Monster World IV, A SNES Kid Plays Genesis

I’ve wanted to start doing video stuff on the internet, streaming or Youtube or something, but I’m kind of incompetent when it comes to that stuff. My big plan for my first set of videos was “A SNES Kid Plays Genesis,” where I, an SNES kid, play Genesis games that I never encountered back in the day. I know there are a lot of games that I’ve never played, but I have purchased a couple of Genesis collections for various systems. While I wanted to do this as a series of videos, I played a game recently that left me needing to start this series now. Monster World IV is the quality of game that should make everyone who plays it tell the world.

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I would call myself an SNES kid, but I actually had a Genesis first. My brothers and I got it for Christmas, probably in ’94. It came with a handful of crappy games and broken Sega CD attached. I had some good games for it, eventually. I had Sonic 2, of course, everyone who had Genesis had that. I got that 6 in one cart that had Sonic, Streets of Rage and Golden Axe on it. I also had X-Men 2: Clone Wars and The Lost Vikings. Other than a few sports games, those are all of the good Genesis games I ever had. That’s not bad. Most of the games I mentioned are very good and they kept me occupied for quite a while. But the games I wanted were all on the SNES. I wanted RPGs, and as far as I knew there weren’t any good ones on the Genesis. I know now that this was wrong. When I got the chance to pick up an SNES, I unhooked my Genesis and never looked back. Now that I am older and better informed about what games are out there, I realize that I missed out on much of what the Genesis had to offer. As I am largely giving up on new games, going back over the Genesis’ library seems like a good use of my gaming time.

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I picked up Monster World IV off of PSN a couple of months ago during a sale. I’d heard good things about the entire series, but I’d never played any of them.  I fired up Monster World IV on a whim the other day and couldn’t stop playing it. From the beginning I was entranced.

MW4 is a simple game, all things told. Asha, the player character, has a rather limited moveset. She can jump and stab, that’s about it. There are several different types of stabs, but she really only does those two things. For the middle portion of the game you a flying blue critter that can interact with environment in a few ways when Asha throws it. The game forces the player to make full use of that limited moveset in some creative ways.

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It is also not a long game. There are essentially 6 levels. One early, easy dungeon to get players accustomed to the game, 4 elemental dungeons to free the 4 Spirits and one final gauntlet to end the game. The first and last levels aren’t much to write home about, but those four in between are aces. There is a volcano, a trio of maze-like frozen pyramids, what seems to be a floating casino and a hidden jungle temple. They are all great, though they do have their flaws.

The Pyramids are probably the most flawed. To open some door you need to put in codes, but the to find the codes you have to read inscriptions on the walls. Unfortunately, some of those inscriptions are traps that send arrows flying at you. There is no way of knowing which is which before you read them. It is less a puzzle and more just frustrating. That is a small blip on an otherwise enjoyable game. Most of the rest is like a side-scrolling Zelda. Like Zelda 2, but good. It is more of a thinking man’s game, with little in the way of twitch action required.

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The game is just simply charming. Calling a game charming is often a way to describe a game that isn’t actually very good, but that is not the case with Monster World IV. The graphics just have so much personality it is hard to call it anything else. It is really apparent when you see it in motion. Asha looks like a female Aladdin, which fits with the Arabic look to the rest of the game, and she has a ton of unnecessary animations that really make the game work. The best is when you open a chest and Asha does a little dance, wiggling her butt in the cutest possible manor. It is perfect. The story is, much like the gameplay, simple. The four elemental spirits have been captured and it is up to the hero to save them. Asha decides that she is that hero, so she attempts the trial to prove it. Once she does, she has to save the spirits and the whole of monster world from a group of not at all sneaky wizards. (they tell up front they are the bad guys) It is the sort of simple yet effective story that 16-bit games did perfectly.

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Monster World IV is just about perfect. There are some rough patches, but the rest of the game is just so enjoyable,so eminently playable that it is hard to hold even its biggest warts against it. Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It is pretty much everything I want out of video games. If any of the other Genesis games on my nearly 50 games long list are this good I am in for a treat.

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Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.

You know, I haven’t written about comic books on this blog for more than 2 years now. Why, absolutely nobody might ask? There are several reasons, but I’ll point the finger at DCs’s New 52 reboot. I generally read comics to get superhero stories. I know that is not all that comics have to offer, even excluding the vast expanse of manga there is quite the variety of genres to choose from. But superheroes one can largely only get from comics. When it comes to superheroes, I am a DC guy. It’s not that I don’t like Marvel, but I tend to prefer DC’s stable of characters. I’ll take the Justice League over the Avengers every day of the week and Superman over any of Marvel’s characters. DC’s superheroes tend to be more idealized, Marvel’s more nuanced. Since I tend to like the more mythological aspects of superheroes, the idealized version is just more my style.

