Review: Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro

Every time I watch a new Miyazaki film, it becomes my favorite. It’s so hard to criticize or pick apart any of his films, simply because his work captures you. None of his films are “perfect”, but, when your watching them, it’s impossible to think of any faults. There’s something magical about what he makes, and the first film he made was no different. I recently saw Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro for the first time in a very nice theater, with very comfortable seats. But enough about where I saw it, let’s talk about what I saw.

First, some History

Hayao Miyazaki was not always the wise old director we see him as today. At some point in time, he was young. In 1963, he was an animator for Toei, where he met Isao Takahata, with whom he worked with for the rest of his career. In 1978, Miyazaki and Takahata both left Toei and went to work at A-Pro, where Miyazaki and Takahata worked on the Lupin III. Lupin III was a manga created by Monkey Punch in 1967, and involved the Master Thief Lupin and his adventures. In 1971, the Lupin III anime series began airing on Japanese television. Hayao Miyazaki and Takahata directed many episodes for this series. In 1979, Miyazaki was tasked with directing the second theatrical movie for Lupin III. That movie, was The Castle of Cagliostro.

An Amazing Debut

Cagliostro is one of the best directorial debuts I’ve seen. It makes sense for Miyazaki’s first feature film to be a Lupin film. Miyazaki had a lot of experience working with Lupin at the time, and it shows. Everything done in this film feels confident and intentional. Miyazaki knows exactly how the characters of Lupin are, and how they should act. The character designs and backgrounds all have a semblance of that signature Ghibli style toow. It feels like a Miyazaki movie, even though it’s the very first one.

A Treasure Too Big For Your Pocket

This is an opinion piece, and I just want to say, I love this film. It is one of my top Miyazaki films, and I have a feeling it will stay that way for a long time. Anyway, one of the things that makes this film so great, is its appreciation of the calmer moments. There’s a part in the beginning of the film where Master Thief Lupin and his sharpshooter partner Jigen have sprung a flat. As Jigen fixes the tire, the viewer is treated with some beautiful shots of the surrounding landscape. As Lupin sits back and relaxes, he remarks on the beauty of it all. This connects Lupin to the viewer, as they were probably thinking the same thing as him. After the tire gets fixed, Lupin and Jigen get caught in an amazingly animated car chase. This shift in tone and pace from slow and relaxed to fast and frantic is seen a lot throughout the film. Of course, none of this masterful directing would work if the animation and art wasn’t as beautiful as it is. Every single action Lupin does is exaggerated as far as they can. He swims up waterfalls, runs across rooftops, and climbs up towers. The score, as well, is beautifully made. The music is set to the motion, and succeeds in exaggerating everything even more. My biggest complaint, and it’s a petty one, is that the side characters don’t get enough screentime. Jigen, Goemon, and Fujiko are all great characters who have great moments, but understandably this is Lupin’s movie. The climax is one of the most exciting endings of any anime I’ve seen, but I won’t spoil it for you.

Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro is a classic, and it deserves a place in any anime fan’s collection. If you haven’t seen it, you can pick the Blu-Ray up for about $15 dollars off of Amazon. If you like adventure, action, Lupin III, or Miyazaki films, you should definitely check this out.

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First Impressions on Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda is a very interesting series. I could write a series of essays on its game design alone (and if you would like something like that, check out Boss Keys by Mark Brown.), but I feel that the design philosophy has strayed a little from what it started as. I recently beat the original Legend of Zelda in anticipation for the newest one. However, I used a walkthrough, which I will be avoiding with Breath of the Wild. The game did have this sense of wonder, even in the small world which I navigated. The grandeur of this small world is something I can’t feel in other Zelda games. Even A Link to the Past, which I still profess as my favorite, didn’t have it. A Link to the Past guided you to places, created a huge marker on your map. Breath of the Wild does that too. However, it only marks where your next major story quest is. With such a large world, Breath of the Wild manages to keep that feeling alive as it guides you. Arin Hanson’s video on Zelda and how it changed between the first installment and Ocarina of Time, while crass, made some very good points. The Legend of Zelda didn’t guide you anywhere. A Link to the Past gave you a real map and points of interest to go to. Breath of the Wild, however, lets you roam wherever you please. At one point, I saw a tower off in the distance. I marked its location on my map and headed that way. When I got there, I got killed. The enemies were too powerful for me to defeat and too fast for me to run. After my stubbornness wore out, I marked it on my map with a skull stamp. This is my way of saying: This is dangerous. The game never told me I couldn’t go there. It never blocked that area off and didn’t tell me to come back later. Just like in The Legend of Zelda, you could go almost anywhere. There was a spot in The Legend of Zelda where a difficult enemy, a Lynel if I remember correctly, blocked a cave. Inside this cave was a better sword, but you had to defeat or run past this enemy first. I died multiple times on this one screen, but I kept trying and was rewarded for it. Breath of the Wild rewards exploration more than any other game I’ve played.

