Fushimi Inari in Kyoto


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Sakura in Bloom – Cherry Blossoms in Japan


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Impressions from Camera Obscura (Edinburgh)


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Game Review: Star Wars – The Force Unleashed II

I was very impressed by Star Wars – The Force Unleashed, so I was quite looking forward to playing the sequel The Force Unleashed II on my Xbox 360. While it is a good game and is definitely worth playing, it does fall short of expectations – precisely because it is so short.

Without giving much of the plot away (for this game and the previous one), the story follows on from part I. That being said, the scope of the whole game is much smaller and for that reason feels more like a final chapter for part 1. In a way it feels like a DLC and as such would be absolutely perfect. It adds another 4 hours or so to the story. As an add-on for part I perfectly acceptable. As stand-alone game a little weak. The game offers some “Challenges”, but these won’t add much for skilled players (and can be very frustrating for casual players). In my opinion some really good opportunities have been missed, as a Dagobah “dream” sequence could have been absolutely amazing. As it is we only get a cut scene, but no actual game play.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. I would still recommend this game and if you can get your hands on a second-hand copy and you are aware of the short story mode, there should be nothing to stop you from enjoying The Force Unleashed II. The story is very linear and can feel rushed at times. The final boss fight can drag on a bit in comparison, but can only be described as suitably epic. And if you make the “right” decision at the end, you will be rewarded by a lovely ending. I would call it a really satisfying ending for the Force Unleashed series and I’m glad they added it here in part II.

The actual gameplay and the controls have been improved in my opinion. The level-up system is much more straight forward and simple (probably because of the limited options) and because of that I felt more in control. I could vary my attacks without button mashing and actually had a good overview on what the character can do. In general the controls of the Force Unleashed series feel pretty epic and are quite fun.

This is a very short review, but it’s somehow due to the short game time itself. There is not much to say about it other than as long as you are aware of its shortcomings, I would highly recommend this game for fans of Force Unleashed I. I think it doesn’t make much sense to play this part on its own, it should always be seen as a final chapter for part I. Just enjoy it!

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Book Review: The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This is Holmes’ and Watson’s second outing and once again we get all we want from the Baker Street sleuth. Some marvellous deductions, an unexpected backstory and some criminal chasing through the whole city on foot and by boat on the Thames.

The client that appeals to Holmes for help in this second case is Mary Morstan. Her father disappeared some years ago, but for a few years someone keeps sending her valuable pearls, one by one. Now she has received a letter asking her to meet her unknown benefactor. Having no one to call upon, she turns to Sherlock Holmes. He and Watson agree to accompany her. But the strange case soon comes across a murder and the traces go back to an aquaintance Mary’s father must have made when he was serving in India.

As Holmes cases go it certainly involves everything you are looking for – the Baker Street irregulars, a chase, Holmes little quips with the police, an unexpected backstory and fantastic deductions. It is a little weird in places, though, especially concerning the accomplice. I try not to spoil too much of the plot, so I won’t go into details as such. Many cases can be read and enjoyed today without thinking of the time it was written in, but this is certainly a case that would not be published in this way in our age and time. But again – we know these cases were written more than 100 years ago, so some allowance is to be made for different expressions and what was deemed appropriate.

I love the fact that Holmes has his allies everywhere and it helps him move about, gain entry and have eyes and ears everywhere. The Sign of the Four also treats us to Holmes’ first display of his acting skills. He manages to keep up his  disguise and fools Inspector Jones and Watson into believing he is only an old sailor. Another highlight is his climbing around the building, trying to go the same path that the murderer took.

All in all, The Sign of the Four is a standard Holmes case, but it won’t rank among my top 10. Some elements of it are a little far-fetched for my taste and the ending is, despite being a happy occasion for Doctor Watson, quite depressing. It inlcudes everything that a good sleuth story needs, though, and is therefore a good sequel to A Study in Scarlet. I am looking forward to the short story collections now!

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Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh


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Book Review – A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sherlock Holmes stories have been with me for over 10 years and I always enjoy delving back into them. I have never actually read all of them. I did listen to the whole audio book collection, but I do have to admit, that audio books make me so cosy that I tend to drop off at some point… So I have now resolved to finally read all novels and story collections. I can finally properly read my trusty complete collection copy that I bought with one of my best friends on my second visit to London. I’ve read many a story in it, but not all of them – so now is the time!

A Study in Scarlet is the very first Sherlock Holmes story and it is one of the four novels that the author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote with Holmes and Watson as protagonists. It is also the origin story so to speak, as it shows us the first meeting between the two and how it comes to be that they are living together at 221B Baker Street.

