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Persona 3 Memories

So I just finished Persona 5. I'd like to say it was a long journey, but it wasn't really long at all, as I completed it in a little over a month. I do feel a little regretful that I didn't spend enough time with it, because it was an extraordinary game. It was everything I wanted from a new generation Persona game, and then some... It totally exceeded my expectations. I would even go as far as to say it is the best Persona game yet, not only from a gameplay standpoint but also the writing is absolutely perfect as well as the characters. But would I say it's my favourite Persona game? No. That title still goes to Persona 3. Here's why.

I played my first Persona game with Persona 4 back in 2012. I had heard about the series online a lot but finally made the investment when I found it in my local second hand store (R.I.P.). My thoughts of the game? It was really cool. At that point I hadn't really figured out what the Persona series was all about so it was a steep learning curve and in the end my play through was probably a little unsatisfying. However when I introduced the game to my cousin and he got into the series too, that was when my Persona addiction truly began. He studied the hell out of these games and tutored me when I began to play Persona 3 FES. He taught me pretty much everything I needed to know, and explained things that were more complex to me, such as Persona fusion and the more intricate parts of the battle system.

In my second year of University I moved into shared accommodation with some of the best people I've ever known. I brought Persona into their lives too when I proceeded to play it frequently on my PlayStation 2 in the kitchen/living room space. Some of my flatmates would enjoy watching me play it and even those who didn't at least knew the amusing battle music (oh yeah, baby baby etc.)
Over the next two years that I spent with those flatmates, I played so much Persona 3 that I'm surprised that they didn't get sick of it. Some probably did but others were always eager to watch me play more of it, and I'd even give them a heads up when the PlayStation 2 was being turned on for more Persona. Playing this game was a blast, half because it's such an amazing game and the other half because I associate it with such fun times with my flatmates. In fact, a lot of the enjoyment I gained from Persona 3 was because I associate it heavily with those fun times.
But good times sadly had to come to an end, as University ended, and around that time, I finally completed Persona 3 too. I fought the final boss of the game and lost while my flatmates watched, before visiting my cousin for some extra coaching (which was where I learnt about personas such as Thanatos and the dungeon at the bottom of Tartarus) and some aggressive levelling before finally fighting the final boss once more and finishing the game. The ending was sad, but I am one of the minority who felt that it made sense. It was a symbolic sense of closure to my time spent with the game.

One of my all-time favourite YouTubers HappyConsoleGamer helped me realise that a game doesn't necessarily have to be the best as long as the memories associated with it are happy ones. Persona 3 is a great game, but compared to Persona 5 (and even 4) it is far from perfect. The battle system is punishing and broken, the writing is pretty lacking, the social links are mostly forgettable and the voice acting in places can be absolutely abysmal, but the memories I associate with this game are what made my time with it so precious. Just listening to the music makes me nostalgic in a mixed up kind of way. I'm not sure whether it makes me feel happy or sad. But I know one thing for sure, the fact that I am feeling nostalgic about a game that I finished about three to four years ago is a sign that the effect this game had on me was really something special.

Ghost in the Shell (2017 Movie Review)

A Shell Of It's Former Self

Ghost in the Shell is an American science fiction film set in the near future where being part robot is the hip way to be. Based on the 1989 manga and 1995 anime film of the same name, Ghost in the Shell is based in a world where technology has advanced to the point where almost everyone has at least some parts of their body replaced with cybernetic parts. Cyber-liver, cyber-eyes, cyber-arms, a cyber-USB port next to their left nipple: the possibilities are endless, all whilst the line between human and machine is questioned.

It's like New York City and Rainbow Road had a baby.

It's based around Scarlett Johansson's lead take on Major Mira Killian, the first of a human brain inside a fully mechanical cybernetic body, also known as a "shell". Told upon awakening in her new body that her parents were killed by terrorists, the Scarlett-played Major joins bureau Section 9: questing to take down a cybernetic terrorist as a cyborg badass who also desires to learn of who she was in her past life. This overlay of plots is where Ghost in the Shell seems to have stumbled in its quest to bring a live action adaptation of sweet, anime goodness to the masses. The number of positives outweigh that of the negatives but it's the significance of the latter that's halted its potential to being a critical or box office champion.

Great Outfit.