Why is “The Stanley Parable” So Interesting?

Most games that you play involve some sort of mechanic and a good amount of games also integrate a story. I believe that, on average, most games do not integrate their mechanics into the story. While you could argue that a mechanic like shooting is integrated into the story because you play as a character who is shooting. But that’s not quite what I mean by “integrated into the story”. There’s a game called The Stanley Parable, you can pick it up on Steam for pretty cheap. You play as a man named Stanley whose office was suddenly deserted. The only people left are you and this cheeky British narrator. The only thing you do is walk around and choose which path you take. However, the path you choose may not always be the path that was… narrated for you. You can actively choose to defy the narrator, and he begins to comment on it. Without the narrator, your choices would be less interesting. Because you choose to defy or obey you feel like you are in control of your character. However, the game does some interesting things to make you feel like even your character (and sometimes the narrator) isn’t in control. It’s all very odd and thought-provoking. At times you hate the narrator because of his snide comments, but when some force larger than the narrator peeks its head, you start to question things. However, the weirdest thing is how it will just reset you back to the beginning. But something will be off. Something will be different. Not all resets are really resets. There’s no combat, no dialog decisions. In my opinion, boiling it down to the minimum a game could be really helps deconstruct games, and what they are. If it sounds interesting, check it out. I’m not going to talk much because everyone needs to experience it for themselves…

Game Polish and the Little Things

When I play games, I hold gameplay highest. My favorite thing a game developer does is when they make something really clever that makes you wonder why people haven’t used that more often. Nintendo does a really good job with some of this stuff. Look at Earthbound, a basic-looking RPG, with a wonderful world and premise that I could talk about forever.This game doesn’t traditionally use the A button to talk with NPCs and interact with objects, it uses L. Using the L button for interaction is a super cool idea because you can maneuver around most of the game with one hand. The only reason to use the face buttons is in order to open the menu. However, I think that there is another reason they made L the interact button. The game came packaged with the Nintendo Power Player’s Guide for it, and it’s very hard to keep a book open and play a game. Unless, of course, you’re playing the game with one hand. It also makes grinding pretty easy as you can just walk around and fight with one hand. Now, this isn’t the only trick that Earthbound had hidden up its sleeve. It also has a very interesting battle system. Most RPGs of the time used random encounters, but a few didn’t. Earthbound was one of the few that chose to actually show the enemies on the screen. If you sneak behind an enemy, you get a free opening turn and vice versa. If you’re stronger than the enemies then they’ll run from you, exposing their backs for an attack. What’s really cool is that if your stats are high enough then you’ll instantly kill the enemy without getting into battle. This makes grinding even more easy as all you have to do is walk around with one hand on the controller. It’s little things like this that makes games so unique. Another way to make your game interesting is to add branching paths. Star Fox 64 is one of my most favorite games. In it, you can make a different path and visit different levels based on how you play. For example, on the first level, if you fly through a series of arches and make sure someone on your squad stays alive, you get to fight a different boss. Now, probably, on your first playthrough, you’re not going to get that secret route. However, when you go past the part where the path would branch off, you see a huge ship fly overhead. This tells the player that there’s an alternate path without explicitly telling them. Upon return to the level, you may try different things just for fun, like running through a series of arches. the fun part is, most levels have these branching paths. For the longest while, I didn’t even know that there was a submarine level, or that Katt was even a character that existed. I believe that some of that can be blamed on me not being good at Star Fox, but it’s interesting to see that these games have these branching paths. What makes Star Fox work is that all the levels feel great. I could go through Corneria a million times and it wouldn’t get old. That game still manages to feel fresh and timeless every time I play it. Games that are simple on the surface but have a lot of depth to them deep down feel really good to play. A lot of times that depth comes from systems and learning how to do things properly. However, when a game adds these little bits of polish, that’s when I believe it starts to shine. That’s when they stand out from the rest. That’s what makes them classics.

Why I Love: Red Dead Redemption

So, this is something new, and it might be interesting it might not be. This is for when I want to talk about a game but don’t want to write a review out in its own separate format (that you will see at the end of the month). This is just me gushing (or ranting) about a certain game.

