The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Battlefield V: The Fourth Tides of War Chapter and a Reflection One Year After The Open Beta

“Recovery begins from the darkest moment.” –John Major

The fourth Tides of War Chapter, Defying the Odds, will likely be consigned to history as one of the more questionable moments during Battlefield V‘s life cycle, being characterised by the introduction of new performance bugs, communications failure regarding the inclusion of new content and the inability to deliver the content that was originally highlighted. When Defying the Odds was announced, the trailer was met with excitement: this trailer possessed all of the characteristics of a proper Battlefield trailer, showing off new maps and new potential weapons, including the Welrod pistol, a suppressed M1911 and the M1 Bazooka. As the fourth chapter wore on, however, performance issues and lag became a problem for players. Only one map was released on time, with the others being delayed as a result of critical bugs or incomplete testing. There was a seven-week gap where no new weapons were released as weekly rewards for completing assignments. Battlefield V looked to be in a very rough spot, and with so   many broken promises littering this chapter, community reception to DICE’s efforts were at an all-time low. However, in the last few weeks of chapter four, DICE managed to push out an update that turned things around. Performance improvements were made, while VP and general manager, Oskar Gabrielson, publicly made an apology regarding the state of the game. With the latest patch, Battlefield V handles smoothly again, and ping is no longer an issue. The final two Tides of War unlocks are weapons that add some variety to the game, and of the maps added to the game, they provide beautiful new environments to play in. In particular, Marita is the star of Defying the Odds, being an infantry-only map set under a swift sunrise in a Greek village along the Kalamas River on the Greek-Albanian border. Battlefield V thus leaves the fourth Tides of War chapter on a slightly more steady footing than it did entering, and at present, expectations are on DICE to make the fifth chapter, on the Pacific Theatre, a success.

While DICE and Battlefield V have languished in the past chapter, constant efforts towards improving the game have left some minor but noticeable changes that bolster the experience. Most important of these improvements are the performance issues: lessening the stutter that resulted from completing assignments and streamlining the ping of servers results in more consistent gameplay. When ping is high, shooting becomes inconsistent, and one feels as though they’ve died to a single shot from other players where they might struggle to get a kill even at close range after dumping a magazine into a stationary target. Despite remaining somewhat of an issue, DICE has done much to address this, and it’s only on high-latency servers where such experiences remain. On a good server, the gameplay and weapons handing is smooth, allowing me to pull off some genuinely impressive feats such as clearing an entire room out of enemies despite not getting the drop on them or even top the scoreboards in some matches. When Battlefield V is working as it should, the new content and updates are very enjoyable. From the details of the new maps, to subtle animations (such as the crates opening and closing to indicate whether or not players could interact with them, an improved vaulting system that only plays the vaulting animation if a player is close to an object or the varied reloads from different weapons), Battlefield V still remains a solid game that has come quite a long ways from its open beta a year previously. Other improvements include minor changes to strengthen submachine guns, making the medics more effective than before, increasing damage to bolt-action rifles and increasing the recoil patterns on medium machine guns to discourage bipod camping, a problematic play-style that stands contrary to what Battlefield V is about. In general, things are more consistent now, and I expect DICE to continue to smooth out the gameplay mechanics of the game as they add new content to the game.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Marita is the next full-fledged map to join Battlefield V. Set in a cliff-side village by an autumn’s morning, the map is brightly lit and colourful, being made to represent the Battle of Greece in 1941 when Axis forces invaded Greece and captured Athens after eight months. While resulting in an Axis victory, the diversion of German soldiers into Greece proved costly in their conquest of Africa.

  • From a visuals perspective, Marita is a beautiful map and also well-suited for infantry-only conquest. There’s a drivable tractor on the map, and use of fortifications allow for one to make use of creative flanking routes to get to the different capture points: in the village on the western edge of the map, wooden planks connecting the houses can be built, and in one of the canyons, a small footbridge can be constructed to shorten the distance it takes to travel from point delta to bravo.

  • During one match of breakthrough, I was defending and made use of the MG 42 while concealed from shrubbery to score a Killfrenzy (five kills, each within four seconds of one another in Halo 2 terms). Owing to the bipod mechanics of Battlefield V, the MG 42 and other medium machine guns are intended primarily for locking down choke-points, and so, I’ve not had much of an opportunity to use the MG 42 as Gertrude Barkhorn or any of the other Witches. With this being said, the kill-streaks and multi-kill feats I’ve accomplished in Battlefield V are rather more numerous than they were when the In The Name of The Tsar DLC came out primarily because Battlefield V‘s weapon mechanics are more consistent.

  • The usage of MMGs is highly contentious in Battlefield V, as it takes no skill to find a spot and then use these weapons to hose down enemy players en masse; the Killfrenzy I got is evidence of this, and while I typically employ a highly mobile play-style precisely because there’s no point in camping if one means to be useful to their team, there are some players who value their KDR over teamplay and have no qualms about equipping an MMG and camp somewhere to pad their personal stats. This is why the first of the chapter four unlocks, the S2-200 (a German machine gun) was not particularly appealing to me.

  • Having reached rank twenty for the assault class long ago, I’d unlocked the Gewehr 1-5 but never really bothered with it until recently: as it turns out, the Gewehr 1-5 is a solid weapon for medium range engagements thanks to its thirty round magazine, and after trying the weapon out, it became clear as to why this is the ultimate unlock for the assault class. With a high accuracy and large magazine size, no other semi-automatic rifle comes close in medium ranges, making this a choice weapon for maps with more open spaces and longer sight lines.

  • The latest update to Battlefield V brought improvements to the submachine guns. These weapons have seen improved accuracy of late, and are now even more effective than they were previously. Medics are predominantly close-quarters players, and therefore, it makes sense to give them weapons that excel at ranges under thirty metres: when the alpha for Battlefield V first ran, medics were equipped with the semi-automatic rifles that now are found in the assault class, and while this made them lethal at medium ranges, it meant that like Battlefield 1, they would be less effective close up, where they would be most likely seen resupplying and reviving teammates.

  • While ping usually accounts for frustrating moments in Battlefield V, there are some players whose inexplicable ability to consistently take more damage than other players or fire their weapons without recoil suggest that they are employing unethical means to play. Cheating remains a major problem in Battlefield V, and I encounter subtle cheaters in at least one in ten games that I join. These are the players who use tools to give them minor assists, such as eliminating recoil on their weapons, have more health than usual or spot enemies in their area, without appearing as a blatant cheater on the scoreboards.

  • Ever since building a new desk and revitalising my home office setup, I’ve been running a dual-monitor setup and finally have proper space for a mouse-pad. I actually run with a generic Velocity mouse that was intended for common computing rather than gaming, but with a mouse-pad, I’ve been able to lower the sensitivity settings down by nearly a factor of half. The end result is that I have much more confidence in aiming at the mid-ranges. This corresponds with an increase in performance and all-around enjoyment of the game.

  • Having lower sensitivity means I’ve been willing to return to weapons that did not work so well for me earlier, and I’ve been playing around with weapons like the StG-44, using them to a much greater effect than earlier. While still sporting more recoil than its alpha or open beta incarnation, the StG-44 of Battlefield V is a powerful and effective weapon once the right specialisations are applied to it. It is the weapon of choice for Waltrude Krupinski from the 502nd Joint Fighter Wing, although Battlefield V lacks a proper weapons attachment system and therefore, it is not possible to equip the Sturmpistol under-barrel launcher for firing smaller rounds.

  • Looking through Battlefield V‘s history, the game has seen a total of three full-fledged maps after launch (Panzerstorm, Mercury and Marita), plus three more small-scale maps for squad conquest and team death-match. Here, I get a kill on Lofoten Islands in team death-match: the areas on Lofoten Islands differ between this mode and conquest, offering a small degree of variety. The latest maps to Battlefield V, Lofoten Islands and Provence, only feature these small scale game modes, although one hopes that they will be expanded out to accommodate for conquest.

  • It’s really a shame that Lofoten Islands and Provence are constrained to the smaller game modes; the scenery around the map is quite beautiful, and is the only place in Battlefield V where one can fight among the temperate mountains and pristine waters of Norway. I get a lucky grenade kill on one of the piers overlooking one of the islands, and can imagine that the map would be an interesting place to have naval combat.

  • I’ve yet to get any Killtaculars with primary weapons owing to their limited ammunition capacity and the general time to kill, but my proficiency with the weapons, coupled with improved map knowledge and the benefits of having a mouse-pad means that double kills are more common now, with the occasional lucky triple kill thrown in. Multi-kills in Battlefield V are comparatively rarer because it’s unlike to be running into large numbers of players outside of capture points or vehicles, and this is something I feel Battlefield V did improve over Battlefield 1: in the latter, I was able to get Killionaires from abusing the Ilya Muromets’ strategic bomber package.

  • Al-Sudan is a desert map modelled after one of the regions from the Under No Flag campaign map and was originally slated to come out in June, but technical difficulties resulting in artefact problems, meant that the full conquest mode is not yet available on the map. The map is supposed to be ready later this month, which is a shame: the evening lighting and design of the map is actually rather inviting, and I would love to see combat extend to the watery areas seen here in the distance.

  • Squad conquest on Lofoten Islands is actually surprisingly fun: the map is best suited for close quarters engagements, but there are some watch towers and open sight-lines that make it possible to be successful in sniping. By this point in Battlefield V, I’ve reached rank twenty for each and every class. I’ve found that the default archetypes each class start with are more than enough for my usual play-style, and was hoping that DICE would introduce new archetypes for each class to specialise their roles further. With this in mind, until DICE figures out the performance issues in full and then have a proper vision for their content release, new archetypes aren’t too high on my wishlist of things I’d like to see in Battlefield V.

  • The penultimate chapter reward is the Panzerbüchse 39, an anti-materiel rifle that serves a similar function to the Boys Anti-tank Rifle. Unlike the Boys AT Rifle, the Panzerbüchse 39 has a slightly lower firing rate, a faster muzzle velocity and reduced screen obstruction thanks to a slightly smaller compartment for carrying additional rounds. Beyond this, it requires a bipod to be at its most effective and is not the weapon of choice for highly mobile, objective-oriented players, but where the environment allows for it, the Panzerbüchse 39 is an entertaining weapon to use, allowing one to one-shot most infantry. The AT rifles are also moderately effective against light vehicles and while next to useless against tanks, can nonetheless be used to interrupt a repair cycle.

  • More so than any other iteration of Battlefield, the community of Battlefield V is easily the most unfriendly and hostile I’ve encountered. Aside from the inordinate number of cheaters, there are plenty of players who are more interested in padding their KDR and refuse to play the objective, resorting to camping for kills. When other players put anything into the text chat providing updates on enemy movements, or asking for revives or ammo, they are met with a face-full of toxic, hate-filled memes. The most gratuitous examples are found when one calls out an obvious cheater: for some reason, even players on the receiving end will stop to defend the cheaters.

