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Gavin Perkins "Gavin Perkins" (England)

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows [Blu-ray] [2012] [Region Free]
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows [Blu-ray] [2012] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Jude Law
Price: £8.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been so much better..., 18 Aug 2014
When I went to see the first Sherlock Holms film, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I feared for a dumb Hollywood remaining with big actions scenes and holms reduced to a sexy action hero. While the film did have big effects and action, it also had a well written story and a wonderful performance and characterisation from Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock.

Its sequel, A Game of Shadows, however, is far closer to what I originally fear.

Apart from an interesting twist at the beginning, the plot was pitifully weak. Perhaps it’s because I have been watching too much of the BBC’s modern day version of Sherlock, but I expected a well throughout, clever story with twists and turns along with more ‘aha!’ revelations. What we got was a simply narrative, with little in terms of impressive ‘deductions’ or wits. At the end, I could not help but to think that Moriarty’s plan was too basic and ‘James Bond’ like, and not really worthy of such a great character. It also lacked in emotion for most part, though again that could just be me comparing it to Sherlock. The fact the film seems to jump across the globe didn’t help ether, as it served little purpose. I missed the Victorian streets of London early on.

There is plenty of action to behold, and while impressive some (like the chase through the forest) go on for far too long.

The cast is the highlight, with Robert Downey Jr stealing every scene he is in while Jared Harris makes for an interesting, if horrifically miss-used, Moriarty. The best scenes in the film are simply involving these two actors when they are alone, confronting each other mentally rather than physically for the most part. Jude Law is alright as Watson, although I have never found his adaption of the character very likable. Noomi Rapace is a good actress, but her character Simza fails at being a memorable heroine. I enjoyed Steven Fry as Mycroft, even if he was played for laughs more than anything.

In the end, it’s an alright action film, but one that’s not as smart as it thinks it is, and had the potential to be alot better.

Jonathan Creek - Series 5 [DVD]
Jonathan Creek - Series 5 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Alan Davies
Price: £7.40

2.0 out of 5 stars R.I.P Jonathan Creek., 21 July 2014
When it was announced that Johnathan Creek was returning for a new series, I had mixed feelings. It comes from the fact that the previous ‘special’ episode, The Clue of the Savant’s Thumb, had been the poorest entry into the shows history. It was everything the show should not be, a complete inversion of its nature. Even so, the fond memories I have for the original series persuaded me to give the show another try, just in case the last episode had been a one-off dud. My hope was that this new series of adventures would point the character and show back to its original direction. Does it? The short answer is no. The long answer is no, no, no, no, no, no, NO! This series cements the fact that the show has been twisted at its very core, and what’s worse, it tries to make this out as a good thing!

Series five is a big disappointment. It may have some charms and highlights, but the show has become a disaster. The Johnathan Creek I admired has gone. In this fifth series, he has become a lifeless shell, a lobotomised shadow of his former self. Gone is the windmill, the interest in magic acts and the classic duffle coat. Instead, this Johnathan-imposter is a married man, living in the city and working as a high powered businessman who wears a suit. Yes, that is right. Johnathan is seen many times in a suit and tie. It is the very definition of unnatural! What is worse is that the show tries to make this ‘grown-up’ version of Johnathan look like a good thing. Well I tell you what, Mr Renwick (The normally wonderful writer of the series) it is not! There is a feeling that perhaps he wanted to write another series, but couldn’t be bothered and just mashed the idea up with Johnathan Creek. Both the character and the show have lost a great amount of charm and substance, which I fear Mr Renwick has no intention of returning.

The actual episodes themselves also lack when it comes to their storytelling. The first changes the usual structure of the show by having very little mystery, in a poor man’s ‘Colombo’ style story. The next two are a little better, but they still feel very weak in their writing, especially when compared to past series. For a show consisting of hour-long episodes, the pace is remarkably slow in each. The mystery and intelligence of the series takes a back seat, and too often they explore Johnathan’s new life, which lacks interest or valid reason.

To be fair though, there are some good elements of the series which I should point out. It still holds a dark humour, the supporting cast are passable (Josie Lawrence shines in her Episode Three role) and the gothic house Johnathan and Polly (His wife, played by Sarah Alexander) move into actual makes for a suitable replacement to the classic windmill. Sarah Alexander herself is a good actress, and her character isn’t even that bad, considering the situation. It would have actually been interesting to have seen how she would have got on with the Johnathan of old. Alas, in the end she is simply another symptom of how the show has lost its way.

If this is the last Johnathan Creek series, then it is a sad way for the show to bow out. And yet, I also fear a sixth series or another special. Watching this series is like watching a dying animal. I hope that the BBC either return the series to its former quality, or lets the show end. Do not let it suffer in its current state anymore.

Pokémon X (Nintendo 3DS)
Pokémon X (Nintendo 3DS)
Price: £32.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A New Generation... Gotta Catch 'Em All!, 28 Jan 2014
I remember when I was young, I eagerly awaited opening up a certain Christmas present under the tree. It was a Game Boy game, one based on a TV series I had become somewhat intrigued by. That game was called Pokémon Blue Version, and it is still probably my favourite game of all time. It cemented my love of this world where you catch and train wonderful monsters, and it was my first introduction in to the in-depth world of Role Playing Games. Now, around fifteen years later, that same series of games is still going strong, and this time in the form of Pokémon X & Y! I may be older now, but this new incarnation of the franchise simply reinforces my continuing love of the Pokémon world!