Unfortunately, there was the whole NEW 52 reboot for DC. If anyone read my take on that almost three years ago they would remember that I bought into that ill-fated venture. There were warts apparent even from the beginning, but there was still potential for the reboot. When DC did it back in the 80’s with Crisis on Infinite Earths, it led to some of the company’s best output. The same thing when Marvel did a similar thing with Spider-Man, though the story that got them there was an all-time awful one. So I tried out all of the new series (I got a good deal on a bundle of the #1s), finding the good, at least initially, to outweigh the bad. It soon became clear, though, that whoever was supposed to steering the ship was asleep at the wheel. Numerous boneheaded editorial and creative decisions soon made DC the target of widespread internet derision. Nearly all of it was deserved. Creators walked or were forced off books with startling regularity, and subpar writers and artists got more, and high profile, work. The whole thing kind of made reading comics a whole lot less pleasurable. So I stopped. There were still quite a few books I was enjoying, like Wonder Woman and Green Arrow, but it didn’t feel worth it to me. So about eight months ago I stopped entirely. Continue reading

2nd Quest: Majora’s Mask

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was easily the most difficult game in the series to play so far. Not that it is a hard game, in fact most of it is quite easy. Rather than the moment to moment being hard, the difficulty is found in the overarching meta-game. In many ways, Majora’s Mask is a fascinating and unique game. Its Groundhog’s Day-esque 3 day cycle and darkly bleak tone is unlike anything else in the series, if not video games in general. Unfortunately, while those things make the game unforgettable and one of a kind, it also sometimes makes it no damn fun to play. Majora’s Mask is an excellent game, maybe the best in the series, but I’m not sure I’d ever want to play it again.

from vgmuseum

from vgmuseum

It is strange that unique is one of the first words that come to mind when thinking about Majora’s Mask, considering that the bulk of the assets used to create the game are recycled from Ocarina of Time. Characters, weapons and enemies are just lifted from that previous game and repurposed in this one. There are some new things, but for the most part it is made out of Ocarina’s leftovers. This isn’t a complaint; it is no different from the similarities among the Gameboy games or the two DS games. It does, however, add to the weird, dark tone of the game. Everything is familiar, yet slightly different. It is unsettling, disturbing even. Far from being a problem, the recycled content just adds the nightmare feeling the game has going on.

Depending on how you count it, Majora’s Mask either has the smallest set of items or the biggest. Link doesn’t get all that much to work with in this game, outside of series mainstays like the bow, bombs and hookshot. It is simple, vanilla. But the game also has the masks. There was a mask or two in Ocarina of time, mostly as window dressing for a sidequest. As the title would suggest, the Masks are a bigger deal in Majora’s Mask. Most are again sidequest material. They grant small powers or abilities and have only a few uses over the course of the game. Then there are the transforming masks. There few masks let Link change from into one of the other races that populate Hyrule. (I know this game isn’t technically in Hyrule, but the point is the same) Being a Deku Scrub or Zora significantly changes everything about how Link moves and fights and just how the game plays. The only thing close to in the rest of the series is the Wolf form in Twilight Princess. The masks have to be included when thinking about the game’s layout of tools. And despite only having a handful of dungeons, it makes good use of the limited toolset. The dungeons, though, are almost an afterthought in Majora’s Mask. They all really well designed, but the player spends such a small amount of time in them that they are probably the least memorable part of the game.

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I guess that brings me to the game’s most prominent feature, the three day cycle. In Majora’s Mask, the Mask-addled Skull Kid is crashing the moon into the city of Termina in three days. Once you get to the end of the three days, or anytime you feel like it, you have to play the Song of Time to rewind things back to the start. Unfortunately, all the characters reset to where they were at the start. Link loses all ammo and rupees, though he keeps key items like weapons and masks. This is the aspect of the game that is most often singled out for praise, and it is pretty great. It really makes the game stand out and play different than any other Zelda. It really let Nintendo make a living world for this game. In other games, NPCs wait around for the player to activate them. Sure, modern games may give them a routine to go through, but Majora’s Mask gives them three days’ worth of life. They have goals and stories. They’re stories even change, usually slightly, based on what the player does even if it doesn’t directly affect them. The three day cycle gives the world life. Clock Town, even though it is getting ready for a big celebration, slowly empties as that grimacing moon bears down on the town. There is a palpable feeling of desperation and terror as the days go by.

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The tone of the game is unlike anything else. I’ve already mentioned that several times, but it is so very true. There is a darkness to Majora’s Mask. You don’t just get a mask that lets you turn into a Zora, you watch a Zora die in your arms on the beach having failed in his attempt to save his people’s eggs. You don’t just help them out, you take his face, become him, and try to right things. Even if you are successful, he’s still dead. If you don’t make it to the Ranch by the end of the first night, then all of its inhabitants are so traumatized by its … ghost attack that they are unable to speak or interact. Everywhere you look there is a dark and tragic story happening that unless the player intervenes to stop it. This where the extra level of darkness comes in, because every time you reset the clock, all the work you did is undone. Like Sisyphus, everything repeats, but there is not enough time to save everybody. When you save one person or group of people, you condemn another to some hellish tragedy. There is no winning, there is no real progress. You mist simply use the people you need to use to achieve your goals, which incidentally end up saving everybody.

While the repetitive nature of the game set up works for world building and story and tone, I find it intensely annoying to actually play. Sure, a player that truly knows the game can beat it with only the smallest amount of redoing things, but a player less familiar might have to do some things over and over again. Like beating the boss of a temple. Once a temple is beaten, the area of the map where it’s located is changed dramatically. The swamp is freed from its poison; spring finally comes to the mountain, etc. There are treasures that can only be found or sidequests that can only be done once the boss is beaten. Which means that unless you clear the area completely after beating it, you’ll have to beat the boss again to right things, then go looking. It cries out for the use of a guide. That is how I find a lot of Majora’s Mask; great from a conceptually stance but somewhat tedious to actually play.

