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    • Self Harm / Health Problem / 40 Readings / 33 Ratings
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      15.08.2012 18:41
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      I'm okay... isn't that what I'm suppose to say?

      This is a mix of two articles which I believe that this is what the average Joe needs to hear more than what I had originally written. Both articles are mine originally to do with as I please

      ===The Taboo of Self Harm===
      I know I'm not the only one who in periods of great stress, anxiety or depression has turned to self harm. I know I'm not the only one who has found great comfort and relief in the knife. I may be in a minority, but it's not as small a minority as some would perhaps think. And whilst the taboos around depression, around alcoholism and even around anorexia have been lifted, self harm is still a completely unacceptable issue. Whilst the others may be secrets which you try to hide for your own reasons, and whilst they may be uncomfortable topics to the outside world they are also illnesses. Alcoholism - an illness. Depression - an illness. Anorexia - an illness. All with treatment schemes, drugs and cures. Self harm - a taboo.

      I know I'm not the only one. And I also know that out of all the issues that I might discuss, self harm is the only completely out of bounds issue. Foster care, alcoholics in the family, eating issues can all be discussed with no problem under the right circumstances, and all can without fail be made a joke out of. Self harm - not a chance in hell. It's a topic that makes people run for the hills. It's a topic that nobody knows how to cope with. Even medical professionals struggle with it. A serious suicide attempt they can diagnose and act on, the deliberate long running mutilation of your own body is a different matter. Providing the hand holding the knife has enough experience and knowledge then there is often little risk of actual long term damage. So often, they'll take the easy option; either decide it's attention seeking and thus ignore it, or simply lecture you on your idiocy.

      In all honesty, they'd prefer not to know because they don't know how to deal with it, how to treat it, how to help. And this works well for us as often or not we'd prefer not to be seen, prefer not to have to explain. But this only adds to the secrecy, fear and ignorance that surrounds the entire topic of self harm. When we know that if the self harm is found out we'll be ostracised or pitied, then we have double the reason to keep it well covered with excuses and long sleeves.

      I know I'm not the only one. And I know how completely alone you can feel when you know that the very action that is keeping you in control is the very action that isolates you. The feeling when you walk into a room with yet another excuse as to how clumsy you are, and you know that even those people who don't believe you won't ask any questions. Because they don't want to know, or they don't know what to say, or simply that they just don't know how to cope. The knowledge that no matter what you do to yourself it will always be invisible because you won't say and they won't ask. And even if they did ask they don't want to her the answer. What they want to hear is the 'I'm ok', whilst you're silently begging them to hear the desperate undercurrents behind the words, to see the silent plea in your eyes.

      Whilst both sides of this equation are painstakingly and desperately keeping their eyes down and pretending that the issue doesn't exist then the taboo will never be challenged. The taboo can't be changed when those who self harm are too scared to ask for help even if they want it. But you can't stop being afraid until you feel that you are safe in sharing, that you won't be judged or condemned for opening up. And for that others attitude's have to change; it has to accepted that self harm is an issue that can be approached in a rational, caring and non judgemental manner. It will never be a comfortable topic, but it can't continue to be a taboo.

      Each scar just shows that you're strong enough to get through life still standing. Life will always leave marks, it's just some are more obvious than others.

      ===The Myth of Attention Seeking===
      When your assistant director turns to you and says 'I know you self harm as well' you start bricking yourself, because at the end of the day self harm is still a completely taboo topic in today's day and age. In fact it is probably one of the only taboo topics. I have covered before the fact that this is a taboo that needs to be changed and the fact that even those in the medical professional field often seriously struggle with because if you make a serious attempt on your life they know what to do. They can diagnose you with something. But whilst self harm is often a symptom of depression it is not true that all self harmers are depressed nor that all depressed people self harm. But it is also completely untrue to say the majority of self harmers are simply looking for attention.

      Because if you were looking for attention why would you go to such lengths to cover it? If you were looking for attention would you bother wearing long sleeves on a boiling summers day or making excuses if anybody accidentally notices? Why on earth would you spend so much time cultivating the persona of being exceptionally clumsy therefore allowing you to get away with the more than the occasional limp or obvious wince? If you were simply looking for attention then you would bring it out into the open, you would talk about it or simply show it off. And it is very, very rare that a self harmer will do that. Maybe a young adolescent who truly is trying in the only way they know how to show that they really need some help, but not anyone who has self harmed for a while. And if that adolescent is desperate enough for help that they will go to those extremes then surely you shouldn't be judging them, you should be helping them.

      The only time I will ever let anyone know that I self harm is if I truly believe that I am getting out of control and that very, very rarely happens. When it does I am more than aware of the damage that I will be able to do to myself, and on occasions have been brave enough to approach someone and ask them to take care of my penknife for me. Yes, I said brave. Because it takes one hell of a lot of courage to approach someone and ask for help, and it takes even more to hand over what you have come to see as your only method of control because you know it's going the other way. But more than that, it takes an immense amount of courage to admit that this is a problem and to take the potential judgement that will be coming your way. Because people don't understand. They don't understand, they don't empathise and they don't particularly want to understand because the entire subject makes them uncomfortable. So instead people will judge and you will be isolated as the loner, the freak, the loser.

      Why on earth would anyone want that kind of attention? No matter what people might say about self harm, at the end of the day the only thing you are going to get through people finding out is grief. Because they might be understanding the first time, maybe even the second time and if you're lucky the third time. But it won't last. As a teenager nobody wants to be seen around the loser, the freak, the weirdo. As an adult things aren't actually all that different although you have the additional issues of Occupational Health being called on you and the potential loss of a job or livelihood if you aren't lucky enough to be secure. The myth of attention seeking seems to me to simply be a way for people to get around the real issue of self harm; that it's a coping mechanism which means that someone is in a vast amount of pain. That they have in front of them someone who is at the very brink of not coping and has no other way to deal with it. It allows people to ignore the real issues, live safely within their own comfortable worlds and pretend it doesn't exist. It allows people to play the blame game.

      At no point can this attitude help someone who is self harming. Not only is it completely untrue but it only adds to the taboo behind self harm and ensures that anyone who does self harm will not feel comfortable in trying to seek help even if they really need it. When you know that every doctor at your local A&E will judge you as an attention seeking idiot and treat you accordingly, are you likely to go and see them? Of course not. When you know that your colleagues may treat you like you have an incurable and contagious disease as soon as they find out, are you likely to share how you're feeling? No. When you know that your friends will either guilt trip you or avoid you, are you going to be able to gain any form of support network? No. And so the myth of attention seeking only gains to further isolate a group who most need support and someone to trust.

      I was lucky. The next words out of my assistant director's mouth were 'I understand'. Most people are nowhere near that lucky and could never hope to be in a million years. What most people would get is exactly what I've been used to over the years; the questions that you can't answer, the accusations that just help to pile on the guilt and the knowledge that once again you've lost someone. That you've lost something. Self harm isn't about attention seeking, it's about coping but far too few people would care to understand that.

      "Keep on trying harder, because your best's not enough.
      Cry all you want, everyone's life is rough
      Your sadness is bugging me, your emotions are old
      Stop begging for love, my heart's growing cold."

      http://healthmad.com/mental-health/the-taboo-of-self-harm/
      http://healthmad.com/mental-health/self-harm-and-the-myth-of-attention-seeking/

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      • More +
        23.07.2012 12:13
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        Hope over experience indeed

        Ok, you would have thought after the lacklustre performance of Avatar: The Legend of Aang I would have learned my lesson, after all 'Shame on you if you fool me once, shame on me if you fool me twice.' So, you would have assumed that being a somewhat intelligent human being I would have stayed well away from the follow up games and just stuck to the TV series, wouldn't you? Well, you'd be wrong because you are not taking into account my complete lack of common sense and my slight obsession with the series. So, with a sense of dismay at my own misplaced optimism and naivety I started playing the game.

        ===Story===
        Avatar: The Burning Earth begins at the start of series two of Avatar: The Last Airbender. We have already been through the whole issues of the Avatar being re-awakened, finding out that he is the last Airbender and that he needs to defeat the Fire Nation before they take over the world in the first game. To do this he must master the four elements of bending; Fire, Water, Air and Earth. As a quick backtrack, this is the power to manipulate the elements, and the Avatar is the only person capable of learning all four elements; there is only one per generation. Aang was born an Airbender, he mastered water bending in the first season and so this game focuses on his quest to learn earth bending.

        The original plan was for him to learn it from his old friend Bumi, but when they go to find him it turns out that Bumi's city has been taken over by the Fire Nation and so Aang has to find another teacher. Will Aang be able to find his teacher? And will he manage to learn Earthbending in time to stop the Fire Nations next set of plans?

        ===The Game===
        This game seems to take a rather different tack to the last Avatar game which stuck very closely indeed to the original anime cartoon. It does keep to the basics of the anime plot, but it massively condenses it, shifts the order around and ends on a much more positive note than the anime does. It's almost like at this point that they decided to only loosely base the game around the plot, and make it a game for fans of the last game rather than the fans of the series. Considering how weak a game the first instalment to the series was I can't personally say this was an amazingly good move, particularly as once you have sifted through the first game the only reason for buying this is because you are a sucker for punishment. Either that or you have more optimism than common sense; you have to be a real fan of the series to even contemplate buying it.

        ===Gameplay===
        As with the previous game it is what I would call an action RPG, with the focus being very much on the action part of that couplet. It's an RPG because you are following between one and four characters through a storyline, levelling them up and learning new skills; however it is missing the intrinsic aspects of an RPG because there is no choice in what you can do with your character. It is far more focused on the action part of it's genre as by an large it's a hit and slash the bad guys kind of game - the bad guys tend to be wearing Fire Nation uniforms. As in the previous game you do get the choice between Aang the Avatar, Katara a waterbender, Sokka her rather idiotic brother and Toph, who has to be one of the most epic characters of all time, a blind Earthbender whose sarcastic, witty and above all knows how to hurl rocks.

        The game like its predecessor is made up of seven chapters, however this game does have the advantage over the previous title in the series that you do actually seem to be following a plot most of the time; although you will still get sent off on random errands by NPC's collecting random stuff for them. But again most of your time will be spent beating the living crud out of random Fire Nation patrols on the same patches of land; the main variance is that occasionally you'll be beating the living crud out of Earthbenders or Sandbenders. But it's kind of the same old routine - button smash until they are dead. At least this time round the different characters have very different moves which does add a certain edge to the battles, as if you are used to fighting with Aang who is quick, strong and long distance it can take some getting used playing as Sokka who is much slower, shorter range albeit slightly more powerful. The Bending moves also add quite a nice touch to the game as well, as again each character has four different moves which can be used if you've earned enough Bending points. There's no real challenge to them but the battles are actually quite fun instead of seeming to grind away constantly at your soul like the previous game did.

        The AI of the other character who is fighting with you at the time is also somewhat improved in this game; they actually manage to attack your enemy rather than just standing idly, usually in your way. An irritation is that they won't use their more powerful Bending moves without you physically taking over and using them, but that is a minor niggle. In addition, as with the last game, the controls system is very easy to get the hang of, even without the tutorials the game gives you. Aside from a couple of mini-games there is very little use of the touch screen in terms of controls, which to be honest is how I favour it.

        ===Difficulty===
        I didn't die once. Neither did I ever have to buy healing items. The game literally throws helpful items including stat increases and healing items at you by the bucketload. I didn't even have to level grind to get up to appropriate levels to fight the bosses. The game just isn't challenging in the slightest. Even the puzzles won't have you scratching your head; although the control system on one of them had me getting very irritated as it wouldn't register where I had tried to jump so I kept falling off the pillar and having to start again. I understand that this is a children's game; but so was Mario (well, kind of), and Mario never spoon fed you. You would have to be a very young child indeed to actually find it challenging to get through the game, and if you were that young you wouldn't have the reading age to appreciate the storyline. At which point the issue is moot.

        ===Graphics/Sound===
        Graphics wise it follows in the shoes of the previous game; it's cartoony and fairly cute looking, throwing in a mix of 3D backgrounds and 2D sprites for characters. Again, I would have to say that it's nothing special although it is easy on the eye to be fair, it's just that there was nothing to make you go 'Wow'. In fact I could probably cut and paste this bit from my previous review, although I'd get in trouble for that, because once again I have to say that the cut scenes are simplistic in style but this suits the general anime feel to it and to be the style of the show. They'd be no point in going for high flying realistic graphics to the cut scenes because it would be completely out of keeping with the characterisation of the series. What's important in a game like this is that the characters are in keeping with the show and easily recognisable, and they have done that very well.

        The same thing kind of goes for the sound; it's ok but it's nothing special. The only thing that makes it noteworthy is the voice acting during the cut scenes which again is done by the original voice actors. This is a particular rarity in DS games and does make it stand out from the crowd, but other than that there is nothing that makes it special in terms of in game music.

        ===Extra Opinion===
        Aside from the difficulty level and the sheer shortness of the game my main niggle with the game is that it doesn't seem to have made up its mind about who it wants to attract. In one way the summation of the plot would seem to suggest that they aren't trying to attract the hard core fans of the series. But at the same time the lack of character development or background means that the entire thing would be very difficult for you to follow if you didn't know the back story. They seem to be actively trying to alienate both sides of the market by leaving the fans dissatisfied by the weak plot line and the completely changed ending, but leaving any newcomers completely confused about what has occurred before. This seems to make a complete lack of sense, marketing or otherwise. At the very least you need to try to appeal to one side of the spectrum, you can't try to sit in the middle of the fence and even fail at that.

