voice, a new voice actor has already taken over- this person was a student and close friend of Mako, and supposedly has impressed the show's producers and creators with how he has captured the character's soul and feel.

Avatar is greatly influenced by many anime shows, including the works of Hayao Miyazaki. The anime Cowboy Bebop also inspired many of the action sequences in Avatar. The character of Toph, the blind earthbender girl, was influenced by the blind martial artist/assassin Sara from the anime Samurai Champloo.

Many, if not all, of the characters may have new hairstyles in Season 3!

Season 3 will finally reveal the many mysteries of the enigmatic Fire Nation, of which so much has been kept secret all this time. Just how the enemy ticks will be a big focus in Season 3, and will surely be another notch in the coolness of Avatar.

Is Aang truly the only Airbender left? That may change in future episodes (the title of the series has already been changed from 'The Last Airbender' to 'The Legend of Aang').

Of course, Season 3 will have the Avatar finally fulfilling his destiny and facing the dreaded Fire Lord. But there has been talk of more seasons beyond Book of Fire. The world of Avatar is so well-crafted, deep and colorful, the possibilities for further adventures are endless. The creators would be mad to end this series at just 3 seasons... fans can only hope that these rumors are true.

Oh, and local gameshops also have the Avatar: The Last Airbender videogame on the shelves already (for Xbox at least). The game's pretty easy so far- it's an action game with some RPG elements, putting you in command of Aang, Katara, Sokka and Haru (the Earthbender guy from 'Imprisoned'). No Toph, which sucks, but perhaps she'll appear in future Avatar games. The game seems more geared towards kids, but fans of the show will probably have fun with it- I know I did, for the hour or so that I played. Not bad, just not spectacular, but good enough.

The next episode in Season 2, Lake Laogai, comes out this weekend. I can't wait. Grab your Avatar fix from better anime shops or from online now. This is truly the best animated show out now. Awesome stuff.
Things That Go Bump in the Night

It's Halloween time once again. This is perhaps the only foreign celebration that Filipinos truly embrace aside from Christmas, since the supernatural is so close to our hearts. It's at this time when ghoulish decorations start adorning both offices and residences everywhere, and TV is now flooded with scary specials and Halloween episodes. I think this is one of the coolest times of the year.

I've been down sick though for the past couple of days, so I'll be probably spending Halloween and All Saint's Day at home in bed. I'll be having myself a Ghost Hunters marathon (got all the episodes downloaded) and watch some scary shows on cable. Or play a couple of rounds on the ol' 360 or PS2. Of course, it's also a time to remember the loved ones who have gone before us into the great unknown.

So keep safe everyone. Creep yourselves out, keep your living loved ones close and have yourselves a Happy Halloween. Trick or treat!

Monday, October 30

Streetfighter II

Chun Li... Ready for her closeup?

There's a bit of news that there's going to be another Street Fighter live-action movie.



Ahem. Anyway, according to the bit, Hyde Park Entertainment and Capcom are going to team up for a second film adaptation of the classic fighting videogame for release in 2008. This time though, the story will focus not on Guile (last played by the Muscles from Brussels John-Claude Van Damme), but on female Interpol operative Chun Li. Looks like the producers are taking a cue from Tecmo's DOA movie for having a female protagonist. No details on the story yet... it still remains to be seen if this actually happens. We'll just have to wait and see.

Me? I just want Street Fighter IV. Come on, Capcom. Cough it up.
Say Mo, Seiyuu

I have to admit that in spite of myself being a long-avowed fan of original Japanese voices in anime, that the local dubs of Japanimation is growing on me. At least, I am no longer cringing when I tune on to the local Hero anime channel on cable. It helps that I have grown quite tired of the generic recycled voices on most of Animax's shows (they seem to have like six voice actors for the whole channel), so hearing Hero's vocal talents is refreshing.
My main gripe with local dubs in the past was, for the most part, a general shortage of unique voices and acting; early tagalog dubs were often badly scripted and talents sounded like they were reading instead of actually acting.

