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Sony Entertainment rocks E3, declared the winner by the Internet

Editorial

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After Microsoft’s spectacular blunder of a press conference last month, people were already saying that the PlayStation 4 was going to blow away the Xbox One.  And even after Microsoft tried to claw its way back from the hole they dug themselves into, with a decent showing of new games earlier today, Sony took full advantage of their competition’s previous stumble and blasted even further ahead, leaving Microsoft to eat their dust… Gran Turismo style.

And all with just three simple announcements.

1)      PlayStation 4 will play used games with no restrictions.

2)      PlayStation 4 does not have to be online.  Ever.

3)      PlayStation 4 will be $399.99.

It was the first two of these announcements where Microsoft epically opened their mouth and inserted their foot last month.  At today’s conference, they tiptoed around these issues and (smartly) focused on games to try not to raise the ire of the blogosphere.  Sony, on the other hand, while not giving a perfect conference, unveiled the PS4 and ended it with a three punch TKO sending Xbox One to the mat.

The conference started slow, with CEO Jack Tretton pushing the PSVita and PS3. While I appreciate that the PS3 is not being flatlined right away, I found it odd there was no announced price cut for the Vita.  Sony’s handheld is really suffering in sales at the moment, and a price cut would be a push in the right direction.  Also, for a system that has no killer app, the new games announced for it just didn’t excite me, or anyone else in the audience from what I could tell.  Instead, we are told how great Skype looks on Vita.  I don’t want to buy a handheld game system to use Skype.  My phone, laptop, PC, and toaster oven all have Skype on it.  I want killer games. I loved my PSP. I want to love Vita too. Give me a reason to love it, Sony.

After Vita, we were treated to a few fun announcements for PS3.  Puppeteer looks great.  Rain’s design has me intrigued.  And Gran Turismo 6? It’s for PS3, not PS4? Ok. Looks pretty, I suppose.

On to the meat and potatoes of the conference, where we finally got to meet the new Sony Parallelogram… er PS4.  First impressions (other than the parallelogram gag) were it looks kind of like the Xbox One.  It’s a black box.  Maybe the designers of both systems went to the same screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey before they went to the drawing board?  Also did you know the PS4 will play movies, does networking apps, and will do other movie things and blah, blah, blah, blah… SHOW ME GAMES!

Then the clouds parted and a beam of light shined through.  Someone was listening to me.  First out of the gate was what appeared to be a Steampunk infused Zombie/Monster game called The Order 1886.  Just the trailer was shown, not gameplay, but I definitely got a “Left 4 Dead in a Steampunk Victorian Era” vibe from it.  Also, airships.  Airships are cool.  The Order 1886 is part of a reported 20 new Sony IPs to be released within the first year of the PS4’s lifespan.  Some others include Killzone, Driveclub, Infamous, and Knack.

Moving on to the independent scene, Sony smartly announced that indie developers will be able to self-publish their games on PSN. They then proceeded to knock it out of the park showcasing a ton of these smaller titles, each with its own individual quirks and eye catching gimmicks. I will definitely be keeping my eyes on these, in particular Transistor and Mercenary Kings.

Now for third parties, where better to start off than with the current kings of disappointment, Square-Enix.  Director Tetsuya Nomura appears on screen to talk about Final Fantasy Versus 13, yet again.  How many years has it been since they announced this?  I mean seriously, Square.  Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.  Fool me three times… wow, that game looks amazing.  Is that actual game play footage?  Holy shit, is that Leviathan!?  No, no, no, there is no way it’s going to be this good.  It’s too good to be true.  Wait, what?! It’s not Final Fantasy Versus 13 anymore?  It’s Final Fantasy 15?!

Ahem.  Sorry about that.  Slight geek-out.  I promise it won’t happen again– Holy shit, Kingdom Hearts 3?!

And that’s when I blacked out for a few minutes.  I have been a die-hard Final Fantasy fan since I began gaming as a wee little Daniel, but it’s no secret Square’s recent endeavors have left me cold.  These trailers awakened my sleeping inner Square fan and made me feel all tingly and strange, as I’m sure it did to many of my fellow disenchanted FF franchise lovers.

After this, things were kind of a euphoric blur.  There was something about Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dog, and Mad Max I think.   All very exciting, especially Watch Dog.  Then Jack Tretton returned to the stage with his “Eat it, Microsoft” speech.  PS4 will have no DRM and fully supports used and rent/lent games.  The PS4 does not have to be online at all in order to work properly.  There was one minor hiccup, where it was implied that you would have to subscribe to PlayStation Plus to play multi-player games online, but I think we can forgive that.  Besides, Microsoft has done that from day one on the Xbox360, but still, it’s a small step backwards for Sony.

The speech was followed by a long-ish demo detour through Bungie’s new game, Destiny, and then they announced the PS4 price. $399.99. And internet exploded. It was the final KO punch of E3, with Sony knocking Microsoft (who had earlier announced an Xbox One price of $499.99) down for the count.

And that was it.  The execs dropped the mic and left the stage.  Sony was declared the winner of E3 by… pretty much everyone.

But wait… hey guys come back. You didn’t say when the system was coming out?  Later this year, but when exactly?  Guys?  Hey guys?

Oh well, I’m sure we will find that out soon enough.

So, fellow otaku and gamers, what do you think?  Decisive win for Sony?  Or is it still up in the air?  Let us know.  Anime Diet wants to hear your impressions so far.

 

Daniel is also very excited about the announced sequel to Mirror’s Edge, but since it wasn’t part of the Sony Press conference there was nowhere to mention it.