What's great to witness about Ghost in the Shell though is the look of the world it's set in. The Rupert Sanders-directed production managed to create a vibrant, life-filled city that looks like it's been ripped directly from a trippy anime canvas. Going back to the random robot body parts people have, the visual effects are done so well, and it gives a fascinating look into what life could be like when cybernetic body parts become a more viable possibility. There's a woman whose eyes are taken on and off like a visor for God's sake! You don't want to look away. Anime/manga fans alongside newcomers to the franchise will love the faithfulness applied in the aesthetic department. You know how you can get bored in a film when it keeps putting you in front of generic establishing shots to set up a scene? Well, each one is so mesmerising in Ghost in the Shell with whatever is going on, that you'll gladly welcome it each time. This is all while the nerd-tingling soundtrack is playing, that mixes in the esteem-worthy music from the anime film with a modern-yet-futuristic twist. 

Pretty things.

Same goes for the look of some of the characters too. Aside from Scarlett Jo as The Major, Pilou Asbæk (who played Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones) as the Major's part-cyber-bro Batou gives an epic performance as a no-nonsense, banter-fuelled solider who does what needs to be done. He lives up to, if not expands on what's enjoyable about the character. The Section 9 Commander; Daisuke Aramaki, played by Takeshi Kitano, even wonderfully fulfils the role of the kickass-with-a-bit-of-sass old man character trope we've come to love over the years. On the other hand, we don't really see much of him doing anything at all until the third act. Until then, he's just sort of there. Aside from Major and Batou, I didn't feel anything about any of the other characters. Without there given much knowledge about them or a proper look into their personalities given, there's nothing to empathise or reason to care about them. They're more like extras who say the occasional quip.

Sweet hair, bro.

For those who didn't know about the casting controversy with Scarlet Johansson's selection as Major, the film suffered a sub-par box office return. Alongside the so-so promotion and not-mainstream-friendly plot, it's been partly blamed on it being blasted by fans and critics for casting a white woman in what was assumed to be an Asian role. However, despite all this, I feel that Johansson's take on the role creates an interestingly complex and vulnerable Major, and I feel her personality, technique and talent does the character justice. Scar-Jo was even praised for her performance by the 1995 film's director, Mamoru Oshii too.

"I got youuuu under my skin".

Despite creating a great artistic portrait with Ghost in the Shell's aesthetics and the majority of its cast, the art of story telling and creating an exciting plot is a disappointment. Whilst the action scenes, plot set-up and world building established in the first act are as thrilling as a cup of coffee mixed with Red Bull, it goes off track to a messy pace. Elements from the original 82-minute anime film are chopped up and remixed in to this 106-minute retelling. There's an extra villain added in addition to the personality and presence of the original villain, making the original one feel generic and watered down. I wasn't fascinated by either of their motives and instead reminded me of whenever you see a generic villain in a 90's action film and are like "Oh no. A bad guy. Go get 'um".

Nightmare fuel.

Whilst the manga and anime mainly focused on the cyber terrorist threat, with Major's desire to question her own humanity taking a more subtle back seat, both plots are explored equally and intertwine this time around. The issue was that during the bits in between the start and the end of the film, my attention was fading more and more as the two mixing stories built up, all whilst tirelessly throwing exposition at me just to make sure I knew what was going on. It's fascinating to see Major's quest to learn about herself and her humanity on a deeper level, all whilst seeing a more vulnerable and human version of her, but the whole thing just feels bogged down.

Final Thoughts

The efforts to both be faithful to the source material and create a story that's accessible to the mainstream in today's film industry is what truly crippled the flow of Ghost in the Shell: bringing the potential for excitement to its knees alongside our ability to care about what's going on. It can't all be bashed though. It's a visual beauty, with some impressive action scenes and there are a couple of good performances (out of many cast members though). It's simply fun to see the possibility of a world where anyone could pop over somewhere to pick up a new metal arm or have 3 spare sets of cyber noses. I'd love to see more of that world but that's the problem with Ghost in the Shell: I'd love to see more from this world but not in THIS film. If I had to see it again and I wasn't allowed to skip over what happens between the first and final scenes, I'd compare it to when you realise you have to cook for once instead of getting food delivered, I just can't be bothered. There's reward in seeing it but said reward is little compared to the large husk of the viewing chore ahead of you. It's a good try and an interesting experience but Ghost in the Shell is an example of why some films should be shorter. A lot shorter.

