Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Miniature Final Fantasy Marathon Begins: Final Fantasy X

So for some odd reason I recently found myself craving an old school, bog standard, Final Fantasy game. But I only had FF XIII on hand and that game is garbage. So I ordered a copy of the FFX remaster and dusted off my PS2 so I could replay FF XII.

I tried restarting where I'd left off over a decade ago in X on my PS2 but the game's menus are garish to the point of being hard to look at now-a-days and the remaster offered a significant graphical upgrade.. Also I'd never given X-2 a try and I'm curious aboutit. Thus far X is the only game I've finished in my mini-marathon of the last 3 Final Fantasy games. I remember getting really far and then quitting out of sheer boredom in the '00s, but until finishing the game I didn't realize just how close I had been. I was basically sitting at the door before the final boss and I was just so sick of playing I shelved it for over a decade. I definitely understand what I was thinking back then as the game is a weird mixture of puzzle game and RPG slog that failed to produce a particularly satisfying gameplay loop for me. Almost every enemy needs to be dealt with by a party member corresponding to one of several attributes (flying, magical, armored, etc.) which leaves most battle more a matter of switching characters in and out to play matchmaker than the more traditional JRPG ethos of hit stuff until it does. In a way I like this system, up until the last quarter of the game random battles are blazingly fast, but they happen often enough that they make even a short trek feel daunting. It's a system I loved in Shin Megami Tensei IV where you can avoid battles to some extent, but I learned to loathe it here simply due to overexposure. The leveling system, the gridsphere, is also ponderously lacking in a sense of reward when slowly traversing it's largely linear pathways. Kimahri is the only character the player has much freedom to build until midway through the game and that leaves him feeling like a bad copy of whomever's path you take him down. By the time you're able to open things up a bit more you'll be too invested to try anything else without a massive amount of grinding being necessary, though the end game sees the gridsphere evolve into something with massive potential for customization. Just like access to the airship's travel system it's something that would have been VERY welcome much earlier on. The actual puzzle sections, the temples, are designed well enough for the time the game was released but I don't find they hold up great these days. I spent a lot of time trying to move pillars but instead running into and around them that left a bitter taste in my mouth every time a temple section popped up.

The story in X is the real meat of the game for me. I barely remembered anything about it but it's largely a treatise on organized religion that's relatively nuanced for an RPG. I say relatively because it's hamfisted enough to have you killing god as usual, but it treats the religious as people with hopes and dreams that were used by the leaders for their own ends. Even the leaders are largely humanized, be it by their vanity, their fear of losing power they'd gained or a desire for vengeance they've all got their reasons for lying to, and to a certain extent using, their followers. It doesn't so much hammer time after time that religion is bad but that it's followed by humans and run by humans who come up with their own explanations for why things are the way there are. It can be equally a force for good or evil. Also god is a large glowing tick that lives in a whale.

The characters... are a mixed bag. I hate Tidus, he's a whiny obnoxious moron and one wonders why he was made the primary protagonist when he's easily the least interesting character. He gets some pathos with the strained relationship he has with his father but it's weak and poorly explained. Really the only thing that makes sense to me is that they had a much more in depth story about his father's abuses and struggles with alcohol but cut most of it to avoid upsetting anyone. Kimahri is a visually interesting character, and he does get a passable story at the very last minute but for 90% of the game he's just a big blue cat monster man who says a handful of words. It feels like a massive waste.  I have much the same quarrel with Auron who gets some really excellent story that comes at the last possible moment leaving him the quiet and detached adult of the party who knows all the answers and isn't sharing until the very end. There's an effectiveness to his story dump but giving us just a little more earlier on would have been greatly beneficial. Lulu is my middle ground, she's got an interesting design to her as a fur clad goth from a tropical climate and it feels natural how she slowly warms up to Tidus's presence whereas Wakka and Yuna's abrupt acceptance of him had me wondering for a while. This is explained well on the part of Wakka, and it's explained early, just a small part of what made him possibly my favorite character in the game. He starts out as something of a religious fanatic teaching his uncomfortable friend who knows nothing of religion to pray and demanding reverence of his customs from someone who clearly doesn't share them, but he's a very nice guy. It was during these moments I saw a lot of myself in Tidus, never knowing quite what to make of religion but wanting to be friends with it's followers all the same. As the game progresses Wakka expresses bigotry, he's disillusioned with the church and finds himself confronting the false basis for hating an entire people and he comes out the other side as a better person for the experience. Of all the characters nobody grows as much as a person as humble Wakka. Also he was my most powerful physical attacker all the way through to the end so I learned to like his weird idle animation where it looks like he's doing a small bit of the dance Travolta does in Pulp Fiction. I'm sorry, I don't know dance names. Yuna, for as boring as she was at the start, really grew on me as the story went on. Her best moments are when she stops being the quiet demure girl who tries to handle everything on her own and branches out, let's other people help her and starts making some demands. At the very end when she tells Tidus she loves him it's a shitty end to a bad love story but it's a great moment of growth where she exposes her humanity and is so much better for it.

