Assassin’s Creed: Blade of Shao Jun Review

Assassin’s Creed is back with another adventure. This one is a bit longer than the last one at 4 volumes. Still rather short in the grand scheme of things but this means that we have more time for the story. Like with the last one we’re jumping between the past as Shao Jun and the present with Lisa as the two leads. It’s a fairly good manga, I’d say that the artwork is on point although the story in the past isn’t super solid. Half the time you’re waiting to get back to the present to see what Lisa is going to do about her current predicament.

The story kicks off with the past as Shao Jun is the main character. Basically her group of assassins was betrayed by The Eight Tigers, one of their top ranking members was a guy named Gao. At this point Shao just wants to avenge her fallen comrades and prevent this group from succeeding in their goal with the mysterious box. In order to accomplish this, Shao will need to take down all of the 8 tigers. This will be difficult though as most of them are either expert fighters or have hired whole armies with which to protect them. Shao is an assassin by trade so her objective is usually to end the opponent in an instant before they actually know that she’s there.

That advantage is removed when she has to fight straight on which becomes an issue at several points in the manga. Meanwhile in the present, it is Lisa who is using the animus in order to relive the memories of Shao. She is being used by a shady scientist named Kaori who is hoping to find the location of the box in the present time. At this point, both the Assassins and the Templar agents have no idea where it is. I wonder if this is the plot of every Assassin’s Creed game because that’s basically what happened in the movie as well as the other manga I read. I suppose it’s a classic plot but I have to assume the games eventually have a bit of a different story in there. Ezio makes a cameo here which is cool though.

So Lisa doesn’t realize that this is the task and is here because she was always getting into a lot of trouble in school and this should help to rehabilitate her. She quickly sees how realistic the visions are and that she is even retaining some skills but Kaori tells her that this is normal. Lisa’s cousin Mari finds this rather suspicious but can’t convince Lisa to walk away from the experiments. Meanwhile Kiyoshi is a mysterious wild card here who is watching Lisa and Kaori from afar. What is his game and whose side is he on?

Now if you’re really enthusiastic about the present story, remember that the past is the focus here. It’s at least a 70-30 split I’d say and the present timeline usually doesn’t move much until the end. It’s probably something that could be expanded upon if this ever became a complete ongoing anime or something like that. Still, what we do get is always fun. Lisa makes for a good main character. I don’t think her plans are the most sound but at least she does have a plan.

I just feel like getting into the animus is giving the villains way too much power. No matter what plan you might have for when you wake up, that assumes that they’ll let you wake up. The instant the helmet is on, you have no idea what is going on in the real world and I don’t see how you could possibly trust them not to do something while you’re out. Keep in mind that they see everything that she sees through their monitor so the instant that she discovers the location of the box, they can just bump her off and that’s game over.

It’s very fortunate that Lisa has her cousin Mari here to help. Mari is really critical in coming in to help near the end and also working with Kiyoshi on getting intel. You always want to have a dependable ally like Mari on your side. Meanwhile, while I wouldn’t trust Kiyoshi at all, his interests to align with helping out Lisa for now so it’s good that he’s around. He actually has combat skills and training as well so he can mix it up as needed. Lisa will also be able to say that she can fight now that the memories will be permanently stored within her.

The manga and movie always seem to end right before we can really see what the lead can do though. I’d love to get a whole sequel manga about the adventures in the present. Evidently the Assassins and Templar agents are still around so lets see how it goes in the modern day. I think that would be a very exciting thriller series with both sides making big moves in the shadows. You already now that both groups have probably infiltrated all kinds of groups from the shadows already.

Kaori also makes for a solid villain in the past. She is quite devoted to her goal and really goes all out on being a crazy evil scientist. I’d say she underestimated Lisa just like Lisa underestimated her so it all events out. She was a lot more interesting than the villains in the past. Gao and the rest of the Tigers just felt like fodder for the most part. Technically a few of them even had the upper hand on Shao on a few occasions but none of them had very unique designs or personalities so they still felt like throwaways even when they were doing good. It’s hard to describe but they didn’t stand out.

