Dragon Quest VIII 3DS

I think I had kind of forgotten how important Dragon Quest VIII was to me until I played the 3DS remake.  I always remembered liking the game well enough, slotting it somewhere in the middle of the series when rating my enjoyment of them.  I liked it better than the primitive DQ1 or the grindy DQ2 or DQ6, which I just don’t much care for, but I didn’t consider it a favorite like DQ 4 or 5 or even 9.  It just wasn’t a game I thought much about. Playing the 3DS port/remake, which improves the game in several ways but is also hampered enough by technical issues to not be strictly the definitive version, really brought back how much I liked that game.

During what in hindsight appears to be something of a Golden Age during the heart of the PS2/GC/XBOX days, I largely drifted out of gaming.  I owned a GameCube, but despite a steady stream of solid games, between Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker near the start of 2003 and Resident Evil 4 in early 2005, which was the last new GameCube game I bought before I got a PS2, I played maybe 5 new games. I bought Viewtiful Joe and Tales of Symphonia for myself, got Skies of Arcadia Legends and Lord of The Rings: Return of the King for Christmas, and my brother and I went in together to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Most of those are great games.  Viewtiful Joe and Skies of Arcadia Legends are among my all-time favorites. Return of the King was a great co-op experience during Winter Break, but I have neither the time nor inclination to revisit it and see if it holds up.  Tales of Symphonia was the right game at the right time in the summer of 2004. And Crystal Chronicles is at the very least interesting.  While those were some great games, and there were plenty of great games hitting the GC and other systems, I found myself less and less interested. While the RPGs in that list took some time to play, none of the others are all that lengthy. Some of my disinterest is could be down to the GC not really having the RPGs that really interested me at the time, but I didn’t really feel a pull to get a PS2, where those games could be found. At least, I didn’t until I saw FFXII on the horizon.

The inexorable pull of Final Fantasy XII was enough to get me to finally take the plunge on a PS2. Since that game was the primary pull for me to get the system, before it was released late in 2006, I picked up a copy of Dragon Quest VIII, which came with a FFXII demo disc. I was interested, though not exactly excited, to play Dragon Quest VIII. The only game in the series I had played was Dragon Warrior on NES and while I had fond memories of it, I hadn’t played it in a decade or so.  Dragon Quest 8 was a JRPG, which I like, with an appealing graphical style not unlike that in Wind Waker.  I wasn’t ready for how much I would enjoy it.

The essence of the 3DS remake of DQ8 is the same as the PS2 original.  That game charmed me with its aesthetics and is back to basics approach to the JRPG.  Most of the games of that genre that I love emphasize a sense of adventure over strictly mechanical or storytelling concerns.  That is why I love Skies of Arcadia and Lunar.  While no Dragon Quest games are strictly complex, DQ8 rolls its mechanics back to the basics.  There is a tiny amount of character customization, but otherwise the game is very simple.  Neither is the story particularly innovative or original.  It has a silent protagonist on a quest to save a princess, join by a trio of like-minded companions. That shouldn’t be the recipe for a beloved classic, but DQ8 shines in the execution of its very simple adventure.  

One thing the game did better than any game before it how well it realized a world.  Other PS2 games, like Final Fantasy X, eliminated the overworld in favor of linear pathways to follow.  Dragon Quest 8 went the other way, creating a full sized world for the player to explore.  Better than any other jrpg I had ever played, Dragon Quest 8 made me feel like I was in the world of the game.  That feeling is greatly helped by its excellent graphics, which helps create a cohesive world.

 

The simple story, the impetuous for exploring the game’s excellent world, doesn’t work without solid characters and that is another area where the game shines. Both its playable and non-playable characters a delightful and memorable.  Jessica and Angelo are simply well executed stock genre characters. Like the game itself, they break little new ground, but are perfect for what they are.  Yangus, though, is the real star, with his cockney accent and general scruffiness.  His interactions with King Trode are a constant delight. The 3DS adds his sometimes paramour Red as a playable characters, and she is likewise a lot of fun. Then there are the characters that make up the casts in each town the player visits.  There are too many to mention.