  • The behaviours in the community are baffling, and for this reason, I run with the text chat completely off. DICE has implemented a text filter that censors all expletives and insults, to the point where something as simple as “sucks” is blanked out. This behaviour is something I was worried about creeping into games: I’ve heard that the team working on Battlefield V is not the same team that worked in previous titles. Shifts in role and management is allegedly why the game has been so shaky of late, and while I hope this is the case (over time, a team could improve as they grow into the role with the right leadership and individual mindset), there’s always the lingering doubt that certain trends may be making their way into large triple-A titles. These trends became most pronounced five years previously with the occurrence of a certain culture war that was ostensibly about “ethics in video games journalism”, misrepresented as a massive intimidation campaign against certain indie developers and their supporters.

  • I’ve long stayed neutral in this particular debate, having long felt that what’s most important in games was gameplay and immersion. That the individual at the center of the culture war came back at the five year anniversary to make new baseless accusations, coupled with the increasing trends towards political correctness in video games in general is not a good sign for the industry’s future, to say nothing about their persistence. For now, I’ll resolve to simply enjoy the titles that are available, and here, I land another instant-kill on an unfortunate player with the Panzerbüchse 39 and iron sights: lucky kills with the weapon led me to being branded as being devoid of skill, but it actually does take skill to use this weapon effectively in a mobile play-style: finding a spot, taking a few shots and then moving on.

  • Provence was originally advertised as a map with lavender fields of the sort that explored in Kelowna with a small village adjacent, but the iteration that made it into Battlefield V is focused around the village itself. None of the famed lavender fields of Provence make it into the playable area, and instead, the narrow streets become the main fighting areas. With this being said, Provence itself is a decent enough map for squad conquest, with some sight-lines for sniping and plenty of tighter spaces for frenzied combat.

  • There are enough flanking options in Provence such that capture points must be defended with diligence if one is to keep them from falling into enemy hands. I’ve gotten the Thompson up to rank ten now: it’s easily my favourite of the submachine guns for close quarters engagement, and the weapon is surprisingly reliable for picking off enemies that are slightly further out. It is now my go-to weapon for the medic class, and with the recent patches reducing recoil for the submachine guns, this set of weapons have only improved in efficacy.

  • On the southern edge of Provence, the distant landscapes bring to mind the sort of area that Perrine might visit while restoring Gallia of Strike Witches. This open space has plenty of possibility for larger game modes like conquest or break-through, and since there’s no water component, it means that extending the map should be, at least in theory, more straightforward than extending Lofoten Islands, where boats would have to be introduced. This would add a whole new dynamic to Battlefield V and make naval combat a possibility.

  • If such a thing were possible with the next chapter, then being able to operate the Fubuki-class and Fletcher-class would bring back the destroyer-on-destroyer combat of Battlefield 1, but this time, on the open waters of the Pacific. Squad reinforcements might then entail being able to operate the Iowa and Yamato, which would bring Kantai Collection properly into Battlefield V, the way it was meant to be played. Of course, such an undertaking would be massive, and given DICE’s recent performance, I think that the Pacific content would be quite successful if DICE would introduce the new weapons, maps and vehicles without breaking anything.

  • The final unlock for the fourth chapter is the Breda M1935 PG, the first burst-fire weapon in Battlefield V and the world’s first burst-fire weapon. The weapon was designed in Italy in 1931 and is gas-operated. The Italian version of the rifle is chambered for the 6.5×52mm Mannlicher–Carcano round, has a twenty-round box magazine and fires in four-round bursts. It is immensely powerful in the right hands in burst mode, and in single-fire mode, allows the weapon to act as a higher-capacity semi-automatic rifle that allows it to be more accurate at range.

  • Getting used to the recoil pattern on the Breda PG takes a while: it tends towards the upper right, and so, if one can manage the recoil well, the weapon can become a death machine. By pushing down on the mouse and aiming at the chest, one can fire three rounds into an opponent and then finish off with a headshot using the recoil. The Breda PG thus becomes a monster of a weapon in the right hands, being able to mow through two or three people with ease. However, the recoil pattern is also large and takes time to get used to: one cannot simply pick up this weapon and use it to wipe entire squads with it.

  • While Provence ends up being perhaps not quite as inspiring to play on, overall, the map’s layout isn’t terrible, as there are enough flanking routes to keep Squad Conquest interesting: defenders must always be mindful of other routes their opponents may take, while attackers can surprise their enemies  by using an undefended path to reach a capture point. Some parts of the map also bring to mind the atmosphere seen in Sora no Woto‘s Seize. Despite Seize being modelled off the Spanish architecture of Cuenca, the overall colour palette and setting would not look too out of place as being somewhere that Kanata and the 1121st could hang out.

  • Overall, I’d say that the Breda PG is probably the best addition to Battlefield V‘s latest Tides of War chapter, offering a new play-style for the assault class. In the streets of Provence, the weapon proved to be superbly enjoyable, and I’ve actually gotten it up to rank four already, making it possible for me to specialise the weapon. I’ve gone for the right tree, since it would extend my efficacy at range: while the Breda PG is less suited for close-quarters combat, it can hold its own under some cases, and making it more effective for its intended role seems the way to go.

  • While I leave the fourth chapter with mixed feelings (I enjoyed the new maps and weapons, but less so the performance issues and persistent instances of cheating), Battlefield V‘s ultimate fate will lie with how well DICE can deliver the Pacific Theatre content. I’ve heard rumours that amphibious warfare could be coming alongside boats: in conjunction with the maps and weapons announced, the Pacific Theatre is a very exciting time for DICE, who could salvage Battlefield V yet. This is, of course, dependent on a timely delivery of content, no introduction of performance-degrading bugs and a proper, clear communication of what players can expect.

  • If DICE can pull this off, it will be reason enough to stay and experience Strike Witches in the Frostbite Engine: we’re nearly a year into the game’s life, and insofar, I’ve only been able to run with a handful of the loadouts seen in Strike Witches and Girls und Panzer. There is further incentive for DICE to ensure a smooth delivery of new content: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is releasing in October, and with a return to the modern era, the footage of the game I’ve seen so far looks very promising. I’ve never been big on the Call of Duty multiplayer experience before, having stuck exclusively to their campaigns, but the game is catching my eye so far, and Battlefield V will have to work pretty hard to persuade me that it remains the superior experience.

  • It suddenly strikes me that I don’t have more screenshots of Al Sudan, so I’ll feature a pair of kills from the Breda PG, with the one here being on a player who focused more on KDR than team play. A glance at the calendar shows we’re a bit more than halfway through September now, which means that it’s also been a year since I accepted the assignment to fix issues that a Denver-based company had with their mobile application. This project was originally slated to span a maximum of six weeks but, thanks to the irresponsibility and incompetence of the Winnipeg team, ran for a total of twelve weeks and saw me fly out to Winnipeg to personally drive the backend development necessary for the mobile app to work.

  • The outcomes of this was far reaching and while I’m immensely glad to have finished that project to precisely what was agreed to, I admit that the experience, however instructive it was for me, also was most unpleasant. A year since then, the learnings from that project continue to guide how I design mobile apps, and a year later, Battlefield V has proven to be quite enduring despite its numerous limitations. I’m definitely looking forwards to the Pacific Theatre and will be writing about that one in great detail. In the meantime, Operation Underground is supposed to launch either later this month or early next month, and I will naturally be writing about this update and the new stuff it brings. Until then, we’re also nearing the end of the summer for anime, and that means I’ll need to do a pair of talks on Sounan Desu Ka? and Dumbbell wa nan Kilo Moteru? now that their finales have ended.

With DICE managing to salvage the fourth Tides of War chapter and bringing back some enjoyment into the game amidst the disappointment, the biggest thing on Battlefield V‘s horizon in the future is the Pacific Theatre. Folks have found information in the game files to indicate that Iwo Jima and Wake Island will definitely be featured with this next chapter, alongside the legendary M1 Garand and Browning Automatic Rifle. The M1919, M3 Submachine Gun and Type 99 Arisaka are also supposed to be included, as well. Being able to fight on the shores of an iconic location will be exciting, and Battlefield veterans will also enjoy returning to a classic Battlefield map in Wake Island. Two other maps have been found, but their locations have not been confirmed yet. This is a strong start to what I’ve been looking forwards to the most in Battlefield V, and it is possible that I’ll be able to run the Charlotte Yeager and Francesca Luccini loadouts in Battlefield V. The content is likely to come out in November, and in the meantime, Operation Underground is set to release later this month, alongside with several new assignments to keep players busy. Said to be a re-imagining of the Operation Metro map from Battlefield 3, Operation Underground will portray Operation Varsity, which happened towards the end of World War II. I’m quite familiar with Operation Metro, having spent hundreds of hours in Battlefield 3 either here in the tunnels or in Noshahr Canals, so I’m rather looking forwards to seeing how the new map will be designed to simultaneously accommodate the close-quarter mayhem of the original while at the same time, removing the frustrations of explosives spam and choke-points that would almost certainly be impassible thanks to the way medium machine guns handle in Battlefield V.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: K-On!!, Appreciating Everyday Life at After School Teatime and The Road to Graduation At the Nine Year Anniversary

I would like to give you every ounce of my gratitude
And send it to you through this song
This is a feeling I will never, ever forget

–U & I

With third year in full swing for Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi, the light music club focus on getting new members so Asuza won’t be alone when they graduate. Their efforts come to naught, and the girls’ days in high school continue as they clean out the clubroom, go on a class trip while Azusa remains behind with Ui and Jun, struggle to deal with the rainy season and perform for the Mio Fan Club, which Nodoka had inherited when Megumi Sokabe graduated. Besides keeping up with their practise, the girls also must find time to study for their exams and decide on their career paths for the future. Yui is able to pass her exams and decides to become a teacher, being inspired by Sawako. Summer soon arrives, and the girls spend time together at a summer music festival with Sawako. While the girls turn their attention towards studying for their entrance exams, Azusa worries about the light music club’s future. The school’s cultural festival draws near: Mio and Ritsu manage to master their leading roles in the school play, Romeo and Juliet, and later put on a spectacular concert for their classmates. The concert also brings to light the fact that this is everyone’s last year together, and as graduation draws near for Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi, the girls work to bring Azusa a farewell gift in between their own preparations for graduation. On the day of graduation, after the ceremony ends, the girls perform one final time for Azusa with Tenshi no Fureta Yo!, a special song dedicated to her being with them throughout their time as members of After School Teatime. K-On!‘s second season, K-On!! comprises of twenty-four episodes that detail Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi’s final year of high school and their appreciation for Azusa’s membership with a much finer granularity than the first season: while both the first and second seasons cover two manga volumes, the extended runtime of K-On!! provides a much greater insight as to how close Azusa and Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi have become during their time together. During its run, K-On!! deals with two overlapping themes. The series’ length means that everyday moments are shown in great detail to denote an appreciation for the everyday, and this time creates memories that ultimately can make it difficult to part ways: as K-On!! continues, Azusa’s desire to spend one more year with Yui and the others becomes increasingly evident.

