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A hiatus

The last month or so has been quite a whirlwind for me.   Between crunching down on the end of the semester (and taking quite a load off during winter break), I stopped checking my email, lost most of my writing inspiration, and dove into what I enjoy most; games, anime and reading.  2011 had some amazing experiences for me, but despite everything, it was still probably the worst year I can remember living through, and I’m glad it’s over.
I don’t know what 2012 holds.  Right now I’m just winging it.  I have one more week of vacation left, and I aim to use it to be a bit more productive.  I want that to mean I’ll finally get back into writing, but I don’t know where to  begin.  I’m itching to write SOMETHING, but there’s nothing in particular I’m inspired to write about at the moment.  We’ll see.

Ramblings: Gundam 00

I was reading a discussion about Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer that actually quickly derailed and turned into a debate regarding SEED and Gundam 00.  In response to the accusation that Strike Freedom is ridiculously overpowered, someone brought up Setsuna and his Gundams.  That’s an incorrect comparison.

I actually agree that Strike Freedom is likely the most overpowered Gundam in the franchise.  That’s why I love it, it’s so dominant over everything.  But this person made a point saying that Strike Freedom was best at ranged combat, while Infinite Justice had the best close quarters combat arsenal, and Akatsuki had the best defense; they were an equal team.  I’m not sure about including Akatsuki, even though it DID have above average defenses, being built to deflect regular beam shots without batting an eye.  But it did still get vaporized after taking a battleship cannon beam to the face, even if it did still manage to block the attack from its intended target.  Anyway, as opposed to this team, the person argued that Setsuna and his mechs were always leaps and bounds ahead of the other Gundams of Celestial Being.  That’s kind of absurd.

Firstly, the Gundams in Celestial Being weren’t overpowered.  The reason they were able to wipe the floor with everyone else for much of the series was because they were far, far more advanced.  The estimation was that they were a decade ahead of current technology.  That’s not overpowered, that’s just being prepared.  Would you call an F-22 Raptor overpowered for being able to shoot down an F-4 Phantom with ease?  Because that’s why the Exia and company were curbstomping everyone in their path until the other guys finally managed to catch up in technology; and only by copying Celestial Being’s tech.

And Setsuna was no better than the rest of his team.  In fact, they did the whole “role” thing better than any instance in SEED.  Exia was a close quarters unit, bristling with beam sabers and swords and daggers, with only a small beam rifle to call upon for ranged combat.  Kyrios was the fast interceptor, able to transform into a fighter, and armed with light but versatile weaponry like an automatic rifle.  Virtue was the heavy artillery Gundam, fairly slow but with the best defenses and the most powerful weaponry, including a two handed beam bazooka.  And Dynames was long range support, ineffective in close combat, but a lethal presence at range with its sniper rifle.  None of them, Exia included, was any more “powerful” than the other.

This mechanic continued into the second season as the new line of Gundams rolled out.  Yes, 00 Gundam was literally more powerful than its cohorts, exponentially more powerful.  But they talk about that.  It’s because 00 has two GN Drives, as opposed to one.  And the system was imperfect, and unstable.  It was only until 00-Riser came into being that 00 actually delivered on its potential as the ultimate mech, and probably the most powerful in the series.  And even then, though it has its moments of overpowering dominance, 00-Riser is not an invincible mech.

Editorial: The "hardcore" gamer

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of murmurs about what it means to be a “hardcore” gamer, and really just a gamer in general.  I find such discussions annoying.  Why contemplate on something so trivial?

I play a very wide range of games, and I play them very frequently and in earnest.  I have the single highest trophy level of all my PSN friends, and I was at Gamestop at 12 am on October 18th, even though I had important things to do the following day.

I guess other people label me a gamer.  And probably a hardcore one, at that.  But I do all that because playing games is a primary hobby of mine; because it’s fun.  It’s not like I’m actively working to be recognized as a gamer.  I guess I just think it’s silly to devote much thought to how you should label yourself, and even less so how others should label you.  It’s not much different from the good people out there acting on the idea that young girls typically have fragile self-esteem.

That has a lot to do with interpretation of the words, though; another common topic of discussion.  What is a “gamer”, after all?  I would say it’s quite simply a person who plays games.  But then some ask “does FarmVille count?  The Sims?  What about Wii Sports?”

And then things get even more muddled when you add in “hardcore”.  Who the heck knows what that means?  “Hardcore” could just mean you sit in your room playing Call of Duty all day.  Maybe that is hardcore.

At least with “casual”, the meaning is pretty clear.  If you say you’re a casual gamer, technically it means that you just play games for fun and giggles.  But a reasonable interpretation is that you play games often or that you play games of the lighter, less intensive sort.

But…who cares?

Looking Forward

This has been an exceptional year for gaming.  And it shows in the fact that I really need to scale down my game purchases going into 2012.  This is the first year where the growth of my game library has actually outpaced the amount of time I allocate to playing games.  It’s gotten to the point where I’m buying games, and quite simply not playing them; as is the case with Dark Souls, Tomb Raider Anniversary, Tomb Raider Legend, and Company of Heroes, and Ace Combat Zero.  These are all games that I have not even touched yet–don’t get me started on games that are merely unfinished.  I feel almost irresponsible continuing to buy all these great games even knowing that I won’t have time to play them.

Here’s a list of games I bought or acquired this year.
LittleBigPlanet 2
Dead Space 2
inFamous 2
Tales of the Abyss
Total War: Shogun 2
Ace Combat Zero
Metal Gear Solid 4 (for the second time)
Ace Combat 5
Ace Combat 4
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes
Dark Souls
Persona 4
Batman: Arkham City
Portal 2
Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3
Dirt 3
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
The Witcher 2
Company of Heroes (for the second time)
TES4: Oblivion
Just Cause 2
Tomb Raider: Anniversary
Tomb Raider: Legend

Of those games, 16 (out of the 24) I haven’t finished.  That’s kind of unacceptable.  So I’m really glad that 2012 is looking a lot less exciting, at least to me.  I also bought LA Noire, but promptly returned it.  It’s the first time I’ve done such a thing in probably a decade; never have I been so incredibly disappointed in a game that I truly thought would be great.  Other firsts in 2011: I bought Arkham City from Gamestop.  The last game I remember buying from Gamestop was 007: Agent Under Fire, probably about 10 years ago.

So, here’s a list of games I’m looking forward to.

