Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is leaning hard on Ghost Rider joining in Season 4 as a hook to get people watching the show, so it makes sense that Gabriel Luna’s take on Robbie Reyes would be introduced right at the beginning of the premiere, “The Ghost.” It was the right choice not to force viewers to wait to see the fiery Marvel superhero, and he proved to be the best part of SHIELD’s return.  As always with new beginnings on this show, the status quo has radically shifted. The last few moments of season 3 jumped ahead six months and gave us a quick look at where the characters had ended up in the wake of Hydra’s final defeat, but now we know for sure.

The difference made by shifting Agents of SHIELD back to a 10 p.m. time slot came across most notably through the Ghost Rider story arc; there’s a whole lot more blood this season, and a generally darker aesthetic. Thinking back to the Season 1 premiere (which was in an 8 p.m. time slot), it’s clear how Agents of SHIELD has matured over the years, and given the success of the darker Marvel shows over at Netflix, it’s a smart move for ABC’s series to be more tonally similar. It also helps that Ghost Rider looks great.

A lot has changed after the time jump that ended Season 3, and not all of it for the better. Fitz is now keeping lies from Simmons, the team is split up, Coulson is no longer Director of SHIELD and the person who replaced him doesn’t have a lot of love in his heart for the ragtag bunch that came before him. Then there’s Daisy, who is so determined to not lose another person close to her that she is still evading Coulson’s attempts to bring her in, and has become a bit of a vigilante in the process.

Things have changed for Phil Coulson and Mack, too. The one-time directors of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been demoted to field agents over the time jump. We find them out on assignment in the Zephyr One, killing time between assignments by playing backgammon and grumbling about the new management (“everything is classified nowadays”). Suddenly, they get orders to fly back to base, which confuses them because they’re not due to refuel for a while. Coulson’s excited to see the old team again, though, especially May (Ming-Na Wen).

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Cut to May, who’s sparring with the members of her elite strike force as the Zephyr One lands. Thanks to her contacts in law enforcement, she’s able to fill Coulson and Mack in on the grisly details of the Ghost Rider murders (apparently, one unfortunate goon got his spine ripped out). But the reason she had them come back to base personally was so she could tell them that Daisy might be involved — and in this new post-Sokovia Accords world where Daisy’s considered a dangerous fugitive, she didn’t exactly want to send that info over the wire. If they pursue, they might be able to catch up with her before she gets into deeper trouble. Then again, it might be too late for that. Daisy’s already breaking into a hospital to interrogate a survivor of the Ghost Rider attack. He helpfully informs her that Ghost Rider’s flames don’t just burn flesh and bone — they burn your soul. Apparently those soul burns were too much for a sinner like him and he expires, forcing Daisy to pursue other leads.

The Ghost Rider that most people are familiar with is Johnny Blaze, whether that’s through the many Ghost Rider comics or Nic Cage’s portrayal of the character across two live-action movies. So when you think of “Ghost Rider is coming to Agents of SHIELD,” you might wonder why he’s not tooling around on his classic bike or why the character is suddenly tearing up the streets of Los Angeles in a souped-up hot rod.

Agents of SHIELD’s Ghost Rider is actually the fourth person to take on the mantle (fifth, if you count the original supernatural cowboy that first appeared in the ‘60s, who had his name changed to “The Phantom Rider” after Johnny’s introduction), Roberto “Robbie” Reyes. Robbie is the most recent and freshest version of the character, having only first appeared in 2014—his series, All-New Ghost Rider by Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore, lasted just 12 issues.

Johnny’s power comes from Marvel’s equivalent of Satan, Mephisto, merging the young man’s soul with a demon named Zarathos, after the two made a deal for the life of Johnny’s adoptive father that went awry (Mephisto, of course, is famous for being the vehicle with which Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s marriage was erased in the infamous One More Daystoryline). Zarathos was a spirit of vengeance, causing Johnny to turn into the Ghost Rider in the presence of evil, compelled to hunt it down and destroy it.

Robbie, on the other hand, was resurrected by a spirit named Eli—an altogether more nefarious supernatural entity who pretended to be a spirit like Zarathos, but was actually the soul of a Satanist serial killer using Robbie to get back into the physical realm and continue to kill. While Johnny and Zarathos had a slightly more amicable relationship (as much as one can with a demon linked to your soul), Eli is a potent and sinister force that Robbie has to learn to keep suppressed, after making a deal with it that they would only take the lives of truly evil people. So expectSHIELD’s Robbie to maybe get a little bit nasty every once in a while.