The first thing you notice about these new games are the changes to the graphics and presentation, which have had a big and major make over. When once your Pokémon were a bunch of twitching spirits, your faithful companions are now fully animated models which breathe, blink, move and fight in glorious 3D motion. The environments and your playable character have also been given a new makeover. You can now customize certain elements of your enhanced character, such as their skin colour, hair and clothes. It is a well needed change, and the results are wonderful. The grass now flows and the water ripples. Some make be distraught at the fact that the game is only 3D during battles and selected areas (Such as caves or gyms) but it doesn’t take away the beauty of the game.

While aesthetically the game has had an almost complete transformation, the core gameplay and narrative of the series remains the same. You start off as an inexperience youngster new to the region of Kalos, a world inspired by France. You are soon given your first Pokémon, and set off on an adventure to defeat the eight Gym leaders across the region, the Elite Four, the Champion and along the way, an evil organisation bent on their own wicked goals. With Pokémon X & Y, there is a feel that this generation is both a glimpse at the future of the series, and a tribute to the past. Most areas of tall grass (Yep, that is still here!) hold Pokémon of mixed Generations, as well as the new native Pokémon. In fact Santalune Forest, one of the first areas you explore, holds a VERY similar in layout to Viridian Forest, and like that place, it holds Pokémon such as Weedle, Caterpie, Metapod and even Pikachu! (Who is unique in the game because it is voice by Ikue Ōtani, rather than a growl like all the others). Not only that, but soon after you receive a second starter Pokemon, in which you can chose Bulbasaur, Squirtle or Charmander!

Battles are played out in almost the exact same way as before, but Pokémon X & Y add a new twist to the gameplay with Mega Evolutions. Basically, a select number of Pokémon (All from past Generations, another tribute to the past) can be given an item to hold and then, in the heat of battle, you can choose to ‘evolve’ said Pokémon there and then. This is not a permanent evolution though. Instead, the Pokémon stays like this for the rest of the battle, and then ‘de-evolves’ at the end of the fight. The strengths, advantage and falls of this feature differ from Pokémon to Pokémon. Some are given a new type (Such as Mega Charizard X, who becomes a Fire/Dragon Pokémon) or new abilities. It is an interesting feature that strategist will probably love, but it is not a necessary aspect of the game. You can have a strong team, and never use Mega Evolution even once. It is simply an extra way to ‘buff up’ your team, if you wish for such a strategy. Even in the games story, Mega Evolutions quickly take a back seat after some time.

Pokémon has never had an amazing, well-written story. They have been alright and charming, but are usually one of the least defined aspects of the games. Progressively however, each game has taken a step forward in making their stories better and bigger (White/Black 2 has been my favourite so far) and while the central story in Pokémon X & Y is good and enjoyable, it seems to have taken a bit of a step backwards in some ways. Team Flare, the horribly dressed new enemy organisation, are interesting but with the exception of their leader, are more or less completely played for farce. The interlocking side-story, which involves the act of a King who lived 3,000 years ago however is very interesting and has a wonderful pay off at the end of the game. It is simple, yet emotional, which is a perfect mix for a game played by all ages. It is just a shame that Team Flare and their plan takes up much of the motion of the story.

Like the past games, beating the Champion does not end the game. There are still hundreds of Pokémon to catch (Not sure how many are available in this game without trading for Gen V, but officially there are over 700 Pokémon!) and various other activates to pursue, even if the endgame experience is not at the same level as some of the past Pokémon games (Don’t expect a new continent or many new zones to explore…) There is however the Battle Mansion, Kalos’s version of the Battle Tower, Subway etc, legendary Pokémon to catch, an extra story-based quest, daily activates and trading/battling online. The safari zone has also returned in the form of the Friend Safari. It’s an interesting twist in which each of your registered 3DS friends is given a type, and three Pokémon of said element which you can catch. It’s a nice feature, but one that could be a little restrictive if you don’t have/want many registered friends.

Pokemon X & Y is a big step forward for the franchise, and while it may fall short in a few areas, it is an impressive entry in the series. Moreover, it is a very good sign for the future of Pokemon. With this impressive ground work, I am really looking forward to what the next games in the series are going to be like. Long live the world of Pokémon, and don’t forget to catch them all!

In One Person
In One Person
by John Irving
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.21

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Please don't put a label on me- don't make me a category before you get to know me!", 20 Aug 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: In One Person (Hardcover)
I have never read anything by John Irving before In One Person, but if this is anything to go by them I am looking forward to reading his past work.

In One Person follows Billy, a bisexual writer, now in his sixties, who is looking back and narrating his life in the form of a memoir. From the first hints of his bisexuality, to the devastating effects of the AIDS virus and to events of the modern day, Billy shows us his loves and fears as he struggles to live his life as who he is, and not become what everybody expects him to be.

Billy is a good, strong character. It's refreshing to see a character so carefree about his sexuality and the way he lives his life. He is well-written and is a believable and honest narrator. At times I would have liked a bit more information about some closer Billy's relationships, especially with men as most of the relationships actual shown are with ether with woman or transgender people. There was nothing wrong with this, but I felt there was enough room to explore this side of Billy a little more than it was.

