Persona 5

I don’t feel like I’m being fair to Persona 5.  It is a great game.  In terms of mechanics and aesthetics there is nothing it doesn’t do better than its predecessors, which should be expected with nearly a decade between releases.  But my thought immediately after finishing it was that it was no Persona 4. What I’ve been forced to realize over the two months it took me to play this game is that that realization is as much about me as it is about the game itself.

Persona 5 is much like the previous two entries in the series.  It follows the same structure with mostly the same battle system.  It isn’t identical, P5 adds demon negotiation and some different damage types, but the bones are the same.  You still try to hit weaknesses to get extra turns.  The best new addition to the battle system is the baton pass, which allows you to pass the turn to another party member after you down an enemy.  That lets the player spread attacks around, adding another layer of strategy on an already robust battle system.  The Shin Megami Tensei super-series got that battle system mostly right as far back as 2004’s SMT: Nocturne.  The tweaks we got with Persona 5 are a small evolution, not a great shaking of the foundations. But when the system is as good as this one is there is no real problem with sticking with what works. Final Fantasy has got a lot of good miles out of that ATB.

The game also keeps the calendar based structure.  You play a year in the life of a Japanese high schooler, making friends and solving a supernatural mystery.  Each day has a rhythm and a purpose.  There are confidants, the new name for S. Link where the protagonist builds his relationships with the other party members, as well as a handful of classmates and acquaintances. While the main story goes on, that is how you get each character’s individual story.  It is all mostly like the previous two games in the series.

Though I still liked it this time, Persona 5 did not grab me like 3 and especially 4 did.  I don’t think that is on the game.  The battle system is definitely improved.  There are just generally a lot of little fixes that makes it a smoother experience.  While I don’t think the localization was quite as impressive this time as Atlus’s work has been in the past, otherwise it was a better game, at least mechanically.  I think it flails a little story wise, but only because its ambition is so much greater than Persona 4’s.  In that game, the party was solving a local murder mystery.  The body count rose, but it was very limited in scope. Persona 5 has the cast trying to reform all of society.  Their goals and scope are so much greater that it is hardly a surprise that it starts to break down a little at its edges.

I just didn’t connect with the cast, at least not until past the midway point, and in a game that is as much about the story as this one, not connecting with the cast makes it hard to connect with the game Was that because they are not as strong of characters as the gang from Persona 4? I would say they are not, but I think the reason I didn’t connect with them is that when Persona 4 game out, I was in my early 20s and just a few years removed from high school and still in college.  The tribulations of these high school students were relatable and felt real to me.  Now I am in my early 30s and I just don’t find these high schoolers relatable.  I was less inclined to like them, and the game had to work that much harder to get me on board.

There is one thing that I think Persona 4 absolutely did better, which was to make the characters really seem like friends.  Even without the supernatural goings on, most of that cast would have been friends anyway.  Maybe not hiding pop star Rise or famous detective Naoto, but the rest seem likely.  Throughout the game I got the impression that these characters liked each other and would hang out as friends anyway.  Other than Ryuji and the protagonist, I didn’t get the feeling that Persona 5’s cast particularly cared for each other.  They seemed pretty disconnected from each other.

Still, I really enjoyed the game, it just isn’t a game that will come to mind when I think of my favorites like Persona 4 does.  Realizing that it never could is the hardest part to swallow.  I still want experiences like Persona 4 or Lunar 2 or the like, but I fear that even were I to find them I wouldn’t be able to appreciate them. Maybe that is a good thing, why should I like the same things at 20 that I like at 30. Or maybe I’m overreacting. Persona 5 was a lot of fun and I liked it.  Maybe the previous game in the series was just exceptional and this one was merely really good.