Rating: 5/10

Shenmue: The Moment Ryo Became Human

Sometimes on gaming websites and YouTube you can occasionally see lists of the "best moments in gaming". The listed moments are usually similar from article to article and video to video, but it is interesting to see how gaming has evolved from a medium of simple interactive entertainment to something that is considered by many to have memorable moments in the same way we remember famous moments from movies, such as Heath Ledger's "you know how I got these scars?" from The Dark Knight or Jack Nicholson's "here's Johnny!" from The Shining. Nowadays we take this for granted, with new memorable gaming moments being brought to us all the time - and this is most likely due to how story-telling has become such an important part of many modern video games. Triple A titles like The Last of Us and indie-developed games like Firewatch are just two examples of games that are more than just an adventure in a virtual world - but an opportunity to find yourself wrapped up in a story as it unfolds and witness characters as they grow and develop. If we as players find ourselves getting attached to these characters, then the creation of a memorable moment is bound to occur. Just look at how many tears were shed over that one scene in Final Fantasy VII.
It wasn't until recently when I realised what my favourite moment in gaming was. In fact, I only just played it. There were some shenanigans that occurred involving me accidentally deleting my save file like a twit coupled with the fact that my Dreamcast wasn't working all that well. Anyway, years later I played and finally finished a little game series known as Shenmue, a series revered (and even misunderstood) by many (you can read more about it in this article I wrote back in 2013). Shenmue is a series that is choc-full of incredible moments, and now we're getting a third game in the series (who'd have thought we'd ever see it) I am sure we'll be getting even more incredible moments to be part of as we play further through Ryo Hazuki's quest to seek revenge for the death of his Father. But there is one moment that stands out to me from the series above all others, and it takes place on the fourth disc of Shenmue II, and is the moment in the game's story that I'd like to refer to as "the moment Ryo becomes human".

So the fourth disc of Shenmue II begins with Ryo Hazuki arriving at the small village of Langhuishan, China. After a brief stop at this small village, Ryo heads down a long scenic path to his destination - Bailu Village. After the chaotic and intense happenings of the game's third disc, this disc is a complete contrast in comparison. The gameplay, aside from the occasional quick-time event, is relaxing and just well, amazing.
While Ryo's initial trek is somewhat uneventful (but worth it just to look at the absolutely gorgeous scenery - even for the Dreamcast) it soon takes a turn when a storm brews and Ryo sees a young woman dive into the treacherous rapids of a river to rescue a drowning fawn. Ryo dives in after her and the two end up washed up on the riverbank the next day, after the storm has passed. Even the fawn survived - all is well and good in the world.

You find out that this girl is Shenhua, who lives in Bailu Village - Ryo's destination. She thanks Ryo for saving her and offers to take him to her village, a long journey that will take more than a day - it is this journey (and the events that follow it - all the way up until the game's ending) that I regard as my favourite moment in Shenmue and to me is definitely one of the greatest moments in any video game ever. Never before when playing a game have I found myself yearning for more after it was over more than I found myself with the journey of Ryo and Shenhua to Bailu Village. It's something about the scenery, the idle yet personal conversation and the absolutely gorgeous score that accompanies Ryo and Shenhua's journey that makes it such a worthwhile experience.
But it isn't just these things that make these moments so fulfilling, but the characters themselves, Ryo in particular. Up until this point, Ryo Hazuki is terribly stone-faced, you could even go as far as to say that as a character he is even one-dimensional. Dead set on avenging his Father, he doesn't have time to let his emotions show for a second and is focused solely on his mission. Even in the first game when he receives a confession of love from his childhood friend Nozomi, he does not give her much back in the way of emotion. I thought up until the fourth disc of Shenmue II that perhaps Ryo's neutral attitude to everything was intended to serve as a way to help the player immerse themselves into the game more, with Ryo functioning as an avatar for them to project their own feelings on to - but I realise now it was more down to his strong focus on seeking revenge that was the basis of his lack of emotion. But on disc four, Ryo is presented with a moment of peace and a pause from his mission. He has to take a long journey in the company of another human being - someone who he has to talk to properly unlike the many characters he has previously met, characters who he speaks to mainly just to get more information that can further aid him on his quest.