The supporting characters are rich in personality and wonderfully written, the highlight being Billy's kind-hearted grandfather, but they all are a joy to read, and very rarely feel underused.

Billy's narration starts in a non-liner fashion, with jumps in time from his first crush to a relationship thirty years before, and them back to his school years. I like how we got to see different aspects of his life early on, and it helps in understanding Billy as a narrator, as well as giving hints and glimpses to the fates of various other characters in his life. There is one point in which I did think this style of storytelling backfired a bit. I couldn't help but to feel that emotionally the story reached its climax long before the novel actually did, leaving the last quarter or so of the story feeling more like an epilogue then a proper conclusion. That's not to say it's dissatisfying, far from it, but it just feels a little mixed up pace-wise, especially for a story that jumps from one event to another in time so effortlessly.

John Irving tackles the subject of bisexuality, and sexuality in general, very well; highlighting how even in both the LGBT and straight communities, bisexuals are often treated with suspicion and irk, even in this day and age.

At times the events of Billy's life and the fates of his family, friends and lovers can feel a little on the unrealistic at times. The losses he suffers, especially from the outbreak of the AIDS virus, are numerous and seem very personal and direct to him. There are scenes of great emotion for the characters, I was teary a few times, but sometimes they felt a little forced, just to evoke such a reaction.

In One Person is a wonderful story which is a fascinating look at the life of a proud bisexual, a celebration of our sexual differences and a call for tolerance. As a well quoted phrase in the novel goes "Please don't put a label on me- don't make me a category before you get to know me!"

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (Nintendo 3DS)
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (Nintendo 3DS)

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Celebration Final Fantasy Music!, 10 Aug 2012
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
As an avid gamer, the Final Fantasy games have always held a special place within my heart. These were the first video games which taught me that games don't have to be about just getting high scores, jumping a platform or killing bad guys. The Final Fantasy games showed me that storytelling can be just as exciting, and emotional, in video games as it can be in books, TV and films. It also taught me how brilliantly music can be used, and how it can add depth to the emotion and excitement in action.

In the same way that the recent Dissidia games (A fighting PSP series) celebrated the characters of Final Fantasy, Theatrhythm celebrates the music of Final Fantasy, and it dose a wonderful job!

At its heart Theatrhythm is a rhythm game, similar to Guitar Hero or the Dancing games. Depending on the symbols that appear on the main screen, you have to tap, hold or slash at the touch screen when the symbol passes over the marker. If you hit the mark accurately, you will score a critical hit and accumulate more points. Miss the mark, and you will lose a portion of your HP. If you Miss the marks too often and run out of HP, then you will fail the song and have to start over. Items can be used to help you in almost all modes, and do things such as recover HP. Each of the three main modes has its own style and rules, but they all follow the same basic mechanics. Each mode also has a unique Limit Brake-style element to it, in which you unlock a special helpful feature if you successfully hit the silver symbols without missing. The gameplay itself is easy to learn, but with the difference in Mode styles and three different difficulties' per song, it will take a lot longer to master!

You start the game by creating a party of four chibi-style Final Fantasy characters that you take with you on battles. At first, these are the main protagonists from all thirteen of the main Final Fantasy games (Such as Cloud for FFVII and Lightning for FFXIII) but as you unlock more and more features, you can collect special shards which allow you to unlock secondary characters to add to your party, such as Vivi and Yuna. Character stats affect certain aspects of the games (For example, stronger characters fare better in battle mode) but you can still beat the game and its secrets by using any character, so like me you can just go and pick your favourites!

At first you can only play the songs in the main Series Challenge Mode. Here you play the three songs from a specific Final fantasy game. If you beat them then you unlock the song to play in Challenge Mode. Here you are free to play them in any mode you wish (Although you need to beat Medium difficulty to unlock its Ultimate mode) and by completing the songs at the higher difficulty's you can unlock the harder Series Challenge modes to play.

The songs of the game are separated in to three distinct and different play modes, with each song belonging to one of the following Modes.

The first is Field Music, the idea of which is taken from traveling across the world map in the pre-FFX games. Here your party leader travels a chibi version of that Final Fantasy world from which the song comes from, passing notable landmarks across the way. The more marks you hit, the faster you go and the better score/items you will receive. You will slow down and switch characters if you keep missing the targets. This stage Limit Brake involves becoming a Chocobo for extra speed! Songs are usually the type you hear while exploring the maps of the games, such as Over The Hill (FFIX) and my favourite song form the game Sunleth Waterscape (FFXIII). These are arguably the most relaxing and easy stages to play (At lower levels that is!)

