Fa Yuiry from Zeta Gundam is a Badass

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No, she’s not what immediately springs to mind when one thinks “badass female character”. She’s not sexy-in-leather, dodging bullets, doing somersaults, and beating up guys twice her size with waif-fu, but consider this:

Fa fought in the Gryps War and survived a show in which more than half of the main characters, including all but three women, died.

She did so piloting an experimental mech that’s generally considered inferior to the post-Mk II Gundams many other characters flew.

She wasn’t military or para-military like Emma or Reccoa or the Titan gals, but she volunteered to fight for Anti-Earth United anyway and fought bravely.

She not only put up with Camille when he was going through his Giant Robot Hero angst and reined him in some when he needed it, she stayed with him to take care of him when he became a disabled vet on the losing side of a war.

So, where is all this coming from?

I’d seen this just before another thread I was in about bad girls and best girls spiraled off into a Gundam tangent:

Credit to this juxtaposition by @KateVsTheWorld

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Now, I have mixed thoughts of my own regarding the Killing Joke (TL;DR, it’s overrated and I understand why Moore himself is critical of it), and this isn’t the place to address Gail “Women in Refrigerators” Simone’s comments, but it was what got me thinking about Fa and the context surrounding her as a “badass female character”.

Zeta Gundam is a show that not only has a lot of female characters, it has a lot of female characters who have horrible stuff happen to them. Yes, you can claim that some of them were there to give male characters motivation (that a woman who was a better pilot than him could take an interest in him but then be killed in an MS battle by a kid he’d gotten into it with really messed Jerrid up), but they’re all very rounded, very complex, very real-feeling characters that many viewers had deep attachments to.

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From pink hair to the right: Dies in sequel, lives, dies, dies, dies, dies, lives, lives, dies, dies, dies, lives.

  • Mouar and Lila (teal and blonde next to her) are both talented officers and pilots who die in fights with Camille.
  • Four (turquoise on the right) is emotionally abused by the researchers at the Murasame institute and eventually dies in battle.
  • Ditto Rosamia (purple/pink in the middle).
  • Sarah (salmon on the left) is emotionally (and probably sexually) abused by Scirocco and dies in battle taking a bullet for him.
  • Emma (second brunette from the right) nearly makes it to the end of the war, but dies in the last battle.
  • Reccoa (red-head next to Emma) dies in the last battle too—Reccoa fans are few and far between, though, because no one likes a traitor.
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TFW Hypergamy Intensifies

Lest you think that the show was just particularly brutal to women, keep in mind that it would be easier to list off the main/major male characters who lived than rattle off all the ones who died. (Camille, Yazan[villain], Bright, Amuro, Astonage, and Char[though it’s left ambiguous, highly implied that he died, and he’s nowhere in ZZ], and the last three all die in Char’s Counterattack.)

In a story where none of the good guys die, the cute long-suffering girl-next-door girlfriend of the hero who gets to pilot her own robot every now and then is comic relief at best and obnoxious wannabe eye-candy at worst.

But in a story where anyone can die, and they often do, there’s something to be said of the character who can fight, survive, and still retain something of herself when it’s all over and go on to be a personal hero to those closest to her when she’s not fighting.

So, yeah, Fa Yuiry is a badass.*

Fa & Camille

*: And Best Girl. Sorry, Four, but teenage me was wrong about you. Get you a girl who will forgive you for liking Four and take care of you when you’re a disabled vet.

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Power Dolls

I think the wargamer in me has been subconsciously prepping for WWIII for the last couple of months. Not only did I start playing Fallout 3, I was, until last week, embroiled with a double header of NATO: the Next War in Europe, and over the weekend, I devoted several hours to one of my favorite childhood video games, Red Storm Rising. I’ll tell you what: RSR is the best Tom Clancy based game there is, was or ever will be.

But today, I want to spotlight Power Dolls, a game that I’ve been playing the past couple days and did some live tweeting of last night.

There are two things I love that I am always in the look-out for in combination – hexbased wargames and the real-robot genre. There are a handful of examples out there, but many have a very steep language barrier, such as the Gihren’s Greed series or the line of Mobile Suit Gundam hex & chit board games, and for whatever reason, many Japanese tactical wargames go for squares, rather than hexes, which are nigh intolerable (especially in cases where there’s no unit stacking).

First thing I’d note about Power Dolls, it has a lot more stuff going for it than you would expect of a game whose primary hook is “everything is piloted by women”.