But on disc 4, Ryo reveals a lot about himself, and although at this point we have just met Shenhua, we learn more about her from the two character's chatter along their journey more than any other character that we have encountered previously in the Shenmue series, and it's good that we do too, as I have a feeling she is going to be very important in the third game. The majority of this disc's gameplay is based around following Shenhua. She walks, and Ryo walks behind her automatically. If you press the A button on the Dreamcast controller, Ryo will get her attention and you will be presented with a set of three questions, or the option to push on. Through these questions (with more popping up in the place of questions that have been asked) Ryo and Shenhua discuss their respective countries, their childhoods and even silly little things like the flowers they like and their country's folklore... and it all works well because Shenhua has lived isolated -away from technology, cars and big cities- in the tiny Bailu Village for her entire life. Someone like Ryo is almost alien to someone like her - at one point she even asks him if he could tell the children of her village about Japan.

But the most revealing moment for Ryo is when the two stop overnight in a cave midway through their journey, and after making a fire, Shenhua asks Ryo to talk to him about his life. This is where Ryo really opens up about people from his past. Up until this point, I can't lie, I might have thought many of the characters Ryo encountered on his journey were nothing more than ways to move his journey forward, but I was happily proven wrong when he remembers many of them in this scene fondly, and his fondness towards them is sincere. You can even show Shenhua photographs that you have acquired along your journey, such as the one of him and Nozomi. As an interesting aside, it is worth mentioning that later when you are walking with Shenhua again, there is a moment where Ryo mentions that his Father liked lilies and that Nozomi (who worked at the florist) brought his Father flowers one day. In response to this, Shenhua says "are you talking about Nozomi again?" as if she is jealous of Ryo's constant mention of Nozomi, to which Ryo amusingly responds "no, I was talking about my Father". This is just another little moment that makes this sequence of events so incredible to me. The characterisation here feels genuine. When you look at the story of Shenmue deeper than just its surface, it is more than just a story of revenge. It is also a coming-of-age story for Ryo. I remember Yu Suzuki saying in an interview that in the story that comes after Shenmue II, Ryo would eventually outgrow his feelings of revenge. If this is the case Ryo's ageing process will have come full circle and I willlove every second of his transformation into the person he will become.

But as I'm sure the Shenmue fans reading this article will already be aware, we will potentially receive Shenmue III 16 years later, in December. SIXTEEN. It's been nearly two decades of waiting for some fans. Shenmue II ended on a pretty significant cliffhanger, and many want to see what happens next. But what I look forward to the most is more of the characterisation that preceded it. Even more than I yearn for the capsule toys, the arcade machines and a modern take on the gameplay that made Shenmue so beloved in the first place, I yearn for moments that lead Ryo to reach the height of his complexity. I would love to see more of the gameplay that is contained on the fourth disc of Shenmue II where we get to talk to Shenhua. I want to see this richly-developed relationship with Shenhua explored even further. Regardless of what happens, I know that Yu Suzuki won't let us down with Shenmue III. I can't believe it's finally here.

Shenmue forever.

Kong: Skull Island (Movie Review)

Kong: Skull Island is an American Monster film directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer, Nick Offerman: American Ham). Starring Tom Hiddleston; Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson,  John Goodman and John C. Reilly, it's the installment that introduces King Kong into Legendary Picture's own shared "Monster-Verse", that started with 2014's Godzilla (Aup, Marvel). Set in 1973, a squad of soldiers and scientists head off to an uncharted island in the Pacific, ending up encountering and running away from it's native creatures, Kong included. General Monster film featuring angry Sam L Jackson lines ensue.

Not being the biggest fan of Godzilla (the biggest monster-reveal tease ever), I was really hesitant guessing if I was going to enjoy the next in line of Legendary's Monster bonanza. Incorrectly assuming what the overall tone and feel would be, I actually had a good time with Kong: Skull Island but it was for all the wrong reasons.

Ruined Monkey Business

Right, starting on a positive note (because good vibes n' stuff), anything with action featuring Kong is great. His look, roar and the way he punches mortifying-looking skull lizard creatures in the face feels like the only things that justify the $185 million budget. Kong and select action sequences are beauties to look at and really creates hype for the inevitable face off with Godzilla in a future film.. That's the only thing I loved about Kong: Skull Island that actually seemed intentional.

