Monthly Recommendations – Hitting the Books

It’s the start of the year… and it’s time for us to start prepping for all of the games and anime to come this year. Of course, some are harder to prepare for than others and there are some that we can literally only try our best to prepare our bodies for the punishment (aka awesomeness).

There are, however, some forms of awesomeness that we can truly get ready for. After all, it is important to learn from the past. And that’s where I come in… this month I am here to provide you with some amazing study material to help you prepare for this year’s upcoming gems.

Gate (Season 1)

Gate’s second season is almost upon us – it should, in fact, be starting within the next week or so. Which leaves you just enough time to power through this fantastic series to get yourself caught up for it.

If you’re curious about why you should get caught up on it… this was one of the most unique and surprising anime of the summer season. A show that, at first glance, seemed like it would be just another modern fantasy anime… but then, as you started to get into it, you realize that is not the case at all.

Rory Mercury

What Gate turned into was a strange and fascinating combination of political intrigue and character driven fantasy with some of the best characters of the year. I was particularly drawn to our gothic Lolita demigoddess Rory and the protagonist Itami. The two of them have this strange relationship that is hard to really define.

And fear not… even though this cast is predominately made up of females – with 5 or 6 female primary characters to 3 or 4 male primary characters – it does not come across as a harem anime. The female cast ranges in emotions towards the protagonist from disdain to admiration, with only one character expressing any real sexual interest in him.

Uncharted 3

There aren’t a lot of Western developed games I’m really excited for. I tend to gravitate more towards Japanese design… but there are a few studios who produce gems that transcend the development philosophies that tend to bother me.

Naughty Dog is one of those studios… every game they make is amazing. So you owe it to yourself to play Uncharted 3 in preparation for the upcoming finale to the series – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.

Uncharted 3 was one of the most visually stunning games I’ve ever played, with some scenes that were literally jaw-dropping. In particular, there’s a scene on a sinking ship where the water physics just look so good it is almost hard to believe.

Uncharted

But the game isn’t just pretty graphics… it is one of the most responsive third person shooters I’ve ever played. Thank goodness for Naughty Dog’s commitment to satisfying third person gameplay. They keep delivering, and I love them for it.

 

Did you complete your assigned reading last week? You don’t want to fall behind! Fortunately, for this week’s recommendations you’ve still got quite a bit of time to complete your preparations.

Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan took the world by storm a few years back and ended on an extremely open cliffhanger. Now, we have confirmation that a new season is coming in Spring of 2016, and I – like many, many others – am very excited for this.

Attack on Titan is not a fun show to watch, due to the harsh subject matter and extreme brutality present, but it is very well designed. The combat is exciting and suspenseful, because – aside from the two protagonists – you really never know who is going to die. Major characters have died here, seemingly without a second thought, and that suspense is a big part of what makes it so exciting as a show.

Mikasa

The other really intriguing element in this show is how little we know. There are numerous layers of mystery to peel back, and every few episodes it looked like we’d finally get a glimpse at the core… only to find another layer of mystery. This show is not afraid to string you along, but it gives you just enough of a carrot to keep you running in for more.

I will say that I don’t recommend marathoning this show unless you have a strong stomach. The brutal subject matter can get quite heavy over time if you watch too much at once. But I do strongly recommend taking the time we have before spring to watch this a few episodes at a time!

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect: Andromeda is just around the corner. While it is supposed to be a completely new direction for the Mass Effect series, it could still be a good idea to brush up on the gameplay concepts Bioware tends to utilize in their titles. But let’s face it, the real reason to go back and play it is just because Mass Effect is one of the best game series in modern gaming… and it’s a series you owe yourself to experience.

The game features some of the smoothest third person shooter gameplay I’ve ever seen. Controls are responsive, the shooting is accurate, and the ‘magic’ system the game has present is awesome. Both of my two favourite ‘shooter’ archetypes – caster and sniper – were both extremely enjoyable to play in the third game. I had an absolute blast, both in the single player and the multiplayer. The multiplayer is a ton of fun if you get a good group. Get some friends together and you’ll have an absolute blast.

Mass Effect

And, the game featured some of the most amazing moments I’ve ever seen. The game opens on this incredibly epic scene, which really sets the stage for the game’s story. They also make exceptional use of contrast. The game’s story is one of constant degradation, the system is torn by horrendous war, and among this war there are a few incredible moments involving people coming together, involving peace, and involving new growth among the death… the final scenes of the stories involving the Geth/Quarians are really engaging, Liara’s role is fantastic and she’s an amazing character, and – my favourite moment of all – the culmination of Thane’s story is such an amazing moment of contrast to the events surrounding it.

And just remember, I’m well into my Fall 2015 Anime Reviews with Beautiful Bones and Asterisk War. Additionally, this weekend will be my monthly Saturday Selubration on my twitch stream! Feel free to help me pick the games I’ll play by voting on this strawpoll.

Thank you all for joining me during my Saturday Selubration, was a great time. We’re back with more recommendations in preparation for more of this year’s upcoming releases!

