Friday, March 24, 2017

Mōryō Senki MADARA 2 (SFC) Review

Received: October 15th, 2016 / Written: March 15th-24th, 2017
Year: 1993 | Developed and Published by: Konami | [ ]

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  O.O  Oh, finally, a 16-bit game, I didn't think I'd review another one at this point given my previous three non-16-bit video game reviews.  Oh, happy day!  =D
Image from Wikipedia; Happy 30th Anniversary, manga I never read
In 1987 Kadokawa Shoten published the first in what would be a five-volume manga series called Mōryō Senki MADARA (for the Marukatsu Famicom magazine) written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Shōu Tajima set in medieval Japan about a character named Madara who was reborn with artificial limbs after his evil father Emperor Miroku cut him into eight different pieces out of fear that Madara would live to kill him, for it is his destiny.  This series would end its run in 1997; during this period it would receive its first video game adaptation for the Famicom in March 1990 made by Konami in RPG form (at the time the biggest Nintendo 8-bit game at 4 MegaBits) and would garner two seventy-minute OVAs by Studio Fantasia from March to December 1991.
That eye-catching cover art, oh my God!
After more than three years since the first game Konami would return to the license with the July 1993 release of the 12 MegaBit sequel Mōryō Senki MADARA 2 for the Super Famicom.  Having never played its predecessor I cannot make any comparisons, so I can only judge today's game by its own merits.
The game begins in contemporary 1993 Tokyo, Japan, centering on punk rocker Kamishiro and his journalist girlfriend Subaru, the former of which is the main protagonist throughout the entire game.
Subaru tells him to meet her by the forest after school one day to look into a haunted shrine for a potential scoop.  Once they enter however, they find more than they could bargain for as instead of just finding a crashed chandelier and some very old documents (including some very useful equipment found in chests) it's infested with mutated cats and dogs, and in the basement a butterfly monster they've never seen before, almost as if it came from another world.
After having defeated it the two enter a room in the back where they're encountered by apparitions of Madara and Kirin, who are Kamishiro's and Subaru's ancestors, who reveal to them their destiny and heritage as they're given two artifacts (one for each of them).  Satisfied with her discovery, she decides to head home and write about it.
The next day Kamishiro meets with Subaru again and cross the now completed bridge to the East which was under construction before where they stumble across an ancient temple.  Once in the center of the room it's discovered that the Subaru with him now is a half-woman/half-spider creature in disguise, as the real Subaru has been abducted and taken to the alternate version of medieval Japan.  After being reduced to fight the two creatures with his kicks after his newfound sword is snatched away from him momentarily,
Kamishiro is met by a divine goddess who tells him what's going on and will give him a chance to save Subaru, help reclaim Madara's body parts, and defeat Emperor Miroku by transporting him to the alternate realm where creatures of Japanese folklore and mythology also reside.
As he's being transported Kamishiro sees a very imposing being lingering in the shadows.  Could this be Miroku?  Once that's done however, he's transported and
Which apparently is enough to brighten his skin tone a bit...
is given a wardrobe change by one of the first people he meets here to blend in with the alternate reality/time period (as ripped jeans and a wrinkled sweater would not cut it).  His adventure has now truly begun.

Let us commence this grand adventure
Mōryō Senki MADARA 2 is a turn-based RPG viewed from a bird's eye perspective as you take control of Kamishiro who throughout the course of the adventure will add vital characters good at combat to his party.  When you start a new file you can either input your own name or retain Kamishiro's name by confirming the name despite there being nothing and you can also change the dialogue pace if you so choose (even when selecting the options tab in the menu, but personally I just leave it in default).  Also there to adjust if you don't like the default settings is an options tab where you can see what the specific functions in your controller can accomplish.

Well, those are some dead-looking sheep what with
their lack of animation of any kind...
With the A button you can confirm or select something, with the B button you can reject or cancel out something, the menu during the overworld can be accessed via the X button, and relegated to the left shoulder button is the ability speed up your walking pace.  That's right, you can actually go faster if you don't want to walk at a normal pace which I highly approve of; makes both backtracking and getting to your destination a very painless process.  =)  However, being a turn-based RPG made during the early part of the Nintendo 16-bit console's lifespan there will of course be random enemy encounters (except for bosses of course, but that's a given in the genre).