Pretty action scenes aside, it's filled with unrealistic empty characters. Performances from the cast are as ok as you'd expect them to be, with it being filled with so many huge names and everything but they have to work with a script that made me cry with laughter. Not because it's funny but because it's dialogue in a huge, blockbuster film that sounds like it was copied and pasted from either a porn script or a spin-off for Sharknado. A particular scene with Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson really stands out. About 30 minutes in, after unexpectedly running into Kong,  a 128ft gorilla that no one would have ever imagined to have existed, Hiddleston and Larson's characters and some soldiers are getting their bearings. With nothing more than a couple of cheesy banter lines between Larson and Hiddleston, a solider reacts in the manner of "can we talk about what just happened?! A giant gorilla just appeared out of nowhere! why are you two so calm?!". All of the big contenders are as good as you'd expect them to be except maybe for Brie Larson just standing there and staring half the time. You can tell Tom Hiddleston's trying to bring out the British wit and flair we all love. Sadly, they have to work with a script that hurls the idea of believable, human characters out of the window. I couldn't help but laugh at the increased absurdity of the characters I was seeing, especially after going through what felt like a long-winded set up in actually getting to the island.

It can definitely be said you won't be bored through the entirety of Kong Skull Island. However, that's mainly because you're either smirking at the awkward dialogue, admiring the scenery and effects or you're trying to comprehend who's doing what and why. The large group heading to the island is split up into initially three groups upon arrival, thus taking you back and forth to these groups as to try to meet up again to return home. The group including, Hiddleston, Larson and John C. Reilly is the one I'd have preferred to follow on it's own because even though all of the film's characters and their motivations seem paper thin, these seem the least absurd. Samuel L Jackson and John Goodman's characters appear to have thrown common sense away and a side story with Tobey Kebbel (Fantastic Four, A Monster Calls, Black Mirror) doesn't really go anywhere, not being worth the time put in with a very boring pay off.

What had and still has me reluctantly chuckle is the clear struggle of identity. There's nothing wrong with a film's structure and dialogue being entertainingly cheesy and absurd as long as the tone is set up that way, not trying to be anymore than it actually is. Not trying to be The Godfather 2 when you're merely Fast & Furious. Skull Island oversteps it's bounds and you know it in moments like when you see John C. Reilly in what's meant to be an epic monster adventure film. What appears to be a matured rehash of his man-child role from Step Brothers, Reilly's contribution is just to serve some exposition, drowned in unfunny jokes and put you into another side story no one asked for. It's one of many elements that make Skull Island feel more like a parody than the real thing. Besides the monster fights. there are one or two action scenes with the humans that are really fun to watch but the logic behind what took the characters to that position in the first place seemed like the definition of lazy writing, literally using the story as a fragile tool to showcase flashy violence.

Final Thoughts

Even before the credits started rolling, I could see myself watching Kong: Skull Island again. I've already envisioned inviting a couple of friends round, popping open some beers and us all sharing in a mutual laugh in what a bad film really is, right before comparing it's quality to the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. Having such a huge budget is part of it's saving grace but it feels like all that money was injected into it by an accounting error due to the massive mess it is.

Once you accept that's what Skull Island is; a badly written showcase for some good effects, a few action scenes, cardboard characters and wasted acting power, you can easily have fun time with it. I could loop Samuel L Jackson's awkwardly hilarious and intense stare-offs with King Kong through fire for hours. Nevertheless, having to say that is what is really disappointing about this film. It had the potential; set-up, iconic character and gritty tone set by Godzilla make Skull Island's action scenes shine even brighter in a grounded yet gripping serious story. Instead, we get that drunk friend, who's always off his face, standing up to make a serious point about life before falling flat on his arse and spilling his drink on his crotch. That's sort of fun to watch too I suppose, if you're drunk as well.

Rating: 4/10

Shantae: Half Genie Hero (Game Review)

Four years ago - long before I met the Alt:Mag team - the chaps at WayForward started a Kickstarter campaign for their next big game. They raised $400,000 (roughly £330,000) in less than a month, and by Christmas 2014 they reached a final count of $950,000 (£780,000). The game was originally planned to release two months earlier, but thanks to the extra funds, it was delayed for another two

Erased (Anime Review)

Erased is a 12 episode thriller anime adapted from a manga series of the same name. Directed by Tomohiko Itō (Known for Death Note, Blue Exorcist, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Sword Art Online) that focuses on Satoru Fujinuma: a 29 year old failing manga artist working part-time in a pizza parlour. He somehow has this ability called revival which occasionally and unexpectedly

