What I Read in March ‘13

March was a very busy month for me, and my reading pace suffered. There is only one book I feel is worth writing about that I read last month. It is not, however, the only book I read. I read five or six, but they aren’t at all worth saying anything about. But that won’t stop me from elaborating after I write about the one real book I read.

Casino Royale

Ian Fleming

I bought most of the Bond series in another Kindle sale, but this first book does not fill me with hope that I will enjoy reading them. Because frankly, I did not like this book at all. I thought it was crap, but with the germ of something interesting buried in the crap.

I knew the gist of the story from the fairly accurate, if significantly expanded, movie. That likely did not help my enjoyment, since I knew most of the twists already. Unfortunately, there isn’t much here to grasp on to other than the plot. The writing is terse, with only the barest of description or detail provided. It is simply bad writing. Perhaps it is social change in the intervening 50 years since this book was written, but Bond came off a prejudiced and unlikeable (worse so than even his worst movie portrayal) with no challenge from the book that he might not be right. Not that he is anything like the superspy he is in many of the movies. He is actually quite ineffective. Mostly, the book is watching an asshole do his job poorly.


What else did I read in March? A bunch of crappy, free romance novels I got from the Kindle store. I won’t name any names, but they were uniformly bad. Why did I keep reading them then? Because it was easy. I would download one to my phone before work, then read it when I was supposed to be working. I was working 70 hours a week, and I needed something to do at work. What else was I going to do? My job? Ha! So instead of reading any of the numerous worthwhile things I have for my Kindle, like a load of Chabon, I read crappy romances. Because since I was a working, I was frequently getting interrupted. That really hampers one’s ability to really get into to a book. So I read something I didn’t really care about. That is what I read in March

What I Read in February 2013

Yeah, I missed getting this up in March. So February’s is happening now, and March’s will happen in a day or two. I thought about doing them both at once, since I had about as much time to read in March as I did to write blog posts, but doing so would mess up my monthly format even more.


Terry Pratchett

Pratchett is an author that has long been on my to read list, since his stuff sounds like just my thing. However, I have never really managed to do it. When I saw Dodger on sale on Amazon, I figured it would be the best chance I would get to read some Pratchett on the cheap. I’m not sure this was the best place to start with Pratchett, though.

Dodger is the story of a London orphan who helps out a distressed young woman. Early parts read like a love letter to Charles Dickens, with Dodger being obviously inspired by the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist, and he has a Jewish mentor who is actually totally unlike Fagin. Then Dickens himself shows up, proving that it is just such a love letter. Not just ot Dickens, though, but to Victorian London in general. It doesn’t whitewash the bad parts, the main character is an orphan who makes his living digging things out of the sewer, but the novel is largely upbeat and humorous.

Unfortunately, by about the halfway point the supposed cleverness of the Victorian references and Dodger’s combination of street smarts and ignorance starts to wear thin. Instead of continuing the plot, too much time is spent with Dodger rubbing shoulders with famous people. In the end, it goes from amusing to somewhat tedious.

The Mapping of Love and Death

Jacqueline Winspear

Another Maisie Dobbs book. This one is about the death of an American Cartographer (hence the mapping in the title) in WWI under suspicious circumstances. His family hires Maisie to find out what happened once and for all. Perhaps more importantly, it is also about the deteriorating health of Maisie’s mentor Maurice.

Honestly, I ran out of things to say about this series several books ago. I find Maisie and Co a compelling enough group to read about even if the mysteries don’t blow me away. I do think this is one of the better entries in the series.

The Black Echo

Michael Connelly

I’m not really sure where I stand on this book. It’s not really my sort of thing; I received it as a Christmas gift. I didn’t not like it, but I’m not rushing out to get the next Harry Bosch novel. I simply have trouble taking this noirish sort of detective novel seriously. Especially when you get characters like partners Lewis and Clarke. That stupid sort of name knocked me right out of the story.

I don’t mean to say that The Black Echo is bad; I found it entertaining enough. Det. Harry Bosch gets a case that has ties to his days as a soldier in Vietnam and eventually pits him against the FBI. There are some good twists, some bad twists and an overall good story. It is just not the sort of detective or mystery story I like.

My 10 Favorite Games #10


Chrono Cross

Chrono Cross

Chrono Cross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wrote about Chrono Cross about a year ago, playing it for the first time in a few years. I haven’t changed my thoughts much since then. The one thing I will note is that while the storyline starts out poetic and dreamlike, it eventually starts falling apart at the seams. Square’s team could keep that tone going for a while, but not for the entire length of this 30 or so hour game. That doesn’t really matter to me; the aesthetic of the world and the easy flowing energy of the battle system make the game just easy for me to play.