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I can say that The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is an unreservedly a great game. Everyone should play it at least once. But now having beaten it for the second time, I would be fine with never playing it again. There is a barrier between the player and enjoying Majora’s Mask, a barrier of effort. It is a game that takes real effort to make any progress in, not really a game made for relaxing play. It is definitely not my favorite Zelda, but it is so unique and creative that it is impossible to dismiss the people who call it theirs.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

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Going in, I fully expected X-Men: Days of Future Past to a mess. The X-Men movie franchise has been a mess for more than a decade at this point. X-Men 3 was garbage, though I am something a defended of it I still can’t call it anything close to good, and the first Wolverine movie was no better. It was so bad that I made no effort to see the next Wolverine. First Class was a fine movie, but it was still messy. It straddled the line between prequel and reboot. Some elements of it didn’t really jive with the earlier X-Men films, but it went out of its way to not outright contradict them. It worked fine on its own, but it place in the larger scheme of things was hard to ascertain.

Still, Days of Future Past was too intriguing to pass up. Bryan Singer was back directing, and he has only one real miss on his resume. (Superman Returns was just so very wrongheaded in so many ways) It also brought back all of the actors from both the first trilogy and First Class, making for the most star-studded cast in a superhero movie this side of The Avengers. Really, how could one pass up a chance to see Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen on screen again? Plus, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is simply highly entertaining. Still, while it was great to see all of these characters again, trying to shoehorn all those characters on screen could have been messy. Which is why it is so surprising at how great X-Men Days of Future Past is. Not only is it a highly entertaining film, it also manages to meld all the previous X-Men movies into something that is actually comprehensible. It even manages to treat X-Men 3 with respect while completely erasing it from the timeline.

It opens in the near future, a future where mutants, and much of humanity, have been imprisoned by the powerful robotic Sentinels. Fighting against them are the remnants of the X-Men, mostly consisting of the younger half of surviving X-Men from X-Men 3. They use limited time travel to evade the Sentinels, but their numbers dwindle. They are soon joined by the senior half of the X-Men: Storm, Wolverine, Magneto and Professor X. Together they propose a plan, to send Wolverine’s mind back in time to his younger self to try to prevent the whole Sentinel program from starting in the first place.

This leads to Wolverine going back to team up with remnants of the First Class cast to try to fix things. While he has some trouble convincing the younger versions of the mutant leaders to help him, they soon near place of where everything went wrong. Unfortunately, once they get there, things go wrong in a completely different way. After that, Days of Future Past becomes the first superhero movie in a long time where it is actually unclear what is going to happen next. These things usually go along certain lines, but this one goes so far off the rails that the viewer has no clue what is coming. It is exhilarating.

Most of the movie takes place in the past; for the most part this is First Class 2. Other than Wolverine, the old cast only gets a few minutes apiece to show off. Even the new mutants added to the cast barely get time to have their powers explained. Still, it is great to see them again. Magneto and Xavier get a little more time, but not a lot more. The past crew, reduced to just four characters, gets the most of the action. Again, while it is hard to improve on McKellen and Stewart, Fassbender and McAvoy are great as young Magneto and Xavier. Fassbender plays Magneto with self-assured menace. Even when he is helping the good guys he feels like he is one step away from going full supervillain and seeming almost justified in doing so. McAvoy’s Xavier is not the wise leader that Stewarts is; he is a broken and pathetic. Wolverine’s biggest struggle is to get Xavier back on the right track. Along with those two and Wolverine, the other real star is Jenifer Lawrence as Mystique. She is the one responsible for the world’s downward slide, but it is impossible to not to find her actions at least partly justified.  Lawrence, despite being covered in blue paint, makes you feel her struggle.

This is a movie of characters and situations that are all fundamentally broken. Wolverine has gone from being the broken one to the one that is most together. For once he is trying to pull everyone else together. It is a very character driven film. It is far from lacking in action or spectacle, but that is not the real draw. The real draw is seeing the transformation of Xavier and Mystique. It is not as fun as many of the Marvel Studios movies, but there is more going on than those strictly popcorn affairs.

This last part might get a bit spoilery, but as someone who has been a fan of these movies for going on 15 years now I was astounded at how this left the X-Men movie franchise. I got enjoyment wading through the crap of X-Men 3 to find things I liked. Mostly that consisted of Kelsey Grammar as the Beast and Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde. However, that movie left the series in a terrible place. They had to go back to do a prequel because X-Men 3 left the present scorched earth. Days of Future Past, while largely clearing the deck for future First Class era movies, almost completely eliminated X-Men 3 from existence. It actually gave everyone from those first two completely excellent movies a happy ending. Almost too happy, but actually it is just perfectly heartwarming. Ignoring the impossibility of getting all those cast members back together to do more movies, it is left in such a way that they could do a sequel picking up just about right after this one. I’d prefer this to be the ending for the original X-Men cast. I want to all those characters to get to keep this happy ending. The biggest advantage superhero movies have over the comics is that they have endings. Bruce Wayne got to retire as Batman in The Dark Knight Rises because the movies are allowed to have endings, while the comics are required to go on indefinitely. This is a perfect ending for the X-Men.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is an excellent movie. It brings back the often wry fun of the first two movies and mixes it with the stylish sexiness of First Class. Whatever direction they choose to take things after this, as long as Singer and one half of this cast are involved I’ll be there. It is shocking at just how well this movie avoids all the pitfalls in its way to deliver a wholly enjoyable movie.