The second style of game is Battle Mode, which is based from the Final Fantasy style of battle. Your team of four characters are set up in a pre-FFVII manner (Lining up vertically on the right side of the screen, while the enemies are on the left) and fight various enemies and bosses from Final Fantasy lore. Hitting the marks causes damage to the enemy, but it is in this mode that the more RPG side of the game starts to appear, as depending on what skills your characters have equipped, you unleash special attacks (Such as magic, like Thunder) by meeting certain criteria's (For example, getting 30 critical hits in a row) which deal more damage. Admittedly this isn't as in-depth as most RPG's, but it still helps in adding just a little more depth and consideration when you're trying to beat the songs on the harder difficulties and Chaos Shrine (More on that in a moment!) The limit stage of Battle mode involves summoning a famous Summon creature (such as Ifrit or Shiva) to deal extra damage to your foes. Music in this modes include the classic Battle themes from most of the Final Fantasy games, as well as more special pieces of battle music, such as the legendary One-Winged Angel from FFVII. The Battle Mode is probably the hardest mode to play, being relentless and near unforgiving at even the medium level of difficulty. This only makes the battles more exciting, and mastering them even more rewarding!

The final style of gameplay is Event music. Here you don't use your characters as such; instead you play over a kind of clip-show made up from the famous cut-scenes, depending on what game the song is from. The Limit Break here allows you to play a little longer and see the clip-show in full. Unlike other modes, all that matters here statistic wise is HP. Songs here including the legendary Waltz for the Moon and the heart-breaking Aerith's Theme. These songs are usually not as difficult as Battle Mode songs, but are more challenging then Field songs (although that could just be me getting distracted by the cut scenes!)

There is also a small mini game at the beginning and end of each Final Fantasy series in Series Challenge mode. Here you tap along to the song, which is usually the opening and ending theme, and you score more points the more accurate you are at keeping with the rhythm. These are fun, but can get repetitive rather quickly, but you can just skip them if you want. Incidentally, they are usually accompanied by pictures and a brief paragraph giving you an idea of what the Final Fantasy game is all about.

Lastly there is Chaos Shrine, a special mode up of 99 levels. Here you fight through two stages (Difficulty is usually around Medium and Ultimate level) a Field song and a Battle song. There are three possible bosses to battle in the Battle mode, and the better you do in the Field song, the better boss you will end up facing in Battle. Each boss drops rare items, such as cards and crystals used to unlock characters. As an added incentive, a few of the songs are only available to play in the Chaos Shrine

After you complete each song, you are given your ranking (S-F usually) and your characters receive exp and, if you have gained enough, level up. This can increases their stats, HP, CP (Which determines what level of skills you can equip and how many) and teaches them new ability's and spells. Items and collectable cards may also drop.

You also gain a certain amount of Rhythmia depend on certain factors (For example, you can get more Rhythmia if your part has characters from the songs Final Fantasy game or if you don't use an item) Every 500 points of Rhythmia unlocks a feature, such as music in the Music Player, a Video in the Movie Theatre (Which are the clip-shows form the Event songs) or crystals for unlocking characters. You can even unlock special songs at certain higher marks!

There is a very thin story to the game. Between the Gods Chaos and Cosmos (The same characters from the Dissidia series of games) there is a space called Rhythm. Chaos decides to disrupted the great crystal that lays within Rhythm, and the only way Cosmos can restore it is by getting help form the great heroes of Final Fantasy and created a wave called Rhythmia to restore the crystal and Rhythm to normal. All of this is covered in a few paragraphs at the start and end of the Series Challenge, which is a shame as I would have like the story to have been a much bigger part of the game. Graphically the game is sweet and colourful, which only add to its charm.

The game will last you a long while, not only because it is addictive and has a diverse range of difficulties, but because of the amount of unlockables there are. I have played for over 15+ hours now, and I have still to collect enough crystals to unlock even one new character!

At the time of writing there are around 24 DLC songs available to download for £0.90 per song. Each song comes from a Final Fantasy game, and has three difficulties to it, although they have only released Field and battle songs so far. Are they worth it? I would say so, but they aren't necessary to enjoy the game. Most of the songs may not be the popular classics (Although Cosmo Canyon is simply wonderful!) but they are usually good and the three difficulties will make mastering them a challenge. The list of DLC is also updated regularly, and I do hope we get some more songs from the likes of Final Fantasy X-2.

If you're a veteran fan of Final Fantasy, then you will love the game for pure nostalgia reasons alone. If you're not, then Theatrhythm is still an addictive and wonderful music game (even if the references may fly over your head...) that celebrates the best in video game music.

Hit & Miss [DVD]
Hit & Miss [DVD]
Dvd ~ Chloe Sevigny
Price: £5.60

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Dark and Gritty Series That is Certainly Not a Hit and Miss..., 27 Jun 2012
This review is from: Hit & Miss [DVD] (DVD)
Hit & Miss, an original production by Sky and created by Paul Abbott (Shameless), follows Mia (Chloe Sevigny) a pre-op transsexual contract assassin. After returning from a typical assassination, she receives a letter from the only women she ever slept with, telling her that said woman is dying, and that Mia has a son, Ryan (Jorden Bennie). Not long after, Mia finds out that her ex has now passed away, and has made her the legal guardian Ryan, and his three half-siblings. This blended series of assassinations and family drama follows Mia's attempts to become a parent to the unorthodox family, while also trying to hide her job as a professional killer and fend off the vial landlord John, who will stop at nothing to get them, and especially Mia, of his land.

Mia is a deep and well written character, marvellously played by Chloe. Throughout the series we see many aspect of her, such as the turmoil she suffers by being different and in an unaccepting world, which are explored. This works due to Chloe, the writing and the wonderful direction. In the end I did find her a sympathetic character, despite the fact that she is a killer. I would however have liked to know more about her past. Throughout the series we gain little hints of how she came this far, especially during the final episode which explores part of her family life, but we never truly learn how, or exactly why, she became an assassin. I know it is likely they are saving the details for further series, but it would helped just to see a little more depth in to her killing past and the relationship she shares with Eddies.