Dr John Watson has come back injured from war abroad and is trying to recover his health. He is leading an aimless life and knows he must find cheaper lodgings if he is to stay on top of his finances. Luckily he meets an old aquaintance, who knows another person looking for a fellow lodger to share the rent. They decide to move in together into a pleasant flat in Baker Street. Watson soon discovers the singular habits of his roommate and his on the one hand limited, on the other hand vast and random knowledge. One day Holmes lets Watson in on the secret – he is the only unofficial consulting detective. When the police asks Holmes for help in a case, he takes Watson with him to show him his deductive powers in action. And thus Watson is drawn in the circle of Holmes’ world of crime investigation and adventure…

I really enjoyed this first book. I am probably going to say that about every single one 🙂 Holmes is such an intriguing character. He ranges from vain artist to someone applying cold-hearted reason and logic. He likes to put on a show and outperform the police – yet he does not take credit in the papers, but lets Lestrade and Gregson get all the publicity. He has some mischievous moments, but ultimately he is very likable, because he is so sure of himself and his deductions and he is usually right. He is not modest, but that’s because he has all reason to be proud of his craft and skill. Watson on the other hand is very naive in his observation of the case and his new companion. His sense of wonder, surprise and sometimes disbelief work well with Holmes’ wish to impress. The character dynamics are great and that carries through most of the stories and that is what makes this series work so well in my opinion.

A Study in Scarlet has two parts – one is the investigation in London and one is set in the Wild West. It comes as a bit of a rupture, especially as nothing prepares the reader for the sudden change of scenery. When I first read the story I thought it was a new story and didn’t quite know what was going on. But soon you discover familiar names and you know you are reading about some backstory. In the end all comes well together and it is a great first case.

The first novel A Study in Scarlet sets the tone for all the following Holmes stories. Holmes needs a crime to solve to occupy his mind and he likes to impress with his deductions. Watson, dependable and attentive, is always a little behind and finds it hard to follow Sherlock’s train of thought, unless clearly spelled out for him (and the reader). And yet they form a perfect combination, a dynamic team that has captured the imagination of many a generation. 

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Hiroshima and Miyajima


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Game Review: Kinect Fable – The Journey

Reading reviews of this game before I played it myself, I had mixed feelings about the title. But once I got through the tutorial level and the story kicked off properly, I was definitely hooked. Fable – The Journey makes you become the hero of Albion. And as the journey goes on your abilities grow – and so do you as a Hero.

In this Fable game you are a young Dweller called Gabriel who is on the road with his clan and his trusty companion, his horse Seren. He likes to dawdle behind with his cart and spend time revelling in old fables. One day Gabriel falls too far behind and when he is about to catch up with his people, who are crossing a bridge, lightning strikes and the river becomes impassable. While trying to find a way around, his life becomes entangled with the fate of Albion. He saves the blind Seeress Theresa from an attack of a great Evil – but this is just the beginning. As they journey on together Gabriel must learn to harness the power of Will (magic) and he must learn that the Heroes in fables don’t always have a choice…

The story is very gripping, especially if you know the previous Fable titles as well. There are always nods and references, but never in such a way that you would feel left out if you didn’t know the other games. What makes The Journey so immersive are of course the Kinect controls. You are the controller. You are casting magic spells and driving the cart and opening chests with your own hands. The Kinect controls worked mostly fine for me and you soon get the hang of using your range of abilities. One thing is different to other Kinect games – here you actually sit down, rather than stand up. I think it made sense for the game (you drive the cart sat down for example), but I wouldn’t want all Kinect games to do this. In this case it fitted well.

Once again I want to mention how much I love Lionhead Studios’ Fable-esque storytelling and humour. There are plenty of crazy characters around (the bickering ghostlights, Benny the Magnificent, the cursed soldiers…) and there were plenty of small things that made me smile. I loved the little story beats throughout Albion with the fraudster fortuneteller Benny. It is so worth reading all of the description of the collectible items as well. They are taken from the earlier Fable games and will make you remember many little things like chicken kicking, Chesty, the hunt for Gargoyles and Silver Keys and so forth. That said, there were a few moments in the game that made me well up – they really know how to lead you through a story. Be warned – being a Hero means making sacrifices.

One of the comments I often read is “This is not a Fable game”. I would beg to differ. I see why it doesn’t work as a Fable title for some gamers. You can’t make choices that influence the story and you can’t explore Albion freely. It is basically a “game on rails”, very linear gameplay. It is also not as extensive as the previous games. But I would argue this is a Kinect game, so there isn’t quite the scope for it. I was actually very impressed by the length and depth of the game, considering it’s a Kinect title. For me it was a proper Fable experience, though. The world I was driving through was beautifully designed, as ever. The characters are all slightly bonkers – in the best way possible. The humour is very tongue-in-cheek. And the story works really well for the game – very crafty storytelling. They never claim to revolutionise the “Hero” cliché – they pay tribute to the long tradition and simply enjoy bringing their own fable to life, always drawing on story elements we know and love.

Fable – The Journey is a wonderful incarnation of the Fable series for Kinect. As you learn new skills over the course of the game, it doesn’t get too repetitive – especially as you progress through the story and find new motivation. It’s a fun game, that will make you smile, but you should also prepare for some thoroughly sad moments. A playthrough can take around 3 days of more or less casual gaming and when playing through the other Fable titles again, Fable – The Journey should definitely be part of that series playthrough. A wonderful Kinect game, that lets you experience the journey of a Hero.

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