Ugh, I hate bugs, including mutated ones!
Onto the battles, and this is the most fascinating part in the gameplay aspect: instead of always starting at the same position, the characters' and enemies' placement is always scattered and random.  Another cool thing about the battles is that it all happens automatically in real time!  How many other turn-based RPGs do you know of that actually did what Mōryō Senki MADARA 2 did?  That's not to say that you won't be able to access the menu during any point of the battle, you will at the press of a button when it's the enemies' turn which pauses the action until you resume battle.

Exhilarating interior exploration at play
When accessing the menu the tabs will be presented in the top row, whether or not you're in the midst of battle.  During the overworld the tabs are as follows from left to right: items, magic, equipment, formation and stats and finally the two differing options; during battle the tabs are resuming battle, magic, items, and the third tab from the right will let you abort battle if you feel that you're overwhelmed or ill-prepared.  After every enemy has been cleared from battle you will garner experience points and money in most battles, and when you reach a specific amount of experience points you will gain a level and get an increase in stats in the process.

The first boss, she's a toughie!
Every now and then you will come across a village or town, a safe haven in the overworld where you can talk with NPCs outside and inside regular houses, rest up (where you have the choice to recuperate all your HP, all of your MP, or both at once) and save your progress in one of four save files at an inn, an item store to purchase items that'll help prolong your survival, a weapons store to purchase more potent equipment and sell the old ones you don't need anymore (if they can sold in the first place, more on that later), a healing place to relieve any member of your party from a specific ailment (or if a character is dead, revive them) for a small fee; and in certain villages or towns there are places where you can increase your stats and strength for a fee, as well as a blacksmith place in a handful of areas.  There are two different ways of learning magic: you must either find small learning places scattered in the overworld or you could learn in it a stat house for a fee (provided the character can do it and is at a proper level).

Attack of the feline kind
The visuals in Mōryō Senki MADARA 2 have got an impressive painterly look and feel to it in terms of detail, with a really well-chosen color palette going for it to complement the respective scenery.  When the game begins in 1993 Tokyo it's very modern-looking with the gray streets and occasional color to it, but the moment Kamishiro is transported to medieval Japan everything takes on a whole new aesthetic with the grass, trees, foliage, water, mountains, snow, hills, passes, and pavement in the road; it's all very wonderful stuff, and the villages have got an inviting feel to them.  =)  As was the case with Drakkhen and Breath of Fire when time passes in the overworld it starts to change from day to night and from night to day which adds a great sense of atmosphere, only in this case it's like you're literally going through seasons; Spring signified by the very bright green hues, Summer as represented with a dark shade of green, pale orange for Fall, and an appropriate light gray for Winter.  Just to clarify, this RPG does not transpire in the span of years, but the changing overworld color scheme sure gives you that impression.

Visiting the mermaid realm
The transition sequence that occurs when partaking in a battle is a cool one as the moment it's initiated the screen will stretch both up and down as it fades to black, followed by the enemy types emerging from shadow in the center rushing towards you with their stationary pose via seamless Mode 7 scaling effects until it suddenly cuts to the battlefield with everyone in their position; it's a very fresh way of alerting you of what you're up against in the genre, though when it comes to the bosses it feels genuinely imposing and disconcerting as they tower over the main characters in the long run (especially some of the really big ones).  I do like the third person perspective of the battle fields with the way the gradient goes from bright in the bottom to dark shadow at the top, and the sense of detail for each respective area is fantastic.

