#LoveYourBacklog 2021

Normally I don’t take part in these blogging community things unless someone delivers them to my doorstep, because I am a stone cold lone wolf that only plays by my own rules, or something like that.  But, well, Solarayo at Ace Asunder and Kim at Later Levels are running a #LoveYourBacklog challenge yet again this year.  And, well, you may have noticed posts have been a bit thinner, because I’ve been a bit busy with life stuff.  And I’m still busy with life stuff.  And I’m working on the next post in the Persona 3 retrospective, and those take some time, and I don’t want to do another two weeks between posts.  So I need some quick content here.  And I also really need to learn to get more comfortable with my backlog.  To have affection for it.  So maybe this would be a good exercise for it.  In any case, I’ve got reasons.  The sort of reasons a big sexy behemoth of the mind like me would have.  So let’s get down to it.  Let’s go through this exercise, wherein I learn to love the big, giant game base that’s taking up so much space in my virtual library and my soul.  

Let’s go!

Ok, so first, gotta lay the groundwork.  Expose just how large my backlog is, and… ugh.

Image courtesy of Later Levels

Ok, don’t like looking at that.  But that’s what this is for!  Learn to love it!  Anyways, I’m at 533, to be exact.  Although what I consider my backlog is a bit different than most people.  I’ve mentioned it some times around here, but years and years ago, I decided to try and playthrough all my games, beating every single one I could, by console generation, starting with the earliest.  I used to do it all the time as a kid, so I figured I’d give it another try as an adult.  Give some time to all my games, play stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise, build up my experiences and appreciation, and all that.  Thing is, as a kid, it didn’t take all that long.  As an adult, I have more money, and therefore, a lot more games.  And much less free time.  And I’m better at games, so I can actually stick through the whole thing rather than getting stuck and giving up partway through.  So it’s taking me years.

Anyways, what I consider my backlog are games that I haven’t completed as part of that quest to beat all my games organized by console generation.  So, a lot of them are games that are completely untouched, but there’s also plenty that I’ve already played and possibly beat, some more than once, that I still consider as being on my backlog because I did it outside of the console generation I was working on at the time.  I’ve gone through every game I owned at the time I started this quest, so that 533 number is just a shocking sign of just how many games I’ve bought or otherwise acquired in the past years.  I’ve slowed down on that quite a bit, starting February 2020, but man, I really need to pump the brakes even more.  Also notable is the composition of that backlog.  Of those 533 games, 142 are on consoles.  Almost 400 of those are in my Steam, GOG, or UPlay lists on PC, where the PC gaming ecosystem, between deep sales and bundles and giveaways and whatnot, makes amassing an absolutely massive collection of games very, very easy.  And that’s not even counting the games I have in my Amazon Games and Epic Games lists, where they constantly, unceasingly throw free games at me.  The console games, I’m trying to beat them all, while I’m only expecting myself to give a try to all the Steam, GOG, and Uplay games.  I put money towards most of the games on there, somehow, so that feels like I’ve made a commitment to try them, but if I’m not into it, I’m not expecting myself to beat all of those.  Amazon and Epic, it’s whatever I feel like.  I would never be able to keep up with the rate they give me more games if I expected myself to touch them all.  

Anyways, from that, it’s question time.  Or, more specific topic time.  Yeah.  That.

1: The effect that the 2020 apocalypse has had on your backlog.

Not a whole heck of a lot, really.  Here’s the thing, the coronapocalypse hasn’t exactly given me more time to spare.  I still work, my commute was never that big a deal, and a lot of the outside the home stuff I used to do, I replaced it with some other non-video game stuff.  I’m pretty much on the same schedule as far as gaming goes.  2020 has been the best year I’ve had in getting on top of my backlog in years, but I think that has more to do with some decisions I’ve made pre-pandemic to, you know, stop buying so many freaking games until I’ve played the ones I’ve got.  

2: The oldest game in terms of release date.

On my backlog, at least what I consider as such, the oldest game I’ve got that I haven’t worked off yet would be Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar.  I didn’t have a computer as a kid, and didn’t get a solid gaming battlestation until well after I started my ‘Play all the Games’ quest.  So I used to be really interested in classic PC gaming, this whole sphere of my favored entertainment medium that I really missed out on.  And I’ve tried a bunch of them, and it turns out, I really don’t like most classic PC games.  I don’t know that I’d be able to eloquently explain why, I think I’m spoiled by modern games and the old school PC ones don’t have the nostalgia factor with me that makes one willing to look past the chinks and flaws and whatnot that old school console games do.  Although I’m able to pick up a lot of old NES games that I never had history with, and thus shouldn’t have nostalgia for, and have a grand time with them, but not old PC games.  For whatever reason.  Anyways, I’ll give it a try at some point.  Can’t say I’m holding out a lot of hope for it, particularly given what I’ve heard about how complicated this game gets, but hey, maybe it’ll surprise me.  

3: A game you bought on day one, only to not play it.

Nothing!  Hahahahahaha!  This is one area in which I’ve defeated you, backlog!  I rarely ever buy games day one.  If I do, that means it’s one I’ve taken a particularly strong interest in, and I play it as soon as I get the chance.  So, no, I can’t think of a single game, in all my glorious life, that I’ve bought on day one and then hadn’t started up soon after.  

4: The game which has spent the most time on your backlog

There’s been some long ones.  Looks like the absolute longest would be… Hitman Absolution.  Purchased in 2013.  7-8 years ago.  That’s… rough.  I’ve got to get on that.  I remember playing the tutorial level of that, but then didn’t dig the changes to some of the mechanics, so I didn’t go any farther.  Whelp.  Let’s knock that one up the list, a bit.  See how it tastes now that it’s had some time to age.

5: The most recent addition to your library.

