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As close as you can get to Baldur's Gate III

The mid to late 90s was not a very popular time for the computer roleplaying game. While its console counterpart was carving out its best era ever, the CRPG crowd was seemingly left languishing for a golden era of its own. Their prayers would soon be answered by a gaggle of developers determined create a resurgence of RPG goodness for the rapidly evolving PC gaming scene. One of the more high profile titles leading the charge was from then little known developer BioWare with their new franchise, Baldur's Gate and the rest, as they say, is history. The CRPG scene today is looking about as dismal as it did during those turbulent times and just our luck, a game being hailed as the spiritual successor to the venerable Baldur's Gate has made it out to the masses. While I doubt that any one game is going to save CRPGs as a whole, Dragon Age: Origins is certainly an example of how great this subset of the genre can truly be.

Despite the fact that Dragon Age has no ties to the Dungeons and Dragons universe, BioWare has weaved an engaging swords-n-sorcery story and presents a variety of choices that can affect how the plot progresses. The game takes place in Ferelden, a young nation still reeling from a bloody invasion by a neighboring country. The war has left the nation in a fragile state, leading to a brewing internal power struggle between the nobles. To make matters worse, there are signs of yet another invasion, this time by hordes of merciless demons appropriately called Darkspawn. No, it's not just your imagination, the story is a little derivative of a certain Tolkien epic, but there's enough originality here to make up for the similarities. Political intrigue, unlikely allies, and betrayal are but a few of the things you will experience during your adventures and you will be charged with making many important decisions.

The early parts of the game are dependent on your choice of race for your character and guarantees a unique experience for first couple of hours since each race features different backgrounds and starting areas. All of the paths will eventually lead to the same conclusion, but don't let that dissuade you from being a little ballsy with your choices. BioWare's writing truly deserves a lot of credit particularly with the dialogue. There are really no right or wrong decisions, but the more brash responses really showcase the wit and humor of the writers, so don't be afraid to experiment a little.

Veterans of the Baldur's Gate series will be thrilled to know that behind Dragon Age's fancy new graphics engine lurks the same core gameplay with a few tweaks made for the sake of accessibility. Instead of the usual six character party, you are now limited to four; a decision that was probably made to reduce the amount of micromanagement and it does exactly that. The long winded dialogue found in the Baldur's Gate games have been shortened considerably without severely affecting the delivery of important plot points. The action has been dialed up considerably, so there's no shortage of places to explore and people to beat down. Combat is real time and can be stopped with the spacebar in typical BioWare style to assess a situation or issue orders to individual members of your party. As with many other RPG franchises before it, the game is being marketed to the mainstream gaming crowd, but make no mistake, BioWare has made no compromises when it comes to retaining the intricacies of combat. Many battles, whether early on or later in the game are not forgiving of hack-and-slash rush tactics which will undoubtedly turn off a lot of casual gamers who aren't used to dying in their games. Those who persevere, however, and decide to take advantage of their party's strengths and form cunning strategies will be in for a rewarding experience. If you're still getting your butt kicked, never fear; as you can tweak the difficulty in real time to coast through the tougher battles. It's also worthwhile to note that even though Dragon Age is a multiplatform game, there's nary a hint of consolitis in either the interface or gameplay; definitely a big plus in this age of craptastic ports.

The graphics engine is easily the game's biggest selling point with its highly detailed character models and environments. The characters are rendered startlingly lifelike particularly in the cutscenes and come complete with every piece of equipment worn. The environments are varied and detailed, but the texture quality is a little disappointing especially when compared to the character models. They're far from terrible, but since they do make up the majority of the game world it would have been nice to have some higher resolution textures.

Lackluster textures aside, the biggest offender in this game is decidedly more elementary: the camera. The console versions of the game are played permanently in a third person, behind-the-back view, similar to Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic while the PC version has the exclusive and nostalgic, Baldur's Gate isometric angle as an additional option. In theory, the isometric view is the optimal angle to play the game, but in reality it simply fails. It's obvious that this "exclusive" perspective is nothing more than an afterthought added late into the game's development cycle to appease the Baldur's Gate fans. While it does give the player a strategic vantage point, it only works in wide open spaces and even then it will demand constant manipulation to properly navigate through areas. Should you find yourself in a confined space, say, within city walls or among dense residential areas, the camera becomes utterly useless. For some odd reason, objects obstructing the camera's path don't become translucent so there will be plenty of times where you lose complete view of your party; this is painfully evident in Denerim, where the capital's towering city walls will regularly work against you. In a game where your party is consistently outnumbered by baddies and utilizing every advantage (like bottlenecks) is often a key to victory, the camera fails miserably at providing the player with a very basic necessity. I suppose this is what happens when you make compromises between staying true to a game's roots and making it more appealing to the masses.

The sound doesn't fail to deliver, however, as every bit of it is appropriately epic. The music is sweeping, dramatic and emotionally stirring, easily comparable to scores found in big budget motion pictures. The voice acting is top notch and really showcases the excellent job done by BioWare's writing staff. Each character's personality is drawn out superbly by their voice actors and actresses, adding a ton of atmosphere to an already authentic feeling game world. BioWare has always been on top of this aspect when it comes to their games and it should be no surprise that Dragon Age is no exception.

A few questionable design decisions aside, Dragon Age: Origins is worthy to continue the Baldur's Gate legacy. BioWare proves that old fashioned CRPGs are far from dead and with a little extra polish, you can attract even the most casual of gamers. CRPGs still have a long way to go before they're once again at the frequency that their Japanese counterparts are operating at, but Dragon Age: Origins has made that first huge leap and we RPG fans hope that this marks the beginning of a new golden age for CRPGs.
Highs: Great to look at, addicting and challenging gameplay, excellent script
Lows: Blah world textures, useless camera
Bottom Line: Baldur's Gate reborn, 'nuff said.
Avatar Reviewed by Toma-kun
November 30, 2009

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Please welcome back our dearest friend, corporal punishment

Though the RPG is no longer the niche genre it used to be a number of years back, it's still difficult to generate any appreciable hype for a new franchise. Without a loyal following or the words "final fantasy" shamelessly plastered somewhere in the title, most original RPG titles are, sadly, relegated to obscurity. Demon's Souls is not one of those games; in fact, it is one of the most anticipated dark horse titles that this genre has seen in a long time. The product of veteran developer From Software, better known for their mecha-bashing Armored Core franchise, Demon's Souls is hailed as the spiritual successor to the company's cult PS1 RPG series, Kings Field. Many casual and even hardcore RPG fans probably never got around to playing the King's Field games (myself included), so one can't help but wonder where all of the hype for Demon's Souls came from. The answer is actually quite simple: it's just an outstanding game in every aspect. It hearkens back to the early days of electronic entertainment not only in style, but also in substance where a game actually had to be fun and rewarding to play, rather than relying on sequel hype and name recognition to drive sales. This, my friends, is how you successfully create and market a RPG.

The game revolves around the Kingdom of Boletaria, a land surrounded by a mysterious black fog that has sealed it off from the rest of the outside world. King Allant XII of Boletaria whose greed for souls has awakened the Old One, a legendary beast that feeds off of souls, from its eternal slumber and in turn unleashed demons that wreak havoc all over the kingdom. Fortunately, a Boletarian soldier named Vallarfax managed to break free from the fog and spread the word about Boletaria's fate. Warriors and adventurers from far and wide driven by their greed dared to enter the cursed lands, but none have returned to enjoy the spoils. You take the role of the noble stranger who enters the land not to fulfill worldly desires, but to free the land of Boletaria of its twisted fate.