It’s part of why the past setting is never quite able to match the present for me. It’s a lot harder to care about all of these guys. The previous manga did a better job of expanding the character cast in the past and giving them a lot of personality but in this one Shao is really one of the only characters with a lot to do. She is a great character and her quest for revenge is exciting. She gradually learns how to fight better in hand to hand while also keeping to her role as an assassin.

Shao’s the kind of fighter that you can’t count out and she also believed in her friend right away when the villain tried to frame her as an accomplice. Shao isn’t easily fooled and so she’s pretty much forced to carry the whole past story on her own. I’m not sure exactly what you would do to make the past a lot more interesting though. See, another issue is that it’s all in the past so it feels like it doesn’t matter much. It’s not like a flashback in a long running manga where you care because of the world building or you know these characters. These are brand new characters, most of which will die by the end and it’s all to locate the current spot of a box. (And usually the story doesn’t actually let us know where the box is)

I guess the first thing to do would be to have better villains but that’s easier said than done. On paper the story isn’t even bad. It’s a classic revenge tale and she has to steadily defeat all 8 Tigers one by one. That’s a great plot on its own and an exciting summary. How you make the villains more interesting is really up to the writer. Still, while this may not sound too positive, the story is still good. I’d say that the manga in general is a good one. It may not reach the next level but I had a good time reading it and it also has a decent amount of replay value.

There is a lot of action here and the volumes move very quickly. The 4 volumes have so many fights and quick plot developments that it feels like you only read 2 volumes and that’s good. Additionally the art got better as the series went along and I thought it was pretty solid by the end. Everything’s very streamlined, it actually reminded me of Papercutz a bit. The action scenes could get a little violent with people getting stabbed through the neck. The series would not let you forget that these are Assassins, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t say it crosses the line or anything but it’s a bit more than you may expect.

I can also say that you don’t need to play any games to understand this one. I forget if it was based on a game or if this is a completely original story but it doesn’t really matter. It’s completely self contained and you always know what’s going on here. It’s just the ending where you wish that the manga could have kept going for another volume or 2 because effectively it’s like the real story is starting now and that’s the present timeline that I want to see!

Overall, Blade of Shao Jun is a good title. I still wouldn’t call myself the biggest Assassin’s Creed fan and the very premise of always having to go to the distant path is a bit at odds with what I want to see since I’m really big on the present and the future. It’s all executed well enough though and if you’re looking for an old school story about Assassins then this should be up your alley. After all it’s not like there are a ton of stories like this so you want to grab the ones that you can get. Maybe you’ll find the villains more impressive than I did. If you do, then that would instantly jump the series up to the next level but I wouldn’t get my hopes too high there.

Overall 6/10

Assassin’s Creed Review

Assassin’s Creed is one of those video game series I haven’t played but I do see the games all over. Plenty of their characters have fought on the blog and if you’re a fan of parkour then it seems like it delivers on that. The games always have events happening in various time periods. Well, the film changes things quite a bit while taking a stab at one adventure. It’s a pretty good film although if you’re a big fan of the games it will probably be hard to get past the changes.

The movie starts with Cal witnessing his father murder his mother. The guy tells Cal to run so he does. The lead grows up as a very aggressive guy and after murdering a criminal is sent to a special jail. The staff there will be using an experimental time travel device on him so he will inhabit the psyche of his ancestor. They want him to find the golden apple or at least the location of it. The apple is what grants humanity free will so whoever has it in their possession will become immensely powerful.

So part of the film takes place in the present while parts take place in the past due to this neural link. I can say right away that the present timeline plot is a lot more interesting for me. The setting is effectively a jail for metahumans after all and you can see how things would be pretty interesting there. Down the road you could have some kind of war and if one such jail exists, I’m sure many more do. There are probably undercover bases all over.

