The Dark Souls Nature Trail

Last time, on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dark Souls, we got taken someplace a long, long time ago, in a land far, far away.  Oolacile.  What I know as Lost Oolacile.  A fallen land that no longer exists, because, much like me, it is just too pretty for my blighted world.  Whatever happened to pull me here must have somehow yanked me across time, too.  I’ve followed Dusk to her home.

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Look at that.  Sunlight streaming through the trees onto a sacred copse in the woods.  Anor Londo, Firelink Shrine, and the Undead Burg all have some direct sunlight, but it just feels different here.

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A bunch of humanoid statues that are, admittedly, creepy as all blazes, but hey.  At least these people have some art and culture in them.  That’s beautiful on its own.

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And of course, the giant mushroom man, well renowned for its wait WHAT?!

I’ve been pounded by these guys too many times.  Wary, I raise my shield and approach.  The mushroom does nothing.  In fact it doesn’t even have limbs.  Slowly, I lower my guard.  Then it… she… speaks.

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If blood and sewage and whatever Frampt’s been eating smells like human to you, I’m not sure I want to see who you hang around with.  Also, how do you tell that when YOU DON’T HAVE A FREAKIN’ NOSE?!

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Oh, wait, Dusk’s been talking about me?  She, uh, say anything good?  Like how gorgeous and powerful and totally dating material I am?

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“…snatched away by that horrifying primeval human.” she says.  Yeah, she was kidnapped the last time I saw her, too.  Can that girl keep out of distress?  I get that she’s a princess, and getting kidnapped is like, what they do, but that still seems excessive.

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Oh fair knight, canst thou pleasest saveth our princess and smiteth the evil dragonst Generica plaguing our landst and liveth literally every classic Heroic Romance ever?  Let me guess.  The princess will be set up to be sacrificed to fuel or satisfy some greater monster.  A false hero will appear, who will seem cooler than me in every way, but ultimately fail in his endeavors.  Then it will be up to me to save the day in which I need to slay the dragon and dispel some lie the princess believes and then she’ll fall in love with me and I’ll hang up my sword and buy a farm.  Eh.  I’ll think about it.

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The Sins You Committed Will Never Disappear! The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective COMPLETE!

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Persona Retrospective Introduction

(Revelations:) Persona

Here’s the director’s cut of the Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective we’ve been running.  All the bit by bit portions of our Retrospective all stuck together in one big massive document, for those of you who prefer it that way.  We’ve got some more editing and better clarification on the points I was making, but if you’ve been following the piece by piece portions, none of the actual content here is new to you, just some minor differences in the way it’s presented.  If you’d rather have the section by section breakout, you can start here.  Otherwise, enjoy.

Persona 2!  I’ve been looking forward to doing this one.  I’ve got a lot of history with the Persona series, and it’s grown some deep, deep roots in me.  I’ve spent a good long while immersing myself in the series, and it’s one of the few franchises I actually consider myself passionate about.  I’ve carved out a good bit of prime brain real estate for each game in the series.  Yes, even the bad one.  Even dreck like Persona 1 has some value

Each game, that is, except for Persona 2.  Well, the first half of Persona 2.  See, the second installment in this series has a really weird presence here in the western world.  Persona 2 is a duology.  Atlus has experimented with the one game for the price of two deal a few times, and one of those experiments turned up here.  There’s Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, each telling half of the story.  And way back when these games were new, Atlus, far from the bold and expansive localizer they’re known as today, decided to only release the latter game in the states.  The second half of the story.  Flipping to the middle of the book and just starting from there.

There’s quite a few theories as to why that might be.  Maybe it was because Atlus USA was a small department with too much on its plate at the time.  Maybe it was because they couldn’t get it ready in time for the rush.  Maybe it was because of the gay options in a time before America was ready for it.  Maybe it was because of Hitler.

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Nobody knows!  But the fact of the matter is that we missed out on the first installment of Persona 2.  Eternal Punishment came out, and trust me, it was a bit of a challenge making sense of that alone.  Still, I powered through it, and while I know that game well, Innocent Sin was always a gap in my Persona knowledge, only experienced vicariously, until finally, the game got re-released on the PSP a few years ago.  It’s still the game I’m least experienced in.

So this installment of our retrospective series covers the first release in the Persona 2 duology, Innocent Sin.  Eternal Punishment will get its own, probably shorter post.  Just seemed like the best way to do things.

