Tacticular Cancer: We'll have your balls

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Review RPG Codex Review: Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun

Discussion in 'RPG Codex News & Content Comments' started by Infinitron, Jan 4, 2017.

  1. Goral Arcane Patron

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    Last edited: Jan 7, 2017
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  2. Ludo Lense Arcane

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    I wish to renounce authorship of the review regarding Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun. Matters concerning said text lie solely with the site staff. From my side I do not wish to be associated or related to it in any way from this point onward.
     
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  3. Jaedar Arcane Patron

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    You'd better elaborate so we can have some tasty drama justice.
     
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  4. Make America Great Again Darth Roxor Prestigious Gentleman Wielder of the Huegpenis, Hater of Eternity

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  5. Make America Great Again Tacgnol Arcane Patron

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    First drama of 2017?
     
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  6. Fairfax Arcane

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    Infinitron strikes again?
     
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  7. Make America Great Again ERYFKRAD Arcane Patron

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    And again and again.
     
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  8. Make America Great Again Infinitron Trade Master Patron

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    FYI, here's the original version of this review from before my editing pass:


    Show Spoiler

    Shadows, Shurikens and Seppuku

    [​IMG]
    “The weak are meat; the strong eat”

    Surprise is one of the saddest losses that fans or experts of a medium suffer from. Of course that doesn’t mean you develop an immunity to the ever looming hype train, indeed, the craving for a meaningful experience can be quite blinding. But that requires building expectations on something you know (you think) will be good, being blindsided by a game is much rarer. People forget that 1% or 99% chance don't make things impossible or certain and the recently released Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun proves that. A game I will henceforth abbreviate to ST.

    The biggest reason why this proved to be a surprise is the obscurity of the developer. Munich-based Mimimi Productions previously made a handful of mobile titles and an underwhelming 3D platformer in the vein of Jak&Daxter. But lo and behold, they decided to take a stab at a multi-platform Commandos/Desperados style tactical game with bells and whistles to match. Not to mention that there was no Kickstarter or other such signs that mark genre revival projects. Though the publishers are Daedalic who were responsible for the excellent Blackguards so there is a good link there regarding tactics focused games. Then again, Daedalic also released the decidedly less then excellent Blackguards 2.

    Regardless of how it came to be, ST’s ancestors are casually referred to as some of the best tactics games around by many old school gamers, so in other words, it has some big britches to fill.

    The theme always had a strange status in these sorts of games. “Hollywood styled setting real time squad tactics” is a bit of a mouthful but accurate if unwieldy: Commandos is set in WW2, Desperados in the Wild West, the lesser known Robin Hood is self explanatory and ST takes place in Edo Japan. I wouldn’t call any of these games historically accurate but more like the Chinatown experience. Not quite realistic but not quite ignorant. That being said ST has a certain degree of non-descriptiveness that doesn’t really serve the game well. It takes place at the end of extremely bloody Sengoku period and start of the rigidly peaceful Edo period but the actual narrative will probably make those who know anything about the time groan. The Shogun shown cannot be anybody else besides Ieyasu Tokugawa but the game never calls him that and the general flow of events is incompatible with how history went after the fall of Osaka Castle, which is where the plot starts. Obviously the game isn’t meant to be a historical learning experience but I can’t help but think that this sort uchronia is harmful. Things like retrieving one of the Enigma machines in Commandos added to the experience. Imagine if every one of the characters in that game was just listed as “Allied Forces” rather than specifying their origins. That is how playing ST feels. Still that only applies to those who know about the period and even then you can ignore the “mistakes” and enjoy the setting. A setting which is pretty well realized. There are some weird outfits here and there but for the most part it looks how it should, especially in regards to architecture. Mimimi nailed the feeling of the rice villages and towering castles which dotted the land of the rising sun. Plus it is a game about ninja and samurai doing amazing feats of assassination and subterfuge. This makes it pretty easy to go with the flow and be immersed with childlike glee.

