Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
And so we come to my first monthly recap of my reading and video-gaming escapades! Both books and videogames still play a pretty big role in occupying my free time, and while I wish I could give everything I read or play its own post, I’m going to have to settle for short like-it-or-not chunks. If you have any questions or statements pertaining to an individual paragraph, feel free to leave them in the comments section! Please note that this will be longer than most of my monthly posts, since I have three months of backlog to cover!
Bioshock: Rapture by John Shirley
The original game, this novel is not, but John Shirley makes an adequate stab at taking the underwater world of Rapture and making it into something deceptively realistic. The novel follows the rise and ultimate fall of Andrew Ryan’s paradise – the good intentions at the start; the corrupt few becoming the corrupt many; the slow, insidious introduction of the volatile plasmids; and, through it all, the lingering humanity of a few good people who refuse to let their situation turn them into monsters. This is not a book you want to pick up if you haven’t played Bioshock, but it does a decent job of weaving together the narratives of both the first and second game. In fact, it might actually be the ideal bridge between the two, since the second game felt weirdly disjointed from its source. Shirley’s writing is enjoyable. This was far better than I expected from a videogame tie-in, but it won’t be winning any major awards. Popcorn entertainment at its finest.
The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan
The second of an intended-trilogy, The Cold Commands marks Richard K. Morgan’s second foray away from the hard-boiled science fiction stories that have won him fame in literary circles. A trio of unconventional protagonists and no-holds-barred storytelling combine to make this a riveting if brutal read. Readers with the stomach for broken bones and slit throats should definitely give this series, which starts with The Steel Remains, a fair chance. Start at the beginning, though, and maybe wait for the third book to come out before diving into The Cold Commands– though fun and tightly paced, you can tell that Morgan is building up to something much bigger and much better in the end, leaving this book with the slightest sense that it’s just spinning its wheels. Stay away if you can’t handle violence, sex, or coarse language – this book revels in all three.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Most people will recognize this title from the movie based on it, starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Christoph Waltz. I haven’t seen the movie so I won’t make a stab at a comparison. The book, however, is a light, enjoyable read. Nothing I couldn’t put down, sadly, since the central romance has been done to death before. The framing device of the old man reminiscing in the nursing home is a nice touch, but readers will be riveted by the revelations made about life working for the circus during the Great Depression.
What really drew me to this novel, however, was the fact it was originally drafted during National Novel Writing Month, a month-long literary indulgence that takes place annually in November. Savvy readers might recognize participation in this event was the reason I placed the blog on hold late last year. Have I used that hiatus to produce something as serviceable as Water For Elephants? Not yet, but a girl can certainly dream.
Mass Effect 2, XBOX 360
The first game I played on an HD television and dear God was it worth the investment. This is a pretty, pretty game – a definite graphical improvement on its predecessor. The story, however, and even aspects of the interface were tweaked to less success. It’s another case of the middle installment of a trilogy falling between the cracks; it exists only to progress from the introduction of the first game to the grand finale of the last. It works in this capacity, but probably wouldn’t stand up as well under individual scrutiny. BioWare also ran into this problem with Dragon Age 2, the middle installment of its other major trilogy. Here’s hoping both Dragon Age 3 and Mass Effect 3 blow us away.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope, XBOX 360
Within a few minutes of booting this game up, I decided this was the JRPG version of Mass Effect (or, depending on release dates, maybe Mass Effect is the American RPG version of Star Ocean). What I remember most about this game, for better or for worse, is the voice acting: the terrible, stilted, awkward voice acting. It’s a problem that strikes most of the female cast (Sarah and Lymle are completely insufferable) but leaves the male characters alone (Edge’s voice never felt grating, and I actually enjoyed Travis Willingham’s turn as Bacchus). Kudos to the game, though, for taking a major member of your party and turning him or her into the final boss. I won’t spoil who, but suffice it to say, I thought it was a ballsy narrative move. Serviceable gameplay, cliché story. Nothing to write home about but nothing to shun outright, either.
Tiny Tower, Smart Phones
Smart phone games aren’t for everyone, but there’s something to be said for the pick-up-and-go entertainment that such properties provide. Tiny Tower may not have the huge fan base of Angry Birds, but it’s definitely a respected game that comes highly recommended. Tiny Tower is to be commended especially for ditching the model perpetuated by Zynga and other Facebook giants which requires that you have an outrageous number of “friends” to help micromanage your property. You can compare your tower to those of acquaintances and can donate merchandise to them, but it is very possible to build your tower completely on your own. Furthermore, in game currency – even the shortcut-providing Tower Bucks – is easy to come by. Micro-transactions are absolutely unnecessary, unless you lack patience.
It should also be noted that the game has a light-hearted sense of humor and isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself. Residents of your tower post statuses on their “Bitbook” pages, and some even question in-game logic. When confronted with an elevator that only works when the player is directly controlling it, a “Bitizen” remarked, “How do you get the elevators to work, anyway? Divine intervention?”
Have you read any of these books? Played any of these games? I’m interested in hearing how your experiences coincided with or differed from my own!