        The shortness of the game is another major niggle; considering the sheer amount of plot that the producers left out of the original series this seems to me to be unforgiveable. Five hours is appalling by any gaming standards, let alone an RPG. They could quite easily have doubled the number of chapters to include more content, which would have at the same time have had less of an isolating effect on fans of the series. Even looking at it from a gameplay perspective you get the impression that it has finished far too soon; you get your final moves two battles or so away from the main boss. You'd expect at least a couple of hours to have fun with your new moves in various settings and quests but instead it feels like the game was cut short and somehow you wonder where the rest of it went. Even a young child should be able be able to complete it in a weekend, and I'm fairly certain that I'm being insulting to the child's intelligence by saying that.

        This is a real pity because in all honesty the game was fun. It wasn't brilliant and it wouldn't have won any awards but it was amusing, and particularly with Toph's smart-alec remarks you are actually entertained. The min-games, although again unchallenging, proved a nice distraction from the main plot and if the game had more of a storyline and a less abrupt ending it would have possibly reached the high thresholds of a good game. Unfortunately it's one of those games that by the time you've realised that you are actually quite enjoying yourself playing it, you've finished the game. I would say I've been too harsh, but I don't think I can.

        ===Conclusion===
        This is without a doubt an improvement on the first offering in this trilogy of games but to be fair it didn't have a lot to improve on. It was amusing while it lasted but as a fan of the series I felt robbed by the way the plot had been cut and fiddled with, but I don't think I'd have felt anything but confusion if I didn't know the series. This was definitely a buy which can be graded as a triumph of hope over experience, and I don't think even I'm enough of a fool to trip over the same rock thrice by buying the third.

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        17.07.2012 11:19
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        The anime is so much better!

        Avatar: The Legend of Aang is a spin off computer game of the American television series which aired for three years between 2005 and 2008. Now, I never actually saw it on the TV. The only reason I came across it was because my brother downloads random stuff from the internet and Avatar: The Last Airbender was one of his more successful. Well, not for him because until I'd bought the DVD's I kept nicking his iPod to watch it. It is without a doubt a funny, heartwarming and charming cartoon series that mingles anime and American cartoon and it was a major hit. And if anything is a major hit then there will always be merchandise to take advantage of it. Usually I ignore it, but call me a fool on this occasion I couldn't resist.

        ===Story===
        Avatar: The Legend of Aang is based around the first series of Avatar: The Last Airbender and is based around the story of Aang, who is if you haven't guessed both the Avatar and the last Airbender. Currently this makes no sense whatsoever to you so I will explain. Each of the four nations have their own element; the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. The benders (stop snickering) are people within these society's who have the power to use this power and harness it for either good or ill; so a Waterbender can move water which could be used to heal or could be used to harm. The avatar is the one is capable of bending all of the world's elements although he has a natural affinity to one type, there is only one alive in the world at any given time and when one dies another is born from a different tribe. Aang is the avatar, he is also the only surviving remnant from the Air Nomads after they were wiped out by the Fire Nation.

        But Aang is also a twelve year old boy who without any adult supervision is more interested in messing about and having fun. Aang must master all four elements to bring peace and harmony back to the world and to stop the Fire Nation's otherwise inevitable domination over the world, and the first element he must master is water.

        ===The Game===
        With a huge sigh of relief I am able to say that the game sticks pretty darn closely to the storyline of the original cartoon; if it hadn't I would have been more than a little bit disappointed. In fact, the opening scene of the game has been taken directly from the cartoon. It is probably what I would call an action RPG with the emphasis being on the action part of that couplet; although you do get the levelling up and new skills that would suggest an RPG title, the largest amount is sheer hit and slash action. If you've watched the television series then nothing in the plot is going to take you by surprise, but I don't know how far this game would really appeal if you are not already fans of the series.

        ===Gameplay===
        There is to almost no point in this having RPG elements as there is no layer of choice to the game; the character levels up and that is about it. You don't get to pick equipment or stat increases. On the other hand you do get to choose your character out of a choice of four: Aang, the avatar, Katara a waterbender, Sokka her rather idiotic brother and Haru an earthbender who the group make friends with. Each of them has their own distinctive weapons and fighting styles, but the moves are basically the same so there's actually very little to distinguish between them.

        The game is made up of seven chapters and you spend most of your time running around between NPC's collecting items for them and doing what they ask you to do along with beating the crud out of the Fire Empire other enemies, and this is probably what lets the game down most. There is very little variance in the game. Most of your time is spent running around on fairly mundane tasks or button mashing in order to kill as many people as possible. It becomes very repetitive very quickly as although there are different bending techniques there just aren't enough of them to keep the battles interesting, and the constant button mashing just gets boring. It's also not helpful that in order to beat the level bosses you often have to grind your level up by deliberately engaging in mundane battles.

        During battles your allies are fighting alongside you and are controlled by the games AI system, which is another niggle of a let down in the game. To be bluntly honest they are about as thick as a plank of wood. At best they just won't help you much and at worst they will actively hinder your progress which does get irritating for obvious reasons. But despite the many, many battles and despite the grinding this isn't a game that will last you very long; it's easy enough to complete it in one sitting.

        On the plus side the controls system is very easy to use and they have incorporated the touch screen into the menu system rather than the battle system. The menu system is very intuitive and works very well; you can easily switch characters, get items and look at the map without having to fumble or struggle, but for once it occurred to me that perhaps if they had included more of the touch screen in the main gameplay it might have been a little bit less monotonous.

        ===Graphics/Sound===
        Graphics wise it's quite pretty but nothing special, although luckily the cartoon style graphics that are in use don't date too quickly. The environments are done in a 3D fashion that is easy on the eye and the character sprites are more 2D within this. Some reviews have been head over heels with the environments but I never really found this; they didn't irritate me with their awfulness but equally there was nothing there that made me sit up and go 'Wow'. The cut scenes are quite nice though; they're simple stylistically but this in keeping with the overall anime. One thing that I was impressed with is that the characters are all in keeping with the show, as it is very often the case that game developers lose sight of the original film when they are making game adaptations. This is not the case here. It is very clear that the developers of the game have kept one eye very closely on the television series while making this and that is a relief for any fan.

        The same is true in terms of in game sound. In terms of in-game music I did my usual trick of listening to it in order to put it in the review and then turned it off due to game music always driving me insane after a while (notable exception Chrono Trigger). Much like the majority of the graphics the sound is decent; there's nothing there that's going to really stand out but probably not much to really irritate you unless you're like me with a hatred of game music. It's very understated and you get the impression that this definitely wasn't where the effort went into the game. The exception to the rule again would have to be the cut scenes where the rest of the sound in the game is somewhat saved by the inclusion of real voice acting but the actors who actually played the parts in the television series. This is a rarity in any game really, but particularly in the DS field and is probably the highlight of the game.

        ===Extra Opinion===
        At points it feels like you are watching an episode of the series, at points it feels like pointless button mashing in an attempt to get through yet another legion of the same enemies that you've been fighting for the last twenty five minutes and at points it just feels completely and utterly mundane. I won't say that this is a really bad game; the plot and the graphics probably allow it to fit into the category of a mediocre game. Its saving grace is quite literally how closely it has stuck to the original television series because as it is, it is not going to appeal to anyone who is not already a fan of the series. If it didn't stick so closely to the series then it would be a disappointment to this section of its possible sales base as well.

        As an RPG it fails due to the lack of choice in how your character grows and evolves, but this probably can't be helped due to the fact that they had to follow the series. But it also doesn't measure up amazingly well as an action game because of the sheer amount of button mashing and messing around you have to do to get anywhere. To me it kind of felt like they were so busy concentrating on being true to the series that they forgot they were meant to be making an entertaining and preferably original game that would be fun and addictive to play. They really needed to concentrate more on the gameplay aspects of the game and make it less mundane and repetitive, because as it stands it is only being saved from being really poor because of the voice acting and the plot. Both of which you could find by watching the original series (available on itunes by the way), and if you're not a fan you're going to find very little to interest you.

        My only other comment would be that even if I don't play multiplayer on the console, if you are going to create a game that has such a limited longevity then the least you can do is offer some sort of muliplayer addition to flesh it out a bit. Or some hidden extras perhaps? Umm...no. Nothing. Nada.

        ===Conclusion===
        If you are a mad fan of the series then by all means buy this game; it's not the best you will find but it's not the worst by a long shot. It's let down by its battle system, its repetitiveness and its lack of anything original and that's without the poor longevity, but if you're a major fan of the series it's worth a look for a couple of hours entertainment. Plus it looks cool in your DS games case! If you're not an Avatar fan then I can see no interest for you whatsoever in the game as aside from being a nice retelling of the series it doesn't have a lot going for it.

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        • More +
          13.07.2012 16:13
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          It does the job it's meant to do at a decent price

          If there is one thing you do not want to forget just before you go on a weeks ski-ing holiday it is most definitely sun lotion. I'm fair skinned and I burn easily so I will usually stick with branded factor 50 and to hell with the extra expense. I don't particularly care if I don't look tanned by the end of the holiday, the important thing is that I don't look like a rather large lobster. This year however, bright spark that I am, I forgot mine which meant that I had to rely on what Dad had brought with him, which is never as high factor or for that matter high quality as I would have bought.

          ===Packaging===
          Honestly, my heart sank when I saw the simple white bottle with a white and orange sticker proclaiming loudly to the world that it was Sainsbury's basics. Usually in skin care I am lazy as hell, sun lotion is the one exception and I will always buy the top range products. This therefore made me cringe right from the offset as it screams 'Cheap!' at the top of its non existent lungs. But to be fair it's easy to carry, easy to open and comes out in sensible quantities when you squeeze it so despite its appearance there can be no complaints in terms of ease of use.

          ===Does it work?===
          There's no point in going over the claims and expectations you may have from or about this sun cream as it doesn't boast any moisturising, age defying or wrinkle reducing properties; it is simply there to protect. And in all honesty, it does. I was ski-ing for seven days at altitudes of between 1000 and 3200 feet and I came away with little more than a slight sun blush. If I was using my typical factor 50 I wouldn't even have had that, but considering my low expectations this stuff really does work. I've found from experience that even ski-ing in the minus temperatures can give you a nasty sunburn despite how stupid that sounds; it's something to do with the altitude that you are at so even if you have a cold and biting wind at you the enture time you are still really exposed to the sun. The problem was multiplied on this holiday by the fact that we were ski-ing in temperatures of 20 degrees C; belting sun from the top of the mountain to the bottom and if you stayed still for more than a couple of minutes you started roasting. And I still only look sun kissed, nothing more. That has to be a measure of success.

          ===Downsides===
          The main downside that I have found is that the stuff is greasy. Really, really greasy. I don't have greasy skin and even two hours after applying it I could literally feel how greasy my skin had become. I don't suffer from spots on a usual basis either and yet after a week of using this I gained an impressive selection of small but noticeable and irritating spots across my face and upper chest are; needless to say this is where I was using the sun cream. My brother found the same problem on the bottom area of his tattoo that was uncovered and therefore required sun cream; like me he found he gained a large number of spots. Granted it's much better than sun burn but still irritating.

          The other potential issue is that the stuff is very sweet smelling and therefore a potential draw for flying critters like wasps and other nasties. Now I can't say this for certain as I have no scientific backing for my claims, but both me and my brothers girlfriend found that we had suddenly become insect magnets...and it can't be that we smelled sweet after a day on the mountains. Finally the lotion does claim that it is water resistant but I would be slightly unsure of that as the stuff seemed to run with a simple runny eye!

          ===Opinion===
          If I had the option I would not buy this stuff for myself and would still prefer to rely on the more expensive, high factor, branded products that don't leave my skin feeling clogged and greasy. However, if you are looking for a bargain sun lotion that does exactly what it says on the tin and no more this may well be for you. At £2.48 a bottle this is a lot cheaper that the £14.50 odd that I will usually shell out, and to be fair it does work. At the end of the day it depends on what you are looking for, and although this isn't quite up my street it will suit others perfectly for the price alone.

          ===Extra===
          I have to admit I did chuckle at the recommendations on the back - not because it's not sensible advice but because of the way they were worded:

          'Don't expose children and babies to direct sunlight'
          Now, I don't know if this is just me but I'm used to seeing that warning on medicines and chemicals that are likely to explode or do other funny things. This automatically caused the image of a child reacting to sunlight in a similar fashion to stick in my head and gave me a fair amount of hilarity.

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          • Theme Hospital (PC) / PC Game / 38 Readings / 35 Ratings
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            10.07.2012 13:35
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            Still as good 14 years on!

            Theme Hospital was first released in 1997, which I will point out would have made me a very sweet, innocent and cute nine year old at the time. Now stop sniggering; I was bright eyed and bushy tailed once you know. We acquired the game not too long after it's release, probably 1998 or 1999 which in turn would have made me ten or eleven at the time. I can distinctly recall being completely hooked on the game, me and my brother would barricade ourselves in the spare bedroom (the only place where there was a computer back in the day) and play until our eyes were square, then play some more. So, it was with fond memories that I turned back to the game that occupied so much of my childhood time as an adult, but also fully aware that as is the way of the world many things don't stand the test of time. And computer games are more prone to this than many things. So, could a fourteen year old game still manage to snare me in? And the answer is simple, yes.