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Depression and Dark Souls

Last time in Dirty Deeds Done Dark Souls, we pretty much became a killer for hire.  Oh sure, it may have been a wicked mercy, and it may have been for the fate of the world and all that best chosen one business, but the fact remains that I killed both two of the Izalith family members as well as the twisted, misshapen Witch of Izalith herself just because my lady of the flame asked me too.  It was a dirty deed, but one that needed to be done, but, I hope, one that bought them all some measure of long-deserved peace.

Also, I slew the well from which all my  wicked inferno magic is drawn!  I’m pretty awesome, aren’t I?

Eh.  Have to joke.  Have to try and keep the spirits up.  Humor’s most important in the darkest hour, right?  Truth is, I’m just about at the lowest point I’ve been in since I left the Undead Asylum.  Laurentius of Great Swamp went hollow and died by my hand long ago.  Solaire of Astora, I’m not sure whether he went truly hollow rather than just being driven generically mad, but either way, he lost his will, then lost his mind.  Siegmeyer of Catarina, well, I’m not entirely sure what happened.  He seemed depressed, over his lack of success, over the amount of times I bailed him out, whatever, but I don’t think he was ever expecting to survive his charge against those demons.  And even as far back as the beginning of my journey, that knight that opened the way to my escape from the Asylum in the first place, before again, going hollow and dying by my blade.

Oh, Geezer Zeus, I’m going to have to tell Siegmeyer’s daughter.

And all the while I roam this blasted land where anyone normal seems to have perished years ago, in this dying world, working on the vague promises of that stupid snake whose words coming out of his mouth is worth no more than the dung pies I’ve shoved in, and that bloated goddess, who for all her divinity has done absolutely nothing that a simple box couldn’t have.  I’m the Chosen One, I’m the one who’s supposed to link the fire, cure the undead plague, renew the world, and succeed a god, and yet I’m the only one who actually does anything towards that goal.  Frampt, the Lords, anyone else who ruled in this land?  They’ve all either vanished, twisted themselves into uselessness in ages past or are actively making Lordran worse, now.  And what does succeeding Gwyn even mean?  I am already immortal and monstrously powerful.  What more can becoming a god gain me?  In pursuit of that, I have killed so many people, some of whom deserve it, but what good has come out of it?  Whose lives are better for my actions?  Sure, some of those I killed played some part in how screwed up Lordran’s gotten, but I feel like even with their deaths, I’ve only just put a bandage on a mortal wound.   I’ve got promises that by fulfilling my station as the Chosen Undead, I can at least purge the undead curse and bring life, true life, back to this world, but most of that comes from sources I know aren’t telling me the whole story.

Yet even so, I know I’m going to stay the course.  I have to.  If I stop, I know I’m going hollow.  The knight at the Asylum lost his mission.  Solaire got discouraged.  Siegmeyer seemed to have given up.  And they are all no more.  That will not happen to me.  I need to keep moving forward.  And I have no other direction than the quest of the Chosen Undead.  And you know what?  I’m starting to find myself not caring about killing these people for their souls.  The holder of the Lord Souls have all needed a good killing thus far.  For all I know, Nito might be the same.  And even if he hasn’t gone full-blown malevolent, at the very least, he’s done nothing about Lordran falling so hard to the darksign.  I’m sure I can make much better use of his Lord Soul than he is.

Still, even the most epic of quests could do with a break now and again.  And I really need something to feel good about right now.  And honestly, I could do with someone to talk to.  My best friend just tried to kill me, I watched another friend die, and the pressure of being chosen are getting to me.  Even the strongest of warriors need a shoulder to lean on, and I am getting to that point.  I head first to Quelana.  I don’t expect much empathy from her, but I at least need to let her know the deed is done.

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She, at least, is happy that her family’s been released from their twisted, chaotic forms.  Well, except for the Daughter of Chaos, the waifish, spidery, fire-keeper.  As dire as her situation is, she at least seems to have retained something of her self.

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You know, that’s a big expression of endearment from her.

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She teaches me the Fire Tempest pyromancy.  I’ll have to try that out sometime.  She calls out to me as I’m leaving.

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Well, I seem to have helped her out at least.  Now, I just need to keep this up for, oh, the rest of the still-living world?

While I’m in the area, I pick up the treasures left behind in the Demon Ruin’s magma, the ones that were by that pack of Taurus Demons.  There’s a bunch of souls on one, and a Chaos Ember on the other.  I take it to Andrei, who reports that he can’t do anything with it.  The Giant Blacksmith has no interest in it either.  And Rickert, as he proudly claims, doesn’t deal in embers.  I hold onto it for now.

