Video Game Review: Darksiders III

darksiders 3
Image by steampowered.com

Darksiders III frustrates, but it’s a classic that remains loyal to its lore.

After six years of wondering what would become of the Darksiders franchise after Vigil Games filed bankruptcy in 2013, Gunfire Games and THQ Nordic released Darksiders III on November 27, 2018. I have been a fan of the Darksiders series since its first installment was released in January 2010, so I was ecstatic when I learned that Darksiders III would be released! Over the holidays, I spent quite a bit of time playing this game and I figured today’s blog post would be dedicated to a review of it! If you have visited my blog before, you know that I have reviewed a few anime, but I have yet to review a video game. I think a part of me was waiting to play a video game that really excited and challenged me. Darksiders III certainly presented a challenge and overall I enjoyed playing it. I have read a couple of reviews of Darksiders III already, but I refuse to let what I have read impact what I take to be strengths and weaknesses of the game! What I am offering up are my own thoughts and opinions based off of my experience playing Darksiders III. Let’s begin with what Darksiders III did well…

Something that I think Darksiders III nailed was that it stayed true to the lore presented in the previous games. On the whole, the series has a pretty rich lore rooted in a tale as old time: the conflict between Heaven and Hell, angels and demons, good and evil. In Darksiders, you play as War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Since the dawn of time, Heaven and Hell have waged war in the hopes that one of them could gain advantage over the other. Amidst this ongoing war emerged The Charred Council, a group of mediators, determined to maintain balance. To achieve this end, they created the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the last remaining Nephilim, a brotherhood designed to impose order when necessary.

The Charred Council
Image by darksiders.fandom.com

As the conflict between Heaven and Hell raged on, humanity was born. The Charred Council deemed the birth of humanity paramount to maintaining the order of the world, so the Council crafted a third kingdom: The Kingdom of Man. Negotiating a truce between Heaven and Hell, the Charred Council saw the creation of the Seven Seals, which were only to be broken when the Kingdom of Man was ready for the apocalypse. I mean, I am not quite sure when man would collectively decide they were ready for the apocalypse, but…Whatever… Anyway…

It ends up being the case that War gets set up; he comes to Earth only to find that the Seven Seals were not broken. What gives this away is that none of War’s siblings (Death, Fury, Strife) decided to show up to help him bring forth the apocalypse. You, the player, help War prove his innocence by finding the real culprits responsible for the destruction of mankind. It’s a decent game with great voice actors bringing fairly interesting characters to life (you have Mark Hamill as The Watcher and Troy Baker as Abaddon and Straga). The game didn’t necessarily present anything unique insofar as it was following a relatively standard action-adventure formula most gamers are familiar with: beat your enemies to death, collect stuff, get new weapons and trinkets, beat a boss, proceed to the next area, rinse and repeat.

Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, Darksiders II was released in August 2012 as a hack and slash action-adventure game. In this installment, you play as Death, War’s brother and fellow Horseman of the Apocalypse, as he tries to help War clear his name. The major difference between Darksiders and Darksiders II is the RPG (role-playing) element that exists in the latter; you pick up clothing items, armor, and weapons as you move through various areas and are able to customize Death’s appearance, abilities, and what he will be hacking and slashing with. Something I find interesting is that the events of Darksiders and Darksiders II are occurring at the same time; as War lumbers through a post-apocalyptic Earth, Death is meeting the Makers (or the Architects of Creation) and traversing the Forge Lands in his attempt to resurrect humanity and erase War’s “crime.”

Death
Image by youtube.com

What is even more interesting is that Darksiders III serves as a prequel to War’s pursuit for truth and Death’s hunt for justice; the beginning of Darksiders III sees Fury meeting with The Charred Council as her brother War is awaiting his punishment for having prematurely started the apocalypse.

The characters that are central to the first two games are just as central in Darksiders III. The Charred Council still serves as a powerful entity responsible for keeping the powers of Heaven and Hell at bay and tasking each of the Horsemen with their own quest. The Demon Merchant Vulgrim returns to feast on the souls Fury collects so that she can upgrade her skills (Health, Physical Damage, and Arcane Damage) and purchase items. Ulthane the Black Hammer also appears in Darksiders III; he upgrades Fury’s weapons and gives her talismans to assist her on her quest to hunt down the Seven Deadly Sins (I will talk more about the Seven Deadly in a moment).

Vulgrim
Image via darksiders.fandom.com

 

All of these characters look and sound better than ever! Seeing these familiar faces and hearing these familiar voices from the previous games keeps me invested in the world and in the narrative. Perhaps this notion of staying true to the mythos of a series is obvious; in any video game series it is important that each game builds off of the previous one in some way or another. I think with the Darksiders franchise this is especially important, though. There are too many pieces of the puzzle, given the lore, that must be put together in order for the games to work. There are ways in which Darksiders III does falter with respect to the narrative, but I will talk about that later.

I think a merit of Darksiders III is that it shares a structural and visual consistency with the rest of the series. For example, while Fury does face off against enemies never before seen, enemies from the previous two games also appear to take on the wrath of her whip, Scorn. When you move through The Scar, a large desert area, in Darksiders III to track down Wrath, it bears a striking resemblance to the Ashlands in Darksiders (where you fight The Stygian).

Something else I appreciate about the game is that the introduction of new characters does not feel out of place. The Lord of Hollows, for instance, is a new character presented to us in this recent installment, but he seems like a character who would fit in effortlessly in the previous games.

The Lord of Hollows
Image by gamerevolution.com

When playing Darksiders III, something about it just feels familiar or comfortable. This isn’t to suggest that playing the game feels redundant due to its familiarity; it is to say that the game reminds me of what I enjoyed so much about what came before it. I think this feeling of familiarity with Darksiders III has a lot to do with the number of staff who returned from Vigil to work on it, which I think is awesome. Although the game and its predecessors are predictable and formulaic with respect to gameplay, ultimately Darksiders III remains loyal to what made the first two games successful: its lore.