The support cast is strong, with every actor well cast and most of the characters well written. The child actors are very good, with Jorden Bennie doing a wonderful job in the role of Ryan, while Leonie, the youngest child, adds a touch of innocence to the otherwise bleak outlook of the series. Teenager Levi is well played, but Karla Crome simply stands out as Riley, the eldest of the four siblings, who goes through a huge journey during these six episodes. It's fascinating to watch her relationship grow with Mia.

Peter Wight plays Eddie, Mia's boss and probably closets thing she had to a friend prior to her new family. His very well acted, at times being sympathetic while at others showing a rather nasty side. He is a good character, but as with Mia, I would have liked to know more about his relationship with her and his past. Jonas Armstrong plays the hunky Ben, Mia's romantic interest for the series. He is well acted by Jonas, and goes through an interesting journey as he tries to come to terms with the conflicting feelings he has for Mia and what she is, but I ended up feeling little sympathy for him until the very end of the series.

John makes for a vile villain. He is well played by Vincent Regan, and fills in the antagonist role nicely, but he feels rather fake and at times an unrealistic character. Episode after episode, they show him doing more and more horrible things to Mia and her family, giving him not even one redeeming feature throughout the series. Perhaps that's the point, but I would have liked to have seen him fleshed out a bit more as a character and less of a stereotypical villain.

Some people may find the plot a little improbable, and perhaps they have a point at times, but I found that it was a gritty, dark and realistic series which was written well by Sean Conway. It mixed the family drama and assassination genres well, even if the assassination side of the show lost out in terms of substance. The script pulls no punches ether, both emotionally and violence wise, as we explore the characters, there hopes, turmoil's and relationships. For the most part the pacing of the plot is good, although the pilot episode is a little slow compared to the rest. The assassinations themselves don't disappoint ether. They are usually swift, simple and at times rather bloody. My only real complaint is that, on occasion, certain elements of the plot took a tiny step towards the proposed supernatural. I know it's not the biggest of complaint, and it's only done in a very slight way, but I thought it could have risked damaging the gritty aspects of the show.

The series is filmed in Manchester, and the wonderful locations, ranging from the concrete city to vast, lonely fields and the decrepit farmhouse which the family calls home, really fits and helps the cold and isolated feel of the series. The direction is skilfully handled with style and a lot of empathy, rightly so, on the characters and their inner turmoil. The soundtrack dose its job, but is nothing special or genre changing.

Hit & Miss's blending of genres, and its subject matter, probably won't appeal to everyone unfortunately. Which is a shame, as this series is a wonderful, dark drama and one which fully deserves a second series.

Price: £5.41

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Gothic Fantasy Novel, 15 Jun 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Raventide (Kindle Edition)
Having read the wonderful Blood Lilies, I decided to check out T. A. Miles first book Raventied and I am very glad I did.

The story of Raventied follows Drayden Torvannes, a historic investigator who is hired by the wealthy Elarien Fannael to discover the origin of a mysterious ring that haunts his dreams, the truth behind his family, which Elarien believes will identify the supposed illness that plagues him. What follows is a wonderful gothic mystery, featuring elements of adventure, mythology and an emotional gay romance.

Drayden and Elarien made for great protagonists, with both characters being fleshed out, made vivid, and felt alive on the page. It was great to watch the bond between them grow from acquaintances, to friends and finally something more. The supporting cast was also very strong, and not just an element to help advance the story. I would have liked to have delved a bit deeper in to the agonists, but even so, there is no character who feels like they get less time and attention then they deserve.

The story is engrossing, and intelligent, with twists and characters that kept me guessing until its satisfying conclusion. It's hard to deny, however, that much of the first half of the story is rather slow in pace. On one hand, this helps to build, and flesh out the characters and deepen the plot. On the other hand, there are times in which I could not help but to think that the characters were simply running around in circles with scenes that added little to what we already know. Once in to the latter half of the book has a much finer and exciting pace and the mystery begins to close, but if I'm honest, the revelations and advancements in character felt a little swift at times. I would have actually liked it if more time and exploration of the characters had been given to the latter part of the story, instead of the build-up. The most obvious element in this case was the romance, which, while hinted at throughout the story, I would have liked to blossom a little earlier than it did just, so it could be explored a little more. Despite this slight criticism, the romance is well written and works well emotionally.

The world of Raventied is well crafted and beautifully described fantasy world. The author has a wonderful way of writing, which is far more professional and imaginative then many top-selling authors.

It's a shame that this is just a stand-alone novel. I would love to have found out more about the world, its characters and its mythology. Nonetheless, this is a wonderful, well written gothic story.

Naruto Shippuden The Movie 2: Bonds [Blu-ray]
Naruto Shippuden The Movie 2: Bonds [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Junko Takeuchi
Price: £8.74

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A fun if disappointing outing for our favourite knuckleheaded Shinobi, 10 April 2012
Naruto Shippuden: Bonds is the second Shippuden anime film and the fifth Naruto film in total.