Advertisements

Metroid Samus Returns

This should feel bigger.  Metroid had been gone a long time. From 2007’s Metroid Prime 3, all we saw from the series was the widely disliked (I only played the first hour or so before my Wii quit reading the disc and I’ve just never found my way back to it) Metroid: Other M in 2010 and last year’s ignored spin-off Federation Force.  That is essentially one real Metroid game, since Federation Force is a Samus-less spin-off, in a decade and that was easily the least liked game in the series.  Metroid: Samus Returns should feel like a bigger deal. It is a remake instead of an entirely new game, but it is a pretty extensive remake.  There are a few critical flaws, but for the most part this is the Metroid game that most people say they want.

If you are familiar with the series, not a lot of Samus Returns come as a surprise.  Samus sets down on a big empty planet and starts exploring. This time her mission is to eliminate all the Metroids on the planet, like a space exterminator.  You collect power ups and ammo or health expansions as you freely explore the landscape.  It is a metroidvania game.  For the most part, it is a really solid one.

The biggest problem I had with the game is its biggest new feature: the combat mechanics.  Samus Returns adds a counter system to its fighting and it is the worst.  Enemies charge and the player must counter and stun them, which makes them vulnerable.  This turns early game encounters with just about every enemy into waiting for it to charge, countering and then shooting.  It slows the pace to a crawl any time you encounter enemies.  Eventually your firepower increases enough that it is not necessary, but by that point the frustration is great.  The idea works in boss battles, though it mostly unlocks essentially QTEs where you can deal big damage.  It is just a bad mechanic that doesn’t really fit into the game.  Otherwise, Samus Returns is about as good a game as could be made out of the bones of the Gameboy original.

One thing I’ve always found underrated about the early Metroid games is how they actually tell a continuing story.  Most games, of the era and even now, do not do this well.  Mario is the same thing over and again, which is perfectly fine.  Resident Evil’s between game changes make no sense.  Final Fantasy changes its setting every game.  Metroid, Metroid II and Super Metroid tell one continuing tale.  In Metroid, Samus faces down the Space Pirates and encounters the metroids they were experimenting one.  After defeating the Space Pirates there, her next mission takes her to the metroid’s home planet to exterminate them, which leaves on surviving baby metroid, which she leaves at a research station.  That station is attacked by the Space Pirates and Samus is again called up to stop them.  Later games try to fit in between these games and are inessential.  Maybe Fusion fits better as an actual sequel than I’ve given it credit for, but three tell a complete story.

I didn’t love Samus Returns.  Those combat problems turned the early going into a slog before things finally opened up.  But I liked it well enough and I a damn glad to have Metroid back.  Hopefully next year’s Metroid Prime 4 is at least this good.

Now Playing September 2017

Beaten

Persona 5 – post coming soon

Metroid: Samus Returns – post coming soon, probably.  I don’t know how much I have to say.  This is pretty good.  I think the counter system is really fiddly and fighting in general in this game is tedious, but exploring alien worlds never gets old.

Mighty Gunvolt Burst –

I kind of bounced over to this as I finished Metroid and blew through the parts I had left, which was most of the game, in two nights.  This is the game that I think people wanted Mighty No 9 to be.  It is a very solidly made Mega Man clone.  It is also nothing more than a Mega Man clone. It does have the somewhat interesting customizable weapons, but the mechanics of it seem to exist only to force players to continually replay levels.  That isn’t really a bad thing, but it makes for some front loaded difficulty.  But other than that one wrinkle, it is just Mega Man.  Again, that really isn’t a bad thing; the NES Mega Man games are all excellent.  But I felt that Mighty No 9, flaws aside, was trying to be something a little more.  Just a little.  It was an evolution of Mega Man, while Mighty Gunvolt Burst is a bit of a reversion.  That doesn’t change the fact that Burst is a more enjoyable game to play.  It is well worth the price of admission.

 

 

Ongoing

The Last Guardian – I played this for about 10 minutes. I have nothing to say yet, but I expect to finish it before too long.

Legend of Legacy

This is a blip, but the announcement that The Alliance Alive would be making it stateside prompted me to allow myself to be convinced to give this another go. I abandoned it two years ago because the game is inscrutable.  It is still inscrutable.  Level ups happen at random.  Skills are learned at random. It is all random.  The game goes out of its way to not tell how things work. I might stick it out, see if at some point it clicks, but so far it is just a neat experiment in negative space bullshit; that instead of filling a game with bullshit, it creates bullshit by absence of anything else.  At least it looks and sounds nice.