There are definitely games with clearer focus than Chrono Cross. The battle system may flow, but its ins and outs aren’t exactly intuitive. The story starts out kind of vague, then degenerates in incomprehensibility. Compare it to its predecessor Chrono Trigger, which has a seemingly simple battle system that even when the depth of the dual and triple techs is unveiled it is still limited by each characters small spell pool and its plot has a pretty simple through line. Chrono Cross is an utter mess. Still, it is a mess with some fine ingredients. While it doesn’t present itself clearly, I enjoy teasing out what everything means even if ultimately it means nothing.

Largely that turns out to be the case with Chrono Cross’s story. Vague foreshadowing resolves into vague, meaningless conclusions. Fortunately, the story in each little set piece largely works. The larger plot is where all the incomprehensibility reigns. Kid gets Serge to help her break in to Viper Manor to steal the Frozen Flame. What the Frozen Flame is isn’t clear at that time, but the breaking in and attempted theft has a pretty clear story. Then you must save Kid by finding a Hydra Humor, so you go to the Hydra Marsh. Again, it is a clear little episode. The connecting tissue for most of these episodes is weak to nonexistent, but the episodes themselves are fine. In the end, though, it doesn’t add up to a truly worthwhile story.


The plot grand rambling ambitions are not aided by the bloated cast. The cast is one of the things I love about the game, but even I can’t deny that having about 30 unnecessary characters you can get to join your party hampers the game’s ability to tell a story. When you could at any point put a baby dragon and a skeletal clown in you party instead of Kid or Leena or Glenn, then yeah, your story isn’t going to be the same. But there is also no denying how much fun it can be to build a party around said dragon or clown, or maybe a luchador priest or a mushroom man. It is not conducive to storytelling, but it is conducive to wacky fun.

The biggest reasons Chrono Cross is on my Top 10 games list are the music and art. Look at the examples of prerendered backgrounds in this post. Amazing, right? And the music needs no defense. Honestly, no matter what the story was, no matter who the characters were, I would enjoy playing in these tropical locales with the amazing music playing. It is simply perfect.


The aesthetics combined with the goofy characters and fun battle system, it makes for a game that is simply a joy to play. That is, of course, dependent on one’s ability to tolerate the slowness inherent in PS1 RPGs. They must load. But since I grew up on that, it doesn’t greatly bother me. Chrono Cross is a game that have glaring, numerous flaws. It would never appear if this list were about the games I felt were the best made. But Chrono Cross is better than the sum of its parts. It is like a fragmented dream, it doesn’t quite make sense, but you find yourself endlessly trying to piece it together anyway.

GI Joe Retaliation is More Awesome than Could Reasonably Have Been Expected


By any reasonable measure, GI Joe Retaliation is a bad movie. Plot inconsistencies abound, characters (I use the term loosely) change accents and motivations from scene to scene and the dialogue ranges from inane to idiotic. Despite, or even due to its stupidity, GI Joe 2 is a supremely entertaining movie. It is carried by coherent, entertaining action scenes and the sheer idiotic audacity of its plot.

Picking up exactly one thread from the previous movie, GI Joe 2 starts with Zartan impersonating the President. Despite posing as the President from precisely the same time as they were captured, he doesn’t know where Cobra Commander and Destro are being held. After torturing the President to get this information, he then frames the Joes for trying to steal a nuclear warhead, and uses his new strike team “Cobra” to take them out. No one finds anything strange about this. SO to be clear, this movie starts with Cobra in the White House and then it gets worse for the Joes. Pretty soon, there are only a handful of Joes still active. Those few must work from the shadows to stop the fiendish Cobra plot that is somehow worse than actually taking control of the USA. Somehow, the plot they’ve crafted uses “Cobra takes over US” as a step one and ramps up from there.

The clear highlight of the film is the ninja battle that takes place at a temple jutting from the side of a mountain. The scene is about 10 minutes long, contains no dialogue and features increasingly awesome rappelling ninja fights that culminates with Snake Eyes outrunning an avalanche. It starts with the requisite Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow fight, with Snake’s goal being to capture, not kill his opponent. Once he is captured, the goal becomes to escape the mountainside temple, against a force of dozens of anonymous red ninjas. It is exquisite.

The performances are all over the place, with Ray Park’s pantomime as Snake Eyes, Dwayne Johnson’s steady earnestness, Firefly seemingly unsure of his accent from line to line let alone scene to scene, and Bruce Willis owing postage for a performance as mailed in as his is.