Playstation 3
Sonic Generations;  I…I took a leap, and decided to go ahead and preorder this.  I grew up with Sonic, and I’ve managed to find some good in almost every game in the series that ever came out (except for Sonic 06).  But even I’ve felt the effects of what is ultimately just poor design.  But Sega looks like for the first time in quite a while, they might have finally gotten it right.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception; I really think this will be a neat game, but I can’t bring myself to buy it brand new for $60.  I’m only in it for the campaign, and that alone does not justify a buy to me.  I’ll wait until it’s cheaper.  Still, it does look amazing.
Skyrim: The Elder Scrolls 5; Chances are it will be a very long time before I get around to even touching this game, but I’m not worried about how good it will be.  I loved Oblivion, and all I see Skyrim as is Oblivion with better graphics and updated mechanics.
Saints Row: The Third; This is one of the last games of 2011 that I’m currently planning to buy at or around its release, but it’s also the one I’m thinking the most about waiting on.  It looks like infinite fun, but lack of offline multiplayer hit me kinda hard.
-Rayman: Origins; All I’m hearing is 4-player platforming co-op.  That’s all I need to hear.  This was going to be a day one buy, but I think I’m going to wait a while on it.
Armored Core 5; It’s true, I’m rather fond of any mech games that manage to make it stateside.  Of course I’ll be keeping a close eye on Armored Core 5, but it wouldn’t have to be revolutionary for me to seriously consider picking it up, because I’m that desperate.
-SSX; One of the few games coming out in 2012 that I’m kind of excited for.  I really love the SSX series.  All EA has to do is announce offline multiplayer, and this will probably be a day one buy.  Too bad they probably won’t.
-Zone of the Enders HD Collection; I never played the original ZoE games, but I heard they were rather dandy.  The announcement of this collection was a very pleasant surprise, and I look forward to picking it up when it releases.
-Final Fantasy Versus XIII; Still waiting, Square-Enix…
-Ghost Recon: Future Soldier; I have to admit, I’m a bit conflicted about this one.  If it turns out to be a hyperrealistic shooter like, say Operation Flashpoint or SOCOM where you take one bullet and die, I’m out.  But it combines a lot things that I really dig.  That is, third person shooting with an emphasis on cover, co-op, and futuristic technology.
-Starhawk; At the moment I’m actually kinda meh about this, but it looks like it could be a quality title, regardless of what I think of it.
-Final Fantasy XIII-2; I’m a bit conflicted about this one.  Unlike so many people, I actually really, really liked Final Fantasy XIII.  But, given how long it took to develop that game, you can understand my skepticism when I found it they were churning out a sequel in just one year.  I know the leftover assets and the fact that a lot of the tech is already developed is a big factor in the reduced development time (which is why FF13-2 doesn’t really look at all better than 13), but a year?  I guess I’m just not used to seeing Square-Enix, of all people, churn out a game so quickly; much less a Final Fantasy game.  Also, I really dislike that they are going to be adding monster recruiting as a gameplay mechanic.  It tends to rub me the wrong way when games have monster recruiting, because it feels like a way to escape the burden of having to add in and flesh out actual characters.  And because the monsters themselves are always so dull and boring to play as.  But by the same token, my interest was piqued when I realized that they would be introducing time travel as a plot element.  I enjoy time travel stories, even though they are rarely done well, without having them turn into confusing messes full of holes.
-Metal Gear Solid Rising; Whatever happened to this game…?  Nobody ever talks about it.  <=/  I thought it looked kind of fun.
-Ni no Kuni; This game looks kind of neat.  A joint venture between Studio Ghibli and Level-5?  Could be great.  But I do worry about the incredible mass of people blinded by the game’s graphics.  Yes, the game looks beautiful, like anything with Ghibli’s hands in it should.  But what about the gameplay?  We’ll see.
-Bioshock Infinite; Though it was kind of a fleeting experience, I really enjoyed Bioshock.  I loved what it brought to the table: a compelling story and incredible setting wrapped around solid FPS and RPG mechanics.  It was just a great game.  And it looks like Infinite looks ready to carry that banner as well.  I’ll tell you what, that nine minute gameplay demo was amazing.
-Final Fantasy X HD; I’ve noticed that every Final Fantasy seems to have a polarizing effect on the fanbase, and 10 was no exception.  I was among those that actually liked 10 quite a bit, but I never finished it.  This ought to be a fine chance to.
Tomb Raider; With the exception of Final Fantasy Versus XIII (which may or may not come out next year), this is the only game I can say even now that I will probably be buying day one.  SSX I’m interested in, but I might not buy it if they don’t include offline multiplayer.  I think Crystal Dynamics would have to really mess things up for me to not end up picking this up when it releases.  I just have a really good feeling about it.
-Assassin’s Creed: Revelations; I actually haven’t been paying much attention to this game, but I feel almost obligated to buy it, because of how much I’ve fallen in love with the series since I discovered AC2 what feels like a million years ago.

Mass Effect 3;  Even though I really loved Mass Effect 2 (it did earn the first 10 on this blog, after all), for some reason I just can’t get hyped for ME3.  I think it has to do with the way EA has essentially turned the game into a juggernaut pawn to further its other ventures, like Origin and online passes.  It’s kind of tragic.
-Guild Wars 2; Still waiting, NCSoft…

Kirby’s Return to Dreamland;  You know, a couple years ago I would have been endlessly excited about this game.  It would have been a day one buy, and I would have loved it to bits.  But now…I’m kind of tired.  Tired of Nintendo.  Tired of the Wii.  And…almost tired of Kirby.  Almost.
-The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword; Everything I just said in the previous entry be damned, I probably would have bought this game, if Nintendo hadn’t decided to use it force motion controls down my throat.  I don’t care how intuitive the gesture is, if I have to do it everytime I want to do something as simple as make a sword strike, I’m out.  I’m fine with making it an option and all, but basing the entire game around motion controls…it’s like they’re giving us an ultimatum, or something.  “Buy Motion Plus and love it, or get out.”
There’s a reason every game with motion controls have an option to play with the traditional way, and a reason why those that are built around motion controls keep it simple and small in scope.  Sorry Nintendo, but what you are doing to this game is unacceptable in my eyes.  Which is tragic, because everything about the game looks amazing.

Impressions: Ace Combat Assault Horizon

I’ve been a fan of the Ace Combat series since I first laid eyes on the fourth entry, Shattered Skies.  Though I’ve only played that, The Unsung War and Zero, I feel an intense fondness for this franchise and its many charms.  Due to not owning an Xbox 360, I missed out on Ace Combat 6, unfortunately.  So you can imagine I was ecstatic when Namco first showed a trailer for Assault Horizon, which would be on PS3 too.