The game is clearly not story driven and only serves to explain the who, what, why, where, when, and how. Once you get your feet wet, it really won't matter as you will be too busy trying to stay alive to care. Demon's Souls pulls no punches and is not meant for the uninitiated; gamers will need to have their balls screwed on tight to make it through this hellish ride.

The game is called Demon's Souls for a reason, as souls serve as both experience points and the defacto currency in the cursed lands. Souls are earned solely by defeating enemies and can be spent at the Nexus, a sort of town center for the game. Unlike most RPGs, there is technically no leveling up; a player can spend their souls to beef up their basic stats with their progress indicated by their Soul Level, which rises with each stat point increased. As your Soul Level rises, so does the amount of souls needed to increase stat points. It wouldn't be a wise decision to spend all of your souls on juicing up your stats as you're undoubtedly going to need them for items and services such as item repair or learning new magic tricks. Needless to say, souls are a precious commodity in the cursed lands so good thing no one can take them from you... right? Wrong, while the game doesn't end when you die, you are severely penalized for making such a mistake. Not only will you have to start the level over when you die, but all of the enemies you previously dispatched spring back to life and the best part is, you lose ALL of your souls. There is some good news, however, as you can recover your lost souls if you can safely return to the site of your death and touch your bloodstain. Keep in mind that if you die AGAIN before you recover your lost souls, they are gone forever. Sadly, the likelihood that you will die again is almost a certainty as combat can be truly unforgiving.

The combat system, while deceptively simple, is actually amazingly deep. At first glance, it may remind you of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance or some other medieval themed hack-and-slasher, but should you decide to treat it as such, then you might as well pull your pants down and bend over because this game brings spanking back to the 21st century. Mastering the combat system makes up the bulk of the challenge as it is very intolerant of mistakes, but on the flipside, it also rewards players with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside when they conquer a tough opponent. Players of the Gothic series of PC RPGs will find the combat mechanics very familiar; depending on the weapon you are wielding, every strike will take a certain amount of time to perform and recover from, meaning you will have to time your attacks accordingly or face a devastating counterstrike. You can also decide to block or even parry your opponent's attack to set them up for a counterstrike while more dexterous players can opt to dodge or roll to a more advantageous position, all aspects of combat that are essential to surviving any encounter. To complicate things even further, the player must also keep an eye on the stamina bar, which determines how many actions you can perform, whether it be dodging, blocking or striking before retreating back to recover.

It may sound easy enough now that you're imagining it in your head, but you have to keep in mind that even with the best defensive gear, carelessness will be punished with a swift death. Several of the game's monsters can murder a player in one or two blows, while weaker monsters attack in groups, making up for their lack of power with mob tactics. Should you choose to be impatient and try to sneak in just one more blow, you may meet an untimely demise. In this world, it pays to be patient and eternally vigilant of your immediate surroundings.

In addition to the thrilling offline single player adventure, you can also choose to play Demon's Souls online. Much like everything else about this game, the online mode is impressively clever and unique. The option to play offline or online is entirely up to the player, with the offline mode being the preferred choice for beginners. For the purpose of being able to provide a thorough review, I played the game in its entirety in online mode. The differences between the two modes are largely transparent until you decide to go beyond the limits of your own world. Throughout your adventure, you'll notice white, wireframe figures running around; these apparitions represent real players that are adventuring in a parallel world and their actions can reveal anything from good sniping positions to combat strategies for enemies ahead. You can also leave or read messages in the world for others to read or touch other players' bloodstains to watch how they met their maker, very helpful for spotting pitfalls or surprise attacks from hidden beasties.

If you want to actively participate in online adventures you can either choose to enter another world as a Black Phantom or a Blue Phantom. If you decide to be a Black Phantom, you will forcibly invade a random player's game with the objective of killing the host player to swipe their souls. If you're more of a co-operative player, you can offer yourself to be summoned to another player's world as a Blue Phantom, where you can help them fight through the level's hordes of monsters or a tough boss battle. The seamless integration of the online play with single-player play is what makes this whole system great; the whole process is automated and simplified so a multiplayer session can be started hassle free. If you simply cannot beat a particular boss, get some Blue Phantom players to help you out or if you're bored of beating the snot out of the AI, invade another player's world and attempt take their souls!

It's simplicity is also its weakness, however, as there is little to no control given to the player regarding their choice of allies or foes, making it difficult to set up a session with your real life pals online. While items can be traded from player to player, there is no interface to facilitate exchanges, so players have to drop and pick up items, giving dishonorable players a chance to walk away with your precious loot with practically no consequence. There's definitely room for improvement in the system, but it's still a worthwhile addition to an already excellent package; I hope other developers are taking notice as I'd love to see a similar online integration system in future titles.

Demons Souls doesn't fail to deliver the visual department, either; the world is appropriately dark and dreary, with a genuinely creepy atmosphere mixed in with next gen visuals. The textures are highly detailed and excellent use of bump mapping results in some impressive looking surfaces, especially with equipment. The humongous bosses are rendered terrifyingly well, from their imposing size down to their unpredictable behavior. The experience is only marred by occasional slowdowns when too much is happening on screen and is especially notable during multiplayer sessions. The camera can also be a bit burdensome at times, especially when locking on to a target in a small, enclosed area which results in nauseating rapid-fire panning particularly with agile opponents.

The sound design also deserves a lot of credit, as it truly adds that genuine medieval Europe feel to the the entire game. Even though there is very little spoken dialogue in the game, the fantastic voice overs bolster the atmosphere and to the immersion factor of the game. The music has a decidedly medieval theme as well, with no shortage of vocalizations and plucked string instruments.

Besides Valkyria Chronicles, this IS the RPG to have for the PS3; it's been ages since a game of this style and caliber has graced the genre. If you can endure the slings and the arrows that the game's brutal difficulty curve will throw at you, you'll find a fulfilling and rewarding experience that can only be had after an epic struggle and in time, will have you begging for more. As the old saying goes, with great risks come great rewards, and From Software's risk to release an old school, noob-slaying, anime free RPG in this day and age has no doubt paid off in spades.
Highs: Refreshingly addictive combat, innovative online play, plenty of replayability
Lows: Merciless difficulty curve may discourage some players
Bottom Line: Demon's Souls sets a dizzyingly high standard for action RPGs; a likely shoe-in for RPG of the Year 2009.
Avatar Reviewed by Toma-kun
October 22, 2009

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Not quite the perfect remake

It's appropriate to say that the PlayStation era was responsible for some of the best JRPGs to date. While Star Ocean: The Second Story isn't universally accepted as one of the era's classics, it's still held as one of the better games to make it to American store shelves. I have nothing but fond memories spending my summer vacation exploring the worlds of Expel and Nede, so when news of a remake hit, I was ecstatic. After warming up with the excellent remake of the first Star Ocean game, I had high hopes for the sequel. It doesn't quite deliver the same complete package like its predecessor, but it's still a worthwhile purchase for those who didn't have the pleasure of experiencing the PSX dynasty firsthand or those just looking to take a nostalgic trip through the stars.