Some examples of these battle fields are the rocky passes with their rocky infrastructure when you're in a pass, when battle is initiated on the grass I do love the gradient usage of the color green from light to dark, when on a road or path the grass is minimalized to either side, when partaking in battle inside a forest there is a wonderful atmospheric feel to it as the central floor is green (with the foliage above) but the background is dark with shining stars, when battle is happening in the snow it transpires on top of frozen ice, the battle field that take place indoors all vary, and the background for when you confront Emperor Miroku is eye-popping in a flashy way but I do love how the characters constantly flow up and down as if it were an undulating wave-like effect.  I haven't even talked about the indoor areas yet: each of them have got a good sense of décor with the bricked walls and elegantly patterned floors, some might be palette swapped later on, while in a few cases you might be entering an architecture completely in ruins.
When it comes to certain caves the walls are dark or black but you can still see the floor (colors may vary), sometimes there'll be water or lava in there to add some color to that area.  When entering the final overworld there is a surreal, dreamlike quality to it before facing the last few bosses.

This spell sure is electrifying, am I right?
The character designs and animations are really good as they move in a solid manner when it comes to the overworld, turned into something more fluid when you speed up the characters' walking speed; you could make the argument that they're a bit small compared to everything else, but I don't mind that in the slightest because they feel like they belong in the same scenery (which is probably attributed to the lack of actual outlines, which I think was a smart move on Konami's part).  During battle their moving and weapon using and item/magic utilizing animations are swift but effectively done, also I like the designs when it comes to their profiles and how they change when they're either afflicted by a particular ailment or low on health, sustain damage (with their head briefly shaking from the impact), and when they're completely knocked out with their eyes closed.  The prologue and epilogue sequences have got wonderfully designed cutscenes made all the more effective by the good sense of lighting and shading and are great to watch.  =)

Stop that ritualist before he unleashes chaos
to this entire region!
The enemies in Mōryō Senki MADARA 2 are based in part from Japanese mythology and folklore, with plenty of designs having a creative albeit unusual look to them (and at times can be off-putting, like the mutated dogs that literally open up half their body as if they were mouths).  Some enemies that come to mind are a rhinoceros/fish hybrid (my favorite enemy design, with scales and fins on its body and everything), carnivorous plants, half-woman/half-spider creatures that attack you by jabbing its knife-sharp legs at you, flaming heads, and a few variants of cyclopic creatures to name some of the many kinds that you will fight; they animate well too as most of them do express incredulity to being damaged by one of the main characters but in a very subtle and not pronounced fashion (some of them do get palette swapped as you progress but their differing strength and potency is quick enough to discern).  The bosses are huge and tower over the main characters; some of them are oversized humans consumed by evil but mainly you end up fighting imposing monsters, and they are well-designed and animated ones at that; and when the enemies bite the dust they disintegrate in a rainbow-like fashion, plus whenever any of the main characters or the last enemy in a battle or boss lose all their health they get knocked back up in slow dramatic fashion until they fall back on the ground at normal speed (very intensifying when that happens).

Safe haven in the oasis
Mōryō Senki MADARA 2's soundtrack is absolutely breathtaking and one of the many crowning achievements of this turn-based RPG!  =D  Composed by Tappi Iwase, Miki Yanagisawa, Hirofumi Taniguchi, and Aki Hata, their music singlehandedly lends it a proper sense of tone and atmosphere which brings this game's world to life all the while incorporating a graceful touch of Japanese culture to the proceedings; you'd think with the way that it's composed that they also worked on the Ganbare Goemon games (another Konami property that fully embraces the Japanese culture) but surprisingly that's not so.  For all four of these people it was one of the very first video game music endeavors, and considering three of the composers' previous work comprising of Contra Spirits/Contra III: The Alien Wars/Super Probotector: Alien Rebels (Iwase, Yanagisawa, Taniguchi) and around the same time Hata's involvement in Rocket Knight Adventures' sound department that just shows what incredible musical range they had so early in their career, and as far as I'm concerned they've done a magnificent job all around for it's honestly one of the best Nintendo 16-bit RPG soundtracks I've heard.  =)

Carnivorous plants, a dangerous species
Right from the get-go after the classic pre-2003 Konami logo and jingle appear onscreen your ears are in for an incredible treat with the prologue setting the tone for the adventure you're about to start.  When Kamishiro and Subaru first get together (and when inside Kamishiro's home) there is a very pleasant piano melody with a nice aura to it, and the contemporary 1993 Tokyo theme played during its overworld is awesome in its epic flair accompanied by the piano and occasional jazz instrumentation.  That said, it doesn't take very long before the soundtrack veers into mysticism and deep-rooted Japanese flavor; and when it's time for the divine goddess to take Kamishiro to alternate realm/medieval Japan there is there is a mysteriously atmospheric yet inviting theme that gets followed up shortly thereafter by one of the most comforting cues out there with the high level of instrumentation going on (this happens during a rare moment when the dialogue automatically plays, likely to time it perfectly with the song).