In a rather spectacular homage to the 2001 Pearl Harbour film, Bonds starts with the Hidden Leaf Village coming under attack by Shinobi from Land of the Sky, a country that was thought to have been destroyed by the Leaf during the Second Ninja World War. As bombs rain down upon Konoha and its inhabitants tries in vain to save the village, Naruto encounters the mysterious old doctor Shinn' and his young apprentice, Amaru, who has come to ask for help for his village, which has also come under attack from the Land of Sky. While the Hidden Leaf Village deal with the Land of Sky attackers at sea, Naruto, Sakura and Hinata head of with Amaru and Shinn' to help the village and discover the true plans of the land of Sky. Meanwhile, a sickly Orochimaru gives Sasuke the task of finding this doctor and the secrets that he keeps...

As far as the story goes it is badly executed, with far too much information presented and little detail to go with it. While the overall pace of the film is good, you can't help but to feel like scenes were missing. Many of the characters motivations and reasons for actions are given little explanation, and often fall in to anime cliché territory. The main disappointment however comes with the lack of Sasuke/Naruto interaction. The film is commonly billed as being a reunion of sorts between the two and an interesting look at their troubled `bond'. In reality, Sasuke gets very little screen time and this so-called reunion only truly takes place twenty munities or so before the end of the film. Even then, it has impact is smaller than I would have liked. It is almost as if the writers added this sub-plot late in to production! I understand that this may not be `canon' material, and as such it can't have that much of an impact on the main relationships or the story, but it feels like little effort was made in to even try and explore this side of the plot. The Bleach film, Diamond Dust Rebellion, managed to pull off a great character story without ruining the series plot or direction, so it is possible had it been given more merit and/or time.

With all that being said, there are some good points about the story, as the central theme of `bonds' is well handled and fits perfectly with the show and its core principal of friendship. It even leads to a surprisingly emotion conclusion. It's also nice to learn a bit more about the world of Naruto and its different Lands, something that seems to happen more in the filler series/films then in the central story itself. It is never full stated where in the anime series it takes place, but I would highly recommend that it should be watched after the Sasuke and Sai Arc (Which ends after around episode 53 of Shippuden) as in the film Naruto and Sasuke have obviously already had their first reunion since the original series and Sai appears haveing a small, but cool, part to play in the fight against the Land of Sky.

Naruto makes for an enduring hero as always, while Sasuke steals every scene he is in. Amaru unfortunately is a badly writing character who could have been handled much better. As with many characters who encounter Naruto during the filler-eras and previous films, Amaru ends up being nothing more than a character written specifically with a similar orphan/master-apprentice background for Naruto's benefit and little else. Shinn' is better handled, having an interesting personality and set of powers, but unfortunately his motives become quickly lost and stereotypical of overall role in the film. Sakura also get little to do in the film, as usual, while Hinata (Who acts as this films third Team 7 member) was obviously put in only because she is popular with the fans, given how she also adds very little to the film. It's a shame, because both Sakura and Hinata are great characters and are often overlooked in all Naruto media. A wide array of supporting characters from the series appear with some, like Ch'ji and Yamato, only having brief cameos while others, like Sai and Shikamaru, enjoy more limelight and even some fun battles.

A weakness of the anime series is that the pacing can sometimes become lost or incoherent due to overlong battles, especially when compared to the likes of Bleach. Luckily this isn't something that has not passed on to the film, as the action never feels too long or boring. For the most part they are well choreographed, even if the powers are nothing particularly unique. The animation on Naruto has never been one of its strong points, but the film dose look wonderful, especially on Blu-ray, while the character designs and environments are well created and executed.

The English dub is ok, but as usual I would recommend the original subs as they always feel more authentic and hold more emotion. As per usual with most Naruto releases, the film has little in terms of extras. There is the usual production artwork (Which I do always like), movie/anime trailers and a special opening them. It's always a shame that there is never any behind the scene features, even if it was form the dubbing team it would have at least been something!

Naruto Shippuden: Bonds is a solid and fun addition to the movies, but one that ends up feeling rather disappointing given what it could have been and promised. It could have been a wonderful examination of the bond between Naruto and Sasuke and an interesting look at the Land of Sky, but it ends up being disappointing on both points.

Mass Effect 3 (PS3)
Mass Effect 3 (PS3)
Offered by Game Trade Online
Price: £11.35

4 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A satisfying ending (?) to the Mass Effect series, 19 Mar 2012
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Mass Effect 3 (PS3) (Video Game)
In 2007, Bioware began an ambitious new game series names Mass Effect. Its purpose was to tell a story of Commander Shepard and his/her fight against a race of deadly synthetic hybrids known as the Reapers. They chose to tell this epic fight over a massive trilogy in which, like their previous RPG games, your actions would have dire consequences on the characters and stories outcome. The difference with ME, compared to previous efforts, is that the Shepard you create in the first game is designed to be imported and his/her choices in would have dire and unforeseen consequences in both the second and final games, creating a truly epic adventure of your own making. Now, in 2012, Mass Effect 3, the final (?) chapter of Commander Shepard, has arrived. Was it worth the wait? Is it a satisfying conclusion to this epic franchise? I think it rather is.