Unfortunately, this entry is radically different from its predecessors.  Namco has changed or even outright removed some things, in an attempt to modernize the series and capture a wider audience.  One result of this is immediately apparent.  Ace Combat: Assault Horizon takes place in the real world.  One of the hallmarks of the series (and one that I found extremely appealing) was the fictional yet realistic setting Project Aces drew up for each installment.  Though there were clear parallels drawn from real life—Yuktobonia (AC5) and Emmeria (AC6) being stand-out examples—the stories woven within this fictional dimension felt fresh.  As we glimpse a soldier checking Twitter on his smartphone before boarding a helicopter in opening moments of the debut trailer however, it’s made clear that we’re “back in Kansas”, so to speak.  Now the story apparently follows NATO (read: America) as they fight against insurgents in Africa, only to find that they are receiving aid from a group of Russians.

In a move that I still don’t understand, Namco has also added helicopter and bomber gameplay; a first for the series.  There hasn’t been much word on bombing missions, but helicopter gameplay is intended to have a slower, more deliberate pace, as opposed to the high adrenaline Namco is trying to inject into the jet gameplay.  Naturally, I’ve had misgivings about the game ever since.  The game releases on October 11th, but just this past Tuesday, Namco released a demo for the game, including the tutorial missions for fighter and helicopter gameplay.

Namco wanted to make jet combat a more visceral, exciting affair, so they shook up the gameplay, too.  The most notable addition is Close Range Assault, which you’ll see plenty of in the trailers (or CRA, for short).  Basically, it’s an upgraded version of the simple lock-on.  You get close enough to a targeted enemy, and you can press both triggers (like you would for auto-pilot) to activate CRA, which basically turns the game into a chase scene.  The camera zooms in and dynamically changes angles to highlight the weapon you’re using;  the game mostly flies your plane for you, following your target closely and only really leaving with enough manual flying capability to aim your gun and accelerate/decelerate.  In CRA mode, a circle appears on your UI, getting larger the closer you are to the enemy plane.  If you can if you can keep the enemy plane within that circle (AC veterans, think SAAMs), a meter charges up that, when full allows you to fire a missile with super heightened tracking ability.  We’re talking 90 degree angles on the dime.  You can try to tear the target up with your gun (which by the way has been nerfed quite a bit due to its new lack of accuracy), but really, CRA is about getting that meter full, loosing off a missile, rinsing, and repeating.  The game will even frequently give you a close up of the downed planes as they spin through the air, losing part after part along the way, Burnout-style.

Enemies can also initiate CRA on you, where a circle appears on your UI, that you definitely want to avoid.  If you feel like taking a risk though, you can slow up, which will make it extremely easy for the enemy to target you, but also—if you get close enough—allow you to do a crazy backwards somersault that flips the tables, landing you behind your ex-predator and putting you into CRA.

Though this sounds like a rant somewhat, Close Range Assault is actually a pretty novel feature, and it certainly does a lot to alleviate the concerns some people had that the games were boring because you rarely got to get a look at the targets you splashed.

While I don’t have a problem with Close Range Assault, I do have a problem with the way it’s executed.  It’s not just encouraged, like the vibe you get from the trailers and Namco’s statements about the game; you HAVE to use it.  Now enemies apparently come in squads led by leaders.  Leaders CANNOT be taken down through normal means, believe me I tried.  I pumped 5 missiles into one, and he was still flying perfectly fine.  Go into CRA on him, and it only takes two, like normal.  Normal enemies can be shot of the air however you please, but the game forces you to use Close Range Assault on squad leaders.  Furthermore, outside of CRA your weapons feel nerfed.  Missiles have even worse tracking ability than they normally do, and your gun is almost a waste of time.  Furthermore, the controls are sluggish, such to the point that it almost feels like a chore to keep up with enemies, even in the Raptor you are given in the demo, which has always been one of the best planes in the game, statistically speaking.

The game’s graphics are also sort of a mixed bag, all things considered.  The plane models are great, but Namco doesn’t get points for that because they’ve always looked pretty good.  Some explosions are better than others, but the effects I’ve seen so far (namely flames) are very bland.  The ground looks a lot better than it used to, with actual buildings that you can fly in-between, and the demo’s lower altitude dofighting allows one to realize that this is the first game in the series that really nails that sense of speed.  When you’re hitting the after burners and seeing subtle depth of field and motion blur come into play as you zoom past the ground, you know you’re going fast.

Namco’s really shaking things up this time, and I’m not sure I like it.  They’ve made some things, like the guns and setting more realistic, but they also threw more sorcery into the mix, including regenerating health and missiles that go from barely qualifying as being self-guided to being monsters that hunt targets with ferocity nobody knew they had.  Right now, Close Range Assault makes the game laughably easy, such to the point that I feel really bad using it (like that crazy guidance system in HAWX).  But granted, this is apparently the tutorial mission, and as such the enemy AI was probably too stupid to counter it or even really fire at me at all.  I don’t want to judge the game too harshly, because I don’t think this demo portrays a picture perfect image of it.  Even within this real-world setting, there’s still the possibility that Namco’s got a good story to tell us, and that later missions will more fun.  Even now, just thinking about the demo makes me really enticed to go another round, because it it’s so exciting in concept.  But every time, the gameplay takes some wind out of my sails, all the same.

The Nitty Gritty 
(details that might not be meaningful to newcomers, but those who’ve played AC before might want to know):
-In the demo, the Raptor comes equipped with 4AAM special weapons, effective at about 10,000ft.  It seems to be a new version of the XMAAs, though with shorter range.
-Weapons that can lock onto multiple targets at once can now lock onto the same target multiple times.  So, if you have only three targets on hand and you’re aiming the 4AAM, you’ll just end up firing two missiles at once target.  I think this is incredibly lame.
-Health regenerates.  Very slowly albeit, but it regenerates.  There is no health meter, apparently.  Instead the game will tell you how damaged you are, going from Heavy to Light damage as you regenerate.
-There were no squad commands in the demo.  That’s not to say they won’t be in the full game, however.
-The gun now has a more realistic firing arc, shortening its range noticeably and making it much harder to use.
-Enemies regenerate as well.
-Though you don’t get as high a stock of weapons as in Ace Combat 6, it’s still many more than you get in the PS2 games.
-The expand map and missile/special weapon toggle buttons have been swapped.  Now Select/Back expands the minimap, and Square/X toggles your weapons.
-The two schemes have been renamed, but you can still choose between bank-to-turn flying and full barrel-rolling ability.  There’s also a new option for beginners that provides automated assistance such as automatically leveling your plane to prevent crashes.
-Oddly, there is no sonic boom visual effect.
-The afterburners work a little differently.  Now, they only start up at certain speed thresholds, as opposed to activating them simply by holding down R1/Right Bumper all the way.  A small “AB” indicator also shows up beside the speedometer.
-The 3rd person view is zoomed in further than normal.
-Now, going out of bounds instantly fails you, instead of giving you a momentary chance to get back within the mission area.
-Auto-Pilot is back, and you can still use it to level your plane.
-I didn’t talk about the other view too much because I rarely use them; I like the 3rd person view.  The cockpit view is much improved, though according those who played AC6 that one had a more realistic cockpit.
-Planes accelerate much faster than before.  The F-22, at least.
-Flares are introduced.  Enemies will use them frequently, and you have them too, though I still haven’t figured out how they’re used.
Note: I didn’t write about the heli portion because I didn’t play the heli portion, and I might not ever.