Upcoming

Yakuza 0 – I promised my brother I would get through The Last Guardian as fast as possible, so I started that back up after finishing Persona 5.  As soon as it is done, this goes back in.

Terranigma – I didn’t start this in September.  Honestly, other than spending one weekend getting through the rest of Persona 5 and about half an hour before bed each night playing Metroid I barely played any games.  I’ve got a fall break coming in October and will likely have some time to get to a game or two, with Terranigma near the top of my list.

Etrian Odyssey V – Its coming.  The demo was great, every preceding game was great. This will likely be my obsession for the rest of the year.

Lady Layton – I hope I can beat this in the 10 or so days between its release and EO5.  I’ve never not got right on a Layton game, this will be the same. But I really don’t have the time these days.

What I Watched September 2017

Movies

Little Evil – A fun little horror comedy from the guy behind Tucker and Dale vs Evil, another fun little horror comedy. This one has Adam Scott as the stepfather of the Anti-Christ.  It is no Shaun of the Dead, but it is reasonably enjoyable. ***1/1

#realityhigh – This is Mean Girls without the smarts and with a lot more YouTube.  I am not the target audience for this movie, so I don’t feel I can judge it too harshly.  Maybe some of this crap is relatable to kids.  But I have seen movies do this same thing and do it much better.  **

Gangs of New York – There is a lot going on here. I don’t think it is Scorsese’s best, but there is a lot of to like. It is a crazy expansive look at New York in the middle of the 19th century that is largely well acted and plotted. ****1/2

My Man Godfrey – This is a pretty excellent entry in one of my favorite lost genres, the screwball comedy. A man living in a dump is hired by an insane rich family to be their butler.  Except the man, Godfrey, is not just a homeless man but secretly very rich and is working as a butler for kicks, I guess.  It is a lot of fun. *****

Kingsman The Golden Circle – read review here. *

Enter the Warriors Gate – This is The Forbidden Kingdom, not a particularly great movie, without Jackie Chan or Jet Li, that movies two big draws.  It isn’t the worst, but it is far from being actually good.  **

Nausicaä and the Valley of the Wind – This isn’t my favorite Ghibli movie, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to see it on the big screen.  It plays.  It is the prototypical Miyazaki movie; it has all the elements that his movies would become known for, but everything feels stretched just a little bit thin.  Maybe it is just his other movies do parts of this one better than they are done here. For instance, if you just want the aerial action, Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso are better. Still, this movie is well worth seeing. *****

TV

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – This show is hilarious and fun, but it can also be hard to watch.  The main character continually makes wrong choice after wrong choice and while it is almost always funny, it is also pretty sad.  This is an excellent show. I love the songs especially.

The Good Place – This show is amazing.  The set-up, a bad person getting wrongly sent to ‘not heaven’ is pretty great.  When the other shoe drops on the premise, it makes everything that came before it even better.

30 Rock – I was going to write this show up again, because it is my go to going to sleep viewing choice and it was leaving Netflix. But then I learned that it was just moving to Hulu and Hulu would only cost me $6 bucks a month and has enough stuff to watch other than 30 Rock to make it worth it to me.  So I still have access to 30 Rock to put me to sleep at night.

American Vandal – This show is a perfect combination of true crime documentaries and stupid high school kids.  A stoner is accused of spray-painting dicks on all of his teacher’s cars.  One kid from the AV club investigates to get to the bottom of who did the dicks.  It is quite the roller coaster ride, with the complete focus on things that are ultimately not that important.  This is really good.

The Tick – The new Tick show is good.  It is still the Tick, though a more serious take on the character.  The older show played the same subjects largely for laughs, this one takes plays them for more drama. And also laughs.  I like the old show better, but I will keep watching this one.