More so than even the first season, K-On!! accentuates the importance of everyday moments. Whereas the original manga had created humour from the brevity of its moments, the anime extends these moments, depicting every subtle detail and placing focus on elements that would otherwise be ignored. Ordinary things like drying off after the rain, or working to get a working air conditioning unit in the clubroom are presented as an integral part of K-On!!, no different than watching the girls discuss their future plans and concerts over cake and tea, or performing on stage. While some feel that the focus on the mundane detracts from K-On!!, especially in the form that the second season takes, the protracted and frequent focus on everyday life serves a critical purpose for the series – K-On!‘s first season saw Mio compose most of the music that After School Teatime performs, and so, most of the lyrics were sappy, sentimental. By K-On!!, Yui is also involved in writing some of the songs. While Mio’s songs are composed from her feelings, which are decidedly more abstract, Yui is more straightforwards, and so, K-On!! can be said to be giving viewers insight into the sorts of things that Yui and the others experience, which feed into the energy and optimism of their performances. Despite their songs speaking to ordinary things, whether it be the joys of curry rice, strawberry parfaits or how rice can be a main course on its own, After School Teatime presents their music with a carefree, happy-go-lucky approach that perfectly reflects their lives. This is an indicator that the music of K-On!! doesn’t come out of nowhere, and that almost anything, with the right mindset and composition, can be turned into music: After School Teatime’s music is definitely a testament to Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Mugi and Asuza’s love for simple but treasured moments spent with one another, and in a chaotic, hectic world, there is most certainly meaning in stopping to smell the roses.

The culmination of these simple but heartwarming memories during their time as high school students creates a sense of belonging, of happy days spent together. However, nothing is truly infinite, and like all things, high school draws to a close; Azusa, being the junior member of After School Teatime, has grown very much accustomed to the eccentricities and antics that Yui and the others participate in, and while she may put on a tough, serious front to focus on music, the reality is that she’s come to greatly appreciate everything the others have done for her. As K-On!! wears on, Azusa begins to wonder about the hand-off in the light music club: once Yui and the seniors graduate, she’ll need to take over and run the club. Besides searching for new members and becoming familiar with the responsibilities of being the president, Azusa also will miss her friends greatly. This worry for the future slowly creeps into K-On!! – as she spends more time with each of Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi, Azusa realises that she doesn’t want any of them to leave. Following the culture festival, the entire band sheds tears as they realise this. For Azusa, these feelings come out in full during the finale: having long masked her doubts, Azusa finally comes into the open with respect to how she feels about Yui and the others, begging them to stay. While Azusa has definitely been grateful for seniors who looked after her, it turns out that Yui and the others feel precisely the same way, counting it a great blessing to have had Azusa accompany them on their journey. While it is goodbye for present, graduation is not really the end; each of Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi capture this in a song they perform for Azusa, and in its lyrics, they thank her from the bottom of their hearts. Just because they are due to separate for the present doesn’t mean that the memories will be lost, and so, K-On!! shows that the ending of one journey simply is the beginning of another one: while moments are transient and fleeting, memories have a much stronger endurance and will remain with one unto eternity. The second season definitely takes its time in presenting these messages, but the extended run-time really allows K-On!! to vividly portray the strength of friendship and then capture this anew in the form of music, showing how there is magic in the mundane.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Compared to K-On!K-On!! (differentiated with a second exclamation point) has twice the runtime and therefore, progresses at an even slower pace than its predecessor. This works to the series’ advantage: K-On!! is about an appreciation of things in life that we often take for granted, and showing seemingly unrelated events that Yui and the others experience encourages viewers to slow down and live in the moment, enjoying moments spent with people important in one’s life.

  • K-On!! also sports upgraded artwork and animation compared to that of K-On! – lighting is much more detailed, and the settings have more depth to them compared to the flatter, simpler designs of the first season. Character movement is also more fluid, and consistently animated. The techniques and style used in K-On!! would eventually be applied to Tamako Market and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon-Maid, giving their respective characters a beautiful world to interact in and explore.

  • While K-On! had been about Azusa’s entry into the light music club, K-On!! also begins to entertain the idea that with Yui and the others about to graduate, there also is a need for a successor. Azusa is well-suited for the role, and in the manga, she does eventually accept the mantle of responsibility that being the light music club’s president requires. To hint at this, Azusa is shown spending more time with Ui and Jun: such moments establish that outside of Mio, Mugi, Yui and Ritsu, Azusa does have friends with whom she is close to.

  • In a given day, After School Teatime lives up to their name and is rarely seen without tea and some sort of cake or pastry close at hand. The kind of tea the girls are seen drinking is never specified, since K-On!! isn’t about the tea, but I would guess that Mugi typically brings in an Earl Gray or even Rooibos: the former is paired with the deserts nicely, and Rooibos tea is a very healthy option, as well. I personally prefer Chamomile or peppermint tea in the midday, and Rooibos in the late afternoon.

  • Moments such as Mugi helping Yui dry off during the rainy season might add nothing of note to the overall story in K-On!!, but it shows that the series is very much committed to bringing the manga to life and bringing out the joy in each moment. The manga is actually a lot more concise than the anime: the first season adopted the first two volumes, and the second season is an adaptation of the second two volumes. The final two volumes of K-On! never received adaptations.

  • Animating Yui, Mio and Azusa playing their instruments was no easy feat, and lessons learnt from bringing bass and guitar to life in K-On! would feed into the techniques used in Hibike! EuphoniumK-On! might be seen as a lesser essay in the craft, a warm up act, since Hibike! Euphonium‘s instruments are animated and presented with an even greater level of detail. Their latest movie is set to release in November, and I’ve been able to keep my distance from the spoilers surprisingly well.

  • During the course of K-On!!, the light music club finds itself in a memorable trip to Kyoto, deals with cleaning up the clutter in the club room and even performing for the Mio Fan Club, which spawned as a result of Mio’s accident during their first-ever performance. Mio reluctantly participates, being prone to embarrassment whenever recalling the incident, but warms up to the Fan Club, who dedicate to Mio a slideshow of her best moments with After School Tea Time.

  • A part of K-On!! is the lingering and impending doom that is examinations. Exams in Japan are of a much greater importance than the exams I sat in Canada, as they determine which institutes one can apply for, and then one must also pass the entrance examinations to attain admittance into their school of choice. Conversely, my experiences were that I wrote standardised exams during my final year of high school and spanked those, scoring near-perfect scores on everything and then was admitted to the university’s Health Sciences honours programme.

  • I still remember the days I spent studying for those exams, and in university, found that my old approach of studying for exams alone began to feel ineffectual. When I watched K-On!!, I was going through the toughest term I’d experienced in my undergraduate programme, and ultimately overcame this particular hurdle by studying with others. Watching K-On!! helped me to accept my peers’ requests to study with them: here, Mio and the others prepare for an exam. It is actually quite fortunate that I found K-On! when I did: I had came across the series by pure chance when looking up parodies of Gundam 00, and then took a liking to the music in K-On!.

  • After hearing Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!, I knew I would need to complete the whole journey of K-On! to get a better context for what made the song so stand-out. Here, Azusa and Yui spend some time together in preparation for a talent show that an elderly lady suggests that Yui participate in. A few of the episodes in K-On!! are spent showing how Yui prepares for this show while simultaneously studying for her exams.

  • In the end, Yui passes her exams with a strong performance, and then proceeds to perform in the talent show. Although she and Azusa do not win, Yui offers their consolation prize to the elderly lady as thanks for always looking after her. Such gestures are what makes K-On! a strong series, and while Yui might not possess the characteristics of a focused, purposeful protagonist, her kindness more than offsets any shortcomings she may have.

  • When the girls overhear Sawako on the phone planning meeting an unknown individual, they imagine Sawako’s managed to find a significant other. Deciding to tail her with field-craft that would make John Clark proud, it turns out that Sawako was meeting with Norimi, an old friend from Sawako’s time as a student. It turns out that Norimi was asked to perform at a friend’s wedding but was unable to convince Sawako to play alongside them, so Yui is asked to step in. Watching Yui’s performance prompts Sawako to step back in.

  • The last summer for everyone soon arrives, and the club’s attention turns towards securing a new air conditioning unit when it turns out their club room actually lacked one. Once this is done, Sawako invites everyone to a music festival in the mountains. K-On!! made use of a diverse colour palette during its run: the choice of saturation, hues and lighting are far more sophisticated than those of the first season, giving backgrounds much more depth and life. However, the improved visuals do not detract from the characters themselves, and the visual aspects of K-On!! would continue to improve, culminating in the movie.

  • Despite a rough start to the summer music festival thanks to the crowds and heat, the girls manage to enjoy things nonetheless. They promise to perform together at the next summer festival in a touching moment; viewers will know that such a moment will never materialise since, besides Azusa, everyone is entering the endgame for their high school career. Subtle reminders such as these gently remind viewers that all things must come to an end. This year’s summer is similarly approaching its end, and yesterday was the Mid Autumn Festival, which I celebrated alone with homemade fried pork chops and moon cakes. Today, I went out into the badlands of Alberta to explore a ghost town and also took a short walk amongst the cliffs of the Red Deer River Valley.

  • The evening ended at the Last Chance Saloon in a semi-ghost town of Wayne, where I sat down to their Evolution Burger, a six-ounce prime rib burger with cheddar cheese, bacon, onion rings, lettuce, tomato, dill pickle, and their special house sauce on toasted bun with a massive side of fries. This burger was well worth the hour-and-a-half drive it took to get to Wayne, being tender, juicy and flavourful: the inclusion of onion rings added a crunchy and rich flavour to the burger. I’d actually been interested in visiting the Last Chance Saloon since January, and it was only now that a weekend opened itself for this short excursion out into the badlands of Alberta, making an enjoyable end to this year’s summer. Back in K-On!!, a whole episode is dedicated towards Azusa spending time with Jun and Ui in a mixture of events and dream sequences to accentuate their friendship.

  • Focus on the girls who would later become Wakaba Girl (literally “fresh leaf girl”, after the leaf stickers given to newly-minted drivers in Japan) sets up the notion that after After School Teatime, the light music club is in excellent hands: Azusa is a skillful player, Jun has jazz background and Ui is able to excel in almost everything she puts her mind to. Even without an adaptation or knowledge of the manga, K-On!! did an excellent job of showing how the torch was passed on.

  • Unlike K-On!‘s first season, which was met with polarised reception, K-On!!‘s second season was not subjected towards the same treatment: no dissertations arguing the series’ perceived flaws from the internet’s more vocal critics were found, and it appeared that the original criticism pieces were (thankfully) not regarded as having any degree of value. My counterarguments remain simple enough: K-On!! was never meant to be about the music, but rather, a journey of discovery, appreciation of people one becomes close to and what farewell means. Claims that K-On!! was “wasted potential” or similar is akin to wondering why one cannot carry large volumes of cargo in an aircraft or ship designed for passengers.

  • As most second seasons are wont, K-On!! explores alternate dynamics amongst group members when other characters are absent. One episode has Ritsu spending time with Mugi, and Mugi becoming more intent on learning about the friendship that Ritsu shares with Mio. It’s rare that the characters are seen hanging out alone when they have been presented as being rather inseparable, and this particular pattern gives more insight into each of the characters, as well as provides for moments that would otherwise not occur when everyone is together. The approach is applied in series where few new characters are introduced as time wears on.