Hand’s On: Nexus S

So recently I switched to an unlocked Nexus S as my cell phone of choice. It’s my first time dabbling in the field of unlocked phones, and things are going pretty well so far. The Nexus S definitely provides a different experience from other phones I’ve had, so I thought I’d write up a post on it.
In simple words, the Nexus S is the closest an Android enthusiast is going to get to having an iPhone 4-like experience. The two are similar in many ways. Aside from hardware bullet points like a gorgeous screen, dual cameras, internal storage and a 1Ghz processor (more on all of this in a bit), they’re both currently the flagship devices for their OS’s.
As both an unlocked phone and Google’s flagship, the Nexus S ships with a completely vanilla version of Android 2.3. That means no skins or overlays—i.e. the Sense UI you see on HTC phones, or TouchWiz on Samsung phones—and no carrier provided apps; like the iPhone. Unlike the iPhone however, it also means shockingly few apps to start with at all. Having come from an HTC Shift 4G (and an HTC Aria before that), I had come to take for granted some of the features Sense provided, with the assumption that it was just “re-arranging” standard Android features. Nope! Gone were my Scenes, gone was my ability to sort contacts into groups, gone was Friend Stream, and gone was extra extra bit of customizability with sound profiles. Even the simplest bits of functionality that HTC provided, like a reliable flashlight app or a simple stopwatch were nowhere to be seen on the newly unboxed and unwrapped Nexus S sitting in my hand. I was a little astonished.
But mind you, I’m not really complaining. What I’m driving at here is that vanilla Android offers a different experience from versions that have overlays and skins plastered over them; one that you are expected to build from the ground up by yourself, for yourself. Once I got over my initial surprise, as a tech enthusiast I was unperturbed—and even a bit impressed—by this. But it’s something to keep in mind. So off to the Android Market I went, for once to do some actual shopping, and not just browse idly.
And Android 2.3 is worth getting to know. It’s a slick and lean-feeling OS. It comes with a built in app manager that you can use to observe running processes and cut ones that get too bloated. Unlike in earlier versions of Android however, very rarely do I ever feel the need to implement a task manager, as I seem to get a respectable amount of battery life without one. Android 2.3 also comes with built-in hotspot and tethering functionality—alongside the regular slew of wireless communications options like VPN, Airplane mode, Bluetooth and Wifi—so you can use that freely if you happen to have a mobile data plan associated with the SIM card you stick in your phone. As an unlocked phone, the Nexus S also has useful options regarding mobile data networks, ensuring you’re able to text and surf the web reliably. Little usability touches like the app library animation and the screen lock mimicking the look of an old TV turning off go a fair way in making both the OS and phone running it a joy to use.
Though as of this writing the Nexus S is getting on in age in the veritable arms race that is the mobile industry, it’s still a very capable phone hardware-wise, and it shows in its performance. The device is pure black, save the chrome-rimmed camera lens, flash LED, and gray engravings on the back for Google and Samsung (the latter of which manufactured the phone). There are no sharp angles to be found on this phone; it has a very rounded shape, from the soft edges and corners to the inwardly curved screen, dubbed the Contour Display. I guess the curve is supposed to make watching movies more awesome. Personally, I don’t think that’s really case, but it’s a cool and unique touch nonetheless. On the right side there’s a small but very easy to use power/screen wake/unlock button, on the left a large and similarly comfy volume rocker. Meanwhile, the bottom edge is occupied by a micro-USB slot, the mic hole, and the 3.5mm headphone jack—incidentally, the phone came with a luxurious-looking set of in-ear earbuds, though I’m having trouble using them to good effect.
Unfortunately there’s no notification LED to be found on the Nexus S. It was surprisingly useful feature on my HTC phones of past, telling me at a glance when I had a new email or text. While I do miss it, I certainly get on fine without it.
Inside, the Nexus S is packing the standard smartphone stuff like WiFi, Bluetooth, but throws in a surprise or two in the form of a 16GB helping of internal flash storage (a la iPhone), and an NFC chip (attached to the inside of the back cover). For those of you who don’t know, NFC—otherwise known as Near Field Communications—is a form of close range, extremely low power wireless communication that is currently all the rage in Japan. Capable of dealing in small amounts of data, NFC works in a couple different ways to make certain actions less mundane. To give some examples of it, you could wave your phone near a cash register to instantly check out and be on with your business, or hold it near a receptacle to receive a coupon on your phone. To my knowledge it hasn’t really caught on at all in the US yet, but it’s a pleasant addition nonetheless.
I know some people really like having expandable storage via microSD cards, but 16GB is way more than I ever had on my other phones, since I never wanted to put down cash for an expensive storage card. I actually like having the internal storage; it simplifies things.
As mentioned before, the Nexus S also comes with a 1GHz processor. Furthermore, it comes packing 1GB of RAM. By today’s standards that’s by no means makes it a blazing stallion, but this is the smoothest Android experience I’ve ever had. The Nexus S is easily the first phone I can safely say equals the iPhone 4 in sheer smoothness of the user experience. Everything just works, and the extra hardware helps make navigating the phone fun and intuitive.
The Nexus S also has one of the best cameras I’ve seen on a phone. I’m no photography aficionado, nor have I tested out dozens of phones or cameras in my time, so I guess my opinion doesn’t count for much; I’m just saying that the pictures that come out of this phone’s 5MP back lens come out surprisingly clear and vibrant. The tracking is smooth too; more so than most phones, but not quite up there with the iPhone 4 or even the iPod Touch. The front facing camera is as good as you’d expect a front-facing camera to be—that is, not very good. But it’s there, and it’s a pleasant addition. The Nexus S’s camera is interesting to me in that it does not autofocus until you press the capture button. All cameras I’ve used before, you would get your picture ready, try to steady the lens, and then the phone would automatically autofocus, something that you would wait a bit for before taking the shot. Here, pressing the capture button begins the focusing process, and then the phone takes the shot automatically when it’s done. The camera software comes with an acceptable number of photo taking options, including exposure level, quality (and resulting file size), and a couple of filters. I would like to give special note to the included image gallery software, which is pretty rad. It reminds me a lot of the photo gallery app on the PS3; flashy, but functional.
Call quality on the Nexus S seems to be pretty good. I didn’t run any tests whatsoever, but I’ve not had a single person ask me to repeat what I said or say they’re having trouble hearing me in the 3 months or so that I’ve had the phone so far. I would like to say that the ambient light sensor on this thing is probably the most effective one I’ve ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with. The screen shuts on and off with perfect timing when I hold it up to my face, and it adjusts its own brightness automatically just as well as any Apple product.
Being mostly plastic, the phone may feel surprisingly light and cheap to some people. I can understand that complaint, especially coming from an Evo Shift, which was a pretty bulky, heavy phone for all its bells and whistles. Personally, I think the Nexus S’s sleek piano black finish and elegant curves make up for the materials it’s composed of.
The Nexus S is probably the best phone I’ve ever had, to be frank. There were a couple trade-offs coming from my Evo Shift 4G—mainly a physical keyboard and HTC Sense—but for a phone as smooth (both in operation and design) as this, I think whatever misgivings I might have are far outweighed.