The Batman Telltale Series!  I dig Batman.  Telltale’s writing style wears a bit thin on me, but I heard it wasn’t that bad in Batman, and given that it’s a more optimistic subject matter than most of the licenses they scraped up, I was hopeful it’d avoid the “Everything’s horrible now because we say so” problem a lot of their games often ran into.  I’m kind of looking forward to this.  But I don’t have space for it in the schedule, so onto the backlog it goes.  That’s kind of a problem.  Part of the reason I’ve been better in 2020 is that I started teaching a class on personal finance as part of my case management offerings, and teaching stuff is a really great way to polish it yourself, and one of the major lessons in there is to not do that sort of thing where you’re buying stuff just because it’s accessible only to let it sit on a shelf for a while instead of actually enjoying it.  So I’ll need to make sure I’m getting into that in the near future, to justify that purchase.  

6: The person responsible for adding the most entries to your backlog, due to their good recommendations.

That would be, back when they were active, the Super Best Friends let’s play group were the biggest one.  They put out a lot of content, and did a really great job of covering relatively unknown obscurities, up and coming indie games, and whatever hotness they were most passionate about rather than constantly hitting up the most popular new games that would get them the most views, and they opened my eyes to a lot of great things.  Otherwise, I’ve gotten a fair few added to my library by my fellow bloggers, like Red Metal and AK.

And……….. that’s that.  Do I love my backlog yet?  No.  Not so much.  But it made for an interesting conversation piece here.  That’s got to be worth something, right?

Snap Judgements: Year On Edition

At this point, it’s been almost a year since we entered quarantine.  And it’s had its ups, times when I’ve been able to live up to my magnificent self, and its had its downs, times when I’ve been reminded that we’re still living in a dystopian future.  There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a long tunnel, and we’re still a ways from the end.  So you know what?  Let’s take that time to play some games.  Here’s what I’ve been working through lately.  

Chroma Squad

So, here’s one of those games I never really knew existed, but when one of the various give-you-games services landed it into my library, it really stood out.  Chroma Squad is a Tactics-style strategy RPG in which you’re playing out battles for a Power Rangers-esque Super Sentai show.  It lets you customize a lot about your show, from team and character names to the colors of your rangers and everything in between, which gives me incredible freedom to amuse myself with the powers of my own mind in ways absolutely nobody else will find funny, probably.  From Kickass Blaster Studios, in the prime after school viewing block, hang on to your hats, boys and girls, it’s time for the totally child-appropriate show, Tooty Fruity Kill Squad!  When evil is afoot, these five heroes, with a shout of “It’s Murder Time!”, will activate their Moon Prism Magic and transform into Killer Red (because every sentai group has a red leader), Killer Black, Killer Gray, Killer White (because it amused me to have a chunk of the usually colorful sentai squads be completely monochrome), and Killer Purple (because nobody ever has a purple ranger)!  They’ll fight their way through hordes of goons, and then, when things get too hot to handle, unleash their team-based special move, the Eat Shit!  And when their might alone isn’t enough, they’ll pilot their giant robot, the Killborg 10,000, to victory!

It rather helps that there’s a pretty simple but mechanically solid gameplay system behind it too.  It’s a really basic tactics system in all, it’s grid-based and you’ve got your basic movements and attacks, a few weapons and abilities that depend on your characters classes and equipment, and an option to assist that’s really one of the things that adds a surprisingly large amount of depth to the gameplay.  By assisting, your heroes will set themselves up for others to leap off of, adding a lot of range to their movement, and will also attack in unison with other rangers targeting enemies in mutual melee range, more than doubling their attack damage.  If you pull off having all five members attack one enemy at once, they’ll do the team special move, the Eat Shit! in my case but you can call it something lamer if you’d like to in your game.  But that’s supposed to be a finishing move, and if you use it as anything but a coup de grace, the anticlimax will make for a worse episode and you’ll lose fan power for that.  Which is a thing.  You need to have built up a certain amount of fan power to be able to transform from your lame everyday forms to your Killer selves, or whatever your team is named, in the first place, and beyond that, it plays a part in your overall studio management.  That component feels a lot like a management sim, where you’re laying out and dealing with the resources for your own studio, but everything you do has a direct, in-combat effect, so it’s not really that in practice, more like just a really elaborate means of equipping your team in an RPG.

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the character of the game, it does a lot of wink-wink nudge-nudge humor that seems likes it’s just trying too hard, and a lot of the enemy design is a little lackluster.  You’ll be tired of fighting the same jobbers over and over again, but the bosses are frequent and varied, which works really well to keep things fresh.  And the visuals, in spite of me deliberately toning down over half of my team, are very vibrant and coloful, and the music is pretty nice.  Captures the old 90’s vibe really well in a primitive almost-chiptune set.  Overall, I enjoyed my time with the game quite a bit.  It moves quickly, and although it can be a little cringy or basic in parts, it’s a simple, fun time in all.

Aztez

From a very vibrant game to one that’s carefully not.  Aztez uses the old Madworld color palette of black, white, red, and nothing else.  It’s a hard game to describe.  Particularly given that I don’t especially understand it myself.  It’s half board game, half smackdown?  Something like that.  So, in a given game, you’re playing in ancient Mexico, trying to do… something.  I thought you were trying to take over cities and force out rival tribes, but then I won the game without doing that.  Anyways, you start with board game parts, managing your towns and resources and what not.  One of your resources are your warriors, and you get to do one major thing per warrior per turn.  So more warriors equals more turns.  The bulk of the things in this are combat challenges, where you get to the smackdown gameplay.  I don’t know why, but that part of the game reminds me a lot of Viewtiful Joe’s post-game challenge levels.  It has a similar feel to combat, and a lot of it is based on keeping track of enemies and making appropriate reactions to their telegraphed attack, much like Viewtiful Joe.  Except you can absorb your opponent’s blood and use that to summon your god to smack them around.  As you do.