I’m Quitting Video Games. Kinda

I’ve had some experiences with video games over the last week or so that have got me thinking.  The first was while typing up my Shin Megami Tensei post from the other day.  (Update to that post: I forgot that I never beat The Answer from Persona 3 and I bought Persona 1 off of PSN the other day, so it is now 10.5 unbeaten SMT games) While writing that, I realized that I have spent a lot of money on games I’ve never played.  I’m not talking about my stack of bargain bin PS2 games.  Sure, I might have fifty bucks invested in twenty or so games, but that is not a big deal.  If there is a time to take a flier on some unheralded game it is when they are deeply discounted because stores are trying to clear shelf space for new things.  No, it is that like the stack of unplayed SMT games from yesterday, I have at least twice as many more that aren’t from any specific series.  And that is not including my brother’s collection of PS3 games that I am trying to work through.  Now just because I spent money on something doesn’t mean I should feel compelled to play it, especially if I am not enjoying it.  That is not the case with these games. I bought them all with a reasonable expectation of enjoying them and simply haven’t had the time to try them out. These mountains of unplayed games got me thinking about why I feel the need to constantly add to that stack.

The other experience is that I finally played Monster World IV.  Monster World IV is a Sega Genesis game, a part of the oft overlooked Wonder Boy series, that never came to America in the 16-bit era.  I picked it up on PSN a few months ago, but never had the time to play it.  But a couple of days ago I turned on my PS3 to play Batman Arkham Asylum, but saw Monster World IV on my system and started that up instead.  I instantly fell in love with it.  It’s a rather simple to play 2D action game with an enjoyable mix of combat, puzzles, and platforming.  The lovingly animated sprites are just a joy to watch in motion.  Really, it is a perfect example of all the things I loved about that generation of games.  In the hour and a half I played that game, clearing the first of its four elemental dungeons, I had more fun than I’ve had with all the eight or ten hours I’ve played Batman.  And I like the Batman games.  They are about as good of games as this generation has produced.  It got my wondering just how many more gems like this I’ve yet to play.

Those two things led me to this realization: I have no interest in the next generation of video games.  None whatsoever.  This isn’t just my usual avoidance of launch consoles (with the exception of the WiiU I’ve never bought a console without a year or two’s worth of games and a price drop) but a complete lack of interest in modern gaming.  I look at the upcoming games and realize that outside of a swiftly expanding indie game scene and some of Nintendo’s offerings, I have no interest in anything new.  Less than no interest.  If someone tried to give me $400 to buy a PS4 or XBONE, I’m not sure I would take them up on the offer.  And not just because I’d have to pay taxes and $100 more for the XBONE.  I just don’t know what I would do with the machine.  What is different about this generation is that I don’t see a day when there are enough games on one of these systems to warrant a purchase.  There aren’t any games that I am interested in.  I guess that is not strictly true, I do want to play Final Fantasy XV.  It is no burning need, especially since that game has no release date.  Not enough to sway me into actually wanting the console.

If I am being honest with myself, this isn’t really a change with this generation of games.  I have been drifting out of the mainstream since at least the PS2 era.  I can remember being flummoxed by my friends’ love of Halo.  I would join them for multiplayer games, and with Halo 2 eventually became a competent player, but outside of the multiplayer setting I had little interest the series or first-person shooters in general.  Shooters, both first and third person, have increasingly come to dominate the market.  For most of this last generation, I’ve played Wii and DS and ignored the supposed big consoles.  That, however, was not due primarily to a lack of interest.  I didn’t buy a PS3 or 360 because I couldn’t afford one.  Why doesn’t Nintendo suffer from my disinterest?  For the same reason that many people complain about them.  They are, by and large, putting out the same kind of games they always have.  They are bigger and prettier and arguably better, but at their core they are the same games.  I like those games; that is the kind of game I want.  It is the same for indie games.  They mostly take their cues from 8 and 16-bit games.  I want more of that.

I don’t mean to say there aren’t good games being made, there are.  They just aren’t games for me.  Occasionally Sony or Capcom drops me a bone, but mostly they make games for that shooter/Assassin’s Creed audience.  I don’t blame them; they are just following the money.  But I am going to bow out now.  I’ve looked around and I can see this just isn’t for me anymore.  Fortunately, there are enough good old games around that I don’t need new consoles.

The King of the Monsters

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Not since 1954’s Gojira has any movie company managed to portray Godzilla with the majesty that the new Godzilla (which is at least the third movie to bear that one word title) does. Never before has a monster been so breathtaking, so simply awesome. Godzilla makes every one of the monsters rather brief appearances an event. The word gets thrown around to the point of making it meaningless, but Godzilla is truly worthy of being called epic.