The neural links also allow you to use the fighting abilities of your previous incarnation when you were an assassin. This means that the fighters are all very well trained so Cal goes from not having any real fighting abilities to suddenly being a top notch fighter. He’s able to take down dozens of opponents at once even though they also have enhanced abilities. His are just on another level.

I liked the fight scenes a lot here because of how stylized they are. I’ve always enjoyed the arm blade style weapons that the Creed films are well known for and they are put to full display here. You can imagine the film easily being rather violent as characters are getting ripped to shreds and beheaded but with the stylized approach most of it is actually rather bloodless. The enemies either turn into apparitions as we see what’s happening in the present or they just go down instantly. As a result despite the constant action, the film really isn’t very violent at all.

Since the assassins are meant to be rather subtle fighters, it does make sense that they wouldn’t be making much of a mess. There are a lot of fights throughout the movie so you will have no shortage of action scenes. There is less parkour than you would expect though. Cal does run around jumping on roofs and such and doing the big jumps from the games but that’s about it. It’s not something that happens super often but maybe that’s because the past doesn’t get as big a role as you would expect.

Again, that is for the best though. The present timeline is just a lot better. You have a lot of solid architecture and meetings there. Such as the corporate group led by Alan who wants to use the apple to take own the assassins. Alan makes for a decent villain although he’s not exactly a fighter so he just talks a good game.

Sofia is a much more interesting character. She is a villain because she cosigns on everything going on but you can tell she isn’t as absolutely evil as Alan. She does have good intentions even if they don’t always work out. Sofia would certainly get a big role if this film ever gets a sequel.

Honestly I would say Cal is the only other big character in the film. Sure, there are a few others like his companions in the past, present, and his father but their roles are fairly small. His father gets one of the most sudden scenes where he stabs a guard but gets finished off immediately afterwards. Also yes, I didn’t buy into the reason for why the father had to murder the mother. I don’t care if the army after them was huge, they’re assassins and escaping is what they are supposed to do best. Destroying an ally is always just a fancy way of saying you give up.

As for Cal, he’s a pretty solid character. Definitely one who is consumed by rage for pretty much the entirety of the film though. He’s gone through quite a lot and finally takes matters into his own hands by the end of it. Cal is in a pretty interesting spot for the sequel and one of the reasons why the sequel would have a lot of potential since the present should be the main focus now. There’s a whole lot more you can do with that than the past.

The film has a bit of a slow beginning though as you could say the movie doesn’t really start until Cal uses the machine. The flashback of him as a boy doesn’t really add to anything and just walking around the prison doesn’t make for the most interesting scenes. It’s a waste of the present timeline since you want to see the grand outside world and how society will react to the Assassins. That’s where the climax pays off.

As for the past, well I’ve referenced it a lot but it’s hard to be as engaged in that era. I’ve never been a fan of the past after all since the graphics aren’t as good and the backdrops don’t look as nice. There’s not a whole lot there to capture my attention at any given point. You have people dying left and right as Cal/Past Cal has to try and avenge them. Maybe if we had time to actually give some of the characters a real personality this could have worked but there was no time for that.

Additionally, you are just waiting for them to get to the present the whole time so there’s no way for it to actually leave an impact. I know the past is a crucial part of the Creed series but that’s why some of the changes here were good to get rid of that aspect. Throw us into the present for the real action. The only thing the past scenes were good for were all of the extra fight scenes as Cal took the villains down by the busload.

As for the soundtrack, it’s not all that noticeable. I would make the case we only get one really solid track which plays in the final minutes of the film. Right after the final scene in the present with the apple and Sofia’s decision, we get a theme that is likely taken straight from the games. Beyond that, it’s all rather standard fare.

Overall, Assassin’s Creed is one of those films that focuses on action over story which is always a decent move to make. It’s definitely not an all star film like Mortal Kombat or anything like that but it’s a pretty good movie. it’s fairly long so there’s a lot of time for battles and setting up the sequel. I’d make the case that a lot of the film is actually sequel bait since it’s all leading up to him escaping and the real adventure beginning. The odds of a sequel seem rather slim like with most video game films but who knows…maybe they’ll pull it off but more likely there will be a reboot at some point.