GI Joe Retaliation is perfect in its stupidity. The inarguable fact that it is dumb quickly ceases to be a flaw and becomes instead a challenge. Each act of stupidity must be trumped by an even more idiotic act. And somehow they managed to keep upping the ante. The absurdity continues to rise until it hits critical mass near the end. Honestly, I loved every second of it.

My 10 Favorite Games: The Prelude

Lately, I haven’t felt any burning desire to write on my blog here. I have a few posts all but finished sitting on my computer. I just can’t force myself to finish them and get them posted. What was supposed to be a fun hoppy has started to feel kind of like and obligation. So I took a step back and thought about what I really wanted to write about. And what I want to write about are video games, specifically video games that I really like. So for the next month or so, I am going to be writing about my 10 favorite games.

Now this is not a list of the 10 games I consider to be the best, though that list would contain several of the games on this list. These are my personal favorite games, games that despite their flaws I end up coming back to time and again. Making this list was surprisingly difficult. I have played a lot of games, and there are plenty that I really like. My first draft, including any game at all that came to mind when thinking about my favorite games, was about 40 games long. Many of them were pretty easy to eliminate from contention. Most of those were games I played recently, with memories fresh enough that I put them on the list, even if I will likely never play them again. Getting the list down from 20 to 10 is where it got difficult. That is why I am doing this post. Because there are a lot of games that aren’t going to be on my list that I really want to at least mention.

Plenty of games got left off due to my arbitrary rule of no more than game per series, a rule I broke at least twice in the final list. However, unless I wanted my list to be almost entirely Final Fantasy, Legend of Zelda and Super Mario, I had to try and restrict those series somehow. So Final Fantasy 9 and Final Fantasy 12 got left off the list even if they probably should have been. I played FF9 just before my freshman year in high school, most of it after grueling two-a-day summer football practices. It kind of set the tone for most of my high school free time. I played a lot of sports and I played a lot of video games. At least until I got my driver’s license. FF12 helped bring me back to video games after I drifted away during the last year or two of high school and first year or so of college. It also was the best representation of the world of Ivalice that I fell in love with in FFTactics, another game that narrowly got left off the list. Nearly every Zelda game could have been on my list, but I forced myself to cut it down to two. The one that I feel the most conflicted about is Wind Waker. Despite its lack of things I tend to value in Zelda games, dungeons and puzzles, the look and world of Wind Waker won me over completely. I love that game. I love sailing its endless seas and just plain running around as the most charming Link ever. As for Mario, again most of the series could be in my top ten. Super Mario World deserves special mention, because it blew my mind back in the day. I had seen nothing like the change from the NES to SNES, and SMW was the game that showed me those changes. It helps that it is one of the best games ever made as well.

Then there are the last few games that I really wanted on the list, but ended up being the last few cuts. Games like Okami, which is beautiful and massive and engrossing. It is the only Zelda like game that is even in the same neighborhood of quality as a real Zelda game. The two games that were the hardest to eliminate were a pair of RPGs, Lunar 2 Eternal Blue and Earthbound. Lunar 2, which I played on the Playstation, was a breath of earnestness in a post-FFVII sea of cynicism (I don’t really blame FFVII for this, but it was the trendsetter). It wore its heart on its sleeve, told a fairly standard JRPG adventure story with a tight, old-school battle system. Though its translation could be goofy and inappropriate, it worked on the whole to make an engrossing world. Though I didn’t play the original Lunar until much later, Lunar 2 really made me care about its world and characters. I think it helped that I was just the right age for it. Unlike many PS1 PRGs, it had a tone more like a 16-bit game. Which is because it originally was, but I didn’t know that at the time. I can’t really point to anything it does better than most other games, but I love it anyway. It is the perfect video game comfort food.

Earthbound is absolutely number 11 on this list. Really, had it made the list, it might have moved higher than the 10 slot. But I couldn’t remove the last inclusion, which was a second Zelda game, if I really intended this to be my favorite games list. Earthbound, though, fell out because I haven’t played it in more than 10 years. A friend of mine had a copy, but I haven’t had access to it for a long time. I did play it through twice as a kid. I have also tried to play it on an emulator, giving up, or accidentally losing my save, around Threed every time. Still, this game meant so much to my childhood that even though I haven’t really touched it in years, it still really felt like it belonged on my Ten Favorite games list. Before this game, and even after it, most RPGs were all set in vaguely medieval worlds. Since they all descend from Dungeons and Dragons to some extent, they all carried that aesthetic. Even the supposedly sci-fi RPGs tend to end up with the main character trapped on a medieval world. Earthbound was set in the then contemporary late ’90s. The protagonists fought with baseball bats, yoyos and bottle rockets. They used teddy bears to deflect blows. And despite how out there the world of Earthbound got, it was always grounded in this sort of realism. It was different, but somehow familiar and comfortable. The closest thing to a downside the game has is that is played just like Dragon Quest (Another series of games that nearly has multiple entries even though it ended up with none), with battles being just a touch too slow and a touch too random. Still, despite the long time between playthroughs, I still remember the majority of this game. I remember tricks and enemy names and strategies and that stupid dream segment that I hate so much.