    [​IMG]
    “If you do not enter the tiger's cave, you will not catch its cub”

    Which I should note doesn’t mean the plot is childish. It isn’t anything mind blowing and clichés are plenty but it does feature a lot of civilian slaughter, of which you can partake in, and quite a few characters decide to exit the story via committing Seppuku. Although the voice acting will play a huge role in how you will interpret this grimness. The developers managed to snag some Japanese voice actors for a dub that comes packaged with the game and there is a world of difference stylistically between it and the English one. I would describe the English one as stereotypical with every actor having a tinge of Asian accent while Bruceleeing it up with lines such as “Move like watah”. The Japanese voices are much more subdued and borderline historically correct which is pretty weird given how fast and loose the rest of the game plays with this notion. The two dubs are so different that it even changes the character personality. Mugen the samurai has a very serious “Sensei” voice in English dub, it wouldn’t be out of place to hear him say “Shamefur Dispray” but the Japanese one has him as a much more loutish brawler type fellow, which is indicative of his peasant origins. Obviously some people might enjoy the cheese but on a personal level I consider the Japanese dub to be the superior one and definitely how the game should be experienced.

    Everything I mentioned up til now is surface detail that while important, does not make or break ST. This type of real time squad tactics games have always lived and died on their game-play, specifically on their level design. The whole idea behind the game-play is to have different overlapping locked systems represented by enemies with long vision-cones and other such obstacles. The player controls a number of characters that posses different abilities which can be considered the keys to the locked systems. Thus the main gameplay loop relies on long moments of low activity where the player crafts a plan and then short bursts of high activity where the plan is put in motion. Obviously this is spiced up by the level design and scripted moments but that is general flow of these games, from Commandos to the present. What makes them so endearing is sheer amount of ways that they can be broken, giving a huge boost to creativity and ultimately replayability. Fully lethal, non-lethal, no alarm triggered etc. those are the kind of runs these games inspire. With that in mind let us see how ST handles the formula.

    Possibly the best way to describe the game is Desperados style characters with large Commandos style maps. The player controls a squad of Japanese period stereotypes as they go about their daily lives by ending lives with different sharp implements and high velocity projectiles. Indeed ST is very heavy on the murder aspect, this is mainly because death is the only way to permanently neutralize guards. Of course you can sneak about but patrol paths are rather long so wouldn’t it be more convenient to just shank a few fellows, even if they are innocent civilians? ST makes no moral judgement on your kill count (unlike Desperados where killing civilians immediately fails the mission) but simply accepts it as another path, the easiest path.

    [​IMG]
    “Split water will not return to the tray ”

    Indeed a big part of what makes the game tick is the badge system. The game comes with 3 difficulty setting and 9 achievements per map called badges. These badges more or less contextualize different play-styles. Most maps have badges like no civilian kills or no kills at all. When doing them, you can see how the level design has this very thoughtful multi-layered approach which takes in account wildly different ways to play through a level. My only objection is the existence of the easy difficulty. Only the other two difficulties, normal and hard, allow for badges to be acquired so the game does discourage the use of easy mode but even so, I believe it shouldn’t be there. It is basically story mode and this type of experience doesn’t really work with such an approach. This might sound condescending but the game is designed for you to struggle at times. There are many tools and techniques at the player’s disposal to get past different situations, you are bound to find the proper "key" to progress forward.

    The biggest innovation that ST brings to the table is verticality. A large part of the cast are basically Olympic level gymnasts. This involves being able to jump from rooftop to rooftop and use their hookshot at predetermined locations to scale different levels of buildings. There is no mission where you don’t have an agile character so the developers clearly knew this was an important part of the game that makes it unique among its peers. Indeed the missions lacking in verticallity are by far the weakest of the bunch. Two in particular show just how dependent the game is on this integral element. One takes place on arguably the smallest map in a tiny village with almost no hiding spots which is an exercise in tedium and the other requires carrying a body through a war camp. Obviously it is challenging but stripped of different levels of elevation the whole experiences becomes much weaker. It is not hard fun as it were. On the other hand there is a mission where you have to break into a keep behind enemy lines and I personally found it to be by far the best due to how height connected the map.

    Complementing this vertical element are environmental modifiers that get progressively introduced to the player. Snowy areas where guards will follow your footsteps, night maps where torches can put out but are relight by guards, puddles formed by rainfall that cause a great amount of noise when stepped in etc. There are enough such changes and scripted moments that they keep a steady of pace when it comes to feeding the player's interest. The game has around a dozen maps and after two thirds of the way through no new elements get added but the game goes into graduation mode. The difficulty amps us as is expected and you need to show some degree of system mastery.

