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BringArts – Final Fantasy VII – Cloud Strife

Final Fantasy, and Final Fantasy VII were once a pretty big part of my interest many years ago. I probably would not be Ramen Junkie online if not for alt.games.final-fantasy on Usenet. FFVII is probably the most popular game in the series, and while I prefer FFX, a lot of people consider it to be the best.

With the recent remakes, and all the spin off games and movies, the original character designs felt like they were kind of pushed to the side. I don’t really pay much attention to any of Square’s various “Arts” lines either I did not even realize these were being made until I got an email about the second “wave” with Yuffie, Cid, Vincent and Cait Sith. Fortunately, I was able to put in orders for the first group that I had missed.

I am going to put this out though up front. I missed the existence of these because I don’t follow BringArts because they are way overpriced. I have made an exception on these figures because I really like this game and these designs, but they are all overpriced. And I buy plenty of pricey “premium” figures. For the amount of accessories and the size, you get less than a Figma or S.H. Figuarts for 50% more in price.

Also, since this is the first of these, I wanted to mention Square’s lines a bit. They have several lines, all called “Arts”, two of which are figures. Originally it was PlayArts, these were around 7-8″ tall, larger than a standard 1/12th figure. Then it was PlayArts Kai (PAK) which were even larger figures with a bit of dramatic style to them. More recently they started doing BringArts, which are closer to Figma/Figuarts and 1/12th scale. I don’t have a ton of interest in the huge PAK figures, but these Bring Arts figures were neat and a better size.

So, enough history what about the figure itself?

Overall, Cloud looks really nice. These are modeled more on the original art than the goofy PS1 era 3D models. The sculpt is nice and crisp and the colors are really good.

The main issue on Cloud are some of the joints, specifically in the legs. In a static pose everything is fine, but the knees are extremely ugly when bent. It’s a huge single joint with no attempt to hide it in the sculpt. There are plenty of figures of characters with baggy pants that are able to mask the joints from other companies.

Otherwise pose-ability is alright. He is fairly easy to balance and his joints are stuff enough to hold a pose, which is especially important with his arms, since his sword is quite large.

The bigger issue for the articulation is the hips have a tendency to pop off. It’s not as loose and annoying as I have had with some MAFEX figures, but it’s there. It affects both hips, but on mine it’s worse on (Cloud’s) right hip.

He also only has one facial expression, which, granted, is pretty consistent for Cloud “…..” Strife. He has 4 extra hands (2 alternate sets) and his Buster Sword, to round out his accessories.

Another sword option would have been a nice extra to a have, though the Buster Sword is quite iconic and would likely be the only thing anyone used anyway. Maybe some sort of slashing effect piece or something would have been a good accessory to pad things out a bit.

A lot of this is not really bad, except it feels bad when paired with the premium premium pricing Square charges for these figures. I could forgive all of this a lot more easily on. Figure that was half or even just three quarters the price. For a $100+ figure, it’s kind of unacceptable how lazy it feels.

I also probably should mention, I think originally these had some sort of NFT nonsense attached to them, but I believe I saw somewhere those were removed for some reissues. There may have been something in the box but I have no care or interest in that.

All in all, Cloud isn’t a bad figure, he just, costs too much.

Review – Soul Blazer (SNES)

On a bit of a whim, I decided to pick up and play through Soul Blazer for the SNES. I know I have heard of this game previously ages ago, probably in Nintendo Power, I’m surprised I never tried it in the past honestly. Anyway, it turns out it’s a bit of a hidden gem of a game. It kind of feels like if Gauntlet and Zelda had a baby, though it’s better than Gauntlet, not as good as Zelda.

You play as this sort of spiritual angel entity, come to the world to save it from destruction, except the destruction has basically already happened. There are 7 stages, and each stage works the same basic way. You arrive into a barren area, then travel through one or more dungeon areas connected to the main hub. As you progress, you defeat enemy spawners by killing the enemies each one spawns, which allows you to free the souls of creatures, people, and related objects in each zone. Basically, once finished with an area, you’ll have constructed a little town.

This also occasionally means returning to the town to do little additional mini missions to unlock new abilities or weapons or armor in order to proceed. It’s a neat system. Sometimes you even have to return to previous areas to unlock new things. In fact it’s a bit required because you can’t complete the game without at least going back and unlocking the Phoenix spell.

An airship with an ignition, what will they think of next???

Along the way you also unlock more and more of the story. Most of the plot revolves around leader characters who knew of this character Dr. Leo, who was forced to develop a portal to the world of evil which is why the world has been wiped out. Or something along those lines. There are even a few twists along the way near the end that aren’t quite as expected.