Blade Runner 2049

I am not the biggest fan of the original Blade Runner. I like it just fine, but it always felt standoffish and cold to me. Maybe it is because I am most familiar with the theatrical cut. At least I think that is the cut that I watched occasionally on VHS decades ago.  I have seen at least two different versions of it.  It is stark and moody and beautiful, but I could never connect with it. While Blade Runner 2049 shares a lot of qualities with the original, I didn’t have that problem here.

Blade Runner 2049 eschews ambiguity about whether its protagonists is a replicant, and artificially created person, (I don’t think Deckard is) telling the viewer right at the start that Ryan Gosling’s K is one. After successfully hunting down an older model, he stumbles upon a discovery that has the potential to completely disrupt society. This sets off an investigation that largely plays out like a noir mystery. Trying not to spoil anything, K must deal with his boss with the police, his companion Joi, mysterious CEO Niander Wallace and his associate Luv and finally Deckard from the original movie as he tries to get to the bottom of things.  It is hard to really dig into this movie without spoiling everything. I am not usually a big stickler for spoilers, but this is a mystery.  SO there will be mild spoilers ahead, but I will endeavor to not ruin things outside the basic premise.

It does deal with the idea of what makes us human.  Our protagonist K is a replicant, and he believes he is not a person. He puts up a persona of being cold and emotionless.  A later revelation causes him to question that, and he becomes much more emotional and expressive.  By the end, he has shown his humanity no matter what he learns about his creation.  That is contrasted with Luv, another replicant who never seems to question her birth and purpose. No matter what she does or what she sees, she robotically follows her orders.  Then there is Joi, an AI program designed to tell its owner exactly what they want to hear.  She gives K exactly what he wants; turning his barren apartment into a home and telling him he is special, even giving him another name, Joe.  But is she doing anything more than what her programming tells her to do?  An encounter with another version maybe answers the question, but I don’t think that answer is definitive.  Then there is also the inhumanity of many of the human characters, like [boss] and Wallace, who coldly want to, or do, dispatch with replicants because they do not see them as human. It makes things a little more clear as to what each character is, and then muddies it up with how to look at them.

It is also an utterly gorgeous movie, taking place in a largely ugly setting.  The earth of 2049 is a dying place, with irradiated desert reclaiming Las Vegas and San Diego turned into a giant dump and Los Angeles managing to seem both overcrowded and empty.  The costuming is amazing; there are tons of memorable shots. The music is good, if a little modern blockbuster-y.  It is just a truly well-made film.

I’m not trying to hide the ball here, I loved Blade Runner 2049.  It isn’t a copy of the original; it takes its themes and builds on them.  I think it surpasses the original.  It is a little messy, there are plot threads that don’t really go anywhere and lots of questions left unanswered, but those mostly worked to make the movie feel alive for me.  This world is bigger than just the story of this movie, those story threads are not to be dealt with here.  Not really sequel hooks, just other events that are also happening.  Everything about this movie works for me.

*****

What I Watched August 2017

Movies

The Dark Tower – read review here. **1/2

Opening Night – Topher Grace plays a failed actor working as a stage manager for a musical.  This is all about the struggles backstage as they get ready for opening night.  It is a reasonably well made movie. It is just funny and charming enough to get by during its hour and a half run time.  I like Topher Grace; I like several other members of the cast.  It is fine, but forgettable. ***1/2

Logan Luckyread review here. ****1/2

Naked – A take on Groundhogs Day where a man has to keep reliving his disastrous wedding day until he finally gets things right.  I can’t say I hated it, but it never did enough with its premise.  It wasn’t touching or funny enough to really be worthwhile.   **

The Incredible Jessica James – This is a pretty solid indie comedy/drama starring The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams.  It works.  It is funny and charming.  Definitely worth watching.  ***1/2

What Happened to Monday – This movie isn’t bad.  I liked it.  But it is really disappointing how much it squanders its premise.  It stars Noomi Rapace as seven identical sisters in a world that has a one child rule.  So each sibling is named after the day of the week they get to go outside in the identity of the one child. It is a neat concept, but the movie pretty much immediately starts taking sisters off the board in favor of a fairly standard chase movie. There is just so much unrealized potential here.  When it plays with that premise it is really enjoyable. ***