    On top of this you have the A.I. and enemy types which is where ST is tangibly weaker than its predecessors. The game only offers 3 different enemy types with set A.I. The devs did squeeze a lot of mileage out of them and I was surprised by how many different configurations they could create but in the end I couldn’t help but feel that some new enemies were necessary to mix things up. It is a matter of variety not necessarily quality. The A.I. is also the only place in the game where a random element is introduced. Enemies that are searching or alerted while looking for your characters shift their view cones haphazardly which can make a world of difference when it comes to getting spotted and starting a fight. Death is a binary affair with no numbers popping up, attacks kill or do not. The player characters are a bit different in that they have a set number of hit points but they are wet paper towels except on easy difficulty. Given that alarms spawn a large number of guards with everybody having hit-scan weapons, holding your ground really isn’t an option because ammo is quite limited. This a clear step up from the infinite ammo in Desperados where waiting around a corner and filling enemies full of lead was much too effective. Stealth is the name of the game in ST which fits nicely with the ninjutsu theme it sells itself on.

    [​IMG]
    “Fall down seven times, get up eight”

    All these elements together make it so that quick saving and quick loading are your best friend. The game heavily accentuates this in the interface, a pop-up appearing to warn the player when they haven’t saved for the last minute or so. For those that want to have challenge regarding the save feature ,do not worry, every of one the maps feature a time trial badge and reloading doesn’t rewind the time spent. I’d say it is probably the hardest badge to obtain.

    The interface also has a lot more going for it than just helpful pop-ups, in fact this could arguably be considered the best part of the game. It has a myriad of small details such as when you order a melee attack and press the pick up body key during this, the icon reflecting your action changes to show that the body will be automatically picked up. The quick action from Desperados returns in the form of Shadow mode where you can give different orders to your crew then simultaneously execute them. This can be a little janky at times though, especially when it comes to multiple actions that need to be sequenced on the same target but it does the job well enough. The keys are fully rebind-able but I found the defaults to be more than adequate. Using your abilities and issuing orders even during high stress battles is a delight. The only wonky aspect is selecting things on different elevations. The maps are 3D and they can be rotated a full 360 degrees plus zoomed in/out pretty far. This leads to moments when you are trying to issue an order on a building but game interprets it on the ground. Hookshot spots are particularly guilty of this with their big hit boxes, some spots where they are cluttered make it somewhat difficult to move your characters around. But all of those are small blemishes on an otherwise outstanding interface which a godsend since while they are classics, Commandos and Desperados did require some wrangling with the interface which negatively affected the flow of those games.

    Characterization plays a big role in shaping the experience of these games. There is a 5 character cast which I don’t really consider a spoiler since they are all present on the main menu group shot. To be honest, I have always viewed characterization in these games the same way as in fighting games, a celebration of a character divorced of plot and background. That doesn’t mean those elements don’t exist but rather that they are not necessary in the slightest to understand the cast. One look at any of them and one line spoken will tell you all you need to know from start to finish. So with what being said we have:

    Super Shinobi Hayato who even shouts “Shurikenjustu” before poking someone’s eye out with a throwing star.

    Bushido Bastard Mugen who can slice and dice like no other with his trusty katanas and sake jug.

    Kooky Yuki who fulfills the child cuteness quota while having the most brutal stab animation.

    Alluring Aiko who is the mistress of disguises and thus dressed to kill. Literally.

    Venerable Veteran Takuma who has a sniper rifle, bombs and a trained tanuki. Consistent winner of best grandpa awards.

    Each one of them has 4 abilities which seems like a small number especially when you consider that everyone shares 2 two of them in the form of a melee attack (except Takuma's sniper rifle) and a pistol shot. That leaves two unique abilities for each character. But note that the stabbing isn't the same for everyone, the tool-tip describes different range, duration and noise for each character's melee attack which can make a world of the difference on the higher difficulties where split second decisions are par for the course. I was a bit put off by the small array of abilities at first but at the end of each mission you get to see their usage throughout the mission. It made me realize I was making use of everyone and they all feel rather well defined. The only exception is Aiko who actually needs to retrieve her disguise for each map to use it, the only other unique ability is a rather underwhelming blinding powder with a short effect. She feels the most like dead-weight on the missions where everybody is present, at least until she gets the disguise and her options open up.