Something about this game’s back to basics approach, stripping the genre down to its essence and concentrating on the presentation just worked for me, both in 2007 and in 2017. Back then, I was hoping that the forward thinking, groundbreaking Final Fantasy XII would be the game to make me love playing video games again. But Dragon Quest VIII isn’t the most complex game or the most original, but it is a perfectly executed take on the genre.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap

I wrote several years ago, when I was thinking of getting into the youtube game with a series of videos about Sega Genesis games (a desire that hasn’t really went away), about the best Genesis game that was not released, at least not on that console, in America: Monster World IV. That game was something of a revelation.  It is a near perfect 16-bit action platformer, as good as anything on the Genesis or SNES.  Recently, the previous game in that series’ convoluted lineage got a remake.  Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap (Alternatively Monster World II: The Dragon’s Trap) is one of the absolute best Master System games, and this very faithful remake proves that it mostly holds up.

While Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap – or Wonder Girl if you so choose – is most striking for its marvelous new visuals, it is a very faithful to the original in how it plays.  Despite featuring some of the most impressive 2D visuals I’ve ever seen, the game still plays almost identically to its original version. In fact, with the press of a button you can switch from the new graphics to the old and nothing else changes. It is astounding that they managed to get it to look so good with compromising in regards to controls or animation.  There is usually some sort of trade off there, but here it is seamless. I have praised Wayforward, the best in current 2D games, for their efforts in games like Shantae ½ Genie Hero and DuckTales Remastered, but this game both looks and plays better than either of those two games.  It is really just an astounding achievement.

It isn’t a perfect package, though.  Sometimes a game from 1989 plays like a game from 1989.  It can be obtuse at times, with unclued secret doors, as well difficult in ways that feel unfair.  There is no way to square this circle. The game likely would have been improved for modern audiences if it was friendlier with checkpoints and respawns, but I can’t fault them for sticking closely to the original.

As for what it is, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a sort of metroidvania exploration focused platformer.  It really is mostly straightforward, with each level largely being a straight line to the end, followed by a trip back to the hub town to follow the next level to the end of its line. You collect subweapons, live extenders and gold to buy new weapons and armor.  It isn’t anything you can’t find in a dozen other games, but it was something of a trailblazer in its day and it is all around really well executed.  The game’s gimmick is that at the beginning the protagonist is cursed and turned into a dragon.  As the game progresses, similar curses turn the player character into several other forms, like a mouse and a lion.  Each form has different abilities and eventually you can use each of them to traverse the stages.

Really, it is a great game that has aged better than many of its vintage given a wonderful fresh coat of paint and presented with love and care that is all but unmatched.  Any fans of 8 and 16-bit games owe it to themselves to pick this game up.

The Fate of the Furious Review

The Fast and Furious series, despite its recent success, is in a state of flux. As emotional as the previous entry’s climax was, it also pushed the ridiculousness to the absolute limits and removed a vital part of the series’ appeal. Fate of the Furious finds a way to forge ahead after the loss of Paul Walker’s Brian, but the loss of his grounding presence is felt. While it doesn’t attempt to match Furious 7’s cartoonish ridiculousness, it also can’t match the movies genuine emotion. Still, there is a lot to like about this 8th entry in the series, like an increased amount of The Rock and more cohesive plot.

The Fate of the Furious starts with Vin Diesel’s Dom and Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty on their honeymoon in Cuba. After a very entertaining race, Dom meets with Cipher (Charlize Theron), who shows him something that upsets him. When the team is contacted by Hobbs (The Rock) to join him on a secret mission to retrieve an emp device from Germany, Dom turns on the team, stealing the device for Cipher. While Hobbs initially goes to jail for his part in the operation, he is soon extracted by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) along with a new forced ally, the previous movies villain Deckard Shaw. From there, the team travels around the globe trying to stop Dom and Cipher while Dom tries to extricate himself from her blackmail. There are some really good action sequences, like the prison break and an extended fight sequence on a plane that makes full use of Jason Statham’s skills.