It’s starting to occur to me that I could do with an upgrade in equipment.  I love this Black Knight Sword.  It has been my most constant companion in the Chosen One quest.  I would marry this sword if I could.  The nuptials… would be awkward.  But even so, I’ve upgraded it as much as I can, and I’m not going to be getting much stronger than I am now.  My damage output with this blade has peaked, and while still considerable, I’m worried it may not be enough for some of the future challenges facing me.  I’m not in a hurry to replace it, but I am going to be keeping my eye out for a new weapon.  Maybe I’ll learn to love it as much as I love this one.

In the meantime, my mind drifts to one other person who I’m pretty sure would do me good to talk to.  Someone who I’ve unequivocally saved.  Someone who’s not completely steeped in the despair that pervades those under the undead blight.  And perhaps most importantly, someone who hasn’t yet rejected my requests for a date.  Dusk of Oolacile.  The lady trapped for untold ages in the body of the golden golem, before I rescued her and she used her magic to return to the past.  She left me a summon sign, to speak with her again.  And if ever I needed it, it’s now.  I venture back to the lake at the Darkroot Basin.

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New Eden, Page 23: Anti-life edition

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Life’s getting the better of me again.  Have some art while I sort things out.  Eventually, we’re going to get to the point where I start realizing I need to make text larger to show up on screen.  I look forward to that day.

Transcript

Panel 1

AGLA: That’s what this is about?  You abducted me over a video game?

Goon: Don’t play dumb.  We’re not the Japanese police, we won’t fall for that.  Our citizens have been disappearing directly after playing your game, and nobody knows how your machine works.

AGLA: That’d be more a failing of American engineering than anything else, right?

Goon: Do you even realize the trouble you’re in?  If we’re not happy with the info you give us, you’ll be spending the rest of your life in a prison on the ass-end of the Earth!  Now, what is your game doing to our citizens?

AGLA: Are you a man of faith, Agent Smythe?

Smythe: Answer the question.  What has your game done to our people?

Panel 2

AGLA: Do you believe in Heaven?  Hell?  Valhalla?  Hades?  Different worlds the soul travels to after death?

Smythe: Are you refusing to answer the question?

AGLA: What about the Garden of Eden?

Panel 3

Smythe: Refusal will have consequences.

AGLA: The paradise God cast Adam and Eve from when they gained the knowledge of Good and Evil, and lost their purity.

Panel 4

AGLA: God left a guardian there.

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Previous page

Visual Novel Theatre: Narcissu

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Narcissu has been on my list forever, and I just haven’t wanted to experience it.  Which is an oddity for me.  I love fiction, I enjoy visual novels, and I enjoy thought-provoking works, all of which, by reputation at least, Narcissu fits.  But I didn’t want to read it.  I didn’t want to deal with this.  I know the subject matter it covers, and it’s not something I’ve historically done well with.  Sure, you might look down on me for it, for letting myself get so cowed by such a simple, universal subject.  You might call me names, like wuss, and coward, and gorgeous.  And I might deserve them.  Especially that last one.  But the topic at the core of Narcissu is one that I’ve not handled well over the course of my life, one that regularly cuts through the cold, chiseled, manly outer shell into the tender emotional heart underneath.

Narcissu is about dying.  Slowly, inevitably, dying.

Narcissu’s reputation ensured I was interested, but its subject ensured I needed to be in the right mindset for it.  And so it remained in limbo for a long, long while, until now.  I’m coming off of one of the worst months I’ve had the displeasure of living through, and wouldn’t you know it, that’s all it took to finally tip the scales and get me to do this thing.

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Narcissu is a Japanese-based visual novel written by Tomo Kataoka, an experienced visual novel creator whose works have almost never left Japan so you’d really have almost no reason to know who he is outside of this entry.  It comes in two parts, both of which we’ll be covering here: Narcissu and Narcissu Side 2nd, of which each tells a self-contained but related story and both of which have been given officially endorsed fan translations.  It’s available for free on Steam here or for regular download here for those who would rather not have DRM in their freeware, fan-translated, absolutely-no-strings-attached visual novel.