Another thing Darksiders III got right was that the game presents us with a female protagonist. There are two points I want to make with respect to the protagonist being a female: first, it is awesome to have a female protagonist in a video game who isn’t sexualized (go ahead and call me a feminist). It is not a secret that the gaming world is and has been predominately male, but I think it is refreshing to see female representation on the rise in video games! Samus Aran, Jill Valentine from the Resident Evil series, and Ellie from The Last of Us are only a few examples of female characters whose attractiveness is found in their strength, courage, and resiliency, not in their sex appeal (or potential sex appeal). Far too often have I seen the female fighting character wearing next to nothing (take Kitana and Jade from the Mortal Kombat series, for example). Listen, I don’t mind sex and nudity (I favor Tzeentch and Slaanesh, after all). My quibble isn’t about nudity; it is about practicality. I won’t deny the obvious about our antihero in Darksiders III: Fury has curves. What is great, though, is that her armor is functional but also doesn’t hide her body. Fury’s entire body is covered in what looks like a skintight but lightweight steel. If her body were exposed, given that she is fighting demons, angels, and everything else in between, she would be mortally wounded. From the sharp heels of her knee-high boots to the plates of armor covering the sides of her face, the focus on Fury turns to her presence, which is formidable. Fury proves that a female character can be alluring while also donning sensible, kickass gear. Ultimately, Fury’s appeal lies in her self-assurance, not in her assets, which brings me to the second point I want to make: there is a sense in which Fury is very much an antihero.

Fury
Image by wccftech.com

I think noting this is important, partly because female characters are generally presented as upbeat, warm, joyful, and a bit naïve (Aerith and Yuffie from the Final Fantasy series come to mind), and these are the sorts of qualities that, generally, make for an endearing, young heroine (or hero). Characters like Princess Peach perpetuate the “damsel in distress” trope, in which the female character needs saving in order to get the narrative going. Fury is not any of these things: she is far from cheerful, she is not hypersexualized, her status is not that of a love interest, and she is certainly not a damsel in distress. In fact, she is not the sort of protagonist you relate to unless you are a self-aggrandizing narcissist. At the beginning of the game (and for a good portion of the game, honestly), Fury is quite unlikeable. Her initial goal is not to help War, her brother, clear his name; instead, her aim is to be granted the right to serve as leader of the Horsemen. The Charred Council requests that Fury seek and destroy the Seven Deadly Sins. Once Fury has completed this arduous task, only then will she be granted the power to rule over her siblings.

In order to ensure that Fury completes her task, The Charred Council binds a Watcher to her wrist, just as they did to War in the first game. The relationship between Fury and her Watcher is pivotal to Fury’s growth in the game, but it is definitely a very different relationship than the one shared between War and his Watcher. Mark Hamill’s Watcher is hell-bent on making War’s task all the more difficult in Darksiders, but Fury’s Watcher (voiced by Fryda Wolff) initially comes off as laudatory, going so far as to claim she is a “fan” of Fury. The Watcher’s praise comes to an abrupt halt after Fury encounters and defeats Lust and spares the life of an Archangel named Usiel. After this, a tension presents itself between Fury and The Watcher: Fury realizes that she has been blinded by her desire for power and that this desire has been, to an extent, fueled by The Watcher’s flattery. Fury then turns her attention to the duty all of the Horsemen are meant to do: enforce order and balance. The Watcher takes this to be a flaw; Fury has “gone soft” by trading in her crusade for blood and vengeance for a quest to restore order.

Fury and The Watcher
Image by ign.com

Fury’s initial motivation in pursuing the Seven Deadly was to lead the Horsemen, to be seen as superior to her brothers, and to also figure out who killed her horse (I will talk about this later, trust me). It is when Fury sees what she could become if she is solely motivated by her anger that she understands she will be unable to complete her task. This is both the act of being humbled and the power of self-reflection; her self-assurance was actually arrogance. This is all to say that the Fury we get at the start of the game is not the Fury we get at the end of the game. Personally, I think there is something worthwhile and special about playing a character and watching their character development, regardless of their sex or gender. I think what makes Fury stand out as a protagonist in general is that she goes from being the hero we don’t want to the hero we need. It is just an added bonus that Fury is a badass female protagonist.

Fury
Image via wccftech.com

She doesn’t play into stereotypes or tropes generally associated with female characters and we watch her grow from a place of self-importance, anger, and resentment to a place of self-awareness, understanding, and strength. Even when it is discovered that the Charred Council themselves released the Seven Deadly Sins in the hopes that they would not only destroy Fury and her kin, but the remainder of humanity, Fury’s resolve is renewed: she will make it her purpose to protect the last of humanity. Darksiders III could have easily had its protagonist be Strife (the fourth Horseman), but it didn’t. I should also note that the end of the game sets it up such that Strife will have his time to shine in the next installment. I am of the mind that putting this focus on Fury was a unique and valuable move to make.

The final thing I think Darksiders III did well is not so much about content as it is about aesthetics: I absolutely love the character designs in this video game. Some of the reviews I have read are not too fond of the character design (and level design) as it appears “too cartoonish,” and to an extent I would agree with this. In comparison to other games that have come out in the last year, the design and scenery of the world in Darksiders III is certainly not as breathtaking or gorgeous as something like God of War or The Legend of Zelda, but that’s fine! I don’t think Darksiders III was aiming to take anyone’s breath away so much as it was hoping the player would have a smashing good time (literally). I have already talked about Fury’s design, but the Seven Deadly Sins, for the most part, look awesome. Each design is unique and unexpected. Take Lust, for instance. I was expecting Lust to be a voluptuous, seductive female, possibly snake-like or something. What is absolutely fascinating and ingenious is that Lust is gender-neutral; Lust is referred to as “they/them” by other characters in the game. While Lust speaks in a way that is effeminate, their design is androgynous. What I really like about Lust’s personification is that it isn’t about lusting after someone or desiring someone’s body; it is about lusting after power.