            ===Premise===
            The basic idea behind the game is that you are more or less a God like figure running a series of hospitals. It starts simple with a manageable tutorial but as you progress through the levels the hospitals get more complicated, the diseases get wackier, you have to buy more equipment, do more research, hire more staff and above all try not to kill your patients who are stampeding through the door in epidemics.

            Theme Hospital was what could be called the predecessor to many of the medical games on the market now; Hospital Tycoon, Trauma Centre and the like. But the management aspect of the game is vital because not only do you have to keep your patients alive and send them out the door happy, you also have to manage your finances and buildings. To have a good hospital you need a mixture of diagnostic rooms and tools (GP's office, cardiovascular equipment, Xray machine), treatment rooms (pharmacy, inflator room, fracture clinic), and of course facilities such as the staff room and toilets.

            ===Gameplay===
            The game is very simple to get the knack of; you have a series of buttons on the lower section of your screen that allow you to build new rooms, hire new staff and check your finances, buildings and staff management etc. Once you've clicked on the 'Build' button you will be met with a list of the possibilities in treatment, diagnosis, research and facilities and you can then chose the size of your room, how many windows you want it to have and how you want it to be decorated. The same kind of thing goes for hiring your staff; you are met with a list of portfolios meaning you can hire the useless slob who won't do much work but is to be fair very cheap, or the high flying surgeon. As the game progresses you also get the chance to train your own staff.

            The game is very much based on micromanagement; you hire doctors, nurses and janitors, build the rooms in which they work and then have to furnish the hospital with radiators, plants, benches and coke machines to keep everyone happy. You have complete control over how much you charge for each cure, how much you pay each doctor, how skilled the members of staff you are going to employ are and how much rest time they get. Although you have no external control over the patients you can pick the members of staff up to get them from room to room and you have to keep a very close eye on where the patients might have vomited and manoeuvre your janitor over there. You even set the priorities of your handymen as they clean, water plants and mend machines. There is a lot to keep an eye on and a fair amount of concentration is needed.

            For each level you are on you are given set targets which will include how many patients you need to cure, how much money you need to make, how much your hospital needs to be worth and how much reputation you have. All the time you are competing with other local hospitals who are trying to steal your hard earned patients away from you. Then you are given the honour of starting afresh in a new hospital, with new patients and new problems. Every so often you'll get an epidemic an emergency or a VIP inspection which means you have to cure patients quickly in order to get reputation and cash bonuses.

            But if that was it to the game it would probably get very stale, very quickly. There's only so many times you can build the same diagnostic rooms, hire more doctors and then deal with both patients and doctors whining at you that you either don't pay them enough, charge them too much or keep the hospital too cold. So what's special about this game that enables it to keep a place in my imagination? And the answer must come down to the patients and the illnesses, because you're not dealing with tonsillitis or pneumonia here. No, you are dealing with patients with Bloaty Head syndrome which means there head needs to be popped and re-inflated, the Uncommon cold, Invisibility, Hairyitis and oh so many others. This is the weird and wonderful world of Theme Hospital, and it is your job to try to figure out how to cure them before Death (quite literally) comes to collect.

            With each level you move into the hospital gets bigger, and new diseases start to crop up which you don't have the resources to deal with. This is why in the later levels you are reliant on your research staff to come up with new diagnostic procedures so you know what you're up against and then new curative measures so you can actually solve the problem. It's somewhat a game of juggling; you are juggling your staff, your patients, your finances and your hospital and trying to keep them all in the air at the same time can become a bit of a struggle. Particularly when the emergency lands on your door at the same time so you have a timer and fifteen patients to cure...quickly. Particularly in the later levels you are trying to do six or seven things at the same time and it gets more than a little bit hectic.

            ===Graphics/Sound===
            I will repeat here that the game is fourteen years old; needless to say graphics and computers have moved on a long way since then. However this is somewhat annulled by the fact that the graphics were never intended to be realistic, instead they are cartoony and cute which means that they do actually manage to stand the test of time. All of the various little characters have animations and they all of the various patients with random ailments are animated differently and rather amusingly, including the people with huge tongues and the ridiculously large heads. The machinery is well done as well, even looking on it now you get the impression that they could do you serious bodily harm!

            Most of the sound stays in the background; which is just how I like it. There's nothing there that will assault your ears overly much. What makes the sound, and adds a large amount of humour to the game is the announcer over the top who periodically comes out with amusing sayings like; 'Would patients refrain from dying in the corridors please'. It adds somewhat of a giggle factor to the game in addition to some of the ridiculous patients.

            ===Niggles===
            The only real niggle providing you overlook the age of the game is the stupidity of the doctors who unless you set the game to the highest level of strictness will end up wandering aimlessly around in the corridors while the patients die in the corridors. This is because the announcer will make it clear when a room is in need of a doctor, so a doctor will leave his office and go there. This is good in theory, but in practice you put your skilled doctors where you want them so it's highly irritating when they start wandering. Particularly as then the tannoy will come back on to announce that the room he's just left needs a doctor, so he'll get to the room he was walking to and then turn around and go back. It just goes around in ever decreasing circles. As I said, I got around this by making sure that on the settings screen I have the free will of the doctors completely and utterly removed.

            ===Opinion===
            Many years on and I still found this game as addictive, as frustrating, as challenging and as amusing as when I first played it. I can get much further on it now as an adult than I could ever get as a child. This is without a doubt a fantastically made game, and even now it stands the test of time. You can quite happily waste hours playing it without even looking at the clock, and you'll feel your heart start to race when you begin to drop the balls you've been so carefully juggling in order to keep the hospital running. Without a doubt it can be infuriating, largely when you've spent a lot of time building up a hospital only to go bust or kill too many patients and so have to start all over again. But Bullfrog really did get this game perfect.

            Let's be honest, there are not many computer games you can pick up thirteen odd years after you bought them and still be as enthralled as you were when you got it. This is a cracking good game, and whilst it may not have the realism of many doctor games it's got the challenge, it's got the humour, it's got the variety, the charm and the sheer fun in it to make it compulsive playing. Every time you play a level you will never get the same results, things will always be different and different challenges will arise as you play, which in turn means that there is almost infinite replay value to the game. They even managed to get the learning curve right with the first level being a breeze and then gradually building up until the last level is seemingly impassable. It can still be played on newer laptops and PC's (or at least it works on mine and I'm on Vista) so there is absolutely no excuse not to give it a go.

            It's not as flashy or perhaps as clever as many modern games. You won't find wonderful cut scenes or perfect voice acting. But what you will find is an addictive, compulsive game that I will eat my hat if you don't love. Some critics have come down rather hard on it in the past, but this is one of those games where the critics and the Average Joe have opposing views with the average player rating being 9/10. I know which side I'm on.

            ===Conclusion===
            I was nervous when I originally booted this up on my laptop because I really didn't want to mar the memories of the game I already had. There was no need. This is still an absolute cracker of a game which still allows you to fully immerse yourself in the slightly crazy world that Bullfrog have created. Currently available at £1.75 from Amazon you really haven't got a lot to lose buying this classic. I'll leave you with these words from the producer of Theme Hospital:

            "Every conceivable aspect of building, designing and maintaining a hospital was meticulously researched by the Theme Hospital development team. That part of the game is quite realistic. However, in order to keep the game from being realistic, to the point of being offensive, we made up an entire list of afflictions, paying careful attention to probing the funny bone."

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            • More +
              03.07.2012 15:52
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              Not the easiest of topics, but well worth your time and your effort

              If there's one good thing about being happy to lend books out is that other people are more often than not quite happy to repay the favour. The downside is that you lose a lot of books into the bookshelves of other people never to be seen again. This was one of those books where I got a return favour, and in return for lending Animal's People to a colleague I was leant this; Speak. As a young adult piece of fiction I was a little bit wary, but the premise intrigued me and, what the heck, I hadn't paid for it.

              ===Premise===
              "I wonder how long it would take for anyone to notice if I just stopped talking."

              The first day at a new school is always going to be hard going, the butterflies in the stomach, the unsurety of not knowing whether you'll fit in, whether your hair is right and whether you'll make any friends. But when you are the girl who called the cops at the end of a summer party and got a lot of people into trouble then this becomes more than the typical teenage party. Melinda is that girl, and this is her story.

              From a straight A student Melinda has become troubled, from being a girl with friends all over she has become a selective mute, only talking when she absolutely needs to and bottling everything else up inside. It is clear very early on in the book that something terrible happened at that party, and it's eating her alive. This isn't an action filled teenage book filled with vampires and whirl wind romance, this is the story of one very ordinary girl suddenly having to try and cope with the unspeakable. As the book continues Melinda sinks deeper and deeper into depression, she's cutting class, forgetting to wash her hair, struggling to get out of bed every morning and most of all refusing to speak unless more or less forced.

              You don't know, although you can guess, what has happened to Melinda. But you do know that the effect it has on her life is dramatic and that it has turned her life upside down. Without a supportive caring family, and without any network of support considering she's been completely isolated at school, Melinda sinks further and further into herself. The only glimmer of hope she has is in her art class which is taught by an unconventional teacher who actually seems to care about his students even if he doesn't care about the bureaucracy. As is shown by the fact that he refuses to grade his pupils because the school cut his paper budget, but he wants his pupils to open up, and however wacky he seems he may just be Melinda's only hope.

              "This is where you can find your soul if you dare. Where you can touch that part of you that you've never dared look at before. Do not come here and ask me to show you how to draw a face. Ask me to help you find the wind."

              ===Style===
              The book is told entirely from the inside of Melinda's head. The only speech in the book is what others have said to her as she very rarely speaks at all. So what you have are the thought processes of a teenager in a great deal of distress being written by an adult, which naturally could turn out to be a complete and utter disaster. However, Laurie Halse Anderson has managed to carry the voice of a teenager very well without it sounding like an adult writing as a teenager, but equally without making it unreadable for those outside of the teenage mind set. It's easy enough to read for a young teenager to get into it, but at the same time it manages this without being patronising and the themes and issues are dealt with in a way that is accessible for teenagers and adults alike.

              Melinda's inside monologues can be funny and witty, but are often heartbreaking and leave you just wanting to charge in so that someone can be there to hear her. Because a lot of the book is about the isolation that can be felt after disaster strikes and how having no support networks in place to help, these internal monologues work very well as she only has herself to converse with. It also helps you to empathise with her and have an understanding of what she is going through.

              "It's easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say."

              ===My Opinion===
              This was without a doubt a harrowing read on occasions, not because of what is explicitly stated often or not, but because of what you can read behind the lines. The subject matter is dark, what has happened to Melanie and the repercussions that this have on her life resound through the book and through you as the reader. The isolation, the inability to cope, the shutting yourself off to try to prevent being hurt again, to try to avoid having to force people to understand are all aspects of Melinda's life that impact on you. But it's not gory or horrific in the way that it could be, instead it focuses very much so on the emotional aspects and repercussions.

              Because you spend most of the novel within Melinda's mind you as the reader get to know her very well, you understand the hurt and the pain she is going through and you really want things to improve for her. Personally I wanted to go and hurt down several people in the book not least of all IT as well as slapping her parents around the face a couple of times, and I have no maternal instinct in me whatsoever. You truly begin to care about her and as the novel progresses you start to worry that maybe whatever happens will come too late. But it helps that Melinda does on occasions have a very sarcastic, witty and biting sense of humour, particularly about the high school clichés and anyone who has ever been a teenager will struggle not to empathise and laugh inwardly as it brings back memories of your own high school days...and sometimes even work days! I liked the fact that you never actually find out what Melinda looks like, it's very much her thoughts and feelings and the author doesn't fall into the trap of allowing it to slide into the outside world looking at her. Many of the feelings and issues that are covered in the book could just as easily cover adult life as well as teenage life, and personally I'd say that this is a book well worth reading whether you are 13 or 30.

              Without a doubt this is high school. It doesn't pretend to be anything else. But instead of putting me off which is what this would usually do, instead it works and it draws you back into the land of emotional strife that is a teenager's world without being too irritating. This is perhaps because Melinda has every reason in the world to be behaving and feeling as she does, this is not just the typical teenager world of romantic angst and being overly emotional for very little reason. You desperately want her to find her voice because you know why she has rendered mute and you can see the reason behind her turmoil. Laurie Halse Anderson herself wonders at the beginning of the book why on earth she chose to relive the adolescent world of hell in writing this book, but the answer as far as I can see is very clear; she had something important to say in an original and very hard hitting way.

              "When people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time."

              ===Downsides===
              I can't actually think of many downsides to the book. Some of the issues and situations in the book are of a personal and distressing nature, but they are dealt with very sensitively and this book has been used in school settings to educate teenagers about certain issues so it's not horrific or too difficult to read. If anything it forces you to empathise with the main character and what she is going through. There are also certain aspects which seemed to me to be unrealistic, like a student suing one of the members of staff - maybe that's not so unrealistic in America.

              But the downsides of this book are easily forgotten once you are involved in it, I have to admit I didn't even realise that parts of it were unrealistic until after I'd finished it and thought about it. This is a witty, charming, thought provoking and charming book that is well worth a look.

              ===Conclusion===
              This is without a doubt a book that stayed with me long after I'd finished reading it, and I was still chewing over parts of it several days later. I've passed the adolescent angst stage of my life (although if you'd have seen me in my break up from my partner you'd never have believed it!), but this book struck a chord with me and I believe that it will strike a chord with many others. It's fairly rare that I'll recommend a book that is really aimed at teenagers, but I can definitely recommend this one.