It's very hot in the desert
The main alternate realm/medieval Japan overworld theme is adventurous-sounding, and the very first village theme is composed in a calm and a quiet manner as it eases you in to the realm that you're now traversing.  Each time you go to a vastly new portion of medieval Japan there are different village themes (like the soul soothing theme first heard in the oasis village and the theme for the village in the Northern region with that beautifully atmospheric piano-driven melody), and when it comes to certain architectures or caves their respective themes can be on the atmospherically ominous side of things.  From the Northern region onward with all the snow it has got a cool-sounding and catchy overworld theme that kicks things up a notch as it adds a sense of urgency to the proceedings (too bad it's only heard until you clear a pivotal point in the game), and when it comes to taking an underground path to a certain boss there is a cool beatbox/orchestra hybrid.  Some songs later on in the game are so surreal like the village theme taking place inside a secret cave and the final overworld theme on the way to face the last few bosses, the latter especially being an extended and quite haunting version of the party fallen cue when all your characters lost their health in battle.  I love the immersive atmospheric quality of Mōryō Senki MADARA 2's music as it really captures the appropriate settings.  =)

If there's an issue I do have with the music it's that any time you leave battle (whether you won or aborted from one) then it starts over again, which is a shame because many of the songs are quite long and can only really be heard all the way in-game if you stay still or browse your menu.  It would've been nice if like SquareSoft's Final Fantasy Mystic Quest before it the music would resume from where it left off any time you got out of battle as opposed to starting all over, being one of the earliest turn-based RPGs to do so; I mean obviously not all games are going to follow suit right away but during the Nintendo 16-bit era the only turn-based RPGs that actually did that were mainly Square fare after the fact (the only exceptions I'm aware of are Emerald Dragon and Tengai Makyō Zero).  *sigh*  <=(

Fight against a dark sorcerer
Speaking of battles, I haven't even touched upon their themes yet for there are four different battle themes, three of them being relegated to the bosses.  While the main battle theme is usually the weakest song when it comes to the genre (some exceptions notwithstanding, like the aforementioned Final Fantasy Mystic Quest), I'm glad to say that there is not a single weak song in the bunch as it too is really great for it's got a great sense of instrumentation and riveting string work thrown into the mix; when the boss theme kicks in you know you're in for a real challenge as it's got an ominously dark and threatening vibe to it that at times can sound scary (if the battle's not going your way or if a good chunk of a character's health is taken out at once); the penultimate boss theme is darker and organ-driven; and finally the theme that plays when battling Emperor Miroku is supercharged with a do or die tone to it.  The piano-driven melody during the epilogue is beautiful, and the credits theme is so rewarding to listen to when all is said and done.  =)  I highly recommend you give it a listen, it is extraordinarily incredible; some of it might get lost without the proper visual accompaniment, but the soundtrack's high quality cannot be understated.  I also really like the authenticity of the sound effects that are used when it comes to swords, arrows, and magic, as well as dripping water inside certain caves and the rushing wind in some moments, not to mention the sounds for when you open a door and when you open a chest (and the jingling sound effect for when you obtain an item is neat).

