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Friday, January 27, 2017

Digimon Tamers Review!

You know, considering that Digimon World: Next 0rder is right around the corner (as of the writing of this post), I feel it's needed to talk about Digimon while the hype for the digital monsters is still fresh in my mind. At first I thought about doing a "Top 10 Favorite Digimon" list... But I already did that and my opinions haven't changed at all since then. So I'll be reviewing Digimon: Digital Monsters. More specifically, Digimon Tamers, which is actually Season 3 of the Digimon cartoon.

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"But wait!" you ask. "If this is actually Season 3, then why aren't you reviewing seasons 1 and 2 first!?". The answer is simple! The way the Digimon universe works is that only seasons 1 and 2 have anything related to each other (season 2 is a direct sequel to season 1). Season 3, however, is completely self-contained and has literally nothing to do with the rest of the franchise save for a few references and, well, the fact there are Digimon. Oh yeah, I should explain what this franchise is about. While the exact details vary from incarnation to incarnation, the general gist stays the same. Basically, a group of kids befriend the titular monsters and have to save the world from some kind of evil mastermind. Also, I like Season 3 a whole lot more so I'm being biased.

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While Season 3, better known as Digimon Tamers, does fit into the that basic synopsis quite well, it does do some things that stand out. The basic premise of Tamers in particular is once upon a time there was a kid named Takato (pictured above, left) who was playing a Digimon-themed card game with his friends, But during that game, one of his toys transforms into the Digivice, a handheld gadget that marks whoever owns it as a Tamer, basically meaning they can get a real live Digimon. But does Takato get a Digimon we've seen in the previous seasons!? No, because he gets the bright idea to use his Digivice on the drawing of a fan-made Digimon he created just before this incident, which brings it to life, and inadvertently creating my all-time favorite Digimon ever, Guilmon.

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But it doesn't stay all rainbows and sunshine for long (what kind of story would it be if it did?), as evil Digimon start invading the human world while a mysterious organization known as HYPNOS plots to eradicate every Digimon ever, including the good ones.

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To further thicken the plot Takato and Guilmon encounter Rika and Renamon (both of whom pictured above!), who basically serve as the Seto Kaiba/Vegeta of Tamers. If you have no idea what the heck I'm talking about, Rika is Takato's rival, and is much better at him... In basically everything. Renamon is Rika's Digimon of choice (or rather, her only Digimon, since Tamers are only allowed to have one Digimon at a time) and, almost effortlessly, became the most popular character in the franchise. Why? Either you find Renamon to be a cool and interesting character with a likable personality, or (BAD PUN ALERT!) you think *she's.... FOXY!!! Geddit? Because Renamon is a 6 ft tall fox-woman... Yeah, I'll see myself out now...

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But it's not a completely uphill battle as Takato is being mentored by long-time Tamer Henry and his partner Digimon, Terriermon. Also, forget "Hakuna Matata", Terriermon taught us a lesson that not even Timon and Pumba could hope to teach... Moumantai!!! What does Moumantai mean? It means "take it easy". And considering that Hakuna Matata means "no worries", I think we can say that Moumantai is the superior bilingual catchphrase. But on a more serious note, I always found Henry an interesting character due to being a pacifist due to a traumatic incident I will not spoil.

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Now something I LOVE about Digimon Tamers is it takes almost every trope associated with the previous seasons and deconstructs it to the 9th dimension and back again. You see, normally, the good Digimon can get away with trashing entire cities when they're busy fighting bad guys. Not here! Plus it kind of reverses the order of things, since normally, the kids' (and their Digimon's) adventures start in the Digital World and they end their adventure with a showdown in the Human World. But Tamers is like "Nope! We're starting in the Human World cuz we be hipster trash!".

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Speaking of Digimon Tamers' story, it is BY FAR the best story in the Digimon franchise. It has a slightly slow pacing, though understandable from a story stand point because none of the kids realized how serious their adventures with their Digimon friends really are until the Great Devas arc comes rolling in.

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Also, this marks the official debut of Beelzemon, who, as I said in my Top 10 Favorite Digimon list, is completely and utterly awesome.