Saekano: How To Raise a Boring Girlfriend

Don’t be deterred by the subtitle here, it’s incredibly misleading. Saekano’s full name’s literal translation is “How to train an ordinary girl to be a heroine”, and that title is incredibly fitting. It’s a show about otaku Aki Tomoya who has received the inspiration to create his dream game. He sets out to build a team of extremely talented creators – a writer, an artist, etc. – to help him create this visual novel with him. All with the goal of transforming relatively ordinary, but quietly beautiful, Kato Megumi into the perfect heroine for this game.

Saekano-Cast2

The show follows his journey as he not only discovers his true dream, but also as he discovers the limits of his knowledge and skills along the way. It’s one of the most intelligent shows I’ve ever watched, taking a unique spin on the classic tropes, and helping to explore why the tropes work and why certain concepts are over-utilized in the harem genre.

But Kato herself is unquestionably the star of this show – even if it is ostensibly about Aki’s dream – and her growth as a character is nothing short of phenomenal. I mean, most of the characters have great development in this show, but Kato’s growth is subtle and endearing.

Persona 4: The Golden

I’ve said a lot about this game in the past, but it bears repeating as we approach the release of the next game in the series. And while Persona 5 is going to be at most peripherally related to P4G, I still strongly recommend brushing up on your Persona leading into the fifth installment. Why? Because Persona 4: The Golden is one of the greatest RPGs I’ve ever played.

The game is a strange, eclectic mix of heroic jrpg action and school life simulator. The ‘heroic jrpg action’ features one of the most uniquely fun combat systems I’ve played. It’s, at the core, a pretty basic turn based menu driven combat system. But, if you take a fairly simple combat system and spice it up with a cheerleader, some fun mechanics and animations, and an awesome soundtrack… you get something pretty special.

P4G

I also particularly liked the way the game made the character’s decisions feel important. There’re relationships you can break off, you can choose to seduce however many women you want (consequences may be dire for seducing more than one, tempting as it is), and there are even several endings to seek out. The one thing to note is that the bad ending is far too easy to get, and unless you either look for a walkthrough or really pay close attention to the underlying themes of the game, you’ll probably get the bad ending… but don’t let that deter you. Go pick up this Vita gem, or it’s original version on the PS2.

 

Our final week of homework is upon you, class. I hope you guys have completed the rest of the month’s homework, because this next batch is going to take a while.

Legend of Heroes: Trails

What? He didn’t finish the title you say? Of course not… I couldn’t limit myself to recommending just one. For the record, Trails of Cold Steel 2 is coming out later this year in NA, as confirmed by XSeed. Bless their hearts.

Which leaves us with two recommendations for your reading. The first of which is the Trails in the Sky duology. I reviewed Trails in the Sky years ago, and it is still one of my favourite JRPGs ever… and its sequel only recently arrived on Western shores. The level of care taken with the localization is simply superb, and the game’s mechanics are engaging without ever feeling overwhelming. I particularly enjoyed the game’s magic system, which encourages you to experiment with different combinations of quartz crystals to unlock various spells and passive effects.

But by far the most endearing aspect of this series(and the Cold Steel series which I’ll talk about next) are a host of essentially pointless NPCs. You see, unlike so many games, NPCs have lives and stories that do not revolve around you. You might run into two NPCs who are just about to have their wedding in one town, then if you go back later they might be preparing for their honeymoon, then at some completely different location you may run into them actually on their long-awaited resort excursion… and none of this has anything to do with the core story. These are not questgivers, they’re not doing anything relevant… they’re just people. And that makes these worlds so fantastic.

But if you don’t want to step into that massive endeavor… at least take a gander at Trails of Cold Steel, which is a game I am nearly finished playing (so you can expect a review in not too long) on stream. It has been one of the most rewarding and satisfying games I’ve ever streamed, and I cannot recommend it enough. If you’ve never given a more social/character driven JRPG like this a try, I recommend it. And I know I’m spoiling you guys a bit on the review, but that’s how much I recommend this game and this series.

Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online has a new movie coming this year, and possibly even a new season coming sometime after that… so it is only logical that it make this list. Sword Art Online is extremely popular, so I’m sure you’ve heard of it… and if you haven’t already watched it, you’re probably holding back because you can’t believe the hype is real.

Let’s be honest here: the hype is a bit exaggerated. However, the series is amazing. If you’re just looking for the highs, watch the Aincrad arc (season 1, part 1) and the Mother’s Rosario arc (season 2 part 2), which are some of the best story arcs I’ve seen in any anime ever. The concept of Sword Art Online’s first arc is one of the most fascinating variants on a common concept. So many shows have done the whole ‘trapped in a game’ thing, but I’ve never seen one have everyone trapped in this fashion. And, as a gamer, the references felt really relevant. It led to me questioning how I would react… would I be desperate to return? Would I be glad to be free of the world, or would I be depressed and terrified of death? It was such a thought-provoking story.

On the other hand, the Mother’s Rosario arc was some of the best character development the series has to offer, with Asuna getting some real screen time and her having to overcome some very unique social and personal issues. The standout moment of the arc for me, of course, is one of the most emotionally driven scenes I’ve seen in a long time. I cried some hefty tears watching the end of the second season of SAO. The other two arcs are certainly worth your time, but they’re not to the same standard so temper your expectations!

 

Hope you’ve enjoyed these recommendations! And I hope you like the new format for the monthly recommendations! Please let me know in the comments if you have any opinions, or any recommended reading in preparation for this year’s upcoming works yourselves!