Lastly I really feel compelled to note how poorly the animations have aged. For the time it was a nice evolution over what had been seen on the original playstation but compared to XII or other games it all feels very janky and cheap. Motions are awkward and they resume their ideal positions quite awkwardly, everyone moves like a plastic doll and it's just really glaring how bad it is given I've been playing the gorgeously animated XII at the same time.

Overall I'm inclined to think it was kind of a shit game despite somewhat enjoying the opening hours which were so much more impressive back when the game first released, but it makes for a decent anime. I wouldn't recommend playing it over watching a Let's Play of it, but I can think of far worse ways to waste some time. I'm glad I beat it after all these years, it's some closure if nothing else.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mysterious Girlfriend X

So, I've been watching anime a little more often as of late. By and large I'm very disillusioned with the state of anime at the moment, it seems like everything that comes out is either extremely derivative or a way to sell merchandise through fanservice. Every season has it's stand-outs though, they're often marked by unique stories or experimental art styles. Mysterious Girlfriend X has a story that seems like it could've been ripped out of a thousand different erotic games, visual novels, comics or any of that kind of thing. The art style is very heavily reminiscent of most of the anime produced in the late '80s or early '90s, to be more specific it looks a lot like  Rumiko Takahashi's art. The music is surprisingly diverse and wholly excellent but that's usually not the kind of thing an anime can sell itself on, and it's only part of what has me enraptured with this show. Competent animation, a very nostalgic art style, a story so stupid I only watched the first episode to laugh at it and top notch music somehow blend into a show I find myself dying to see more of. To be clear, I've only seen the first episode so far, and only three episodes have aired so far, but I'm hooked. The little shout-outs to Big O may have the slightest bit to do with that.
Ultra generic '80s/'90s style! Woo!

Somehow not seeing her eyes really does a lot for her character.

Big O!

Blackjack Cat?
Edit: Something I had meant to mention earlier that's coming to light even more in the second episode is how painfully awkward this show can be at times. I feel pangs of shame for praising it so highly when it starts in with gratuitous panty shots, super power scissor fighting and the extremely meek main character. I really don't think I'd be able to continue if the art, animation and soundtrack were so well done.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Alright, so this is a rare thing for me. I watched anime. Not an older series like I tend to lean towards, but something very recent. Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a magical girl anime, but it's a decidedly darker take on the genre. What really caught my attention with this series was the art. Most of the time the art is kind of run of the mill, except for the shading in characters eyes, but when a witch encounter is coming up the art takes a turn for the awesome. Witches are kind of the driving force behind the series, I don't think they really fit the role of antagonist, they're just a narrative tool for moving things forward. Anyways, when one is on-screen the art becomes very abstract and strange, if it weren't for the interesting twist in the art style I probably wouldn't have watched past the first episode. 
The music... I don't feel I can really comment on the music as well as I'd like to. I watched the series about a week ago and none of the music struck me as anything but kind of standard. The opening song is pretty memorable, the ending song honestly probably set the tone a lot better though. I suppose that works pretty well with the show as a whole, up front lots of typical mahou shoujo veneer but once you get a bit further in it's much less happy go lucky and more about suffering.

I'm pretty torn about this show. I'm big on the use of concepts borrowed Buddhism but taking a genre show, subverting most of it's tropes and then mixing in religion is something I'm all too familiar with. Neon Genesis Evangelion made it really popular with mecha anime for a few years but it's been kind of a while since it's been done, and as far as I'm aware it's the first time someone's done it with a magical girl show. I suppose overall it's a compliment just how often this series gets compared to Evangelion, and I do happen to love show's where the central theme is suffering (much like in Koi Kaze). I'm glad I watched it, but I can't agree with the massive amount of praise this show garnered. If anything that's probably a new generation of anime fans getting a taste for this darker kind of series, I'd bet fans of whatever series did it before Evangelion felt much the same way when it started taking off.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Worth a watch, nothing revolutionary, but easily among the better stuff released in the past couple of years.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

My Penis And Everyone Else's[2007]

The follow-up to "My Penis And I", "My Penis And Everyone Else's" is less about Lawrence dealing with his penis and more about him delving into how other people perceive their penises, or just penises in general. Towards the end there is literally a gallery of penises and you won't believe how much our penile documentarian will smile at the sight of other people's dicks. It's undeniably one of the gayest things I've ever seen. I wouldn't be the least surprised to see another entry in this series a few years down the line titled something along the lines of "My Penis And Your Penis: Can We Touch Them Together? Can We Dock Them?".