Well, these days the lines seem to go much more naturally, and I have to admit that the tagalog or taglish translations of some pretty complex lines in anime like Yu-Gi-Oh and Yakitake Japan have me impressed. Plus, I have even heard at least one local dub that sounds accurate to the original Japanese voice- particularly Son Goku's voice in Saiyuki Reload Gunlock.

Which leads me to believe that a local industry of expert, even famed voice actors for anime translations is not far off, and that's really not a bad thing. But I am still not a fan of the 'star'-dubbed Initial D episodes, though. Heh-heh...

Thursday, October 26

Flying the Friendly Skies

In all the fun, enthusiastic energy and komiks wonder that was the recently-concluded 2nd Komikon, there were two standout moments for me in particular. One was meeting my old college professor Cesar Hernando and one of his students, a guy named Jay who told me that when he was in high school, the first indie comic he read and loved was Angel Ace. Later, I met another guy named Mike (who made an impression as he and his pal were dressed as Lego Men) who revealed he was also a fan of Angel. I then learned that he had been looking for copies of Angel Ace since he lost his copies some time ago when his house burned down.
It's been over ten years since Angel lifted off from the ground, and it's still amazing to know that there are people out there who still await her adventures, still scanning the skies for any copies. Who am I to let them down?

Next Komikon, or perhaps sooner, there will be another Angel Ace comic. And perhaps another after that. And another. Along with the next K.I.A.'s and Kunoichi Boy issues to come. Who knows. The sky's the limit. I've got the inspiration back. Let's see what happens next.

Sunday, October 22


Lots of komiks, creators and readers on this day of days. This year's Kon had more people, more local komiks, more komikeros, more enthusiasm, more sales and fun till the end of the day. I met cool people aplenty- old friends from Alamat, my ol' college professor, guys from UP Fine Arts (my Alma Mater!), young komikeros, old masters of the komiks and even Angel Ace fans whose love for the Flying Princess still burns to this day. For that, just for that, I have gotten my enthusiasm back to keep Angel flying. To keep ninja girls ninja-fighting. To keep doing comics and komiks. Awesome. Next year, next Kon, I'll have stuff ready.

Here are the pics. I'll be uploading bigger versions on my phlog as soon as I can.

I took home a TON of stuff, including Fresh! from Taga-Ilog, Elmer Damaso, Taga-Canal and their crew, Gerry Alanguilan's Elmer #2, the new TROPA! and Rambol comics from Gilbert Monsanto, a new wave of Alamat xerox-comics including Kadiliman, Artifacts, Ultracops and The Last Datu, stuff from Istrong Repablik and Break Out, stuff from Ariel Atienza, Reno Maniquis and Jamie Bautista's debut issue of Tri-Tech... and that's just the stuff I can remember top of mind. I bought a LOT of stuff, so I'll be looking them over in the next week or so. It's like Christmas, just before Halloween.

Unfortunately, I didn't get copies of Trese since they frickin' SOLD OUT just after lunch. Budj, I'll be waiting for my copies.

Thanks to Ariel Atienza and Artists' Den, and everyone who made this year's Kon a glorious reality.

Seeya all next time, in KOMIKON 2007!!!

Saturday, October 21

One with the Crowd

Today is the 3rd Philippine Komiks Convention, or the Komikon as we have all taken to calling it. It's that time of the year when Indie Komiks Kreators have their time in the sun (both literally and figuratively) to show off their wares to an audience that has come specifically for that reason. Comics pros, comics amateurs, wannabees, fans and more types of people converge at the Bahay Alumni in UP Diliman, ready to buy ashcans and first issues and debuts galore, plus the odd latest installment of their favorite struggling indie title.

Unfortunately this year, the Kon caught me with nothing. Well, nothing that I am singularly responsible for. No Last Angel Ace Story yet. No second K.I.A. book, no sign yet of Hiniranga or any other title. Nope. All of these projects are as yet under development and unripe for showing. It's just that work has been pretty hectic recently, leaving me all but exhausted on weekends and unable to pick up pen or pencil to draw nary a single page. Technically though, I have actually been more productive in the past few months than in all my years of Indie Komickery before- not everyday that you take part in a full-color, 10-issue comic series that will reach perhaps thousands of people... unfortunately, I can't talk about it much, nor is it really something for the regular comic book reader in Metro Manila. Oh well.