Yeah, so I am going to be writing about the games that did make the list starting later this week. Up first is Number 10: Chrono Cross

Summer Movies of 2013

So last week I saw GI Joe Retaliation (relatively gushing review forthcoming) and tomorrow I plan to go see 42 and weekly trips to the cinema means that the summer movie season is upon us. The “summer” movie season lasting, of course, from the middle of spring until well into fall. So it is time for me to troll through IMDB.com’s list of upcoming movies to see what movies look to be worth watching in the coming months, as well as some that look really bad. I will likely only see a fraction of those I list as interesting, due to constraints of time and money and living in the ass end of nowhere with only a tiny movie theater in reasonable driving distance. So what looks good to me? How about:


Oblivion: I don’t know much about it, but I generally like Tom Cruise and look at Morgan Freeman’s glasses in the previews. This one is not high on my priority list of movies to see, but it does look at least interesting.

Pain and Gain: My love for Mark Wahlberg and especially The Rock is only weighed down by how terrible every Michael Bay movie is. Since this doesn’t look to be an effects heavy turd like the Transformers movies it might be watchable. It is just hard for me to ignore so many actors I like in the same movie. I mean, they’ve got Tony Shalhoub.


Iron Man 3: I am a little less in love with Iron Man than everyone else seems to be, but the first two were both good and if the sequel ups the crazy, which it looks to do, this should be supremely entertaining. Robert Downey Jr is pretty much perfect as Stark, so it should be worth it just for him alone.

The Great Gatsby: Gatsby is one of the greatest American novels and Leo Dicaprio is always worth watching. Still, this looks gaudy in an awful sort of way. Even if it isn’t good, I am sure it will be interesting.

Star Trek: Into Darkness: I am not the biggest Trek fan, though I did like Next Generation as a kid and enjoyed the first of the reboot Trek. Abrams is usually good (Super 8 is one of my favorite movies) and I see no reason to not be excited for this.

Fast & Furious 6: I was sold by the trailer than ran in front of GI Joe. This movie looks stupid crazy. There is no way it can be actually good, but it will surely be awesome, which is really the point of this sort of thing. Count me a probably in. Plus, I love The Rock.

The Hangover Part III: No. Just no.


After Earth: On one hand, Will Smith. On the other M Night Shyamalan. Somebody else needs to see this first, and then tell me if it is any good.

Much Ado About Nothing: Shakespeare by way of Joss Whedon. This I have to see. Much Ado is one of the few of the Bards comedies that I haven’t read, so I might try to get on that before I see this version

Man of Steel: I love Superman. He is one of my favorite characters in fiction. Still, this movie alternates from looking great to scaring the crap out of me. I’ll be there opening day, and if it is as go as it should be maybe a time or two more.

Monsters University: Pixar. I’m there. Also, a sequel to one of my favorite Pixar movies, so I’m double there.

World War Z: Other people seem excited by this, I am no more that slightly intrigued. I like Pitt, but zombies don’t do anything for me. Hopefully this isn’t popular enough that I have to actually make a point to avoid it, like the Walking Dead.

White House Down: Roland Emmerich is a slightly more watchable Bay, and his movies tend to be the dumbest. Still, sometimes the dumbest is what a summer afternoon calls for, so let’s put this one at the bottom of the list of my interest.

Byzantium: This sounds interesting. Likely not playing near me, but interesting nonetheless.


The Lone Ranger: What the hell? I’ll admit to being a big fan of the first Pirates movie, then liking them significantly less with each installment. This looks dumb and borderline offensive. Still, sometimes train wrecks are entertaining.

Pacific Rim: Now we’re back on track. Idris Elba, giant robots and giant aliens. I hope to be amazed.

Grown Ups 2: Grown Ups was one of the least bad Sandler movies in the last decade, but it was hardly calling for a sequel. Even with the dearth of comedies I’m seeing, the odds of me seeing this are slim to none. While I loved Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore as a kid, I think I’ve outgrown Sandler.