There are some weak spots. Charlize Theron is almost completely wasted as Cipher, spending most of the movie standing on a plane looking at a computer monitor saying nonsense like “hack them all.” While Statham’s face turn is welcome, it feels like they all but ignore the fact that he killed Han. That should be a big deal. Also, once recurring character gets the rawest of raw deals. The team dynamic is also not quite what it should be. Part of that is the movie itself, with Dom being forced to play the villain, but it also due to the lack of Brian to be the counterweight to Dom’s self-seriousness. The movie tries to find a balance with more of Hobbs and an increased role for Statham, but neither of them are really playing people. They are almost cartoon characters. Completely delightful, but they are far from the grounding presence that Walker was. In a movie series that has pushed far into the stratosphere of ridiculousness as this one, having at least one character that plays it a little small really helps.

I’ve read several reviews compare Fate of the Furious to the Pierce Brosnan James Bond movies. This is usually an unfavorable comparison – because people tend to be wrong about how awesome those Bond movies were – but I think it is both apt and part of what makes the movie so enjoyable. It is a spy movie, filled with ridiculous near future technology and action that underplays its ridiculousness. While the stunts aren’t quite as crazy as the last movie, the plot coils around on itself into the pinnacle of preposterousness. The movie even manages to pull off the villain reveal that Spectre tripped over so pathetically. Fate of the Furious doesn’t come close to ascending to the heights of Fast 5, but it is still a solid entry into what the series became after the movie launched the series to the top of the action movie heap.

***1/2

25 Years 25 Games 23: Robotrek

I hate to do this again, but I’ve got to tap out on Robotrek.  I’ve tried to play through, but I am getting nothing out of forcing my way through it.  Robotrek – its Japanese title of Slapstick is much more fitting – is interesting in theory, but I didn’t find it so to actually play.

Robotrek was developed by prolific SNES developer Quintet, which alone makes it worth remembering.  They are responsible for classics, or near classics, like Actraiser, Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia. (Many people would list Terranigma with those, I’ll find out as soon as I finish with Lufia 2.)  Despite some novel ideas, this one doesn’t stand with those. But while I didn’t have much patience for it after a year glutting myself on 16-bit games, I do think it worthwhile.

It feels something like a proto-Pokemon.  It is a jrpg where the player character doesn’t actually do the fighting.  You build robots that do your fighting for you.  Much of the game is based around the protagonist finding junk and inventing new weapons and armors for the robots.  This either requires some trial and error, which I don’t currently have the time or patience for, or use a guide, which saps all the fun out of playing.

My problem with the game is really that it is toothless.  It is clearly designed for a slightly younger set than some other classic SNES games; more for the 10 year old rather than 12. That isn’t a problem when it comes to the clean, pleasant but not particularly detailed graphics or the jaunty music, but it turns the gameplay into something tedious. There is little difficulty, so it all starts to feel like wasting your time.

I am sounding more negative about this game than I feel.  It is interesting, but playing it it just hasn’t grabbed me.  And the more I force myself to keep playing it, the less like it and the less I want to play.  That is why I am abandoning it and getting on with the last couple of entries in this project.  I don’t want to hate this game.  Maybe if I come back in a year or two it will grab me, but it just isn’t grabbing me now.

The Definitive Fast & Furious Rankings

I was a late convert to the Fast & Furious series.  I saw the first movie back in high school and more or less enjoyed it.  The Fast & The Furious was one of ubiquitous movies high school movies where I’m from.  Everyone seemed to own it, either on DVD or VHS and those who didn’t own it were either renting it or borrowing it from a friend.  I can’t say the movie that much of an impression on me, but it was one of about 4 movies (this, an Austin Powers, Varsity Blues, Cruel Intentions) that always seemed to be playing in the background from junior high until I graduated.  I had seen it, it I had never really thought about it.  I found 2 Fast 2 Furious actively stupid and from there put the movie series out of my mind. I didn’t outright hate the series, I just couldn’t be forced to care.