              As a side note there has also been a film made of the book.

              ===TEN MORE LIES THEY TELL YOU IN HIGH SCHOOL ===

              1. You will use algebra in your adult lives.
              2. Driving to school is a privilege that can be taken away.
              3. Students must stay on campus during lunch.
              4. The new text books will arrive any day now.
              5. Colleges care more about you than your SAT scores.
              6. We are enforcing the dress code.
              7. We will figure out how to turn off the heat soon.
              8. Our bus drivers are highly trained professionals.
              9. There is nothing wrong with summer school.
              10. We want to hear what you have to say."

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              • Luminous Arc (DS) / Nintendo DS Game / 34 Readings / 32 Ratings
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                02.07.2012 12:49
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                It's not quite luminous but it's not half bad...

                As you have probably guessed by now I have somewhat of a weakness for RPG's, particularly on the DS and the PS2, and Luminous Arc is no exception to the rule. It's one of those games that yet again I picked up due to the fact that the cover intrigued me and it seemed like it could be entertaining. I won't say that I was immediately hooked, or that it took over my life like some games have a habit of doing but it was quite a cute, charming game that was entertaining to play. Which to be fair is all you really need in a game.

                ===Premise===
                You are playing as a group called the 'Garden's Children' who are fighting alongside the church of Luminous in a bid to rid the world of the witches, who the church claims are out to destroy the world. They claim that the recent monster boom has been caused by the witches, and if something isn't done about it then the problems will only multiply. You note how I'm using the word 'claim' a lot? Well, there's a reason for that. You see, the God which the Luminous church is worshipping is kind of a centuries old, humongous monster which the witches sealed up 1000 years ago, and it's main objective is to break its chains and eat the planet. So, we suddenly have a minor problem with following the orders of the Luminous church and so our rag tag team of heroes turn into heretics in a sudden mad dash to save the world from their own masters. Fun times, eh?

                Your characters are somewhat stereotypical to the standard RPG experience; you have Alph a rifle wielding youngster with a wacky hairdo, Theo his younger and cute looking brother, Heath the experienced lance man who is teaching them although he can't be more than thirty himself, Cecille the irritating pious cleric and Leon a talented swordsman is most definitely a ladies man. Soon after the witches come in to play and everything gets interesting. The game is actually very clever in fully developing the characters motivations and experiences meaning that you actually seem to get to know each character and understand them.

                The story line is actually quite compelling and you do want to keep on going to find out what happens next.

                ===Gameplay===
                Luminous Arc fits solidly into the strategy RPG genre; the plot moves through fairly quickly and before each battle there is a short bit of dialogue to move you through. You have the choice of shopping for more equipment, talking to the three characters available for that section of the game or reading in the library and then there is the 'advance plot' button. This means that you have the chance to mess around for as long as you want before being forced into the next section of the story. My only issue would be that you have no opportunity to explore the town or the world map, you have very limited options for what you can do if you are not battling and I quite like a much larger RPG experience where I can actually wander around towns, talk to random people and generally mess around. It makes it seem more immersive in a way.

                Once you've advanced the story this is then followed by a turn based battle on a grid based map. You see your characters from a birds eye view and you are allowed up to eight characters on the map during any one battle. From that point onwards you move your characters to attack the enemy with each character having different strengths and weaknesses. As you go through the game the battles become faster paced with you having to move right from the start to get your characters out of danger, and there is always the strategic aspect of where to place your characters to maximise their attacking or healing capacities.

                If you attack an enemy from the side that is stronger than face on, and if you attack them from the back that is stronger still but it must always be remembered that the same rule applies to you. Each move that you do will increase your characters Flash Drive, which if you have played any Final Fantasy is very similar to the Limit Break - you get it up to maximum and you can unleash a much stronger attack with the character. This is quite a nice touch, but possibly the most intriguing touch which makes the strategy more interesting is the levelling up system. All characters level up after they have received 100 experience points and at the level up they recover full Health points and Magic points. This doesn't sound too extreme, but it's unusual in games like this and it allows you to have much more flexibility in moving characters into risky situations because if you judge it right then you will be able to time a level up, but if you judge it wrong your character will die. Likewise it gives you a certain amount of freedom on who to level up as killing an enemy gets you more experience than just hurting an enemy, so if you pick which character will make the all important blow well it can make a massive difference in terms of your party.

                You always have the opportunity to go looking for random skirmishes (not unlike Fire Emblems set up if you've played that), but you are limited to the places on the map which are marked. There's no exploration between areas, you just move along the lines to the next town or battle that is marked. It isn't just this game that does this, it has become increasingly common, again Fire Emblem is a good example, but that doesn't stop it being irritating.

                The other irritation in game play would be the controls which are a pain in the proverbial backside until you manually change it to allow you to use the buttons instead of the touch screen. The touch screen controls just aren't responsive enough and either doesn't register what you are trying to do or moves your character to an adjoining square. This is kind of an annoying fault in what I would otherwise say is solid gameplay.

                ===Graphics/Sound===
                The graphics are pretty. They are done in anime style and the characters are very well drawn. The settings for the battles are varied according to where you are at any given point and the towns (well, what you can see of them) are also nicely drawn. There's nothing particularly special, but there's nothing to moan about either.

                In terms of sound the game does quite impressively for a DS game. The background track isn't particularly irritating (coming from someone who hates computer game music that is about as complementary as I can bring myself to get.) However, the voice over's for the characters are well acted for the most part, there are one or two over acted, irritating characters but they don't make too much of a difference to the enjoyment of the game. I did quite like the addition of the little voices in battle which I wouldn't have noted had I not been forced to turn the sound on the review it! When your character is about to attack or is very low on health they come out with personalised lines which is to be fair quite a nifty addition...not enough to make me keep the sound on though.

                ===Multiplayer===
                Again, having no friends I've had to read up on the multiplayer capacity. It appears that it's not particularly bad but again nothing stunning. You receive the ability to play multi-player after chapter 13 and then you can pit your teams against another person in real life. The main issue with this it appears is that because you can't customise your characters you are pitting identical sides against each other and as there is no handicap function if they're higher levels then you're scuppered to begin with.

                ===Extra Opinion===
                Overall this is a very enjoyable game that should easily keep you occupied for around 25 hours, more if you spend a lot of time finding random battles to fight and getting the other characters to their full heart bar (there are intercessions after each battle and if you say the right thing the character likes you more which ends up giving you a nice cut scene eventually). There's also really cute cut scenes with a very wierd cat/blob thing called Kopin after each battle which really do add an extra level of amusement and entertainment...they're very odd and somewhat impossible to explain but so cute! This is a good, solid game with quite an original plot (even if it does still rely on kids with supremely strange hair), battles which keep you interested and are amusing to play and overall is a nice collection to any RPG fans collection.

                It has its faults, but what game doesn't. And once you change the ridiculous stylus controls so that you can use the D-pad the game in intuitive and fairly instinctive. It makes you think about where you are going to put your characters next and it is a fun game. If I had my way I'd like the characters to be much more customisable so that you can choose your own class and weapon, I'd like to be able to wander around the maps and the towns (this isn't impossible for a DS game considering Chrono Trigger managed it). I guess I'd just like it to be a little bit more interactive, with me having more of a say in what's going on rather than moving from battle to battle and aside from upgrading weapons and armour having no say. But I enjoyed myself playing it and that's the important thing.

                ===Conclusion===
                This isn't going to win game of the year by a long way. But it's above average, it's enjoyable and it's entertaining. It just could be better. I was entertained enough to order the second one in the series because despite the flaws I did enjoy playing it. I have to admit I would recommend it, because if you're a fan of RPG's then you will find it entertaining and if you're a fan of anime based games you'll enjoy it. Plus at around £10 it isn't going to break the bank. If you don't do turn based battles then you will however struggle!

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                • More +
                  26.06.2012 17:52
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                  If you're just looking for an entertaining game then this is it.

                  Dragon Quest have released Dragon Quest Monsters 2 which automatically shot onto my 'NEED! list along with Harry Potter Lego years 5-7; yes, I'm fairly certain we've already covered my fluid definition of the concept of 'need' previously. Unfortunately for me when it came out I had already bought myself a SatNav and at £120 that meant my finances were a little stretched. So, I resorted back to the original Dragon Quest Monsters which was released in 2008 and which I picked up for the bargain price of £2 expecting it to be awful. And instead found myself completely hooked on a game which was truly a bargain.

                  ===Premise===
                  This game is completely different to the usual RPG style of Dragon Quest. Granted you are still a teenager traveling around the world. And yes, you are still battling monsters as you go. And yes, you do end up with the task to save the world. But I promise you it's different. And that's because in an odd merge between Dragon Quest and Pokemon you are not really going on an epic quest to save the world. Instead you are catching, training and synthesising monsters so that you can beat the final Monsters Scout championship. Well, it is a little bit more complex than that because actually you are the son of the leader of the secret CELL organisation who at the beginning of the game is in a prison cell for sneaking off to try and join the monster scout challenge. But then despite your imprisonment for insubordination, your father sends you on an undercover mission to infiltrate the monster scout cup. At this point your adventure begins.

                  You are given your choice of a starting monster and off you go. Along the way you meet, save and befriend a mythical creature, the Incarnus, with an agenda of his own who joins with you. So you have the added quest of aiding him as he travels from shrine to shrine to reach his highest level of transformation possible. Yeah, it adds a somewhat weird touch to the game but oddly it does work, and it keeps a higher level of interest than if the game was solely tournament orientated.

                  ===Gameplay===
                  If you are expecting the full Dragon Quest experience of a detailed world map; towns, continents and hours of exploring over different terrains then you may end up being a little bit disappointed because the world is one heck of a lot smaller. There are seven islands in total to explore, and although each island has a scout post where you can heal, save and buy items, your exploration of the islands is confined to caves, the outside and palaces on the island. You get to each island on a jet ski which you don't control so it is purely the islands that make up the game. It is somewhat lacking in the epic feel that the Dragon Quest RPG's are best known for, but I would urge you not to give up now as there is plenty of gameplay within these islands and the focus for this game lies elsewhere.

                  You start the game with one very low level monster and your aim is to train, capture and breed (synthesise) new, stronger monsters that you will be able to win the championship with. In total there are over 200 monsters living amongst the seven islands and these are split into the families that regular Dragon Quest players will be more than aware of; Slime, Dragon, Nature, Beast, Material, Demon, Undead and Incarni. Different monsters appear dependent on whether it is night or day and on how far you are into the island as they get progressively harder. In addition you can see the monsters walking around the map, so if you already have a monster or you don't want to fight a much weaker/stronger monster you can run past them.

                  When you meet these monsters on the map you will engage in battle with them. Any experienced Dragon Quest player will know the drill from here. You have a basic turn based battle with the choices to Attack, use a skill, Defend or use and item. The only difference is that you personally stay out of the battle and your sole responsibility is to control and watch your monsters fight and level up. You also, as with many Dragon Quest games, have the option to choose your tactics before going into a battle which means you have the joy of just being able to sit back and watch. But battling is also how you get new monsters because like the Pokemon games you have to catch them as such, but here there is a difference. The monsters aren't 'caught' in Pokeballs or any other such device, they have to chose of their own will to come over to your team and the only way they will do this is if you impress them enough with your skills. There is a probability bar once you have decided to 'Scout' the monster out, and the harder your monsters can attack the more this percentage chance of scouting the monster become.

                  ===Synthesising===
                  But this all sounds a little simple, and to be fair I guess it is. It isn't any less enjoyable because of it but I doubt it would last for all that long if that was all there was to the game. But, there's more. Because although you can catch monsters these are all basic level monsters as such and they can only get a limited number of skill points in a limited number of skills. So at this point you can synthesise new monsters out of two of your existing monsters which you can personalise the skills which they will be leveling up and get higher level skills for them to train in. You can only pick three, but to be fair if you could pick any more you'd never be able to get enough skill points to make it worth it, and this adds an extra strategic element to the game. The stronger the basic monsters you are synthesising, the stronger the monster you will get out of it. The more skill points the monsters you are synthesising have the more skill points your monster will start with and therefore the better head start it will have. You do however lose the two original monsters.

                  ===Grinding===
                  Unfortunately this leads to the one massive problem in the game that will probably put a fair few people off the game. Because, as you can guess if you have to train up one set of monsters to a high level and then you synthesise two of them into a Lv 1 monster which you have to start again with it is hard going. You are going to spend a lot of time going around the same maps, fighting the same monsters and generally grinding your levels up one step at a time. Personally this doesn't bother me, but I can see it upsetting a few people who would prefer to play through.

                  ===Graphics===
                  The game definitely doesn't let you down here, which to be fair is a bit of a relief because if you had to spend hour after hour grinding your levels up for your next round of synthesis and it wasn't appealing you'd want to claw your eyes out. But the 3D aspect and the cutesy graphics are very nice to look at indeed. The monsters are recognisable from previous Dragon Quest games and the extra details that have been put into them mean that there is something new and refreshing about them. It's bright, it's appealing and it's easy on the eye. As with most games I hit the sound off fairly quickly on just about any game, but from what I have listened to it's certainly not offensive.