Let's go save Kamishiro's ancestor!
Mōryō Senki MADARA 2 was the first Nintendo 16-bit foray to the Mōryō Senki MADARA series but also the last license made by Konami as there would be two other games done by different developers.  On September 1993 Kogado Studio's Mōryō Senki MADARA: Daikongō Rinhen arrived on the NEC PC-9821 computer, while the second and final Nintendo 16-bit outing of the series wouldn't arrive on the Super Famicom until January 1996 with the RPG Yōchien Senki MADARA, developed by Polystar and the last Super Famicom game published by Datam Polystar (that's a fascinating change, going from Konami to Datam Polystar), which from what I gathered apparently translates to "Madara Kindergarten Saga"--I'm not sure how to feel about that--and that it entails the use of the mouse controller.  Oh, the mouse controller, the one thing I need to play Mario & Wario whenever I decide to import it, but that's for another time.

All right, who let the Minotaur out of his labyrinth?
I remember first finding out about this game in 2014 when I saw it listed on a list of games that Konami made for the Nintendo 16-bit console on Wikipedia, so being curious after seeing its page I saw a gameplay video of it on YouTube by Vysethedetermined2 (where I also found out about games like Xak: The Art of Visual Stage and Ruin Arm), and from what footage was shown I was intrigued and wanted to give it a try but I wouldn't actually get around to importing it until October 2016 (alongside Crystal Beans From Dungeon Explorer).  I will always remember Mōryō Senki MADARA 2 and Crystal Beans as the quickest a game I ordered from eBay has been delivered as I recall the estimated arrival date saying it would arrive in a week's time; imagine my surprise when both arrived only two days after I made the order.  O.O  Two days, when does that happen?  Not that I'm complaining, I'm glad they arrived a lot earlier than promised... and of the two I genuinely enjoyed Konami's RPG the most.  =)

*insert ambient dripping water sounds here*
This game immediately grabbed me pretty much the moment I started and it was at this point that I knew that I was in for something great.  It's fascinating how it begins in present day where it's pretty much grounded in reality for a short period but the moment you face the butterfly creature in the basement, Kamishiro and Subaru discover that they're the descendants of Madara and Kirin, and the moment Kamishiro is transported to the alternate realm/medieval Japan throughout the majority of the experience with all these creatures of folklore and mythology Mōryō Senki MADARA 2 becomes a high fantasy adventure imbued in Japanese culture.  It's really immersive and atmospheric stuff, but that's just the icing on the cake.

Oh no, someone's set the village on fire!  <=O
I love exploring the lands in this game and seeing this world expand as I manage to access places I could not reach before, and it's rather refreshing to see the characters and enemies actually move around in the battlefield as opposed to just attacking while staying in position.  Despite the dialogue being written in just kanji I for the most part could follow it just fine (and in the handful of moments when I was stuck during my first playthrough I looked up a guide on GameFAQs); for the most part Mōryō Senki MADARA 2 is a pretty linear game in terms of where you have to go but there is a moment during the middle where you could go to certain places in any order you'd like (provided your characters are at a sufficient level; also, if you wanted to find certain magic schools you could always roam around) until you cross over to the Northern region.
When you cross over to the Northern region there is a nomadic village that shifts location depending on the current season it is which keeps things exciting but is easy to remember where it is once you memorize the rotation pattern.

The aforementioned mid-portion does give this game a semblance of replay value, and what also adds to the replay value is who you get to replace (momentarily) any time you agree to let someone join your party since Kamishiro can only have up to three partners at a time, and if you wanted to recruit one of the previous people who you joined previously again you'd have to do it at a village that had a pub in it.  Before you recruit the new party member however make sure you unequip the character you're going to replace... you never know if some of their old equipment might increase the new member's offensive and/or defensive stats or not.

Confrontation time
When it comes to equipping your characters you can either do so at your own time or have it done at the item and/or weapons store (luckily this is one of those RPGs in case you're uncertain).  Any time you select a specific piece of equipment it'll show two numbers: the current stat and the stat it would become once you equip it (whether it be lower, higher, or unaltered), and naturally you want to equip the one with the higher flashing numbers.  There is a catch though: from the middle onward you'll find peculiar equipment inside chests which will affect your character gravely (i.e. you can't unequip them manually) to the point where you can only remove the cursed equipment at a healing house with the manji symbol on it at a village, and to make matters inconvenient you cannot sell them.  So any time you find new equipment that has not been bought, see if they have a selling price at a store before you proceed to use them.