The next three movies hit without me ever even considering changing my mind about it.  I was told that Fast 5 was excellent, but I didn’t listen.  Then I accidentally sawa trailer for Fast & Furious 6 before some movie, and I realized that I might have been wrong.  I still didn’t make it out to the sixth movie, but I grabbed a cheap DVD copy of Fast 5 before Furious 7 hit.  Even with all the love that movie had got I wasn’t ready for how much I enjoyed it. I instantly became a fan.

Now we are on the eve of the release of Fate of the Furious.  It isn’t quite my most anticipated movie this year, what with Star Wars and Justice League and Baby Driver and did you see that Thor: Ragnarok trailer, but it is probably in the top 5.  So before I amble down to the cinema to watch Fate of the Furious, I decided to rank the series.  Because that is really easy and quick and other people are doing it and they are doing it wrong.

7: 2 Fast 2 Furious – I don’t feel quite as uncharitable toward this movie as I did when I first saw it, and in many ways it lays down the path that the better entries in the series would take even if this one doesn’t execute it especially well.  But it is still a movie that doesn’t have a lot to recommend about it.

6: The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift – I know I’ve seen it, but it exists as kind of void in my memory.  It it largely unconnected to the rest of the series, other than introducing Han, which is reason enough not to ignore it.  Still, it probably the last movie I’d rewatch, despite thinking it is a slightly better film.

5: Fast & Furious
This movie is kind of necessary for the evolution of the series into into what it would become, this movie is kind of a miserable slog.  It leans into all of the series worst tendencies, but it also does a lot of plot lifting to get Dom and Brian back together.

4: The Fast & The Furious
This first one is just a moderately well-made Point Break knock-off.  Everything is laughably low stakes for what the series would become, but there is just enough interesting to make the whole thing watchable.

3: Furious 7
The end of this movie is emotionally devastating, and the rest of the movie is pure delightful nonsense.  It throws out any pretensions of presenting anything remotely realistic for parachuting cars out airplanes and driving them through skyscrapers.  It is excellent.

2: Fast & Furious 6
F&F6 sits at the midpoint between the bonkers lunacy of Furious 7 and the the regular over the top action movie nonsense of Fast 5.  It’s plot does feature a jumbo jumbo jet, a tank racing down a highway and plenty of amnesia, but it is perfectly fun and propulsive. It is a close call between this and 7, but this one barely edges it out.

1: Fast 5 – This is just a notch short of being a perfect action movie.  The heist movie structure gives it a perfect reason to bring in most of the memorable characters from previous movies and adding The Rock as an admirable adversary is just perfect.  It has great action scenes that perfectly toe the line between gonzo nonsense and still being relatively grounded.  It is the perfect expression of what this series could be.

What I Read in March 2017

I only managed to finish three books in March, but I’m pretty happy with where I am reading wise this year so far. I am fairly certain I will meet my yearly goal.

The Gangster

Clive Cussler & Justin Scott

This Isaac Bell series has long been something of a guilty pleasure of mine.  This one, though, sort of missed for me.  As always, I love the setting and like this series fake Pinkerton Van Dorn organization, but the plot here was thin even by the standards of this series.  It ostensibly gets Bell involved with the new forming American Mafia, but also ties in some robber baron stuff and a potential Presidential assassination.  Usually these books tie their seemingly disparate plot elements together, this one doesn’t really make sense to me. It end up feeling like a big missed opportunity.  The stuff with the mafia and how that group, and similar Irish gangster groups, are appealing to immigrants is on the table.  The book kind of sets that up, but it quickly steps away because it isn’t interested in exploring that. Instead, of following through and developing a theme, it brings in a fictional robber baron to be the actual villain. He lends the already on the run gangster some protection while he enacts a plan to assassinate President Roosevelt.  All of the elements that usually make this series a lot of fun, but in this one they just didn’t come together.