The Founder – This is the perfect American story, about how if you work hard enough there is nothing you can’t steal.  It’s itself up as a sort of Ray Kroc hagiography, but lets you see the complete emptiness inside of the man.  He cares for no one and nothing other than himself, sparing no regard for the people he destroys along the way. It is just great.  *****

Beautiful Creatures – I watched this to see Alden Ehrenriech after loving him in Hail, Caesar! This is clearly a movie made to capitalize on the success of Twilight and it isn’t the best.  However, it has enough fun performers, like Ehrenriech and Jeremy Irons and Voila Davis and Emmy Rossum, having fun with the movie that it remains watchable. **1/2

TV

Ozark – The show hits the ground running, but it takes a little time to warm up anyway.  Many have compared it to Breaking Bad, but it starts in a much different place, a place where the protagonist, Jason Bateman’s Marty Bird, has already made the decision to work for the bad guys.  Other than the fact that his job is illegal, he remains a mostly forthright guy.  There is trouble with his marriage and he is in no sense of the word a good guy, but it is endlessly entertaining to see his reaction to trouble being to simply admit the truth.  I don’t know how good the show actually is, but I do know that I kept watching until it was over.

Friends from College – This show is miserable.  It has an excellent cast, but they play the least likeable/least funny bunch of ingrates I’ve ever seen in what is supposed to be a comedy.  You can do comedy with unlikeable, terrible people, Always Sunny in Philadelphia has been making hay with for years, but that show doesn’t try to make you care about characters this fundamentally awful.  This show thinks its viewers will care about what happens to these goblins.  It also is only rarely funny.  It is really just the worst.

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later – I doubt I’ll have the time, but I’d like to write a fuller review of this, or a full review of both season of Wet Hot and the movie. This show is brilliant. It has a great cast and is incredibly funny.  Also Chris Meloni steals the show.

Voltron S3 – This show keeps getting better as it doles out little chunks of goodness.  Knowing that the people behind it have a plan or roadmap for how things will progress makes it easier to go through with the episodes as they come.  Still, this is a lot of fun.  Good action, good character work and some good sci-fi concepts.  I’m not going completely crazy about it, but it maintains a very high quality level throughout.  I just wish they’d release more at a time.

The Get Down Part 2 – I am going to miss this nonsense spectacle of a show.  It is so big and so grand, but also muddled and inconsistent.  It is just too much, which is both likely why it cost so much and got the axe and why I kept watching it despite its flaws. It didn’t quite work, but I’m glad that I got to experience it.

Little Witch Academia – It has been an unfortunately long time since I got into an anime. I just haven’t really attempted to do so, and the few I have checked out haven’t really clicked with me. Also at the risk of enraging purists, I don’t have the time and inclination to read while watching cartoons. Little Witch Academia, a charming mix of Harry Potter and Kiki’s Delivery Service, is pretty entertaining. It isn’t the deepest show out there, but it has some nice animation and is free of the creepiness that tends to infect these sorts of shows.  It is all around a good time and worth checking out on Netflix.

Defenders – Had I written this immediately after seeing it I think I would have been more positive. Now that I have had a week or two to let it settle, I am feeling less charitable. All of the Marvel Netflix shows have shared a problem: they are 13 episodes long, but don’t have 13 episodes worth of story.  Even the best of them (Jessica Jones for my money) feels pretty saggy in the middle.  Defenders is only 8 episodes, which should have done wonders to fix that problem.  Except somehow the show has the same ratio of content to filler as the longer shows.  This is a superhero team up show that doesn’t even start the team up portion until halfway through the series. It isn’t like there is a lot happening in those first few episodes; it takes three full episodes to introduce its four protagonists. I don’t know. There is mild amusement here, but it doesn’t leave any sort of positive impression.