Anyways, in my game, I spent most of my time campaigning against my rival tribes, pushing them back and stealing their territory, aiming to eradicate them as is usually the win condition in those types of strategy games.   I almost got to that point, but then the Spanish arrived, with their armor and their guns and their better equipment than me, and they started completely crushing my guys.  With clever use of items, I managed to push them back to the borders of the map, then devoted all my remaining warriors to taking them down so I could smash my rivals in peace.  They killed all but the last of my warriors, but that last one brought down the guy with the biggest feather in his helmet, and that apparently meant that I won the game, even though my rivals now were in a perfect position to retake my land after I spent all I had in fighting the Spanish.  So, I guess there’s a moral to the story.  And that moral is that the true path to victory runs through beating up the Spanish.

Continue reading

Project G-Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (1974)

Alternative Title: The one that used all the fireworks in Japan.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla!  Where do we start with this one?  For some reason, trivia on the development of this movie seems to be much less available on the internet than for the other films, so… well, we’ll have to resort to conjecture for some of this, probably.

What we do know is that the Godzilla franchise had been making largely kid-oriented fare since Destroy All Monsters saw the original creative team leave the series for various reasons.  It’d also been waning in popularity for a while, never reaching the lofty peaks of commercial success established by King Kong vs. Godzilla.  Meanwhile, other kaiju productions were soundly beating the film in the very genre Big G had established.  Some of them were kid-friendly, sure.  Others proved there were a sizable audience of adults out there for kaiju films.  So, dudes here saw that, and figured, ‘You know, the whole kid thing isn’t exactly working out for us.  Maybe we should go after that market.  Those who can enjoy the big dumb giant monster battles on a whole other level.

And so, this film was made with that in mind.  Adult oriented.  Actioned way the heck up.  No more stock footage, because they’re not just playing to dumb children for whom they can get away with that.  More violent and gory than the series has been before, and possibly has been since.  Explosions and pyrotechnics up the giant monster-sized wazoo.  Life and death stakes, and people getting straight up killed on screen.  And not a single childly shortpant to be seen.  

This… ends up being a really weeeeeeeeiiiiiiird movie to watch.  Inconsistency is rampant throughout.  Do you love explosions?  I hope you do, because they are HERE with a statement.  The pyrotechnic work here is gratuitous and glorious.  The overlays; the beams, atomic breaths, aliens transforming, etc., look cartoonish and absolutely horrible.  Mechagodzilla looks amazing!  King Caesar is kind of ok, and the aliens are absolutely awful.  The action between the monsters is strong and exciting and visceral.  Everything going on with the people makes no sense and has way too many moving parts.  And a lot of the things that happen just don’t make any darn sense.  It’s amazing in parts, and laughably bad in others, and almost never anywhere in between.

Also, I’ll say it again.  Explosions.  If you love things blowing up in your movies, man, the work here is obscene.  There’s one part in particular that had me in awe at just how spectacular it was.  There’s corners cut in this movie, yes.  But they did not spare the pyrotechnics in any way.

Let’s dig into this bombfest, shall we?

Continue reading

Gushing about Bastion

Alright, boys, girls, ladies, and gentlemen, I think we need to set some ground rules here.  Normally, I wouldn’t say I entirely adhere to the traditional review format, but with my “Eyes on” pieces, I like to take things as objectively as I can when looking at an inherently subjective medium.  But try as I might, I can’t really do that today.  Not with this piece.  I absolutely love Bastion.  And I love it for reasons that are a bit hard to articulate, and definitely aren’t universal.  It connects with me in a particular way.  A way others share, absolutely, so it’s not perfectly unique to me, but it’s a way that not everyone is going to connect with.  But maybe some of you reading this would!  So, in order to bring some light to it, I’m going to talk about Bastion today.  But keep in mind, this is going to be less a review, and more me just gushing about one of my favorite games.  

The game begins with your hero, the Kid, waking up after the Calamity, an apocalyptic event that blew his home city to pieces and turned most of the people therein into statues of ash.  In third-person isometric action gameplay style, the Kid then makes his way to the titular Bastion, which was supposed to be the safe haven gathering spot for the city in the event of disaster, accompanied only by the ongoing narration of Rucks.  Upon reaching the Bastion, the Kid learns that it has a function that can maybe do something about all of this, but it’s incomplete, so he needs to venture off to the various parts of the territory that had been sent sky high to regain the pieces it needs to work.

One of the most striking things about Bastion is how much it leverages its unique character.  This most notably presents itself in the aforementioned ongoing narration.  Rucks is, for the most part, the only character in the game to get any lines and personality, but he’s showing it to you constantly.  As long as you’re continually moving forward and you’re outside of fights, he’s usually commenting on whatever’s going on.  Your actions, the surrounding area, the backstory of the city and the calamity, the motivations of the enemies you’re facing, everything.  All of your interactions with the world and people around you that go beyond hitting them with a hammer are relayed to you by the narrator rather than you seeing them directly, which in most instances would be absolutely frustrating to get through, but Rucks has such flavor to him that the game makes it work.  The voice-acting, direction, and writing of the narrator is so beautifully on point, and it adds so much life to the game.