  • Another episode had Azusa spend time individually with each of Mugi, Ritsu, Mio and Yui: while she starts out with the goal of pushing everyone to practise harder, various circumstances preclude this, and so, Azusa is able to learn about her seniors in a much less turbulent setting. She ends up teaching Mugi the basics of guitar, learns that Ritsu has a younger brother and helps Yui read the sheet music to Mugi’s new song after cleaning Ton-chan, the soft-shell turtle’s, tank. Ton-chan was purchased using surplus funds from the club with the aim of keeping Azusa company after everyone had graduated.

  • When the club room is closed for maintenance work, the light music club finds themselves without a place to practise. They spend an afternoon attempting to secure a new location, before renting out a studio and slacking off during their slot. The lyrics for Mugi’s new composition remains unfinished, and it typifies how After School Teatime always seems to struggle with completing a task when time is sufficient to do so because of their tendency to wander and live in the moment. In exchange for scrambling towards a deadline, the girls’ are able to really feed their experiences into whatever they do, whether it be composing lyrics or putting on performances for their classmates.

  • I’ve mentioned that I credit K-On! with helping me weather a difficult term during my second year of university, and was part-way into the second season when exams finished. When I finished K-On!! fully, the summer was already well under way. I had been offered a scholarship for summer research, and I was a month into my new project, to build an agent-based model of fluid flow in convoluted passageways. As I learnt more about the Bullet Physics engine and built increasingly powerful agents that could navigate any closed mesh, I also enjoyed lunches at the then-new Korean BBQ joint on campus, attended several LAN parties and travelled into the mountains, all while listening to the vocal songs and incidental pieces in the series: one of my favourite memories of that summer was visiting my supervisor in Canmore and having lunch at the Crazyweed Kitchen with the lab, having driven in while listening to Mio’s Seishun Vibration and Mugi’s Diary Wa Fortissimo!.

  • Thanks to all of the commotion about their club room, Yui makes very little progress in crafting the lyrics for their latest song and turns to Ui for help. While near-infallible, Ui ends up catching a cold, prompting Yui to look after her in a reversal of roles. Throughout K-On! and K-On!!, Ui has been shown to be a dependable younger sister who dotes on Yui in every way. It turns out that Yui is well aware of this and having seen just how much she’s come to rely on Ui, Yui crafts the lyrics into what would be known as U & I, one of my favourite songs from the series for its honest and heartfelt lyrics. It forms the page quote, since the lyrics also apply to a general sense of gratitude that the second season conveys.

  • When Mio and Ritsu are assigned the leading roles in the school play, they initially find themselves ill-suited to perform their parts until during one practise, they begin to mock one another in frustration, only to learn that they can indeed embrace their roles. Mio and Ritsu subsequently put their fullest efforts into making the play a success, while Mugi and Yui continue to help support the play in their own capacity. The play is a success, and even when Juliet’s tombstone goes missing prior to the play’s climax, the girls improvise by borrowing a replica Rosetta Stone from the occult club.

  • K-On!!‘s moments are numerous, but each of them remain highly memorable, showing how After School Teatime operates outside of their club activities. While they prima facie appear disorganised, unfocused and undisciplined, this raggedy-ass bunch has plenty of heart and sincerity. The girls’ greatest strengths are being able to make the most of a moment and putting their best into something when it matters, resulting in something that’s genuine. Here, they gear up for the school concert, spending a night at school and taking in the unusual atmosphere that accompanies a culture festival. For their performance, Sawako’s managed to make custom T-shirts that work well for the club, as well as giving one to each of the students in a surprise move.

  • The culture festival is also a great success: like its predecessor, K-On!! dedicates an entire episode towards the musical performance. These shows never drag on, and with Yui emceeing the concert, it feels very organic and very much alive. I immediately fell in love with the songs that After School Teatime performed, and also greatly enjoyed the character songs: I am not alone in this assessment, and while bumptious music reviewers turn their noses up at the acoustical properties of K-On!!‘s music, the songs themselves are excellent from a technical standpoint and further to this, have an honesty in their lyrics that almost all modern pop music lack.

  • In the aftermath of the culture festival concert, everyone is exhausted from putting their hearts into performing. During the course of the performance, the girls also realise that this is the last time they’ll be performing together and dissolve into tears. It was here, at the sunset of a journey, that I realised K-On!! was much more than an ordinary slice-of-life anime: the emotions associated with the thought of having to part ways, that the days of enjoying tea and performing together are drawing to a close were superbly captured. The decision to set this moment at the end of a day accentuates this: things inevitably come to an end.

  • By the time Nodoka and Sawako reach the club room to congratulate Yui and the others on a successful concert, everyone’s fallen asleep from exhaustion. While K-On!! is often thought of as a pure moé series, the animated adaptation adds a considerable emotional piece to the story: the girls clearly are saddened by the prospect of having to part ways. In the original manga, the girls simply share a conversation and fall asleep. With Naoko Yamada directing K-On!!, the series presents a very relatable, very human story that extends the humour seen in Kakifly’s original manga. These were the aspects that all critics missed in their assessments.

  • With the concerts over, Yui and the others turn their fullest attention towards studying for their entrance exams. The remainder of K-On!! switches between Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi’s preparations for exams, and Azusa’s day-to-day experiences with Ui and Jun. Even though such moments are subtle, it is quite clear that a passing of the baton is occurring, and that even though Yui and the others are on the verge of graduation, Azusa still has great companionship in Ui and Jun.

  • The second season ultimately is very faithful to the original manga, differing chiefly in how it chooses to present different moments: what took only a few pages in the manga are covered over several episodes in K-On!!, examinations and the endgame, which took up three quarters of the last manga volume, make up a comparatively meagre four of the twenty-four episodes in season two. Another clever touch to K-On!! is gradually giving Ui and Jun more screentime: Jun and Ui both make more appearances to show Azusa’s friendships outside of the light music club. Indeed, Ui does end up joining the light music club once Yui graduates, and Jun, after being jealous of hearing about Azusa’s adventures, also decides to participate.

  • Towards the end of K-On!!, the warmer colours and more saturated scenes are displaced by cooler, more faded out colours, giving a sense of melancholy as the end of one journey approaches. While it has been nine years since K-On!!‘s original airing, seven years since I finished the series and three years since I last took an exam of any sort, the sense of unease prior to an exam remains a highly vivid experience for me. On the day of their exams, Yui worries about forgetting a critical fact or detail: while I stuck with a brute-force approach in high school and my early undergraduate career towards studying, after the MCAT, I took on a new method that saw unqualified success: I had not gotten any grade lower than a B+ since the MCAT.

  • While it’s a tense moment, there was never any doubt that Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Yui would get into their school of choice: everyone applies for the same women’s university that Mugi had initially chosen, and all are accepted. I personally don’t recommend applying for a university purely because one’s friends are doing so, since everyone ultimately has their own career paths and life choices, but ultimately, this decision is up to the individual, and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who goes to a particular institution for this end.

  • Azusa has come to worry greatly for her friends: Mio and Mugi have always been reasonably hard-working students whose grades are solid, but Ritsu and Yui are more scatter-brained. Thus, when everyone is accepted, Azusa is elated. The ending of K-On!! captures a certain melancholy and bitter-sweetness that accompanies the closing of one journey, and it speaks volumes to the execution that such emotions can be presented so tactfully: this feeling is ever-present, but never displaces the everyday cheer that Yui and the others bring. With their exams over, the girls get their yearbook photos taken and spend their days in idle happiness while awaiting graduation.

  • Looking back, there’s a sort of nostalgia I get from watching K-On!!: besides helping me relax during a difficult term, after I finished, I decided to give The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi a whirl out of a curiosity in checking out the remainder of Kyoto Animation’s works. This series is a predecessor of sorts to the light novel style adaptations that we’ve come to see in the present (convoluted universes and rules, cynical but sharp-witted male leads), and while the anime was a moderately enjoyable experience, the film proved itself a worthy masterpiece that I watched as my summer research progressed.

  • With K-On!! being similar to its first season in style and execution, there is nothing particularly noteworthy about the incidental music in the second season. However, the vocal inset pieces are of an excellent standard: the second season introduces Gohan wa Okazu and Pure Pure Heart, which are representative of the two different styles that After School Teatime perform. Most of their songs are either sappy love songs with lyrics by Mio, or Yui’s down to earth and direct songs about food and life experiences. While the TV series only showcases a number of songs, some of the songs that would be featured on the inset albums would later be used in the movie (e.g. Samidare 20 Love and Curry Nochi Rice).

  • With their exams over, Yui and the others set about crafting a more enduring legacy of their time as members of After School Teatime by compiling a mix tape of their best hits. These songs would later be included in the Houkago Teatime album, which features both the sharper, more polished studio recordings of the girls’ performances and a special “cassette” edition that mimics the rougher, grittier quality of a cassette recording. The cassette recordings act as an extension of the girls’ experiences and add depth to their dynamics, even though many of the songs in that album (e.g. Honey Sweet Time, Tokimeki Sugar and Ichigo Parfait ga Tomara nai) were never performed at the girls’ concerts. The album therefore becomes an indispensable and highly enjoyable listen for any fan of K-On!.

  • On the day of graduation, it’s a bittersweet one as the girls look forwards to their future, while at the same time, wishing that the days of high school could last just a little longer. Looking back on my time as a high school student, I enjoyed the relatively straightforward flow that each day offered: go to school, learn things, chat with friends about various things, go back home, finish whatever assignments I had and the spend the rest of the evening in Ragnarok Online or World of Warcraft. I wouldn’t say that I necessarily miss high school, but I do concede that things were fun back then.

  • Yui decides to give Sawako a card signed by everyone in their class as a thank you gift, and spends much of the ceremony trying to conceal it so it’s a surprised. Sawako is worried about Yui, but is later happy to receive this gift from the class. When I watched K-On!! for the first time, I was quite a few years younger than Sawako and closer in age to Yui and the others. Now, I’m actually older than Sawako, and having served as a teaching assistant at the university during my graduate studies, I can say with confidence that as a teacher, I tend to remember the high-performing students and the rowdy students the best. As such, there is some weight to my supposition that Sawako will remember Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi for some time after they’ve graduated.

  • When the ceremonies conclude, and farewells are bade, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi turn their attention towards saying the most important goodbye of all: Azusa’s been holding back tears all day, and now that the moment has come to part ways, she finds herself unable to do so, tearfully begging the others to stay. Yui offers Azusa a flower and gives her a special thank you card and prepare to play a special song they’d written just for her. Titled Tenshi ni Fureta yo! (“Touched by an angel!”), this song represents the sum of everyone’s gratitude and appreciation for Azusa’s joining the club and for having made such a major contribution to their activities, whether it be through her technical skill with a guitar or for encouraging everyone to practise.

  • Easily the most emotional and personal song in all of K-On!!, it is no surprise that this is my favourite of all the songs that After School Teatime performs. The song comes out of the blue, and K-On!! suggests that it was hastily written with each of Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi’s thanks feeding into the lyrics, but the truth is even more heartwarming: the melody and lyrics were actually composed while the girls were in London, having agreed to do a graduation trip to cover the fact that they were working on something for Azusa. Knowing this gives the song even more weight: in K-On! The Movie, London ended up being secondary to the film’s centrepiece about giving Azusa a suitable gift.