Thoughts on the PSN Debacle.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two months, you’ve likely heard a thing or two about the PlayStation Network outage.   The PlayStation Network is a group of services used primarily in conjunction with the PlayStation 3.  Services include online play, social networking, and access to the PlayStation Store, an online marketplace for a variety of digital content, such as movies and games.  In other words, it’s very similar to Xbox Live.  In late April (the 19th, I believe), Sony took the network down unexpectedly.  Customers wondered what was going on, until a few days later, Sony informed customers that the network had been hacked, and that the culprit(s) had made off with personal information from all 70+ million PSN accounts.  By personal information, they meant PSN login credentials (email and password), billing information such as address and full name, birthday, and credit card number.
When this was revealed, the incident ballooned into quite a fiasco.  Such a huge case of identity theft (we’re talking dozens of millions of people here) attracted not only the attention of a legion of journalists, both inside and outside of the industry, but also governments; Congress, FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security all got involved, as did the Japanese and UK governments.  To say it was a PR disaster for Sony might be an understatement, and overall it will remain a significant blow to the PlayStation brand in general, like the Xbox 360 will always have that nagging stigma that came with the console’s notoriously low reliability, exemplified by the Red Ring of Death and E74 errors.  To throw salt in the wound, soon after, Sony Online Entertainment (SOE), who handles online games like Everquest and DC Universe Online, announced that they two had been hacked, bringing the total number of pilfered accounts up to over 100 million.
The point of this post is to address a couple things I’ve been hearing people spout.  It’s not about whether I support Sony or not, it’s about keeping certain things in perspective.  First, some background.  I will admit right now that I am probably a little biased for Sony, simply because the incident had minimal negative effect on me.  I also never really made extensive use of PSN.  I don’t play online often or do a lot of messaging or chat, and as neat as I think it is, I almost never use Home.  The only services I use are Trophies and the PlayStation Store, the latter of which I visited regularly to get new content.  Now, there are four things that seem to be a point of contention for people:
1.     Sony allowed themselves to be hacked.
2.     They waited as long as they did to tell people they had been hacked.
3.     Sony being hacked has compromised their information, forcing consumers to take extra steps on their own to protect themselves.
4.     The outage has resulted in people being unable to use services that they are subscribed to and possibly paying for.
I’ll tackle number one first, which will be easy.  Anyone who is truly angry about this does not understand the age we live in.  Sony could have had the most complex, the most sophisticated, and the most cutting edge security on the planet.  If someone with sufficient motivation and skill had wanted to hack them, they could and would have.  Such is the nature of everything man-made in this world.  If human hands can build it, human hands can destroy it.  It’s still their responsibility to make the utmost effort to protect user data—and some would argue they didn’t, but that’s an argument for another day—but things like this are never outside the realm of possibility.  As I’ve said to others: “Shit happens.”
I’ll next discuss the third one, as that’s the one I believe people have really blown out of proportion.  First of all, most of the aforementioned information hackers stole is really not all that private.  Just because you don’t necessarily walk down the street trumpeting it to the world doesn’t mean it’s private.  It would not have taken hacking PSN for someone of the hacker(s) skills to piece together your birthday, address, and name.  And your login credentials can—and must, as mandated by the 3.61 firmware update for PS3—be changed.  The only lingering concern is for those who have a tendency to use the same password for multiple things; it’s foolhardy, but I’m very guilty of it as well.  So then change them, too.  If you’re so concerned about your information, it shouldn’t be a big deal, as periodically changing your password (especially for important accounts) is a good security precaution anyway.
The biggie is of course the credit card information.  But why?  Is it because it’s forcing you to check your charge history more frequently?  People should be doing that anyway.  Of course, the other option is to have your card re-issued.  But for many that would be quite a lot of trouble.  Having a card replaced brings to your attention just how many accounts are set to draw money from it to pay bills, through a flood of mail and email.  So you just keep an eye on your statements, as—like I just said—you should be doing anyway.  And if a charge appears there that you didn’t make, you call the bank, and they fix it.  The banks are aware of the incident, and are presumably more understanding and vigilant because of it.  So in short, stop whining about your information being stolen.  If you know at all how to be responsible with a credit/debit card, it shouldn’t impact you financially in any way.  Of course I recognize that this is a vast generalization, and there are exceptions out there, but this really shouldn’t be as big an issue as people are making it out to be.
Now returning to issue number two.  I don’t have much to say, as it’s actually one of the more valid ones on the list.  Sony says they communicated much faster most companies typically do.  They may or may not be right; I don’t care enough to research into it.  However, what I’m willing to believe is the post made on PlayStation Blog that claims that knowing that there’s been an intrusion, and knowing that someone stole something, are two very different things.  It’s like if you came home to your house and realized the lock had been picked/destroyed/etc. and immediately surmise that the burglar made off with the jewelry hidden in your closet, before you even open the door.  Chances are they did, but shouldn’t you make sure before you cry wolf?  You’re not going to know for sure everything that may or may not have been taken until you take an inventory.  Is the situation so dissimilar in Sony’s case?  Even if they had informed us of the possibility on the 19th, how would they have worded it?  “You’re information may have been stolen”?  In every other message you get from big companies, ‘may’ almost always immediately interpreted as a soft way of saying ‘has’; how many people would have seen it differently.  The way I see it, all Sony did was try to prevent panic.  I can still see how people might have taken issue with this, but personally I didn’t bother me.
Number four is also valid, but only depending on what services people are referring to.  PSN by itself is free.  I don’t pay a dime to use it, and thus I’m not being financially slighted by its outage.  Now, there are premium services available on PSN.  Netflix, Hulu, and PlayStation Plus are all examples of such.  If you use those services, then you have a right to be pissed, because you’re not able to use something that you paid for, regardless of who’s fault it is.  I don’t know about the other stuff, but I pay for PlayStation Plus, and Sony’s compensating me—and every other PS+ subscriber—with an extra 60 days tacked onto my service; more than double the time that the network was down.
All that aside, I think Sony’s done a fair job apologizing.  Their so-called “Welcome Back” package is robust; more so than I expected it to be.  For sitting tight, at the bare minimum, you’ll be getting a month of PS+, two free PS3 games out of a list of five quality offerings (inFamous and LBP among them), two free PSP games, 100 free Home items, and some free movie rentals.  If you’re already a PS+ subscriber, as I mentioned before, that single month turns into two.  And I’ve read that Sony’s also offering a year of identity protection to users. 
If you ask me, most PlayStation gamers are set.  Why don’t you just forgive them?  I understand if people are hesitant or unwilling to trust PSN with their card information again; I myself might be looking into prepaid cards in the future, just to be safe.  But there’s no reason to turn your back on Sony and PlayStation.
Anyway, what truly concerns me is how this has and will continue to affect developers and publishers.  They stand to lose more from this than any of those whiny consumers.  The fall of PlayStation Store in particular will have completely halted revenue for developers like Q-Games, who have put their faith in the PSN and made quality exclusive titles.  Even Housemarque, who has an excellent track record on PSN—they made Super Stardust HD and Dead Nation, both of which will be free options as part of the Customer Appreciation package—and was supposed to release their new game Outland on the PS Store a week or so ago.  They would have been totally out of luck if they hadn’t also decided to go multiplatform with this title.
And digital distribution isn’t the only sector that’s been wounded.  Lack of online play in particular will have hurt retail sales, especially of new games like Brink, Mortal Kombat, and Portal 2, all of which had a host of online features (particularly Brink) for players to look forward to.
Sales will continue to be slow, as consumers remain hesitant to use their credit cards, adjust to alternative payment methods, and/or are simply slow to return to their PS3s.  Speaking long term, if Sony doesn’t do something for compensation or goodwill, this incident could hurt developer and publisher trust, which could mean fewer exclusives, or worse PS3 versions of multiplatform games.  Fortunately, PlayStation is a little more resilient to this than Xbox or Nintendo would be, as Sony has a camp of first party studios and series that will continue to do their part to hold the brand up.
In conclusion, I think it just irks me how little some people have thought about what really matters here.  And I’ll tell them it’s not the week or so they were unable to kill each other online.