It helps that Rucks has a lot of good material to work with.  The setting is a very interesting and unique one.  It strikes me as being the type of place you’d see more often if the standard fantasy tropes were influenced by early American culture more so than Western European.  The city of Caelondia was founded by pioneers from outside the area, and grew into a major economic and technological center in the world.  They originally bought land from the natives to it, then ended up having a lot of friction with them.  The city grew large, but it still had a lot of wild, untamed areas, of which many people were set to explore and master.  Judging by Rucks, the people of Caelondia have a southwestern twang to their voice, and you see railways, revolvers and muskets, and other standard from the Wild Western genres.  The major god of the parts is stylized as a ranch-style bull.  One of the locations is called a Melting Pot, another is a straight up bayou, you take barges down big rivers, etc. If you mixed the classic western with fantasy, you might get what you see here.  That, and the interesting applications and hints of a guild structure, the variety of items and descriptions you find, and the way Rucks adds so much character to even the simplest of things ends up making the game world so interesting.  

The story’s really solid as well.  It’s a lesson in minimalist storytelling, you only have four real characters, and everything is filtered through the viewpoint of a single one of them, but it ends up having a real impact in its execution.  You get hope, guilt, betrayal, redemption, sacrifice, salvation, all flowing into each other really well.  In optional challenges, you can explore everyone’s backstory as well, which proves itself to be really well thought-out and rounds them out as characters while also tying them into their role in the current plot really well.  It makes them all, and their actions, seem very relatable, whatever they end up doing.  Without spoilers, the endgame in particular makes me want to chef kiss at how it plays out.  It really uses the imagination well, leaving just enough gaps for you to fill things in and bring things more to life in your head, without underexplaining anything or avoiding conclusions.  It also has some capital letter THEMES, and it hits those beautifully.  It really doesn’t feel like the freshman effort it is by Supergiant Games; the game moves its pieces around that central theme so adeptly I’d swear the team was all old hands at this. It really works best because it’s a somewhat short game, and has so few moving parts, as I feel like if they made it more complex than it was it’d all start to fall apart.  As is, the basic elements of the plot may be things you’d see in many other places, but the way it’s handled here really sets this game apart in terms of storytelling.  

Beyond that, the music of this game is absolutely stellar.  This game has one of my absolute favorite soundtracks, and it’s probably the one I’ve returned to most often over the last decade.  The southwestern instrumentation lends a lot of the songs a classic western feel overtop the modern and industrial foundation while all maintaining a pulse-pounding energetic feel.  They evoke emotions and a sense of action very well, and truly add a lot to the piece.  The songs with vocal tracks also provide a bit of a glimpse into the characters behind them, and really gain a lot of emotional grounding in context as well.  So yes.  Music.  Marvellous.  Dig it.

And I’ve been talking about the presentation a lot.  You’re probably wondering about the gameplay.  And you know, it’s good.  Not quite as overwhelmingly stellar as the narration and music, but it’s still very solid.  Walking around and bashing things feels very good, and you’ve got a great degree of control over your character.  The Kid is pretty slow in ground speed, but that seems deliberate, and puts a greater emphasis on using your other tools for defense than just walking around attacks.  There’s a really big variety of enemies for how long of a game this is, so you’re constantly changing up and adjusting your combat operations.  You get a huge amount of options in setting up your character’s loadout, making the Kid incredibly versatile.  It seems like every other level you get a new weapon, all of which play completely differently from each other, and you can mix and match upgrades to significantly alter their functionality.  You’ve also got a number of buffs you can apply between levels that, again, significantly change the way you play, and, if you’re so inclined, a number of debuffs you can apply to yourself as well.  If you’re interested in a combat systems that gives you a lot of control and is constantly introducing new things, Bastion scratches that itch well.  Navigation is a bit of another story, however.  Between the Kid’s slow movement and the fact that the world is remaking itself around you, it’s not too much fun to be walking around the parts in between when you’re crushing baddies, and it can be pretty confusing to get to where you’re going.  Unless you’re willing to spend a lot of time slowly hugging the walls, expect to leave a lot of goodies behind.  You can buy them later, but that takes resources you can probably put to better uses.  It’s a lot better experience when you have the opportunity to just flow from one fight to the next.  

The visuals of the piece are kind of ok.  They’re colorful, and characters, creatures, and sprites are very distinct, making things really pleasant to look at and really easy to navigate in the midst of really complicated sequences.  I do kind of get tired of nearly everything being made of tiles, but that’s kind of a necessity with the way they set things up here.  Artistic design is a little mixed, most of the characters and some of the monsters do look really nice, others are kind of bland or visually confusing.  It hits right when it matters most, at the very least.

But yeah.  Less of a review.  More of me raving about a thing I really like.  But I REALLY like it.  And now you know.  So there.

Looking For Group

I’ve mentioned in a couple of posts that I’ve got a D&D game going. Recently, one of our players had to drop out due to an out of game conflict, and we’ve elected to put out an open call to add a player to our group. Our big concern is finding someone who gets along with all of us and the way we play and adds some fun to our game. I figured, those of you reading this here probably already have a sense of my style, at least, so if anyone here would be interested in playing D&D with the big man, well, this connection may lead to us being more likely to find people that mesh with what we’ve got going on.

Anyways, if anyone’s up for joining a D&D game, what I’m running is a sort of post-apocalyptic dark fantasy based on the likes of Kingdom Death: Monster and Berserk, although if you’re familiar with Kingdom Death: Monster, my habit of ripping off that game when I run out of ideas is probably going to be irritating to you. I try to have a good focus on the story and really try to make the world seem very full and alive, although as a post-apocalyptic thing it’s not all that full or alive at all. But yeah. I try to be big on the details. Long form storytelling, good mix of combat and challenge encounters, and consistent and vibrant details are things I try to prioritize, at least. The players do a really good job of getting in character and acting things out as appropriate, and really prioritize that over gamesmanship or tactical soundness. It used to be I had a hard time getting all of them in the same place for the big battles, as they all had their own separate priorities and ways of reacting to new stimulus that would often lead to them splitting and hunting things down differently. It made the fights more difficult, but it’s been beautiful from a storytelling perspective. Party also has a habit of completing their objectives, but not exactly doing the stuff they need to get them done well, so you’d probably have to be both flexible with character interactions and combat situations and very patient with suboptimal or outright bad outcomes to get the most out of this. But hey, maybe you’ll be a good influence on them. They could probably really use that.