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My Penis and I

I've got a soft spot for documentaries about sexual insecurity, and there are quite a few out there. None shine quite as bright as Laurence Barraclough's "My Penis and I" and it's follow-up "My Penis and Everyone Else's". Lots of golden moments in the first installment, such as Laurence talking to his parents about his small penis, having a medical professional stretch his penis to measure it, an unpleasant experience with an electronic penis pump and getting a plaster cast of his flaccid penis.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


So I just got done watching Chocolate, 85 minutes of watching an autistic teenage girl beat the shit out an endless supply of irate Thai men. Now, I came into this thinking that was exactly what I would get, but I wasn't counting on it being quite so awesome. If you watch past a few seconds of the end credits there's a little bonus sequence of out-takes, it's amazing to see just how real some of the stuff they were doing was. It's really kind of shocking to see Zen (the heroine) get hit in the face so much and then cry. The inclusion of these out-takes really drives home just how rough and rewarding this film must have been to complete, a nice little way to make viewers realize all the hard work that went into the film.

Visually, it's a kung-fu movie, you will see kicks, you will see flips, you will see punches. The fights take place in visually distinct areas that provide their own unique feels and challenges, it's very video game like in that sense. If you want to see grown men get their asses handed to them by a young girl, you will like what you see.

The music was very adequate, none of the pieces strike me as memorable but that may have been because I kept shouting "Holy shit!" when someone did something impressive, which is most of the time.

Overall, good watch. There was one point where I had to pause the action and take a break, just because my suspense of disbelief had been shredded to pieces completely. I don't want to spoil what this event was, but I will say it's pretty minor and the film picks up again once it's over. Basically anytime the movie isn't focusing on Zen fighting a room full of people you're going to be suffering and waiting for the action to start again. Aside from Zen and Moom, nobody really feels human or relate-able, they're all just there for the illusion of story. I should probably mention Moom, he's the chubby sidekick friend who tries to help but doesn't really do much. I feel like there's so much more I want to say about this movie, but I don't want to just describe particularly awesome kicks or flips or flip-kicks for an hour. At least not unless I can do so using my mouth to make crashing noises. Chocolate isn't a movie that's big on plot, but who needs plot when you've got action sequences this good?

Saturday, February 18, 2012


This is the first time I've spoken of something on this blog that was still running, it's also the first comic. So double whammy. I'm actually a big fan of the books Image puts out, and I've been reading maybe a dozen or so of their titles for the past few years. I don't read a whole lot of comics, aside from a brief interest with Marvel during the civil war event and a little Batman here and there it's almost been entirely Vertigo and Image titles for me. Chew's premise reads like a cross between Bones and Fear Factor, a tiny asian man eating gross stuff to learn it's history.

The art in this series is very fun, lots of interesting little details everywhere, some degree of caricature and generally very appealing to the eye. The artist's style serves the story well in it's transition from humorous moments to more serious ones. It strikes me as extremely redundant to say this about a comic but it's just generally very visually appealing, I at no point had to take a break to give me eyes a rest while reading it, the depth is there if you want it, but at no point is it forced upon the viewer. If that makes any sense.

The story packs on meat in every issue without fail, 23 chapters in and every book brings up new questions, some of which I'm sure are meant to remain unanswered, others feel like minor details which could very easily develop into their own arcs. I'm curious to see how complex it'll have become 50 chapters in. The characters are all very unique, vibrant and interesting in terms of both their visualizations and their personalities. Rather than being one giant story broken up by a few one-offs here and there the story is separated into 3-5 chapters arcs by case. It may not sound like it'd be somehow better grouping it into small arcs like that but I've appreciated it, it's still a long-form story but it gives a good indication of where particular parts of the story begin and end. For people who like to let the material build a while before reading through it allows them to pick up and go every few months rather than picking arbitrary times like catching up once every year.

Overall Chew is one of the best books in print right now, which I feel is saying something with so many other strong competitors out there right now. It's every bit the kind of story I got into comics to read. It oozes style, is packed with humor and knows how to shift to drama when it suits the story. There are elements of cheesy '70s cop flicks, cynicism and science fiction. Even if the idea of reading a comic that sounds suspiciously similar to Bones trust me when I say you'd be doing yourself a disservice to not read at least the first chapter, and it only gets better from there.