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By Emil

Recommended System Requirements
Processor: Pentium 4 @ 3 GHz or Equivalent
Memory: 1 GB
Hard Drive: 5 GB Free
Video Memory: 256 MB (ATI Radeon X1800/nVidia GeForce 7600)

Extreme hack and slash has become quite popular these days what games like Devil May Cry and Heavenly Sword, that it's nearly dead. X-Blades can only be called a prototype clone of DMC. If the box cover attracts you and you're expecting a wonderful narrative storyline filled with plot twists and moving moments, this isn't that. Ayumi, the heroine of the game, wearing no armour and little clothing, hacks, slashes and shoots her way through dungeons and arenas filled with monsters to get to the next one. Her purpose? Rid the world of vile heathens and monsters? Err. Maybe.

We've established that this isn't a game that lets the story take the lead. Gameplay can be rather fun, with lots and lots of abilities and weapon upgrades. Abilities, or magic, can be used with the help of the rage bar, which fills up when Ayumi takes a dishing out or gives a dishing out. Once you've cleared the arena of monsters and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night with your assorted arsenal of artilleries, you move on to the next arena to do the same thing. Following that, you move on the next, rinse and repeat over and over again, collecting magical treasures and becoming stronger in the process. A complete lack of an AI and repetitiveness of monsters and the gameplay can become quite annoying and will be a factor in how long you can play this. Enemy designs can be also boring, so is their strategies- they pretty much follow you to their doom no matter wherever you go, wherever you are, until you hack them to pieces. Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat once again.

X-Blades is the kind of game that says, “Hey. You've got a little time to kill. Why don't you pop in for ten minutes and hack some monsters, and you can pop right back out whenever you want to?” Graphically, the most attractive thing is probably Ayumi herself. Well, more distracting that attractive, but yeah whatever. You don't really complain much when it's a scantily-clad chick with a sword in each hand who can kick butt better than you ever could. Hawt? Maybe. Really, the graphics are kind of cool with cell-shaded characters and animations, which have their own flaws, though- but there's more than enough eye-candy to go around. For everyone. Literally.

Probably the primary flaw of the game is that they attempted at a story. Badly. It would have been better left off as a casual game, where you got to select a particular character and clear off stages just for the heck of it- like Crimsonland. Plot-wise, they could have definitely gone in a better direction. I think it's best to assume this: there's a giant basket load of monsters, Ayumi's in there somewhere, and she's going to kick their butts several ways around.

Load times are pretty fast, and you can alt+tab out of the game as much as you can, almost seamlessly. So, yeah. You can chat online and play games at the same time. All in all, this isn't really a game that you should take seriously. If you ever feel the need to just kill some monsters, hey, why not, right? Other than that, if you value your free time, and your money, then it's quite an obvious no-no.

X-Blades could've been a more interesting game if it was approached differently. But, it wasn't, and it's only slightly interesting. And so we grade this game a D. Unless, casual gaming with scantily-clad chicks is like your crack, in which case it gets a B.

By The Anarchist Kitten

Before Sunrise provides a very brave and honest look at relationships; it's one of the only films ever to capture the emotions involved so precisely, and translate it into what we see in the screen. The film, at its most basic a love story, is peppered with philosophical debates and arguments between two people but Before Sunrise is not to be scrutinized, nor studied- the beauty lies in its absolute perfection as a 'simple' love story.

A young man and woman meet on a train in Europe, and wind up spending one romantic evening together in Vienna. Unfortunately, they both know that this will probably be their only night together.

The plot is simple enough, but what really drives it is the superb acting by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and the collaborative screenplay written by the two actors and Richard Linklater. The dialogue is the focal point of the film and it never wavers; the characters don't address their love directly, but it gradually becomes evident to even the most casual viewer as a genuine bond forms through the body language, facial expressions, and the offhand dialogue.

The main reason to watch this film is the thrill of being able to live a life like that; and we can at least vicariously because of Before Sunrise, a story of two lives suddenly thrown together in the midst of reality, and the ensuing night of simple love that follows. Not once does the premise falter from reality. Most of us dream of the connection that is formed between the two lovers in the film, and few ever find it- the reality is that we, the viewers, along with the characters, know from the very beginning that it's temporary- for less than a day.

The main message of the movie shines through with this very idea- the reason something's going to end is no reason to not enjoy it while it lasts. The fact that viewers know what's going to happen in the end does not take away from the surprise and thrill but only strengthens the growing sense of dread at having to suffer an imminent sad ending. Ironically the ending is made bearable in this way- it's sad, yet poignant, and does not have to be Titanic, or tug hard at your heartstrings.