We have games in English on Roll20 with voice chat over Discord. We’re open to new players, and this is the group I learned to play with in the first place, so I know they’re good at that. That said, this is midway through a long-form campaign, and you’d be starting at level 8, so you’d essentially be getting thrown into the deep end of the D&D pool. Games take place Sundays, currently around 3:30 MST. You can use your favorite time zone converter to figure out what time that is for you. However, given that some of our players are in countries that have Daylight Savings and some aren’t, we do occassionally have to fudge the time by an hour or so, so if you’ve got the schedule flexibility to do that, that’d be optimal. Games usually last for about three hours.

If you’d be interested in giving it a shot, you can find more information in this LFG post, and can submit yourself as a potential addition to our group in the topic there. We’re all getting input into who we end up bringing on so although I love you all, I’m not going to be able to promise anything myself. However, if you do know me from here and end up putting something in, let me know directly so I can give things in context for them when we’re talking things out. Either way, I’ll see you all in the new year.

Project G: Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Alternative Title: The One with the Big Dumb Godzilla Dropkick

Godzilla vs. Megalon.  Here’s a particularly notable one.  And I imagine a rather love it or hate it affair.

So the backstory of Godzilla vs. Megalon is that once upon a time, some kid won a design-us-a-monster! contest with Toho, drawing a giant robot suit with a lot of similarities to Ultraman and Mazinger Z for use in a future monster movie.  Toho then made this design even more like Ultraman, to the point it didn’t really resemble the original contest design at all anymore.  And then they tried to put a movie together around it.  Hey, you know what’s really cool?  Ultraman.  That’s really cool.  Maybe we should make a movie like Ultraman.  

So you know what the problem is with making something that’s just like something else that’s really cool except your thing isn’t actually that cool?  You end up making something that’s just not as good as the original.  So this movie kind of kicked around for a while, with nobody really believing that the not-Ultraman was a strong enough character to carry the film, until producer Tomoyuki Tanaka came upon it and had the same thought I often think in the middle of bad movies, church services, and particularly average sessions of coitus: “This would be better with Godzilla in it.”

This wound up being the genius stroke that saved the project.  And at least two of my relationships.  But at this point, the producers just looked at each other, and decided that the film with all its troubled history had spent long enough in pre-production that it was time to move it right to shooting.  So what if they don’t even have a script yet!  They’ll figure something out.  And Tanaka had already raided his couch cushions for the spare change used for All Monsters Attacks’ budget, then the back seat of his car for the change for Godzilla vs. Hedorah, and they probably weren’t going to be able to get away with making a film so cheap to make its production actually created stacks of yen from thin air again like they did with Godzilla vs. Gigan.  So this time, they gave it a big massive budget, but it’s all in Imagibucks, the currency of Pretend Land.  And the exchange rate for that with the real world is really low.  

Once again, Jun Fukuda’s at the helm, who’s had kind of a spotty track record with Godzilla.  We’ve got a film where all they had to go on were storyboards and Fukuda literally had to create the script while they were filming and two of the four monsters in it were stapled onto the plot after the fact.  They’ve probably got more of a budget than they did for Godzilla vs. Gigan, but not by much.  And they’re needing to get through production incredibly quickly.  So, what do they do?  

You know how when big actors get roped into projects they know are going to be bad, they start hamming it up all over the place?  They figure if they have to make something that will be ill-remembered, they’re at least going to have a lot of goofy fun with it?  That’s what we get here.  A lot of Godzilla’s movie output has at least a bit of the dumb factor to it.  That’s one of the things I love about it.  And Godzilla vs. Megalon is the film that embraces that factor most whole-heartedly.  You shall see.  Oh, you shall see.  

The film opens with some nation performing some underground nuclear tests, which creates earthquakes that can be felt on Monster Island.  Supposedly far away from its epicenter.  Some time later, we get a nice little family playing at a lake in Japan.  Baby Rider, played by the same actor who was Ok Kid in Godzilla vs. Hedorah but is explicitly not the same character for that little bit of confusion, is playing on a little pedal boat thing in the lake while his older brother and older brother’s, uh, ‘friend’ enjoy a nice picnic.  So, these guys.  I don’t think it’s done deliberately, because this movie came out in the 1970s, which was not a time period where people were very open to these types of relationships, and is from Japan, which was not a place where people were very open to these types of relationships.  So, even though these are two men that seem incredibly close to each other, seem to be out for a rather intimate personal experience at the start of the film, and both seem to take a father-like relationship to the young boy in their charge, I’m not going to call the relationship what it obviously seems to be, because it was probably not intended on the part of the creators.  Let’s just say they’re very Happy.

So, they’re all doing their thing when an earthquake hits.  The Happy Pair call Baby Rider back to shore, so earthquake lake stuff doesn’t end up doing whatever to him.  But then a whirlpool appears in the lake!  And it starts draining!  And Baby Rider starts getting sucked in!  But luckily, the Happy Pair brought their grappling hook to the picnic.  You know, as is traditional.  So they grapple hook Baby Rider in, and watch as the lake drains completely into a new crack underneath.  Then they’re like ‘huh, that was weird.’ and then they go home, to the Happy Scientist’s lab.  