Perhaps one of my favorite character designs belongs to Avarice. Avarice is almost goblin-like in his appearance and, as the embodiment of greed, carries around a huge sack of stuff on his back. What I love is how diverse the things on his back appear to be, from artwork to the wings of dead angels to things that are just plain junk, Avarice seems more like a kleptomaniac than a hoarder. What I love is that Avarice seems to think all of these things just belong to him, regardless of what they are worth.

Avarice
Image via youtube.com

Gluttony is both disgusting and awesomely terrifying, Pride’s design is stunning and exudes both poise and contempt, and Envy is delightfully creepy. I think Wrath and Sloth are the only character designs that I didn’t care much for; I was hoping for something a bit more inventive. Wrath or anger is generally associated with the element of fire, so to have a giant hunk of armor made of fire seemed a bit boring to me and Sloth is just a fat, lazy bug. Overall, I appreciate the creativity and originality that went into crafting each of the personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins, as well as the other characters in the game.

Here are the ways in which I think Darksiders III faltered…

Darksiders III, just like the previous installments, is a hack and slash video game. I wasn’t expecting anything different. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” As far as the actual hacking and slashing goes, the game follows Darksiders II pretty closely. You whip your enemies repetitively until they are dead and you can see how much damage each strike does, just as you could with Death’s scythe. Depending on where you move the analog stick while spamming the primary attack button, you can execute some pretty cool combos. The issue is that this gets boring. Even worse, it gets tedious. In order to defeat enemies and bosses in this game, your task is to time your dodges so you can counterstrike and then beat up on the enemy or boss relentlessly. Interestingly enough, there are some reviews that claim that combat in this game is deliberate and that mashing buttons isn’t a viable strategy for getting through the game. To this, I say that simply mashing buttons isn’t a viable strategy for getting through the game; being able to anticipate when you ought to mash buttons is a viable strategy for getting through the game. This autonomic pressing of buttons doesn’t bother me so much when it comes to lesser enemies, but it does bother me with respect to boss fights. When it comes to a boss fight, I am expecting something with a bit more nuance or sophistication. Most of the battles against the Seven Deadly Sins are tiresome, as it requires the same hacking and slashing that is needed when fighting enemies.

To me, there appeared to be two boss fights that attempt to wiggle out of this monotony: the battle with Gluttony and the battle with Pride. When fighting Gluttony, there are essentially two phases to the fight. The first phase involves you spamming the attack button while also dodging Gluttony’s projectile vomit and his long, swinging arms.

Gluttony (Phase 1)
Image via primagames.com

The second phase of the fight begins when the floor beneath Fury breaks and you battle a giant monstrous creature called the Kraken underwater. This is where the game attempts to do something interesting and sophisticated, but fails. In order to damage the Kraken, you actually cannot engage it. Instead, you have to lure underwater bombs into the Kraken’s mouth. This is irritating because there is nothing you can do to bait the Kraken; you simply have to wait for the Kraken to try and suck you into its mouth. This becomes time-consuming as you swim back and forth with underwater bombs following you around while also trying to avoid the Kraken’s teeth and tentacles. What is worse is that the frustration I felt had nothing to do with the battle being challenging because it really wasn’t that challenging; the frustration came from wanting something to actually happen in the battle instead of me swimming around with some bombs!

The Kraken
Image by primagames.com

When fighting Pride, there comes a point during the fight where she removes the head of a statue and gives it the power to shoot a laser across the space in which you are fighting. The statue never stops moving and shooting, so the trick is to avoid getting hit by the laser while also trying to avoid getting hit by Pride’s blade as you fight her. Again, this is more aggravating than it is interesting or fun because all you really have to do is just time things right and follow up with some spamming of the attack buttons. My issue is that combat in this game doesn’t require any particular strategy—all it requires really are quick reflexes and a dexterous thumb.

Pride (Battle)

I do want to say that, at times, it is incredibly satisfying to whip your enemies into oblivion, and combat becomes a little bit more enjoyable when you receive upgrades called Hollows. In this respect, Darksiders III resembles Darksiders in that there are upgrades, items, and weapons in both games that give Fury and War new abilities as well as access to new areas. Each Hollow that Fury comes to possess grants her new abilities and the use of new weapons based in a specific element. For example, the Flame Hollow allows Fury to walk through lava and magma, to jump higher, to burn obstacles like thick cobwebs, and allows Fury to use an extra weapon called Chains of Scorn, which are basically chain-sickles covered in fire. While the Hollows are useful and versatile, it still doesn’t alter the combat system—defeating your enemies still involves beating them senseless whether it’s with Fury’s whip, chains, lance, or mallet.

Hollows
Image via gematsu.com

What I came to discover while playing Darksiders III is that the gameplay borrows heavily from the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne. When I played Darksiders III, I selected the “Normal” difficulty. I didn’t want to pick “Easy”; I wanted somewhat of a challenge while also having the ability to enjoy where the narrative would take me. The issue seemed to be that “Normal” was actually hard for me, despite consistently leveling up and upgrading my weapons. This might appear contradictory given that I said all the combat system requires is the mashing of buttons, but the difficulty of the game doesn’t seem to fall on the way you fight as Fury so much as it falls on how powerful enemies are. I cannot even begin to express how awful some of the enemies are to fight in this game. I am not even talking about mini-bosses, mind you! I am talking about lesser enemies that just exist in each new area of the world. This is where the similarity to Dark Souls and Bloodborne comes in: enemies are incredibly challenging and when you die, you lose all of the Souls you have collected from killing enemies. Souls in Darksiders III (just as in Darksiders) serve as currency in the game— you need Souls in order to level up, to purchase items, etc. When you are killed, your Souls are left behind in a small blue cluster that hovers over the location of where you died. While it is nice to get your Souls back, the game isn’t particularly forgiving otherwise. It doesn’t bother me that Darksiders III follows the Dark Souls model; I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with it, but I do think the level of satisfaction you get once you manage to survive an onslaught of enemies is low. It doesn’t feel like I have gone toe to toe with enemies; I feel like I barely survived a beating. There is something about this sort of gameplay I can appreciate, which is that it really does take time, effort, and energy to get through the game. The video game does not tell you where to go, how to get anywhere, what to do, or how to do it. Put another way, you could look up a walkthrough to tell you how to get to the next area, but I highly doubt the walkthrough is going to help you beat Sloth or Gluttony. That will take gumption on your part.

