It’s hard to describe the experience of reading “The Red Diary”, as it’s a very different reading experience compared to your typical graphic novel. There’s actually two stories told in this graphic novel, and the novel itself is presented in a unique flip-book fashion. Teddy Kristiansen created this wonderful story, and Steven T. Seagle, who has worked with him on other works previously, translated the tale for the publication of this English volume. But Seagle also did something quite unique, as before he actually read “The Red Diary”, he looked at just the artwork, as the dialogue and narration was in a different language, that he didn’t understand himself. From this, he did what he calls in the book transliteration, as he wrote an entirely different story than Kristiansen’s, using the same artwork as a guide, but going in a different direction. Without being influenced by the writing from Kristiansen’s story, he could tell a different yet at the same time quite similar story, as both uses the exact same artwork. It’s quite an interesting experiment, and one which works quite well. The only downside to this is that each story is shorter than you might like, particularly the Kristiansen story, which I was completely immersed in, and absolutely loving. It’s interesting to note that your enjoyment of either story will be predicated on which story you ended up reading first. I read Kristiansen’s story first, and this did change how I read Seagle’s story, and I suspect the same would be true if you read Seagle’s story first. It’s a unique experiment that I really enjoyed, and Kristiansen’s artwork is quite unique and enjoyable, that I loved seeing the same artwork twice, but used in very different ways. Although the artwork is the exact same, the emphasis on the art was done differently, giving the book a very unique reading experience.
Kristiansen’s tale concerns a biographer in the modern day, who while doing a project comes across a blue diary from a painter living in Paris in the early 1900s, during the period of World War I. He soon becomes engrossed in following this man’s life story, leading him to more diaries, this time green and red. The story is enthralling, as you go along on this journey with the protagonist, as he seeks to discover a treasure lost in the annals of time, which is borne of a sidetrack during a biography project. As the reader witnesses this journey, more is learned of the protagonist, and what has brought him to this point, as it informs his journey. It’s a sad story, but a fascinating one all the same, as the mystery slowly unfolds.
Seagle’s story is a bit more straightforward, but puts a completely different spin on the artwork, as this time around the painter who finds himself in the trenches during World War I is actually the old man, before he lost most of his memories due to traumatic injuries suffered during the War. This time around, the diaries that he finds are a glimpse into his past, to learning more about the man he used to be, before he became a new man out of necessity, after his injuries. The journey of discovery is more immediate in this tale, because the protagonist is reading about himself, and trying to form some sense of who he was, compared to who he later became, with his past brushed clean.
This was an immensely entertaining read, and not one I was expecting in any way. The story slowly unfolds, but keeps the reader enthralled throughout, and you won’t want it to end. But when it does, you can take in the artwork one more time, but with a slightly different story affecting the art in a sneaky, subtle way. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Image Comics has been putting out a lot of solid new books lately, and Hoax Hunters #1 keeps that tradition alive, with a strong debut issue. Moreci and Seeley aren’t names I’m familiar with, but I really liked their script for this issue, which brings a group called the Hoax Hunters to Louisiana, looking to debunk a potential hoax, but which turns out to be something else entirely, something far more deadly. Moreci and Seeley spend the issue introducing Regan and Jack, the two principal leads of the Hoax Hunters television show, as they begin investigating a weird occurrence down in the bayou in Louisiana. The writers have created a world of their own here, as with each page the reader gets a sense of something larger going on not just in the story, but also in the back-story for the lead characters. The reader gets just enough to pique their interest without giving atoo much away, and it keeps the mystery fresh and more interesting for the reader.
The characters don’t get a lot of time or space to develop, and yet the writers managed to imbue them with some great characterization, to make them more fully realized, three-dimensional characters. I also liked that the Sherriff of the town was somewhat inducted into the team, towards the end of the issue, as it provides a great POV character for the coming issues should the writers decide to use him in that capacity. There’s more going on here than one would initially suspect, from Jack’s own history to the fact that Durand isn’t even human, and what this potentially means for the Hoax Hunters squad going forwards.
The artwork by Medellin is extremely effective in cultivating a captivating sense of mood and atmosphere for this story to unfold in. The artwork boasts some nice clean linework, as well as some really solid colours. Medellin has a strong sense of setting in his artwork, and the details in the background artwork are quite strong as well.
I really enjoyed this first issue, and look forward to reading more issues by this creative team, to see where they plan on going with these characters and this story. This is a very solid debut, and readers should take a chance on this book, it’s a bit different than the norm, and that’s a very positive attribute for this book.