Continue reading

Early Impressions on Yakuza: Like a Dragon

If you’ve been reading this blog, you probably know by now that I’m a big Yakuza mark.  Love the games.  I love the deep social conspiracies, I love the badass manly drama, I love the big dumb crazy sidequests, I love the action, I love the tone shifts, I love the gameplay, I love the world, etc.  A new Yakuza game came out a few weeks ago.  And it reflects a big shift for the series.  So much so that the localized version completely removes the sequel number from the title, opting to be released as Yakuza: Like a Dragon rather than having it a proper Ryu ga Gotoku 7 as it’s called in Japan.  Yakuza 6 provided a soft end to the saga of Kazuma Kiryu, meaning this game introduces a new lead character for the series and with it a whole new story thread.  And the gameplay’s been changed up so significantly it’s not even in the same genre as the rest of the series anymore.  

Well, with such a monumental step for one of my favorite series, I felt it only right that I give my esteemed judgement on how well they did.  Because who else understands and appreciates this series more deeply than I do?  Nobody I know, that’s for sure.  My word on this is pretty much the bottom line.  I play through these games pretty slow, though, take my time, explore every inch of it until I am satisfied, so if you want the full review, that’s going to be a while off.  But here’s my impressions of this new Yakuza not-7 from my playtime so far.  

With Kazuma Kiryu out of the main event picture, Yakuza: Like a Dragon has us in the shoes of new series protagonist Ichiban Kasuga and his hair.  I like Kasuga.  Not so much his hair.  For the most part, the Yakuza series has been really reliably good with the characterization, writing, and design of their player characters, and Ichiban Kasuga is no different.  He’s got a heart of gold and an ass of dumb, and he’s very outgoing, kind, and earnest, and seems not to let setbacks bring him down.  He’s a very likeable character, and with the depth and development they gave him, particularly in the early stages, it’s clear how a lot of facets of his personality developed.  Kasuga doesn’t always make the most sensible decisions, but I found myself really understanding him and his thought process in the decisions he was choosing to make, which is something that’s really not easy to establish with a fictional character.  And for as charmingly dumb as he is, Kasuga has a great gift for insight, and it’s a really common plot factor wherein someone is acting brusque and off-putting in an attempt to hide their intentions but he’s able to understand what’s really going on with them.  

 With the developers seemingly intending Kasuga to take Kiryu’s place as the game lead for future titles, it’s really interesting both how many parallels he has to Kiryu as well as the very clear ways they approach things differently.  The basic backstory is the same for both men.  In order to protect someone they considered family, they took the blame for a murder they didn’t commit and spent long years in prison, only to find out on release that the person they sacrificed huge chunks of their lives for changed drastically in the time they were gone and now act very much against the values and yakuza family they once held dear.  Both believe very strongly in the romantic ideal of the yakuza, and that forms the basis of a plot-long struggle against the reality that these are organized criminal who do horrible things to innocent people for personal gain.  Kiryu’s back is tattooed with a dragon, while Kasuga is emblazoned with a dragonfish.  Both model themselves after father figures who are in deep with yakuza leadership, and admire the high ethics and nobility they display in their roles.  Their backstories are very similar.  Yet their approaches from there are very different.  Kiryu, through his building of alliances and his just being harder than everyone else was very effective as a yakuza.  Kasuga was a horrible yakuza, being too nice to earn much.  Kiryu was very well-respected before his fall from grace and infamous and reviled afterwards.  Kasuga was unpopular among his fellow yakuza beforehand, and utterly forgotten afterwards.  Kiryu was stoic and reserved.  Kasuga is expressive and a giant dork.  Kiryu’s largely self made, whereas Kasuga relies on the assistance of others.  Kiryu made things go right by having a highly developed moral code and being strong enough to crush whatever goes against it.  Kasuga, at least so far, makes things go right by using his background to understand others and taking bold action to bring them around to his point of view.  Kiryu was laser-focused, whereas Kasuga rolls with changes and takes a more short-term mindset. It’s starting out with the basics of a similar story, but their divergent personalities end up making them approach it in very different ways.  

Continue reading

Watch Out, They Move, They Diss You Loud! The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(c)-Characters: Akihiko and Mitsuru

Part 6(a) S.E.E.S. and Protag

Part 6(b)Yukari and Junpei

Akihiko Sanada

The Emperor

Akihiko is basically the ace of your group.  Which is fitting.  He is left-handed, after all, a member of that genetically superior race.  Dude is good at nearly everything.  He’s an excellent boxer, and is riding on a 16-match win streak as of the game’s start.  He’s a great combatant against shadows as well, shown taking them on without backup in the game’s opening act and being one of two people you need available to be allowed to take on the tower of Tartarus in the early game.  And he’s got a sharp mind and a stable core, to boot, coming up with great tactics on his own while also keeping S.E.E.S. emotionally grounded during its most difficult moments.

Unfortunately, Akihiko’s also the character most ruined by the sequels completely discarding a lot of what makes him special and the character growth he went through here in favor of over-emphasizing just a few strange moments from him.  So let’s go over just who Akihiko is in Persona 3.

The big, central thing to Akihiko’s arc and personality is his constant drive for self-improvement. He’s incredibly competitive, although it often seems that he’s competing more with himself than others.  He often drives others to do the same as well, taking on a sort of mentoring/managerial role.  He’s the one who guides and protects you as you’re new to the art of shadow-fighting, introducing you to all the resources S.E.E.S. has mustered thus far and making sure you’re adequately prepared.  He also takes a direct hand in helping the academically-challenged members of S.E.E.S. prep for big tests.  When others are trying to temper your expectations of an upcoming athletic meet you’re competing in in the face of the stiff competition you’re set to face there, he’s the one to encourage you most whole-heartedly.  His drive to improve does go too far at times, seeing him take risks alone that others are really uncomfortable with and leave him injured, refuse to rest to allow his injuries to heal, and do make him seem insensitive others when they think he’s focusing on the wrong things.  It can also make him a bit single-minded.  Shinjiro does remark at one point that he is so focused on the future that seeing him think about the past even a bit means that something is dearly wrong.  