                  ===Opinion===
                  Possibly this is another game that will appeal mostly to the slightly more OCD natured of us because to be fair if you don't start trying to collect as many monsters as you can and synthesising them to the highest possible ability then you can probably run through the game in about 20 hours, which is fairly short for an RPG. It's only when you want to get every single aspect of the game complete that things are more enjoyable, but that is not an aspect of the game that will appeal to everyone even if it does appeal to me. The whole game seems to have a very laid back approach to it that says 'Well, we've included this but it's completely optional.' But it is easy to get lost in the world, and somehow their laid back attitude does seem to work as you can play the game in whatever fashion you want to. The addition of the plot with the Incarnus also adds a lot to the game, as without that it would just be too thin - there isn't the substance that you get in Pokemon.

                  The plot is fairly thin and unless you are somewhat of an OCD maniac there isn't half as much to do as you would except from an RPG. But for some reason this game is actually fairly compulsive playing. I wouldn't say that this is the best game I have ever played, but it is an amusing and occupying way to while away the time. There isn't the detail that you can see in Pokemon with many different towns and people and a variety of different aspects and puzzles to the game, but equally Pokemon is a game where you can easily hit 100 hours gameplay. This isn't. If you want an epic storyline and adventure RPG then this isn't the place to find it. But if you are instead looking for a fun, compelling and fairly laid back game that doesn't try to take itself too seriously then you won't be disappointed. And believe me, it is fun.

                  ===Conclusion===
                  This ticked all the boxes for me and I couldn't put it down. It wasn't that kind of playing because I needed to see what happened, it was playing purely because I was enjoying myself. I enjoyed it the first time I played it and I've enjoyed it just as much when I've come back to it a couple of years down the line. This is a game of good, clean fun which really can't offend anyone. It's just that the grinding may drive you insane. And granted, you'll be lucky to find it at the bargainous price which I got it for, but at £7.80 from Amazon it's not going to break the bank.

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                    24.06.2012 14:20
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                    I'd expected a better book from her

                    This isn't the first book by Phillipa Gregory that I've read, and from previous experience of her I've been very impressed with her style of writing. The last one I read I found gave a unique view on the period of history being covered whilst weaving an engaging story line through it, so when I saw this one in a charity shop for £1.50 I couldn't resist. And I have to say I was horribly disappointed. I had deliberately stayed with her historical novels because the previous ones I'd read were so good, but instead that although it was definitely historical, it was a matter of debate whether it could be called good...or perhaps even a novel.

                    ===Plot===
                    The plot is based around Henry VIII and runs from 1539 to the year of his death. So the main story starts with him taking Anne of Cleves as his wife and runs through him ditching her for Katherine Howard and then executing her for her affairs and moving onto Katherine Parr. This is actually probably the largest problem the novel has. This is a story that we have all been taught since we were knee high to a grasshopper, we have learned it off by heard since the year dot. I mean who doesn't know the rhyme; 'Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived'!? I could probably recite it to my foster sisters and they'd probably recognise it; and they're three for cripes sake. We all know the story, we all know the history and we know who lives and who dies. There can be no surprises or shocks in this story, particularly as it focuses directly on Henry's relations with his wives. Because of this it would need some particularly spectacular narrative telling to make this work well, and that just doesn't materialise.

                    This problem could have been nullified if the topic had been approached in a completely unique way, or if the characters were fantastic or if different aspects were looked at to normal. And to be fair, Phillipa Gregory has tried. It's just that it is difficult to come up with a unique view on this particular segment of history and although her view on the characters is unusual and interesting it just doesn't quite cut it.

                    ===Characters===
                    This book is told from the first person perspective of the three main players: Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Jane Boleyn. Henry is only spoken of in a third person point of view from the perspective of the three women. This is, to be fair, probably a very sensible move on Phillipa Gregory's part as it means she can give far more of an air of terror to Henry's reign and behaviour. I understand that we all know these characters as historical figures and we probably know a lot about their actions, but as Phillipa Gregory has tried to make the novel out of the characters she has tried to put a unique spin on them.

                    To a point she has managed. Anne of Cleves is usually described as being ugly and I know that I was certainly taught in Year 5 that the reason for Henry rejecting her in the beginning of the relationship was because she didn't live up to her picture. Phillipa Gregory on the other hand portrays her as a naïve, pretty young woman who was miserably out of her depth in the more liberal England. It was completely outside the sphere of her realm of experience. She portrays the first meeting of Anne and the king at Rochester as the reason for Henry's hatred of her, as when Henry first met her he was dressed in rags and pretending to be a commoner. She had no way of recognising the drunk, ugly and ill old man as the kind in 'disguise'; even the pictures she'd had of him were from when he was a young man in the prime of his life. So she rejected him first, she spat out his kiss and therein lies the reason that he can never forgive her. Phillipa Gregory also goes further into her background and childhood than most of us are aware and so to a point she can make a new story out of it.

                    Katherine Howard, or Kitty, is seen as a victim. A young girl no more than sixteen, whose only crime was loving a boy her own age and not a man old enough to be her father who is rotting from the leg upwards. Like Anne of Cleves she was disastrously out of depth in a court of manipulative and sophisticated older people. Like any sixteen year old she is self obsessed and she has no real view of her own mortality. But most sixteen year olds can get away with this behaviour, for most it has no real effect other than a couple of rather embarrassing memories that they can still remember in their forties but really wish they couldn't. But for her this has disastrous consequences and Phillipa Gregory certainly did succeed in arousing my pity for the girl. Well, by the end of the book anyway when she'd stopped irritating the living daylights out of me.

                    And Henry is very much seen as a charming young prince turned tyrant. This is not a new portrayal and is certainly an accurate one by the evidence, but Phillipa Gregory does show that she has no interest in pulling her punches:
                    "This is the man they call a great king, the greatest king we have ever had in England. Does it not teach us that we should have no king? That a people should be free? That a tyrant is still a tyrant when he has a handsome face under a crown?"

                    ===Style===
                    Originally this irritated me because it was slow. The process of flipping so often between different characters was just plain irritating because in the early stages of the book it just seemed to go nowhere. This was by the way made so much worse by Kitty Howard's character in the early book it is untrue. Her teenage inanities made the entire sections unbelievably dull. I understand that this is always a risk with the adult looking into the teenage psyche due to the sheer amount of floss that they carry around involving boys, clothes and emotional baggage that they haven't learned to control (not that I can talk about that even now!). But even so, there is only so many times I can read about her wanting to throw herself in the Thames and do herself in because of some inane reason or another usually involving boys, sex and clothes...and how she'll never be a princess. I actually wanted to hit her because she was just winding me up with the whining and complaining about how bad she's got it. Later in the story then I might have been more understanding, but I hit my tolerance level very early on and became very willing to throw her in the Thames myself if only to shut her the hell up. Or possibly throw myself in the Thames in a desperate last bid to get the irritation to go away.

                    It did however improve; it started to move more quickly and the stupidness of Kitty Howard seemed to come down to a more manageable level. As soon as the book actually gets into its stride her style does work, particularly as the plot is moving at enough of a pace to allow her habit of continuously switching from one character to another to work.

                    ===My Opinion===
                    This was a disappointment. Now I am not saying that this was an awful book, or even a bad book, because it wasn't. It just wasn't up to standard that I have come to expect from her due to my experience of her previous books. Personally I feel that she set the bar far too high in attempting to write something new about such a well known period of history because it just doesn't work. Her ability to stick to history is to be applauded, but she doesn't carry this off with enough wit or flair for it to work. All the way through I felt that I knew what was going to happen and I was wondering why on earth I continued reading because it just wasn't a gripping enough story.

                    In addition to this I didn't actually attach myself to any of the characters. Granted in the later sections of the novel I did feel sorry for Kitty Howard, but for the majority of it I felt nothing but the desire to murder her myself and therefore save the king an awful lot of hassle later. Considering the set of circumstances I find this strange as usually I will get engrossed in a book to the point where I will cry with the characters, but at no point in this did I find that. Instead I felt oddly detached and it seemed like a struggle to get through. Anne is the only character who you really feel for because she is so out of her depth and so desperate to make things work, but because she is so desperate to be the perfect queen this makes her a rather cold and dry character.

                    Phillipa Gregory does stick remarkably well to historical fact, but in this novel it actually undermines what she is trying to do. She would have been better off creating an entirely fictional novel, perhaps loosely based on history, because in confining herself to the history she seems to have restricted herself too much. On the other hand based on other reviews I'm bucking the trend here so you may have a completely different opinion.

                    ===Conclusion===
                    If you are a mad Phillipa Gregory fan then by all means go and knock yourself out and buy it, although granted you probably already have it. This is not however a book which I would recommend to the casual reader, particularly if this is the first of her books you would read. She has written far better even if you only count her historical novels in this. It has its moments, but it is not a great book. It's certainly not her best book.

                    'He stumbles back, he, the great king, almost falls back before her contempt. Never in his life has he ever seen any expression in any woman's face but desire and welcome. He is stunned. In her flushed face and bright, offended gaze he sees the first honest opinion of himself that he has ever known. In a terrible, blinding flash he sees himself as he truly is; an old man, long past his prime, no longer handsome, no longer desirable, a man that a younger woman would push roughly away from her because she could not bear his touch.'

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                      21.06.2012 16:02
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                      Buying something solely because of the pretty dragon is not the best of plans

                      Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is another game I kind of bought off the shelf without doing all too much research into it. It looked quite cool. It turns out considering I have no friends who are sad enough to own a DS and actually buy games then I would probably have been better going for the original release of this series. But that's beside the point. I also didn't realise that this game was really a direct sequel to the previous games in the series and that although you can play it without any understanding of what has happened previously you will find yourself an awful lot less confused if you actually bother to buy the original games first. But we all learn these things through mistakes!

                      ===Blue Dragon===
                      If I'd have actually bothered to look into the series before just deciding to buy because it had a pretty picture of a blue dragon on the front, I probably wouldn't have bothered. And this is because the overall assessment of the Blue Dragon series is that it's not a bad series, but it's always, without fail, one step away from great. One of the main complaints hurled at them is that they haven't found their niche yet because they keep trying so hard to fit into someone elses, with the original Xbox game being an amalgamation of every JPG known to human kind and Blue Dragon Plus on the DS being a rip off of Heroes of Revenant Wings they've never managed anything actually original. Can this one prove any different?

                      ===Plot===
                      Well, as I mentioned previously this one starts as a direct sequel to the previous DS game and although your character is new to the series none of the other characters are. But anyhow, after customising your appearance with some very impossible hair styles, you wake up in a place that looks a lot like a lab having - surprise, surprise - lost your memory. So, you're an amnesiac who looks like a bit like a twassock...well, we're not winning any stakes for originality at the moment anyway.

                      Everyone in the town has mastered their shadows from the previous games, until of course you arrive and with a flash of light nobody except you can use their shadows anymore. So the established crew from the previous game; Shu, Kluke and Jiro being the main three, join up with you to try to figure out the mystery of why the shadows have disappeared and how you can get them back. And of course, where you came from and why you have no memories.

                      But one of the main issues with the game is that the plot is all but forgotten very early on as you end up running errands for characters who really don't seem that concerned by their predicament. This is compounded by the arrival of a load of magic portal doors in the town which have bosses inside them. This at the time feels like a main plot device, but it just ends up being yet another excuse to include a set of mini-quests.It's disjointed and there seems to be a lack of continuity; I know if I'd just lost my main method of defending myself I'd be a little bit perturbed...but quests with no relation to the main plot seem to take precedence and so it takes forever to find out which way the not so original plot is heading.

                      ===Gameplay===
                      The gameplay itself is ok. You manoeuvre around using the D controls and you use the A button both to attack and to activate your shadow attacks. The problems come when you start trying to use the B button and the touch screen to dodge moves and to block as then the entire controls system gets very sluggish and you start struggling to do anything without getting killed. It's often much easier to completely ignore that the touch screen controls actually exist and just do the entire thing with attack and 'RUN AWAY' kind of mentality.

                      But much of the gameplay just involves you running around doing inane mini quests for characters and collecting more characters that you can use in your battles. Nobody actually seems to care that much about the disappearance of their shadows once the original hoo-ha is over. The reliance on mini-quests and fighting through world maps is also made more of an irritation by the fact that your allies are as thick as two short planks (yes, the AI leaves a lot to be desired). Unless you massively over level for each new set of monsters or new boss then you will quickly find that your companions are dead on the floor within seconds and you are trying to do all the work on your own.

                      The only real redeeming factor is that you can customise your weaponry and armour and mix old weapons into new stronger weapons...this does add a nice touch to it, but overall it's not quite enough to make up for a mediocre plot and mediocre gameplay if we're honest about it. But at least you don't have to simply sell your old equipment for a fraction of the price, and it does add a couple extra hours of gameplay in as you fiddle around with different combinations.

                      ===Graphics===
                      The graphics aren't bad but they aren't spectacular. The sound isn't bad but it isn't spectacular. In fact I seem to be saying that a lot here. The whole thing comes across as rather mediocre. The cut scenes are quite pretty on occasions and the enemies are varied and again well drawn, but there is nothing here that leads to the eye and says 'I'm special!'. To be fair I did appreciate that the 3D efforts for the characters was quite impressive, but unlike some of the recent games I've played it just didn't stand out. I quite appreciated the ability to be able to customise my character so that I had a certain say in what I looked like, but to be honest that's about it. There's nothing anything deeply memorable about anything.