There’s something about a war between earth(maybe) and colonists on this planet, and you’re playing as the colonists’ defense force in a bid for maintaining independence. Or something. I should really probably go back and go over the settings stuff again. But for whatever reason, the entirety of the defense force is composed of women who pilot mechs and air-planes or drive self-propelled rocket artillery.

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Pew, Pew!

There are apparently only 10 missions, but given how long one of them takes to play through, that’s probably plenty.

Each mission starts with a large operational view of a theater, showing the situation, the mission, and the disposition of both your troops and the enemy’s. You have the option of selecting different pre-defined plans for the operations, which determine things like when forces get dropped, when air support is available, etc.

You have up to three drop-teams of mechs (depending on the operation; the first missions so far have only used two), a drop-team of off-board rocket artillery and a couple squadrons of air support.

Before each mission, you assign mechs, planes and artillery to your pilots, hopefully giving them some sort of configuration of gear and weaponry that compliments their skills. You then have to assign pilots to each landing group; the number of mechs in each group will determine how much air-lift it takes to bring them in; I’m sure that will matter more in later missions, since there are both heavy carriers and light carriers with some air-to-air capability. Any pilots not tied up in air-lift can be assigned fighter-bombers to offer ground support in one of the fighter wings.

So, what goes down, and gets depicted in the operational map, is your long-range artillery gets airlifted into position, then your first drop-team flies in and gets deployed on the tactical map, and as the mission progresses in 5 minute 1-turn increments, your troops are flown in according to the selected plan for the operation.

While the gameplay isn’t as crunchy as Battletech (there aren’t individual components that are tracked), it has a pretty robust selection of actions you can take during a turn. Each mech has three different rates of movement to choose from, which vary in per-hex movement cost, passive spotting radius, and defense against opportunity fire. Attacks are based on the equipment a mech has, but include everything from sub-machine guns and rifles to grenades and smoke screens. Units can drop weapons that are out of ammo to increase the number of realized action points. They can also call in air-strikes and indirect fire anywhere on the map.

I screwed up in a lot of places in the assignment of gear and deployment of forces in the second mission, partly because I didn’t pay enough attention to the mission briefing. I’d landed my troops around the bridge-head I thought I needed to defend, when really I should’ve air-dropped a handful of recon mechs to act as spotters and call in air strikes and off-board indirect artillery strikes while the enemy armored column moved south along the road. Instead, I had a massive tank division more or less punch through my scattered lines. By the time I’d started calling in indirect fire, most of my units who could spot were dead, cut-off or just trying to run away.

I may have to restart this mission so that I can go back at it with both better equipped units (fat lot of good my air-to-air missiles have done in this mission with no enemy aircraft) and better unit placement.

So, the good:

-Fairly nuanced tactical game; you have a lot of customization available to you in terms of how you can outfit your pilots. There are also a lot of different things each pilot can spend their action points on during your turn.

-The operational overview map is really cool. Even though you don’t do much on it, and so far only one mission has allowed for employing different “plans”, it’s a cool part that gives the game a wider feeling of scope than otherwise; for instance, you can SEE where your off-board artillery are located in relation to your front-line troops.

-The character art is pretty good; it finds a decent spot between ‘cute girls in mechs’ and the rougher look of more serious mil-sf animes. There is a character, though, who’s clearly an homage to Emma Sheen from Zeta Gundam.

-Hexes. They use hexes, man, HEXES!

The bad:

-The music is incredibly repetitive. For how long you’ll be playing this, you’re not going to be thrilled hearing the same bad midi-theme playing constantly.

-Speed of play. Not only are the turns incredibly long, this is exacerbated by the fact that the AI turn processes fairly slowly. Enemy turns take too long by most wargame standards. One mission of Power Dolls could easily eat up an entire evening, which is a double whammy when you realize you’re in a losing position after having sunk several hours in. I am probably going to have to go back to a save from nearly 4 hours of gameplay back to take another stab at the second mission (and hopefully this time silver haired yellow cat-eyes, cocky green-eyed brunette, and blue-bandana blonde won’t get blown up).

-The Fog of War doesn’t make sense when you’ve got air superiority and one or more fighter wings overhead. I get why spotting works the way it does, but it would be nice if there was a multi-step fog of war so that planes could spot units out in the open if they’ve bombed a target – even if they’re actually “gone”, you’d have an idea of the troop disposition from the previous turn as your pilots saw it on the way to and from their attack run.