  • While nine years have passed since K-On!!‘s finale aired, the series itself is timeless and remains every bit as relevant and enjoyable now as it did nearly a decade previously. The second season may drag in places, but every second of the anime is carefully crafted to feed towards the series’ thematic elements, bringing the manga to life. The success of K-On! as a whole is very well deserved, given that the series excelled in delivering the idea that people gain much by cherishing the moment and making the most of the present, and for the folks who’ve not seen the series yet, it is definitely worth taking a look.

Like its predecessor, K-On!! aired to mixed reception surrounding its narrative and near-universal acclaim for its technical all-around excellence – perspectives vary from the series being very humourous, to being a protracted, derivative version of the first season. I’ve long held that K-On!! is successful in subtly showing character growth over time, and the second season’s length serves to fully build out Azusa’s relationship with Yui and the others. Over time, viewers appreciate the sorts of things that make the After School Teatime club so memorable, and viewers will similarly feel the sorrow of departure when graduation approaches. The immensely relaxing atmosphere of K-On!! is interspersed with moments of humour, and overall, serves to act as a reminder that for the hectic chaos in the world, it is worthwhile to take a step back and really stop to smell the roses. This is where K-On!! truly excels, and I’ve long held that detractors simply approached the series with a mindset that wasn’t what K-On!! was intended to be about: Yui, Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Azusa’s experiences are about the joys of spending time together and appreciating everyday miracles, rather than purely setting up situations to elicit a laugh or provide insight on music. Those who remark that “nothing happened” did not look for events in the right places. The gentle outlook on life that K-On!! takes is cathartic, and for me, acted as a tonic that ultimately helped me get through a difficult time during my undergraduate programme. Together, K-On! and K-On!! changed my outlook on the world, and this is why the series as a whole merits being considered as a masterpiece. I have no trouble recommending the second season to anyone: the only real prerequisite for enjoying K-On!! is that one has already seen the first season, which establishes how the light music club came to be. Beyond this, with animation and artwork that stands up even today, plus a host of upbeat and fun songs, K-On!! remains as enjoyable as it did nine years ago. While a third season was never produced, folks looking to continue the K-On!! story further can look to the manga, which retain all of the spirit and charm as Azusa takes over as president of the light music club while Yui and the others acclimatise to life in university, as well as the film, which stands as a masterpiece amongst masterpieces for giving emotional weight behind Tenshi no Fureta Yo! and how this song came into being.

Metro Exodus: The Race For Life in The Dead City by Autumn and Route to the Good End

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” –Albert Einstein

Anna’s condition has worsened, and it turns out the only place that might hold the key to saving Anna is Novosibirsk. Formerly the third-most populous city in Russia, Novosibirsk was hit with a neutron bomb and became eight times more irradiated than Moscow. The city subsequently suffered from a conflict between civilians and OSKOM, the miltiary forces, resulting in the riots that decimated Novosibirsk’s population. Feeling that Anna is his and Artyom’s responsibility, Miller decides to enter the city with Artyom to search for a special medicine known as Renergan-F. Donning heavy protective gear, the two enter Novosibirsk’s metro system and after fighting off hordes of mutants, encounters a boy named Kiril. Kiril explains that his father left in search of a suitable location to move to and amongst the maps Kiril’s father had studied, Miller learns that Lake Baikal is radiation free. Artyom continues towards the Scientific Centre for Clinical and Experimental Medicine, where Renergan-F was developed. After traversing the partially-flooded metro tunnels, he reaches the institute, manages to recover a create and prepares to return to the Aurora, but is attacked by Blind Ones, gorilla-like mutants resembling Metro 2033‘s Librarians. Artyom is critically injured, and Miller uses his anti-radiation drug to save Artyom, dying in the drive back to the Aurora. In the aftermath, Anna is saved from respiratory failure using Renergan-F, and the Spartans donate enough blood to save Artyom’s life. Upon arriving in Lake Baikal, the Spartans hold a service to honour Miller, and Artyom is made leader of the Spartans. This is Metro Exodus‘ good end, the outcome that players earn for their patience, willingness to help those in need and keep an eye for solutions that reduce bloodshed Artyom earns a good ending by acting as people would in good times, with a mind of empathy and compassion even during difficult situations. While my playthrough was characterised by knocking out enemies, sneaking around them and exploring where possible, I saw no shortage of opportunity to put my firearms to good use – Metro Exodus might encourage stealth over going loud, but the game also offers plenty situations where the weapons and attachments that Artyom finds can be put to good use.

The final act of Metro Exodus, titled The Dead City, is precisely where Artyom can (and must) go guns blazing in order to be successful. More so than any other part of Metro Exodus, save the beginning, this final segment handles and feels most like earlier Metro games, placing Artyom in the confines of an underground subway system filled with numerous perils. When faced with resilient and violent mutants, the arsenal that Artyom has amassed from earlier missions finally come into play here. I ultimately ran the Bulldog equipped with a reflex sight, green laser sight, a standard thirty-round magazine, standard barrel and the heavy stock plus grip as my primary: this assault rifle proved to be well-suited for picking off numerous enemies at medium range and offered a satisfactory balance between damage per shot and rate of fire, performing solidly in the underground tunnels. As a secondary, the Shambler I ran with was equipped with a heavy stock, duckbill choke, a closed collimator sight and a box magazine, bringing the weapon’s performance up to that of the Saiga 12K. With a good balance of stopping power at close and medium range, I was more than ready to handle the underground tunnels of Novosibirsk: Metro Exodus‘ final act manages to bring back the same metro feel as that seen in its predecessors: in addition to offering a solid new experience with the large open areas of previous chapters, Metro Exodus shows that the series has not forgotten its roots. In particular, Novosibirsk’s partially-submerged subway tunnels and its worms evoked a similar sense of disgust and terror in me as the biomass level of Metro 2033 had – in conjunction with the simian mutants that resembled Metro 2033‘s, this is a particularly strong testament to the solid atmospherics within Metro Exodus, and so, as I pushed through the grim, terrifying tunnels of Novosibirsk, I recalled elements from earlier games that made them so enjoyable. This time, armed with a better understanding of what to expect, I opted to go with practical weapons, rather than exotic weapons as I did previously, and therefore, even in the face of the mutant simians, I was more than able to blast my way to the next area.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I know this is two Metro Exodus posts in a row, but I was progressing through the game at a breakneck speed after the Taiga, and so, we’ve come to it at last, the final act of Metro Exodus. In Novosibirsk, there are no human opponents to fight, only mutants, and so, the time has finally come to explore Artyom’s full arsenal. In reality, Novosibirsk is the third-largest city in all of Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg occupy the position of first and second), and is also the largest city in Siberia. With a population of 1.6 million, Novosibirsk is located on the banks of the Ob River and is a major center in Asian Russia. In Metro Exodus, neutron bombs irradiated Novosibirsk far worse than Moscow, and the city was hit with a civil war of sorts that wiped out the human population.

  • With radiation so intense that even the special lead-lined armour Miller and Artyom use, it is not possible to stay outside for even short periods before radiation poisoning kicks in. Fortunately, in the tunnels below, radiation levels are slightly lower, and gas masks aren’t required for some sections. Whereas Artyom had to use metal and chemical resources to craft filters earlier, the last segments of Metro Exodus returns to the approaches seen in earlier titles, where Artyom could simply pick up gas mask filters from the environment.

  • There will be a few engagements with hordes of mutants in Novosibirsk’s metro tunnels. After beating back waves of mutants, Artyom and Miller encounter a small boy in the tunnels and eventually corner him. After a brief but tense moment, the boy identifies himself as Kiril, whose father departed a few months earlier to search for habitable land after their supply of anti-radiation medication neared depletion. It turns out that Novosibirsk is indeed the place where a powerful countermeasure for radiation was developed, although the journey to this medical institute is treacherous.

  • In Kiril’s hideout, Miller and Kiril share a conversation about Kiril’s father and his objectives. Miller decides to split up, feeling that the leads Kiril’s father had are worth pursuing, and decides to give Artyom his customised Tikhar rifle. Up until now, the Tikhar had been a pneumatic rifle that was unparalleled when it came to stealth combat and whose greatest strength was that ammunition could always be readily crafted, giving Artyom options in combat even when conventional ammunition had been depleted. However, one must constantly be aware of the air pressure levels in the Tikhar, and repeated use of the weapon would render it ineffectual.

  • Once Artyom acquires the electromagnetic accelerator attachment for the Tikhar, the weapon turns into the Volt Driver from previous titles: it is Metro Exodus‘ ultimate weapon. I’ve never actually used this weapon up until now, having never gone through the DLC for Metro 2033 or Metro: Last Light. Here in Metro Exodus, I utilised the weapon to great effect; the weapon can one-shot most enemies, has a high rate of fire and accuracy, and since it uses the same steel balls as the Tikhar, ammunition for the weapon is common.

  • Once Artyom is fully kitted out, nothing in Novosibirsk’s metro tunnels will stand a chance: the tunnels, formerly a suspenseful environment, turns into a shooting gallery where mutants fall to superior firepower. This is the point in the game where one can really enjoy the shooting mechanics of Metro Exodus without worrying about moral points: the narrow, linear tunnels do not provide much in the way of stealth, and the environments here definitely bring back memories of Metro: Last Light.

  • After Artyom reaches a submerged section of the Novosibirsk metro and acquires a boat, exploring one of the side tunnels will also yield a special twenty-round box magazine for the Shambler. Up until now, I’d run with the ten-round magazine that allowed the weapon to handle as the Saiga 12K of Metro: Last Light did, allowing the Shambler to have a decent balance between weapon stability and magazine size. The box magazine doubles one’s capacity at the expense of reload time and stability, but given the sheer number of mutants, this is an agreeable upgrade to find.

  • The submerged metro segments of Novosibirsk rival the biomass in terms of revulsion factor: the area is covered in mutated tubifex growth and populated by different leech-like worms. The smallest worms will attach themselves to Artyom whenever he falls into the water, dealing some damage to him. Medium sized worms will spit acid at Artyom from a distance and when killed, can be looted for chemicals. Finally, large worms several metres long can be encountered. They also spit acid and can knock Artyom from his boat: they are massive enough to hunt Nosalise mutants, but with the Tikhar, they can be felled in a few shots.

  • These sections of Metro Exodus particularly impressed me: it was a creative way to make the tunnels more interesting and also was a clever callback to the Biomass level in Metro 2033: with uneven, slimy and nauseating organic matter covering all surfaces, unease mingles with excitement. The visual fidelity in Metro Exodus is apparent: after killing the medium and large worms, inspection of their carcasses shows just how much detail went into their assets. Unlike my experiences with the Biomass level of Metro 2033, where I had carried specialised weapons for long-range combat, this time, better knowledge allowed me to carry more versatile weapons.