The last thing I want to address with respect to Darksiders III is the following question: who killed Fury’s horse? This, my friends, is perhaps the most important question in the game and it doesn’t seem to be answered by the game’s end. When Fury faces Wrath for the first time, she summons her horse Rampage to help her deliver the final blow, only for Rampage to rush in and crash into the ground. To Fury’s horror, she discovers that her beloved horse and only companion has been impaled by the sword of an angel. In her distraction and distress, Wrath is able to nearly kill Fury. Fortunately, she ends up being rescued by the enigmatic Lord of Hollows. A large part of what motivates Fury from this point forward is figuring out who killed her steed. Trying to uncover who did this even supersedes her desire to lead the Horsemen.

Death of Rampage
Image by youtube.com

Here is the point I am trying to make: there is a lack of narrative cohesion amongst the three games in the Darksiders series, and this disjointedness starts with Darksiders III. In the first two games, there was a clear goal—prove War’s innocence. The way in which War and Death go about trying to achieve this goal is different, but ultimately it is the same goal. Where the narrative of Darksiders III stumbles is with respect to Fury’s role in what began in the first game and is continued in the second. It is never made entirely clear why Fury must stop the Seven Deadly Sins. Surely they are powerful and devious in their own ways, but with scarcely any humans remaining given the apocalyptic state of the world, what really can the Seven Deadly do? Without humanity to corrupt, what place do Lust, Pride, or Avarice have? There is something lacking with respect to Fury’s purpose, which ends up being a running theme throughout the game. While she, as a character, ends up finding her purpose, it is still unclear to me where she, and subsequently her actions and their consequences, fit into the Darksiders series. Seriously though, who killed her horse?

Death, Fury, War
Image by noobfeed.com

In the end, I do think Darksiders III is a good game. What it lacks in continuity and originality it makes up for in its dedication to its lore and to a classic formula. I hope you found this lengthy review of Darksiders III interesting and I also hope it makes up for my absence! I hope you can forgive me! What are your thoughts on the game? Let me know in the comments below. As always, thanks so much for stopping by!

Fury and Avarice
Image via videogamesblogger.com

Let’s Paint! Ahriman

Ahriman: The Arch-Sorcerer of Tzeentch

Ahriman
Image Courtesy of pinterest.com

“Ahzek Ahriman is the most powerful sorcerer in the Thousand Sons’ history, second only to Magnus in psychic ability. Before their fall to Chaos, he was the Legion’s Chief Librarian and Magister Templi of the Corvidae, entrusted with sifting through the shifting strands of fate to divine the Legion’s future. He was a mighty military leader, the keeper of the Book of Magnus, and—ultimately—it was by his Rubric that the Thousand Sons succumbed to irrevocable damnation…Ahriman was banished until he had completed the impossible task of understanding the true nature of Tzeentch. Since then he has wandered in exile, gathering ranks of Rubricae and Sekhmet warriors to his side, seeking out the galaxy’s most powerful artefacts and its most arcane secrets, and carving a complex path of fiery devastation through the Imperium.”

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Happy Halloween everyone! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve than to post about Ahriman! I painted him a while ago, but I wanted to share how he turned out.

Truthfully, I didn’t use many colors for Ahriman. There is a principle in philosophy called Ockham’s Razor. The principle states that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. In other words, my approach to painting Ahriman was this: the simpler the better! I only used about six to seven paints and applied them carefully and methodically. I probably used more materials when painting my Chaos Cultists, if I’m being honest. Despite the few paints I used, I didn’t want to rush when painting him. After all, he is the most powerful sorcerer to ever serve in the Thousand Sons’ ranks second to Magnus, so I wanted him to look decent.

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I painted all of Ahriman’s armor in Thousand Sons Blue, including the base of the disc he is standing on. All of the trim on his armor I first painted lightly with Gehenna’s Gold before lightly layering Auric Armour Gold on top of that. I also used this combination of colors on the trim of Ahriman’s disc as well as the backpack/jump pack on his back. The rest was mostly careful detailing!

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I used Soulstone Blue to decorate the eyes on Ahriman’s chest piece and staff. Soulstone Blue is a technical paint and I do not use technical paints often, so I tried really hard to be careful with this stuff given its thick consistency. There is a skull that rests on Ahriman’s left shoulder as well as a skull that sits on his belt, both of which I painted in Ushabti Bone. Any of the silver pieces on Ahriman were painted in Runefang Steel (the spikes protruding from his disc and some of the details on his backpack/jump back). His cloak I painted in Dragon Red (from Reaper Miniatures)!

 

 

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For the warp flame in Ahriman’s hand, I used one of my favorites—Nihilakh Oxide. The main reason I painted Ahriman’s warp flame in Nihilakh Oxide was because my Daemon Prince is also holding a warp flame that is the same color! I am a sucker for uniformity. For his base I did my usual combination of Tallarn Sand on the top of the base and XV-88 around the base. Overall, I am really happy with how he turned out. I wanted him to be vibrant (as most Tzeentch and Thousand Sons units are vibrant), but I also wanted him to have a sort of darkness to him. The contrast between the brightness of his blue armor with the depth of his dark red cloak strikes a nice balance, I think! He is an awesome model and he is one of my favorites to use on the battlefield!

 

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Have a fun Halloween and be safe tonight! As always, thanks for stopping by!