Both entries in Narcissu largely start from the same place.  You’re behind the eyes of a young Japanese person who’s been struggling their entire life with an unnamed terminal circulatory disease, probably Dramatitus or something like that.  The opening lines of the novel tie your protagonist pretty firmly with the local hospital, where they become particularly well-acquainted with the 7th floor, the hospice, the end-of-life care center.  Your protagonist makes friends, of a sort, with one of the residents there, and become acquainted to the rules of that place.  Namely, once you’re admitted there, there’s no getting better, and though you may recover enough to go home for a while, you will eventually be readmitted to the hospice, and you will not live long enough to make it to a fourth stay.  Together, you journey, with your friend dealing with the issues they’re facing near the end of their life.

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Narcissu, that is, the first part of this duology, puts you in the shoes of a nameless, featureless, faceless young man who is admitted to the 7th floor hospice after losing your lifetime battle with your illness.  There, you meet Setsumi, a quiet, reserved girl just a bit older than you.  Over the course of weeks, you get to know each other.  Eventually, your condition stabilizes enough that you’re released to your home, but rather than heading back to spend time with your family, on a whim you steal your dad’s car and escape with Setsumi.  You’ve got no real plan, and while Setsumi has ideas, she’s so closed-off that she’s really not forthcoming with them.  You travel simply for the sake of travelling for a while, stealing what you need as you go, before you work out enough hints from Setsumi to get together a goal.  After you figure out what she really wants, you and Setsumi begin searching Japan for a flower, the narcissus, or daffodil, that gives this visual novel its name.

Side 2nd is a prequel, taking place around seven years before the first part.  You spend most of the time in Setsumi’s head, before she found herself consigned to the seventh floor hospice and was just a long-term outpatient.  Her family is just now shifting and changing their life to accommodate her illness and unique needs, and are absolutely ecstatic when she makes a friend.  The catch?  That friend is Himeko, a resident of the seventh floor hospice.  Himeko, who has by all outward appearances cast of everything, faith, family, friends, from her old life, pretty much takes the shy, quiet Setsumi under her wing.  Setsumi begins visiting daily, at Himeko’s request, and Himeko starts taking the younger girl on small outings as she checks off a list of the ten things she wants to do before she dies.

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Both sides of Narcissu are very much an experiment in using minimalism as part of the visual novel craft.  This is most obviously apparent through the presentation.  Visuals are limited to pretty basic backgrounds, and you barely see your characters at all, while the music is simple and understated, and the game limits itself to using 1-3 lines of text at a time.  This extends to the plot itself, as you get barely any characterization, and events follow a pretty simple structure and progression.  Each game only has two main characters, maintains few moving parts, and has little in the way of big splash screens or special effects.  The second game opens up a bit, incorporating a few side characters, having two intertwined plotlines, and featuring a notable animation and songs, but even so, compared to other visual novels, it’s a pretty bare bones tale.  By word of the author, this is all very deliberate, both to evoke imagination in the reader to fill in the gaps and to play with the medium a bit.

It is very easy to do minimalism poorly.  When you’re creating an experience without a lot in it, well, sometimes it can be hard to fit all the pieces together.  Minimalism lays your story bare, and to be successful, you need to have something to shine through.  Hard to put together when you’re trying to use as little content as possible.  And Narcissu does have some missteps I implementing its minimalism, mostly in the first part, as the author seems a lot more comfortable with the form in the second.  But the minimalism does allow the work’s themes to shine through, in such a beautiful way.  I was never engaged by the story, nor was I really entertained, but the theming was so powerful, because of that minimalism, and that’s what truly stuck with me.  These tales work on a high, concept-level more than anything else, are more as a whole story than as the sum of its events.  More than anything else, the first part of Narcissu is a tale of finally taking control after a lifetime without it, of facing inevitability, of death and suicide, of disregarding the structures of society when it has nothing for you.  And the beauty of Narcissu Side 2nd is almost entirely in its treatment of themes.  The story is self-contained, but in no way separate from the first game, and the connections are largely through its themes.  The themes in Side 2nd serve as a counterpart to those in the first part.  Where the first part is about looking ahead and finding nothing, the second part is about finding solace in re-living the past.  Where the first deals with coming to an end, the second deals with cycles.  Where the first covers the progression into hopeless situations, the second is about faith in adversity.  The theming in Side 2nd is such that, though the plot itself may be fully experienced enjoyed on its own, you will never get a complete picture without also going through the first part.  In fact, it’s one of the few works that retroactively makes its predecessor better, and it does so entirely through its treatment of themes.  The themes in both parts of Narcissu are so powerful, and come through so clearly, that I fear I’m not a skilled enough writer to properly discuss them in this review.