Many of the detractors of the new movie tend to reference Pacific Rim as a superior alternative. As someone who also greatly enjoyed that film, I find this comparison to be empty. Pacific Rim is a much more fun film. That film is fun from start to finish. There are somber and serious moments, but they wash by in a deluge cool awesomeness. Pacific Rim is about humanity rising up to defeat a seemingly insurmountable enemy. It is about the power of humanity. Godzilla, though, takes things the opposite way. It is far from being about the power of humanity, it is about humanity being powerless. In Godzilla the seemingly insurmountable enemy actually is. It is like watching a natural disaster; it is awful and horrible and there is nothing you can do to stop it. It does make for a movie that is less strictly fun to watch, but it also makes for a movie that is all the more effecting.

Godzilla starts in Japan, with Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) futility trying to uncover the source of some seismic anomalies that are affecting the nuclear power plant where he works. His concerns are ignored by the higher ups and the he ends up facing tragedy as things prove worse than even he surmised. All on his birthday. Fifteen years later he is still trying to uncover the cause of that disaster, while his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) tries to put it all behind him. When Ford is called back to Japan because his father was arrested trespassing on the site of the accident. He goes to get his father, only to get caught up in the uncovering of the long hidden secret of the disaster.

The title kind of gives away what the source of the disaster is. The stays grounded, shown from the perspective of the people seeing the monsters. Yes monsters, it is not just Godzilla but 3 distinct monsters. Godzilla himself does not appear for quite a long time in the movie. Even when he does, it is just glimpses to start. The movie teases the viewer it quick snippets of Godzilla or two monsters fighting. It is agonizing, but enthralling. Luckily, the human characters are strong enough to carry the other parts of the film. Ford is consumed with a desire to return to his family in San Francisco. Unfortunately for him, his path happens to be the same one the monsters are on. The military does all they can to stop the beasts, but all of their attempts are for not. It gives the movie a ground zero feeling; it puts the viewer on the same level as the characters, looking up at the rampaging monsters.

The majesty of the monsters makes the human characters seem all the more powerless. They have a plan to destroy the monsters, but it is doomed to fail. The last desperate effort they make is not to stop the monsters, but to stop the tragedy they enacted trying to stop the monsters. It really helps that the monsters themselves are solid characters. Godzilla is a bully and a brute. He is the alpha predator of alpha predators and he is on the hunt. The MUTOs, each distinct from the other, are actually quite sympathetic. Sure, they are killing thousands of people and destroying cities, but there isn’t any malice there. They are merely too large to coexist with humanity. Godzilla shows humanities reach exceed its grasp. We push forward with technologies, but awaken forces that we have no hope of controlling. It is not about backing off of scientific discovery, just about realizing that we aren’t necessarily the nature’s masters. There are still things we don’t know and can’t control.

Apparent from the last name of the main characters (Brody, the same as Jaws), this Godzilla takes many cues from the works of Steven Spielberg; most notably Jaws and Jurassic Park. It feels like his work while watching. Not as directly or as heavily as Super 8 did, but more effectively. It feels a little like a throwback, paced more like a movie from a couple of decades ago than a modern blockbuster. It takes its time, not rushing right to the money shots of Godzilla destroying a city. That wait makes the shots worth it. Cheers erupted from the audience when I watched it at two separate moments. Both showed Godzilla at his most awesome. This movie does that well. It may not feature the titular monster quite as much as one would hope, but his time on screen is unforgettable.

A Strange Journey

I had what I thought was a great idea to play through Persona 3 or 4 over the course of a year, beginning on the date when the game begins and playing a week at a time.  I was going to have a weekly update on the blog here of what I accomplished that week and my general impressions of the game.  Not the most original idea, I know, but I thought it sounded like a fun way to replay one of favorite PS2 games.

That plan fell through.  One reason why was because I didn’t get started in time; I missed the date that either game starts on.  That was not an insurmountable problem; I still could have played a couple of weeks to get caught up and went on from there.  But I also couldn’t decide which of the two games to replay.  I like Persona 4 more, but I’d kind of like a second go at Persona 3 now that I am more familiar with how the Shin Megami Tensei series works.  Again, a problem I could have easily solved.  Another reason I held off was that I wanted to have a way to get some screencaps of the game while I played.  I wasn’t planning to do a full on let’s play or anything, but a couple of shots a week to demonstrate things would have been nice.  I do want to get some kind of capture device on the near future, but I have no definite plans.  Or money for that matter.  That was the big one.  If I am going to devote a year to a project like that, I’d like to do it well.

There is another reason that greatly trumps those three reason for me giving up, or at least delaying, this Persona project.  That reason can be summed up with one picture:

That is my pile of unbeaten Shin Megami Tensei games; there are 9 of them if you add in my PSN copy of Persona 2 Eternal Punishment.  Some of them I’ve not played, like Digital Devil Saga 2 and Soul Hackers.  Others I’ve played quite a bit but haven’t quite beaten, Persona 4 Arena and Devil Survivor 2.  Going off of Howlongtobeat.com, I’ve got about 300 hours of video games in that stack.  I find it hard to justify playing through either of the Persona games again when I haven’t yet played Nocturne.