Here are the materials I used to paint Ahriman:

Thousand Sons Blue https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Thousand-Sons-Blue-12ml

Gehenna’s Gold https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Layer-Gehennas-Gold

Auric Armour Gold https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Layer-Auric-Armour-Gold

Soulstone Blue https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Technical-Soulstone-Blue

Ushabti Bone https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Layer-Ushabti-Bone

Runefang Steel https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Layer-Runefang-Steel

Dragon Red (09401) https://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/dragon%20red/sku-down/09401

Nihilakh Oxide https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Technical-Nihilakh-Oxide

Reikland Fleshshade https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Shade-Reikland-Fleshshade

Tallarn Sand https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Layer-Tallarn-Sand

XV-88 https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Base-XV88

Citadel Grass https://www.games-workshop.com/en-PL/Citadel-Grass

Anime Review: Your Lie in April

Your Lie in April
Courtesy of Pinterest.com

When you find websites that purport to list the greatest anime of all time, you will often find titles like One Piece, Samurai Champloo, Inuyasha, Trigun, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Cowboy Bebop. I agree that anime like Trigun, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Samurai Champloo are among the greats. When you think of the ingredients that make for an awesome anime, you typically think of the following: interesting and complex characters, a riveting storyline, drama, action or adventure, a dash of hyperbole, and unique, exciting art style. Personally, I think Cowboy Bebop is probably the greatest anime of all time because it perfectly blends these things together, but I digress. This post isn’t about Cowboy Bebop—it is about an anime that I ended up watching this past spring that, in my humble opinion, should join the ranks as one of the greatest anime of all time (if it hasn’t yet already). That anime is Your Lie in April.

Your Lie in April began as a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Naoshi Arakawa before being adapted as a television series by A-1 Pictures. When this anime showed up in my Netflix queue, I was intrigued by the vibrancy and color of the art style, but what really piqued my interest was the music. The sweet melody of a piano is what ultimately made me decide to press play! I am going to do my best not to spoil anything about the series because I firmly believe that, if you haven’t seen this anime, you need to!

Your Lie in April centers around the main character, Kousei Arima, a piano prodigy who has dominated the competition circuit since he was a young boy. After winning various music competitions, Kousei develops a reputation as the youngest and most successful child musician in the region. The first episode of the anime begins with an 11-year-old Kousei playing at a recital. As he plays, he hears echoes of his ill mother’s voice. Suddenly, the notes Kousei is playing on the piano sound muffled, almost as if they are underwater. Panicked, Kousei stops playing and proceeds to rock back and forth on the piano bench, sobbing uncontrollably. His mother, who was also his piano instructor, has died. Her death is the reason for Kousei’s mental breakdown and this impacts his ability and desire to play for years to come, as he can no longer hear the notes he plays.

Playing piano
Courtesy of anime.stackexchange.com

Fast-forward a few years later, Kousei is in high school and has not played the piano since his breakdown at age eleven. Instead, he has resigned himself to doing his schoolwork and hanging around with his best friends, Tsubaki and Watari. Watari is a bit of a playboy, reveling in the attention he receives from various girls, while Tsubaki is a star athlete. She has a history with Kosei, as they were neighbors as small children and she had a front row seat to the rigorous training Kousei’s mother put him through. One thing that I take to be a positive about this anime is that it isn’t difficult to keep up with the characters. In other words, the central characters are established early on and as the series progresses, the development of the characters is both focused and rich.

 

For example, Tsubaki grew up with Kousei. In various flashbacks, it is made clear that Tsubaki is a supportive, responsive, and thoughtful friend, having attended nearly all of Kousei’s recitals as a kid. When Kousei would be locked in his room, forced to practice piano, Tsubaki would try to lure him out to play or give him gifts. As the series goes on, Tsubaki develops romantic feelings for Kousei, and the support she once offered Kosei as a child with respect to his music diminishes as she attempts to navigate between seeing Kousei as her “kid brother” or as someone she loves and is afraid to lose. What is interesting to watch is how Tsubaki attempts to deal with her emotions—she made it a priority to watch Kousei perform when she was younger, but it then becomes difficult for her to support Kousei’s return to music as it threatens to “take him away”.

Kids YLIA
Courtesy of Pinterest.com

Something fascinating is that, when the series begins, the art style is a bit muted. This isn’t to say the art style is bad—it certainly isn’t! It is to say that, while the lines of the characters, objects, and surroundings are sharp and crisp, the colors are a bit washed out. It is obvious that this purposely done, as the world for Kousei is listless and dull since he can no longer hear himself play the piano. This changes when we meet Kaori Miyazono. Both Tsubaki and Watari introduce Kousei to Kaori and, at first, Kaori is introduced as Watari’s date. The hope seems to be that, when Kousei meets Kaori, he will return to playing music as Kaori is a musician herself (a violinist, specifically).

Kaori
Courtesy of i.ntere.st

 

In this moment, when Kousei sees Kaori, his entire world becomes vibrant, striking, bold. The art style instantaneously becomes brighter and much more vivid. It’s genuinely gorgeous! At first, you might have the worry (at least I did) that the relationship between these two characters would fall into a stereotypical, cliché romance. “How adorable! He becomes smitten with this girl and upon meeting her, he sees color and vibrancy in the world again!”. “How cute! He’s reserved and unassuming and she’s zany and creative!”. Both to my surprise and relief, this isn’t what happened at all! What I thought would be cheesy and overdone ended up becoming a relationship central to the development of Kousei as the main character of the anime, but it also teaches an invaluable lesson about how one faces and deals with loss.

Kousei and Kaori
Courtesy of

Kaori is a highly skilled violinist. A part of what makes her so skilled is that she doesn’t play by the rules. Rather than follow the score of the piece she plays, she improvises, playing with spirit, vigor, and passion, making each piece uniquely her own. This is in direct contrast to Kousei, who was dubbed “the human metronome” as a child for the way in which he strictly followed the scores of what he was playing. You learn that Kosei plays in this way because his mother was physically and verbally abusive. If Kousei strayed from the score or attempted to make it his own, she would beat him and berate him. As a young child, Kousei takes this abuse because he believes that if he is capable of playing the piano (and playing it well), his mother will be cured of her terminal illness. When Kousei finally stands up to his mother after a recital, his final words to her end up being about how much he hates her. This is really the impetus for Kousei’s mental breakdown and subsequent (irrational) guilt that he feels about her death.