After the events of Mass Effect 2 (And the DLC Arrival) the Reapers have finally made their move on the galaxy, with planet Earth being their first and prime target. Reinstated at the helm of the Normandy SR-2, Commander Shepard must bring together and unite the warring races of the universe if they want to have any chance of retaking Earth and saving the galaxy from total extinction.

As with the previous games, you explore the galaxy completing missions in this 40+ hour adventure in order to reach the final goal. In ME3, your job is to bring together the Turian, Krogan, Salarian and Quarian races in order to create the ultimate weapon against the Reapers, while also fighting off the mysterious Cerberus organisation. Just like in pervious Bioware games, you have to make many differing choices while completing critical missions. The smallest choice can have devastating consequences and never has this been more prominent the in Mass Effect 3. The writing is superb and each choice feels real and can be filled with genuine emotion or shock. I don't want to spoil anything, but the missions on Tuchanka were the best example of how the mission can end up gloriously victorious, or heart-breaking, too outright dark, all depending on your choices in this game and it predecessors. You get the most out of the game if you import a character from ME2, as previous choices and relationships are imported to the game, although it is possible to start a new Shepard from scratch. Its times like this when you realise what a shame it is that ME1 was never, and will forever likely never be, released on the PS3. Even so, that doesn't stop the game from feeling very epic and worthwhile.

Unlike ME2, in which you could be half way through the legendary Suicide Mission and be wondering why half your squad is dead, ME3 makes a big, game changing point rather obvious form the go. If you don't prepare for the final battle, it will not end well! To help you prepare, a new gameplay addition is added in the form of War Assets. The choices you make during the main missions and completing side quests add (or lower) you're over battle readiness. The higher you're rating by the end of the game, the more likely you are to get a better type of ending. Another way to increases your score is by playing the online multiplayer, although you can still get the best possible ending simply through missions and the main game alone. It's a great feature which helps you plan for what ending you want, although the ways in which the War Asset side missions are played dose end up making then feel rather repetitive and somewhat hollow, especially when nearing the conclusion of the game end.

Your squad is made of mostly of ME1 characters (Minus Wrex, who has a big supporting part to play.) along with a surprising former ME2 supporting character joining your fighting team. As per the past games, you can get to know the well written characters very well during the game through dialog-specific scenes and actions. Unlike previous games however, squad specific quests have mostly gone, which is a shame, as they are usual the best way to get to know the character even better. Two brand new characters are introduced to the ME3 squad team, the DLC Prothean Javik (Who I will get to in a moment) and James Vega. Voiced wonderfully by Freddie Prinze Jr, James fills in as a typical muscle bound solider-hero who, unfortunately, is given little time to impress and feels oddly out of place next to the many returning characters. It's a shame, because his character held much promise and idea for development. There is a wide cast of supporting characters to interact with during the ME3 story, with many returning from the previous game. Several new romances can be explored as well (I am very glad that they have final decided to include homosexual relationships as well!)

An optional DLC is also available (And comes free with the Collector Edition of the game.) called From Ashes. This pack includes the new Prothean squad member I mentioned earlier, as well as his own mission, and I must say that it is well worth the price. Unlike the Mass Effect 2 DLC characters, Kasumi and Zaeed, Javik feels a lot more like a true companion to Shepard and the story. You can talk to him on the Normandy and he has his own, wonderfully written dialog scenes. He also has a lot of interaction and influence within the missions themselves. Another good reason to get the DLC is the fact that it shows you what the Prothean's really were like and what their culture consisted off, which is a must for any mass Effect lore fan.

It is a shame that the majority of the ME2 squad (Miranda, Jacob, Legion etc...) are reduced to cameo roles (Providing they survived the Suicide Mission, of course). That being said, they do have interesting side stories and some get to play a part in the main quest, but it still would have been nice for a few to share the same limelight that the original team seem to bathe in this time.

The voice acting in ME3 is as high quality as usual for Bioware and for the most part the voice cast remains intact. For me, Jennifer Hale (Female Shepard) is the true star of the game. She brings a strength and emotion to Shepard that Mark (Male Shepard) just seems to lack. It's such a shame that few players experience FemShep, as I really think she is the best character in the game by far.

Now we come to the controversial aspect of the game, which is the ending, not just to this one game, but to the entire Mass Effect series itself (?) While it is fair to say that Mass Effect 3 does not have the best ending in the world, I think it was rather good and well written. It was very different from what I was fearing, and rather unique given the series layout. It is probably more simpler then people many have expected, especially when regarding previous choices and the like, but to give a series like Mass Effect a proper send of it was kind of inevitable. I personally would however have liked it if they went in to a bit more detail about some of the aspects present during the final fifteen or so minutes. That said, it should also be noted that some time ago Bioware did tell its fans to keep their ME3 saves. No matter your opinion on it, we live in an age of DLC. Judging by what has been said by the staff at Bioware, I think it's rather certain that something will come along to expand the endgame story.

Gameplay wise, the game has changed little form ME2, being still an addictive hybrid of duck-and-cover gunplay while enhancing your squad through RPG levelling elements. Some game mechanics have been tweaked, such as melee attacks playing a larger role in combat, while a simpler version of the weapon modification system from ME1 has been reinstated. The Powers have been slight changed as well. Now when you reach the higher levels of power upgrading, you have a number of different choices of what to improve (I.E. Quicker cooldowns over impact radius or more health over more melee damage.) The games difficultly has been altered slightly as well, with Normal being of the same difficulty as ME2's Veteran mode (Although this can be changed at any time.)