So now my plan is to try to beat all of those games over the next year, in time to start a Persona replay at the correct date.  I’ve made plans to beat a series of games over the course of a year before (see my still ongoing replay of the Zelda series), but this time it is less of a concrete project and more just making these games a priority.  I’ve enjoyed every SMT game I’ve played so far, but they take so long that I kind of have to set aside time to play them.  First up, I am going to finish the single player of P4A.  I’ve already cleared it as several characters, but I want to try to do with all of them.  It shouldn’t take all that long, but it isn’t exactly fast.  Also, I am going to put a little more time into Devil Survivor 2.  I’ve been playing it some recently, but not putting any serious effort into it.  And these games generally require some effort.  That is part of what makes them great.

While I’ve become a big fan of this series, and all its various sub-series, I haven’t been aware of it for all that long.  The first Shin Megami Tensei game I played was Persona 3.  I bought the FES re-release after hearing the internet gush about the game forever.  I loved it, despite some niggling complaints, mostly about having to rely on AI party members for healing.  There was a notable flaw in the AI that if you were poisoned, they wouldn’t heal it unless you were at full HP.  So every turn they heal your HP, but leave you poisoned so they would have to do the same thing in the next round.  Still, once you learned the idiosyncrasies of the system it was particularly fulfilling.  Persona 3 was not exactly punishingly difficult, but it did keep players on their toes.  The player had to be wary or it would be game over.  After years of Square’s fun but generally toothless RPGS, Persona 3 was a big change and a refreshing one.  I was hooked.

So I looked into the series and tracked down a couple of other SMT games, Digital Devil Saga and Devil Summoner for the PS2, figuring they would keep me busy while I waited for Persona 4.  Neither of them really grabbed me like Persona.  I loved their settings, especially Devil Summoner, but they each had their faults.  I wasn’t a big fan of DDS’s character building system or how it really felt like only half of a game.  It was half of a game that took me fifty hours, but it definitely feels incomplete.  Still, the battle system, which was largely similar to Persona 3’s, with an emphasis on hitting enemy weaknesses for more turns, was largely great.  Devil Summoner’s battle system, though, was limited.  It was an action RPG, but none of the fights were significantly different than any other.  It was all dodge and slash and having the right element.  Fun initially, but repetitive.  Despite not really loving either of those games, I was hooked on the series at this point.

From Persona 4 on a new SMT game was something I greatly looked forward to.  Which is strange, since I’ve only finished two games in the series since then.  I’ve pre-ordered most of them, aside from the PSP games since I didn’t have the system until recently, and spent a lot of time tracking down Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga 2.  But I’ve only managed to finish the first Devil Survivor and Shin Megami Tensei 4.  Though I enjoyed it, Devil Survivor frequently paralyzed me by giving me many choices and no clear idea of their consequences.  It also ended up taking me a long time to beat, which meant that I didn’t end up getting to Strange Journey or even Devil Survivor 2 when they came out.  I have played those two games, getting probably halfway through each of them. SMT 4 was one of my favorite and most anticipated games of last year.  I wasn’t letting anything put me off of playing it.

Shin Megami Tensei games are a constant struggle; that is part of their charm.  They are generally fair in their challenge, but also unrelenting.  Much like Etrian Odyssey, they require players to learn their systems and to exploit those systems.  The enemies will do the same. You have to learn and take advantage of enemies’ weaknesses while covering your own.  The general idea of hitting a weak point for a turn advantage is carried across the series.

The other big draw is how the series makes use of a wide variety of myths and legends to fill out its roster of enemies and allies. They are called Demons general, but they run the gamut from Japanese demons to Celtic heroes to Christian Angels.  But it also uses them as characters in the stories. They aren’t embarrassingly re-imagined like Final Fantasy’s summons (I’m looking at you Shiva) but they are sometimes re-contextualized in a modern setting.  Still, having knowledge of the myth that each creature springs from helps to understand where characters are coming from.  In Persona, a characters persona tells you about their character.  For instance, Persona 3’s protagonist starts with the persona Orpheus, who in the myth went to Hades to save his dead lover, and eventually becomes Thanatos, who is death incarnate.  The game doesn’t just assume you know this stuff, though it doesn’t go out of to inform you either.  Most games have a compendium, a list of all the demons you’ve encountered, that will give you information about them.  That will tell you most of what you need to know.  Having a basis in real myth gives the stories of these games another level that most RPGs lack.  Sure, many of them end up being little more than the typical anime nonsense, but at least there is something going on rather than just blindly hitting all the otaku pleasing tropes.

So I am going to try to get back to Persona 4 Arena soon.  I’m not doing much else with my PS3 right now, though I don’t get a lot of time for games on the TV.  I am also going to try to power through the rest of Devil Survivor 2 soon as well.  That would be a good start, but I doubt I’ll ever be actually caught up on this series.  I expect to see Persona Q here a few months after its Japanese release in June, and Persona 5 is looking to be the big send off for the PS3 some time next year.  Staying on top of this series is a never ending battle, but a worthy one.

Far From Amazing

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I go to the theater with the intention of enjoy whatever movie I plan to see. It is too expensive to go see something that I expect to hate. I’ll experiment with something unknown now and then, or go when someone else is picking the movie. But if I’m not reasonably certain to enjoy something; I tend to wait for a rental or Netflix. The other day, by the time Amazing Spider-Man 2 started I was not ready to enjoy anything. During the previews a large amount of Code Red Mountain Dew ended up out of it cup and into my lap. I kind of wanted to just leave then and there, but I was already in my seat and had paid for my ticket. In the end, I don’t think it made a difference. I all but hated Amazing Spider-Man 2 and even if I weren’t soaking in soda, I doubt I would have enjoyed it. The whole thing was overstuffed and undercooked. It is exactly what people accuse Spider-Man 3 of being, though without even the redeeming features of that movie. ASM2 has many elements of a good movie, but no attempt seems to have been made to make sure any of the pieces actually fit together.