Speaking of characters, I actually like literally EVERY character in this season. And that includes the human characters. Takato is such a departure from the usual main lead, who are brave and confident, while Takato is a lot more chill and unsure of himself. Henry, like I said, is a pacifist as well as more experienced with Digimon than Takato and arguably Rika, And Rika stands out for being the first and (as far as I am aware) only female rival character in the franchise, as well as being **Tsundere BEFORE IT WAS COOL!!! Guilmon is a lovable, bread-munching goofball who happens to be voiced by Steve Blum, and given that actor's track record, just about any time he voices a character that character either becomes my all time favorite or one of my favorites for that series (Orochimaru, Amon, and Green Goblin, just to name a few). Terriermon is both adorable, and cool because he will always be there to tell you to Moumantai. And Renamon is a Digimon battle rule breaker because she can somehow kill Champion level Digimon while staying at the lackluster Rookie level, despite the established lore of "You have to be either the same level or higher as your opponent just to be able to stand a chance". So either Renamon is actually the strongest Digimon who ever lived or she's a dirty cheater, though given the fact Renamon is established as an honorable warrior, I doubt she's cheating. Or it's a case of the Ash's Pikachu Effect where she is only as powerful as the story-writers want her to be and continuously buff and nerf her accordingly. Probably that last one actually...

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Oh yeah, we also have Ryo and his Digimon, Cyberdramon. He shows up ridiculously late into the show, and is basically the Green Ranger of the team. Personally, while he was a good character, he was introduced way too late into the show, and HOW he's introduced feels a little bit forced. But then again, he was added into the show last minute to tie-in to the then brand new video game, Digimon World. Like if you wanted to learn Ryo and Cyberdramon's story in full you would have to play a video game for a console that doesn't even exist anymore. Ah, early 2000's marketing. Giving us deliberately incomplete stories just to milk money out of popular franchises! Thankfully, we live in a day and age where we can Google stuff when we're stumped. But aside from being a victim of bad marketing, Ryo was cool. Bonus points for having the punniest name ever once Cyberdramon reaches Mega-level (he becomes Justimon, which is pronounced "Just-a-mon").

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There are also three supporting characters, Kazu and Kenta (pictured above), along with Jeri (pictured below). Kazu and Kenta can be best described as the Team Rocket of Digimon. If, you know, Team Rocket wasn't evil. Basically Kazu and Kenta are those two guys who aren't really good at anything and are mostly there for comic relief. Heck, when they become Tamers themselves the role they play in the grand scheme of things is so small that it feels like the writers just kind of forgot about them. It would've been nice to see these guys digivolve their Digimon to Mega-level so they can help out in the final battle (to be fair, Kenta's Digimon, MarineAngemon, is a Mega-level by default. Too bad MarineAngemon is strictly a support-based fighter...). As for Jeri, she was hilariously funny, from her adorable Funtime-Foxy looking sock puppet to literally spending an ENTIRE EPISODE convincing Leomon to become her partner Digimon. Then Leomon dies. Then Jeri becomes an emo. And THEN the D-Reaper uses her emo-ness as a battery. You had one job, Leomon. You had one job. Also, what is with the Digimon story-writers and killing off Leomon? I swear, if I had a dollar for every time they killed off Leomon I could have bought a brand-new car. So next time they make a new Digimon season/show/movie, please let Leomon survive from beginning to end.

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But those are all the heroes. What does Tamers have as far as villains go? Well, let's start off strong with one of the single most terrifying things created in the history of modern entertainment, so terrifying in fact that it begs the question of why Digimon is considered a children's cartoon! So terrifying that it makes Freddy Fazbear look like a chump! SO TERRIFYING the only thing I consider scarier are the dreaded Redeads from the Legend of Zelda franchise! Enter...

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...The D-Reaper! Now I know what you are thinking. Why do I consider this thing scarier than the single most legendary horror character ever? Well first up is the D-Reaper's motivation. It exists to delete excess data, but it's A.I. has evolved (digivolved?) to the point where it cannot give an exact meaning to "excess" data and decides to just erase EVERYTHING. Oh, and how could any kid growing up in the 2000's forget the Jeri's Nightmare scene? I did consider putting a picture of said scene but I don't want to ruin the surprise for you. >:}

But before the D-Reapers time in the spotlight, the villains were the Great Devas as well as their leader, the Sovereign. But they pale in comparison to the D-Reaper. Although they're well-intentioned extremism was a little bit cool, the Sovereign gradually becomes less like a well-meaning but completely misguided extremist who almost started a war with humanity (a war we would lose by the way) to just a whiney brat who's racist towards humans. So The D-Reaper > The Sovereign.