N is for Noose

Sue Grafton

Another Christmas gift book, a stack which is rapidly shrinking. When I am gifted a book, I usually feel compelled to put it on top of my reading list.  This Christmas I asked for “mysteries” with no other guidance given, and that is what I got.  Reading the random smattering of books I received has helped me get a clearer picture of what I like and what I want.  After reading N is for Noose, I’m not sure more of Sue Grafton’s books are what I’m looking for.

I don’t mean to be harsh, it isn’t that I outright disliked the book, but I never shook the feeling that this isn’t really what I was looking for. Despite the fact that on a surface level this is exactly what I am looking for.  Maybe it is because I started with what appears to be the 14th books in a series.  One thing I did really like about N is for Noose is that it is a mystery where the mystery is what exactly the detective is investigating.  That is very unclear, let me try again.  It is a mystery about the lack of a mystery.  [] is called in to investigate even though there is no evidence or appearance of a crime.  The man she is looking into died of what everyone, even his wife who hired her, agrees is natural causes.  But something doesn’t feel right.  So she just has to poke around until she finds something, which she does because otherwise there is no book.  But that lack of central focus also makes the book kind of aimless for a long stretch.  When it all breaks, it breaks really fast and just sort of explodes through the end.  Our protagonist doesn’t find anything out, she just spooks people with something to hide until they uncover it for her.

I mostly enjoyed N is for Noose, but it didn’t quite scratch my mystery itch like I wanted.  The only things I’ve found so far that do are from Golden Age of Mystery writers, like Christie or Sayers.

The Winds of Khalakovo

Bradley Beaulieu

This is the first book in a fantasy series that I listened to as an audiobook. That makes it hard for me to judge it fairly I think. I liked parts of the book, but I had some problems with it. How can I be sure those problems didn’t arise from listening to it rather than reading it myself? Not knowing for sure makes me a little unsure of my feelings toward this book.

The Winds of Khalakovo is set in a very Russian feeling fantasy world, with many Russian or Russian sounding words used to create it sense of place. There are lots of nyets and das. It follows tow nobles who are readying for an arranged marriage, Nikandr and Atiana, as well as Nikandr’s low born mistress Rehada. The three of them move through the book as the tense political situation on the island where Nikandr’s father rules explodes. That political situation is quite complex, with multiple Duchies at each other’s throats and a conquered/colonized people split into a few factions who disagree with how to deal with the ruling class. Then there is the equally complex magical system. Each of the three protagonists is sympathetic, though the supporting characters are much harder to get a read on.

My big problem with the book is one of timelines. Frequently there seem to jumps in time in the middle of ongoing scenes, with a character doing something and people reacting as if it had been done hours or even days ago. Someone will be preparing an escape only for the next sentence to refer to escape as having happened in the past. This problem might be due to me listening to the book instead of having it in my hands, reading it. If I was reading it myself I could thumb back and make sure I had everything straight, with the audiobook it just keeps going. Even with my flipping back and forth I still read faster than the audiobook goes, but I can’t read it at work that way. Seemingly every few chapters the book jumped forward, with what had been brewing actions having happened I guess when I let my concentration lapse. I can’t know for sure if this is a problem with the writing or if I wasn’t listening attentively enough. I didn’t kill my enjoyment of the book, but it made things feel unsatisfactorily scattered.

What I Watched March 2017

Movies

Kong: Skull Island – read review here. ****

The Hateful Eight – I still really like this movie. It isn’t my favorite Tarantino, but he has never made a bad film. This one has a lot of great moments and a ton of great performances, but it doesn’t quite delight me like Inglorious Basterds or Kill Bill. *****

Logan – read review here. ****

Far From the Madding Crowd – This is a competent, enjoyably literary adaptation. It isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it is well put together and well-acted and just all around enjoyable. ***1/2

Beauty and the Beast – read review here. **1/2

Sucker Punch – My thoughts haven’t changed much from when I saw it years ago, but I remained very impressed by it. Zack Snyder might have failed with this movie, but it audacious work. He turns intentionally turns the exploitation up to a disgusting degree, daring viewers to be titillated by an undeniably gross scenario. He doesn’t quite bring it all together in the end, but the intent is clear. **1/2

Pete’s Dragon – Calling something boring is a lazy criticism, avoiding actually engaging with a fictional work, but I can’t really think of any other way to describe this than dull. It has great actors and good special effects, but it all just sits on the screen, lifeless. It elicited no emotion from me. **

Ghost in the Shell – read about it here. **1/2

TV

Riverdale – This show really came into focus as it neared the halfway mark. Archie is still kind of a doofy hole in the middle of things, but I guess that is why the show isn’t called Archie; he isn’t the main character here, but just another piece of the ensemble. I don’t know that this show is good, but it is compelling.