Overall 7/10

Academy of Champions Review

Academy of Champions is one of the more enjoyable Soccer games that I’ve played. For whatever reason, I was never too impressed with the FIFA titles so Mario Strikers and Pure Futbol have been my go to titles for the sport. Granted I haven’t actually played the FIFA games as much as I could have. I can acknowledge that those games have a lot more depth to them, but this title is easy to just plug and play. Adding in popular characters like Ezio and Rayman is just a nice bonus.

Lo and behold there is actually a story mode in this game. It starts off with our young hero receiving an invitation to the world’s most prestigious soccer academy. The person who invited the hero doesn’t remember doing so but decides to roll with it anyway. It turns out that this is all going according to a corrupt teacher’s master plan. The main character is going to need to stay sharp since no one can be trusted.

There may not be much to the plot but at least the game has a story. That’s more than you can say for a lot of its rivals. How the story works is that you go through his various school semesters. Each semester is 20 days with a critical event occurring every 5 days. You can’t afford to lose those days so they are mandatory but the other days are low stakes. Winning will get you more exp so that’s the main incentive for the average day. The other incentive is just your pride.

The activities in a day vary according to different categories. A match event is self explanatory as you’ll play a hand against an opponent for practice. The gossip task will have you chat with your friends about how tough the villains are. Training tasks will have you doing basic drills and then you also get tasks to head to the shop and to upgrade your characters. That was a bit of an annoying addition since it meant that you could not upgrade at will, you had to wait for that day to arrive.

The matches were pretty fun because the gameplay was actually very on point. It’s pretty simple to pick up and play but very challenging to score goals until you learn the tricks. Passing to your teammates is highly recommended along with running side to side as the goalie will take the bait. Each player has a super attack with you can buy to take your game to the next level. They actually didn’t help me much as the A.I. would just block it every time, but it will be good against human opponents. Just stay aggressive and knock the opponents down.

I have to give the game some credit for having full cutscenes. I wasn’t really expecting that. They may not have had any dialogue as that was all done via text box but it was still neat. The character models are a little off. Graphically, the game isn’t bad. The designer just went a little too wild with the character proportions which is what made everything a little dicey. The game was still very clear and you could always tell what was happening. It was good enough for me to enjoy the rest of the game. I’m afraid that the soundtrack was significantly less impressive. There weren’t any tunes that really stood out to me. It was all fairly generic and lifeless. I don’t think the developers put much time into this part of the game.

There really isn’t any replay value aside from multiplayer mode. This is the kind of game where you can’t go back and hire everyone to form the ultimate team. You can replay the last few days I believe so you can grind out some extra stats for your characters but there’s nothing you can do with them anyway. Since the gameplay is good the multiplayer can go a long way. I suppose it will just have to suffice in this case. If you have a friend over, this is as good a pick as any.

One quality of life issue that I had with the game was that you couldn’t see your individual stats for each player when switching up your lineup. You’d have to write them all down or memorize the stats if you wanted to make some changes. It just ended up being a longer process than I would have liked. Finally, the difficulty level of the game is pretty good. You can definitely expect to meet a real challenge towards the end of the game. The tournaments are maybe just a little too long, but at least the game always feels fair. Replaying the level never becomes a chore.

Overall, Academy of Champions was definitely worth the couple of dollars that I bought it for. This may not exactly be a triple A game, but they put some nice effort into it. Incorporating the guest characters into the story would have been awesome but I guess we can’t have it all. Some mechanics weren’t thought out well like not being able to upgrade at will, but the gameplay was on point. I usually don’t care for the “day” system where a day will pass each time you do something but the game pulled it off pretty well. I’d recommend getting this title. You’ll be surprised at just how good it is.

Overall 7/10