On the upside, I am not totally off anything Komicky at the Kon; I do have a pinup that shows up in Fresh!, a brand new comic anthology from the crew of Jon Zamar, Taga-Ilog and Elmer Damaso, as well as a bunch of other cool creators. It is, in fact, a reunion of sorts for the Culture Crash crew, and fans will no doubt be overjoyed to see PASIG and Cat's Trail back (at least for a little bit) in the pages of Fresh! The art looks great, I am interested to read it and overall, Fresh! is the best-looking local production so far I've seen all year.

So I'll be a the Kon later, to buy stuff- Trese and the new releases from the Alamat Crew in particular, and whatever else catches my eye and tweaks my curiosity. I'll be snapping pics and video clips of the event, and hopefully will get to hang out and meet some old and new friends in the Komiks biz.

But most importatntly, I hope to find inspiration and reignite the komik creator in me that has, unfortunately, been lost in the past few months. I want to find the passion that went away. I need to find a new direction and fresh new ideas for new Komiks Kreations.

So, expect stuff and a report from the Kon floor very soon. It should be pretty fun.

Friday, October 20

NEWSARAMA.COM: Celebrating 120 Years of Komiks in the Philippines

From one of the premier comic book sites online comes this much-appreciated series of articles on Filipino comic book creators, their works and the long tradition of art and komiks history that preceded them. Benjamin Ong interviews the Philippines' grafictionists and visual storytellers to check out Filipino komiks' past, present and future.

Check it all out here. Check back as this series of articles continues- the next installment will be online tomorrow.

Thanks to Benjamin for giving Filipino comics a long-overdue chance to be seen and read.

Thursday, October 19


Today, on a whim, me and a couple of guys from The Salt Mines headed off for lunch at Amici's at Don Bosco. It's this quaint but popular Italian canteen-resto right inside Don Bosco school in Makati. The place at first glance doesn't look too amazing... it kinda reminded me of a more down-to-earth Sbarro's. But one look at the trays of authentic-looking pasta dishes and the lovely, thin pizzas leaving strings of mozzarella as they leave the plate just convinced me that this place was special. It wasn't filled with smiling people for nothing, nor were the many articles and citations framed on the walls or under the glass of the tables for anything but accolades for the wonderful eats.

So we got in line (self-service place) and selected the pasta for the day. I ordered a chunky Montanarra, which was fucilli pasta (the twisty, drill-like pasta) with cheese and white sauce mixed with bell peppers, sausage, pepperoni and olives. It was simply divine, savoury and satisfying... I haven't had Italian food like this before (thanks to my lifetime of Jollibee or McDo spaghetti). We topped it off with a nice sausage pizza, and that was our delicious lunch. Afterwards I had a cup of yummy Gelato as dessert, and it was perfect. I have to love as well the layout of the place- it was a self-service joint, but little things like having ice and big glasses accessible at the side goes a long way to making the dining experience quite enjoyable and comfortable.
Work has been such a storm lately, but thankfully there has been a bit of a pause in the past few days. I look forward to the weekend, but this early it's nice to treat one's self a bit. You can't just run yourself to the core all the time. Little perks go a long way to energize and revitalize your soul. Be it a trip to the spa, a nice swim at the beach or a lovely italian lunch at Amici's. We should do it again sometime. Pronto.
Toe Tagged

My Tagboard's been on the fritz for the past couple of weeks... and so has the boards of other blogs I've checked. Appparently is down, and there's no sign of them getting back up. I'll keep the tagboard on for now in the hopes that it will just 'get better'. If a week or two passes without any signs of life, then I'll just take it down and replace it with something else or just scrap any tagging thing altogether.

For now though, if you have anything you want to say, just post a comment under the articles. Don't be shy. But please don't spam, either.

Wednesday, October 18

End of Days

The gang's all here.