In the end, nothing really happens in the film. But it's the journey that's worth it, and not a second of it is without thrill; while watching the film, looking over beautiful Vienna at night through the perspective of two lovers who know they have a limited amount of time together, you'd be hard-pressed to not feel a bond with the film. The ending is both provocative and emotional- scenes of the night seen in the beauty of darkness are now portrayed under daylight as the sun rises and the story closes on these two characters. It's simple and realistic through out. A nice little film, that's not quite as harmless as it appears. Here's a chick flick that's more than a chick flick. Before Sunrise is the story of two strangers bound in Vienna's lonely night splendour- one night of love in all its glory, and an outstanding piece of filmmaking.

Anime Reviews

By Le Chupacabra

Don't you just hate it when an anime ends? I mean, you really do want to see it live beyond its (usually ample) twenty-six episodes simply because you must know what happens to the characters afterwards. It's a common affliction we have, as viewers or readers, really. Having said that, it's becoming an increasingly common trend for anime to emulate Western shows with their endless seasons. Let's take a look at the successors to some anime that the Rising Stars has reviewed in the past to see if there's truly life beyond the end or if it suffers the same malaise as beating a dead horse i.e. if it needs to stay dead.

Mobile Suit Gundam 00 S2
(Action/Mecha | 25 Episodes | Sunrise | Ages 12+)
Sequel to Mobile Suit Gundam 00 (Ages 12+)

The very first thing that smacked me across the face with S2 was when the presumably destroyed Gundam Exia piloted by the presumably deceased Setsuna F Seiei emerges from the shadows, one half of its body wreathed in a tattered cloak. First of all, where did he get a tarpaulin big enough and secondly, why, dear god, why? Does the cloak give it +10 defence? Does it raise his “street cred”? When last I saw, Celestial Beings weren't exactly the most popular kids on the block.

But they're back again and still carry that same steely resolve to rid the world of warfare. The world's changed greatly in the last four years as well, with old factions uniting to form one body and sanctioning the creation of the A-Laws, an autonomous peacekeeping force. However, this is a strained union and the A-Laws take advantage of their position to wreak havoc. If that wasn't a pressing concern, the enigmatic Ribbons Almark returns and with a sinister plan that involves the entire human race.

The modern day, politically charged premise of the first season seems to have given itself away to something more childish: there are more random vendettas, absolutely abysmal dialogue and events that are really quite silly given the somewhat serious nature of old. Tacked onto that is probably the worst naming conventions I've ever seen for any set of protagonists. I mean, do you really feel threatened by someone called “Ribbons”? Also, one of the last episodes has a relatively serious scene that becomes unintentionally hilarious with two people pointing guns at each other; they decide to fight with obscure, cliché philosophical yelling instead. That seems to summarise this season quite well. Oh, Gundam 00, you make me smile so.

Other than these constant niggles, S2 has surprisingly good entertainment value. The fights are nicely choreographed, there's some great artwork in store and the music is generally good stuff. The story, for all its inanities, isn't bad enough to dimiss outright. The ending is neat and tidy, almost Disney-esque. If you've got some lazy afternoons or evenings to kill, I dare say you could do a lot worse than Mobile Suit Gundam 00 S2.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2
(Action/Drama/Thriller | 26 Episodes | Sunrise | Ages 15+)
Sequel to Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (Ages 12+)

When we last left Lelouch, he was leading his men into an epic confrontation with the central Britannian forces in Japan. Fast forward an indiscriminate amount of time and we find a very different scenario. Lelouch Lamperouge seems to be living a very content existence back in school alongside his friends and his brother Rolo, whom we have never even heard of. Where is his sister Nunnally? And what really happened at that great battle?

Intense drama, sweeping opera and pungent cheese awaits you in this, the continuation of the rather moreish Code Geass. Gone are the quiet character plays or light-hearted gallivanting and in its place, theatrics rule supreme. R2 takes everything insane about its forebear and pushes further with twists, revelations and turn-arounds that will surely give the terminally timid a heart attack. The pacing is decidedly brutal and almost every episode culminates in a shocking cliffhanger; casual viewing this is not. Fresh faces are introduced, old ones reveal new quirks and at the heart of it all is Lelouch. I called him a poor man's Light before and while I stand by it for the first season, R2 sees him surge forward into his own memorable persona. In addition, there's breaking news on Suzaku Watch. Our constant stalking of him has revealed a rather great change in character; he's still a bit of a git, but there's more to him than meets the eye. Reports suggest that fans “may even like him by the end” whereas eyewitnesses were “dumbfounded” by his makeover. The CLAMP art is still as great as ever, and this time they go to town with some great lighting, colours and set pieces. Similarly, the music is as dramatic as the action on-screen.

Code Geass R2 makes several leaps of faith, refuses to slow down and stands to blow the amp with pure operatic overload. You will need to continue suspending your disbelief, increase your resistance to arrogance and ignore every single insult it throws at your intelligence. Then, you'll accept it for what it is: one of the most stupendously entertaining pieces of animated drama in a long while.

Join us next week for the heart-pounding, nerve-wracking conclusion. With sound effects. Maybe.


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