  • In this large hangar-like section, Artyom must locate a boat in order to cross into the next section. The trick is to locate a doorway off to the side, which leads into a series of hallways infested with worms. The medium worms are rather weak, and spending shotgun shells on worms in general is a waste of ammunition. The Bulldog really shines here: one or two bullets will deal with them. Since the larger worms will spit massive globs of acid and small worms at the player that injure and disorient, I prefer engaging them from a distance with the Tikhar. Ten shots will be more than enough to put one away.

  • Between the damage sustained from fighting worms and falling into the water, which causes leeches to bind to the player for some damage, my gas mask became damaged. A patch I applied to temporarily stem the loss of air can be seen on-screen here. There is a workbench located in the hallways, and I was therefore able to repair my gas mask without difficulty. While guides suggest that the small leeches that stick to Artyom’s mask are merely cosmetic, rather like the small spiders that crawl over his arms and face when one walks through a web, they seem to cause small amounts of damage.

  • Once the flooded hangar is cleared, Artyom proceeds into a heavily irradiated tunnel and develops acute radiation sickness, seeing visions of Anna. He applies a dose of the anti-radiation medication to ward off the debilitating effects and pushes on to the surface on his way to the institute. Hallucinations and blurriness will impact Artyom for the remainder of Metro Exodus: the games have always introduced visual disorientation towards the climax, and these elements make a return in Metro Exodus. Unlike its predecessors, however, Metro Exodus is much more restrained when it comes to these effects.

  • Artyom will succumb to a few visions detailing the fate of what happened during the final hours in Novosibirsk: with tensions running high, the armed forces fired on civilians with their main battle tank. Visions in earlier Metro titles were explained as being the psycho-kinetic powers that the Dark Ones were using to reach Artyom. Dark Ones only appear in Metro Exodus as Easter eggs, and are never directly mentioned: the visions Artyom has might be attributable to them, or else will need alternate explanation.

  • After a short journey across the surface, Artyom finally reaches the research institute. This site is immensely unnerving with its icicled-interior, and things are made more tricky by the appearance of another anomaly that stalks Artyom. This anomaly differs from the one I encountered in the Volga, being able to physically manipulate objects in the environment. Despite dealing no direct damage to Artyom, getting too close is still damaging because it seems to emit radiation.

  • Because of the close-quarters environments at the institute, I decided to switch the green laser over to the Tikhar and also swapped out the longer range IRNV optics for the reflex sight, turning the weapon into a powerful short-range solution for whatever I would encounter. The near-absence of enemies was terrifying, and I soon learnt why there are no other mutants in the institute.

  • Once I reached a rooftop, I found myself face-to-face with a “Blind One”, a gorilla-like mutant that possesses limited sentience and telepathic powers. Despite lacking vision, their sense of hearing and smell are exceptional, allowing them to trace Artyom. Like the Librarians of Metro 2033, they will attack when provoked and therefore, can be avoided. There is much speculation as to what the Blind Ones’ origins are, and while I’ve read that they can communicate with Artyom in a limited way, I never experienced this for myself.

  • I thus resorted to my classic method of blowing any Blind One I encountered apart with what has now become an impressive arsenal: while guides suggest that sneaking past the Blind Ones is preferred because of their durability, I’ve found that a Molotov Cocktail and full magazine of ammunition from the rail-gun equipped Tikhar is enough to bring one down with relative ease. Alternatively, if one has enough shotgun shells, they can also just use the Shambler to great effect; having a box magazine extends the amount of damage over time Artyom can do without reloading. Individually, the Blind Ones are actually straightforwards to avoid or fight, but there does come a point where Artyom will encounter two.

  • In the blackest depths of the institute, Artyom will finally locate a crate containing Renergan-F. Once he recovers it, a Blind One will attack him, and both fall out of a fire escape. The Blind One is subsequently impaled by an icicle, and then Miller arrives. Miller himself is suffering from radiation poisoning as well, and he uses his anti-radiation dose on Artyom to save him, at the cost of his own life. Seeing this go down meant I had no regrets about blasting each and every Blind One I encountered.

  • The last segment of Metro Exodus is a long drive back to the Aurora, and once this is done, the game’s outcome is presented to the player. I watched as the Spartans donated blood to Artyom, and while he drifts in and out of consciousness, Miller speaks with him about how Artyom’s persistence has given everyone a new future. He walks off into the sunset, and Artyom is able to survive the ordeal. I’ve actually wondered what the bad ending was like and found it to be much more pessimistic; while Miller compliments that Artyom had done his job well as a soldier, and the remaining Spartans do live their lives out in happiness on the shores of Lake Baikal, Artyom and Miller are consigned to spend eternity in a purgatory for their actions, leaving Anna alone in the world.

  • I would have very much loved to explore Lake Baikal, but the area is entirely peaceful and would not have been exciting from a gameplay perspective. With this in mind, it feels great to have gotten the good ending: I’ve long wondered about the strict requirements of earning a good end to Metro games, and with Metro Exodus, I’ve found my answer. Overall, I am very glad to have taken the plunge and picked up the game. Even if it was for the Epic platform rather than Steam, this does not diminish how enjoyable Metro Exodus is in any way. With Metro Exodus now in the books, I will be going through Star Wars Battlefront II, which was on sale for 85 percent off some ways ago. I’ve heard that the game is due for a major update that will add “Instant Action”, making it the perfect single player arcade experience for days when I wish to relive classic moments in Star Wars.

Metro Exodus marks the first time I’d ever gotten a good end in the series: in Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, I ended up with the bad endings. However, two games and six years later, I believe that additional life experience and patience allowed me to appreciate the message that the Metro series was trying to communicate to its players. Morality and goodness stems from the patience to assess a situation, whereas immorality and suffering follows from a desire to immediately wade into a problem and then argue that the ends justify the means. This is what I was missing from my play-throughs of earlier Metro titles, and with this newfound appreciation, I am most impressed with how Metro manages to work in such a far-reaching, profound message into each of its three games. Besides these overarching themes of morality, Metro Exodus also shows players the resilience of the human spirit: while the societies that Artyom encounters at the Volga, Yamantau, Caspian desert and taiga forest are crude and barbaric, that a society has reformed at all following the war shows the human determination to survive and make the most of things. Being able to explore different parts of the Russian countryside and wilderness, and seeing all of these little details shows a world that has managed to adapt, while at the same time, gives a glimpse into what life might be like in the furthest reaches of the world. In addition, Metro Exodus also presents the idea that an open-mindedness is needed to bring about positive change; Artyom’s determination to explore the world outside of Moscow, ultimately gave the Spartans a new home and hope. Sometimes, taking a risk is necessary, and while the choice to do so is fraught with danger, the outcomes can be worth it. With the latest instalment of Metro now in my books, I’ve heard that there could be a sequel where Artyom returns to Moscow to bring back other survivors for a better life on the pristine and idyllic life on the shores of Lake Baikal.

Metro Exodus: Hidden Summer Camps of the Taiga

“In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.” –Paulo Coelho

The Spartans celebrate Stepan and Katya’s marriage on the Aurora, which has left the desert. When Anna collapses midway through the ceremony, Katya, who has medical knowledge, looks over her and feels that it might be the case that Anna simply needs better air. Analysis of the satellite imagery reveals a valley in Burabay National Park that appears suitable for settlement. While the Spartans are optimistic about this area, they decide to send Artyom and Alyosha to scout out the area so as not to frighten any locals in the area. However, Alyosha and Artyom are swept away by an avalanche, only to be rescued by a forest-dweller. Artyom learns that the forest valley is populated by two factions that splintered long ago, and seeking to link up with Alyosha, Artyom sneaks through several of the pioneer and pirate camps with nothing more than a makeshift crossbow known as the Helsing after his backpack is lost. He is eventually captured, and escapes when a massive mutant bear appears. Recovering his backpack, Artyom navigates around the pioneer and pirate camps, clears out a bandit camp on his own and then, after a harrowing fight with the mutant bear the locals refer to as the Master of the Forest, meets Olga, the pioneer who rescued him. She explains the history of the area and its two factions. Artyom then sneaks into a pirate camp and recovers a boat, encounters an eccentric admiral and makes his way to the dam through an underground passage. At the dam, Artyom links up with Alyosha and prepares to return to the Aurora. It turns out that Olga and Alyosha had struck up a friendship and reciprocated one another’s feelings: Alyosha promises to return for her, and advises her to move her people out, since the dam’s structure has weakened and could collapse, flooding the forest valley with radioactive water. The two return to the Aurora and set course for Novosibirsk as Anna’s condition worsens, in search of a medication that would cure her of her illness.

The biggest surprise of the Taiga region is the loss of Artyom’s equipment; after falling into the river, Artoym’s backpack is washed away, and with it, all of the upgraded gear accrued over the course of Metro Exodus. From the green laser sight I had recovered, to the upgraded Shambler, everything is lost, forcing players to adopt a more stealthy, patient approach towards dealing with the forest’s human inhabitants. As Artyom progresses through the valley, listening in on conversations finds that most of the forest’s peoples are not hostile and can be left alone. An eye for path-finding, and occasionally knocking out the stray sentinel in Artyom’s path will allow him to quickly clear areas without raising an alarm, and a few of the weapons can also be recovered: with the Bulldog and Shambler gone, players have a chance to return to the revolver and Ashot again. With the Helsing as a stealth option, I kitted the Ashot out with my usual two-barrel setup for close quarters, and the revolver became a mid-range intermediate solution after I fitted it with an eight-round double-action cylinder, standard barrel and a 4x scope. The change in play-style brings a new feel to Metro Exodus, and while the taiga might not have the same potential for exploration, it nonetheless is a beautiful region worth taking the time to go through. The only major combat I experienced here in the forests were at a bandit camp, through a spider-infested tunnel and then against the bear itself. In my first encounter, I depleted my entire stock of shotgun shells and pistol rounds to send it packing, while on my second fight, I utilised the Helsing’s explosive bolts to whittle down its health. Having gone through the taiga with the intent of doing as little harm as possible, I was met with respect from Olga, and Alyosha decides to return later to the area.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While the Caspian was a lifeless desert devoid of life (albeit one where its inhabitants adapted to the surroundings, and where looking closer revealed various points of interest), the taiga is a forested area rich in flora and fauna. Deciduous and coniferous trees cover hillsides that give way to pristine bodies of water while glacially-capped peaks tower above in the distance. It is unsurprising that the area looked so promising to settle in: the taiga seems like an idyllic place to be.

  • I would have loved to stick around in the area and explore, but as the daylight disappears, the priority is to reach Alyosha as soon as possible. Artyom’s backpack disappeared after the railcar was washed into the lake by an avalanche, and initially, all players will have available to them is the Helsing crossbow in its most basic configuration, allowing it to fire a highly-damaging bolt at a very low rate of fire, one at a time. When confronted with the Helsing-wielding forest dwellers, Artyom can be felled in as little as two shots, making stealth a much more critical path to take.

  • After making my way through a village and surviving an encounter with the mutated bear that the forest dwellers refer to as the Master of the Forest, night had fallen. As soon as players locate a IRNV scope for the Helsing, night is actually the preferred way to complete the Taiga with minimal risk of detection from the forest dwellers, but lacking a good close-quarter solution means that encounters with wildlife would be much trickier.