    [​IMG]
    “A cornered rat will bite the cat”

    I would like to add that ST does something that I wish most games in general would do. The voice lines in response to actions that are tailored to the environment and story. The characters will comment on things such as the rain while moving, the fact that they have to make some regrettable kills or their feelings regarding the plot. It is a very simple but effective method of characterization without the use of exposition. If anything I would have liked for them to add even more unique responses.

    Now I know abstraction is par for the course in gaming, game-play trumps realism and so on but I have to say that ST takes some…let us say harsh liberties. Some of them are minor like pools of blood evaporating but others not so much. Falling damage is non-existent which makes sense given your ninja squad but it is possible to throw unconscious enemies 30 meters down to the ground and this miraculously doesn’t kill them. Things get especially fun when you throw explosive barrels right in front of guards to which they merely get distracted for a second before resuming their normal routine and then getting promptly blown up. These are amusing but they can be infuriating too. Some characters drag a body and others carry it which affects at which distance they are seen by enemies. This is obviously made to differentiate between the characters further but I couldn’t help but feel this was incredibly forced at times. I wanted to shout “Mate, just drag the body” but everyone is dead set into their technique I guess. Your experience may vary but I think everyone will find at least one aspect which they would consider immersion breaking.

    Let us go quickly through the production side of things before wrapping up. I never crashed so that is a definite plus and the game runs rather smoothly although the initial loading times for a mission are a bit long. They added a tool tip which says that the game isn’t frozen during the loading screen which amuses me to no end since console certification QA specifically says you are not allowed to do this. This is why most loading screens have an animated element so the user knows things are chugging along. The options menus are par for the course and not really noteworthy except for the fact that the game offers Tobii Eye Tracking support, if that is your sort of thing. The music is what you would expect but the sound design is excellent. From sword slashes to gun shots, the team really did an excellent job of make everything sound extremely satisfying. The game won’t blow you away with its graphical fidelity but it is more than respectable, they went with this semi cell-shaded look that makes interactive elements on the map pop out. Functionality was a clear priority so I applaud them for that.

    I guess some people are also expecting a direct comparison between ST and its forebears, possible with some edgy statements. Allow me to disappoint. This game is good enough that you can actually have a conversation centered around it being better than Commandos, Desperados or Robin Hood, that alone speaks volume regarding its quality. There is also the fact that comparisons between games that were built to be broken is somewhat difficult. On the one hand you can list all the interesting interactions that Desperados permits and call it a better game by that measure but on the other hand you can laud ST for how much it achieves with so little and call it tighter design. The only hill on which I am willing to die on is regarding the interface. It surpasses all of its predecessors and stands as one the best GUIs in a tactics game. There are almost next-to-none situations where you have fight against it which is vital in a game about carefully laid plans that require split second reactions to pull off. If you disagree then congratulations, you have earned the right to swing your cane at kids while telling them to git off yer lawn.

    I tried and probably failed to be somewhat neutral in this review. Truth be told this is one of my favorite games of 2016. I remember being both angry and overjoyed when a chicken started running around and triggered my carefully laid trap which sent my plan tumbling down. There are the moments you hold on to. It is not for everyone but that goes for the entire genre from which Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun was inspired. Even so, I wouldn't just recommend it to Desperados/Commandos fans, this is a safe bet for anyone interested in tactics games or just straight up well designed games in general. Spread the love around with your wallet this December by showing Mimimi Productions that their foray into real time tactics squad games is well worth the price of admission.

    [​IMG]
    “After victory, tighten your helmet strap”
     
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  9. Goral Arcane Patron

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    Ludo Lense
    So why are you quitting? Since you're trying to stir up drama by publicly renouncing authorship of your reviews you might as well tell us the real reason behind it. Don't be such a cuck like Bubbles.

    Anyway, it only shows that something is not right in the Codex staff HQ. DarkUnderlord ?
     
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  10. Fairfax Arcane

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    I didn't read the changes, but that's quite a lot. If he didn't agree to it, his reaction is understandable.
    Also, is this what we've come to? People leaving the forum and disowning their own content because of the staff's interference?
     