White Gold – This show has its moments, but it is stuck between showing awful people be awful and trying to make them characters.  Mostly it works, there is a lot of humor here, but sometimes it just doesn’t work.

Dear White People – Often powerful, often funny, occasionally a little bit stuck in between. This is not a show that is afraid to be messy, but the message generally shines through. It is really, really good.

Fall/Winter Movie Preview

September

Unlocked – Noomi Rapace is really good, even if not everything she is in is.  The director, Michael Apted, directed a Bond movie that only I like (The World is Not Enough). Honestly, I’m stretching a little to find stuff in September that seems worth checking out. Sept 1

It – I am not at all interested in this, but it is about as big a movie as September has coming. It looks like it is going to be very much a horror movie, instead of only kind of a horror movie like the original TV mini-series. I’m out.  Doesn’t mean it will be bad, I just don’t watch horror movies. Sept 8

American Assassin – Looks like generic thriller, but I don’t mind those and Michael Keaton goes a long way.  Sept 15

Kingsman The Golden Circle – If everything else was equal, this is a movie I would be excited for. I like a lot of what this looks to be and I like a lot of the people in it. I also hate to give money to anything that has Mark Millar’s fingerprints on it.  I really detest that man’s work.  But this looks like it could be an exception. Action comedies, especially ones about spies, are exactly my wheelhouse.  Sept. 22

American Made – Who knows, but I’ll never outright dismiss a Tom Cruise movie. It looks at least somewhat interesting. Sept 29.

October

Blade Runner 2049 – Here we go. A follow up to a classic, with Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling, directed by the man who directed last year’s Arrival. I am in for this. It looks great.  Oct 6

The Foreigner – I prefer fun Jackie Chan to serious Jackie Chan, but I am not against Chan in a Taken alike.  Plus, he’s playing off of Pierce Brosnan, who is always fun.  This could go either way. Oct 13

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women – This should be interesting at the very least.  The creator of Wonder Woman, or maybe creators, is endlessly fascinating.  If this plays near me I’ll see it.  Oct 13

Geostorm – This seems like a movie that should have crapped up the summer.  It looks appallingly dumb, but there might be entertainment to be found in it any way. Oct 20.

Suburbicon – Coen Brothers written; yay! Clooney directed; shrug.  I haven’t hated either of Clooney’s directorial efforts, but I haven’t loved them either.  This looks good enough to be worth a look.  Oct 27.

November

Thor: Ragnarok – So far this looks like everything great about superhero movies. It looks epic and fun and big in ways that few actually turn out to be.  If it cribs as much from Walt Simonson as it appears to it should be a delight. Nov 3

Murder on the Orient Express – I’ve been on a real Christie kick lately, I could go for an adaptation.  And I generally really enjoy Branagh, both as an actor and a director.  The rest of the cast, assuming Depp is somewhat restrained, looks pretty good as well. Nov 10

Justice League – I might be the last one on this train, seeing as I love Batman v Superman, (I gave it a middling review when it came out, then liked the “Ultimate Cut” a lot more and each time I’ve seen it since I’ve liked it more. I am ready to call it love) but I am ready for the next stop. Nov 17

Coco – I didn’t see Cars 3, but I am not missing 2 Pixar movies in one year.  I’ll be there for this. Nov 22

December

The Shape of Water – Its Guillermo Del Toro, I am going to see it.  I love most of his movies. This is some sort of fantasy romance between a woman and a fishman.  It sounds very Del Toro and very good. Dec 18

Star Wars The Last Jedi – If anything, I am more excited for this than I was for The Force Awakens.  This looks so amazing. Dec 15

Jumanji – This will almost certainly be bad, but there is a near infinite number of bad movies I’ll watch The Rock in.  At least the conceit is amusing, though I hope they do something more interesting than the trailer showed with it.  Dec 20

I know there are movies that I should be excited for that I’m not.  You know, the actually good movies hidden amongst the rancid Oscar bait and summer leftovers, but I am having trouble really finding much to be excited for this fall.  Of course, at this time last year I hadn’t even heard of La La Land, so what do I know?  I know Netflix has stuff coming as well, but they tend to cagey with release dates more than a few weeks out. Tell me of anything I missed, unless it is a horror movie because then I simply ignored it.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

It is not often that a movie repulses me quite like Kingsman: The Golden Circle did.  It is a nasty, callow, mean-spirited, empty film that tries to play itself off as a gleeful romp despite being utterly devoid of anything that could cause glee.  Even so, I would feel more charitable if I could find one thing to point to that it does well to offset its soul destroying vulgarity, but there is nothing here.