                      ===Multi-player===
                      And here is where I think the game was set up for. It was not set up for a single player adventure through the game world, it was set up a multi-player experience. They have included both local wireless and Wi-Fi Connection multi-player support and the disjointed, stand alone quests make a lot more sense if you consider them as an excuse to have a multi-player adventure with friends for a couple of minutes. And I suppose if you buy the game looking for that, knowing that's what you're buying, then you won't be disappointed. But the problem here is that they are selling the game to a generation who are used to and quite happy with the single player RPG experience; particularly on the DS. Personally I have no issue with multi-player being included or not, but I expect it to be included as an extra, a choice and something to enhance the game. I don't expect it to domineer the game and make it a rather lacklustre experience to play if you have to play it as a single player.

                      I have very little interest in the multiplayer experience. If I want a multiplayer game then I'll start up the Xbox - so far this urge hasn't yet hit me. I even play the Xbox as a single player RPG experience. I've been born and bred on the likes of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Pokemon which offer a real single player experience as you travel through the game world. The focus on multiplayer lets it down here because they haven't catered for the many players who actually want an RPG world.

                      ===Opinion===
                      It's not a bad game. Let's be fair, it's actually quite enjoyable to play for short snatches before you put it away to find something more engaging. But it's disappointing because they have overshadowed a plot which could have been entertaining and engaging if it hadn't ended up being so shallow and disjointed. The focus on the multiplayer experience is all well and good, but that only works if you provide a certain amount of meat for those of us poor souls who don't have friends to work with. And this just didn't materialise.

                      It's a solid attempt at what could have been a good game. It just doesn't quite reach the mark, so perhaps in keeping with the family tradition Blue Dragon has yet again managed to provide a 'not quite up to scratch' game. At the very least they needed to have offered gamers a half decent plot which isn't forever interrupted by mindless quests, but even this appeared to be too much for them. It was created by several well known studios including Mistwalker and tri-Crescendo so it has the potential to be up there with the best of them. Unfortunately it seems, even the best of creators can screw up sometimes. If the characters had properly developed personalities this may have actually carried the game, but without these the plot just isn't complex enough to actually carry it.

                      I have to admit, I might also be slightly peeved because typos irritate me and the typos in this are somewhat uncountable, particularly if you add the grammatical errors into the equation. And I'm not even talking minor errors here and there, I'm talking major, glaring, in your face grammatical errors. The least of all being the fact that the game never actually bothers to figure out whether you are male or female and so resorts to calling you 'them' or 'those'.

                      ===Conclusion===
                      This is what can be called a solid hit right in the middle of mediocrity. It's not bad, and I promise I'm saying this for the last time now, but it's not much more than a couple of hours of amusement here and there. Possibly if you play multi-player then this might just about be a half decent game, but for the majority who buy a DS RPG looking for an engaging single player world this isn't worth the effort.

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                        18.06.2012 18:12
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                        A stunning game well worth your pennies

                        After a completely disastrous buy of Animal Zoo which turned out to be a complete waste of money I was lucky enough to find this particular gem within the Harvest Moon series. Considering it came out very recently indeed I considered myself very lucky to have walked into Game when I did. I've long been a fan of the Harvest Moon series, and I've been fascinated by how the series has evolved and changed as the years have gone by. This game was no exception to the rule and if anything is probably one of the best games those nice folks at Natsume have ever offered us.

                        ===Harvest Moon===
                        The Harvest Moon series started in 1996 and was originally released on the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) with titles since being released on the Gameboy, the PSP, the Gamcube, the Wii and oh, just think of a console and they've probably had a Harvest Moon game somewhere. They have always been farm simulation role playing games with a wide variety of options on how you can run your farm. Rune Factory is something of a spin off series for Harvest Moon, keeping the same basic idea of farming but including an adventure/fighting side to the game which isn't in any of the other games. In the words of the producer it's 'Harvest Moon where you wield a sword.'

                        ===Plot===
                        Oh, come off it. Anybody who has ever played a Harvest Moon whether Rune Factory or not will know full well that the lure of the game has never been in the story. And somewhat astonishingly this doesn't in any way detract from the game, it doesn't take away the addictive quality to the game and if anything adds to the game because it allows the whole thing to stay very loose giving you numerous options on how you want to play it. But if we are bluntly honest here when they have bothered to put a story into the game it has always been recycled and rather weak!
                        .
                        But to be fair, they have tried a little harder this time. Granted we still have an amnesiac main character, which is kind of the catch all plot line for the Rune Factory series; if it ain't broke don't fix it. This has always worked because it allows the player to choose their own course for the game and at the same time adds an air of mystery as you find out the background of your character little by little. But this time round they've actually added a plot! There are two towns; the town of the humans and the town of the Univir, the monsters. At one point these two settlements lived together in piece and harmony, but now for as long as anyone can remember they have hated each other with a passion. Both sides agree on only one thing; humans and monsters can't live together. And it is your job to somehow find a way to bring them together without either side knowing what you are doing, and at the same time you might just find out what caused them to split in the first place.
                        .
                        But there's more! And it gets better - you quickly discover that you aren't actually as human as you thought you were. Yep, you are half human, half monster which is how you can interact with both sides of the conflict. You can change between the two forms at will. Although it might not be a good idea to do it in front of people! Ok, it's still not going to win any awards for being the greatest plot in the universe, but give them credit they tried. And as I said before, the plot is just a bonus aspect. It's the gameplay we're interested in!

                        ===Characters===
                        I wouldn't usually mention characters in specifics because usually in computer games there isn't a lot to say, but Harvest Moon once again bucks the trend because the characters you meet in the game are to be fair one of the main aspects that makes the game so loveable. They are unique and well, quirky with much more thought put into them than I have previously seen in any game I think. You have the girl who makes clothing out of weird and wonderful materials (but don't give her something as mundane as wool, she has no use for it!), the family who speak in complete opposites to what they actually mean, the weaponsmith who is so obsessed by ore that he will work until he runs out of ore and then fall over, and of course the child who is constantly screaming that she'll bite you. For the first time they actually greet you as you walk past them, and the dialogue that you are met with on a day to day basis changes dependant on what is going on. Instead of the quirky but rigid characters of the past Harvest Moon games who were always set in certain places, these characters actually have lives and you can watch them going about their day to day business. Without a doubt they add a certain amount of charm and entertainment to the proceedings, and you're not going to struggle to find the right match for you...I'd steer clear of the bathhouse girl though, she seems a little too preoccupied with fish to be healthy.

                        ===Gameplay===
                        But none of that matters in reality because even if there was no story, even if the characters were 2D cardboard cut outs and even if the graphics were atrocious we'd still be happy providing the gameplay was up to standard. Granted, I'd probably moan but I'd still have been satisfied! So, is the gameplay up to scratch? Oh boy, yes. As with the previous Rune Factories it is based around farming and dungeon crawling. The basics haven't changed; you still collect items to ship from surrounding areas, you still plant crops, water them and harvest them, and you still tame monsters from the surrounding area to come and live with you on your farm, collect products from them and put them to work for you. And of course your overriding ambition is still to get married and start your own family. And for that reason it's still as oddly entertaining and addictive as every other offering Natsume have held out to us.

                        The game itself is fairly simple to follow whether you are new to the Harvest Moon series or whether you have been avidly following it from the moment that you first laid eyes on it. You have your house, your farm and various 'dungeons' surrounding your farm. You gain money for shipping crops and flowers, or for that matter anything else that will go in your shipping bin, you can cook meals, forge equipment and weapons, and make medicines in your house and you can go out and trawl the 'dungeons' which is where you'll find monsters to fight and befriend. Likewise you have the town of the humans and the town of the Univir where you can speak to people, give gifts, go shopping and accept quests which in turn will make people like you more. It doesn't take a great deal to get the hang of it. You also gain levels for just about every action you do whether that be fishing, farming, cooking or fighting which adds a sense of accomplishment when you level up a skill or your character. You even get a skill in sleeping!

                        They have also added some nice new little extras for those of us who have been fans of the entire series. You can now plant and buy crops in single plots instead of always having to buy 9x9 squares of crops which I thought was a lovely touch as it gives you that little more freedom with your farm. And when you harvest your seeds sometimes you get a higher level seed dropped from it which is always quite a nice surprise. You make your own farming tool upgrades, and although you can buy weapons you can also make your own in your forge. Cooking is a little bit more intense, and you need to buy the recipes really to make things work but that doesn't ruin anything. I have to admit what I really liked was that all of the dungeons were outside and there were some new and interesting monsters, but I'll come onto that next. You are still doing more or less the same thing time, and time, and time again like with all of the Harvest Moon series, but the repetitiveness of the game is to a point part of the charm and it definitely doesn't detract from the game.

                        ===Battling===
                        Battling was something that was very new to the Rune Factory series as it never cropped up in the original Harvest Moons. In the original Harvest Moons you could buy and breed sheep, cows and chickens and that was about it. In Rune Factory you go out into the dungeons, which in this game are all outside which gives it a much freer feel and you meet monsters which are generated by a little ball of light. You then have a choice; to kill or to tame. The game boasts a range of weapons you can use; short sword, long sword, hammer axe, dual sword and spear are the main ones but they all have upgrades and such like. And from there on if you decide to kill it's all down to button bashing. Storm in swinging a sword around and therefore killing things! You can also fight in your monster form, and if you're doing a quest for the Univir then you will have to as you can't let them see that you are part human...this adds an aspect of challenge which I hadn't anticipated.

                        Battling is far more than just an amusing diversion in this game; the plot somewhat depends on you being able to travel between towns and if you haven't levelled up your skills you are liable to die very quickly indeed. You also get items which you can use in your forging or sell on for more money from creatures at random. Likewise the animals that you can tame by giving them food can prove to be very useful on your farm, and instead of just recycling monsters from previous games they have really put some thought and effort into bringing in new monsters which made me very happy indeed!

                        I was also quite impressed by the new addition of being able to bring neighbours who like you enough into battle with you. Granted the Artificial Intelligence is rather awful and they will die on you fairly swiftly as they haven't got the common sense they should have been born with, but once you've managed to level them up a bit they are quite useful.

                        ===Graphics===
                        There is a distinct difference between Harvest Moon graphics and Rune Factory graphics. Harvest Moon have always gone for a more solid, common sense look to characters and buildings; largely because it is set in a kind of real life atmosphere. Rune Factory on the other hand does the swirls, light colours and prettiness of a more fantasy environment. And by God they do it well. The graphics in the game are very, very appealing. The dungeon environments are very nicely drawn indeed making your forays into the wilderness a treat to the eyes, all of the characters are individual, quirky and again very appealing. I particularly like the lass with the teddy bear! But overall you cannot fault this game on the graphics as it's appealing and some of the backgrounds are quite simply stunning, particularly for a DS game.

                        ===Sound===
                        In a turn up for the books I have finally found a handheld console game that doesn't leave me wanting to tear my ears out in irritation. Harvest Moon and Rune Factory have long held the (justified) reputation for having the most irritating music known to mankind but they have managed to turn it around here. It's cute and it's appealing, it's also variable dependant on what you are doing at the time which is somewhat necessary in a game where you really have a routine for each day.

                        ===Additional Opinion===
                        This is without a doubt the best Rune Factory game to have come out of Natsume, and is a high contender for best Harvest Moon game. They have got this perfect. The battling and questing of the game means that the farming isn't quite as monotonous as it can be in some of the Harvest Moon games, but equally it hasn't lost its charm or it addictiveness. The upgrades that the Natsume team have put in work wonderfully and the game feels more in depth and free flowing than they have managed before. Between an intriguing plot, some wonderful characters, stunning graphics and the addictive and charming gameplay that Harvest Moon has always been known for this is probably one of the best games I have played in a while. And it is one of those games you could literally play forever, trying to count the hours I've already frittered would be difficult enough.

                        The only thing I possibly miss is the simplicity of the older Harvest Moon games, but I guess as things evolve then things change. And Rune Factory spiced things up a bit from the very beginning just by throwing sharp pointy objects into the mix. There is also a new main series Harvest Moon DS game out currently so I'll also be getting that and hoping that possibly they rewind a little bit.

                        ===Conclusion===
                        This easily tops my charts and I have wasted not only many game hours, but many real hours playing this like some kind of maniac. This is a game that would struggle not to charm whether you're a returning fan or a newbie to the series. Currently you're not going to get it much cheaper than £24.99 new or second hand (one second hand on Amazon at £21.99 at time of writing), but this is one of those few occasions where I'd say this is more than worth the retail price.

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                        • More +
                          13.06.2012 14:28
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                          Interesting proposition let down by the pace of the book.

                          It's very rare that I will pick up and buy a book based solely on the cover. The reason for this is because I am awful at it. My brother for example seems to have the magic touch. He'll grab it based on cover and typically it turns out to be a fantastic read...Locke Lamora and Retribution Falls being fantastic examples here which I have previously reviewed. On the other hand, I tend to try that kind of trick and end up with a load of dross. This was a book which I bought based entirely on the cover. The dark background with the picture of an angel partially obscured meaning that you only really get the wings intrigued me and so it quickly moved from the shelf to my hand, and from my hand to the counter. To give a certain amount of credit I did read the blurb on the back and it did seem interesting, but the cover was the main thing that hooked me in. So, is the saying 'never judge a book by its cover' true?