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On another note, Digimon Tamers fixes the biggest problem I have with the franchise... The human characters are actually useful. Early on in the show Henry, Takato, and Rika can buff up their Digimon partners with Digi-Modify Cards, which can improve the Digimon's fighting skills, give them armor, or just straight up let them fly around. And while the Digi-Modify cards were awesome, once the gang reach Mega level they kind of forget about the Digi-Modify cards. So that's a shame. But on the bright side the humans are still useful even after they ditch the Digi-Modify Cards, because in order for the Digimon to reach Mega-level, they have to combine with a human.

And I think that covers it for the story and characters, but what about the graphics and music? Well, the visuals are MOSTLY good. I mean sure, the show uses a lot of stock footage, but at least said stock footage isn't bad... Until Guilmon and Terriermon reach Ultimate-level because the show suddenly shifts to CGI instead of the traditional art style when animating the transformation sequence for those characters (same applies to their Mega-level forms). And that CGI has not aged well at all. Seriously, it's almost comical how bad the CGI was. Thankfully, Renamon's transformations remain in the show's art style, and and such as the best animations for her forms.

Speaking of the Mega-level Digimon, I have to point out the sheer insanity that is the logic that went into the Mega-Level Digimon, especially since (SPOILER ALERT!) the Mega-level Digimon this time around are actually half human. Henry is a pacifist, yet his Mega-level Digimon, MegaGargomon, is covered form head to toe in a variety of guns, flamethrowers, and rocket launchers. And Rika is the cold-blooded warrior of the team (she literally spends 65% of her screen time hunting down and killing Digimon to make her own Digimon stronger), yet her Mega-Level Digimon, Sakuyamon, specializes in defensive abilities like healing and setting up force fields. Shouldn't the combat roles be reversed? I mean, I don't have a problem with Gallantmon (Takato's Mega-Level Digimon) because Gallantmon's combat role actually makes sense!

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As far as music goes, the theme song is an ear worm (Digimon, Digital Monsters, Digimon are the CHAMPIONS!!!) as per usual. Also, although I question the logic of the Mega-level Digimon, I will admit the music that plays during the Mega digivolution scenes is actually really good. But I honestly can't remember what the rest of the soundtrack sounds like at all. Then again, the last time I actually watched the show was about two months ago, so yeah.

Anyway, I give Digimon Tamers a 9/10, I REALLY want to give a perfect score but the fact the writers seemingly forgot about Digi-Modify Cards along with Kazu and Kenta as well as the insane logic of the Mega-level Digimon just lower the overall quality of the show JUST A TINY BIT. Oh, and the laughably bad CGI for Guilmon and Terriermon's Ultimate/Mega-level transformations. But you should go watch it anyways because Digimon is better than Pokemon. Actually, no, it's not better. Digimon has a better TV Show, than Pokemon. Yeah, that's more like it.

*The reason I refer to Renamon with feminine pronouns is because Renamon views herself as a female, despite the fact that all Digimon are genderless and as such do not need to breed to reproduce. They ARE living computer programs after all. Digimon Tamers! Teaching kids about gender identity since 2001!

**Tsundere is the name of a character development process where a character is a complete jerk to the main hero(es) but eventually warms up to them and sometimes becomes a major love interest (or best friend, depending on how it's being used). The reason I say Rika was Tsundere before it was cool was because Digimon Tamers came out in 2001, long before the term was officially coined and this particular story telling method became popular, and the term sums up Rika's entire personality in a nutshell. Aside from, you know, becoming a major love interest. Although, some of her dialogue implies she might have a thing for Ryo...

Monday, January 23, 2017

Most Stylish game EVER!!! Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Review!

Welp, the Nintendo Switch is coming out in less than 3 months. But we're not here to talk about the Switch. In fact, we'll time travel to Wii U era games to review what is without a doubt the most stylish game ever made...

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"Wait a minute!" you ask. "What kind of name is Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE?". First thing to note, this is a RPG and RPG names rarely make sense. But this game's title makes a little bit of sense. Tokyo = The entire game takes place in Tokyo, Japan. Mirage = The heroes encounter ghostly beings known as Mirages throughout their adventure. Sessions = a very important gameplay mechanic I'll explain in depth later. #  = While many assume it's supposed to be a hashtag, it's actually a sharp note. Fitting because this game revolves mostly around music. FE = Fire Emblem. Yes. The F.E. stands for Fire Emblem since this is (technically) a Fire Emblem game. Or rather, a hybridization of Fire Emblem, Shin Megami Tensei, and Persona. None of which I have actually played prior to this game. But I did do a small amount of research on them (Shin Megami Tensei is basically a M-rated Pokemon, one of the Persona games was basically a massive "Take That!" to pop culture, and Fire Emblem is a series of Tactical RPG's famous for having good stories, lovable character, and "rock-paper-scissors" style Weapon Triangle). Anyway, this game was made by Atlus, who worked on two of the three games I mentioned.