In terms of the tone of the show, the darkness works for Ghost Rider, but there are some definite growing pains as the other facets of the experiment with the time slot freedom as well. The increase in blood and violence was a little jarring after three seasons of comparatively less intense action, but it did feel true to the direction SHIELD is headed in. What didn’t fit as well were the close up shots of Daisy getting dressed; these pants-come-up, shirt-comes-on sequences are familiar ways to add sexuality into TV shows and movies, but SHIELD has already done a great job establishing Daisy as a sexy character without needing to depict it in this unsubtle way. Hopefully the inclusion of more overt sexuality in the show feels a bit more organic to the show as it continues to explore the new territory of the 10 p.m. hour this season.

Yes, the Grand Kingdom (PS4 & PS Vita) North American release date was June 28th, 2016. Today is September 23rd.

Late much?

But hear me out. There’s a reason why I’ve waited almost three months to write this review and all will be revealed in time.

 

GRAND KINGDOM OVERVIEW

grand kingdom nations
Grand Kingdom’s four nations: Landerth (blue), Fiel (green), Valkyr (red), and Magion (coloured purple, but actually yellow)

Yes, we HAVE to go through these to get some conventional context.

Grand Kingdom is a tactical RPG set in a fictional island where four nations are vying for dominance. It definitely crafts its own voice but to give better imagery of the game’s overall feel, Grand Kingdom borrows elements from Tactics Ogre, Brigandine, Dragon’s Crown, and Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth.

 

 

 

VISUALS

grand-kingdom-battle

The Grand Kingdom visuals are straight out of Dragon’s Crown. All the sprites are animated and the platform (in battle) is reminiscent of a SNES side-scroller Beat ‘Em Up.

The only part where GK might deviate from DC would be in the accentuation of female protrusions, which is a good thing.

 

 

Exhibit A:

grand-kingdom-sorceress
Dragon’s Crown Sorceress

Seriously, I don’t need bowling ball boobs shoved in my face all the time.

 

MUSIC

The music does its job.

I’m not going to go on a tangential rant discussing the potential Germanic Nouveau-Riche attributes of the soundtrack and how it compares with the Post-Modern Beat scene.

The music. Does. Its job.

And by that, I mean the music captures well the militaristic-yet-animated feel of the game’s setting. You wouldn’t necessarily notice it’s there (which means it’s done its job in not detracting you from the gaming experience) but it’s still poignant enough if and when you do.

Go here to check some samples. #23, Away From Prying Eyes, is my favourite.

 

GAMEPLAY

Cripes, this will be a nightmare to explain.

There are three facets to the Grand Kingdom gameplay. You play the role of a captain of a mercenary troupe and it’s your job to hire, train, and dispatch soldiers (of which there are a total of 17 classes) into one of three options:

grand kingdom parade
The 17 classes: Fighter, Dragon Mage, Rogue, Medic, Lancer, Challenger, Witch, Gunner, Hunter, Shaman, Noble, Blacksmith, Arcanist, Valkyrie, Dark Knight, Archer, Paladin
  • Campaign—essentially a one-player mode that explores the story behind the island’s perpetual war.
  • Quest—a mode where you take a troop of four soldiers to traverse a region—gameboard style—with the goal of fulfilling specific objectives for a nation or to collect much needed resources for item crafting.
  • War—an online-only feature where you can show other players the prowess of your mercenary troop. Bearing the flag of the nation with whom you’ve contracted, you (and all other human players) fight for supremacy over several regions in REAL TIME. At the end of 24 hours, should you and your nation succeed in occupying a region, you reap some very nice rewards.

There are other RPG elements such as conducting a war strategy with other human players (via a democratic voting system), crafting weapons and equipment via the town blacksmith, grinding and leveling your soldiers to attain their potential, and gathering enemy troop information…

But at its core, the three aforementioned facets best characterize Grand Kingdom’s gameplay.

 

REPLAYABILITY

And alas, here we are. Grand Kingdom’s strongest feature.

To be completely fair, I haven’t touched the game’s “Campaign Story” quests. With only so much time in the day, I’d rather spend the one or two hours I do spend playing on the “War” mode.

Why?

It’s the game mode that provides the most USEFUL tangible rewards, the most experience for your soldiers, and a sense of community that it would keep you wanting to achieve more and more.

grand kingdom fiel domination
Fiel dominates and conquers all 12 territories.

It is easiest to grind soldiers via the “War” mode and—based on community discourse—it is also where players feel the most communal pride. People love being part of a team as it motivates players to extend their gaming experience beyond a solitary one.