Without giving too much away, it is discovered that Kaori suffers from an illness as well. When this is discovered, it is already apparent that Kousei has fallen in love with her. After all, Kaori has managed to convince Kosei to return to the piano as her accompanist and in virtue of that has shown him what it means to play with everything you have. Kaori, for Kousei, is a chance at redemption, musically and at life.

Kaori and Kousei

Which brings me to my next point. One of the awesome things about this anime is the music! If you are looking for a way to get a nice introduction to popular classics, please watch this series! Pieces such as Chopin’s Etude Op. 25, No. 11, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.14 3rd Mov., and Debussy’s Clair De Lune are all played professionally and with great emotion. My personal favorite piece that is played in the series is when Kousei joins forces with a rival’s younger sister at a recital to play the Waltz from Sleeping Beauty by Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

I don’t fancy myself a binge-watcher of television shows in general, so the fact that I finished this series in two days says something. I found myself made so vulnerable by this anime, so moved by it, that I was quite shocked. I cannot remember the last time an anime had me so emotionally invested. Perhaps that sounds strange to say, but I think it speaks against the misconception that anime is only meant to be cute and overdone or action-packed and wild. Anime can certainly be far more than just “kawaii” or blood and guts; I would wager to say that the reason most of those anime that are considered the greatest anime of all time are considered such because they move beyond the stereotypes one associates with Japanese anime.With Your Lie in April, perhaps its greatest strength is in the balance it strikes between comedy and tragedy, loss and laughter, humor and heart. Is this anime action-packed? No. Is it suspenseful? No.

Funny YLIA

However, the relationships between the main characters are incredibly meaningful without the show dragging and sinking from emotional weightiness. The dialogue between characters and the moments shared between them range from beautiful and sincere to downright goofy. I fear that if this balance wasn’t maintained, then this would be a very different anime, perhaps too heavy for most. Armed with a great score, robust and complex characters, and an important lesson about how to deal with loss, Your Lie in April is probably one of the best anime I have ever watched.

K and K we heart it
Courtesy of weheartit.com

I won’t spoil the ending of the series for you because I promised I wouldn’t—all I can do is encourage you to watch this incredible anime! Your Lie in April will be getting five out of five bear paws from me!

Let’s Paint! Brimstone Horrors (Tzeentch)

Brimstone Horrors

Brimstone Horrors
Image courtesy of warhammer40K.wikia.com

“Should a Blue Horror be killed, the creature will emit a long, drawn-out and fatalistic groan before vanishing in a cloud of smoke. From out of those unnatural fumes prance living flames—two tiny Brimstone Horrors. These diminutive Daemons are blazing yellow manifestations of pure spite and bitterness. They sizzle and pop while they seek to burn their enemies, or, at the very least, claw and nip at them with tiny flame talons and fangs.”

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Hello everyone! These bouncing baby Brimstones have been complete for a while, so I figured I would show them off. As I noted in my previous blog post, I recently acquired some Slaanesh units, so I am working on those currently. This is to say that the next few “Let’s Paint!” posts will be dedicated to the units I finished modeling and painting in preparation for ATC, so get ready to see Pink Horrors, Tzaangors, and Daemon Princes shortly! At any rate, here are my Brimstone Horrors!

There is nothing fancy here, honestly. These models are small in stature, simple in design, and easy to paint. After basing the Brimstones in white spray paint, I applied about two coats of Flash Gitz Yellow generously to each pair of Horrors. I wanted the base color to be a really bright and exuberant yellow. From there, I painted the arms, legs, and faces of each pair of Brimstones with Fuegan Orange. Once that dried, I went in with Wild Rider Red (making sure it was watered down quite a bit), being careful to only paint the tips of the flames or edges of the Brimstones. I wanted the faces of the Horrors to have a bit more depth and dimension, so I washed their eyes and mouths with Reikland Fleshshade. The last step (aside from basing the models) was to carefully color their eyes in with Moot Green; I really wanted their eyes to pop! And that’s all she wrote!

What I love about Brimstone Horrors is how mischievous and oddly charming they appear to be. With two attacks a piece, though, they are a bit more formidable once you get in combat with them! Generally, I send my Brimstones out to hold objectives. For the most part, they do a decent job at that. I know this blog post is short, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless! As always, thanks so much for stopping by!

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Here are the materials I used to paint my Brimstone Horrors:

Flash Gitz Yellow

https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Layer-Flash-Gitz-Yellow

Fuegan Orange

https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Shade-Fuegan-Orange

Wild Rider Red

https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Layer-Wild-Rider-Red

Reikland Fleshshade

https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Shade-Reikland-Fleshshade

Moot Green

https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Layer-Moot-Green

Tallarn Sand

https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Layer-Tallarn-Sand

XV-88

https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Base-XV88

Citadel Grass

https://www.games-workshop.com/en-PL/Citadel-Grass

My ATC 2018 Experience!

ATC 2018

“Dietzy, where have you been?!”. Yes, I know. It has been over a month. All I can say is… I’m sorry! After ATC, life decided to get really hectic! By hectic I mean that after ATC, I ended up with an upper respiratory infection on top of having to return to teaching my six-week Introduction to Philosophy course! Things are finally winding down and now (especially after being able to reflect on my experience for a couple of weeks) is as good a time as ever to talk about my time at ATC! One thing before I get started: I do not want to talk about what happened with Team Happy. One reason is because plenty of other blogs and podcasts have dedicated their time, effort, and energy to talking about it. Another reason is that, given that ATC was my first grand tournament, I don’t feel like I have the knowledge, experience, or authority to talk about what does or does not constitute cheating in a tournament setting. Given all the gossip and rumors that swirled around at ATC anyway, I just don’t think I should present an opinion if it isn’t fully informed. That being said, if you are interested in the official statement made by ATC regarding Team Happy, here is the link to ATC’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ATC40k/posts/1726053044108648.