The Latest... and LAST Mortal Kombat game is here. Mortal Kombat Armageddon is the swan song for the brutal and bloody fighting game... at least, on the current generation of gaming consoles. With MKA, Mortal Kombat guru Ed Boon promises that there will be deaths, there will be changes and a clean slate for the next MK. Well... Ed Boon promises a lot of things.
Mortal Kombat Armageddon certainly looks slick. There's a new opening cinema featuring armies of MK heroes and villains clashing in a savage battle to the death to start off things. The game comes with a massive cast of playables- literally every Mortal Kombat character that has ever appeared is in MKA... from staples like Sub-Zero and Scorpion, to obscure add-ons like Hsu Hsao and Dairou (Who?). Even MK's fearsome boss characters like Shao Khan and Goro are playable right from the start.
Aside from the huge cast, MKA adds in a Kreate-a-Kombatant mode that's easily the most expansive so far in a mainstream fighting game... easily dwarfing the Character Creation mode in Soul Calibur III. With KAK, you can adjust a character's costume, fighting style, special moves and even their ending (text). The options are many and you can surely create a unique fighter to throw into the battle with the regular MK cast or even online.
Also new in MKA is the Kreate-a-Fatality system, a kind of mini-game where you string together little fatality moves in a chain; the more punishment, the bloodier the fatality and the more rewards you get (in the form of Koins you can spend to buy new options in KAK, or unlock extras in the Vault).
Then there's the new Konquest Mode, a beat 'em up adventure where you take the role of a warrior running around the world, beating up cannon fodder and kicking open chests for power-ups and unlockables. It's pretty fun and very similar to MK: Shaolin Monks. Finally, Motor Kombat is a Mario Kart-esque mini driving game with SD Mortal Kombat characters.

All these extras are well and good, and seeing them all on paper makes MKA seem like the total package. Unfortunately, even with all the extras in the world, tons of secrets, a huge cast and the capability to create even more kombatants with the KAK feature, Mortal Kombat Armageddon is shot in the foot by one single thing... the actual fighting system.

It remains a fact that MK's combat is, compared to every other established fighter (from Tekken to DOA to VF to Soul Calibur) is clunky, sluggish and restrictive. It all basically boils down to memorizing specific combinations of buttons and then dialing in these canned combos once you find your opening. There's little room for anything else- you'll just find yourself being pounded by an enemy using the same long combo over and over. Not even the ability to change fighting styles (which is actually reduced in MKA from previous games) or use a weapon improves anything much. The new 'Counter' system (lifted from Dead or Alive) brings to mind the old 'COMBO BREAKER!' moves from the old Killer Instinct games... which hearken back to... the 90s??
All this is exacerbated even more by a general unresponsiveness or lag in the controls. Often you'll press a button just to see your character do nothing but stand there to get flattened or bounced by an enemy combo. Gameplay here is like going through a maze- you can't move as well as you can, restricted as you are by the set paths you are given. If you try, you'll stall and get punished for it. On the bright side, the CPU A.I. has been somewhat tweaked so as not to be obnoxiously frustrating... there is 'balance' now, in a sense. Which is good or we'll probably be seeing lots of MKA discs being thrown out windows.

The clunky fighting takes away a lot from the enjoyment of this game, despite the fun that could be had with the KAK. Which actually makes me realize that in the end, Soul Calibur III and it's Create-a-Character feature is still better than MKA. Perhaps it's knowing that their fighting system sucks is why Midway threw in almost everything AND the kitchen sink into the game, but didn't even bother to include staple fighting modes like Time Attack, Team Battle, Kumite (or an equivalent) along with the regular Story/Arcade mode and VS mode. All the extras in the world can't repair a broken fighting system.

As for the nitty-gritty...

Graphics: Overall, not bad really... the character models are large and detailed. Guys are buff with huge hands and feet and small heads, while women are suitably attractive (if a bit slutty). But this is the same look that MK has had since MK Deadly Alliance, two games ago... and it's pretty dated and old by now. The animation, however, has a stiff feel, particularly with a lot of special moves. The stages and various venues do well to maintain the bleak, scary atmosphere that MK loves.