As one can see in this video, Fiel (one of the four nations) players have successfully organized outside of the game and achieved a 12 territory victory on September 18th-19th. I can proudly say I played a part (albeit small) in it.

 

REWARDS

Let’s face it—a lot of the rewards the game offers are worthless. “Quest” mode rewards offer mostly potions, offensive world items, and morale boosters but these are all procurable at the shop.

“War” is the only mode where players can sustainably farm the BEST rewards: “Tomes” or “Scrolls”.

Why are these important?

To answer this question adequately, some further game context is necessary.

When hiring, only a limited amount of soldiers are available every time you pull up the tavern screen. Each potential soldier comes with a randomly rolled set of stats, with a grade in each ranging from F (the worst) to S (the best). Naturally, “S” stats are rare to come by.

grand kingdom tavern
Too many “F”s. NEXT!!

This tavern does not refresh a new set of candidates until after you’ve completed a) a quest or b) a war region.

So you see, one cannot just exit and re-enter the tavern immediately to see if the class you’re looking for finally rolled some great stats.

Tomes and Scrolls allow the player to upgrade their soldiers’ stats. Scrolls boost stats one level up and can be used every time the soldier hits level 20 while Tomes boost stats two levels and are usable when the soldier hits level 30.

Upon usage, Tomes and Scrolls revert the soldier back to level 1 but the player may rinse, repeat, and recycle as needed to show off the training progress of their troops!

 

GRAND KINGDOM’S GRAND VERDICT

Whew. Now do you see why explaining the game would be a nightmare?

Going into it, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of mechanics that goes on into how the game is played…

…but the overall experience is far from it.

The replay value is designed to sustain your interest. What better way to do so to get you to grind to your heart’s content?

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As one may point out by my all-female army, the BattleSistrs (not enough characters), I am motivated to train them to be the best they can be and EMAS-CASTRATE all opposition!

Huehuehuehuehue! (Yes, I have problems)

And brownie points to those that can name the source materials from which my amazons are derived.

the_flash_72003You might or might not know that the Season 2 finale of the Flash ended with Barry making an extremely fateful decision – namely re-writing history by choosing to save his parents from the Reverse Flash. What Barry didn’t take into account – or perhaps he did, and just didn’t care – is the impact of this decision on his timestream.  It might seem strange to be looking down the road when it comes to The Flash, since the CW TV series has kept a frightening pace since the very first episode. While other comic book shows and films tend to only tease their big bads early on, beginning their heroes’ crimefighting careers with lesser foes, the first half of The Flash‘s season saw the character’s most iconic villains introduced and regularly appearing – in the case of the Reverse-Flash, with an even more devious twist than usual.

WHAT WOULD YOU SACRIFICE TO HAVE EVERYTHING YOU’VE EVER WANTED? — Barry (Grant Gustin) is living his dream life – his parents are alive, he’s asked Iris West (Candice Patton) on a date and he can finally be a normal guy as Central City has another speedster, Kid Flash (Keiynan Lonsdale), running around saving the city. When Barry starts forgetting parts of his old life, the Reverse Flash (guest star Matt Letscher) taunts his nemesis and tells him that there will be serious repercussions for Barry and the ones he loves if he continues to live in this alternate universe. In addition to losing his memories, his powers will also start to fade. When disaster strikes, Barry must decide if he wants to continue to live in this world as Barry Allen or return to his universe as The Flash. Jesse Warn directed the episode with story by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg and teleplay by Brooke Roberts.

The “Flashpoint” comic series – a major crossover story arc in the comics – will be influencing upcoming events on the show and it sounds like the premiere is going to deal with what’s next for Barry as he’s forced to decide between this new world and his old one. Of course, it’s no secret that this status quo won’t last beyond a few episodes, but the Reverse-Flash’s role in things is very interesting, especially as we know that he’ll be a bad guy in the upcoming second season of Legends of Tomorrow.

The past two weeks have been monumental for Esports, particularly in Canada.

August 27-28 saw the League of Legends LCS Summer Split Finals take place at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario.

And just this past weekend, Fan Expo Toronto hosted the Northern Arena LAN Finals for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

These examples and many more highlight the continuously growing Esports phenomenon…

BUT…

What does this mean exactly and why should anyone outside the realm of Esports care?

 

Esports Legitimacy

For starters, Canada can now be legitimized as a viable locale. We can host Esports events or tournaments and kick ass doing so.