There are also some complaints about the game’s AI; I can’t really judge yet, because if it’s bad, my strategy is probably worse than it is, at least until I figure out what I’m doing. We’ll have to see.

They’ve apparently made several sequels, but I’m not sure if any of them were ever translated into English. There’s also, apparently, a mediocre OVA based on it.

I’ll say that, for now, despite its flaws, I’m really digging Power Dolls. It’s definitely niche-within-a-niche, and the only other game that springs to mind along the lines of this is Cyberstorm (and that game was a very special kind of ugly). I’d love to find something that is mid-way between this and SSI’s Panzer General game, or even in a completely different direction, mid-way between this and Atomic Games/Avalon Hill’s V for Victory series. But as it is, if you’re desperately thirsty for hex-wars and giant robots, Power Dolls will definitely tide you over for a bit. You can find it at most abandonware sites.

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Lodoss, the Accursed Pink Slime

I wanted to respond to a comment over at the Castalia House blog in regards to Appendix E, 5e’s answer to/updated Appendix N.  At one point, I’d had something typed up over there, but the comment was eaten because I wasn’t logged in.  Rather than try to retype it, I decided to rethink it and take an opportunity to talk about Record of Lodoss War.

“I’d argue that Appendix E, along with the other 5e appendices, has more to do with filling the pipeline with more fantasy product. Mechanically, World of Warcraft has a more visible influence on the game design than most of the Appendix E additions. But the fantasy genre has reached a point where it is flooded by authors who recycle campaigns and characters into novels, to various degrees of success. Appendix E is designed to fan the world building bug as Ahmed, Lynch, Rothfuss, and Sanderson earn their places via their settings and not by their contributions to fantasy gaming tropes. (The first three are rather generic in character and ‘class’, while Sanderson’s magic systems are so strange that no correspondence to D&D caster classes is possible.) By promoting world building, Appendix E hopes to inspire the Next Great Fantasy Saga, or at least the next Lodoss War or Slayers.”

The invocation of Lodoss War really touched a nerve for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved Lodoss Wars, and I think it’s a thing of beauty, but not because it’s a good show or tells a good story.  Lodoss Wars is perhaps one of THE most Pink Slime of Pink Slime fantasy stories, such that when I’d seen it, I began pondering and crafting all sorts of theories about Occidentalism.

You see, Record of Lodoss War is what you get when you try to craft a western style fantasy adventure when late 80s Dungeons & Dragons is your primary exposure to western style fantasy.  Based on a group of Japanese D&D players’ session logs, Lodoss emerged from a culture where the western fantasy canon we take for granted is, if not completely absent, simply not a shaping force.  The result is stark and strange and perhaps gives us a look at what the game looks like from the outside looking in devoid of the context of classic SFF.

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Record of Lodoss War tells the story of a Fighter, a Wizard, a Thief, a Cleric, a Dwarf and an Elf fighting goblins and orcs, an evil king, his evil fighter, the evil fighter’s evil elf girlfriend, an evil wizard with an army of dragons, and the lich whose spirit is in a piece of jewelry orchestrated the whole thing.  Some of the cheese is almost terribad!  For instance, whatever the elf casts her spells on seemed to always make their saving throws.  I just felt awful for her!  Not to mention, I think she might’ve been slow or something.

 

Lodoss Wars tries so hard to be grim-dark before grim-dark was an in thing.  Episodes begin with the haunting phrase “Lodoss… the accursed continent…”  But for all of the beautiful artwork (and Lodoss IS gorgeous) and impressive set pieces, it comes across as just feeling so incredibly empty. Interestingly, the advertisements for Lodoss used its D&Dness as a selling point (‘for people who like Dungeons & Dragons’ or somesuch).

Appendix E should be trying to inspire DMs to create games worth playing, but WotC showed their hand by including all of their branded D&D fiction.  I’m surprised they didn’t include the Magic: the Gathering books, as well.  Appendix E feels less to me about offering inspiration and more for ensuring a branded D&D experience.  Because of the nature of the game, everyone will bring to the table their ideas and play styles and DMing styles; but if D&D is trying to inspire the “Next Great Fantasy Saga”, Record of Lodoss War shows us the sort of cold sterile high fantasy that can result from D&D in vacuum.