Treading on thin ice here
When it comes to all your characters being knocked out in battle in RPGs usually one of two things will happen: either you'll be brought back to the title screen and have to pick up from your last saving spot or you'll be brought back to the last spot you saved where you can keep everything you found since then, the latter usually resulting in losing half the money you had by the time you got knocked out.  In Mōryō Senki MADARA 2's case you actually keep all the money, and there's a reason for this: the equipment here is very expensive (to the point where it's five whole digits' worth of Z, this game's currency).  The way to earn money is by finding a certain amount inside chests, selling equipment that is no longer useful to you, and battling tons of monsters; basically the goal isn't simply to level grind (though that's also vital to prolong your characters' survival) but largely to money farm which I honestly don't mind most of the time as the battle music is catchy and that victory fanfare when you win is awesome.  =)
And did I mention how great a design concept the rhinoceros/fish hybrid is?

Oooh, neon!  Nice!
Among the many previous qualities I brought up there are two things in particular that make this a very great and bearable game for me: one is that the characters replenish their health with each step they take whenever in the overworld (until a random battle ensues), which saves you from using HP potions or magic which are reserved for when exploring dungeons (MP can only be replenished by taking MP potions or by resting at an inn).  Another element that majorly benefits this RPG is the choice to alternate between normal walking speed and sped up walking speed which I highly appreciate very much; this precedes fellow Nintendo 16-bit turn-based RPGs Slapstick/Robotrek, Chrono TriggerTengai Makyō Zero, and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, all of which enabled you to go at a faster pace if you didn't wish to go at a normal speed.  The default walking pace is fine here, but more often than not I just hold down the left shoulder button to go faster (it also makes going through the most labyrinthine maze-like dungeons in the end all the more bearable than if you were reduced to walking at a slow pace per step).  =)  Thanks, Konami!

Oooh, that stings!
The battles either start with a character or an enemy, and it's always random who gets their attack next (in some cases two turns in a row); and when it comes to the boss fights there's a huge sense of relief as they bite the dust (that dramatic, slow knockback is effective).  Where Mōryō Senki MADARA 2 begins to be truly good is this impactful moment where after the battle with the ritualist the monster he summoned appears and suddenly destroys an entire region with nothing but the rushing wind in the background and houses in ruin; this is heavy stuff as the stakes have just gone higher, in that not only do you have to contend with Emperor Miroku but also have to find another way to reach the back of the castle (since it's in ruins with holes and gaps) to face the now cocooned creature before it causes the same destruction to the other regions.  It was good before but from that moment it got even better due the sense of urgency and the high stakes.
So there are two main villains that you have to worry about but in the event that there is a tertiary villain (sort of) there is a mystical rabbit character who pops up every now and again who normally has specific creatures fight for him, and any time he pops up there is a mischievous-sounding theme playing to let you know that he's not far behind.  Before heading to the final overworld where Emperor Miroku resides you get a chance to fight him... pretty strong for a diminutive, anthropomorphized bunny rabbit, heheh.

Flame on
If I have any qualms with this game they are few and far between: in battle when one of the four characters is in need of more health naturally what you want to do is heal them with either magic or a potion, and if you selected one of the options during battle and an enemy took out even more damage to the point that a character is dangerously low on health before you got a chance to heal them not only will it automatically pause the battle as it alerts you but the worst thing that could happen is that you might wind up accidentally wasting a potion or a specific MP amount (as for how much HP or MP you actually get back when you heal up or use a potion the amount is random).  The dungeon designs are well thought-out and good, but when it comes to the most labyrinthine dungeons near the end there are random battles that at times can be a bit much to the point where you have to backtrack to the overworld until you're ready to press on (I find it best to save the attack magic for the most demanding of bosses).  I do kinda wish Konami put in a time clock to let me know how long I've been playing it (the first time I beat it Kamishiro was at Level 73 or 74 while in my most recent playthrough Kamishiro was one Level shy of 80), but I really can't complain too much when the game's strengths far outweigh its handful of weaknesses and the experience as a whole is a ton of fun.