                          ===Plot===
                          The first thing to say about the plot is that it is split into three sections which are interspersed throughout the novel. The first and possibly the most important is the current story of Evangeline which is told from her perspective. Interspersed with this is the same story told from the perspective of Percival Grigori and Verlaine. And the final section, which is situated approximately half way through the novel is the past told through the eyes of the now Sister Celestine and Evangeline's grandmother; Gabriella.

                          From the title of the book it is quite obvious that it directly pertains to angels, but this isn't your usual tale about angels. Usually angels are portrayed as shining creatures of light who are God's messengers from above, they are nearly always perfect creatures of God's will who show up all of humanity's failings. They are God's messengers. They are what we cannot even hope to aspire to. In this book though, although that type of angel does exist, we don't see them. Instead this book addresses a far darker kind of angel. These are the angels which live on earth and they are not pure angels, they are the progeny of angel and human breeding in ages long gone by. They are by no means perfect, but they still possess the sense of superiority of the angels of before because they are descended from an immortal race and they are better than humans. Unfortunately they do not possess the morality that humans have, and they have lost any hope of God redeeming them. The humans who study angeleology are a select group who are desperately working in an attempt to counteract the tyranny that these angels wish to unleash upon humanity.

                          You see, Evangeline was given up by her father to the St Rose Convent when she was little more than twelve years old. She knows little more about the work which her parents did other than it was enough to get her mother killed, and that her father rarely if ever talks about either his work or his deceased wife. So Evangeline doesn't know why her mother was killed, or by who. Well, this is until she is assisting a mysterious visiting scholar in the convent and she starts to uncover a disturbing set of secrets relating to her family. And suddenly she finds herself in a great deal of trouble, and a great deal of danger and she's in a struggle for her life and the lives of everyone she holds dear. She suddenly has to grow up very quickly, and she has to leave the sheltered laws of the convent which have governed her life for most of her young life because she us engaged in a war that has been going on behind the scenes for centuries. But it is just about to reach its climax...

                          ===Characters===
                          This is one area where I cannot fault the book as Danielle Trussoni has depicted all of the characters wonderfully. A large amount of suspense in the novel comes from the fact that half the time you are not quite sure which characters you are meant to trust. Danielle Trussoni has really spent a lot of time on her character development, and her effort really does shine through as does the sense of mysteriousness which she has tried so hard to cultivate.

                          From Evangeline who is the typical young, naïve and sheltered nun and the only character you know you can trust, but who is the most vulnerable in the entire novel, to Percival Grigori with his cold and heartless view on the world. You truly run the gauntlet of emotions. But what is probably the most genius aspect of the novel is the depiction of the angels throughout. As I stated earlier they are not the golden halo version of angels which we are used to seeing, and tend to be what are depicted in most areas. Instead these are a superior race that want complete dominion over humanity and will stop at nothing to ensure that they get it. They don't have the same moral system which we have, and they see it as their God given right to be the masters whilst we as humanity are the slaves.

                          Because of this whole dictatorship over humanity thing that the angels seem to have you could be forgiven for thinking that they would be a completely unlikeable race and would be bad guys in a darker shade of black than we could even imagine. Instead, and to be honest I don't quite know how Trussoni has managed this but she has written them with full personalities, and they don't seem evil they just seem desperate. You can to a point understand their motives, even if you are a member of the race which they want to dominate and control. This adds one heck of a kick to the book as you know you should be supporting the humans but at points you are really not quite sure. There is an ambiguity all the way through and this is probably due to the fact that she has written them all in with human personalities so to a point you can empathise with them.

                          ===Religion===
                          This wouldn't be a full review if I neglected to mention the portrayal and accuracy of religious texts in this novel considering how important and central these are to the novel. And again, I have to admit I was impressed. I was more than half expecting this book to portray a group of religious crazies (otherwise noted as fundamentalists) as the angelologists. Instead, it portrays the angelologists as serious academics and the entire theory behind the novel is backed up by biblical quotes which are fully explained and explored. Obviously the interpretations are fictional, but it is realistic enough to suck you in for the duration of the novel.

                          But yes, I have to concede that this was a very well thought out novel and the basis for these angels actually existing on earth is fully and coherently done, with actually a very knowledgeable basis on biblical quotes. I have to admit the fact that this can be done makes me even more wary of the religious fundamentalists as it is amazing what you can do with a couple of pieces of scripture.

                          ===My opinion===
                          Well, so far it seems like I've been waxing lyrical about this novel and so you must be wondering why I've only given it two stars. The issue is that the plot idea itself is genius, the character development is fantastic and the use of religious scripture to complement and back up the story at hand is very, very clever. So what was wrong with it?

                          The answer is very simple. Or at least the big reason is. It was slow. Far too slow. Particularly at the beginning (as in the first 200 odd pages) very little happens quickly. A lot of time is spent on character development and describing the most banal of events in the most detailed manner known to mankind. And this just wound me up as I was desperate to actually get on with some action. The section moved at a much quicker rate and I have to admit I really did enjoy it, but this is the part that is all set in the past and so all the way through over 220 pages you know that you are only reading background material.
                          This probably irritated me more than it would have in most books because of the critical acclaim at the back of the book:

                          "An intelligent thriller that rips along like a bat out of hell" (Woman and Home)
                          "Compulsively readable, thrilling and much, much better than Dan Brown." (Daily Express)
                          "Clever, whiplash fast" (Marie Claire)

                          And yes the book is better than Dan Brown, but this isn't saying a great deal in my personal opinion as I have never been all that keen on his style. But under no circumstances could it be called whiplash fast, and nor does it whip along like a bat out of hell!

                          There are also other issues with the book, but none of that irritated me as much as the 640 pages of slowness to a degree that made me want to hit something...or someone. This does however include a 'twist' which I saw coming from several miles off and the fact that a lot of the book just seems too disjointed as the different character accounts are not tied together well. There is just too much skipping between characters in the first and third sections of the book and I often found it difficult to click into a new character. It seems like there is very little to actually link many of the various characters and you just seem to be plunged in at the deep end far too often.

                          ===Conclusion===
                          It wasn't a bad book. But when a conclusion starts like that it doesn't tend to be a good sign! It had a massive amount of potential, but it never actually cashes in on this potential which makes it a very disappointing read. So, can I recommend it? Only if you have a lot of spare time on your hands and are very interested in religious fiction. Even then, I wouldn't recommend buying it at full price!

                          "Their disobedience was an act of free will - a very human quality reminiscent of Adam and Eve's ill conceived choice in the garden. The disobedient angels were also capable of a uniquely human variety of love - they loved wholly, blindly, recklessly. Indeed, they traded heaven for passion, a trade that is difficult to fully comprehend, especially because you and I have given up all hope of such love."

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                          • More +
                            02.04.2012 09:20
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                            Not a bad book but could have been so much better

                            I don't often read crime novels, although I do when the mood comes across me. Mostly I read books which are either most definitely not set in the real world such as science fantasy or the ridiculously depressing books which tend to be closer to biographies. But I'd read quite a few reviews of this particular author, both here and in other places and so I thought it worth a shot. Particularly as I was looking at buying books for my ski-ing holiday (yes, it has taken me this long to finally start writing the reviews up!). I will point out that I took approximately fifteen books on my ski-ing holiday and I managed to get through a large percentage of them (Even more impressively and somewhat surprisingly; I did manage to get some ski-ing in!). A large percentage of them were bought from reviews either here or elsewhere, as there's no better place to try something different than on holiday, but it does mean that the bunch was fairly varied, as was my reception to them.

                            ===Arnaldur Indridason===
                            This isn't an author I'd come across before, but considering I don't tend to delve too much into this section of fiction that is possibly not surprising. On the other hand, neither had my foster mother, which is more surprising as she has been an avid fan of crime fiction for many years. So as a quick background, Arnaldur Indridsaon is an Icelandic writer of crime fiction; he has repeatedly proved to be a very popular writer in Iceland for several years. He worked as a journalist and a critic for a long time before he first started writing crime novels but his first book Sons of Dust was published in 1997 and was the first in the Detective Erlendur series, which have become his main set of novels and also what series this particular novel is in. This series is a constant best seller across Europe and has won numerous awards, along with the fact that his novels have been published in twenty six countries and translated into various languages.

                            ===Language===
                            Now, usually I would start by talking about the plot, but for this particular book I'm taking the unusual step of writing about the language use first. This is purely because this was my main issue with the book and I believe it impacted severely on my ability to enjoy the book. For this reason alone I think it's important enough to break my cardinal rule of reviewing...and as a creature of habit that takes some doing.Neither the plot nor the sub plot, which I will go into in a bit, were in any way bad but the way in which they have been written irritated me. It seemed clunky and without co-ordination. There was absolutely no subtlety to it. The entire way through the novel you were being hit by fact after fact after fact, without much in the way of the fluffing that actually makes an enjoyable read. There seemed to be a lack of emotion, and it completely failed to make me feel anything for the characters. Even in what should have been a thoroughly emotive and angry rant from Erlendur to his daughter it comes out wrong. It ends up as a rather blunt series of short sentences and questions that don't quite fit together, and this completely ruins the moment. The entire novel just appeared to be stilted and that actually impacted not only on my enjoyment of the novel, but also on my understanding of the novel as I kept losing what on earth was going on due to the bluntness of it.

                            Now, if I'm honest here I don't know who to blame; the author or the translator. You see, Arnaldur Indridason originally wrote the novel in Icelandic, which is where the novel is set, but it has been translated into English by Bernard Scudder. Perhaps it would read better in its natural language or even a language closer to it, as I know some languages translate much better into certain languages than others dependant on how closely related they are. Unfortunately I really don't know as English is the only language I can speak and read, so I'd need someone with another language to inform me on this. Perhaps in Icelandic there would be a sense of humour and movement through the novel, or maybe it is the same in Icelandic, or maybe it's just an idiosyncrasy of me that I look for this in a novel.
                            This peeved me enough to ensure that I definitely can't recommend the book.

                            ===Plot===
                            So moving onto what logically should have have been at the beginning of this review, the plot. Well, a 69 year old named Hoberg is found dead in his home, presumed murdered. The only clues are a cryptic note left on the body ad a photograph of a four year old grave. Not much to go on really and Detective Erlendur doesn't know where to start. Not mysterious enough for you? Well, there's more. You see Detective Erlendur soon finds out that Hoberg has a rather sinister past and although he was never convicted he was accused of one of the worst crimes a man can commit. Was he guilty, and has the past simply come back to haunt him with him getting his just desserts? Or is it something deeper, something even more sinister?

                            In the midst of this ongoing investigation Erlendur is desperately trying to build a relationship with his wayward, somewhat off-the-wall daughter. He knows she is deeply unhappy, he knows she takes drugs and he knows she's self destructive. What he doesn't know or understand is why, or for that matter what he can do to try to help her. But when he's embroiled in a case involving the death of a four year old child, her attitude towards life seems selfish and inappropriate to him. So, to come to terms with her and her views on life, he needs to come to terms first with himself and the case he is currently working on. But that may take more effort than he is banking on.

                            The plot truly picks up pace in the last quarter of the book where Detective Erlendur slowly puts the pieces together. I won't say anymore about the plot for fear of spoilers but it does become more dark and mysterious and it's difficult to anticipate what's coming next.

                            ===My opinion===
                            Well, it was ok. And it could have been fantastic. Unfortunately the language use and style really it me off. To me the fact that the language was so unsentimental and blunt stopped me from bonding with any of the characters, and with my personal background at the very least I should have had some sense of connection with Erlendur's daughter. Instead I just didn't care what on earth happened to them and I never had a sense of getting to know them. An example would be the health scare that Erlendur is having throughout the novel. Now usually if I'm attached to a character I'd be concerned for them and desperately rooting for them, but in this I was completely and utterly indifferent. I just couldn't care less. Even the characters who seem to be there for the sole purpose of gaining your sympathy and causing you to fear for their well-being, just...don't...

                            There is nothing wrong with the plot; it has the puzzle, the mystery, the conclusion, the sub-plot and the darkness that should make for an absolutely fantastic crime novel, and for that matter a fantastic thriller. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the characters; they do what they are meant to do and I can see their purpose. I just struggled to get through it - the only thing that kept me going was the fact that it's a fairly short book and I wanted to be able to write this 't review! My issues with the book probably weren't helped by the fact that I struggled with many of the character names; I was nearly at the end of the book before I worked out who was who, and even then I kept forgetting people. Perhaps this would have made a slightly easier read if at the same time as translating the novel they Anglicised the names to make it slightly easier on the average idiot person like me.

                            Perhaps it would have been better in Icelandic, or possibly in any language other than English, but I was left disappointed and glad that I hadn't paid full price for it. Maybe Icelandic just doesn't translate well into English...

                            ===Another view===
                            On the other hand, I gave this to my foster mother immediately after reading it and she quite enjoyed it. She didn't think it was the best book around but the language use didn't seem to irritate her so much. She found that the plot made up for it as the novel is very well planned. In turn she's lent it to her mother, who will in turn lend it to someone else, so if I'm lucky I might hear feed back on it from them and will be able to update this. So I guess it's a matter of opinion, but I know that I won't be buying another book by this author again. But at least someone enjoyed it which makes it worth while.