The story is simple and formulaic, even for its time. You have the choice of playing as either the Earthling Claude or the Expelian Rena, but aside from a few different sequences and party member choices, the story remains the same albeit seen through another perspective. The game begins with Claude getting whisked away to a far off planet while tinkering with a strange device during an exploration mission. He lands on the planet Expel, just in time to save an unwitting Rena from an impending beat down courtesy of a gorilla-like beast. The bewildered locals are quick to jump to conclusions and label him as the hero of legend come down to smite all of the evil in the world. Unfortunately for him, he isn't the only foreign object to hit the planet Expel in the last few days; the Sorcery Globe as it has come to be known, is wreaking all sorts of havoc on the world. Claude is not compelled to fill the role of hero, but with no ideas on how to contact Earth, he agrees to investigate the Sorcery Globe with the hope of finding a solution to his predicament with the added benefit of aiding the people of Expel.

The gameplay we all know and fell in love with in the 1990s remains mostly the same with a few interesting changes. Welch Vineyard once again makes a return as a secret character in the game and the developers have given many of the characters three-hit combos for their normal attacks. The new combos are nice, but it seems like the AI forgot to read the memo because it hardly ever uses them in battle, which pretty much defeats their purpose. Numerous changes were made to the translation as well, some simply for continuity with tri-Ace's other games and some were corrections to obvious errors in what now seems like a slipshod job with the original PSX version. Unfortunately, they also dumbed down parts of the translation, with the biggest offender being the unnecessary renaming of Ashton's dragons to Creepy and Weepy instead of their original Japanese names.

Combat is real time and is what makes the game so addictive. Though the random encounters can get seriously frustrating, the frantic combat action helps to at least make the experience more dynamic and exciting, especially with boss fights. Once you've dispatched enough monsters, you'll gain levels as well as skill points. The skill system may take some getting used to, but it will become your best friend sooner than you think. Skills will allow you to do a variety of things, from crafting powerful items to boosting your stats to astronomical levels which will come in handy later in the game.

The main game itself is not very long, but there are various extracurricular activities you can participate in. The toughest being the Maze of Tribulations, a secret dungeon filled with exceptionally powerful enemies as well as the best equipment in the game. It's completely optional, but it's tough to say you've beaten the game until you've conquered the Maze. It's the type of challenge that was sorely missed in First Departure and it's difficult to imagine a Star Ocean game without it.

One of the game's key selling points back in the day was its sheer number of possible endings, now increased by a few more with the addition of Welch. Characters will pair up with whomever they have the most Romance Points with at the end of the game. Unlike with First Departure, Private Actions have an effect over which ending you'll receive in the end. Of course there are also other factors, such as how often you use a particular character during battle or reading a book that a character has written.

The graphics, sadly, haven't changed much at all. The graphics engine was an upgrade for First Departure, but for this game it's simply the same one from nine years ago. The 3D aspects, though a little dated, are more than acceptable, it's the 2D that has suffered the transition to the PSP. Most of the original pre-rendered backgrounds are reused and simply stretched to accommodate the widescreen resolution and it shows, bad. The old CG FMVs are recycled as well and they look downright nasty; they weren't high quality to begin with and to scale them on such a high-res screen really doesn't help. Thankfully, they did re-do all of the character art and provided a few anime sequences. What I don't understand is why they didn't just replace all of the FMVs with all original cutscenes like what we saw with First Departure? Mixing in archaic material just hurts the overall quality of the game.

Fans and detractors alike will admit that the original PlayStation version had reprehensible voice acting. It wasn't just the talent that was suspect, the recording quality was bottom of the barrel too. The voice over work in Second Evolution is much improved in all aspects and the mute button once again goes unused. My only qualm is the direction they went with certain characters; Claude sounded much wussier than I originally imagined though perhaps that's just a testament to how well the voice actor conveyed that idea. Of all of the things they added to this remake, the new voices easily make the most impact as it gives the game a much needed touch of modernization.

Though Second Evolution fails to eclipse its remade prequel, it's still an enjoyable game in its own right. It's still that addictive and challenging game that I remember so fondly. If you missed it the first time around, this is easily the best version of the game to play. Despite its spotty presentation, there's no reason to miss it again.
Highs: Improved voice acting, plenty of gameplay, challenging
Lows: Silly presentation choices, more new additions would have been nice
Bottom Line: Falls a little short of expectations, but it's still one of the PSP's top RPGs.
Avatar Reviewed by Toma-kun
June 11, 2009

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SEGA says, "Once more unto the breach, dear friends!"

Despite having the most prolific console of the last generation that was blessed with JRPGs of every imaginable type, Sony's next-gen platform sadly isn't receiving the same kind of attention. Worse yet, a number of developers have flocked to Microsoft's court and work with the Xbox 360 exclusively, leaving a lot of PS3 owners with their hands in the air in disbelief. If the thought of waiting for Square's upcoming opus, is no longer a consolation for your longing for JRPG goodness on your PS3, then SEGA's got what you've been fiending over with their newest franchise, the PS3 exclusive Valkyria Chronicles. SEGA may have been out of the hardware game for some time now, but with Valkyria Chronicles, they have shown that they are much more than just the faded glory of the past and the sole provider of countless Sonic spin-offs; they have proven that they have the resources and the talents to produce an excellent original game.

Valkyria Chronicles is set in fictional 1935 Europe (referred to as Europa in the game), during what would have been the years leading up to World War II. A belligerent nation called the East Europan Imperial Alliance or simply the Empire, is on the warpath subjugating nearby territories to aid them in their own war against a rival country (think Hitler and the policy of appeasement). The story begins when the Empire sets its eyes on the neutral nation of Gallia, renowned for its abundance of the valuable commodity ragnite, a resource akin to the real world's petroleum. Not one to lay down in the face of war, the Gallians mobilize to repel the Empire's invasion.

The player takes control of Welkin Gunther, an idealistic university student heading back home to help his family evacuate from their hometown of Bruhl. His strange appearance and behavior attracts the attention of the Town Watch captain, Alicia, who mistakes him for an Imperial spy. Just as the confusion is straightened out, the first wave of Imperial forces make their way into the town and Welkin is forced to fight alongside the Town Watch in order to make their escape. They repel the few advance forces and make their way to the safety of the country's capital, where Welkin makes his decision to fight against the Empire and see his country to freedom. He is given control of militia Squad 7 and with your help, will become a worthwhile adversary to the Empire's legions.

The story is delivered in a very linear style in the form of a book based on the exploits of Squad 7, with several short cutscenes in between the missions. As a fan of the Suikoden games and their epic tales of war, I didn't find it difficult to fall in love with Valkyria Chronicles' story; it's filled with the same intrigue and intensity that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The character development is progressive and well done with the cheesiness kept to an acceptable minimum. The side stories are a nice touch as well, placing the spot light on the game's main characters. Though only the main characters are featured in the game's story, the soldiers that you can recruit are far from generic grunts that we've all grown accustomed to in strategy-RPGs. In fact, they can even be considered minor characters; they have voices, personalities, histories and abilities unique to them, adding that human element into the mix.

Seasoned turn-based strategy gamers will find the gameplay both familiar and refreshing at the same time. Combat units are comprised mostly of infantry divided into five classes: Scouts, used for long range reconnaissance; Shocktroopers, valued for their anti-personnel firepower; Lancers, used exclusively for anti-tank combat; Engineers, for resupplying units and repairing tanks; and Snipers, used for taking out targets from safe distances. Tanks are also thrown in and offer support against armored or entrenched targets. Despite the variety in the unit types, the missions tend to favor the Scout and Shocktrooper units for their versatility in battle. Lancers are really only useful against tanks and Engineers are essentially just scouts with crippled stats while Snipers have far too little HP and are very difficult to position.