Been Busy.

As the title says…I’ve been incredibly busy this year.  Hence the dramatically lower post frequency.  Even in my free time, I’ve been less inspired to write.  Which really sucks.  I’m gonna continue to post, for sure, but for the foreseeable future I don’t see myself matching the totals made in the previous years.

Anyway, let’s take a look at everything on the list.

  • Yakuza 3- The reason why this game has a maybe tacked on is because I’m actually wondering if it might be beyond my ability to give it a proper review.  This is just such a multifaceted game, I’m still pondering what angle would be best to tackle it from, if I were to write about it.  But the bottom line is, it’s an excellent game.
  • Dead Space 2- I don’t like to make promises of this sort, but this will most likely be the next review I post, unless I hit a breakthrough with Yakuza 3.  It’s a very good game, and overall a complete package.  I’m enjoying every second of it.  Extraction only sweetens the pot.
  • The Sims 3– A review of this is forthcoming, I think..I just don’t know when.  The deal is, my experience with the Sims franchise has always had more to do with the architectural and interior design aspects.  When I first got the Sims 2 oh so many years ago, sure I dabbled in the family business for a good while, but quickly abandoned it in favor of building lots.  But what with the additions in the Sims 3, it’s been the opposite.  While the new building modes look very promising, I’ve actually settled into nurturing a Sim of my own.  But I recently learned that you can seemingly build entirely neighborhoods with the Beta Create-A-World Tool for the Sims 3, so…yeah.  Sorry, my beloved Sim!  I want to explore both aspects of the game thoroughly before I settle down and score the game, but as anyone who’s played these games know, no matter how you play the Sims, it’s a big time investment.  And I just don’t have that kind of time on my hands these days..so the review is delayed indefinitely.
  • Pokemon: An Intermediate Overview– Hoo boy, I don’t know when I’m gonna get around to this.  My HeartGold playthrough has ground to a halt ever since I decided to completely rebuild my team from the ground up and EV train them (as in, from level 1) mid-game.  It’s an ambitious task, but I’m determined to see it through.
  • AC Brotherhood (multiplayer)– The chances of me actually posting this are slim, as I don’t expect to return to Brotherhood’s multiplayer until I decide to platinum the game.  And I don’t even know if I’ll get around to doing that.
  • Sly Collection– I’m still undecided on how to format it, but a review is definitely coming.  How it’s been lately is every few weeks I’ll sit down and spend a few hours to completely blow through an episode of Sly 2.  Seeing as I’d like to wait until I’m at least a good way into Sly 3 before I sit down and write a review, maybe I’ll have this up by fall time, at the rate I’m going!
  • Dead Space Extraction– Not sure if I’m going to write a post on this.  But it’s a great game.  If you have a PS Move, buy it.
  • Genji: Days of the Blade– No, I’m not going to write a post on this..probably.  I’m only playing it because a friend claimed I couldn’t get past the first level, because it is poorly designed.
  • Revenge of the Titans!– This game’s got charm, but man it’s difficult!  I like me some TD though, so I’ll get through it eventually.  I don’t think I’m gonna do a post on it though.
  • Quarttet!– This is my very first visual novel.  Well, sorta.  I got a couple hours into Fate/Stay Night (just a little bit past the prologue), before my progress just kinda dropped off.  At some point my save file disappeared, too.  I’ll get back to it some day, because I think it’s a really cool game.  Quarttet, however, is amazingly charming.  I like it a lot.  I haven’t finished it yet, though.
  • LittleBigPlanet 2– The truth is, the same thing has happened to me on LBP 2 that happened on the first LBP.  I started a level..and being honest with myself, I’m not sure I’m gonna finish it.
  • Split/Second– As I hope I made clear in my review, I like this game, it’s pretty dang fun.  I’m debating whether I’m gonna buy it or not.  At $20-30 it’s a good buy.