It does some things right. Casting, for instance. Jamie Foxx is great when he has something to do and Emma Stone is simply great. Andrew Garfield brings out the wise-cracking side of Spider-Man that the Raimi movies never even attempted to show. Top to bottom, the cast does really well with the material they had to work with. The special effects are also well done. This is to be expected in superhero movies nowadays, but ASM2 does have some really good looking moments.

Otherwise, though, it is a mess. The relationship between Gwen and Peter is well done, but all movement there is finished after their second scene together. After that it is just rehashing what they’ve already learned. There are some great moments with Aunt May, but they are almost divorced entirely from the rest of the film. The same goes for the mystery of Peter’s parents and exactly what they were up to. It is there, but it doesn’t inform any other part of the movie at all. All it does it set up the rather stupid notion that only Peter could have become Spider-Man, instead of anyone who happened to have been bitten by one of the spiders. Harry shows up and has a completely unearned intimacy with Peter. They are friends that haven’t seen each other for almost half of their lives, but immediately become best friends again.

It is also tonally inconsistent. The film can’t decide if it wants to be a serious drama or a fun goofball hero story. So we get serious drama between Peter and Gwen and Aunt May, and a little with Harry, then we get secret subway car science labs and a man getting electric powers from falling into a vat of electric eels. The problem isn’t any of these things in and of themselves; it is that it appears that no time was spent trying to make these elements fit together. The whole thing feels patchy and cobbled together. It also feels like it is trying to cash in on things from the comic without earning those moments. Why are Harry and Peter friends? Because they were in the comics. Why does BIG SPOILER THING happen? Because it did in the comics. They aren’t afraid to go away from the source material when they want to, but they find their way back for things that haven’t really been established. One last note, I need to say that way SPOILER was handled almost made me laugh in the theater. The grasping hand of Peter’s web as it shot toward its target was one of the most inappropriately ridiculous things I’ve ever seen. They are trying to play that moment for all of its dramatic worth, but it still can’t rise above the level of a cartoon. They attempt ends up feeling pathetic.

So I didn’t like it at all. And the longer I sat in that theater not liking the movie, growing ever more sticky and uncomfortable, the more I didn’t like. This may not be my most fair take on a movie ever. I don’t care. I did not enjoy a single part of my trip to see Amazing Spider-Man 2. While it has moved out of the shadow of Raimi’s Spider-Man movies that engulfed the first of these reboot Spidey movies, it didn’t move anywhere interesting. I would rather have had another pale imitation of a decade old movie than the mess that I watched. Maybe they can buck trends and actually make the inevitable third movie the best of the bunch, but I won’t be seeing it. I think I’ll go watch the old Spider-Man movies to wash this bad taste out of my mouth.

1/2 Star

Kirby Triple Deluxe

Kirby games tend to come in two flavors: weird experimental things like Mass Attack or Epic Yarn and rock solid platformers like Super Star or Return to Dreamland.  Both are indispensable to the pink puff ball.  I love the Kirby series because it has games like Kirby’s Adventure as well as games like Kirby’s Canvas Curse.  Triple Deluxe definitely falls into the regular platformer category.  In fact, it stands as one of the most impressive outings for the “normal” Kirby, with both outstanding level design and a deep roster of power-ups.

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Let’s get one thing out of the way up front, Kirby Triple Deluxe is easy.  It is a Kirby game, they are all easy.  I wouldn’t want a Kirby game that wasn’t easy.  Outside of setting limitations on yourself, like playing without power-ups, this game is not going to challenge any sort of experienced player.  If you are coming into this game looking for challenge, I recommend you both look elsewhere and reevaluate the life decisions that led you to this moment.

On to more important topics, Triple Deluxe has some excellent level design.  A lot of the game, making some of the best use of the 3Ds’s 3D capabilities in along time, takes place on two planes.  There is the foreground, generally where Kirby starts, with the usual linear 2D action.  Then there is anther background plane.  By using special stars Kirby can jump back and forth.  Enemies can do the same.  Cannons shoot from the back screen to the front.  Most of the puzzles are about how to get a certain power from the front to the back or vise versa.  There are also a handful of levels that cover much of the path and force the player to use a mirror in the background to navigate.

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It is never hard to reach the end of a level, but it can be take some careful examination of your surroundings to get each of the three or four sun stones hidden in each stage.  This is where the game can get truly devious.  You’ll need to find hidden keys and manage to transport them to locks, as well as various destructive items that you’ll need to clear the way.  I especially like the laser bar, that Kirby holds on one plane that stretched to the other.  He must avoid obstacles on his side while using the laser to clear the way on the other.  It is the kind of inventiveness one would expect from a Mario game, though it never gets to the point where it truly requires mastery.