In most strategy-RPGs, each unit is allowed to move and act once per player turn. Not so with Valkyria Chronicles, instead each player turn is split into two phases: the command phase and the action phase. The command phase is completely turn based and it is where you can spend your Command Points (CP). Command Points dictate how many decisions you are allowed to make during your turn; selecting an infantry unit to act takes one CP while selecting a tank can take two CP. As the game progresses, you will also be able use CP to issue orders; which can do a variety of things from enhancing your units' fighting ability to healing their wounds. CP not used during your turn carries over to the next turn, so don't use them unless you need them. This system allows the player to utilize two or three units several times in the same turn to accomplish anything from finding better defensive positions to racking up as many kills as possible. Once you've used up a CP and selected a unit to act, then the action phase takes over.

In the action phase, you will be given a third-person view of the battlefield and direct control of the selected unit. The action phase is quasi real-time; friendly units and hostile units cannot move simultaneously during the action phase, but they are allowed to return fire and pepper the opposing units with gunfire if they should cross their line of sight without a cost to CP. Your main concern in the action phase are the appropriately named Action Points (AP), which determine how far a unit can move about in the battlefield. Unlike CP, APs are used exclusively for movement so they have no effect on a unit's actions. Though you can choose to spend a CP and have the same unit act again, their starting APs will progressively get lower each subsequent time they are selected, making it close to impossible to use one unit to move across the entire map and wreak havoc.

Since the war takes place all over Gallia, the mission settings and objectives are fairly varied. SEGA tosses us a few stealth incursions as well as some seemingly impossible missions with clever twists. With a few unique objectives aside, the main goal of the war is to push the invading forces back and as such several operations will require you to take over the enemy's base camp. These missions feature more than one way to complete the objective, but are sadly hampered by a completion rating system that is horribly biased towards rushing and finishing the mission in as little turns as possible. Defeating all of the enemy units or keeping all of your squad mates alive yields a bonus, but will never earn an 'A' rank if you took too long do it. Achieving an 'A' rank is entirely optional, but since the rank does have an effect on how much money and experience you receive after a battle, you can end up in a sort of handicapped situation later in the game if you "underachieve" on every mission. Fortunately, the game does offer a way to grind to make up that lost cash and XP by playing skirmish missions.

The game's difficulty curve is actually well balanced, but there are ways to break that balance. One is to abuse the in-game save system by constantly saving and loading until you make that near impossible shot or the enemy makes the wrong move. The other method is to make creative use of the Orders, specifically the ones that can overpower one unit. With the right combination of Orders and unit potentials, you can literally lay waste to an enemy base in one turn! Thankfully, most players will probably be too busy enjoying the game to take the time to discover these underhanded tactics, but the fact remains that they're free for anyone to exploit.

Off the battlefield, the game is simple and goes easy on the micromanagement. You'll spend most of your time at Headquarters, where you can recruit new units, change equipment, research new upgrades, outfit tanks, etc. Experience gained by completing missions can be applied to a particular type of unit. Unlike many strategy-RPGs, units don't level up individually, but rather as an entire unit so you're not forced to stick with the same soldiers every mission. Leveling up increases HP and unlocks hidden potentials that will provide a certain advantage in battle, should they activate. Money earned after missions can be used to fund technological upgrades for both your infantry and armored units.

The unique brand of gameplay aside, there's no doubt that Valkyria's graphics are one of its biggest assets. Cel shaded graphics are nothing new in the RPG world, but at the HD resolution of 720P, this game is just visually arresting. The graphics reach a level of splendor that will make you forget all about polygon counts and gigaflops and just admire the art in motion. It's like your favorite manga lovingly brought to life with vibrant colors and an attention to detail that borders on the big-budget anime level. From the rifling grooves of a cannon barrel to seeing your newly researched equipment on your troops and vehicles, little is left to the imagination when it comes to details. That's not all, however, as the characters are as much the stars of the graphics engine as they are the engaging storyline. Detailed and varied facial expressions as well as motion captured animations fill the characters with a life-like verve that charge cutscenes with plenty of emotion and adds tremendously to the atmosphere. Though not the most technologically advanced, Valkyria's graphics never fail to put a childish grin on my face and you don't need to be a fan of Japanese anime to appreciate the effort put in to make this game so enchanting.

The game shines in the audio department too, as the magic of Blu-Ray discs have allowed the developers to include both the English and Japanese audio tracks! Normally, I'd go straight for the Japanese voices, but with the quality of voice over work I've experienced lately, I decided to sample the English voices and Valkyria does not disappoint. The voice talent is filled with familiar names such as Laura Bailey and Dave Wittenberg whose latest works include the excellent Persona 4, not to mention Steven Blum whose gut-busting portrayal of the title character of the anime Great Teacher Onizuka is one of my favorite dubs to date. The minor characters are especially a blast to listen to, with their varying personalities and attitudes. From the uber-relaxed slurs of a certain Lancer-ette to the caveman-speak of a battle hardened shocktrooper, these smaller roles do well to showcase the quality of the voice over work. Interestingly enough, the English voices very closely mirror their Japanese counterparts in many aspects, with the English talent even proving to be a better fit for some of the characters.

The music is done by none other than Hitoshi Sakimoto, probably best known for his work on Final Fantasy Tactics and most recently, Final Fantasy XII. The songs are typical Sakimoto; powerful and compelling with the only problem being the repetitive battle music. As you peruse the Headquarters screens you are greeted by Sakimoto's signature style of music and further drawn into Gallia's struggle of freedom; honestly, they couldn't have chosen a better composer.

It's always great to see a new RPG franchise succeed and the fact that it came from SEGA makes it that much sweeter. We all know the rough road that SEGA has had to travel in the past decade and despite their long, storied history of contributing to the electronic entertainment world, things never seem to go their way. With Valkyria Chronicles' success with the critics and its ever increasing popularity, hopefully it serves as the first of many steps in the right direction for SEGA and the PS3's ailing RPG scene as well.
Highs: Eye-popping visuals, engaging story, loveable characters, unique style of gameplay
Lows: A few game balance issues affect replayability
Bottom Line: Valkyria Chronicles is proof that SEGA's aspirations for greatness are far from over.
Avatar Reviewed by Toma-kun
May 09, 2009

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You see a copy of Persona 4 on your desk... Play it?

After experiencing the tour de force that was Persona 3: FES, I was hesitant to move directly onto the sequel which had hit the streets after I started playing P3. Fulfilling the role of sequel to what is easily one of the best JRPGs in history is no easy task and though hopes were high, I feared disappointment. I was able to distract myself from its charms for a few days until I decided to boot it up just for kicks and that's where it all began. One minute turned to fifteen, then a half hour, then the next thing I knew, I was so drawn into its world that I could not tear myself away from it. Sixty some odd hours later and I'm convinced that not only is Persona 4 a stunning sequel, it also comes threateningly close to toppling its predecessor in nearly every aspect.

Once again you reprise the role of a poker faced, prematurely gray haired student, transferring to spend his Junior year of high school in the rural town of Inaba. It's a country destination filled with easy-going folk whose only worry is the burgeoning Walmart-like super megastore Junes, which is threatening to put the town's ornate shopping district out of business. Your parents pawn you off to your Uncle Dojima, a hard-boiled detective and his timid seven year old daughter while they work overseas. Aside from making a few new acquaintances, your first few days in Inaba are uneventful, that is until the thick fog rolls in. When the fog finally lifts, the residents are shocked by a grisly murder as the body of an infamous celebrity staying at the local inn is found hanging on a roof antenna. The school is abuzz with talk of the murder and you get wind of a rumor about a mystical TV program called the "Midnight Channel" which is purported to reveal the viewers' soul mates if they tune in at midnight on a rainy day.