I do think I should make a note about Slayers, as it was brought up in the comment as well.  Slayers may be the other side of the Lodoss coin, but I don’t know if that does it justice.  Slayers is very self-aware and lampshades a lot of the cheesiest D&D fantasy tropes; of note, in nearly every season, the big twist reveal is that the main characters’ murder-hoboing has played right into the hands of whatever the big bad was scheming, and, in the end, it is somehow always Lina Inverse’s fault.  You get Lodoss when you’re trying incredibly hard to capture not actual western fantasy but D&D; you get Slayers when you take the sort of fantasy you get from D&D and mock the hell out of it.

I’m seriously not trying to take the piss out of Lodoss; it’s one of the most beloved fantasy franchises in the east, and has a number of redeeming qualities (namely art and music), but if you watched the first episode above and are familiar with the classic fantasy canon, you’ll totally get what I’m talking about.

Later today, I have something of a guest post from one of the guys at my table.

Ogresuit Gundam: It’s Coming

I’ve actually found someone interested in playtesting this. Later this month or next (depending on how the posting schedule pans out; more on this later), I’ll have some basic rules ups with everything needed to mess around with some mobile suit battles. It will include stats for Zakus, Doms, Gundams, Guncannons, Guntanks and rules for MS vs MS and MS vs non-MS combat resolution.  If things work out in playtesting, I’ll be expanding the number of mobile suits I will be writing stats for (adding Goufs, GMs, Groundtype Gundams, and Gelgoogs), and also try to include some rules for handling landships (for those wanting to recreate the battle between Ramba Ral and the White Base, maybe even including some scenario recommendations), basically making Ogre a 3 rather than 2 tiered game.

Space ships may be more of an issue, because for some weird reason (probably related to pressure or something) space battleships in the Gundam universe are WAY more fragile than landships.  But still, I’m stoked that one person interested in this project has said they have a copy of Holy War to try out space battles with.

I probably won’t write up a formal ruleset for the conversion, but will certainly have enough written up that players can adapt it as they see fit, eventually compiling my notes into a single post or document.  I know I’m kinda half-assed on my game design follow through (I’m going to finish Broadswords & Battlefields one day!), but something playable is already written up and you WILL see it soon!

I’m mostly writing this post because I want to share this awesome UC Hardgraph art.

Ogresuit gundam

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. Military Sci-Fi at its Finest!

I’m a pretty big fan of Universal Century Mobile Suit Gundam stuff. For the longest time, though, I’d put off reading Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, in no small part because of the outrageous price ($30-ish, 3 times the normal price of most manga) of the hard-bound, partially colored, full gloss collections. Plus, I sort of assumed it to JUST be a retelling of Mobile Suit Gundam. In a way I was right, but in so many ways I was TOTALLY WRONG!

Awhile back I snagged the first four volumes from the library, and they are AMAZING!

The Origin is done entirely by the original series character designer, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, and he uses the opportunity to tell a far more mature and compelling version of the One Year War. Though the story and themes are primarily the same, Yasuhiko strips away the cartoonish trappings of the 1979 series, taking it even further than Tomino did* with the compilation movies in which he’d sought to remove a lot of the sillier elements. Some might cry foul, but Yasuhiko succeeds in polishing off the last of the super robot elements which Gundam was so important for having begun to erode. What we’re left with is an incredibly gripping hardcore military sci-fi story that just happens to involve giant robots. Minor characters get more time to make the White Base crew seem more filled out and less understaffed. Additional Guntanks and Guncannons in its mobile suit arsenal makes the White Base feel a lot more like a functional combat unit than just Amuro and two mooks who sometimes get assists. This also means that we lose a lot more characters that we meet; with the exception of Job John (a VERY minor named character from the original series who did survive) I fully expect all of the other named Federation Mobile Suit pilots on White Base to die. While this could’ve taken away from Ryu’s big-heroic-sacrifice death, it ends up making it more meaningful as he’s the senior most pilot who, already severely injured, has to come to the aid of other pilots, some of whom were already kia.

The biggest change to the story, however, is that Yasuhiko opted not to use the batshit crazy semi-canonical route that White Base followed from its landing in North America to the Earth Federation HQ in Brazil. Instead he manages to fit the entire original earth arc narrative into a far more sensible direct route.