It all ends here
While Konami largely crafted action-oriented platformers and shoot'ems (not to mention cute'em ups) for the Nintendo 16-bit console Mōryō Senki MADARA 2 is unique in that it's the only RPG they made for the system (they would go on to create the Suikoden RPG series for the PlayStation consoles after this game) and personally I was impressed with how they tackled this popular genre (especially in comparison to SquareSoft and Capcom).  It's a shame it never hit American shores at the time or since, but with the manga source material and most things pertaining to it being Japan-only its chances of localization were rather slim (thank God I can import SFC games from Japan).  As someone loves and appreciates the RPG genre when it comes to this console I applaud Konami's efforts and if you're not scared off by things like language barrieritis (if you live in America or Europe or don't know how to read Japanese) then I highly recommend it.  =)

But without Konami's involvement
My Personal Score: 8.5/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. Well that took longer than expected, but at least I managed to talk about this obscure game.
P.S. 2 Two weeks ago I saw Kong: Skull Island in theatres, the second in Legendary's MonsterVerse series after Gareth Edwards' polarizing 2014 Godzilla movie, and I enjoyed it very much.  =)  Its pacing was quick, it was bursting with color, the cinematography was stunning (that shot of Kong standing right in front of the Sun, as a giant shadow, with all the helicopters heading towards it, chills), Kong had a reasonable amount of screen time, the action was very fun and intense, many of the characters were interesting (the ensemble cast attributes to this), and it maintained my interest throughout.  Better than Edwards' slow and plodding, humorless, po-faced serious, darkly shot, cut to aftermath the moment Godzilla shows up until the third act movie that lacked compelling human characters (except Bryan Cranston who was fully realized and interesting, but he doesn't make it past the first act which is very upsetting because he was one of the highlights in it and his absence is keenly felt afterward).  But for all the misgivings I have with the earlier movie, I do look forward to Kong and Godzilla duking it out against each other in 2020 (my bet's on Kong). 
P.S. 3 Last weekend my sister and I went to the theatres to watch Bill Condon's live action take on Disney's 1991 animated classic Beauty and the Beast.  Truth be told I considered rewatching the original in preparation for this version but I didn't; I knew that it wasn't going to beat the original in terms of quality and impact (it was the first animated movie to be nominated for "Best Film" more than a decade before the "Best Animated Film" category came into being), but on its own terms I thought the 2017 live action version to be really good.  =)  It was like the animated classic but with three-quarters of an hour's worth of expansion which I didn't mind (even if it does clock in at over two hours total), I liked the set designs and cinematography and when it burst into color during key moments, it was fascinating to listen to the classic songs in live action format and the new songs aren't bad ("Evermore" springs to mind), and I felt that the cast did a good job.  Regarding Josh Gad's interpretation of LeFou being supposedly "gay", it was such a minor thing and did not take me out of the film at all; that's my two cents on that overblown controversy.
P.S. 4 Last night (3/23/17) I saw Daniel Espinosa's Life in theatres which I was curious to watch after seeing the trailer.  I went in with an open mind (never having seen any of the director's previous movies) and thought it was largely a very good and at times suspenseful movie--yeah it's essentially Alien with shades of Gravity thrown in but I wasn't bothered too much by that because I was sold on the performances and gorgeous cinematography (the scene where we're introduced to the crew to the point where they catch the alien-containing space probe is one long uninterrupted take, and I'm a sucker for long takes), and I don't know what it says when I thought the first victim's death was genuinely disturbing and stomach-churning to watch than all the violence and gore in Logan (but then that was an R-rated Western-flavored comic book movie, this is an R-rated movie set in space with zero gravity... one where you could somehow close off hatches at Earth-like speed...).  The movie was 103 minutes but it certainly didn't feel like it, and while I liked it overall (I can see why it's getting a mixed reception, it's not for everyone) the resolution was rather downbeat (and the implications to the way it ends: absolutely horrifying).

Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment (spam will not be tolerated) and let me know what you think; hope you have a great day, take care!  =D