Her name might be different, but this is Carol Danvers’ second ongoing series in the past decade, as Marvel once again takes a chance on the character. This time around, Carol is putting the name and costume of Ms. Marvel behind her, and taking on the mantle of Captain Marvel instead, with an all-new costume. A lot has been made of this new look for the character, so I was looking forward to this first issue, to see just what Kelly Sue DeConnick has in store for the character. What I found was an adequate issue, but one that was far below what I was expecting from this issue. What surprised me most about this issue, sadly in a negative way, was how DeConnick didn’t focus on what changed for Carol to make her change her costume and name in the first place. They had her grappling with the name change, and what it meant to her to take the name Captain Marvel, but we didn’t see just WHY she did these things. I really enjoyed Brian Reed’s take on Carol as Ms. Danvers, but this new book didn’t quite capture the character in the same way. I did like DeConnick’s take, but I felt like an issue was missing to get the character to this point.
The basic premise of this issue finds Carol Danvers trying to figure out if she should change her name to Captain Marvel, now that she’s changed her costume and is unrecognizable. DeConnick writes Carol quite well in her interactions with Captain America, as they are written as long-time friends and co-workers, with a quippy nature to their friendship. It was actually one of the highlights of this issue, as was a scene with Carol and Spider-Man sparring. DeConnick writes Carol quite well in her interactions with her friends and teammates, and it really humanizes her character. The latter half of the issue focuses on Carol’s past, something I was impressed by, as we see an old character from Carol’s past.
Although I was disappointed that DeConnick didn’t write a story explaining why she was changing her costume and later her name, the writing was pretty solid for the most part. That being said, I was disappointed in the artwork as it was nothing like what I would have expected for this book, and quite different from this issue’s covers. To be clear, it wasn’t bad artwork, I just didn’t feel that it really complemented the script by DeConnick. The new costume didn’t look as good as it has on the issue’s covers and promotional art, and I didn’t like how it now includes a mask/helmet for Carol.
This was an odd-feeling #1 issue, as it felt more like an issue #2. Fans excited to see why Carol changes her name and costume are going to be out of luck, as Carol’s sudden change in costume is not described or even mentioned at all, outside of Captain America thinking a name change makes sense given the change in costume. I think many fans assumed that the new look would come as a result of Carol’s interactions with Captain Marvel over in Secret Avengers, but now that appearance isn’t even mentioned, making me wonder why they even bothered with Captain Marvel in Secret Avengers as it ended up not being related at all nor having any impact.
This week on the CGPodcast the crew has a long in-depth look at Spec Ops: The Line. In this deep look at the game they look at why this title has one of the deepest and most unsettling stories in recent memory. Not only did the game touch on something that many games will not touch but it does it in a mature and insightful way. They look at all the things that made them stop and think along with some of the symbolism in the game. Tune in and listen why the crew unanimously agrees that this is a game you need to experience.
The lovable little 3DS has been given grey cartridges containing games of nearly every conceivable genre in its short lifespan, with the notable exception of RPGs and first person shooters. Well, we shouldn’t hold our breath on a portable shoot em’ up coming out on the 3DS anytime soon (a shame because it would look glorious in 3D), however Square Enix just dropped a title onto the 3DS, so guess what genre just made it’s way onto the system? Yep, Heroes Of Ruin brings the lovable lifesuck of RPG to the 3DS in a hack n’ slash action form and given the company’s prestigious background with the genre (ahem, have you heard of Final Fantasy, sir?), the hardcore gaming set should be thrilled to have an epic quest to plunk in their pockets. Well…not so fast little RPG buddy. Unfortunately Heroes Of Ruin is obviously a pretty rushed job with cheap looking graphics and very little challenge. It’s not a disaster, so if you’ve been desperate to get this style of gameplay on your 3DS, it will at least temporarily scratch an itch. Just don’t expect much. You’ll get very little back.
As with all games of this genre, a confusing epic fantasy tale must be at the center, and Heroes Of Ruin is no exception. The game takes place in the magical world of Nexus where you must cure a cursed enemy named Ataraxis, ruler of the land. Of course, this being a land ruled by a royal family, you can expect there to be plenty of double-faced characters and betrayal that you’ll navigate through while striving to fulfill your epic quest. Confused? Don’t worry, it’s not that important. Despite all of the hard to pronounce names and bellowing voice acting, this game can be boiled down to a very simple repeating formula. You start off in the generic Nexus hub city, where you can accept missions and trade items with merchants. Approach someone who isn’t a merchant or mission-launcher and you’ll get a generic “hello, goodbye” response, so don’t worry your little head about getting lost in an immersive world. Accept a mission and you either hack n’ slash your way to a boss fight, rescue mission, or item hunt. That’s really it, about as simple as kind of game gets. I suppose it’s satisfying if you’re a fan of the format, but the thing is undeniably repetitive.