Sounds: Once again, the MK characters lack any unique voice as many voice samples are used for multiple characters. Unintelligible grunts, cries and yells fill the air. Every male says "UGABAAADDOOO!", while females shriek "YOBADDDOOOBADODEI!" when they do special moves. All of it sounds like chopsocky BS made up by voice actors on the fly... because that's what it is. Music ranges from techno to heavy techno... it's Mortal Kombat.

Gameplay: Well, the extras are nice distractions but would you really buy MKA to play a mini-racing game?

Lasting Appeal: Usually the Story Mode would be a must to play through as you'd want to see the endings of the characters. Unfortunately this is cut down by the fact that each character only has a short text-only ending (with your character doing a kata in the background) that will probably disappoint most gamers expecting a slam bang finale. Plus, most of the endings are cop-outs or just plain crappy. Only the most fanatical will try to unlock all 62 crappy text endings.

The Kreate-a-Kombatant feature has hours and hours of fun in it, and wannabee game designers will spend lots of time unlocking stuff to use for their dream warrior. These hours will surely outlast the actual time they play with their created fighters though... Konquest will be usable only for earning Koins, and once you unlock the good stuff in the Vault, that's it. Motor Kombat will be good for a race or two, and that's it.

Mortal Kombat Armageddon is supposed to signal an end to this series, and I hope they take the chance to kill off everything wrong with it... the fighting system, the aging graphics engine and the far-too-drawn-out story. It's time to throw out everything and start fresh. MK has a lot of ground to cover to catch up to the rest of the fighting game genre... they had better get going.
Final Fantasy XII Preview Redux

I'm about nine hours into Final Fantasy XII, and so far it's been pretty good. Story-wise, it's kinda slow and I haven't yet been blown away by any developments in the plot. I have met most of the game's cast of playables, including Vaan, the ambitious youth who wants to be a Sky Pirate and fight for the freedom of his occupied land of Dalmasca; Balthier is an actual Sky Pirate whom Vaan meets up with a ways into the first real foray, while Fran is his Viera (a rabbit-eared female) companion/sidekick. Finally, there's Basch, the disgraced Dalmascan officer who apparently assassinated the king of Dalmasca near the beginning of the story. A lengthy dungeon romp and then an even lengthier trek through a desert didn't give any big revelations on the story, but it did give me quite a bit of appreciation for the new gameplay mechanics.

Like an MMORPG, FFXII sees you and all your active characters running around in large environments and engaging in combat with foes that are visible right from the start- no more random encounters that pop up out of nowhere, no transitions into 'battle mode'. Since everything happens in pseudo real-time (going into the menu pauses the action, thankfully), the game introduces Gambits into the game so you don't have to micro-manage every action of your party. Basically you can program your characters to do specific things on various situations, ranging from 'Attack nearest foe' to 'Heal any Ally who goes down to less than half of his Health'. It's a pretty efficient system and makes combat quite seamless, so you can literally just sit back and just point your characters in the direction you need to go and little else except pick up the occasional treasure that enemies drop.
On occasion, super-powerful enemies appear, which can KILL your supposedly mighty party if you're not careful. At these points, when regular magic or attacks can't faze the enemy, you can use Mist Quickenings. Similar to Limit Breaks in previous FFs, these spectacular attacks require a full Magic Point bar and some agility with the buttons on your controller. Knowing which button to press and having a bit of timing will allow a character to rack up lots of hits, inflicting TONS of damage on his target. Multiple characters with multiple MQ's working together can chain together humongous amounts of damage. This is of course limited by the need for full magic bars, but if there's a Save Point nearby (touching which replenishes all your HP and MP instantly), you're pretty much invincible. Kinda cheap, but so are the enemies in this game so it's fine. Heh.

So far I'm enjoying the gameplay aspects of FFXII- levelling up, hunting down monsters for bounties, MMO-style and upgrading your skills and abilities on the new License Board mechanic (like FFX's Sphere Grid, but simpler). The story... well, it hasn't picked up yet, but it surely will... once I actually try to push it forward. More on my adventures in Ivalice as it happens.