                            ===Boring Stuff===
                            Title: Jar City
                            Author: Arnaldur Indridason
                            Series: Reykjavik Murder Mysteries
                            Pages: 352 (paperback)
                            ISBN: 978-0099541837
                            Price: £3.05 from Amazon at time of writing or £7.99 RRP
                            Conclusion

                            Personally, I wouldn't recommend it in English. And unless I learn another language to a standard where I'm able to read novels, I certainly won't be buying any more from Indridason. I can't comment on how good the original is, but I certainly wasn't impressed with the translated version which I read.

                            "A missing person returning a whole generation later. When people disappear in Iceland it's always for good. No-one ever comes back after an absence of more than twenty five years. Never."

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                            • Acriflex Cream / Medicine / 60 Readings / 57 Ratings
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                              03.03.2012 18:10
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                              In summation I am a blithering idiot who shouldn't be let out without a lead and a responsible adult

                              I think I have pointed out previously (just a few times) that I am a clumsy eejit who could probably manage to injure herself even if you stuck me in a cardboard box and left me there with occasional food sachets and water. Don't ask me how, but I'm sure I'd manage. My list of broken bones over the years is impressive; the radiology department at my local hospital know me by name. If we start counting the near misses we'll be here forever. If I roll up my sleeves you can see an array of scars all up my arm. August Greenbelt I managed to bust the ligaments in my ankle thoroughly. My latest trick was a kettle full of boiling water all down my arm when the cat decided to trip me up. Needless to say this hurt. Lots.

                              So we come to this gel which is specially formulated to go on burns. My first aid kit is thoroughly well stocked full of just about everything I could ever hope to need (or not need as the case may be). So once I'd done the 'sensible' thing of thwacking it under water going to my medical foster father who quickly learnt I wasn't going anywhere near A&E he dealt with the problem. In my defence I did turn up at the GP the following day. But in the aftermath I needed things to take the hurtiness away. So along with general strength painkillers I located this particular gem in one of the pockets of my kit.

                              ===So what does it do?===
                              It's main claims are that it:
                              Soothe by rapidly cooling the skin tissues to relieve discomfort.
                              Reduce the redness of inflamed skin.
                              Hydrate the surface layers of the skin to promote the skin's natural repair system.
                              Kill bacteria through physical action without drying the skin.

                              All of this is very important when you have just poured boiling water down yourself, as one of the most important things to make sure to do with burns is to keep them hydrated. The basic idea is that you apply it to whichever area has been maimed by hot things and it work to help prevent infection, keep the burn hydrated and generally make it less hurty and sore. It's not going to be a miracle cure which will suddenly enable you to completely forget what an idiot you are, but it is helpful in allowing the burn time to heal properly and ensuring that infection is kept at bay.

                              ===Does it do it?===
                              I have been using this stuff and aloe vera gelly under a non stick gauze dressing and a bandage over that. The bandage is more for my benefit to be fair but it restricts movement and I find that helpful. It's difficult to say for definite that it is this product that is at work due to the fact that as soon as I burn myself I'm pulling out the ibuprofen, aloe vera and this but it does seem to do what it says on the tin. You apply it by massaging it gently into the afflicted area; well you're meant to but massaging is hurty so I tend to apply and leave which works just as well.

                              When you put it on there is a cooling sensation which is quite pleasant on burnt skin and there is no odor to it meaning that you're not walking around telling the entire world that you're in pain before you open your mouth. TCP does that. I have to admit that I applied it far more regularly than twice to three times a day and I have to admit it does make a difference. I have never had any problem with burns getting infected when I've had to use it, and it does seem to quite nicely hydrate skin.

                              ===Warnings===
                              This is a medication so there are obvious precautions. Thanking the nice peoples of Lloyd's pharmacy for the following information:
                              "Some users may experience a tingling sensation on application. Avoid contact with the eyes. If hypersensitive to any ingredient, wash affected area with soap and water and seek medical advice. If symptoms worsen or do not improve, stop use and seek medical advice. If accidentally swallowed, rinse mouth with water and seek medical advice."
                              It is only intended for external use although what you'd want to do with it internally baffles me.

                              ===Don't be an idiot===
                              Seek medical attention if the burn looks white or charred as this would suggest that you have a third degree burn and need urgent medical attention; if it doesn't hurt you have probably charred some nerves. If you have a first second degree burn that is larger than 2 or 3 inches seek medical attention, and if you have burned a sensitive area like the face seek medical attention. Keep a very careful eye on any burn for signs of infection and if it becomes redder or oozy seek medical attention. Oh and make sure your tetanus is up to date. Basically if it looks nasty go get help, do not follow my lead.

                              ===Recommend?===
                              Yeah, I can see no reason why not to. I wouldn't use it on it's own without the addition of ibuprofen, bandage and aloe vera but when used in conjunction with these I think it plays its part nicely. At the very least it feels very soothing on the skin which is quite reassuring and helpful in dealing with the hurtiness. For between £3.50 and £5 dependant on what pharmacy you go to this isn't a bad product, and providing you don't end up burning yourself as often as I do this should last quite a while.
                              You can tell my arm hurts and typing is a pain - probably my shortest review ever!

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                              • Avalon Code (DS) / Nintendo DS Game / 42 Readings / 40 Ratings
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                                01.03.2012 20:37
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                                I still want to give it five stars though!

                                Avalon Code is a cute game I found via Amazon - I was doing my stereotypical impulse buying and it came up in the section 'Recommended for you'. Not the smartest way to buy computer games I will admit but I have found some absolutely fantastic games this way. This is to be fair one of them. My problem with writing this review is that I really want to give this game five stars, but I can't. The idea is original and compelling, the gameplay is intricate and amusing, the graphics are cute and quite stunning on occasions and the whole game fits with what I like in a game. I fell in love with the game. But there are too many niggles even for me to give it five stars.

                                ===Concept===
                                I would say plot but it is more of a concept; the end of the world is nigh and it is your task as the chosen one to record all of the data in the world so that when the new world is created there is a record of what went before. This in itself is unusual as usually you are saving the world in an RPG rather than just accepting what is about to happen. You have found the Book of Prophecy and everyone and everything you meet on your journey can be 'Code Scanned' into the book, and this book is what is going to be used as the reference for the new world. Ok, I'll admit it's a little bit of a morbid idea, but it makes for quite an entertaining plot device.

                                Each person or item or animal that you scan will have its own page in the book that records it, and the main aspect of the game is that every item has natural codes and a grid. You can change the codes in the grid to effect how the item, enemy or person is and this is a main aspect of the game. You are creating the world which you want to be recorded and used to create the new world. Using the book you can make enemies weaker than they are, heal sickness in people and generally mess with the order of things. To help and guide you on your journey are four bound elemental spirits who can get very, very irritating, but tend to have very good attacks at least which kind of helps.

                                ===Gameplay===
                                Let's be honest, this game is heaven for anyone with OCD tendencies like myself. The whole idea of the game is that you are following a fairly weak storyline that involves freeing the elemental spirits, but the main point of the game is record data about everything. The storyline is just trying to give a reason for this to happen! This involves walking up to people, enemies and interesting objects and the thwacking them over the head with the book of prophecy. Once you have the data you then can then fiddle with the codes in it to make things better or weaker. This is however the main failing of the game because although it's a new and interesting idea, it's a complete and utter faff. Basically, each item or person has their own grid which has codes in it; some are elemental like fire or ice, some are metals or materials like copper or stone, some are animals like dog and cat and some are attributes/skills like wisdom and illness. Some are just weird like fate. By swapping and changing these codes between people and animals you can change key attributes of the person/critter. So for example you come across a really strong enemy that you can't seem to defeat; you code scan it, remove all of the strong codes like stone or iron and replace it with illness thereby making the creature much weaker and easier to kill. Or you meet a really sick person and by playing around with the codes that this person is made of you can remove the sickness.

                                Because the game is made to be suitable for the under 12's none of this is actually all that complicated, but there are very few instructions or explanations making the entire thing something of a trial and error game of guesswork. But even that's forgiveable. What is such a pain in the backside is that by the end of the game the book is huge, there are many, many pages and each page is filled with codes. So when you are trying to mess with codes you have to trawl through the entire book to find the one code that you need, and needless to say you can never remember where you put it. This is a complete ballache if we're honest, and the game could be much better if it was easier to navigate the book, particularly as the game insists on you spending so much time messing around with it. It doesn't help that you can only hold four codes in your hand at any one time which means that you have to regularly ditch codes into random squares just so you have enough space to fiddle. At the beginning of the game this isn't so much of a chore, but by the end of the game you really want to scream at it as you have to spend five minutes to find one code.

                                The actual moving through the game is easy enough you spend part of your time in towns speaking to and hitting random people with the book, and you spend part of your time outside fighting with and hitting random creatures with your book. All the way through you are expected to hit anything that sparkles with your book and find hidden places on maps so that all of the pages in the book are worth the most amount of points. The characters you talk to are often intriguing and funny, although strangely none of them seem all to put out by the fact that you are whacking them with a gigantic book.

                                The fighting style is simple - button bash the Y or the X button until your enemy is dead. This does however make it rather repetitive but it is in real time and most of the enemies die fairly quickly and easily. Particularly if you infect them with the illness code first. But the other main problem with the gameis that the dungeons that are interspersed quite frequently through the game are made up of irritating challenges which you need to complete to get to the next room. These tend to be things like hitting all the switches or defeating all the enemies and there are extra bonus points if you fulfil added criteria like defeating enemies of a certain type. This has two problems; firstly it involves even more delving into the book to change your weapons element or your enemies for that matter and secondly they get repetitive and mind numbing very quickly. They rarely offer too much of a challenge and so it is simply a time killer.


                                ===Graphics===
                                I think one of the reasons that makes the game so loveable is the fact that the graphics are 3D and really, really pretty. Someone has put a lot of effort into making all of the various scenario's that you find your character in look realistic, whether it is a desert scene or a lush and verdant forest. The people you meet are drawn well and all look unique, there is no chance of you forgetting which character you spoke to last! From the small children to the elf lord they all look gorgeous. All of the enemies you meet on your travels are well drawn and again they seem to have a life of their own. Likewise the book itself is nicely presented and everything is clearly set out. It's just a pity it's so unwieldy! You cannot fault the game on graphics, and it is very, very clear that a lot of time and effort went into making this game look special.

                                I can't really comment on sound because I find all game music drives me insane so my gameboy is perpetually on mute. From reading other reviews it's supposed to be very good though.

                                ===Longevity===
                                Well, providing you haven't smashed your DS out of sheer exasperation and irritation - trust me, this is at points a serious and valid concern - the gaming websites tell me that you should have 20 hours of gameplay. To this I say bull. It may be 20 hours if you were not fiddling with the book every 10 seconds! If you run the game through as quickly as you can without doing any of the side plots, levelling up any of the pages or in fact doing any of the things that make the game interesting then yes, you probably have 20 hours of gameplay. If you are going to play the game properly this can probably be made into 30 hours minimum...and if you're me then it's 40 hours!

                                ===My Opinion===
                                Without a doubt it is an appealing game. If you look on other review sites there is a major difference between how critics have rated it and how the ordinary player has rated it - for the critics it is 5.5 and for the ordinary Joe it's 8.2. I think this is due to the conflict which I have; I loved this game but it was a complete chore at times. It's bulky, unwieldy, mashy and a complete pain in the backside but I loved it. The constant flicking through the book and manipulating codes that you could never remember where you'd put became too paperworky even for me, particularly once you'd built up the pages in the book to a high number. The having to find spots on the various maps to build up the pages value was fine to begin with but quickly grew to become a chore, and the mini-quests through the dungeons became mind-numbingly boring and repetitive. With the amount of flaws this game ended up having it should have been unplayable, it should have been put down and quickly forgotten about but somehow it has something about it that is endearing and charming and kept me and many others playing until the bitter end. And strangely, enjoying it!

                                This is why I struggled so much with the rating, because for some reason, despite all of its flaws, or perhaps because of them, I really wanted to give this game five stars. Somehow the appeal of the game outweighs the irritation. But then I remember how much time it took flicking through the Book of Prophecy to find one pesky code that I had no idea where I'd put it but was currently vital for the storyline. Or how much irritation was caused by having to complete inane mini-quests for each and every level of the dungeons. Or how much time was wasted trying to recover MP in the only way available; bouncing enemies up into the air until they explode. It's a pain in the backside. But somehow it still has a hold on me, and I can't not recommend it. I quite happily wasted many hours trying to get the book to the highest level possible, and to be fair thoroughly enjoyed most of it. It's just that because of the unwieldy Book controls and the sheer amount of time you have to spent in it, it's not going to appeal to many I think.

                                This could have, should have, would have been a truly fantastic game if it had been less unwieldy but even as it is it's still a remarkably playable and amusing game. You need to be able to hold more than four codes in one go, the dungeons need to be less monotonous and boring and however fantastic an idea the Book of Prophecy was there needs to be a better way of getting around it...and of locating individual codes. I will be expectantly awaiting the sequel because this was an original, innovative and amusing game that was let down by unwieldy controls.

                                ===Conclusion===
                                Without a doubt the critics are right. For every flaw they expose they are dead on the nail. But for some reason the appeal of the game goes beyond the flaws. Don't ask me how, but it does. It's not just me, the results can be seen on any of the review sites like gamespot - as an ordinary player, however irritating the flaws, this is a game that caught our interest, amusement and somehow we want to rate it as better than it really is.

                                On the other hand I would not say it's worth the £25 Amazon is currently charging, so although I'd happily say give it a shot...not until it's come down in price again!

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