The White Base’s Journey to Jaburo in Mobile Suit GundamJourney to Jaburo Anime1. The White Base lands deep in Zeon Territory, somewhere in the American Southwest, later proposed to be near the Grand Canyon. Attacked by Garma’s North American Zeon forces.

2. Somehow, the White Base ends up the ruins of New York, fighting Char & the NA Zeons. Garma killed in battle.

3. The White Base’s Quantum journey to Asia.

4. The homogeneous wasteland geography makes the first part of the Ramba Ral arc difficult to place, but it’s generally assumed to be mainland China near the Taklamakan Desert.

5. Isle of Kukurus Doan; while this episode was not nearly as terrible as people have said it was (Time Be Still was much worse), it does make fuck-all sense having White Base back in the Pacific at this point, at least based on the episode’s production number. If placed before the Ramba Ral arc, it would resolve the quantum journey issue.

6. Battles explicitly set in or near the Taklamakan Desert (retroactive continuity), though easily could have taken place across Afghanistan and Persia on the White Base’s trek toward Europe.

7. The Odessa Offensive is one of the few places (along with the battle of New York, the refit in Belfast and Jaburo being in the Amazon basin somewhere in Brazil) that has an explicit tie to a real world location. It is, however, a large regional operation.  White Base’s exact location in all of this is unclear other than that they are behind enemy lines and in an arid region somewhere near the Black Sea.

8. The White Base encounters the Black Tri-Star somewhere in the forests of central Europe. This is held to either take place in the Ardennes or the Black Forest in Germany.

9. Following the Odessa Offensive, the White Base is given refit in Belfast, Ireland.

10. The White Base crosses the Atlantic Ocean, pursued by Zeon marines led by Char.

11. White Base finally arrives at Earth Federation Supreme HQ Jaburo in Brazil. After the Zeon’s all out assault on Jaburo is repulsed, the White Base returns to space, where it is involved in combat operations near Side 6, and Space Fortresses Solomon and A Baoa Qu.

The White Base’s Journey to Jaburo in Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin

Journey to Jaburo Manga

1. White Base lands explicitly in the American Southwest in Arizona and spend some time following the Colorado River Valley. They fight Garma’s North American Zeon forces, though the geography is much more concrete.

2. Since one of the few things that was explicit about the location of Garma’s HQ in the original was that it was based in California, North American Zeon Command is placed in partially ruined L.A.; Zeon leadership staff occupy the hoity-toity parts while partisans hide in the ruins. The White Base receives orders to coordinate with the partisans in an effort to break Zeon’s North American command structure. Hence the Battle of New York is moved to L.A. The results are more or less the same, however instead of a brief arc about Icelina wanting revenge, we get to see the Zeon military police put a bullet in her father’s head.  (He was changed from mayor of New York to mayor of L.A.; he’s still a supporter of the anti-Zeon partisans).

3. Rather than take a crazy route circumnavigating the globe to get to Earth Federation HQ, White Base heads directly toward South America, fighting their way towards…

4. Neutral space in Lima Peru. The Ramba Ral arc is moved to the South American highlands, though some may have also taken place in the Mexican desert. It should be noted that in this telling, Lima essentially replaces Belfast, moving up White Base’s refit to before the Tri-Star arc. The Miharu subplot is replaced with Hayato beating the hell out of some Zeons in the street with his Judo skills (which are more relevant in the manga than they were in the Anime).

5. The battle with the Black Tri-Star is moved to near Cuzco. White Base therefore does not take part in the Odessa Offensive for geographic reasons; M’Quve is demoted from his arc-villain status and replaced with rather enjoyable new character General Garcia.

6. White Base arrives at Jaburo in time to assist in the defense of Federation HQ against an all out assault launched by General Garcia. He tries to use an Adzam underground and it goes about as well as you’d expect.

As you can see, the route taken in The Origin is significantly shorter and, despite losing/moving the iconic fights at Odessa and the forests of Germany, makes a hell of a lot more sense.

I cannot recommend Mobile Suite Gundam: The Origin enough.  Even for non-anime fans of Mil-SF.  I mean, I love MSG, but I will admit that there are so many cringe inducing moments as well as slow spots and bad episodes that keep me from making an unreserved recommendation to someone who doesn’t already like Gundam or giant robots.  That is not the case with The Origin, however.  There’s really nothing I would qualify my recommendation for this with.  If you like Mil-SF, you will at least appreciate if not love this retelling of the most significant military sci-fi tales of the 20th century.