With nothing better to do, you and your friends decide to give it a shot on the next rainy night. The moment of truth finally arrives and you tune in to the Midnight Channel, unsure of what you may find. Interestingly enough, a blurry figure appears on the screen; it's difficult to make out, but you get this feeling that you've seen this person before. You reach out to the TV screen and you are shocked to see it enter the TV! Unsure of what just transpired, you decide to pull your hand out of the TV's maw and pretend it didn't happen. The next day you discuss your Midnight Channel experience with your new friends and while they agree that the person shown on TV looked familiar, they find your story about your Matrix-like experience with the TV hard to believe. On a whim, you decide to test your theory on a big screen TV at the local superstore. You choose to stick your entire body in and much to the surprise of your friends, you slip right in! They attempt to help you out, but much to their dismay, are drawn in with you.

The world inside the TV is mostly abandoned and enshrouded in a thick mist. Your party wanders around aimlessly for a while until you run into a strange creature resembling a teddy bear. He identifies himself as Teddie, the lone resident of the TV world and provides some guidance and a way back to your world! You decide to leave the TV world alone until you learn more about it, but soon, another murder shocks the town of Inaba. Your worst fears are realized as the victim is identified as a student at your high school and a close friend of your new acquaintance, Yosuke. The murder of someone so close to your inner circle prompts you to take action against this serial killer. Teddie reveals that people have been getting "thrown in" the TV world and is upsetting the formerly dormant Shadows that lived within. It's revealed that the Shadows are responsible for killing the humans that wander into the TV world, but the real noodle-scratcher is, exactly who is throwing people inside in the first place?

Slowly, but surely your group notices a pattern with the murders and the Midnight Channel. The prospective victim appears on the Midnight Channel days before they are thrown into the TV world and eventually killed. You also find out that the contents of the TV world are reflections of the repressed thoughts of people who venture inside and culminate into a powerful Shadow that the person can conquer and use as their Persona or simply be destroyed by it. Your intrepid group braves the TV world and with each person successfully rescued and helped to face their other selves, you inch closer to the truth and the identity of the true killer. The story is a nail-biter in every sense of the word and will keep you guessing and pushing in pursuit of the murderer. It's a little difficult to compare it directly with Persona 3's epic struggle for the souls of humanity, but coming from a rural part of town myself, Persona 4's story is more believable and has a number of clever twists along the way; after all, there's nothing like a good whodunit in a dreary country setting.

The gameplay sticks pretty closely to the tried and true formula found in Persona 3, but with a number of changes. Gamers who were tortured endlessly by the nitwitted party AI of P3 can now rejoice as Atlus has heard their cries for help and included the option to control your party members directly. Though I didn't have too many issues with the party AI in the previous game, I was sold on the idea of directly controlling my party's actions after the first minute of trying it out. The combat balance has been tweaked as well; recovering from being knocked down no longer takes up a turn and an extra turn is always rewarded for attacking a weakness, as opposed to P3 where you had to exploit all of the enemies' weaknesses before being awarded a turn. This negates the challenge formerly posed by battles against enemies with varying weaknesses as one character can now practically end the battle in one turn. Couple these revisions with direct control over your party and battles, dare I say, become a little easy.

The game still progresses in a day to day fashion like the previous game, but with a serial murderer on the loose, your activities no longer revolve around the night. While it's a shame that you can no longer waste your nights at the Game Panic arcade, the town of Inaba offers no shortage of wholesome activities for the modern young person. Atlus has added three new personal attributes that the player can improve over the course of the game, bring the total to five (Knowledge, Courage, Understanding, Expression, and Dilligence). Most of these attributes can be honed by taking on after school and graveyard shift jobs, which are great avenues for not only earning money, but meeting new people as well. With the banishment of the Dark Hour, the moon phase system has been replaced by weather patterns, with rain being the point of interest. Aside from playing a major part in the plot, rainy days don't allow you to engage in any social activities, so it's one more thing to schedule around if you're looking to make as many friends as possible.

The character development is as strong and intense as it was in Persona 3, but the small town environment and the grisly nature of the murders brings everyone that much closer to the player; you'll begin to feel an almost authentic bond with these fictional characters. Atlus has also decided to spice things up by introducing characters with difficulties that many young people face today, such as confused sexuality and glass ceilings; a move that not only makes the game interesting, but socially relevant as well.

Social Links have undergone some minor, albeit important changes, like allowing the player to form bonds with ALL of your party members and not just the females, as we experienced in Persona 3. It doesn't stop there, however, as strengthening these close links don't just result in getting to know your party members better, it also grants them support abilities in battle. These added abilities range from shielding you from a killing blow to curing other members of status ailments. Girlfriends are taken a little less seriously this time around, with no penalties handed out for getting into serious relationships with several girls simultaneously. Other than that, the system remains the same; the highest level Personas can only be unlocked with a maxed Social Link and experience bonuses for newly created Personas are doled out for already established links.

Perhaps the most distinct departure from Persona 3 is the dungeon exploration. With no Tartarus on the horizon, where else could our valiant heroes tread to defeat the throngs of evil? How about several small dungeons with their own unique appearance and music? Admittedly, the dungeon layouts are fairly similar and predictable, but other than that, each dungeon is completely unique in appearance and even background music. Since each location is supposed to be a manifestation of a person's inner thoughts, the designs are nothing short of novel; get to the Void Quest dungeon and you'll see what I'm talking about. Grinding is still a necessary evil, but at least you're not stuck at the same boring tower for 200+ floors; each dungeon has 11 floors or less, so you don't have to worry about the scenery becoming dull and monotonous.

Speaking of scenery, Persona 4 is powered by a modified version of the same graphics engine used in Persona 3. The second you boot up the game and are greeted by the bright and lively user interface, you'll immediately realize this is not the same game. Though the similarities are not difficult to spot, the game is much more polished and offers a wider variety of textures as well as an expanded color palette. The off-the-wall dungeon designs do well to show off these improvements, as the psychedelic colors and detailed environments really bring them to life. The character models have been given some attention as well, bestowed with more expressive animations that add yet another dimension to the already excellent dialogue. All you need to do to appreciate this brilliant symphony of voice overs and character animations is watch one of the game's hilarious sequences and you'll no doubt realize the developers' attention to detail. Once again, Shigenori Soejima lends his talents in the art department and doesn't disappoint. The character designs are a bit of a departure from the previous game, this time leaning more towards realism. That means no more humanoids, Persona-summoning animals, or people with odd hair colors; just down-to-earth country folk. The designs won't jump out at you like they did in Persona 3, but one could argue that they resemble people you are likely to see in your daily life and in turn, easier to relate to.