A Monster Calls (Movie Review)

Branching Out With Wonder

A Monster Calls is a fantasy drama film and an adaptation of the award-winning 2011 novel of the same name. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible), the film's crew is joined by the novel's author, Patrick Ness, as the writer. Centred around 12-year old Conor O'Malley, (Lewis MacDougall), A Monster Calls focuses on a dark time the

Assassin's Creed (Movie Review)

Christmas 2016 was one of the hardest I’ve had in my life. While everyone else enjoyed dinner with their families and partied their socks off, I had to deal with a broken oven, a party being cancelled, and a family fight. It would’ve been the worst if it hadn’t been for one gift to myself, which I had to wait until last Friday for. It was, of course, the Assassin’s Creed film. After showing for three weeks in America, the film finally came out in the UK. While many people hope it’ll break the so called “video-game curse”, my own hopes for the film were personal. Like any fan, I wanted it to be true to the games - but most importantly, I wanted it to rekindle my love for a series I nearly turned my back on. Did the film succeed?

Read on to find out. (SPOILER WARNING)

In 1988, nine-year-old Callum Lynch (played by Michael Fassbender) witnesses the death of his mother at the hands of his father. Cut to the present, and Cal is now a criminal about to be executed for murder. On the night of his death, agents from Abstergo Industries - the modern front of the Knights Templar - abduct Cal and take him to their headquarters in Madrid. There he meets Dr Sofia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) and her father, Abstergo’s CEO Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), who force him to use a machine called the Animus to experience the memories of his ancestors. Cal steps into the boots of Aguilar de Nerha (also played by Michael); an Assassin in 14th-century Spain and a sworn enemy of the Templars. Through the Animus, Cal inherits Aguilar’s fighting skills and plans to use them to escape from Abstergo. However, Sofia and Alan have their own plans - and they’re not all as noble as they claim to be.

I managed to catch the film last Friday, when cinemas started to show it during the day. However, it was moved to a different screen without my knowledge and I missed the opening scene (a prologue with Aguilar). I was lucky enough to get in the right screen just as the story began in earnest - and I’m glad to report my experience didn’t suffer for it. The film isn’t perfect, but I can honestly tell you it’s far better than every game-based film we’ve seen before. It’s true to the games - a given since it’s produced by Ubisoft itself - but it’s also brave enough to take risks to give us something different. Instead of re-telling the story of, say, Desmond or Ezio, Assassin’s Creed tells its own story with a new set of characters living in the games’ universe. It’s a bold move for Fassbender, who also produced the film, and his director Justin Kurzel, with whom he worked on 2015’s adaptation of Macbeth. Together, they take the best qualities of that film and put them into a larger budget: gritty visuals, fast-paced battle scenes, and a preference for physical effects. They go surprisingly well with the series, resulting in battles across time which are both brutal and beautiful. That said, the film isn’t without its flaws, some of which had nothing to do with the Creed’s transition to the big screen.

Whether you’re familiar with the series or not, the first thing you’ll love or hate is the protagonist, Callum Lynch. Despite his connection to the Assassins, Cal is a much darker character than Desmond, having been a criminal since his mother died. He also spends much of his time hating his father - even wanting to kill him - for it, so for many people, the fact that Fassbender is playing the role may be the only thing keeping them from hating him. After all, a criminal protagonist is harder to relate to than a bartender. But as the film progressed, and the reasons for Cal’s situation became clear, I began to like him. By the end, I was more invested in him than in any modern character from the games. It was a harder sell with the other Assassins Callum meets at Abstergo: Moussa (Michael K. Williams), Nathan (Callum Turner), Emir (Matias Varela), and Lin (Michelle H. Lin). Despite being part of the series’ nominal protagonists, Moussa and his friends go to extreme lengths to find out whether Cal is a friend or not. If you haven’t played the games, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re antagonists. This moral ambiguity is both a strength and a weakness - it makes the Assassins feel more human, but you won’t know who to root for until the end. It doesn’t help that Nathan, Emir, and Lin go unnamed in the film; I had to learn their names in the credits.