Anyway, it’s inspired me to revisit my ideas for OGRE-suit Gundam…  Coming soon…

*:Another reason why I was hesitant was that I was worried it might be like Tomino’s novelizations, which were pretty terrible.

Review – Kagai!

Disclosure: I have previously received a promotional copy of Postmortem Studio’s Project (reviewed here). I purchased a pdf copy of Kagai! to review.  

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Kagai! is an over-the-top violent gonzo RPG meant to bring the madcap antics of Japanese extreme monster horror to your gaming table.  And if that’s your sort of thing, this simple system does a pretty good job of it!

One thing I’d like to give particular kudos for is that Kagai! admits right off the bat that it’s a niche product and will probably be played by people who game so doesn’t waste time on a lengthy “What is Role Playing and what are Role Playing Game?” section.  Those have a place, but 99 times out of 100, any independently released game product is going to be purchased by someone with a huge stack of games who knows what RPGs are.

The basic premise of Kagai! involves a post-apocalyptic future in which monsters have overrun the entire world save for an overcrowded self-sustaining city enclave in Japan.  A decadent consumerist culture is forced upon the surviving populace to distract them from the horrors of the outside world.  While the enclave is supposedly “safe”, monsters are still able to get in sometimes and wreak havoc. Players are expected to play as high-school girls who have decided to rebel against the system and take up their own fight against the monsters who are killing their friends and families.  While players may play as male characters, there are heavy restrictions/penalties and should be considered something of an exception.  The in-game rationale for this is the enclave’s population is 95% female; unless they are able to evade service by means of wealth, influence or corruption, all males are pressed into service at age 12 and sent off to the front to keep monsters and demons at bay.  As such, any men left in the city are either horribly and disfiguringly injured, cowards or rich kids whose parents managed to keep them from being conscripted.

It’s good that the conventions of the genre are stated up-front: characters will die and it will be gruesome.  People who like games that mollycoddle their characters (newschool D&D for instance) will suffer the butthurt and will suffer it hard.  That person who threw a fit when their Paladin got its eyes gouged out and arm melted off before being impaled on spikes?  Don’t play this game with that guy.  In fact, just don’t play with that guy.  But really, don’t play this with that guy.

Character generation is the really the meat of this game; the rest of the system is potatoes with some butter and maybe some salt, but character generation is steak with all the trimmings.  While the whole of Kagai! itself could only be lifted from the explicit setting to varying degrees, the character generation system could be used across multiple systems/settings to create characters and a party dynamic.  It’s pretty neat!

Name Generator – It’s a nice idea, but the sort of person playing this can probably come up with 20+ female Japanese names on the fly quicker than I can roll 3d6 6 times and look up base saving throws.

Boys Trauma Table – The setting-based restrictions on male characters actually offers some interesting opportunities for nuanced characters.  It’s a two tiered table where you determine the type and specifics of the various injuries (or class-related reasons) the male character might have that explains why they aren’t off at the front.

Sexuality – Interesting choice to possibly force players out of their norm by having to roll for their characters’ sexuality.  While the probability renders the likelihood of a gender-queer identity higher than we see in the real world, given the setting, I’d actually expect a much higher prevalence of opportunistic bi-sexuality.  I’m reminded a bit of how in the womanless world of Saber Marionette, dudes would rather have robot women than be gay and the one actual gay guy who was in love with the protagonist was seen as kind of an outlier.

Relationships- One of the cool bits that could be borrowed for creating ad hoc party dynamics with slightly more depth than “you all just happen to know each other” is the Best Friend/Don’t Like component. Players roll to see who their best friend is and who they are at odds with.  These will either be other players, an NPC or oneself.  In the last case, friendship with oneself means you’re a loner and disliking oneself would be indicative of a character with depression.  For good measure, disliking the character your best friends with could indicate a fairly troubled relationship (think every anime with the two girls who are always yelling at each other and fighting, then someone tells the main character “They’ve known each other since kindergarten; they’re best friends, but you wouldn’t know it.”)

There are a few other tables which determine a character’s family background (mother, father, family business, siblings) and the character’s motivation.  The character’s main weapon is also randomly selected from a two tiered 2d6 table.  Kagai! features a pretty impressive list of weapons (even if it is missing the Jo), each with unique abilities.

I’m bad at maths, so don’t hold me to this, but for female characters there are roughly 2.4 million background variations this generator can come up with, discounting anything requiring re-rolls and party relationship options.  Yowzah!