  • Amagami SS– Just finished this a couple weeks ago.  Very good show, if it comes here on DVD and/or Blu-ray, I might just pick it up.
  • Karas– A short six-episode stint, Karas is unique, but didn’t resonate with me.
  • Corpse Princess– I don’t know what it is about this series that I enjoy, but I’ve fought doggedly to continue obtaining episodes after the fansubs disappeared.  Now that I’ve gotten the entire series, I plan to watch it all in the coming weeks.
  • Arakawa Under the Bridge– I wasn’t expecting much from the show, and indeed at first it was pretty bland.  But it had its moments, and got better in later episodes.  I’m looking forward to the second season, which I just finished downloading.
  • Naruto Shippuuden– I’m not really actively watching this.  I’m on episode..33, I think, and grab new ones every so often.

Next up!

  • Working!– Hoping this will provide my regular comedy fix.  Not sure what to expect from it, but the title seems promising at least!
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion– I tried watching this many moons ago, and it completely bored me to death, so I dropped it.  I don’t think I gave it a fair shake though, so I’m watching again.  Than I’ll try the movies and see what all the fuss is about.  With Working! and Seiken no Blacksmith as my wingmen, I’m almost prepared to drag myself through this show, if that’s what it comes to.
  • ToraDora– I watched the first episode of this a long time ago, it was actually quite entertaining, but I never got around to continuing.  Now I am.
  • Seiken no Blacksmith– Been hearing decent things about this series, so I’m starting it up.  Mainly as an addition to ToraDora, to offset NGE’s expected dryness.

So there it is.  I realize it’s also getting to be time for that editorial of mine.  It’s coming.  When, I don’t know.  For now, look forward to my post on Dead Space 2.

Amagami SS

Been a while since I talked about an anime.  Possibly because I don’t watch quite as much as I used to a couple years ago.   Anyway, this time I’m here to talk about Amagami SS.  It’s a romance anime that’s doesn’t stray from the typical in its content, but still manages to feel fresh through its presentation.
Our protagonist is Tachibana Junichi, a high school junior.  After being stood up for a date on Christmas Eve, Junichi’s been hesitant to try again with another girl, for fear of being hurt.  It’s gotten to the point where Christmas time has become a source of depression for him, and he often ducks out of the annual Founder’s Festival, a big event hosted by his school.

Junichi’s a pretty ordinary guy.

Two years later, Junichi has finally decided to give the dating game another shot.  With the self-imposed challenge of getting a date for Christmas Eve, Junichi sets out to get with one of six girls.  However, instead of a single overarching story, the anime remarkably takes the visual novel route, dividing the twenty five episodes up into six arcs (plus one bonus arc at the end), one to represent a “route” for each girl.  After Junichi manages to land a date with a girl on the 4th episode of her arc, the story begins anew, and progresses from a different angle, with a different girl.  This brings me to the first reason why I enjoyed this series quite a bit.  It’s very easy to take in.  Even though, in total it’s a mid-range series in terms of length, each arc is self-contained, meaning you can watch four episodes and then stop.  

Though developing a typical high school romance over the course of a mere four episodes is no small task, the show makes a solid effort, and most of the arcs come to a satisfying conclusion.
The series has two openings, and seven endings; one for each girl, sung by the voice actress for the heroine of the current arc.  The six available heroines are as follows (in the order their arcs go)..

Haruka Morishima

 Possibly one of, if not my favorite characters in the series.  Haruka is a senior, probably viewed as the prettiest girl in the school.  She’s won the Miss Santa contest for a couple years in a row now, and is overall a very popular girl.  Stereotypical on paper, right?  But you don’t need to know Haruka for long to know that she’s an oddball.  Her interests, antics, and general behavior can’t be described as anything but random and amusing.

Haruka’s no slouch in the pretty department

She lords over dogs with surprising skill, and can often be caught peeking in on the girls swim club, not unlike your typical male pervert.  She also whips out gratuitous English with phrases with “WOW”, and “Okie Dokie” regularly.  Haruka is also extremely aggressive with her screentime, even when it’s not her arc; often randomly popping in to say something incredibly silly, or prey on Junichi’s younger sister for being too cute.  The only one able to keep her actions in check is her friend Hibiki, who is usually the one to foil Haruka’s peeking sessions, being the captain of the swim team.

Do want.

 Junichi actually has to confess to her twice (she rejects him the first time) before she starts to see him as more than an acquaintance to do weird things with.  Haruka’s arc is probably one that suffers the most from being limited to only four episodes.  After all, she goes from being “that unreachable popular girl” to being hopelessly in love with him, in a little less than the span of the average feature film.  Haruka’s ED is my 4th favorite.  It’s kind of all over the place, in more ways than one, but it’s very upbeat.  Overall, however, her arc is my second favorite in the series.

Kaoru Tanimachi

 Next we have Kaoru Tanimachi.  Kaoru, Junichi, and Umehara (Junichi’s friend and “partner in crime”, if you will) have been buds for a few years now.  Their friendship is actually pretty infectious, filled with teasing, headlocks, and, in the case of Junichi and Umehara, porn magazines.  Kaoru herself is an independent, fairly strong young woman.  A lot of her actions would even suggest she might even be a tomboy, but I don’t think I’d go quite that far.  After all, you’re not allowed to be a tomboy with hair as stylish as Kaoru’s.

Kaoru’s a big tease.

For the most part, Kaoru’s arc is a “friend turned lover” sort of deal.  Her arc is hurt a little by how typical it is on paper, but I thought it was delivered well enough for this to be overlooked.  And it helps that Kaoru is one foxy lady.  Kaoru’s ED is my 2nd favorite among all the heroines.  Its melancholy tone is instantly touching, and the theme fits in perfectly with her arc’s theme of evaluation; both of herself and her relationship with Junichi.  Her arc ranks as my 4th  favorite overall.

 Sae Nakata

Sae Nakata fills in the role of both the adorable moeblob and the shy underclassman.  She’s a freshman at Junichi’s highschool, and a friend of Miya, his sister.  As Miya puts it, Sae is “big where it counts”.  Despite being a head shorter, she’s got a bust to rival Haruka.  She develops a crush on Junichi when he helps her get lunch.  

I think you can guess what’s going on..

Being the shy girl that she is, Sae normally finds it near impossible to navigate the lunch crowds to get decent pickings.  She has a soft spot for childish things like tokusatsu shows (things like Power Rangers and their Japanese equivalent, Kamen Rider), and cute things in general; she takes a liking to Junichi’s squishy pink coin purse, for example. 