Fans of musicians Yumi Kawamura and Lotus Juice will be disappointed to know that neither is involved in the music department, but Persona 4's soundtrack does well enough without them. With Shoji Meguro retaining his position at the helm, the soundtrack remains a far cry from being traditional RPG fare, but it has taken on a more approachable, pop-music style. Gone are the slick rhymes and heavy techno cues; replaced by peppy, upbeat lyrics and catchy melodies. Shihoko Hirata provides all of the vocals for the songs and has a voice well suited for this style of music. Much of the soundtrack shares an uplifting, central theme of seeking the truth and finding one's true self. No song is a better example than the battle theme appropriately named, "Reach out to the Truth", which is easily one of the most memorable tracks in the entire game and never seems to gets stale no matter how many times it's repeated. Even if pop music makes your brain hurt, it won't take long for many of the songs be ingrained in your memory; I guess that's just part of Shoji Meguro's magic. As wonderful as the music is, it's not quite as multifaced or atmospheric as Persona 3's soundtrack. It remains a little too consistent and one-dimensional as opposed to Persona 3's offering which changed moods along with the plot.

The voice acting is top notch as we've come to expect and is made more evident with the addition of spoken dialogue for certain Social Link events. There's nothing like hearing the emotions in their voices as you help them find a resolution to their dilemmas. The voice talent mesh well with their characters and have made it very difficult to find anything to really complain about in this department; a rare occurrence indeed.

When you reach such a lofty level of excellence, I suppose it's natural that your only worthwhile competitor would be the one that follows you. It feels a little wrong to even compare these two games together because even though they're shockingly similar, they're also radically different from one another. It's almost like comparing two brothers to each other; they're supposed to be alike, but at the same time, they are their own unique entity. Persona 3 is like an older brother, with the grooving soundtrack and the epic, engrossing story while Persona 4 fills the role of the more sophisticated little brother, with the better looks and several improved features. You're not supposed to pick favorites with your kids and the same goes for these two games, they both deserve your respect and your hard-earned money. It's safe to say that Persona 4 will probably be the last great RPG for the aging PlayStation2 platform. We can only hope that the next game will not only usher in the series to the next-generation, but also be the one to indisputably trounce its predecessors.
Highs: Various nagging issues addressed, spirited soundtrack, riveting story, improved visuals
Lows: Changes in combat system make the game a little easy at times
Bottom Line: If Atlus continues this trend, the sky's the limit for the Persona series.
Avatar Reviewed by Toma-kun
April 18, 2009

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Last updated: August 02, 2009
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A mother who crashed her car into a tree fatally injuring her toddler daughter had taken cocaine just hours before getting behind the wheel, a court heard. Danielle Parsons was jailed for five years after pleading guilty to causing death by dangerous driving before her sentencing at Birmingham Crown Court, West Midlands Police said. Her two-year-old little girl Esmee O'Reilly, who was on the car's back seat, died in hospital after the crash in Gibbins Road in Selly Oak, Birmingham, last year. Esmee O'Reilly died in hospital after the crash in Gibbins Road in Selly Oak Following what police described as a "complex" investigation, officers found out how the 23-year-old, of Castle Road, Weoley Castle, Birmingham had made the "grave mistake" of taking drugs before driving. A family friend was also seriously injured, but has since recovered. Parsons was also told at her sentencing on Thursday that she would serve two years in jail after admitting causing serious injury by dangerous driving, to run concurrently. She was also banned from driving for five-and-a-half years.pre bonded hair Sergeant Steve Newbury, from the force's collision investigation unit, said: "Parsons made the grave mistake of using cocaine that day and then put her family and friends in danger by driving under its influence with them as passengers. "Her young daughter suffered the ultimate consequence of that decision and lost her life and she will have to live with the knowledge that she caused her death. "This is the most graphic example that drug driving can kill and change people's lives forever." He added: "I would like to thank the hard work and determination of the collision investigation team to get to the truth and establish all the evidence which has led to this successful prosecution and the dedicated work of the family liaison team in their support of the family. "Our thoughts remain with them as they continue to come to terms with their loss." Speaking at the time of the crash, the little girl's uncle, Brendan O'Reilly, paid tribute to his "happy-go-lucky" niece. He said: "She was always smiling, and never stopped smiling - she was a happy-go-lucky little girl." Mr O'Reilly said he last saw his niece the night before the fatal crash on April 30, when she was her usual happy self. "She had beautiful blue eyes," he added. Following the crash, members of the public including a medical student tried tirelessly to resuscitate the little girl at the roadside, but all in vain. Danielle Parsons was jailed for five years after admitting causing the death of her passenger two-year-old daughter Esmee O'Reilly by dangerous driving (West Midlands Police/PA) Sorry we are not currently accepting comments on this article.

She treated American television viewers to her bright and bubbly personality when she appeared on James Corden's The Late Late Show, on Wednesday night. But supermodel Cara Delevingne, 23, may have had bigger things on her mind as she continued to flash diamond ring on THAT finger amid rumours she is betrothed to singer St Vincent. The British model rocked a navy Puma tracksuit with white stripes and a plain lightweight top for her trip, ensuring she would fly in comfort. Scroll down for video Jetsetting: Cara Delevingne, 23, continued to sport a diamond ring on her engagement finger as she arrived at LAX after her appearance on James Corden's The Late Late Show on Wednesday night That's a Bobby Dazzler: She wore the huge rock on her engagement finger She wore matching footwear in the form of pristine white kicks and injected a splash of colour into the ensemble with a bright pink beanie. Cara sparked rumours of an engagement back in February when she was apparently seen proposing to girlfriend in Paris. She was then seen sporting a giant diamond on her ring finger whilst promoting Suicide Squad on Monday. Sharing her co-star Jared Leto's snap on Instagram, the 23-year-old model turned actress made no reference to her dazzling bling, but pointedly posed with her hand the focus of the snap. On Wednesday night, she wore a pair of black Ray Ban's, despite it being pitch black outside. She looked calm and relaxed as she sauntered with a black bag adorned with metallic studs over her shoulder. Cara coolly raised her hand to wave to the cameras as she arrived at the airport flanked by a burly security guard. Dressed down: The British model rocked a navy Puma tracksuit with white stripes and a plain lightweight top for her trip ensuring she would fly in comfort Style queen: She wore matching footwear in the form of pristine white kicks and injected a splash of colour into the ensemble with a bright pink beanie Ready for take off: She looked calm and relaxed as she sauntered with a black bag adorned with metallic studs over her shoulder Ring bling: The sparkler on her ring finger has led fans to believe she's engaged to girlfriend St Vincent In safe hands: Cara coolly raised her hand to wave to the cameras as she arrived at the airport flanked by a burly security guard The beauty spectacularly won a three-way game of Drop The Mic earlier in the evening during an appearance on The Late Late Show. The 23-year-old was up against the host James Corden and Nerve actor Dave Franco and rapped that she'd 'hooked up with hotter girls' than both of them combined. Corden, 37, launched the verbal slam down by saying he meant to book Franco's brother James, because Dave 'isn't famous enough'. Tease: Cara continued to fuel rumours she is engaged as she sported a giant diamond on her ring finger in an Instagram snap promoting Suicide Squad on Monday Cute couple: Cara, 23 , is believed to have begun dating St Vincent - real name Annie Clark - 16 months ago, and has notoriously kept quiet about her love life whilst continuing to fuel engagement rumours Proposal in Paris?: Cara sparked engagement rumours earlier this year after she was seen getting down on one knee at the Eiffel Tower with St Vincent at her side To Delevingne, who is just testing her acting chops, he said: 'When I see you try to act it makes me want to kill myself'. 'You'll kill yourself, is that a fact? I've never heard a better reason for me to act,' Delevingne shot back. Franco told Delevingne she was: 'Trying to hide an accent thicker than her eyebrows' and he called Corden a 'less talented, much fatter Mr Bean'. 'I actually like Mr Bean so…' replied Corden, before comparing James Franco to Marky Mark but Dave to Donnie Wahlberg. In the blue corner! Cara took part in a three-way game of Drop The Mic on Wednesday on The Late Late Show Multiple talents: The model and actress also showed she has some rapping skills 'The only funny thing you've been in is Alison Brie,' he quipped, referring to Franco's 33-year-old fiancee. 'You're only famous now because your older sibling's awesome,' added the British TV host, 37. Delevingne, who is currently starring in Suicide Squad, then chimed in to tell Corden he 'looks like a thumb'. Popular segment: James Corden took a crack at Cara during the popular segment His turn: Dave Franco rapped that Corden was a 'less talented, much fatter Mr Bean' Towering presence: Cara referenced her towering height as she noted that Franco was shorter than her Adding: 'Your Carpool Karaoke is purely down to luck, Stevie Wonder is blind and even he can see you suck'. The Paper Towns star then bit Franco with: 'You're just like blood, you're thicker than water and you destroyed Scrubs'. Her winning line was: 'You're both shorter than me and I'll think that you'll find I've hooked up with hotter girls than both of you combined'. Franco then hit Corden, telling him he was merely a 'fat and bloated James Bond'. Dropped it: The English supermodel was declared the winner and dropped her mic After the brutal singing showdown they sat down for a cordial chat. 'I'm feeling under eyebrow-ed,' remarked Corden, as he surveyed his bushy-faced guests. Franco discussed his home wife with Get Hard actress Alison Brie. Big brows: Cara and Dave both brought their eyebrow game to the show 'It's usually the two of us, in bed with our 17 pound cats, watching a documentary or the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Part 2,' said the feline-obsessed actor. On not being an adrenaline junkie anymore the 21 Jump Street actor said: 'I've got to the stage where I don't need to do dumb stuff anymore'. 'We're all getting older…everyone has a couple of moments when they're like 'how did we ever survive childhood?' he explained. Bushy face: Corden applied bushy eyebrows to fit in 'Was it your brother, what did he do?'Joked Corden. 'They'd zip me up in a sleeping bag and tickle torture me,' he admitted.remy hair extensions As a dare he got on the drum kit of Corden's house band. 'Never done this before…It's going to be great,' he smiled, before he butchered the band's work. Corden's musical guest was Swedish newcomer Leon. New movies: Cara was promoting Suicide Squad while Dave was pushing Nerve