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Basically, Tokyo Mirage Sessions rolls traits of these franchises together, while creating a story with an interesting, if somewhat audience-alienating, concept.

The story of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE stars a young girl named Tsubasa and her childhood friend Itsuki. Tsubasa wants to become an idol. Itsuki doesn't really have any plans for his own future, but is happy to help Tsubasa on her way to stardom. But everything changed when the Fire Nation- Er, Mirages attacked.

Five years before the events of the game, during a live play performance, hundreds of people, including Tsubasa's sister Ayaha, vanish without a trace. We learn shortly afterwards that this incident is the work of Mirages, otherworldly beings who just so happen to be Fire Emblem characters (Chrom, Tharja, Navarre, etc). And the Mirages try to do the exact same thing a second time, to drain humanity of a form of energy known as Performa (really creative name, Atlus), which is ability a psychical embodiment of the human soul to express itself through performance art (singing, acting, etc).

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The plot mostly revolves around Tsubasa's rise to stardom with the help of Itsuki and several friends they meet along the way. It, of course, spirals into something much larger, like saving the world from a world destroying monster. But for the most part, the story shines it's spotlight (geddit?) on Tsubasa.

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And this game's concept alone has, like I mentioned earlier, alienated some people who did originally plan on picking this game up. I for one wasn't alienated by the concept because 1) I've never played any of the games that Tokyo Mirage Sessions draws inspiration from. And 2) I really like weird concepts in video games. My only gripe with the story is fact that if you have played literally any RPG whose name doesn't start with "Under" and end with "tale" the story will feel familiar. We have the stoic loner who joins the team late into the adventure Sixth Power Ranger style, the ridiculously adorable precious cinnamon roll character, the plucky comic relief character, and the aforementioned world ending monster thing. Very common storytelling beats, at least in the RPG genre.

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That's not to say it's bad. This games story was alright in my book. But given I am like the ABSOLUTE KING OF HYPER-GAMING, they could have at least thrown in a few surprises for me.

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The characters themselves were alright too. The only characters I didn't like was Itsuki himself (he feels way too much like a blank slate for the player to project on). But my favorite characters would have to be Touma (pictured above), a stunt man who dreams of being the lead character in a super hero show that is a very obvious parody of Power Rangers (or Kamen Rider, take your pick). Touma is actually a cool character, he has some really memorable moments (his second side mission where he must learn how to flirt with girls so he can play the civilian identity of the lead of the aforementioned superhero show had me laughing from start to finish). and performs (geddit?) really well in actual combat.

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But a close runner-up for favorite character would be Yashiro, who is the stoic loner that joins late into the adventure I mentioned earlier. Why? Because he is arguably the best tank in the game (Taunt + Counter is a surprisingly deadly combination!). His side missions also range from funny, to weirdly feels inducing. Also, Yashiro looks cool both is his regular and combat forms. Everyone else can only look cool in one or the other.

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Something I will note, is that Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a very musical video game. And no, not just because the game has good music. I mean, considering the game takes it's pop idol theme and runs with it, expect the characters to actually sing songs. Like the easiest way to imagine Tokyo Mirage Sessions is as Fire Emblem/Persona: The Musical. Random fun fact! Every character that sings in the game is voiced by a real-life J-Pop singer. Now's a good time to mention that the voice acting in this game is exclusively in Japanese. Makes sense. I mean, the entire game takes place in Tokyo, JAPAN. There ARE English subtitles available if you don't know Japanese.

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Now that covers it for story, but what about gameplay? Well, 70% of the game revolves around exploring increasingly difficult dungeons with mild puzzle solving. The puzzles aren't difficult in the slightest, but they do break up the repetitivity of exploring the dungeons and fighting enemies.

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But how does combat work? Well, it's turn-based JRPG standard fare where you select an action from a menu, and then select a target. That is, until we get to the titular game mechanic of Sessions. The way Sessions work is say you hit an enemy with an attack the enemy is weak to. Assuming another party member has a Session skill that links up with your attack, that Party Member can also get a hit on the enemy before the first character's turn actually ends. And if ANOTHER party member has a Session Skill that links up with the first, you can keep the combo going, and once you get every party member and the appropriate abilities you can attack an enemy 7 times in one turn. Later on you unlock attacks known as Duo Arts where two party members unleash a teamwork based attack (normally singing a duet, but there are exceptions) and these attacks allow you to extend the combo even further! Although it's really rare (or I just have really bad luck) you can use TWO Duo Arts in one turn. So in other words, it's possible to attack an enemy 20+ times IN ONE TURN using Sessions! Duo Arts also have additional effects like auto-healing the entire team or instantly inflicting status conditions.