Just watch what Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng of Team SoloMid had to say about the Canadian crowd.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhbNZiRkiR0#t=0m34s

Beyond the exposure of our cultural identity, another consequence that emerges is the legitimization of Canada as a source of fandom.

And if history is to be trusted, where fandom exists, booming business opportunities are sure to follow.

First, some context: the League of Legends Summer Grand Finals match raked in a sold out venue of 15,000 fans with 32 million more streaming online.

With demographics like these, small wonder that I was able to find some League of Legends merchandise on the Fan Expo show floor, both official and unlicensed.

But that’s just the small fry.

lol-good-game-bar esports

Local businesses are not just refashioning their business models to account for the rise in Esports but some others have built businesses to cater specifically to the Esports demographic.

 

Ever heard of Good Game Bar?

 

Here—located in Toronto—one can have a non-Bubble Tea, alcoholic drink while comfortably enjoying the live stream of the Evo Grand Finals match. (#notracist)

And all this… this is just the beginning.

 

Social Transformation

A bar streaming Esports matches could mean that Esports is—perhaps above all—a social phenomenon.

Gone are the days when video games were just for the nerds or the closeted gamer. It is for everyone.

lol-otaku-neet

Take the attendance at the LCS League of Legends Final, for example. I expected the image of the socially awkward, physically unfit, otaku-NEET to be the dominant one in attendance but the case was the exact opposite.

Hot, muscular guys weren’t dime a dozen, but I must confess that maybe I’m too much of a socially awkward otaku-NEET (at least, in appearance) to have approached one.

People came in groups of three to seven, with no discrimination in appearance, class, ethnicity, and even age (though the majority would definitely be millennial).

Sure, the female demographic sits at a dismal (but hopeful) 10-15% for Esports overall, but huge strides have transpired in its almost two-decade existence to bring that number to where it is now.

 

A Millennial Venture

That said, Esports is a millennial phenomenon.

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TSM fields teams not just for League of Legends, but also for Hearthstone, Super Smash Brothers, and Counter-Strike: GO.

Starcraft and an innumerable amount of fighting games paved the way for the rise of Esports but arguably, League of Legends solidified its cultural presence.

LoL heavily influenced the creation of an Esports subdivision on TSN, its team organizations were successful enough to branch their brands out to other games (Counter Strike: GO, Smash Brothers, Heroes of Warcraft. Etc.), and even attracted business people outside of the industry to invest their resources into Esports.

 

 

 

 

Did you know that the NA team Echo Fox is owned by ex-pro NBA player, Rick Fox? Or that Susan Tully, the CEO of the European team, H2K Gaming, was also the CFO for Kanye West?

lol-gordon-hayward
Pro NBA player Gordon Hayward, showing his love for League of Legends.

A job in the Esports industry does not just mean that one aspires to be a professional gamer nor does it mean that it is a business just for gamers—as it is, the possibilities for career exploration are endless.

Those with backgrounds in sports casting, TV production, engineering, event organizing, marketing, journalism— and many others—are welcome to shave off the tip and trail blaze into the Esports iceberg.

For the last seven years, Riot Games, the organization behind LoL, did not explore Canada as a pit stop for one of their hugest events. But when it happened two weeks ago at the Summer Split Championship, somehow on a subconscious level, these millennial opportunities became attainable.

As if what was being said was, “This is happening. This world is real. And you are most welcome to jump in.”

So come on, Canada, let’s get more of us out there.

 

O Canada

Gonna be honest—attending the League of Legends Summer Finals Split was one of the best moments of my life.

More than what it showed was possible in the future, it highlighted its massive impact in the now.

lol-wildturtle

When Toronto native Jason “Wildturtle” Tran, the “AD Carry” (a game role in LoL) for team Immortals, walked out into the ACC stadium draped with the Canadian flag…

THE HOUSE ROARED INTO AN EAR-SHATTERING CATERWAUL!

The results were not dissimilar when two more Canadian players—Andy “Smoothie” Ta of Team Cloud 9 and my fellow University of Toronto alumni, Vincent “Biofrost” Wang of Team SoloMid—emerged the following day in the grand final.

The impact wasn’t necessarily about having Canadian representatives in the game but more about having been able to partake in the Canadian collective pride, in the same vein that one might do so in a Blue Jays game or in the Olympics.

For someone who does not care much for traditional athletic sports, being able to finally feel Canadian pride over this newish, video game-based type of sports was…

… and I’ll say it again—it was monumental.

And I don’t think we’re done yet!