The second thing that makes this game, and this series, so great are the power ups.  Triple Deluxe uses the same, mostly, set of powers as Return to Dreamland.  That means each power-up has multiple uses and skills, making each one a varied tool that does require some mastery to use effectively.  Old favorites like Fighter, Beam and Wing are present, each with a handful of uses.  There are also some new ones, most of which are good enough that I hope they stick around.  Circus is cute, but I found it to be largely useless.  However, Bell is both adorable and useful.  Beetle and Arrow verge on being overpowered, though no more so than Hammer.  Since each power has so many moves an uses, it is largely up to the player which one to use.

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The last new power is Hypernova, which gives Kirby the power to suck up anything. While this is technically a power-up, it has more to do with the level design than with the other powers.  It is required for the levels it appears in, and when its present the game becomes about using Kirby’s sucking power to solve all of his problems.  It is less a powerful tool and more a necessity.  That doesn’t make it not fun.  The Hypernova levels are some of the best in the game.

This is all wrapped in a cuddly package with some of the best graphics on the 3DS.  It is just a short, delightful game.  It oozes charm and personality, and backs that up with some truly excellent gameplay.  There are modes I’ve barely touched, from the 2 Dedede centric modes to the multiplayer arena battle mode.  Like its predecessors Super Star and Return to Dreamland, Kirby Triple Deluxe does so much right that it is hard to hold any of its little faults, length and lack of Hammer power-ups, against it.

What I Read in April ‘14

The thing with bloated fantasy epics is that they take a long time to read, even if the reader finds them engaging. When the reader is not such a big fan they take forever. I would have more read for this month if I had been able to force myself to keep reading Acacia. I don’t hate that book or anything, but the more I read it the less I like it. I am completely unable to abandon a book unfinished though. I have only ever found one book bad enough that I will never finish it: Battlefield Earth. Nothing else has been both as truly horrendous and as horrendously long. So it is another four book month, which is what I need to average to hit fifty for the year. I hope the damn breaks and I have a big reading month next month, but we’ll see.

 

from bossfightbooks.com

from bossfightbooks.com

Earthbound

Ken Baumann

I went in with the wrong expectations for this. I wanted a book about the game, a book that looked closely at what made the game work so well, from plot construction to battle mechanics. Something like a critical, close reading of the game. That is not what this book is. It does have some of that, but it is more the personal recollections of the author. It is as much autobiography as it is an examination of Earthbound.

Judging it for what it is, it is a good read. It is his Baumann’s memory of playing the game mixed with anecdotes of his life growing up. He does of good job of paralleling his life with the different parts of the game. The journey through Earthbound is not unlike the journey through childhood. This is supposed to be the first entry in a series of books like this, books about games from boss fight books. I hope the rest are at least this good, though I tend to prefer my books about game to be a little more about the game themselves.

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Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

Dorothy Sayers

Back with to the Wimsey mysteries. This one starts with a dead body found in Lord Peter’s gentlemen’s club. For all appearances it is a natural death, the man was very old, but there are some problems with his will. And the will of his sister, who died the same night. If she died first, her money goes to him and then to his sons. If not, it goes to her niece. So the lawyers hire Wimsey to look into it and try to find out exactly when the man died. It is soon uncovered, though, that he had died earlier and been moved to his place in the Bellona Club. It also appears that it wasn’t a natural death.

This is enjoyable as always. This one starts out innocuous, but soon turns deadly and ugly. There are plenty of suspects and nearly all of them are lying about or hiding something. Peter keeps at things with his usual attitude and persistence. Like usual with Sayers, there is more than just a mystery here, there is also some social commentary. The mystery is what keeps things moving, but it casts a quick eye on class and gender struggles. Not enough to distract from the mystery, but enough to make the reader aware of the struggles of the time. It gives the book something extra to entertain, which it certainly does.

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The Moon’s Fire Eating Daughter

John Myers Myers

Another Amazon sale title, this one picked up from a glowing recommendation from an internet acquaintance. It seems like just the sort of thing I would like. It is a romp through mythological history, with appearance from famous writers and fictional characters. In theory, it is not unlike the Jasper Fforde books I love so much. However, I didn’t like this much at all. It occasionally amused me, but mostly it frustrated me.

The Moon’s Fire Eating Daughter uses language that is often poetic and highly referential. Most of it is some historical allusion or reference. I would say that the frequent obscurity of said allusions cloud the story, but they are the story. This book only exists for those references. When they work, the book is amusing; when they don’t, it is a dreary slog. The problem is how much the reader has to bring into the book to get anything from it. I am not unknowledgeable about literature or mythology, in fact I would say that I know more than the average person, but I was lucky suss out more than half of the allusions in this story. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to reading easy material, but the reward didn’t feel worth the effort in this case.

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Cards on the Table

Agatha Christieas four other guests. During the dinner, while the guests are playing cards, someone manages to murder the host. Poirot and the police immediately start investigating, soon discovering that that the four suspects all have been suspected of murder before.

Poirot is less involved in this than he was in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. He asks question about the card game to try to learn what he can about the suspects tendencies, but the bulk of the investigation is left to the police detective. There is also a mystery novelist involved. I can’t help but feel that any time a writer puts a writer in their story that it represents them The mystery writer here tries to be helpful, but I’m not sure how much she help she is. This book lacks the complexity of the Sayers one above, but it might be the better mystery.