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And now for the part where I explain why Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is the most stylish game ever made.

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First, just look at the character designs. This game has, in my opinion, some of the best character designs in video game history. Special mention goes to Chrom. Now I know some people don't like Mirage!Chrom's design due to it not fitting his character well, but I personally love this design, as it looks both awesome, and slightly creepy, which is a good thing in my book.

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The other Mirages designs vary from partially robotic (like Cain) to ghostly and ethereal (like Tharja). As for the human characters themselves, their designs are good as well. Something worth noting is later on you gain an item known as the Master Seal (which is a thing from Fire Emblem in case you were curious) which can be given to the ally Mirages to have transform into stronger and cooler-looking forms. But, the mirages themselves don't really fight directly. They just give their human friends some superpowers and call it a day.

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But the MAIN reason this game gets the "Most Stylish Game" award from me is because of the battle animations. They vary from awesome moves like Yashiro summoning Navarre to slice up an enemy into a million pieces, to more endearing moves like Mamori (pictured above and to the left, the one in the yellow hat!) singing "Raindrop Memories" while her Mirage friend, Draug, sets up energy shields around the party, to just plain ridiculous like Kiria (aka the *Sinon clone) putting on a cat costume and causing a literal Cuteness Overload. But no matter what, Tokyo Mirage Sessions does literally EVERYTHING with flamboyance and style.

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Hey look it's Sinon-oops I mean, Kiria!

Now onto the negative stuff... Oh boy... This is really difficult because I thoroughly enjoyed almost every part of the game. The only thing I think this game really missed out on as far as story goes is that Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a game that bases it's concept around idols. More specifically, teenage celebrities. The idol industry is infamous for corruption being a major issue. I was EXPECTING them to have some form of corruption in the game because that would make for a cool and interesting plot device, given the concept Atlus chose for this game (heck, when I first saw Yashiro, my first thought was he was a corrupt mega idol that only cares about himself). But NOPE! The closest we get to corruption is the fact the evil Mirages tend to possess people and make them evil, but I'm talking about legitimate corruption (Greed, Power, stuff like that!). You know how I said that one of the Persona games is a massive "Take That, idol industry!"? Well this game is the opposite, since it portrays the teen celebrity life in the most positive way imaginable (what makes it worse is that both games were made by the EXACT SAME development team!). Unless you count Tsubasa's sister mini-story arc that lasts for the entirety of one chapter, since Tsubasa's sister, Ayaha, is living proof of what happens when the idol life fails. And considering that Tsubasa looked up to Ayaha, I guess you could say she IDOLized her! (Way to ruin the moment, Spencer!)

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Good job Itsuki, you got to shake Chrom's hand!

Speaking of Ayaha, the second thing I don't like about this game's story is how it handled Ayaha. They created this character that shows the hardships and soul-shattering nature of trying to be an idol, but she is only relevant to the plot in the very same chapter she debuts in. Like after she's saved, the story just forgets about her! It's infuriating to me that they handled a character that was without a doubt being set up to be arguably the most important supporting character, but be almost completely forgotten.

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While the ally Mirages don't suffer to the extent that Ayaha does, they don't get much time in the spotlight (geddit!?) themselves. I mean, if you've already played the Fire Emblem games (or studied up on the lore) you kind of already know who more about the characters but say you have no idea who Chrom or Caeda are, and you want to learn about them as characters. But they never delve into them more than "they are the guardians of their human friends". The only exception to that rule is Virion, who has an admittedly hilarious "quest" to prepare his human counterpart, Elenora, for life as a noble. But to put it bluntly, I feel Ayaha was a wasted character, and i also feel that the Mirages could have been given more direct involvement rather than just being their to give our heroes enough power to kick tail and take names.

But those are the ONLY things I don't like about Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. The gameplay was great, the music was good (because like I said, this game is basically Fire Emblem/Persona: The Musical) and had a neat concept and will forever hold the title of Most Stylish game EVER MADE. Unless Atlus makes a game with even more glamour and flair than this game. So I give this game a 9/10.

*- Sinon is a character from Sword Art Online and Kiria bears an uncanny resemblance to her. That, or I am going insane. Probably the latter.