Blu-ray Review: Onigamiden (Legend of the Millennium Dragon)

Legend of the Millennium Dragon (Onigamiden)
Dir. Hirotsugu Kawasaki (Spriggan, Naruto)
Produced by Studio Pierrot
Released by Sony Pictures, 2011. 98 minutes.
SRP $45.99. Buy from Amazon!

Onigamiden—known in English as Legend of the Millennium Dragon—is Studio Pierrot’s attempt to make a movie that isn’t Naruto and Bleach. (Considering that Pierrot is the studio behind such powerhouse franchises, and has produced dozens of notable anime over the past few decades including Urusei Yatsura, Kimagure Orange Road, and Fushigi Yugi just to name a few, it gets little love from fans compared to SHAFT, Madhouse, Gainax, or Ghibli.) The story is adapted from a two volume novel Takafumi Takada, and is trying to branch out into more historically grounded material and themes. There are times when both the look and the themes of the movie resemble Princess Mononoke more than a shounen action franchise.

Unfortunately, Onigamiden doesn’t come close to the sensitivity and nuance of the best Ghibli movies, and its exquisite background work and fluid battle animation both literally and metaphorically can’t hide the relative flatness of the people in front. For a film that clearly had a large budget and opportunities for originality, it feels workmanlike at best in its plotting and characterization.

SUMMARY

In Heian-period Japan, the nobles are battling a constant invasion of monstrous oni into their city. Their leader, Gen’un, uses his powers to summon a modern middle school boy, Jun, to their time to be their Savior from the oni. Jun has the power to control a mighty dragon, Orochi, and it is up to him whether he will take on the mantle of being Orochi’s master.

PACKAGING/EXTRAS

I reviewed the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack. Both discs come in the standard Blu-ray translucent box, with each disc on the inside of the front and back covers respectively. There are no inserts of any kind, not even of the chapters of the film.

The only extra offered on the Blu-ray is a still gallery of concept art from the film. It showcases just how much detail went into the backgrounds, and is beautiful in its own right. The BD Live simply provided links to other Sony Pictures productions and offered nothing specific to the film. The DVD had no extras.

The lack of extras represents a missed opportunity: perhaps some words from the staff about the project’s background, an overview of the Heian period of Japanese history, and an explanation of the film’s mythological background would have been appreciated. The film assumes some knowledge of both Japanese history and traditional mythology, something not all Western audiences will have—and this is clearly targeted for a more mainstream release than many anime.

AUDIO/VIDEO

I reviewed the Blu-ray on a Playstation 3 in 720p. The video quality is consistently excellent. Lines are sharp and well-defined, colors are rich (particularly in the backgrounds), and there was no noticeable motion blur, even during the intense battle sequences. The subtitles were readable at all times. The visual quality of this disc is excellent.

As for the audio, the voices were clear and distinct and the mix between the music and dialogue was balanced. As I do not have a surround sound setup, I was unable to test the 5.1 channel mix.

CONTENT

Anime is a visual medium, which means that the way a story is told visually is just as important as its more literary characteristics (plot, character, setting, etc.). Ideally, the visuals should do the work of the storytelling in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a more verbal or written form. There have been anime whose stories were not necessarily the most comprehensible, profound, or even original, but whose sumptuous visuals were still a delight to behold. For me a lynchpin example is Akira, whose animation quality holds up decades later even if its story is a bunch of metaphysical fluff.

Sadly, Onigamiden is not one of those anime whose visuals help redeem a lackluster story. The background art, showcased in the Blu-Ray gallery and the in the movie itself, is detailed and rich; the battle sequences are fluid and detailed. But the characters are as flat as their 2D, oddly blank (even for anime) expressions. The plot hinges on a single simple reversal that still doesn’t lend either side much nuance, and ends up being preachy in the way other “noble savage” stories like Avatar, Dances With Wolves, and others tend to be. Given its setting and the art style, it is probably trying more to be like Princess Mononoke, but Miyazaki’s film was actually more balanced in its man vs. nature conflict than this one. With a predictable plotline, the otherwise beautifully rendered battle sequences are robbed of any real sense of urgency or danger. The final battle, in particular, feels unnecessarily drawn out, though of course it involves the full force of the titular dragon.

The protagonist, Jun, is in some ways a typical whiny male anime protagonist—he takes the reluctant in reluctant hero to a new level. Then he suddenly transforms, with little transition, into a much more resolute character. The only other character who is given any kind of change is Raiko, who honestly might have made a more interesting central character than Jun. Raiko, Orochi, and many other elements of the story are drawn from Japanese mythology and legend, and the movie presumes prior knowledge in order to catch the full resonance of who these people are and their roles. It may explain why the movie sometimes feels curiously underexplained while at the same time being simplistic.

The lackluster soundtrack also tended to diminish any epic quality the battles were supposed to have. The horn-driven pieces in particular set the wrong mood for the sequences that were intended to be fast-paced and exciting. They felt more like the generic pieces that would accompany, say, a battle in Naruto or Bleach than a cinematic epic, and this was when the movie was trying to reach for grandeur at times. Even a cookie-cutter John Williams-esque score (composed, say, by Yoko Kanno in her orchestral mode) would have been preferable.

CONCLUSION

The bottom line is that Onigamiden is a well-mastered disc, but the pretty film in it  is dragged down by its simplistic and unevenly executed story. It’s an admirable attempt by Studio Pierrot to do a non Naruto or Bleach project, but seems thin by comparison. It’s not bad, per se, but neither is it very good. It’s worth a rental at most.

OVERALL GRADE: C+