Most people know Rockstar Games for their Grand Theft Auto series. While these games are great, I’ve always been much more o a fan of one of their other series, Red Dead. Even though I’ve never played the first game, Red Dead Revolver, I have thoroughly enjoyed Red Dead Redemption. The game is very similar to the GTA series where you explore an open world, do missions, and interact with the residents of the world. However, Red Dead is different because it takes place in the old west. You ride around on your horse, shoot banditos, hunt bounties, and do all sorts of things that reminds you of old spaghetti westerns. Rockstar crafted a really solid world and atmosphere that’s super easy to get lost in. Riding around from one place to another, finding a guy being attacked by bandits or someone whose horse was stolen, and you having to save them. The game just feels so good. The missions feel great and the characters aren’t masterfully crafted but they feel real. Shooting feels so good, especially when everything slows down for a second and you can select your targets with the “Dead Eye” mode. The only problem I really had with the shooting is that it can be hard to shoot and ride a horse, but it’s just as hard as shooting while driving a car in other games. The characters manage to feel real in this almost cheesy Wild West world, and even though the world is small it’s packed with things to do. One time I was riding across the desert and found the sheriff in the middle of a shootout and I decided to help him. I took out most of the bandits in the area and then went to take down the leader and he had the deputy hostage. I messed up and the deputy ended up dead. This game actually made me feel bad for my mistakes and my actions. The game does have a honor system that keeps you from just shooting people and stealing their horses whenever you please. Commit a crime and your honor bar goes down. However, both good and bad actions increase your fame meter. However, your honor stat really affects the gameplay. Right now, my honor is so high that the police won’t chase me until I kill someone. I’ve done so many good things and have become such a legend that I can steal someone’s horse and no one would care as long as I didn’t kill anyone. Honor also affects the price of items and guns at stores, and how much you get paid for jobs you complete. Riding from one place to another, you can hunt and shoot different game in order to skin them. You can then sell the animal skins and meat for money in a town. I’ve never had a problem with money in this game because whenever I see an animal when riding between point a to point b, I skin it. This game still feels fresh 6 years later, and I’m very excited for the sequel coming out next year.

Game Review: The Order 1886

Ah, my first game review. This will be interesting to see when it’s over. I’ve really enjoyed writing this blog and have had a lot of fun. Anyway, let’s get right into it.

The Order 1886 was released early last year by a new studio called Ready at Dawn, and when it was announced, it looked very promising. However, when it was released, it was a different story. Most of the big reviewers gave it fair to low scores and it just wasn’t received well. So, I thought I’d give it a shot. Here’s my review of The Order 1886

Presentation

The game looks beautiful. I’ll say that from the start. For being almost two years old, it still looks really good. I only saw a few cases of some weird facial expressions from the characters, but everything still looked great. The game looks almost real, with wonderful lighting, and great high-resolution graphics. The soundtrack is also very nice, and gives itself to the moody atmosphere the game has. The streets of London are misty and dark, and the catacombs dirty and grimy. The voice acting is great, as well, feeling natural and real, especially in the emotional moments. So far so good.

Story

Alright, so I won’t go into spoilers, but the game ends with some strings left untied. The developers have said that this wasn’t a one-off story and hoped to use The Order as a jumping off point for a new IP. However, I still feel that a lot of characters just stopped getting any action, and kind of fell off. The premise, unlike the ending, grabbed me very quickly. You are part of a secret order, you’ve lived hundreds of years, and there’s some cool Steampunk stuff going on. Oh yeah, and Werewolves. Rebels against the government have rose up in the streets, and riots have been getting larger. Oh I forgot, there’s Werewolves. So, the world feels really cool and I was really getting into it. There’s airships and cool steampunk weapons created by the one Nikola Tesla. Oh I forgot, there’s Werewolves. See, The Order is hunting Werewolves and has been for hundreds of years. However, the game makes you kind of forget about Werewolves until they show up again and you say, “Oh I forgot, there’s Werewolves.” So, eventually the game just throws vampires in there, and your character just acts like vampires are normal, even though nothing has been said about them at all. In fact, the game was rather on the nose about the historical references. For example, one time, a character said something about a guy named Doyle calling something “elementary”. This just kind of came out of nowhere and felt kind of forced. A lot of the plot twists are very predictable as well. Now, most games have pretty sorry stories. Let’s hope they gave us some good gameplay.