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And so, moving on.  I was worried this was going to be a depressing work.  It wasn’t.  Not for me, at least.  Others on the internet have reported different experiences.  I never connected with the characters to quite emphasize with the crappy situations they were going through.  Going by the author’s notes, this was by design.  I did, however, find it very thought-provoking.  I had finished it up shortly before heading to sleep, and it had kept me up in my hotel bed for hours, thinking through the content it provided.  Which is a truly strong showing for a work as minimal as this.

You have to be willing to read into it to get anything out of it, though.  This isn’t a story you can really enjoy casually.  In his notes, Kataoka had mentioned he was trying to create a work that was really subject to the whole Death of the Author deal, where it’s all about the reader filling in the gaps and interpreting the story as makes sense to them, individually.  I think he may have gone a little too far that direction, particularly in the first part, where it can start to feel less open to interpretation and more clueless and deliberately obtuse.  Some odd writing on the part of either the authors or the translators doesn’t help either.  However, there is enough there that if you’re willing to work at it, you’ll probably be able to draw something meaningful out of this work.  I certainly did.

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Dragging On in Dark Souls

Last time, on Dying Slowly in Dark Souls, I learned that I had been underestimating just how bad this undead life can be.  Sure, when you die over and over again, yet always come back almost good as new, it’s easy to forget the sting that death carries.  It’s easy to forget that sometimes it’s final.  And yet, just like Laurentius of Great Swamp before, death has taken one more good man.  My friend, Solaire of Astora, gone hollow, or at least driven mad by that maggot that had attached to his head, and put down by my hand.  And he won’t be coming back.

I feel a bit hollow.  No, not that kind of hollow.  At least, not much.  I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here.  Mourn?  Rage against the Lords?  Rail against the undead curse that allowed this to happen?  None of those would help.  Instead, as always, I can only move on.  Just one foot in front of the other.  My feelings don’t matter, I need to keep moving forward.  I can grieve when there’s time.  For now, much as I hate it, there’s some things I need to take care of.

I owe that much to Solaire, at least.

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We’ve just got a few places left to explore in Lost Izalith.  The first on our plate is this obvious trap we had noticed but largely ignored last entry.  Now, I am a lot of things.  A warrior.  A genius.  A renowned sexpot.  One thing that’s not on this list?  A chump.  It’s obvious, just from checking out the lay of the floor in that room, that the ground is going to give way as soon as I put pressure on it.  I don’t know a way of going through without triggering that trap, though.  Hedging my bets, I stick to one side as I move forward, figuring that this will be less of a fall than walking in the center.  Specifically, I stay to the left.  Because it’s closer to the bait.  Which I know is counter-intuitive, but come on, treasure!

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Sure enough, the ground gives way as soon as I step on it.  I fall.  For like a foot.  I had been walking directly over this root, which catches me, saving me from certain death.  For once, my greed saved me.  Of course, the bait disappears at this point, but I can’t complain.

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I head down the root, which winds quite a bit before reaching the bottom.  There are these monsters below me.  I am really, really glad I didn’t fall in there.  What kind of beast eats with the crown of its head?

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Hey, look at that.  It’s Sieg…. Something.  Siegmeyer, or Sieglinde, I can’t tell.  They both have those child-bearing hips.  Runs in the family, I guess.  Either way, I am really, really glad to see a friendly face.  I could really use that, right now.  I hop off the root when it nears the floor of this ruin, then make my way around to talk to them.

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One of those tentacle pudding monsters tries to cut me off.  I slip past him then cut him down easily enough. Continue reading

New Eden Page 22: Reality Sucks

New Eden Page 22 edited

Panel 1

AGLA: Hmm?

Goon: The tablet!  Give it to me now!

Panel 2

AGLA: That’s what you were yelling about?

AGLA: Sure.  Here.  Take it.

Panel 3

Goon: Where did you even get that?  I thought they took everything off you when you got on.

AGLA: Sorry, I’m not quite fluent in English.

Panel 4

Goon: Do you even understand the situation you’re in?  You need to take things more seriously.

Panel 5

AGLA: You’re questioning me, right?  Aren’t I supposed to have a lawyer for this part?

Panel 6

Goon: If you were an American dealing with normal police, then yes.  You’re Japanese, flying over international waters, and we’re the CIA.

Goon: We can do whatever we want with you.  Now, tell us about your video game.

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