  • I ended up finding a small cave west of the passage leading into the pioneer camp and rested there until dawn. While daylight increases my risk of being caught, an entire post’s worth of screenshots by night would have been very boring – the taiga is at its best during the day, and exploring around then gives the best opportunity for screenshots. By this point in time, I’ve found a three-round magazine for the Helsing, along with different optics and even a compound bow attachment that increases damage.

  • The shores by the lake here is one example of how stunning Metro Exodus looks – the developers have evidently put in a great deal of work into the environments, from the scraps of wood floating and algae on the water, to the mists rising up from the lake by morning, everything in the taiga feels idyllic. In fact, the area resembles some regions of Skyrim and Half-Life 2 Episode 2, as well as the mountains near my city. This Labour Day long weekend, suboptimal weather precluded a trip out there, and I ended up doing some window shopping at a local mall instead before settling down to a satay lobster noodle soup, which was a fine way to ward off the cold weather.

  • I ended up covertly moving through the entirety of the pioneer camp without once alerting anyone to my presence, but I did knock out a few pioneers who stood between me and my destination. Knocking people out is silent and quick, allowing me to take their entire inventory, and because it is non-lethal, doesn’t impact one’s morality any. It is superior to the lethal takedown, and in fact, renders it completely unnecessary to kill anyone all, since knocked-out enemies stay down indefinitely. Future iterations of Metro may do well to balance this by adding a timer so that downed enemies can regain consciousness and then alert their allies, forcing players to be both stealthy and efficient.

  • For the effort of not firing a single shot while in the pioneer camp, my screen flashed white briefly, indicating I’d done something good. The pioneers and bandits are said to be students who were out camping when the nuclear war broke out, and then continued to grow up in the forest once civilisation was destroyed. The pioneers in particular are named after the Young Pioneers (or in full, “Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization”), which were a youth organisation similar to North American scouts and sought to teach young people social cooperation in summer camps.

  • The game Everlasting Summer deals with a Young Pioneer camp, and I might write about my experiences with this exceptional visual novel if there is a wish for it. Here, I arrive at a bandit camp: unlike the pioneers or pirates, going loud in a bandit camp has no impact on morality. I thus put the Helsing to good use here, silently eliminating bandits until my presence was noticed. I promptly switched over to the revolver for increased firepower. The bandits have access to a Valve rifle here, but because ammunition for this was scarce compared to the revolver, my makeshift pocket sniper became the best solution here.

  • I’d actually been itching for a chance to use the pocket sniper configuration of the revolver for the longest time since the Volga, and in the bandit camp, the weapon proved its worth. Readers may have noticed that I almost always run with the same loadouts in each region, and this is because while Metro Exodus may allow for some pretty unusual setups, I found that particular weapon configurations simply worked best for me in a given situation.

  • TheRadBrad had gone through the bandit camp by night and therefore was able to avoid most of the combat by sneaking past the enemies, but in the bandit camp, there’s a captured pioneer that Artyom can rescue only by single-handedly eliminating the entire camp on his own. While having a Kalashnikov or Bulldog here would have simplified things, the revolver and Ashot managed things more than adequately.

  • The church tower in the distance is where Artyom is set to rendezvous with Alyosha, but there’s still a pirate camp between Artyom and the objective. With the day growing late, I decided to find a campfire and rest up, again, so I could carry on with the mission by day. The skies here look very life-like, and one of the nuances about Metro Exodus is the hyperrealistic skyboxes that dynamically change over the course of a day. Dynamic weather means that no two moments are going to be identical, and this adds life to the game.

  • Having spent the night rested, I reawaken to find the pink-orange light of a taiga dawn. I’ve managed to find a lull in the moment and refitted the reflex sight to the Ashot, although quite honestly, the light weight and solid handling of this weapon means that it can be fired from the hip with reasonable accuracy. I thus carried this into battle with me, along with the revolver and Helsing arrows – the quiet of the church yard I enter was unnerving, and I soon had my answer as to why this was the case.

  • It turns out this is where Artyom will have a chance to square off against the Master of the Forest, a massive mutant bear. This bear is tougher than any mutant bear I’d ever fought in previous Metro titles, being able to barrel through obstacles without any trouble and shrugging off an entire arsenal’s worth of damage without flinching. I managed to drive the bear off here, but it turns out there’s a smarter way to fight: Artyom can simply use the Molotov cocktail to distract the bear and then unfurl the rope ladder. Subsequently, Artyom buy himself enough time to escape with a second Molotov cocktail, and upon ascending the ladder, the bear will leave.

  • In my case, I lacked any Molotov cocktails, so after expending my entire stock of shotgun shells and a fair number of arrows, I drove off the bear by force of arms, leading Olga to comment on Artyom’s skill after they meet. It turns out she was the one who saved him and Alyosha from the derailment earlier, and if Artyom takes the time to listen, Alyosha will explain the entire history of the valley and its inhabitants. There’s a work bench here, allowing players to craft up any ammunition and consumables that were spent during the bear fight. While most guides recommend against crafting ammunition, those who take the time to explore will have enough raw materials to constantly top off their consumables. In fact, I would counter-state that one should craft with an eye on the following priorities – medical syringes should always come first, followed by cleaning one’s weapons and repairing one’s mask.

  • Then, ammunition for the shotgun can be crafted: pistol and intermediate rounds are reasonably common. Throwables can be found in the environment and are costly to make, while one to three minutes of material gas mask filters can be made if one still has resources available. They aren’t needed too often in open areas, and one can get by as long as they have more than nine minutes’ worth of filters. Here, I approach the dam, and to the right of the image, a faint cyan glow can be seen emanating from behind the dam, hinting at the state of the world in reservoir.

  • Owing to the terrain and sightlines, it is very difficult to sneak past the pirate camp without raising the alarm, so to tilt the situation slightly in my favour, I moved through the area by nightfall and managed to secure a boat without any difficulty. In the process, I also acquired a Kalashnikov rifle, giving me slightly improved firepower for medium range encounters. Once the boat is secured, players will encounter the Admiral, an insane fellow who keeps company of the corpses of those he once commanded. The Admiral is no threat to Artyom and will have some interesting stories to tell: I listened for a while and accepted his tea, then proceeded on with making my way to the dam.

  • I’m sure that the sights up here would’ve been beautiful by day, but since I chose the night, I got to see a full moon casting a cold blue light on the valley below. The next segments were among my least favourite of the taiga: I entered an underground passage with a spider infestation, and was troubled with radiation pockets that interfered with my flashlight. Armed with only my lighter, I had to lure the spiders towards light, and then engage them there.

  • There’s a generator hidden in the underground complex, and once Artyom activates it, the lights come on. This provides Artyom with a modicum of peace from the spiders: they are still difficult to fight, and careless shot placement will invariably lead to an unnecessary expenditure of ammunition. Exploring the installation will find a reasonable amount of ammunition, which will help in the area ahead.

  • After nearly two thirds of the game has passed, we finally come to the area that was showcased during the 2017 E3 demo. I deliberately outfitted my crossbow with the same setup that was seen in E3 and proceeded down the slope. The area has seen numerous changes since E3, and the animations seen then are gone, but beyond this, the Metro Exodus that we get to experience is more polished and detailed than the E3 version. It suddenly strikes me that two years have passed since I first heard about Metro Exodus, and it is humbling to finally be standing here in the same spot that was showcased shortly after I returned from my trip to Japan.

  • Artyom will encounter the bear a final time after reaching a bridge leading to the church, and must defeat it to continue on back to the Aurora. The best way to do so is to open the fight by securing all of the Molotov cocktails, and then using one to create space while unloading as much shotgun ammunition as possible. When depleted, I switched over to the Helsing’s explosive bolts. After enough damage is done, the bear will charge at Artyom and then slip over the cliff’s edge. Olga will arrive and tell her people to stand down, sharing a farewell with Alyosha before allowing the two safe passage. It turns out that Alyosha had met Olga earlier and the two fell in love: Alyosha recounts his experiences to Artyom as they move through the village here. Once the two part ways, Alyosha promises to come back for her, and then joins Artyom in zip-lining across the abyss back to the Aurora.

Entering the final quarter of Metro Exodus, I am two for three in terms of keeping the Spartans with me, and there is only one more section left in the game to go through. Of the different regions of Metro Exodus, the taiga definitely is the most breathtaking, with its forests, lakes and mountains. However, the area’s biggest threat is the radioactive waters behind the dam: when I exited the underground tunnels and came to the point overlooking a small village that was shown in the E3 demo of Metro Exodus back in 2017, the faint glow was visible even during the day. It turns out that the location in the E3 demo was in the taiga, and armed with the crossbow with a reflex sight, I trudged down the hill towards the church, much as the demo did. While the demo had more animations and more enemies to fight in the area, Metro Exodus‘ retail version sees improved visuals and a more atmospheric experience in fighting the bear. I’ve heard that it’s uncommon for a game’s E3 demo version to be dramatically surpassed by the retail version (The Division and Rainbow Six Siege are examples of two games that saw graphical downgrades in the retail build), and given the overwhelmingly positive experiences I’ve had in Metro Exodus after three-quarters of the game, I can honestly say that the decision to pick this up was worthwhile. The next chapter appears to be the final segment in Metro Exodus, and it looks to be a return into the old, claustrophobic gameplay that characterised previous Metro titles. Having spent three quarters of the game outside, I’m curious to see how the new mechanics of Metro Exodus will play out back in the narrow confines of underground tunnels.

Air: A Reflection At Summer’s End

“Isn’t that a romantic thought? That your true self is in the sky!” —Misuzu Kamio

Yukito Kunisaki is a wanderer with an unusual talent: the ability to use limited magic in animating a puppet. He travels from town to town with the aim of supporting himself, while at once seeking out a “Girl in the Sky”, a function he inherited from his late mother. Upon arriving in the coastal town of Kami, and after failing to impress the local children, he falls asleep on the seawall, only to encounter Misuzu Kamino. Enticed by her offer of a free meal, Yukito soon becomes friends with her and manages to convince Haruko Kamio, Misuzu’s foster mother, to allow Yukito to sleep in the garden shed. Yukito also meets Kano Kirishima and Minagi Tohno, coming to learn of a legend from a thousand summers previously. Borne of a curse from the Heian period, when the ancient winged being Kannabi no Mikoto (Kanna) escapes from captivity with the help of Ryūya, a member of her guard, and the Force-sensitive Uraha. While their escape was successful, priests soon caught up to them and cursed Kanna to eternally die and resurrect whenever she discovered love. It turns out that Misuzu was the latest reincarnated form of Kanna, and so, after kindling a friendship with Yukito, she fell in love with him. Misuzu’s story is later recounted from the perspective of a crow named Sora, and it turns out following Yukito’s mysterious departure, Haruko and Misuzu spend more time together as mother and child up until Misuzu’s death. This is Air, the first of the Key adaptations and the second series the Kyoto Animation produced: dating back to 2005, Air nonetheless has a timeless feel to it thanks to Kyoto Animation’s technical prowess, which was apparent even this early in their career, as well as the unusual and riveting story from the source materials itself.