Iron Fist – The reviews for this show weren’t kind, but after watching I have to say they weren’t wrong. It is the weakest of Netflix’s Marvel shows, but not by that great a margin. These shows started strong, with the solid first season of Daredevil and the excellent Jessica Jones, but Daredevil Season 2 was a muddled mess and Luke Cage hid its weaknesses behind a strong central performance. This one is just as much of an amorphous blob as most of these shows have been, but without that one terrific element to bind everything together. It takes itself way too seriously for a show about a man who does magical kung fu, it barely deigns to grapple with its central premise by not even showing Kun-lun, and it wastes so much time on the squabbling of the Meachum family. It is simply a mess. I’ll still come back for Defenders

Legion – As much as I like shows like The Flash that strive to put a superhero on screen in all of his comic book glory, there is something to be said for the approach FX and Noah Hawley have taken with Legion. They have taken a few X-Men characters and concepts and instead of trying to make them comic book accurate they have built a show around those concepts with just a handful of ties to other X-Men stuff. They have identified the essence of the title character, David Haller who occasionally goes by Legion, and of their villain, the mental parasite that has taken root in his brain. It shows the same strengths as Hawley’s Fargo, with a bunch of really well realized supporting characters. It manages to be a mind bending mystery that is shockingly comprehensible and straight forward. It fools the viewer with apparent misdirection, but the show never lies to the viewer. It really shows how mediocre the Netflix shows have been. The CW shows are operating on a different model and budget, but Legion does prestige superheroes and blows the likes of Daredevil and Luke Cage out of the water.

Snatch – I really shouldn’t like this show as much as I do. I really like the movie Snatch, but tries to ape its energy and ends up as kind of a pale shadow. It has the quick cuts and the zooms, but it employs them haphazardly. The stars, including Rupert “Ron Weasely” Grint, are having fun, though, and the show is actually structurally very strong. It might be lacking in dialogue, surprise and budget, but each episode is built on a solid structure. Each episode tells a story and builds logically from one place to the next. It is also light enough that its flaws don’t really hold it back. It is an enjoyable gangster/heist show that doesn’t really aspire to greatness, so it is fine when it doesn’t reach it. It is a solid bit of light fun that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of.

CW Superheroes – Somewhere during this season, Legends of Tomorrow has embraced its premise and become the best of the CW’s four shows. That has something to do with a little back half faltering from The Flash and Supergirl. The Flash has gone to the evil speedster well one too many times. It still shines on one off episodes, like the recent musical Supergirl crossover, but the central storyline is kind of a bust. Supergirl has been essentially coopted by Mon-el, turning him into the focal character at the expense of everyone else on the show. Both shows are still quite enjoyable, but only Legends of Tomorrow is really firing on all cylinders. As for Arrow, I’ll catch up when it hits Netflix in a month or two.

Ghost in the Shell Review

Ghost in the Shell is the last release in what has been a packed March for would be blockbusters. It was equally anticipated and dreaded by nerds, because it was an adaptation of a muck loved anime but also because they seemed deadest on scrubbing nearly everything interesting from it. The movie is not the complete disaster it could have been, like the Dragon Ball Z movie, but it also can’t meet the standards of the films that inspired it, like Robocop, Blade Runner and the original Ghost in the Shell movie. Ghost in the Shell is decently executed, but bland, emphasizing visuals and style over story.