The closest to a positive thing I can point to in Kingsman: The Golden Circle is its cast. Even a movie as generally revolting as this can’t completely disguise the charms of actors like Mark Strong, Colin Firth or Channing Tatum.  Even when you toss in a happily sleepwalking Julianne Moore, a blink and you’ll miss it appearance by Jeff Bridges and an altogether bland showing from Halle Berry, the cast makes you really want to root for this movie.  Too bad about the movie itself.

It is mean-spirited, and it shows this right from the start.  After a brief, weightless action sequence which ends with the protagonist Eggsy literally covered in shit, it switches to Moore’s villain Poppy, who has one henchman toss another head first into a meat grinder and then she serves the survivor a hamburger made from his friend.  Of course, this is the villain; we expect them to do awful things.  But the world at large, including our heroes, is no better.  All along I was expecting at least one character to repudiate the vileness that permeates nearly every character’s actions, but instead they continually double down on it.  Eggsy attempts to plant a tracker on one of the villain’s girlfriends is not dissimilar to many of Bond’s seductions, though for Bond the mission is usually information and the sex is just a bonus; this is a calculated plot for the protagonist to paw at a woman’s crotch.  Maybe some of it is the usual Bond spy stuff taken to what is intended to be a humorous extreme, but all it ends up doing is feeling gross.

The action is also a disappointment.  There is one good sequence, but even that one is heavy on the CGI. The movie tries to go over the top, but it just makes everything feel hollow and empty.  There is a car chase that is supposed to be the big opener, but Baby Driver came out just a few months ago, I know what a good car chase looks like.  Or hell, I could look at Mission Impossible Rogue Nation or The Man from UNCLE, all of which feature better car chases than that.  The action in the gunfights is clear, but there is no weight to anything. It just happens.

I should have known better than to go see this.  It is based on a Mark Millar property, if not on an actual story he wrote, and I know how much I detest his writing. But some people really talking up the first, which I skipped, and a dearth of other options led me to seeing Kingsman 2.  This movie is permeated with Millar’s brand of immature, edgy stupidity.  There is nothing here to recommend.

*

Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age

I intended to write about Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age when I was about halfway through it, but that didn’t happen.  Instead, the game completely took control of me in a way that few games do.  It is very similar to the weeks I spent enthralled by Breath of the Wild earlier this year. That doesn’t happen to me often, for it to happen twice in the same year is unusual.

 

Especially since I have already played Final Fantasy XII. It got me like this all the way back when it first came out.  I went to a midnight launch of the game at a Gamestop and played it pretty much nonstop until I beat it.  This remaster is largely the same game; very little of the content is changed.  The biggest changes are in the license board character growth system, since The Zodiac Age is based on the International special edition of the game that introduced job specific license boards instead of one identical one.  It’s a change I feared going in, thinking that it would upset the game balance by limiting the characters. While it does limit them, it also makes for more specialization. They are better at the few things they can do.  It takes for some adjusting, but all it really takes it knowing what abilities you have at your disposal.

 

Some of the game’s flaws are still there.  A lot of abilities are hidden in randomly spawning chests in dungeons.  That makes it really hard to make full use of your abilities when the best ones are hidden three quarters of the way through the game.  Some really great strategies are just impossible until you have the right skills, which even if you unlock them on the board you might never have.  I don’t know why they did it that way, but it is a very extent annoyance.