From a narrative standpoint, Air is predominantly about how even if love is a transient state, the treasured moments that two individuals spend together are well worth the pains because they create a unique bond. This love is represented in Air both in terms of familial love, as well as romantic love. Despite their short time together, Yukito grows to care greatly for Misuzu not merely because of her being the individual he was fated to seek out, but because of her kindness. Similarly, in accompanying her and showing her friendship, Misuzu comes to love Yukito. While their time is cut short, their emotions and experiences remain genuine. Following the Summer arc, the bonds between Misuzu and Haruko are developed: having long regarded Misuzu coldly for fear that she would forget her, Haruko decides to make up for the lost time. While building a bond with Misuzu does end up causing Haruko great pain when Misuzu does eventually die of the curse, the pain is offset by Haruko having creating priceless memories and making the most of Misuzu’s remaining days. Then, no matter how short-lived love might be in some cases, it by no way diminishes its authenticity when it does manifest, and that the cost of love is far outweighed by the worth of having had the experience. This imagery is vividly presented in Air, augmented by extensive use of the summer season as a visual backdrop: like love, summer is a beautiful season occasionally marked with inclement weather, and is finite in length. However, it is in this brief period where things are truly magical, and while summers inevitably end, the memories they wrought remain with one forever.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Misuzu Kamio is Air‘s heroine. She is very similar to CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa and Kanon‘s Nayuki Minase in terms of personality, being kind and gentle, with a somewhat immature predisposition at times. While Yukito initially grows tired of her seemingly boundless optimism, her persistence in befriending him leads him to come around. Misuzu was voiced by Tomoko Kawakami, who passed away in 2011 and also played Aria‘s Athena Glory, The Girl from the Illusionary World of CLANNAD and Sayuri Kuruta of Kanon.

  • Air is set in the coastal town of Kami, in the Hyōgo Prefecture. The choice of location, a quiet town with a small population with a lack of activity, creates a deliberate sense of solitude that forces focus to be on Yukito and Misuzu. Anime taking this approach tend to feel very lonely and melancholy, creating a sense of yearning and wistfulness, and for me, there’s an appeal to series with this particular aesthetic.

  • Yukito comes from a line of sorcerers with the ability to manipulate objects to a limited extent. While is puppeteering skills are initially weak, his time with Misuzu helps him appreciate what his audience seeks from his plays, and over the course of Air, he is able to impress audiences to a greater extent. Of the male protagonists in a Key adaptation, Yukito has the least development of everyone in comparison to Yuuichi and Tomoya, since he’s supposed to represent the player character.

  • A short walk in Kami leads one out of town into the rural areas. The gentle quiet of the countryside amplifies the feeling of isolation, although Yukito is not without good company. He encounters Kano, an unusual girl who wears a ribbon around her wrist to seal her “magic”. It turns out that after coming into contact with a cursed feather, Kano manifested an unusual condition, and the ribbon was meant as a means to help her cope.

  • Aside from setting the standard for Kyoto Animation’s visuals, Air also would set the precedence for the quality of music that would go into its works. Air‘s soundtrack is a timeless collection of vocal pieces from Lia, which capture the empty majesty of the sky, and Jun Maeda’s incidental pieces serve to both set the mood of a moment, as well as convey additional aspects of a character. In particular, Misuzu’s theme, Natsukage, has become a favourite of mine: if there was a single song that captures how the summer feels, then this would be it.

  • Out of the gates, Air makes extensive use of supernatural elements to capture the idea that human emotions, both good and bad, sometimes defy known understanding and therefore can only be captured by means of magic. This is a recurring theme in Jun Maeda’s works – the way things works out in reality sometimes can appear to be the work of a higher power. In Air, the lack of contemporary implements such as phones give the setting a timeless feel, making it feel more plausible for magic to exist as a natural part of the world.

  • Hijiri Kirishima is Kano’s older sister, and after running into Yukito, decides to offer him work. In Kami, Yukito also runs into Minagi and Michiru; the former shares many unusual conversations with Yukito, while the latter is fond of pranking him. While the characters initially appear disconnected, they are all related to an ancient story from a thousand years earlier. Elements of reincarnation and rebirth are present in Air, although it is presented as a curse rather than a blessing.

  • While initially appearing dull and lifeless, Yukito’s background from a family of sorcerers and his connection to the “Girl in the Sky”, coupled with a kind disposition despite his cold appearance, means that he’s an integral part of the story. Over time, he grows to care for Misuzu even as her condition fails: the curse of a thousand years means that when she discovers love, her health and memories fade and condemn her to death.

  • The wide open skies above Kami are deliberately presented as vast: Air itself makes extensive use of imagery associated with birds, flight and feathers to signify a longing to soar into the expansive sky and explore. Society’s rejection is then a refusal to explore what could be, and how despite a laggard society’s effort to suppress curiosity, it will always linger. I imagine this to be a secondary theme in Air, and admit that it took me three revisitations to really get a handle on what the series was about: unlike Kanon and CLANNADAir is a bit more abstract in its presentation.

  • The mysteries in Air are indicative of the notion of curses being extremely long-lived, to the point where for future generations, they simply become something that they adapt to. Yukito and the others are not fully aware of the story, but bits and pieces of it are told over time, filling in the mystery. The feathers will occasionally manifest, and these snow-white feathers of purity speak of bygone times, of something unspoilt and untarnished.

  • Misuzu holds the rather romantic belief that one’s self exists in the skies above, unfettered by worldly concerns and untroubled by the comings and goings of the world. A long time ago, I had a friend who shared similarly romantic beliefs, and although time resulted in our drifting apart, these thoughts remain behind. One wonders what it would be like to have the sort of freedom a bird might, and it attests to humanity’s incredible resourcefulness that we’ve both been able to soar into the air as a bird might with aircraft, as well as replicate the experience with microprocessors and LED screens.

  • Minagi’s story was perhaps the most rushed in Air; after events of her past, Minagi’s own mother forgot about her existence, but Yukito ultimately helps to set things right when he speaks with the irreverent Michiru and determines on how to reach a solution. With things settled, Minagi departs for an unknown destination, and Misuzu collapses unexpectedly, setting in motion the final events of Air.

  • The origins of the thousand-year-old curse is found in the Heian Period, which spanned from 794 AD to 1185 AD. This period was characterised by a substantial Chinese and Buddhist influence, and is known for its artwork. It turns out that long ago, there were winged beings of great power, and society’s fear of them led to their extinction. Samurai Ryūya and Force-sensitive Uraha strive to protect Kanna from the pursuers after they manage to fulfill Kanna’s wish of locating her mother, and eventually, after Kanna is cursed and killed, Ryūya and Uraha conceive a child together with the aim of breaking this curse.

  • The third segment of Air follows things from the perspective of a crow named Sora. Here, Misuzu stands outside on a hot summer’s day. The alternative perspective offers new insight into Misuzu’s world, and that despite her lack of friends, her world is one of optimism and making the most of things. Her appearance in this moment here is the anthropomorphism of what I’ve come to long for in the summer: an encounter with someone like Misuzu or Nagisa in a verdant field and endless skies. Of course, this is just a dream, and given the geographical setting of where I am, such a dream is unlikely to come to fruition.

  • Following Yukito’s disappearance, Haruko resolves to look after Misuzu, whose health worsens by the day. Eventually, Misuzu’s father comes to pick her up, and while the old Haruko would have no objections, over the past while, she’d come to bond with Misuzu and sees her as a daughter. Misuzu’s father reluctantly allows Haruko to look after her for a few more days. With her hair short, Misuzu resembles Kanon‘s Ayu Tsukimiya. Having covered two of Key’s biggest titles, my sights are now set on writing about Kanon: I watched it after finishing CLANNAD and felt it have less of an impact, but the series remains exceptional, worthy of being counted as a masterpiece.

  • While I’ve referred to the town of Air as Kami, the real Kami actually does not have a hill overlooking the sea and is quite flat. Contrasting her initial cold treatment of Misuzu, Haruko comes around and begins regarding her as a proper daughter. Despite their short time together, the memories they share become priceless: each of the three arcs of Air appear to be unified by the idea of how transient and fragile relationships can be, but still have great importance and worth nonetheless. Air covers numerous other themes, as well, but at a very basic, broad level, the theme I’ve found Air to be most forward with is thus.

  • In this post, partially a reflection of Air and partially me reflecting on the last day of August, I’ve featured moments that predominantly have the blues and greens of summer. Air, however, also makes use of other times of day: like KanonCLANNAD and virtually the rest of Kyoto Animation’s works, the colouring and time of day become critical in conveying a certain mood. Intense saturation during the evenings, for example, indicate emotional distress or troubling times.

  • Misuzu’s death is inevitable, and one of the most difficult moments was watching her struggle to stand and walk over to Haruko. Misuzu eventually dies on the beaches she loved, in Haruko’s arms. While the curse appears to claim yet another life, the combination of time, Yukito’s befriending of Misuzu and willingness to return as a crow to retain the lost memories, and Haruko’s accepting of Misuzu as her own daughter, the sum of these actions allows the curse to lift. In this case, Air is really about showing how compassion and kindness has a nontrivial impact in ending even something as powerful as a curse.

  • In the end, the children at the end don’t have any significance to the story. Air is regarded as being somewhat difficult to understand, but in spite of this, still retains a moving story. With Air done, I will be turning my sights towards Kanon at some point. We now enter September, and I’ll be doing reflections on both Sounan Desu Ka? and Dumbbell nan Kilo Motteru once their finales air. Beyond this, I am pushing through Metro Exodus at a high rate and will be looking to finish before mid-month, so there will be posts on this. Finally, Battlefield V will be getting a post, as well: while the game has seen numerous setbacks, there are still a few things to consider, especially as I pass the one-year anniversary of Battlefield V‘s open beta.

Whereas I’ve actually finished Air some years ago, I encountered considerable difficulty until a recent re-watch of the series that led me to consolidate what I had to say about things. Being the earliest of Kyoto Animation’s Key adaptations, Air bears all of the hallmarks of later series, featuring exceptional presentation of the different stories, and initially, I appreciated Air purely for its technical aspects. The story itself came across as being more challenging to follow, but after revisiting the series and its persistent use of endless blue skies along a quiet coastal town as a backdrop made it explicitly clear that the summer was very much a core aspect of Air. Besides representing a season of life, exploration and possibility, summer also ends more abruptly and noticeably than any other season. It is the season whose presence is most strongly felt, and whose temporal nature is most apparent. As Air is set in the summer, it stood to reason that the choice of season was almost certainly to augment the themes in Air. This connection, on closer inspection, seems very natural: the love portrayed in Air, while transient and short, is very poignant, moving and powerful precisely because it is not endless. Thus, Air seems to also indicate to viewers that the ending of summer is not something to dread or despise, since the finite nature of summer gives more value to the memories created during its course. This is appropriate, given that August now draws to a close, and while winter may approach with a tedious inevitability, there is always the consolation that the days will grow warm again.