Red 2: One can only hope the once dependable Bruce Willis actually bothered to show up for this, after his worthless appearance in GI Joe Retaliation. Still, the first Red was highly enjoyable.

The Wolverine: Hugh Jackman will kill all of the ninjas. I hope this is as good as a solo Wolverine movie should be, but I am wary. Still, I have always enjoyed Jackman as the character even when the movie itself isn’t any good.


300: Rise of an Empire: Does anything more need to be said about 300? It was kind of the complete story right there. Maybe this will be as visually interesting as the first movie, but I doubt it will be as good.

2Guns: Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington star in what sounds like a by the numbers crime thriller. Still, with those two as leads it should be entertaining.

Elysium: This looks like the year for Sci-fi movies, and this one looks very interesting.

Planes: Good God, why?

Kick Ass 2: The first person to try to tell how great this movie is will likely get popped in the jaw. Fuck you and everyone who likes this shit.

The World’s End: I am going to go out on a very sturdy limb here and say that this will be the best movie of the year. Because Shaun of the Dead almost tricked me into not hating zombies and Hot Fuzz is one of my five favorite movies. Pegg and Frost were entertaining without Wright in Paul and Wright directed the terrific Scott Pilgrim. I am almost giddy with excitement over this one.

That is what looks good or interesting to me on IMDBs coming soon page. Did I miss anything? Please, if there are any movies worth seeing that I left out leave me a comment. I always hate when I watch something on Netflix and wonder how I missed it in theaters. I think I’ve got just about everything worth paying attention to this summer, but I might have overlooked something due to lack of immediately recognizable names. Please, though, don’t try to sell me any horror movies. I have no interest in them.

The Ultimate Monster Hunter

So it has been more than a month since I last posted on this blog.  There are several good reasons for my absence.  First, I had a couple of 65+ hour work weeks, leaving little time for anything but work or sleep.  Then there were two games that simply consumed me.  The first was Etrian Odyssey 4, which I will write about later.  The second, and the one that took up much more of my time, is Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.

I was really waffling on whether to buy MH3U or not.  I was also considering plunking my April video game budget down on Lego City Undercover.  I am still thinking of picking that up at a later date.  Despite not really enjoying the demo at all, I rolled the dice with Monster Hunter.  MH has always seemed like something I would like, but playing the series has never really worked out.  I didn’t have access to a PSP for the early games, and Tri came out for the Wii when I was short on cash, so I passed on it.  Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has been a revelation.

Something about this game has just grabbed me like few games have.  Despite my heavy work load I’ve managed to put more than 100 hours on the game since its release.  There are so many different monsters to hunt, so many different weapons to forge (even if sticking to just one or two types) and armors to make.  Then there is the deliberate, methodical pace to the fights.  You swing big weapons at big monsters, the point of the game is to pick and choose the ideal moments to swing to deal the most damage and avoid the counterattacks.  It is a fairly unique combat system, slow and heavy that seems simple on the surface but there is plenty of depth in the different elemental damages, status effects, stunning and traps and capturing.

Where the game really shines is in making the player feel awesome.  You start out hunting small things, herbivores and little raptor looking dinos.  Then you get your first big hunt, the great Jaggi, a large version of those little dinos.  For a new player this is a significant challenge.  This is the first monster that actually fights back in any real way.  It is legitimately dangerous.  After you beat it and move on to bigger and tougher monsters.  When you next encounter the Great Jaggi, it has went from being a threat to being fodder.

Then there is the Lagiacrus.  This water dwelling beast is the big boss of the first half of the game.  It is first seen in a gather mission where the player is unable to damage it.  It is scary, significantly larger than anything faced previously.  The big scare is when you run to the supposed safety of dry land, only to have the monster follow you right onto the shore.  It is some time before you face the beast again.  This time there is no fear.  You fight it on land and it flees to the water, then you chase it right back into the sea, diving in after it to finish the fight there.

Moments like this just keep happening.  There is always another level of awesomeness for the player to attain.  There is always another giant beast to hunt and slay.  It hooks you and just keeps you coming back.

This is also the first game I’ve ever played online in any significant way. I played some online games in college, but that was usually just hopping on with my roommate for some Halo 2.  This is my inaugural online experience.  And there is nothing quite like getting a good group of players together for some monster hunting.  Sure, you get some dicks.  People who like to blare crappy music over their mics or only want to do the “required” quests, but for the most part the experience has been great.

I guess what I am saying is I love this game, and will probably be playing it for some time.  If anyone want to do some online hunting, my NNID is RascallyBadger and my hunter name is Skoce.