The resident cutie

Sae manages to get into Junichi’s life when, mesmerized by the cute uniforms worn by waitresses in Kaoru’s restaurant, she resolves to try and get a job there.  She’s far too scared to attempt on her own though, so Junichi volunteers to “train” her, to help prepare for the nuances of waitressing.  It’s during this time that her simple crush turns into full on love.  Sae’s arc is easily my least favorite.  Her shyness makes for a lot of awkward moments and unnecessary blushing, something that feels out of place in a story of such short length.  Still, she manages to mature past these typical shortcomings eventually, and the arc comes to a truly cute (if a bit random) conclusion.  Her ED is also my least favorite.  It’s okay, I guess…but the other girls’ ones are much better in comparison.

Ai Nanasaki

 Ai is a freshman like Sae (and in fact, the two acquaintances).  Showing some hostility to Junichi initially for his perverse tendencies, she exhibits some characteristics of a Type A tsundere.  Though quick to perceive his less desirable traits, Ai warms up to Junichi soon enough as she learns more about his various nuances and quirks.  

This is mostly what made her arc enjoyable.  Ai doesn’t even particularly like Junichi at first (as a person, and certainly not as a potential romantic option), but she becomes interested him slowly but surely as she gets to know him better.  It’s not like many other fictional romance stories, where the girl is either already in love with the guy whether she knows it or not, or just magically falls in love with him through one or two significant occurrences.

Don’t make that face, Ai.
There’s actual, genuine development to the story between Ai and Junichi, from start to finish, with both sides.  I guess what I’m saying is that Ai’s arc feels the most realistic.  It’s a close decision whether I like Kaoru or Ai better, both in terms of their stories and end songs.  But Ai just barely edges out victory in both areas, singing the best ED in the series in my opinion, and having the 3rd best arc.
 Rihoko Sakurai
“Wait!  It’s not as bad as it looks.”
Rihoko’s character design (and indeed, that of much of the rest of the cast) already gets kudos for not being unbelievably sexy, like how so many female anime characters are displayed.  However, Rihoko is just plain adorable; sometimes more so than Nakata.  Rihoko loves food, and as a result, is a bit on the chubby side (but not fat, mind you).  She’s also a huge ditz, prone to tripping, oversleeping, and forgetfulness.  She’s a sophomore; one year younger than Junichi.  But she’s known him longer than any of the other girls, fulfilling the role of the childhood friend.  The premise of Rihoko’s story is similar to Kaoru’s: the friend who becomes the lover.  But it’s of a distinctly different flavor.  The most concrete reason behind this is kind of a spoiler, but to say that Rihoko and Kaoru are very different people requiring very different romantic routes should suffice.  Also, while Kaoru and Junichi are purely friends initially, Rihoko has a faint but definite crush on Junichi, and has for some time.
[Insert witty caption here]
Rihoko is a part of the Tea Club, which is currently only composed of herself, and two seniors.  She’s not especially good at making tea, so it’s pretty obvious that she likely only joined for the snacks.  But at the same time she does genuinely care about the club, which will be disbanded if she remains as the only member next year, after the seniors graduate.  To this end, much of her arc is spent with her trying to get Junichi to join the club, which will serve the dual purpose of being able to spend more time with him and saving the club.  The ending to Rihoko’s arc is tragically bittersweet when you think about it; in retrospect hers feels almost more like a story of friendship than romance.  Her ending theme is my 3rd favorite of the bunch, being pretty dang catchy.
Tsukasa Ayatsuji
 I’m gonna go ahead and say it:  Tsukasa’s arc is easily my favorite of the entire bunch, and it’s incredibly fitting that they would save it for last.  You see her plenty often throughout the series, as she’s both the Class Rep and the volunteer organizer for the Founder’s Festival (which is a significant element of the plot).  She portrays the stereotype of that uber-smart, really pro-active student that’s the first to raise their hand in class, and stays after school to do all sorts of extracurricular stuff.  Ayatsuji is respected, and is rarely seen without a smile on her face.
It’s important to note, however, that she’s not without issues.  Being essentially in a league of her own, other students seem to distance themselves from her.  She’s also seen as a stick in the mud by some.  Those are all trivial, however, compared to what we see of her doing her arc, which is easily the most plot-heavy in the series.  What you’ll have seen of Ayatsuji up until the end of the first episode of her story is entirely her “nice” side.  But she has another side, too; one that she suppresses with the utmost care.  And one that completely blindsided me.  
I admit that I wasn’t actually expecting much from her arc, because I couldn’t help but wonder how it could possibly be interesting to watch Junichi somehow wrangle a do-gooder like her.  Well apparently the writers agreed, so in went this curveball.  I probably shouldn’t have even said this much, but then I wouldn’t have much to talk about.  Tsukasa’s is one of three arcs that gets a “true” epilogue, the other two being Haruka and Sae (though the latter’s is questionable).  Really, hers has the most fleshed out story and ending of them all, quite a feat once again considering the four episode limit.
Merry Christmas!
Tsukusa’s arc is followed by one final single episode arc, labeled the “truth” arc.  This will feel familiar to anyone who’s played their share of VNs, or just stories with multiple endings.  Often, the creators put in one ending among them all that is actually the canon one; what really happened.  Same deal here.  Until the final episode, I was content to treat each route as an individual plot taking place in a parallel universe.  The Truth arc, however, strings all the previous arcs together as mere “what-if” scenarios.  I’m not sure how I felt about this, but the nice thing about Amagami SS is that I can simply pretend the Truth arc does not exist. 
Though the content kept me watching, what actually drew me to Amagami SS was the visual style.  Presented in HD, the show looks absolutely terrific.  Through countless battles with my internet connection, I was able to procure both a few episodes in 720p, and one in 1080p.  It was a feast for the eyes.  More eye-catching, however, is the character design.  All of the characters in Amagami SS manage to look very unique from each other, without straying from the realistic.  Bodies are drawn proportionally, and the wide variety of hair styles is actually a little inspiring.  Nothing about the visual design in Amagami SS says “colorful” or “extravagant”, something that can’t be said of so many other anime series.  In short, the show strikes a perfect balance between the reserved and the flashy, resulting in a subtle yet tasteful art style that is nothing short of refreshing. 
It’s ticklin’ time.

Once more, the reason why I truly enjoyed Amagami SS lied in its presentation.  The unique plot format and polished visuals both helped a lot to boost the overall quality of an otherwise conventional romance title.  Amagami SS is a Grade A example of an ordinary design made extraordinary through the sheer power of good execution.

PS:  Now I remember why I don’t do as many anime posts!  Because Blogger’s image formatting options are broken at worst, and restrictive at best.  Really, the formatting in general is busted, but it’s a lot easier to deal with when the article is just text.