The game dances around this a bit, spending a lot of time hinting that Akihiko’s got some traumatic events in his past, before coming out that this drive for self-improvement comes from the death of his sister in a fire. It seems they were living at an orphanage at that point, but otherwise, there aren’t a whole lot of details to go around on it.  He felt a whole lot of guilt for not being able to save her, and devoted everything to getting strong enough that he’d never lose someone like that again.  That pursuit of improvement has its good and bad points throughout the story, as seen above, and continues up until the death of one of his closest friends, Shinjiro.  At that point, he’s forced to come face-to-face with the fact that, as powerful and skilled in so many different ways as he has gotten, there are things in life that he will still be completely unable to prevent.  His pursuit of improvement as a safety measure will never be absolute, and he won’t be able to save everyone important to him from everything arrayed against them.  At that realization, he recommits himself to fighting against the dark hour, knowing that he’ll need to find a new way to live once its done.

And with that, maybe you can see a bit why I find the ‘Let’s eat protein! Train all the time!  Fight fight fight!’ personality he adopts in Persona 4 Arena and Persona Q so disgusting.

Continue reading

On Resilience

Man, 2020 is an absolutely cursed year. A ruinous global pandemic that’s been going on far longer than we all imagined it would. A plague of murder hornets. The social war erupting with the dumbest people getting the loudest voices. Jay White cheating Kota Ibushi out of the G1 #1 contender’s contract. It’s hard to see how the year could get worse. And yet its going to.

As I may have mentioned previously, I work in the Human Services department of our local government institution, and I’ve been part of some of the meetings we’ve been having to organize our Coronavirus response. And now, levels are worse than they’ve ever been before, lockdowns are looming, and it’s largely being driven by people who know better or should know better. People who have just stopped taking precautions seriously. There are, of course, some people who never took them seriously, or at least, never took them as seriously as they should have. And those were people we’ve known our messaging and measures we’re going to have little impact as long as we weren’t willing to cross a punitive line. But the ones that I, at least, find most interesting, are the ones who’ve started out the pandemic being very careful not to be a transmission vector, but now, have just stopped taking precautions.

We haven’t explored why they’ve stopped, which I feel is a rich area for progress, but resources are limited, so I won’t have answers there for the near future anyways. But I can posit. I’m a case manager, and a lot of what I work with people on is understanding just how their emotions come into play in their decision-making, and I see that all over the place here. Most didn’t expect to need to put restrictions on themselves for this long, and whether they did or not, the same feelings are likely setting in. Exhaustion. Desperation. Anxiety. Loneliness, and a distinct, long-term existence outside of their comfort zone.

Traditional social views around persistent negative emotions like these lie on endurance. You need to tough it out and last through these emotions to get safely to the other side. And it’s not necessarily a wrong perspective. But it is an incomplete one. Rather, it needs to go hand in hand with what’s been a rather fashionable concept of late, that being resilience. Which, if you’re in the type of field I’m in, there’s a whole bunch of psycho-babble to go along with it, but essentially, it’s the recovery aspect. With resilience, you don’t just tough out the bad times, you focus on getting better. Crap happens, you deal, then you get your emotional state back to normal, possibly while crap is going on.

So in essence, you don’t just sit in the badness because that’s how you tough it out, you acknowledge the badness and do something to make it better. Whatever that is depends a lot on the specifics of the situation and how you operate. Personally, I haven’t had that hard of a time, comparatively, with the pandemic. Friends and family and work contacts have noted how chill and steady I’ve been, so it’s not just me saying that. A lot of that comes from my deep, encompassing belief that I am absolutely magnificent no matter what happens. But I’d say most of it just come from what I’ve been doing for my resilience. In my case, most of it’s been physical fitness, because I’ve not yet encountered a problem I can’t make better by doing deadlifts. But that’s what works for me. What works for you may be different.

And in the case of thousands of people in my locality, what they’ve been doing for their resilience has been meeting with people and spreading the virus around. That’s been a problem. Bad resilience choices.

So, there’s not a single right way to manage your resilience. But apparently there’s a whole bunch of wrong ones. And in pursuit of living their best lives and recovering from the horrors of 2020, a lot of people are individually making the wrong resilience choices that are collectively keeping them from living their best lives.

And we’re going to be seeing more and more of that coming up, too. With American Thanksgiving in a few days, people are going to be taking the calculated risk of coming together, and that coin is not going to be coming up heads for everybody, which is going to drive things further. And the likely vaccine candidates are both a blessing and a curse right now, as the situation is not going to be progressing as quickly and solidly as people feel it should and that exhaustion is going to be felt more acutely than ever. And when people start taking one risk and it works out, they feel more comfortable taking more, so this all will have a cascading effect.

This next month is going to be incredibly hard. Early 2021 will be incredibly hard. Wrestle Kingdom might not end with Kota Ibushi kicking Jay White’s face in. And also the Coronapocalypse will likely be hitting incredibly hard, I guess. And yet, all this, it’s what you make of it. You can choose to make this better for yourself. And I don’t mean that in a touchy-feely “You can choose how to feel about it! :)” way. You can make choices with your resilience in mind. The outbreak is a horrible situation, and I’m glad I stopped doing my apocalypse logs because they’d be downright dour by this point. So many lives and livelihoods have been destroyed. And yet, this is also a gift and opportunity. You can make it such. You can take this time to do things you wouldn’t have done in the normal ages. Everyone deserves to feel as magnificent about themselves as I do, and you can take this time to make the choices that’ll take you there. For myself, this has been an incredibly productive year. I’ve been one of the few case managers in my statewide program that’s been as successful in the pandemic as I have, and I’ve been getting a lot of recognition for that. I’ve found a lot more time to study my almost-second language. I’ve enrolled in dance classes. I’ve gotten a lot more time for gaming. My Dungeons and Dragons game has never had all members there as consistently as it has these past 8 months. I’ve enrolled in dance classes. I’ve put on 20 pounds of muscle mass and have been breaking a lot of personal fitness records. That’s what’s been working for me, but there’s tons of openings for you, too. Don’t just endure. Rebound. Be resilient. And in so doing, make the right choices for your resiliency.