The rest of character creation is point-buy stats.  Physical stats are pretty straight-forward, but a novel idea is having the character’s school course load, including elective credits, make up a part of the character’s fundamental knowledge/ability base.  So, going to Gym Class would be akin to investing in a thief’s ‘acrobatics’ skill, only more interesting because it’s actually relevant to the character, story and setting.

Gameplay is simple success-based dice-rolling mechanic similar to what White Wolf uses, only Kagai! uses d6s instead of d10s.  Tasks are on a 5 point scale with difficulty determining the number of successes needed to accomplish tasks.  Players can act cooperatively by pushing and pulling dice to a pool for other players to use later or to hold for following turns with the pools lasting for the duration of a scene.  It took me a minute to wrap my head around how the push/pull worked, but helpful examples of gameplay are included:

“Ami is trying to hotwire a mechanical door. She has Smarts 3 and Design & Technology 3 for a total of six dice. She rolls six dice and gets two successes, a five and a six. The door is a tricky prospect, needing three successes to be opened. Ami carries the five over (pull) and pushes the six into the middle. Nezuko is trying to pry open the door while Ami works on it. She has Power 3, Gym 2 and the pry-bar gives her an extra two dice for a total of 7. She also grabs the pushed dice from the pool – for a total of 8 dice, but still only gets two successes, it’s still not open.”

In combat this translates more to setting up combos against baddies, where extra successes can be carried over or passed to other players.

Unlike a lot of games, including ones with similar systems, Kagai! offers the opportunity to target stat damage instead of HP by doing horrific and disfiguring attacks.  Bonus points for gruesome descriptions.  Of course this works both ways.  And in-line with the genre Kagai! is modeled after, one can get some stats back by means of sewing and supergluing one’s appendages back on and the like.

Monsters are created on point based systems similar to characters, with some examples and suggested lists of how many points different degrees of monsters should have.  The “Monster Machine” section offers a lot of different abilities and attributes beyond simple stats that monsters might have, like being boneless or having acid blood… you could make an incorporeal vampire made of sticky razor blades!

There is a large section of Kagai! dedicated to outlining and describing the city’s locations and amenities so that a GM can make their own maps or just wing it to fit their story.  But what’s impressive is that the descriptions really go into the visceral details, such as sounds, smells and even the taste of the air, stuff that you don’t usually get or expect from most game content that adds a lot to immersion.

One of the few places Kagai! is a bit of a letdown is the Art.  The cover art is great, and the chibi art is pretty good, but the rest of the art, which is made of black and white altered photo cut-ups, while not bad does not really jibe with the expected aesthetic.  It just seems out of place, and I think it detracts from the product a bit.  I don’t think anyone would miss it if it were gone; as Kagai! is a pdf, there’s no need for it as filler, especially since between the cover, the handful of chibis and well-written content the feel is well enough established without having to up the page count.  I know that James Desborough has said he would’ve liked to take things artistically in “a more explicitly sexual and ero-guro” direction, but I think that the more cutesy chibi-horror stuff works really well for it too, especially considering that I could almost (a few explicit illustrations in the cut-up style aside) call Kagai! a mixed company game.  But his game, his call.

One other aesthetic gripe I have: I get the manga stylization on the Char sheet, but a clean sheet would be nice on one’s printer ink supply.  Still, always great to have char sheets that fit on a page.  It’s an especially minor complaint given that you could fit your character’s relevant information onto an index card, so you don’t really NEED to print off a sheet.  But a clean sheet would be nice.

There’s a lot of good here, but unless you know you’re going to be playing this, the price point ($3.99) is just on the cusp of being a little high for the curious. I’d really like to have an appendix of a few pages that reduces character creation to its base tables and a table with weapons; in that form, most of the info you needed to get everyone started on the game could be printed on maybe 3 pages. That said, if a subsequent edition (print?) has more art like Ben Rodriguez’s cover, it would be certainly be worth paying print prices for.  Maybe James could look into it as a joint venture game-system/art portfolio?

All said, there’s a lot worth checking out here if you’re into pooled dice games, anime-esque games, or if you’re just looking for something different to try out.  It’s not for everybody.  But I can honestly say that my biggest complaint is actually not really a complaint but more my saying “If there was enough interest behind this and James had some money, he could make the second edition really shiny and nice.”