I came into this not planning to even mention the whitewashing stuff. That conversation is an important one to have, but at some point you just have to deal with the movie that was made and not the one they should have made. But Ghost in the Shell makes it impossible to ignore this aspect by making it a central aspect of the film. Without spoiling things, how they handle the relationship between Scarlett Johansson’s Major and Ghost in the Shell usual protagonist Motoko Kusanagi seems to try to address concerns by doubling down on the problem. Instead of just doing its own thing, it draws attention to the difference and makes it impossible to enjoy the movie without the fact that they changed the race of the central character in mind. That approach contrast with how they handled Batou, who is also played by a white actor, but he just plays the character and is one of the best parts of the movie. Or they could have just left her Japanese like Chief Aramaki, played Beat Takeshi who speaks entirely in Japanese and is another high point.

Leaving aside her race, the changes made to the character make her a much less interesting protagonist. The Major is a stone cold badass, but Major (not the lack of definite article) is a robotic victim. Or I guess she a little of both. They strip the character of her identity and she spends the whole movie trying to figure out who she is. She still does some badass things, but not because she is innately a badass, but because she believes herself worthless and expendable. The whole movie is about her reclaiming who she starts out as in every other version of this property. Also, the story is now all about who she is, instead of being content to be a sci fi thriller. There are philosophical and ethical issues of identity and memory that are inherent in the concept of Ghost in the Shell, but this movie is very careful not to engage with any of them. There is little to no questioning in this movie, other than a tiny bit when Major realizes that the big mystery involves her personally.

Despite all my complaints, the movie is fairly well executed. It does a great job establishing in the setting, even if it isn’t interested in exploring it much. Most of the action scenes are well executed. The story makes sense. It is missing any semblance of a hook to take it from competently enjoyable to actually good. It is not unlike the director’s previous effort, Snow White and the Huntsman. That was another competently executed by barely engaging movie.

There just isn’t anything below the surface here. With the movie drawing attention to its whitewashing instead of just making the choice and going with it, it really needed to be good otherwise. And it kind of isn’t. Ghost in the Shell is all shell and no ghost.

**1/2

Now Playing March 2017

Beaten

Zelda Picross – My excitement for Breath of the Wild prompted me to use come My Nintendo points to get this 3DS game. Picross is great in general, and this is a solid little freebie. Picross is Picross; it is pretty hard to do it badly. This is kind of a no frills themed Picross game, but there are some good puzzles here. It is much less meaty than the technically free Pokémon Picross, but all of its puzzles are available from the beginning. If you have the My Nintendo points you should definitely pick this up.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – read about it here. And here.

Super Mario Bros 3 – read about it here.

Blaster Master 0 –

This prequel/remake of Blaster Master captures what was great about the NES game while providing numerous quality of life improvements that make it a delightful, breezy play. There are still flaws, the out of tank gameplay is passable at best rather than actually very good, but exploring in a jumping tank remains a ton of fun. The original Blaster Master was a near classic, a really good game doomed by a few flaws, but each sequel got further and further away from what made the first game great. Blaster Master 0 captures that perfectly.

Ongoing

Dragon Quest VIII –

I am a little over halfway through this game and I am surprised at how much I am enjoying it. I liked this game a lot when I first played it on PS2, but it isn’t a very complex game, with perfectly fine but straightforward story and somewhat basic gameplay. But there is some kind of magic in this game’s simplified approach and well realized world. Even with the somewhat compromised graphics there is just something comforting about this game. It is a throwback, but it play like you remember games playing instead of how they actually played. Plus, Yangus remains a top 10 JRPG party member. I should have a full post ready as soon as I beat this.

Super Mario 64 – This is one of the most important games ever made and despite showing its age it is still a lot of fun to play. It suffers a little from being the first to get 3D action even remotely right, but that also means that we have 20 years of using this game a baseline when making 3D action games, so there are certainly plenty that have done it better. Still, despite its primitive graphics and occasionally wonky controls, few games can compete with the sheer variety and inventiveness found in this game’s level design.

Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber – I played through the first chapter of this after downloading it on a whim. I still love this game, and once I’m free from Breath of the Wild/Persona 5 I’ve got something big planned to celebrate my love for this very underrated game.

Yakuza 0 – I barely played this game, but I’m not abandoning it. It just fell by the wayside for Breath of the Wild. I didn’t play enough to actually have much to say.

Robotrek – a full article will be coming soon. I didn’t finish this game, but I am more than ready to move on from it.

Upcoming

Persona 5 – I recently both purchased a PS4 with my income tax return and switched my Persona 5 preorder from PS3 to PS4. It is now going to be my first game on a new console instead of my farewell to an old one. While Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE was decent stopgap, it has been nearly 10 years since Persona 4 hit. I can’t get my hands on this soon enough.

Super Mario World – Mario 64 comes first, but this is on the docket just after. I’ve played this game a lot and could probably write it up right now, but that is kind of beside the point when replaying the whole series.

Yoshi’s Island – I’ve already got this started and I am going to continue from the middle of the second world, but it will wait until after Super Mario World at least. I might actually play Mario Sunshine first, since I think I’ll tackle the 3D entries as almost a separate series.

Lufia 2 – With Robotrek out of the way, I intend to move on to the last couple of games in my 25 SNES games project. I am going to finish this, I swear.

Legend of Zelda Games Ranked

Instead of coming up with something real to post, since I am too busy still playing Breath of the Wild, and I want to stick to my thrice weekly posting schedule, I decided to rank the Zelda series from best to worst.  It was a surprisingly hard list to toss together in 30 minutes, because there are so many games that might be called the best and so few that are easy to call the worst.  I decided to go ahead and put Breath of the Wild on the list, even though that game is still hasn’t had time to settle.  I don’t see it moving far when it does, though.  It isn’t dropping much and there isn’t a lot of space for it to go up.  

  1. A Link to the Past – This is one of my favorite all-time games; it is just about perfect in every way.
  2. Breath of the Wild – Yep, I’ve got it in the second slot.  It is an amazing experience that captures a sense of pure adventure like few other games have.
  3. Wind Waker – The HD version fixed almost all of this game’s flaws and helped the best version of Hyrule be even more fun to remember.
  4. Ocarina of Time – The first 3D outing still holds up 20 years later and might have the best balance of dungeons and overworld in the series.
  5. Link Between Worlds – A return to A Link to the Past that still manages to advance the series in many ways.
  6. Skyward Sword – The whole world is a dungeon and Skyloft is the best Zelda town.  There is a lot to love for people who don’t dismiss it for its motion controls.
  7. Legend of Zelda – The original is still unique and still excellent.
  8. Twilight Princess – It does the big Ocarina style epic as big as it can and delights even as it almost collapses under the bulk.
  9. Majora’s Mask – An interesting experiment, but it can be a bit of chore to play.  Still worth it for the nightmare like take on familiar elements
  10. Oracle of Ages – I think this was the better of the two Oracle games, with less world switching and more just playing.  I might have them backwards.
  11. Link’s Awakening – A much loved entry in the series that has always felt held back by its hardware.
  12. Spirit Tracks – I like this game a lot more than its predecessor, though it being literally on rails stops it from going higher.
  13. Oracle of Seasons – I hope I got the Oracle games straight.  One of them was slightly better than the other, but both are solid games.
  14. Four Swords Adventure – Nintendo’s best attempt at multiplayer Zelda, but the barrier of entry to the ideal experience is too high.
  15. Minish Cap – Small in many ways, this GBA outing is fine, but forgettable. As in I forgot to put it on the list at first.
  16. Triforce Heroes – I wanted to put this higher, but I just couldn’t.  Multiplayer Zelda is a great idea that I don’t think Nintendo has quite cracked.
  17. Phantom Hourglass – There is honestly a lot to like in this game, but repeating that central dungeon is enough of a misstep to land it this low on a top heavy list.
  18. Four Swords – It is only barely a game and an impossible one to play as intended.
  19. Zelda 2: Link’s Adventure – The easiest choice, I kind of hate this game.