ME3 also bring multiplayer to the Mass Effect universe. I was somewhat fearful of this feature at first, but it ends up being a rather addictive experience! In teams of four, you and other players take on a series of `waves' which include simply defeating the enemy too downloading information from certain points while trying to survive. By doing these missions, you can gain experience points and level your multiplayer characters while increasing your readiness score in the main game. These modes are fun, but can get a little repetitive after a while. A nice feature is that you have access to ever class (Infiltrator, Solider, Vanguard...) and that you don't have to commit to one style. You can also play as a number of different ME races, depending on your class, but these can only be locked from special packs. These packs, which also randomly give you weapons and upgrades, cost credits that you can make by completing online missions. Alternatively, you can buy them using real money through the PSN (Packs differ in price, the most expensive being around £1.70, at the time of writing.)

Graphically the game is one of the best on the PS3. The characters look and are designed wonderfully, the epic Reaper battles are a joy to behold and the intergalactic scenery, which is more varied than ever, can be rather breath-taking. I would also recommend that every fan gets a copy of the soundtrack, which is stunningly beautiful and at times rather emotional.

This is not the best game in the world, and in all honesty it dose fall somewhat short of beating Mass Effect 2 in terms of shear quality. It is also likely that some players may be off-put by certain aspects of the ending. But in my opinion, Mass Effect 3 still turns out to be an exciting and fulfilling conclusion to what has got to be the best gaming trilogy's in computer history.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 21, 2012 2:22 PM GMT

Sacred Blacksmith Season 1 [DVD]
Sacred Blacksmith Season 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Aki Toyosaki
Price: £15.59

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fun and enjoyable fantasy anime series., 15 Feb 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The Sacred Blacksmith follows Cecily Cambell, a 3rd generation Knight from Housman, one of the cities of the Independent Trade Cities. After the death of her farther, she takes it upon herself to take up the sword for the family honour. While she is eager, she still has far to go, as shown when she is saved for a mad attacker by Luke, a mysterious katana-wilding blacksmith. Impressed by this enigmatic stranger and his exotic blade, Cecily demands that he creates a blade for her and what follows is a story involving ancient swords, Demon Contract's and a quest to prove one's worth and honour.

For the most part the series story is well written and interesting with a good sense of humour, even if the show ends up being nothing particularly special or deep. The central fantasy-style theme is well used, but covers little new ground in the genre. The episode structure is made up of several mini arcs, most containing themes that run throughout the entire series. At times the pacing of these episodes can feel rather slow, such as the arc dealing with Charlotte E. Firobisher and her team, but most hold interest. Many will find the conclusion disappoint due to how open ended it is and how little we know of the enemies at hand, but I think it was done for the idea of a second series (Will that happen? Nothing yet...) and from a character point of view the conclusion worked rather well as a conclusion.

Cecily is an enduring main character; you really do sympathise with her and will her on in her attempts to get stronger and prove herself. Luke is a bit different from your usual male lead, he ends up being not as annoying a character as you would first think and fascinates with a dark backstory. Lisa, Luke's assistant, is an interesting character especially during the latter half of the series while Aria, a living Demon sword, could have used more time to shine compared to the others as she had a wonderful idea and past. We know very little about the motives and story of the main black caped villain, which in the end makes him feel like a stereotypical chackling evil-doer and little else.

As with many animes, the show hosts a wide array of supporting characters that inhabit this medieval world, it is just a shame then that they are not used as well as they could be. The opening credits show off many of them, yet we rarely see most, let alone get to know them as characters. Instead, the show concentrates mostly on Cecily and Luke, along with the current arc characters. It's a bit of a shame, as the cast seemed to have had some potential, but at least the strength of the main line up makes up for the lack of support in the end.

The fight scenes tend not to drag on too long and are for the most part pretty impressive. I did think the final few battles could have been a little better paced, but there is little to complain about in the end.

There is a sizable amount of fan service in this anime and moe related imagery within The Sacred Blacksmith. For example, hardly an episode goes by when someone does not mention Cecily's well-endowed bosom while her knight uniform is actually a rather wonderful made in the style of a maid's uniform. Despite this such titillation never feels like it's a defining feature of the characters, simply a side effect of this type of anime.

The animation itself is very impressive for the most part, being crisp and colourful while the characters design works well and the world that has been created fits in with the fantasy setting wonderfully. The soundtrack is good and while English dub seems ok, I would recommend the original Japanese sub for the best experience.

The DVD comes with a few extras, including clean opening and endings. For some reason, they have decided to take out all the `next time' trailers from the episodes themselves and instead have added them as one long special feature. While I did think it would have been nice to have them in the episode, I liked having the option to watch them all at once given their comical substance. Would be interesting if Manga did this more with other releases (Bleach would be a fine example.) It is a shame that there are no commentaries or make-of features.

The Sacred Blacksmith is not an anime that will set the otaku world on fire, and neither is it anything particularly new or that has not been seen or done before. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a fun medieval-fantasy style anime with a sense of humour, good central characters and plot, then this dose the job very well.

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