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  11. AMG Learned

    AMG
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    Don't talk to me or my review ever again.
     
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  12. Make America Great Again Roguey Arcane Sawyerite Sawyerist Sawyer's Bride No Fun Allowed

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    Everyone who gets published has to deal with copy-editing. As far as I know, most published authors don't throw fits over it (and in fact, some tend to get worse when they became big names and are let off the leash).
     
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  13. Make America Great Again Tacgnol Arcane Patron

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    Only glanced through, but most of those changes seem like grammatical corrections.
     
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  14. Goral Arcane Patron

    Goral
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    Hmm... Maybe I should write Underrail review.
    Show Spoiler

    toro epeli FeelTheRads thoughts?

    :troll:
     
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  15. Fairfax Arcane

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    Of course, but this is stuff people do in their free time for nothing in return, it's not a professional operation. Contributors deserve the courtesy of having a say in the final text, even if it means cancelling the whole thing. In this case, it seems Ludo Sense was caught by surprise, since he's disowning the content after it was posted. If it was just grammar, it's obviously silly, but I'd like to hear his side first, mainly because the staff has gone too far with editing before.
     
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  16. Goral Arcane Patron

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    Darth Roxor's reviews have zero changes on the other hand, they fear him too much. Maybe he should become editor-in-chief, something tells me it would be beneficial to all.
     
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  17. Make America Great Again Roguey Arcane Sawyerite Sawyerist Sawyer's Bride No Fun Allowed

    Roguey
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    The Codex doesn't want to be a place that runs ESL-sounding articles. There are some quality standards.

    This is just a bruised ego tantrum. If the Codex was in the habit of actually changing someone's opinion, Roxor's PoE wouldn't have been published as it was.
     
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  18. Goral Arcane Patron

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    Wasn't that only because DU intervened? And VentilatorOfDoom?
     
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  19. Make America Great Again Roguey Arcane Sawyerite Sawyerist Sawyer's Bride No Fun Allowed

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    The Infinitron gameplan was to wait until Crooked Bee became unbusy enough to look at it and see if she had any suggestions to make. There was never any point where they decided "Okay, we're just going to rewrite these sections ourselves."

    I've been through the back-and-forth myself with the Icewind Dale and ToEE stuff. No staff member alters anything other than grammar, and as far as I know, only when it's really necessary.
     
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  20. Fairfax Arcane

    Fairfax
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    That's not a good example. Part of the staff clearly regrets it, and as punishment for his opinion we got more positive reviews, the neutral-positive debacle and more of Cunta's shill pieces. You can bet the first PoE2 review won't be written by Roxor.

    Not true. :M
     
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  21. Make America Great Again Darth Roxor Prestigious Gentleman Wielder of the Huegpenis, Hater of Eternity

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    or will it?

     
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  22. Make America Great Again Roguey Arcane Sawyerite Sawyerist Sawyer's Bride No Fun Allowed

    Roguey
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    It will if he's the first one to finish it and they don't have an excuse to delay it (e.g. a backlog of content to publish). :)

    You'll have to explain your reasoning to me here because I don't see how this was an editorial alteration.

    http://www.rpgcodex.net/forums/inde...gital-dragons-2016.108970/page-9#post-4569962 mindx2 says right there that Avellone's response didn't make it into his recording of the conversation. No one altered anything.
     
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  23. duanth123 Augur

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    Spin it, girl. You'll be a despised member of staff yet, you will.

    Infinitron, you're a regular dindu at this point, always shrugging your shoulders while knee deep in shit.

    Can't you PLEASE just get the fuck off this site?

    inb4 negative rating of this post by Infinitron
     
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  24. Goral Arcane Patron

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    Well, he is a productive member but on the other hand he's always for some reason in the centre of a drama. So I suggest a compromise: remove him from the staff but let him stay. But this scenario is impossible because he's under Crooked Bee's protection.
     
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  25. Make America Great Again Zorba the Hutt Arcane Weasel

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    I've been quick to join in the Infinitron-related drama fun in the past, but aren't spelling and grammar changes pretty inevitable on a site with many 2nd language English speakers? Doesn't seem like a big deal, certainly not up there with previous review drama.
     
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