It’s been a while since I reviewed one of these narrative games, but a recent conversation about the RPG Dread and its use of a physical, inevitable death timer in a Jenga tower to evoke the progression of a horror film got me revisiting a game from the collection I downloaded.
Acceptable Loss (by @rpgnatalie ) is a simple game, although perhaps a little more complex than Dread in order to expand the theming and add an almost competitive element. It sits in a very strange place between competition and co-operation as, in contrast to the usual social contract that the GM-player relationship should be more than simple hostility the “GM” figure (or closest analogue as there is not a usual table power structure here) plays an embodiment of hostility pushing inevitably towards the other character’s death.
This article was originally written for Who Dares Rolls (www.whodaresrolls.com) and is reproduced here with permission.
Laser Beams… is by Taylor Smith (@whimsymachine)
In the game’s own words, its premise is as follows:
“You are a huge fan of mechs and their amazing pilots. You love to watch their heroics on the news, you visit when pilots come to your town, you own multiple letterman jackets emblazoned with mech pilots’ insignias. You’re burdened with the dream of piloting, eclipsed by the fear that you will never be more than a spectator. You love that which is unfathomably above you. Let’s talk about that.”
Quote, of course, from the inimitable @dril
It is sadly possible that before long I will be intensely frustrated with Fire Force, because the things I liked about its first episode are things that will probably end up less prominent, and there is a whole fascinating world of things I will not like lurking in the wings unless it lives up to some interesting foreshadowing and pulls off some good revelations. But nevertheless the first episode has spectacular energy to it, combining great aesthetics of combat, a visually impressive setting and a concept that is simple, elegant and effective for setting up an ensemble-cast superhero series. It is not far removed from a Super Sentai series (or perhaps even more like Rescue Fire or one of the Metal Hero series like Winspector) – a team of heroes themed around the emergency services fight monsters related to their specialisation. In this case, in the distant future(?), people often explode into flaming skeletons and it falls to the FIRE SOLDIERS to kick the skeletons to death and shoot them with guns.
As I continue to watch Gun X Sword I’m struck by several things. Firstly it does not get significantly less uneven in quality. Secondly, the El Dora V episode feels even by the halfway point like a weird anomaly of sincerity – although other episodes, in their own ways, hit equally weird and interesting concepts. Thirdly it is a series that has an unbelievably strong villain even before he actually does anything.
I started rewatching Gun X Sword just after beginning to play Super Robot Wars T and was seriously wondering after two episodes if it was actually as good as I remembered. I would fully understand someone, after two episodes of the series, being just about done with it because the opening absolutely does not touch the show’s real strengths. You have two episodes of character humour that might be grating without the opportunity to get to know the characters, and of incidental combat against largely irritating villains. There are flashes of interest, for sure – the moments where the mask of slacker comedy breaks and Van shows his crazed side suggest there is something more going on here, made all the clearer by the fact the setting is called The Endless Illusion. But ultimately it is a kind of badness driven by simply being ordinary when you have probably, if you have been convinced to watch Gun X Sword, entered expecting something extraordinary.
There are quite a few comedy fantasy anime in the vein of The Slayers and, unfortunately, most of them are varying degrees of quite sexist. Even The Slayers has some episodes that really don’t hold up as very good, although it also has some extremely funny episodes and some action scenes that work quite well. There are certain tropes that come through in a number of the series in this vein that, depending on execution, feel a little awkward; lots of cross-dressing, lots of jokes where the punchline is pretty much “man tries to spy on woman and gets punched” and so on. The execution varies for better or worse, but nevertheless it seems this sort of adolescent humour is a recurring theme and it’s wholly understandable that that might not appeal to people so much. Konosuba goes perhaps even further by having a masochist-fetish defender and various other more direct sex jokes.
Kamen Rider Gaim is a very different beast to the previous series in the franchise I had watched and enjoyed; perhaps the closest comparison is 2018’s Kamen Rider Build in terms of tone, storyline and general feel, with heroes on all factions trying to get ahead of each other and eventually realising this is playing into a greater threat’s hands. But even so it is quite different, and the purpose of this review is not really to compare the series directly but to talk about what makes Gaim so compelling to watch.
It is fair to say I am watching Dororo (2019) with absolutely no knowledge of the original 1969 TV anime or 1967 Osamu Tezuka manga. As a result I cannot comment on how good an adaptation it is, in any useful sense; my understanding from secondary reading is it is making some plot changes, but beyond that I do not know anything. So, that reservation in mind, would I recommend Dororo (2019)? Yes. It’s a series which has in its first three episodes generally presented a praiseworthy attention to detail, some good action and a straightforward plot which hits some generally tough moral beats with the uncompromising didacticism that I grew to like about series like Harlock SSX.
Note: This article discusses the plot details of episodes 1-3 of Dororo (2019) including the way it handles the narrative depiction of suicide in episode 3.
It has been a long time since I watched any Captain Harlock media, but the recent announcement of Super Robot Wars T, featuring Harlock SSX: My Youth in Arcadia, drove me to give the series another go. I love its aesthetic, and it is iconic enough to be notably parodied in various things (perhaps most broadly by the latter half of Goldran featuring Walter disguised as a bad parody of Harlock piloting a giant robot shark), but I did not recall particularly gelling with the original series, dated as it is, when I first watched it.
Kamen Rider W is very good; it has a solid cast of characters and offers a strong mystery. The villain plots work well, and it is endearingly socially conscious in a way that is unsubtle without being patronising. At the end of the day, behind much of the superhero bombast, it is an action series about cool, all-action detectives trying to stop an organised crime gang selling drugs on the streets. Except the drugs are magic USB sticks that give you the power to become a supervillain, and the heroes have a cool bike, transforming armour and a dubious CGI go-kart full of gadgets.