Gameplay

The Order is a pretty basic third-person shooter that says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It feels good to shoot (even though it can be a little heavy at times) especially when you get some of the really creative heavy weaponry. There’s a sort of electricity cannon that you have to charge before you let it loose, a rifle with a stunning smoke blast, and a thermite cannon. The thermite cannon is the one that I think is the coolest, because you have to spread flammable dust over everything before you shoot a thermite chunk at it to ignite everything it’s covering. The shooting feels solid except for some big problems. When an enemy throws a grenade, you can’t throw it back, you have to roll out of the way. Seems fine? No, because the majority of the time you roll out of cover into enemy fire. Next, is the armored enemies. Something seems off-balance with them. They are just bullet sponges and nothing more. There’s not any other type of enemy besides regular guys and guys you have to fill up with bullets. However, there are a few Werewolf fights where a few of them all gang up on you. Overall, it’s pretty cool if not a little frustrating at times when they all jump in on you. Then, there’s times where you have to fight like an elder werewolf (or something like that) and you only have a knife. It’s basically a huge button mashing quicktime event that I’m not a huge fan of. I wrote more about it in an earlier article about quicktime events that you can check out here. The shooting can feel clunky at times, especially the cover. Sometimes you exit cover for no reason. Sometimes you enter cover for no reason. This is very annoying and I died many times because of it. Also, I’ve noticed something with the level design. There are relatively few branching paths and the few that exist hardly ever reward you with anything. Sometimes, there’s an audio log à la BioShock. However, most of these are pretty boring and you have to stay in the menu to listen to them, and I’ve already sat through too many long-winded cutscenes. Oh yeah, and speaking of long-winded cutscenes and little amounts of gameplay, this game has it. This game is more cutscene then it is game. Not to mention that a lot of the gameplay is slow walk-around-this-place type missions. Combine that with very vanilla shooting and stealth and you have The Order.

Final Words

What can I say about The Order to sum it up? You know those bad Ninja Turtles knock-offs that lasted for like 12 episodes? They weren’t bad, but there was nothing that stood out either, and it didn’t last long. That’s The Order. I enjoyed it, but wouldn’t play it over and over again like other titles in its genre like Uncharted. Nothing stood out about the gameplay besides the interesting weapons. However, those are sort of impractical and rare to find. If you have a friend who spent the money on this (like I did) and you want to borrow it from him, go ahead. I wouldn’t spend more than $10-$15 on this game. If you just really want to check out the story, watch it on YouTube. With strong visuals, a pretty good story, a crappy ending, and a mixed bag of gameplay, The Order 1886 nets itself a:

6.5

 

Did you like my first review? Would you like to see more? Tell me below!

The Switch, the 3DS, and the Future of Hand-Held Gaming

I love it when this happens. I love it when we get something new, especially when it’s from Nintendo. So, we’re getting a little thing called the Nintendo Switch next March, and hopefully, the little thing will live up to the big hype. I’ve always loved Nintendo’s games and products and I’m sure the Switch will be no different. In fact, I think that if Nintendo can pull this off, they could change a lot. Now, there’s something to be said about portable gaming, and I know that Nintendo has had a pretty good track record with it. Their most recent one, the 3DS, is a bit outdated, however. The screen’s resolution is less than the Vita (which has it’s own sets of problems that I could write an article on if I was more familiar with it.) But yet, the 3DS still strongly sold more units. Both had very solid exclusives, but the 3DS was more marketable towards younger children than the Vita. This article isn’t about 3DS vs Vita, but it’s obvious that Nintendo knows how to make a good portable console. Now to the Switch. Nintendo has called this the “Switch” for a good reason. The Switch can transfer between a console and a portable device. The fact that we could get console level games on a portable system, like where we were getting to with the last generation of portable consoles. As someone who really enjoys playing portable games on a television, the Switch could be great. What does this mean for portable gaming, now that portable gaming is also console gaming? I think that in the future, most games will be developed for both portable and home. I really wish I could play Final Fantasy VII on a big road trip, but I can’t. Now, looking at the Switch and the list of developers that Nintendo is partnering with for the Switch (including Atlus, From Software, and Square Enix) there could be some really good opportunities for great games. Imagine being able to take BloodBorne or Persona 5 wherever you go. It’ll be awesome! If the Big N can pull it off, at least. Most people thought that the Wii U was sort of a failure, however I think it was just as good as any other Nintendo console. Most people thought the same of the GameCube, but a lot of people look back on that as a really good console. No matter of it doesn’t sell as well, I think Nintendo will definitely find some way to make the Switch worth all of its price tag.