New unlocks aren’t even necessarily straight upgrades either. Though they are an upgrade in base defense or offense, they often contain unique additional special abilities. Like wearing the bubble armor to navigate under water, or the Ice armor to navigate over certain hot spot floors (which even return in a later stage).

Finally, a shopkeeper in an RPG who APPRECIATES THE EFFORT.

Though this does lead to one of, if not my chief complaint on the game. You essentially have 4 equitable slots, sword, shield, magic and item. You can only have one active item at a time. This almost feels like a way for the designers to remove the ability to become a bit OP. Not all items are useful, but for example, you can carry one (freely replenished) medical herb, which will revive you upon death (once). Or a strange pot that lets you keep your magic points between deaths. Or other items like bracelets that let you take half damage or not spend magic, or do double damage. It kind of feels like, at the minimum, the herb and strange pot should just work automatically, since they are consumable items. The pots can’t even be obtained outside of regular game play, you just find them in chests.

I mean, I get that complaining about a 30 year old game is kind of pointless and all, but it’s worth mentioning. The game itself is still a lot of fun and it’s an interesting gameplay loop.

Review – Transformers – G1 – Rodimus Prime

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before and chances are you already know, but a while back, Hasbro re-released several of the old G1 toys in commemorative packaging with, unfortunately, commemorative pricing. They ran 30 to 40 dollars each and were exclusive to Toys R Us. A few people bought it, but most didn’t. They made it to clearance and the occasionally discount clearinghouse store.

That’s why I picked up Rodimus, sort of. Unlike Perceptor or the Incecticons, I wasn’t interested in him at 40 dollars. But for 8 bucks, I figure, how can one go wrong. Well, it’s possible you can.

Let’s make a positive upswing for a second. I like Rodimus Prime’s vehicle mode. There is something really classy about a supped up RV with flames and huge pipes. Seriously, who came up with this design, it’s brilliant. Vacationing in style.

It’s also huge. He dwarfs the Autobot cars and is pretty large even when compared to modern deluxes. The whole thing is pretty solid and the 6 rubber tires are really cool. This mode is the reason to buy Rodimus.

The robot mode is pretty lame unfortunately. Granted I’m all about Articulation and proportions but I can be flexible. I’ve also recently picked up G1 Smokescreen and he’s got a really slick robot mode. Rodimus is way too tall and his limited articulation (shoulders only) make for a very boring toy. His shoulders also end up set a bit low on his body making the ugliness shine through even more.

The legs all end up under the trailer anyway, so it’s not like they could not have easily remedied the “too tall” thing. Sixty to Seventy percent of the body is legs. I’m not saying Hasbro should have remolded this toy for the re-release, I’m just commenting on the original design here. I guess the point of the toy being tall was to help him stand out as the leader of the Autobots.

When in robot mode, his trailer/camper back becomes a gun emplacement. The height is adjustable so shorter Transformers cam operate it just as easily as Rodimus can. It also includes a pair of attachable shield panels to help protect the user from incoming fire. My only real complaint with the gun base is that 1, you can’t open it while it’s attached to the Rodimus car and the turret doesn’t rotate at the base, just at the top, which is better than nothing. Otherwise it’s pretty slick.

So overall, Rodimus is still a decent toy. The robot mode leaves much to be desired but the Gun Base and vehicle mode are really nice. He’s probably not worth the original steep price, but if you can get him cheap, you might consider it. Still he’s likely to be a bit bland for anyone who is not a G1 enthusiast.

Review – Blaster Master Zero (PC)

Blaster Master Zero Site Banner

Growing up in the 80s, my friends and I played a lot of NES games. One of our absolute favorites was Blaster master. It had a lot of unique elements to it for the time, specifically, the back and forth exploration of areas, and the cool car, which you could eject from. Though at the time there wasn’t a term for it, it was very much in the vein of Metroidvania games. Mostly open world exploration, returning to zones with new abilities and upgrades, all very much hallmarks of that type of game.

The series seemed to, not really go anywhere though. There were a few Game Boy games, and a PlayStation title, but not a lot of entries in the series, until recently, with the Blaster Master Zero series. The first game in the series is essentially a remake of the first, original Blaster Master game, though it adds quite a lot of new elements and story to help flesh things out.

It also adds in a lot of new modernization to the game, with the ability to save your game being the big one. The original Blaster Master was a lot of fun, but it was a little brutal with what was needed to complete it. You pretty much just had your 3 lives (or whatever) and had to do everything in one go. And while the game wasn’t super difficult, accomplishing that did get tricky. I think the farthest I ever got on the original game was like zone 4 or 5. The lives issue aside, it also meant doing it all in one sitting. So having save games in the new game, is a huge improvement.