Another element of the film that will divide opinion is Aguilar’s story. In the games, you spend more time in the past than you do in the present, but here the focus is switched. Cal enters the Animus three times in the film, and these scenes - called “regressions” by Sofia - make up a third of its length. That means over half an hour is dedicated to Aguilar’s battle with the Grand Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada and his right-hand man Ojeda. It may seem disappointing, but the quality of Aguilar’s scenes more than makes up for it. Justin Kurzel could’ve taken the easy route and filmed them all on green screen, but instead he went on location and used as many real effects as possible. Better yet, the actors speak entirely in Spanish and perform most of their own stunts. It’s amazing to watch because Aguilar and his friends do a lot of fighting, running, and jumping over rooftops without stopping to breathe - and unlike their modern descendants, their goals and motives are undoubtedly clear. The problem is you’ll need to pay attention when the hidden blades are drawn. Like in Macbeth, Assassin’s Creed’s battles are fast and furious, and if you’re not careful, you could miss an important moment. Some people may find them harder to follow, thanks to the film cutting back and forth between Aguilar and Callum in the Animus. Unlike in the games, where the Animus was a VR chair, the film’s model is a giant, robotic arm that forces Cal to re-enact Aguilar’s fights as he relives them. It’s an idea that’s well suited to film - even Ubisoft love it - but not everyone will like watching it in action. Finally, some knowledge of the Spanish Inquisition may be needed to fully enjoy Aguilar’s scenes. Unless you know your history on Torquemada, you will be disappointed.

Despite it being canon, the main thing that will bother fans and newcomers alike will be the way the film handles the games’ deeper elements. In the games, the Templars hunt for artefacts called Pieces of Eden, which allow them to control the minds of other people. The full story behind them was too complicated to keep in the film, so Ubisoft decided to narrow it down to reach a wider audience - the Rikkins are searching for one artefact, the Apple, and its history is simplified. It was the right thing to do, but the way the Apple was explained could’ve been clearer. Sofia and Alan refer to it as “the cure for violence”; a line newcomers will find confusing. Sadly, it’s one of many lines from Sofia which either baffled me or fell flat. Cottilard’s performance, and her caring attitude towards Cal, kept me invested in her. Sofia’s interactions with the Assassins not only made me question her role in the film, but also created conflict with her oppressive father. Alan Rikkin is one of only two characters appearing from the games, but whether you know him or not, Jeremy Irons’ performance won’t disappoint. Just bear in mind that the Rikkins aren’t your typical villains. In the world of Assassin’s Creed, typical villains don’t exist.

Assassin's Creed won't be the one to "break the curse", but it makes a huge effort to be better than every game-based film that has come before. It strikes a balance between being true to the series and walking its own path - and most importantly, it brought me back to the Brotherhood. I urge you to see it and judge for yourself. Safety and peace be upon you.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Movie Review)

Episode 3.9: The Empire Gets Organised

The new Christmas tradition. Another December, another trip to a galaxy far, far away. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an epic space opera film directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters), being the newest entry in the Star Wars film anthology. Stars include Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsen, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed,

5 Video Games That Get Festive

It's that time of year again folks. The decorations are up and the weather is cold, meaning I am wearing a hat all the time... half because it's freezing, the other half because of my receding hairline that I have become increasingly more aware of during these past months. Can't stay a youthful online magazine editor forever, kids.
Anyway, I was thinking that when it comes to video games Christmas doesn't really seem to be a thing. Perhaps it's because to make an entire game focused around a holiday that takes place during the space of one month of the year isn't really a good idea if you want your game to A) be remembered the entire year round when people have left the festivities behind or B) actually sell any other time of the year. While there aren't many games focused around Christmas and most that do exist are just crappy cash grabs, there are some games that don't focus on Christmas but include Christmas in some way. Here's a short list of some of the best that you can play as Christmas Day draws closer.

Overwatch (Various) - Winter Wonderland Event 2016
So recently I got into Overwatch and I am really into it. Actually let me rephrase that: I am obsessed with Overwatch. Great gameplay that differs from your run-of-the-mill first person shooter and characters that are not only memorable but easy to fall in love with too. Sure, the competitive mode is unfair and disheartening, but when you play this game with friends it can be a lot of fun, and proper team work and coordination is always the key to a successful match. Well anyway, last Wednesday on all platforms they just released a special update for Christmas that gives some of the maps a snowy lick of paint, characters have cool Christmas-themed skins and voice lines, and there is a highly addictive and fun snowball fight mini-game featuring Mei. It's just a shame that all of the fun and Festivities only last until January, but we all know Blizzard will be sure to gift us with more of the same next year!