Still, I burned through The Zodiac Age in about a week of play.  In my head, FFXII turned into a slog about halfway through and dragged on way too long, like a lot of PS2 games did.  I did not find that to be the case this time.  I cleared the game in about 40 hours, which is about how long I like JRPGs to take.  I don’t mind the occasional 80 hour super-epic, but I prefer the Chrono Triggerian focused 25 experience.  FFXII fits right in between the two of them.  It is just about perfect.

The story does take a back seat after an action packed opening, but the world it task the player with exploring is the best.  I stopped caring that my task got kind of lost, because I was having too much fun exploring the caves and plains and beaches of Ivalice. There is just so much there, enough to keep anyone busy for at least as long again as playing through the story takes.  The world is the star of this game.

Honestly, though, I am a big fan of the story of this game as well.  It has one of my favorite casts.  Basch, Balthier and Ashe are all great characters.  A lot of people really don’t like Vaan and Penelo, but I find them inordinately charming.  Vaan positioning as the protagonist, even though he is not even close to the driving figure of the story, can be annoying, but the character himself is a lot fun.  His youthful exuberance is the perfect antidote to the often closed and jaded characters like Basch.  It takes more than a few cues from Star Wars, but Vaan is not the Luke of this story, he’s more like the R2D2.  A vital part of the team, but not really a driving force of plot. (the others match like this Balthier = Han, Fran = Chewie, Basch = Luke/Obi Wan, Ashe = Leia and Penelo = C-3PO) It gets a little lost in the middle, mostly because the story is split by vast stretches of land, it honestly holds together a lot better than I remembered.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is FFXII just like you remember it, much in the same way that the 3DS remakes of the N64 Zeldas are just like you remember them.  They are not as the game’s actually were, but they are close and everything that is different just removes annoyances to let you get at the great game that has always been underneath.  This remake is the rose tinted version of the game, minus a bunch of small complaints that didn’t even occur to players at the time.  I put up my Final Fantasy rankings a month or so ago and I stand by XII’s placement on the list. This game is one of the greats.

What I Read August 2017

Two more Agatha Christie’s for August and I expect that this will be the pace for most of the next couple of years.  All I do for class is read; it makes it hard to find the drive to read for fun.  Still, I can’t imagine I stop reading entirely.

Cat Among the Pigeons

Agatha Christie

A solid Poirot story that reads more like a Marple story.  By that I mean that Poirot doesn’t show up until near the end of the story and mostly just solves the mystery instead of doing any investigating.  This involves intrigue and murder at a girl’s school, as well as Middle Eastern royalty.  A Middle East King, facing revolution, entrusts some gems to a British friend, who hides them among his visiting sister and her daughter’s possessions. When she gets back to school, things take a murderous turn

It works. The two halves don’t quite fit together, and part of the eventual solution seemed come out of nowhere.  I really prefer when the detective is a more active part of the story. The mystery here is fine, but the solving doesn’t quite live up to it.  It is kind of great how the Christie tells you exactly what is going on, yet it is still hard to pinpoint the villain. This one is not a favorite, but it is solid enough.

Passenger to Frankfurt

Agatha Christie

I’ve read some Christie that I thought was not great or was actually rather weak, but until this book I don’t think I’d encountered any of her books that I would call downright bad.  Passenger to Frankfurt, though, is downright bad.  It is strangely formless and scattered, with a lot of grand, if maybe poorly considered, ideas strewn about a plot that makes even the most convoluted and stupid Bond movies look downright intelligible.

Ostensibly, Passenger to Frankfurt is about Stafford Nye, a British foreign official who gets caught up in some international intrigue and espionage.  For the first half that is exactly what happens.  He meets a mysterious woman, he tracks her down again and learns of an important mission, and they head off to exotic locals to prevent disaster.  I guess, anyway.  A little past the midpoint, Nye all but disappears from the book as it becomes a much more general look at a plot to cause anarchy and overthrow Western governments.  There are threads about fake sons of Hitler and lobotomizing super drugs. It is weird as hell and not especially coherent. It is a big miss.