But it’s not a straight remake, as mentioned. Many of the overhead on foot zones are more fleshed out, making that part of the game play more enjoyable. It was always kind of an annoying chore before. There are also some bosses that show up in the main world now as well, so you are not just limited to the car for travel and bosses on foot. The core plot is expanded, giving some reason and motivation to the existence of Sophia-3 (the car), beyond, “Some kid fell in a hole while chasing his frog”.

The best part though is that it still FEELS like the old titles. There is a slight floatyness to the car and a bit of clunkiness to the on foot areas that aren’t bad elements at all, but they do exist and help Blaster Mater “feel” like Blaster Master, and they are both very particular to this game series. It also helps to make the two different play modes seem different. The floay car makes sense since it tends to continue rolling slightly when stopping, which contrasts well with how the on foot hero plays, since he is just a dude in a suit.

It’s definitely a fun remake of the original game. It’s honestly more fun than the original since it’s removed a lot of the tedium. It has all the right feel for game play and design, even the newer areas, which makes it feel just right as an update to the original game.

Review – Mega Man Powered Up (PSP)

Mega Man Powered Up Site Banner

It really disappoints me that this game never came out for anything aside from the PSP. I kind of loathe the PSP. I’ve looked into getting a PSP several times over many years, but the system relies on lots of Proprietary Sony extras, like the over priced Memory Stick Duo cards, and so I just, never bothered because by the time I got one and a decent sized memory card, I was looking at enough to buy a regular console.

I had actually kind of forgotten this game even existed for a while, despite being pretty excited about the idea when it was initially released. Mega man Powered Up is a ground up remake of the original Mega Man title. The claim is that it’s also faithful in every way, despite the visual updates, though that’s not really quite the case. There are quite a few changes to how the controls handle and enemies work, so it’s actually a bit awkward to play if you’re familiar with the mechanics of the Mega Man series.

There are two ways to play this game as well, “Classic” and “Powered Up”. Classic is essentially just the original game, using the updated visual style, though there are some slight adjustments here and there.

Powered Up is much more different. The field of view is a bit tighter, and thus the stages have been slightly redesigned. They do keep the spirit of the old levels though and many of the scenes are the same as the regular game, only a bight tighter. Also, Robot Master weaknesses have been shuffled a but to account for the two NEW bosses.

Right, two brand new bosses have been added. Unlike every other game in the Mega Man series, the original only had 6 Robot Masters to fight, all of the others have 8. This game adds Time Man and Oil Man. Both add a little bit of spice to how things work, though, not really in a useful way. Time Man is essentially just a remix of Flash Man and his power is just the Flash Stopper, though you can toggle your weapon while the world is frozen in time around you. Oil Man’s power drop is these little blobs of oil that can be used to directly shoot enemies, or dropped on the ground and used as a little sliding surf attack. The problem is, this surfing attack pretty much guarantees taking damage yourself, which makes it almost completely useless.

Also, Oil man has an extremely questionable design choice that really kind of looks like a racist blackface design. In fact in the NA version of this game he is recolored to be more dark navy blue colored and less black colored for this very reason.

Aside from the new bosses, the game itself has gone through a 3D facelift. It still retains it’s 2 dimensional game play, but everything is rendered in nice super deformed style 3D models now. It’s a really neat style that still manages to capture the core style of the Mega Man design aesthetic. This also means the levels themselves are much more visually interesting as well, with more lush styling and full background designs to make things richer.

There is also a neat new mechanic where you can play as the enemy Robot Masters themselves. If an enemy is defeated using only the Mega Buster, you “save” them instead of destroying them, which unlocks the ability to start a fresh game using that character. This can really change the dynamic of how the levels work as well, since it means having access to the different special abilities only. For the boss you are playing as, the end boss gets replaced with Mega Man himself, though he is wearing Proto Man’s gear.

Throughout the stages there are several collectibles to find, primary of which are additional unlocks for the game’s added Creative Mode. If you ever wanted “Mario Maker but its Mega Man”, this is it. You have to unlock the different enemy and tile sets, but you can design and play your own levels.

Overall, the game is a lot of fun and has a lot to offer. Maybe a little too much to offer if you’re an obsessive completionist. After beating the game once, the game said I had unlocked only 3% of everything. And I had been pretty thorough in my game play. My main disappointment is that the title apparently sold poorly, so Capcom never bothered to use this engine and character style to update all of the other Mega man games to be more modern in style.