She sparked rumours of an engagement back in February when she was apparently seen proposing to girlfriend St Vincent in Paris. And Cara Delevingne continued to fan the flames as she sported a giant diamond on her ring finger whilst promoting Sucide Squad on Monday. Sharing her co-star Jared Leto's snap on Instagram, the 23-year-old model turned actress made no reference to her dazzling bling, but pointedly posed with her hand the focus of the snap. Scroll down for video Tease: Cara Delevingne continued to fuel rumours she is engaged to St Vincent as she sported a giant diamond on her ring finger in an Instagram snap promoting Sucide Squad on Monday Clad in a navy jumper and baby blue trousers, the starlet was seen reclining on a private jet after attending Comic-Con on Saturday with Jared and Margot Robbie. Cara, who is believed to have begun dating St Vincent 16 months ago, has notoriously kept quiet about her love life, but previously credited the singer with making her 'so happy'. MailOnline have contacted a representative for Cara for comment. Cute couple: Cara, 23 , is believed to have begun dating St Vincent - real name Annie Clark - 16 months ago, and has notoriously kept quiet about her love life whilst continuing to fuel engagement rumours Gushing over her girlfriend - real name Annie Clark - Cara told Vogue: 'I think that being in love with my girlfriend is a big part of why I'm feeling so happy with who I am these days. 'And for those words to come out of my mouth is actually a miracle.'perruques cheveux naturels Speaking about coming out as bisexual she added: 'My sexuality is not a phase. I am who I am.' Proposal in Paris?: Cara sparked engagement rumours earlier this year after she was seen getting down on one knee at the Eiffel Tower with St Vincent at her side Cara sparked engagement rumours earlier this year after she was seen getting down on one knee at the Eiffel Tower with St Vincent at her side. An eyewitness told The Sun: 'As my group got out of the lift I could see Cara on bended knee, clearly proposing to her girlfriend. 'It was really touching. Cara obviously likes to do things traditionally.' The tourist added it wasn't clear if Cara was joking or was serious, but St Vincent was seen flying back from France with a giant diamond ring. Jet set style: Cara's ring snap was taken after she jetted back from Comic Con in California with her Suicide Squad co-stars Jared Leto and Margot Robbie. She plays Enchantress in the upcoming movie

Cara's ring snap came after she attended Comic Con in California to discuss the hotly anticipated Suicide Squad - where she plays Enchantress. Clad in a navy cropped jumper with aquamarine stripes, the Vogue covergirl looked effortlessly glamorous whilst simultaneously flaunting her enviably toned abs. Ensuring her neverending legs were also on display, she donned a pair of baby blue trousers that aided in elongating her lithe limbs and hugging her pert posterior. Adding yet more height to her statuesque frame, she wore a pair of towering patent black stiletto heels as she teetered along the platform. Glamourzon: She decided to let her modelling career take a backseat to focus on acting. But Cara still looked every inch the pin up girl as she headed into Comic Con in California on Saturday Check her out! Cara - who plays Enchantress in the upcoming movie - certainly lived up to her character as she dazzled whilst making her way to the stage Leggy lady! Ensuring her neverending legs were also on display, she donned a pair of baby blue trousers, that aided in elongating her lithe limbs and hugging her pert posterior Terrifying: Cara portrays June Moone and her villainous alter ego Enchantress in the upcoming film Wearing her golden locks loose and tousled, the Paper Towns star oozed glamour, whilst her glossy tresses were styled in a centre parting to frame her pretty face. Keeping with her colour scheme, the blonde beauty also bore a slick of navy eye shadow that made her hazel coloured peepers pop. Ensuring her bold trousers were the main focus of her ensemble, she kept her accessories simple with just a myriad of silver rings acting as the glitz in her outfit. Ouch! While the outfit looked great, it seems Cara was suffering from some sort of reaction Can't hold her back" The model turned film star did not let her hives slow her down, with Cara making sure to sign as many autographs as possible While the outfit looked great, it seems Cara was suffering from some sort of allergic reaction. The cropped top revealed a number of angry, red welts all over her midsection. The model turned film star did not let her hives slow her down, with Cara making sure to sign as many autographs as possible. Signature looks: The oddball star pulled some classic Cara faces as she tried to throw a pen back to a fan The oddball star pulled some classic Cara faces as she tried to throw a pen back to a fan. The star clearly missed her target and looked horrified as she threw the pen up into the air. Cara portrays June Moone and her villainous alter ego Enchantress in the upcoming film.perruques cheveux Besties: Cara and Margot kept themselves very amused by posing up for silly selfies In a teaser clip released on Wednesday, showed the model looking virtually unrecognisable as she transformed into character. The 36-second clip released on Wednesday opened with June standing in a grey suit with her blonde hair in a bun as she whispers an incantation. June placed her milky hand on the desk and it was clasped by an emerging all-black hand that turned her watch and suit sleeve into dark tattoos and a chain bracelet. Dangerous driving: Cara found herself behind the wheel and put on an energetic display The transformation finished quickly as Enchantress dramatically looked up with her stringy jet black hair and burning red eyes. Suicide Squad stars Will Smith as Deadshot, Jared Leto as Joker and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. The Warner Bros Pictures film is due out on August 5 in the US and UK. Making the rounds: Cara ensured she spent some time with the adoring fans outside the event Trying to focus: The starlet couldn't keep a straight face as she signed comic books for fans