Shenmue (Sega Dreamcast) - Christmas in Doubita
If you, like me whenever I play through the first Shenmue game, always have to unlock the cutscenes where Nozomi confesses her love to protagonist Ryo Hazuki, you probably utilised the 'keep failing the quicktime event where Ryo has to catch the security guard's torch' trick to push the date of the game forward quickly. This is because the Nozomi cutscenes take place any night after the 25th. Get to Christmas time on the game and you will see decorations down Doubita Street, and even a Santa Claus walking around that you can talk to... and can't forget the Christmas-themed music in the classic Shenmue-style. Shenmue was always an incredible game for atmosphere, even when it does Christmas in its own subtle way. Thank you Yu Suzuki.

NiGHTS Into Dreams... (Sega Saturn) - The Christmas NiGHTS Into Dreams... Demo Disc
While the main game of NiGHTS into Dreams... doesn't feature Christmas, this two-level demo disc that was given away with the Sega Saturn magazine in the UK goes all out with the festivities - but only in December. Put this demo in your Sega Saturn any other time of year and it seems to be just a regular demo for the regular NiGHTS into Dreams... but when your Saturn console's clock reaches the month of Christmas, you are greeted with jolly Christmas music and the character of NiGHTS gets a red and white makeover. Jump into a game and snow is falling, the loops look like wreaths and sometimes you can even see Santa and his sleigh in the background scenery. Beat one of the demo's two levels and you can play a matching puzzle to open presents that reward you with concept artwork and other goodies such as a device that checks the moods of the Nightopians in your main game, as well as being able to play one of the levels as Sonic in his first ever 3D appearance in a video game. If you don't have a Sega Saturn, I hear that they included this Christmas extra in the NiGHTS Into Dreams... remaster that is avaliable on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 (as seen in the screenshot below).

Bully/Canis Canem Edit (Various) - Christmas at Bullsworth Academy
Ah, Bully.. or as we in the UK knew it, Canis Canem Edit. A fondly remembered yet widely misunderstood game in which the main story of the game is in fact focused around beating the bullies who pick on weak and vulnerable kids as opposed to actually bullying them at the academy that the main character Jimmy Hopkins attends (granted, you do have the ability to be a douche in the game if you do so wish). Anyway, after you go to sleep for the first time during Chapter 3, Jimmy awakens to an announcement calling him to the Principle's office. The grounds of Bullsworth Academy are covered in snow and Christmas decorations can be seen everywhere. At the Principle's office Jimmy receives a horrid Rudolph Christmas jumper from his neglectful mother that when worn causes kids around him to make fun of him. Change out of it quickly and leave the jeers and Christmas behind you as you move on with the story. I always felt this game also has a great atmosphere, and this little Christmas moment is a nice treat, especially since I remember some fond moments of watching my cousin play this game around Christmas time.


Harry Potter & The Philospher's Stone (Game Boy Color) - Christmas Day at Hogwarts
This game is one I had as a kid that I will still vouch for nowadays as being an unexpectedly great movie tie-in, as was its sequel, which was also on the Game Boy Color. You can really tell that the developers went all out in attempting to capture the magical world of Harry Potter on Nintendo's handheld wonder, and they really pulled it off. There is just something to love about the simplistic yet detailed 8-bit environments of Hogwarts coupled together with some great exploration and RPG gameplay. Anyway, remember that bit in Harry Potter where Harry and Ron are about to open their Christmas and Peeves the ghost comes along and steals Harry's presents like the annoying twit he is? Okay, the developers had to take a few liberties with the story to keep the game lengthy but it's still cool that they tried to extend the Christmas part of the story, if just for a little while, without it just being limited to 'Harry and Ron opened their presents'. Instead you get to chase Peeves around an empty Hogwarts trying to find said presents. Now that I think about it, Hogwarts always seemed pretty lax on health and safety and what not, because if they cared about such things, surely they'd not have a giant three-headed dog chilling out in the third-floor corridor, lessons focused around digging up plant creatures with fatal cries and they'd restrain annoying ghosts trying to steal people's Christmas presents? I'm surprised Hogwarts wasn't shut down for endangering students... Merry Christmas!

What games do you know love to play at Christmas get into the Festivities? Let us know in the comments section below, or via our Twitter or Facebook pages. Merry Christmas all you awesome Alt:Mag'ers, and thanks for reading!

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