Here is the list I ended up taking to ATC 2018:

Battalion Detachment [1038pts] [5 Command Points] [59 Power Level]

Chaos Daemons (Chaos Allegiance: Tzeentch)

Headquarters:

Daemon Prince of Chaos: Tzeentch (Malefic Talons, Wings)

The Changeling

Changecaster

Troops:

Horrors (28x Pink Horror)

Horrors (28x Pink Horror)

Horrors (10x pair of Brimstone Horrors)
Elites:

Exalted Flamer

Flamers (2x Pyrocaster)

Flamers (2x, Pyrocaster)

Battalion Detachment [956pts] [5CP] [51 Power Level]

Chaos Space Marines: Thousand Sons

Headquarters:

Ahriman (on Disc)

Daemon Prince of Chaos: Thousand Sons (Malefic Talons, Wings)

Daemon Prince of Chaos: Thousand Sons (Malefic Talons, Wings)

Troops:

Chaos Cultists (9x Cultists, Cultist Champion)

Chaos Cultists (9x Cultists, Cultist Champion)

Chaos Cultists (9x Cultists, Cultist Champion)

Tzaangors (29x Tzaangor with Tzaangor Blades, Twistbray, Brayhorn)

Elites:

Tzaangor Shaman (on Disc)

Obviously, this is different from the preliminary list I detailed in a previous blog post. Ultimately, I am glad that I went with this list after taking into consideration some suggestions and advice from both friends and acquaintances. Adding Ahriman was invaluable; his ability to cast three psychic powers and deny three psychic powers was a huge help in most of the matches I played. The Tzaangors definitely pose more of a threat when in a much larger unit, and the giant blobs of Pink Horrors are certainly more annoying in units of 20 or more with three shots per Horror!

I traveled to Chattanooga (East Ridge, really) with Team Crazy Frog, which consisted of myself, Mitch, Randy (our team captain), and Big Nate. Our fifth and final member, Sebastian, we actually didn’t meet until we arrived at the hotel the night before the tournament began. Originally, our friend Jeremy was going to join us at ATC, but unfortunately, he couldn’t make it. Thankfully, some of the bros from Brohammer pulled through and offered up Sebastian’s name. Without a whole lot of time to spare, Sebastian joined our team with his army of Orks! I am really glad it ended up working out with Sebastian—even though he is on the shy side, he plays like a well-oiled machine. It was pretty awesome to watch him play!

I’m not going to lie about how nervous I was, especially heading into the very first match. I was trying to remember and keep in mind all of the things I had learned the last six months. Our first match was against Gateway Gamers Alpha Squad. Gabe was my opponent and I am really glad he was given how relaxed and sweet he was! Funny enough, before the tournament even got underway, I walked by his army and complimented the paint job on it. Who knew he would end up being my first opponent? Gabe was running a Tyranid list, all Hive Fleet Kronos. This wasn’t great for me given that Hive Fleet Kronos makes it such that, if you fail a psychic power, you take a mortal wound if you are within 18” of the Warlord. Given that my army is psyker heavy, this resulted in me taking quite a few mortal wounds. What did work to my advantage was the Tzaangors coming in with the help of the Dark Matter Crystal on turn one and causing some chaos. I was also able to deepstrike one unit of Pink Horrors in Gabe’s backfield. What ended up giving me the hardest time were Gabe’s Flyrants. They wiped out a lot of my troops, for sure! I managed to whittle the wounds down on Gabe’s Flyrants and actually take one out with the Changeling at the very end of the match! I ended up losing, but only by a few points! I was happy that for my first match I was able to keep up with Gabe, who really seemed to know his army well and played his list with ease. For the first match of the tournament, it was a lot of fun!

 

Our second match was against Critical Strike. I am going to be honest, I didn’t find my opponent to be the friendliest or most approachable opponent. I say this because, upon telling him ATC was my first grand tournament, he responded almost with indignation, saying, “You picked a hell of a first tournament to come to.” Even then, at multiple times during the match, he went about correcting me and telling me what I ought to be doing in a way that wasn’t particularly tactful. For example, at a time when I should have been shooting overwatch and hitting on sixes, I forgot I was shooting overwatch. I had the GW Assault Dice app flat on the table for him to see the hits, and when I reported the amount of hits, his response was, “I have a really hard time believing you landed that many sixes.” Of course, I apologized profusely, realizing that I had forgotten I should have been firing overwatch, but it probably would have been better had he said something like, “Was that firing on overwatch?” or “Remember that you are firing overwatch!”. He made me feel like I was trying to be shifty, which I wasn’t. This match was probably the least fun I had at ATC. All I will say is that he ran a “Chaos Soup” list. What ended up being the death of me was that his Bloodletters were able to deepstrike and eliminate my backfield (comprised of Brimstone Horrors and Chaos Cultists). He was nice enough to tell me that my “allowing him” to deepstrike “was my biggest mistake,” but I genuinely didn’t anticipate he would be able to fit all of his Bloodletters in my backfield. He was able to do this by essentially putting them in a single file line. I ended up losing by a substantial point margin, but if there was one thing I was able to pick up from this match, it was to spread my units out a bit more to cover more ground and prevent deepstrike opportunities.

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That concluded the first (very long) day of ATC 2018. Actually, nearly every day of ATC was unnecessarily long and drawn out. Why? Because of Best Coast Pairings. Best Coast Pairings is an app for iOS and Android that allows a player to connect to competitive events (tabletop events, in this case). Using the app, you can search for, browse through, and register for various competitive events. What is relevant for ATC’s purposes is the ability for teams to see table assignments and pairings and view placings for the tournament. For some reason or another, the pairings and assignments were, at times, taking too long to load, loading improperly, or not loading at all. Other times, the points were added incorrectly for the teams. This made things a bit of a mess. Last year when I attended ATC, the organizers of the tournament were not using Best Coast Pairings, so I am not sure what needs to be fixed or changed for things to run smoothly like they did at ATC 2017, but please try to rectify this issue, ATC! Hear the cries and complaints of the people!