You can choose between four types of players for your quest to build up through a ranking system and customize to your heart’s content. There’s a sword swinging warrior with healing abilities called a Vindicator, a Gunslinger (go on, try to guess what he does), an elven Alchitect with average melee skills and powerful range attacks, and a Savage who beats up things real good. Yep, four character clichés of the genre, but you know what? They all work damn it, and are fun to play around with. Pick a character and you can follow him through the story mode that’ll take you about 7-9 hours to complete. Not that long, but the game is clearly designed for you to play through as each character once, so if you’re a completist you’ll have plenty of weeks to waste away with this thing. The controls are fairly simple, using the circle pad to move, buttons to attack and/or wield magic abilities, shoulder buttons for dodging and interacting, and the touch screen for all your menu, map, n’ item needs. I personally enjoy the touchscreen as a menu function in games like Ocarina Of Time or Resident Evil, it’s much better than pausing and having to navigate an in game menu. However, sometimes the various commands and menu screens can be tough to navigate in Heroes Of Ruin, leaving your character standing around aimlessly while you struggle to execute a simple command. I suppose in single player mode it’s not too distracting, but in online multiplayer you’ll find yourself powerfully irritated as a member of your team struggles to load up an item or prepare for battle.
What’s that? Did I just say online multiplayer in a Nintendo game? That’s right folks, this game is designed to be played with online compatriots joining in on quests. The game’s graphics are pretty pedestrian (I’d go as far as to say they are at PS1 levels) purely to facilitate that online function. This is a pretty ugly game from a design standpoint. The top down 3D is a nice effect that helps the visuals, but there’s no denying this thing looks like it’s from another era of gaming and not a new release. However, when you’ve got a collection of teammates, the silky smooth gameplay makes up for that. The team play dynamic does unfortunately bring up another issue though. Perhaps Square designed this game to be an Action/RPG-lite intro to the genre for new games, but whoo boy is it ever easy. There are so many items kicking around and health refreshers that dying isn’t much of a concern. Throw in a team of human helpers and boss fights aren’t even that difficult with most easily defeated simply by rushing towards the boss as a team and collectively tapping attack buttons until the poor guy is crushed. I suppose this low difficulty level reduces frustration for inexperienced RPGers, but this genre isn’t supposed to be about breezy play. There are platformers, shooters, and beat em’ ups for that. Beating an RPG (even of the more streamlined action variety) should feel like a hearty accomplishment, not just a race to the finish line.
While it’s wonderful to see a 3DS title that embraces online gameplay, I’m worried this one will be rather fruitless for fans of internet based multiplayin’. Aside from the lack of challenge I just mentioned, there’s also the issue of whether or not you will even be able to find people to play with. Heroes Of Ruins shipped into stores in small numbers with virtually no promotion and is on a system that is hardly known as an online hub. Within a few months this game will be a baron wasteland populated only by souls so lonely, they don’t even like to socialize in online multiplayer games. Square has promised daily and weekly special items with unique abilities that will in theory keep players coming back, but I just don’t see that happening.
Ultimately, Heroes Of Ruin isn’t a disaster, just a missed opportunity. It’s nice to see this type of online action/RPG can exist on the 3DS, but a bummer about the crappy visuals, lack of challenge, and the inevitably miniscule online community. Enough works that it can be recommended to die hards of the genre, simply to give them something to play in the baron summer videogame months. Yet, even then experienced RPG nuts will waltz through this thing quickly. However, I wouldn’t completely write off this title for one thing. Regardless of how flawed it is, Square Enix proved this style of gaming can be done on the 3DS, so hopefully they’ll come back with something better in the future. My hope is that this is just a Beta dry run for something bigger and worth getting excited about. If that’s the case, then one ho-hum game is worth it for a worthy title down the road. On the other hand, enough of Heroes Of Ruin feels like a rushed write off that perhaps the folks Square Enix got bored with the limitations of the 3DS half way through production and spat this through the machine quickly to be done with it and move on. I choose to be an optimist and hope the company has something brewing to blow us all away in the future. That’s no way their only addition to the system will be a game this mediocre, right? Right?