And remember, as dark as things get, as harshly as Jay White has been taking it to Ibushi, there’s always the light of hope. After all, it sure seems that Testuya Naito has had Evil’s number, and Evil’s been cheating even harder than Jay White ever did.

Project G: Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)

Alternative Title: The One With the Alien Cockroaches


Godzilla vs. Gigan is… well, divisive is a good way to put it.  So, as a refresher, this is part of a string of Godzilla films that came after they intended to end the series, then decided “Nah, let’s make some cheap dumb things for children”.  Of the ones of those we’ve seen so far, All Monsters Attack was abysmal, whereas Godzilla vs. Hedorah was of the ‘so bad it’s good’ variety.  So, now we have Godzilla vs. Gigan lined up.  They’re bringing back Jun Fukuda, the guy who was behind the rather meh and definitely not Big G-feeling Ebirah, Horror of the Deep and my least favorite Godzilla film in Son of Godzilla.  Haruo Nakajima was having a hard time stepping into his long-time role as Godzilla after the death of series special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, and this would prove to be his final time in the Godzilla suit.  And, to make matters worse, the Japanese film industry as a whole was really going through some rough times at this period, and the results show greatly here.  This film seems to have been made with a negative budget.  The actors are, even beyond the language barrier, obviously not of the highest paygrade, the sets are really sparse, stock footage is used in abundance, nearly all the soundtrack is pulled from other Toho films, and for the original footage, the returning monsters suits are all so beat up that they’re barely functional.  You can see scales peeling off of Godzilla in parts.

And yet, even with all that, you can tell they applied quite a bit of wisdom when working with their limits.  The stock footage is used far more wisely than it was in All Monsters Attack, and it doesn’t really stand out that much when shown in sequence with the original content.  And once the monster action starts, you can tell that all the skimping on sets and the extended amount of time you spent without your monster action was dedicated to make the monster action that was as big as it could be.  And hell, even the long time you spend on the human drama kind of things is pretty decent, if incredibly low-rent and cheesy.  This is a film that really rolled with the punches.


And it also introduced us to one of the Godzilla video games’ favorite monsters in the cyborg space-beast Gigan.  Take note of him.  This guy shall recur.  Even in the films’ continuity.  

So, does all that serve to elevate the film above its severely weak productive foundation in the eyes of the Aether?  Let’s dig in to find out.

So, the film opens up with out lead character, Jimmy Slacks, lazy artist extraordinaire, putting in a pitch for a manga he’s been working on, except he didn’t bother to finish his sample or even draw in the big monster that’s supposed to be its central figure and… yeah, that gets him nowhere.  So he goes to have lunch with Lady Pain.  Lady Pain is awesome.  Jimmy Slacks basically does whatever she says because she’s a black belt and her ability to kick ass is without peer.  She’s off for most of the story here, but she shows up whenever anyone needs their face inverted.  The film’s not clear on their relationship, but he treats her and she acts more like his mother and he’s nowhere near cool enough to be the boyfriend of someone as stellar as she is, so that’s what I go with.  Anyways, there’s this children’s theme park that’s looking for a monster designer, and she hooks him up with an interview there.  Jimmy Slacks shows up at their office which is inside a giant Godzilla statue, discusses the lamest possible monster designs, and even he’s honestly surprised when he gets hired.  He hears a bit of the organization’s mission statement, which is to bring peace to the world by destroying monster island and everything on it.  Which is not something I would expect a children’s theme park to be going for.  A little bit of mission drift there, it seems.

Anyways, Jimmy Slacks designs some really bad monsters, then goes to show up at the office and bumps into some girl.  She drops a tape and runs off.  He picks up the tape, then the guy that just hired him and some guards show up.  They ask him where she went, and for completely no reason, he covers for her and points them in the wrong direction, then heads into the office.  Nobody else is there, so he starts nosing around until he accidentally opens a secret door and finds the boss of the place inside.  Jimmy Slacks is apparently stunned by the boss being a teenager, but he looks older than Jimmy Slacks, so that really didn’t come across very well.  Teen boss is working on some incredibly advanced mathematics, and when asked, says that he’s charting the position of M Space Hunter Nebula.  You might have picked up by now that these guys are incredibly suspicious.  Like, they’re not even trying to hide it.  Also, nothing about them hiring Jimmy Slacks makes sense.  Like, they never need monster designs for anything, and when we do learn their plans, none of them involve anything about a homework monster or overbearing mother monster or anything else they hired him to do, so I have no idea.  Whatever, lets move on.

On Jimmy Slacks’ way home, the girl from earlier stops him and tells him to hand over the tape.  Jimmy Slacks did one thing right at least, and saw this coming, having hid the tape somewhere before hand.  He refuses, they can’t find it on him, and some beatnik comes up and sticks an ear of corn in Jimmy Slacks’ back.  Jimmy Slacks faints.  So they take him to his house and give him some TLC for a while, then he wakes up and they chat.  Turns out the girl’s brother, Dr. Computer, has probably been kidnapped by the theme park, and she thought the tape might give some clue as to his whereabouts.  Jimmy Slacks could just write them off as crazies who held him up with corn, but on the other hand, that theme park is super shady, so he decides to check it out.

Continue reading