I woke up the second morning of the tournament determined to at least win one game! Unfortunately, the first match was really rough for me and completely shattered my spirit. In some sense, it was unfortunate that the match left me dismayed, because my opponent was absolutely great! He went by the name C.K. and played for Team Borderland Battle Brothers. He was incredibly funny, really entertaining, and didn’t make me feel bad for getting my ass kicked. Ultimately, I don’t think I should have been matched up against his list, despite being told I could “probably handle it.” His KV128 Stormsurges put out way too many shots that not even my 4+ Invulnerable Saves plus the Locus of Transmogrification granted by the Changeling could defend against. C.K.’s list had an immense amount of firepower between the Stormsurges and XV104 Riptide Battlesuit—the Tactical Drones only made the firepower that much more deadly. I should also note that playing C.K. was the first time I ever played against Tau, so I didn’t quite know what I was doing or what I needed to look out for. I just played to the best of my ability!

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When I thought things couldn’t get any worse after the first match, I ended up getting paired up against another Tau list! Fortunately for me, this Tau list was quite different from C.K.’s. For one, there were no Stormsurges (thank God). Really, the only major firepower on this list were a few Battlesuits (both Riptide and Y’vahra). My opponent’s name was Jason (from Team Barnyard Brawlers) and he was incredibly nice. He was kind, conversational, and laid back. To my surprise, this match was pretty much point for point. At the end of each round (and during our turns), we both were scoring a considerable amount of points. The biggest mistake I made was actually not listening to Jason. He warned me about the flamers on his XV109 Y’vahra Riptide and I didn’t listen…Because I am a tool bag. I figured it was worth the risk charging the Riptide with my Daemon Prince given that he would fire at one of them anyway, but I did end up getting toasted. That was probably my only major tactical mistake, but by the end of the match, I only lost by a couple of points. It was probably the best match I played as it was incredibly close the entire time!

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The third and final match on Saturday was, by far, the most entertaining. We were playing against Team PMT (Playing Mediocre at Tournaments). I should note that, at ATC this year, alcohol was permitted. The reason I bring this up is because Team PMT was completely smashed by the time we were matched up with them. It could have been possible that they were drunk before they played us, but all of them being hammered was pretty hilarious. I will admit, at first I didn’t know what to do about having a drunk opponent. Aside from being tired and feeling a little discouraged, I figured the round would be more taxing than anything. I was wrong! My opponent, Mike, was great! He was animated, funny, and seemed like all he wanted to do was genuinely have fun. That helped me ease out of the funk I was in. He was running a Sisters of Battle list complete with Celestine and Geminae. He was also running quite a bit of Heavy Support, which made me nervous as I didn’t have many units with high Armor Penetration. He had Basilisks, Leman Russ Battle Tanks, Rhinos. What really made Mike’s list tough for me were the Sisters of Silence, as they gave me a minus to my casting. Not only that, the minus would stack. If two units of Sisters were within 18” of me, then I was at a -2 for my casting. Again, as a psyker heavy army, that sucked. Eventually I was able to wipe them out, though, but they definitely gave me some trouble during turn two. Again, to my surprise, this match was incredibly close—I only lost by a few points. Mike was really encouraging as well and was pretty adamant that if we played another turn I would have won, but maybe he was just being generous! (Thanks for telling me about the poop knife, Mike).

The very last match of the tournament took place on Sunday and saw us matched up against Team Least Coast. I was paired up against Patrick, who was a super nice guy running a Drukhari (Eldar) list. I am going to keep this short and sweet: I got my ass handed to me. Let me tell you, I have absolutely no desire to ever play against Haemonculus, Grotesques, or Talos again! Each unit is so incredibly tough! Even with my Daemon Princes engaged in close combat, I didn’t stand much of a chance. Overall, this match was pretty much an Invulnerable Save fight. Patrick had Invulnerable Saves and I had Invulnerable Saves, and that is pretty much what our game consisted of. I think I probably should have focused more of my psychic powers on his Grotesques and whittled them down rather than getting stuck in close combat with them.

I didn’t go to ATC 2018 disillusioned; I didn’t think that my team would be coming in as underdogs and making it to the top. I figured that, at best, we would place somewhere in the low to middle of the road. We ended up placing 66th or something around there out of 74 or 75 teams. What was important to me was the experience as well as having fun. All in all, I think I have identified the weaknesses of my army and I have already started making some changes. I need range and I need firepower, for sure. After viewing some of the lists from ATC and talking with competitors, I have seen the value of running a “Chaos Soup” list, but I have also realized and uncovered strategies regarding Tzeentch that I didn’t know about prior to the tournament. As far as improving is concerned, I think I just need to keep playing, practicing, and learning!

Going to ATC would not have been possible without the support, help, and patience of a number of people. First, I need to thank Mitch. I don’t think I would’ve made the jump to 40K without his encouragement, love, and support. It is amazing to find that person who makes you feel so comfortable in your own nerdy skin; he is my dweeby partner in crime. To Team Crazy Frog, who supported me and accepted me as the new and inexperienced player on the team and made each moment of the tournament one to remember. I would be remiss to not thank the guys of Team Huckleberry. I have had the privilege of knowing each member of Team Huckleberry for a couple of years now, but since I picked up 40K, each one of them has dedicated their time and energy to helping me learn the game, tailor my list, and quite frankly, they each have tolerated my shenanigans. Thank you to Ted, Dan, John, and Aaron. Also, a huge thanks to Charles, who unfortunately was not able to participate at ATC, but helped me immensely in figuring out the strengths of Tzeentch and Thousand Sons and how to run them effectively. And lastly, to the bros of Brohammer who I have interacted with and elicited advice and help from: Daniel S., William T., John L., Cass, Aurelio, Shane. You guys are seriously awesome bros. It really took a village to help me prepare for ATC, and I still have so much to learn. Despite not winning a match at ATC, I definitely want to continue playing 40K. I really have come to love the hobby, so much so that I have already purchased some Slaanesh stuff!

Next up is Crucible…

As always, thank you for reading and thank you for hanging tight! I appreciate it! Until next time!