She impressed audiences with her gorgeous legs as she flirted with Leonardo DiCaprio in Wolf of Wall Street. And Margot Robbie’s pins were on display as she strolled around New York City in a short black slip dress paired with a long pink Kimono, on Wednesday. The 26-year-old showed why she is tipped to be the next Bond girl, showing off her slender physique in the eye-catching number from Spell & The Gypsy Collective. Scroll down for video Stepping out: Margot Robbie’s trim pins were on display as she wafted around New York City in a short black slip dress paired with a long pink Kimono on Wednesday The oriental-inspired garment featured broderie anglaise in elaborate flower patterns on the sleeves, shoulders and back, and flowed behind her as she strolled around downtown NYC. Leaving a Tribeca hotel, the Australian actress smiled behind oversized round metallic sunglasses with her blonde locks tied back in a bun. The Hollywood starlet’s complexion was characteristically flawless all over, but years in the Northern Hemisphere appeared to have erased her Australian tan. All smiles: Leaving a Tribeca hotel, the Australian actress smiled behind oversized round metallic sunglasses with her blonde locks tied back in a bun High fashion: The 26-year-old showed why she is tipped to be the next Bond girl, showing off her slender physique in the eye-catching number from Spell & The Gypsy Collective Good taste: The oriental-inspired garment featured broderie anglaise in elaborate flower patterns on the sleeves, shoulders and back, and flowed behind her as she strolled around downtown NYC She enhanced her look with natural-look makeup and subtle pink lipstick and carried a small black leather handbag to run her errands. Margot had been at a fitting for the upcoming NYC premiere of her new film Suicide Squad on Monday night. Tinseltown is abuzz with rumours that the blonde beauty will appear in the next James Bond film as a Bond girl, following a long line of glamorous actresses. Flawles: The Hollywood starlet’s complexion was characteristically flawless all over, but years in the Northern Hemisphere appeared to have erased her Australian tan Going natural: She enhanced her look with natural-look makeup and subtle pink lipstick and carried a small black leather handbag to run her errands Looking her best: Margot had been at a fitting for the upcoming NYC premiere of her new film Suicide Squad on Monday night Online polls have revealed the 26-year-old stunner is at the strongest odds to fill the role, sitting at 12/1, while Emily Blunt sits at 16/1, according to Paddy Power. Others sitting at promising odds to star as the much-desired female character are American model and actress Emily Ratajkowski, who sits at 22/1, with Brit Emma Watson further down the line at 40/1. The Gold Coast girl found her big break in 2013 opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street as the feisty and seductive, Naomi. Plenty to smile about: Tinseltown is abuzz with rumours that the blonde beauty will appear in the next James Bond film as a Bond girl, following a long line of glamorous actresses Adoring fans: Margot caused a stir with passersby as she stepped out in NYC Well made: The beautiful garment had an elaborate rose pattern on its back More recently, she starred alongside Alexander Skarsgård in The Legend Of Tarzan as Jane.lace front wigs As well as the blockbuster, Margot has various other projects in the pipeline, including Suicide Squad, in which she plays Harley Quinn. Other females who have starred as the prestigious Bond girl include talented beauties Halle Berry, Rosamund Pike and Eva Green. Next big thing: Online polls have revealed the 26-year-old stunner is at the strongest odds to fill the Bond role, sitting at 12/1, while Emily Blunt sits at 16/1, according to Paddy Power . In demand actress: As well as the blockbuster, Margot has various other projects in the pipeline, including Suicide Squad, in which she plays Harley Quinn Following in footsteps: Other females who have starred as the prestigious Bond girl include talented beauties Halle Berry, Rosamund Pike and Eva Green Although the buzz around who will land the role of Bond girl is growing, the film is not expected to be released until at least 2018. Producer Barbara Broccoli has two other projects firmly underway and is said to be keen to tempt Daniel Craig into reprising his role as the titular character for the fifth time. Holding her own: Her breakout role was as DiCaprio's feisty wife, Naomi, on Wolf of Wall Street, which her portrayal earned her international acclaim - and showed off her gorgeous legs to the world

Next week will see the conclusion of the 12th season of The Bachelorette, as Joelle 'JoJo' Fletcher gets engaged to either Jordan Rodgers or Robby Hayes. And according to a new report, there's set to be a dramatic break-up ahead of the romantic proposal. Us Weekly claims that JoJo comes to the difficult decision of choosing between the two suitors after one of them makes a big mistake with her parents Joseph and Soraya. Family matters: Joelle 'JoJo' Fletcher apparently picks her fiance in next week's Bachelorette finale after one of the men makes a big mistake with her parents Who will it be?: Jordan Rodgers (L) and Robby Hayes are the two men left in the competition, and one of them allegedly gets sent packing after failing to ask JoJo's parents for her hand in marriage The runner-up gets dumped after failing to ask the 25-year-old's parents' for her hand in marriage, and during the emotional rejection, JoJo confesses that she wanted things to turn out differently. 'JoJo was sobbing,' a source told Us Weekly. 'She told him, “I wanted it to be you.”' The insider added: 'It was important to JoJo that the guys get her parents’ permission before proposing. JoJo viewed it as disrespectful that he didn’t.' Us Weekly claims that JoJo's family liked both of the finalists, but thought that the man she eventually picks was better suited to her. Favourite from the start: Jordan received the First Impression Rose and his relationship with JoJo has gone from strength to strength ever since Not true: The 27-year-old former quarterback has denied that he cheated on his last girlfriend 'Everyone thought he was husband material,' a source said. 'Later, they told JoJo that they liked the other man too, but they thought the second would be more loyal and a better fit.' And speaking about the family's meeting with the runner-up, the insider revealed: 'After he left, Soraya said she thought he was a player.' It seems that JoJo did make the right decision however, as she is apparently still very happily engaged to the winner. She likes what she sees: JoJo has also fallen in love with former competitive swimmer Robby, 27 Denying the rumours: Robby has refuted claims that he dumped his girlfriend to appear on the show Former quarterback Jordan, 27, has been a favourite to win the show from night one, when JoJo presented him with the First Impression Rose.cosplay wigs Show secrets: Us Weekly revealed details of the dramatic finale And while on Monday's episode of the show he was seen telling the real estate developer that asking her father's permission to propose would be very important to him, a clip for the finale showed JoJo asking if he is ready to get down on one knee. Both of the finalists have faced rumours about past relationships, with Jordan's ex Brittany Farrar claiming that they broke up because she cheated on him. He denied this to JoJo on the show. The footballer is estranged from his famous NFL star brother Aaron, whose girlfriend Olivia Munn is close pals with Jordan's ex-girlfriend. Aaron finally addressed his younger brother speaking about their fraught relationship on the show during an interview with WISN on Tuesday. 'As far as those kinds of things go, I've always found that it's a little inappropriate to talk publicly about some family matters, so I'm not going to speak on those things,' he said. 'But I wish him well in the competition.' Meanwhile a friend of Robby's ex-girlfriend Hope Higginbotham has claimed that he dumped her in order to go on The Bachelorette, something which he denied during last week's hometown dates. The Bachelorette finale followed by the After The Final Rose special will air on ABC on Monday. She made the right choice: JoJo is apparently still happily engaged to the winner, who popped the question in May. The finale airs on ABC on Monday