In Defense of the Dumb

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is apparently a thing.  A joint effort between Square Enix and Koei Tecmo’s Team Ninja that’s apparently remaking the OG Final Fantasy as a gritty action game.  E3 had a trailer for it, and the game… doesn’t really look all that good.  But it does look incredibly dumb, which actually makes it pretty endearing to me.  Let’s talk about that instinct for a bit.

If you’ve been around this space for a while, you know I like plenty of dumb things.  Godzilla.  Platinum’s action games.  Your girlfriend.  Like Final Fantasy Origin, there’s a certain quality to their particular implementation of simplicity and lack of complexity that makes them hit me so much better.  And I’m struggling to place what that quality is.  I believe there’s a certain amount of intention involved.  I’ve said before, that I like dumb things, but I don’t like stupid ones.  As for what makes the distinction between dumb and stupid, well, it’s really subjective.  But I think with me, intention plays a lot into it.  The media I classify as dumb aren’t necessarily trying to be dumb, but they aren’t trying to be super complex or deep.  They’ve set a low bar for certain aspects of their stories, themes, or atmosphere, and they hit that.  Things I think of as stupid tend to feel like they’re aiming way higher than they’re hitting.  Like they’re trying to tell some great complex story, but they really don’t have the chops for it, or they’ve established a certain logic to the plot but don’t end up following its internal rules, or they really didn’t think things through as much as they acted like they do.  But it’s mostly a feel thing, in between there.  

The big thing about dumb media are that they seem to hit on a subconscious level, where you can get a visceral, instinctual enjoyment of the content at the expense of the higher thoughts or deeper meanings there.  It works best when there’s some primary focus to the content that taps into the base emotions; often times pulse-pounding action, but it works just as well with horror, sexuality and plenty of other things that bypass the active conscious to connect directly one of those unthinkingly satisfying feelings.  And as a result, this sense works exactly because its dumb, if they demanded more thought to it, they’d change the nature of the experience entirely.  Watching Godzilla’s giant monster fights destroy half of a city wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if you were getting a full-minded about it, rather, it’d be either tragic or terrifying, as you’re putting thoughts to all the lives lost or impacted by that devastation.  Similarly, there’s a lot of video games that work because they tap into this for their action.  Bayonetta would be horrifying, slaying angels by the hundreds as you summon torture devices out of nowhere and unleash gruesome acts on all of them, if it were higher minded, and that’d make it a lot harder to enjoy its well-developed action gameplay.

And frankly, there’s an element of relaxation to dumb things as well. I don’t know about you, but I spend all the freaking time thinking. My work requires a lot of mental labor, then I come home and friends and family are constantly demanding my thoughts and my attention, and even in my off time, most of my day-to-day pursuits require a fair bit of intellectual involvement. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy it, thinking is an awesome thing in all. Especially when you’re as genius as I am. And I am an ironman, but even so, I can’t be on all the time. It’s really valuable, sometimes, to get a quiet moment, get into something that just turns the brain off and bypasses the suspension of disbelief for a while, and connects without requiring any more of that Mind Work from me. It’s refreshing, leaves me more prepared to do all those things that do require more thought.

Even otherwise serious works tap into this phenomenon, too.  The comic relief characters to provide those moments of levity, those jokes and one liners in the middle of firefights, the humor that would be ill-placed in real life but just seem to work in the context of the story?  That all counts under this, too.  It takes the mind away from an intellectual exploration of what’s going on and down into an instinctual sense of safety and levity.  It distracts your mind, at least for a moment, and draws it from just processing into outright feeling.   And, doing so, they manage the impact of their more cerebral moments, keep them from seeming too serious, too dangerous, etc.

So, let’s hear it for the dumb things.  The things that bypass the conscious thought to deliver a feeling straight to the emotional level.  And so doing, hit us in our hearts without bypassing our heads.

The Free Games Faceoff

The Epic vs. Apple trial came and went back in May.  We won’t have a decision for some time yet, and if you want the legal analysis of it, there’s plenty of better educated (maybe) places you can go elsewhere for it.  But, in between all the grown professionals degenerating to high school level drama, a whole bunch of private information was revealed, as is common for these trials.  One of those bits was that Epic Games had spent $11 million dollars in its first nine months on the free game giveaways they do every week.  Which is a lot of money.  As you may have guessed.

PCGamer put out an article around the time that was revealed raising the question of how many of those games have their staff, you know, actually played?  And the answers were, univerally, few to none.  And had me thinking as well.  I’ve been picking up on Epic’s Free Games pretty religiously.  I have this thing, where if you offer me a free game, I’m probably going to take it.  So right now, I’ve got a library with Epic Games Store of 160-something games.  None of which I’ve spent a dime for.  How many of those have I actually played?  Exactly 10.  

Now, to be fair, some of the games in my EGS library are backups of games I own in other formats or storefronts, which I redeemed because consoles might break down or discs scratch, and I don’t quite trust a service like say, Amazon to keep their games launcher active in perpetuity.  So those shouldn’t really count.  And given how common it is for players, PC players especially, to have massive backlogs, to the point of being a joke these days, many of us have already got a glut of choice, and although we might be interested in the games we’re picking up, if it’s not one we’ve chosen ourselves, it’s not likely to be at the top of the to-play list.  And frankly, you get a lot of free games through Epic Games Store.  1-2 a week.  If you habitually add them to your library whenever they’re available, as I do, it’d be very difficult to keep on top of all of them unless you were focusing all your play time on the Epic Games Store exclusives.  

But, all of that also applies to Amazon’s Twitch Prime/Prime Gaming service.  5 free games a month, at least, if you have an Amazon Prime subscription.  I’ve built up a massive library through them without spending a dime.  And yet, although I’ve still have more unplayed than not, I’ve played around 20% of my Twitch Prime library, well more than the 6% of the EGS.  And that has me wondering, why is that? Epic’s giveaways are generally of higher-profile games, giving out a lot or really notable, if mildly aged, AAA productions and some notable darlings as opposed to the mostly unknown indies you get through Amazon. You’d think I’d be going for the more known quantities. But I don’t.  And I know why.  Because I’m a genius.  

I like starting up new games.  Getting into something anew, learning brand new systems, and going through the generally more highly polished opening stages of the game is good times.  And it can be extra fun trying out a completely unknown game.  So sometimes, I just get in the mood to pull something I’d never heard of from my library and give it a try.  Usually kind of a whim of the moment thing.  The thing about digital games though, as well as current gen gaming in general, is that it requires a bit of lead time.  Games have to download and/or install. How much time specifically depends on the game.  Could be mere minutes, or it could be, on my slow rural internet, an all day affair.  Epic Games Store is definitely a much more robust launcher than the Twitch Desktop App I use for my Prime Gaming, but one really basic feature that Twitch has and Epic doesn’t is that it’ll let you know how big the darn game is before you start installing it.  How much downtime you’ll need in advance.  And for my whim-based “I’m gonna wanna try something new in like 15 minutes” tastes in those moments, being able to see what games I can actually get ready in that time is invaluable.  

The Epic Games Store launcher has had, in my experience, some reliability problems as well.  There was one notable time where the whole thing hardcore crashed on me, and required a reinstall to work again, in the process severing its connection to every single game I installed through it and requiring a lot of manually sorting through program files to get my hard drive space back from those then-inaccessable games.  And even without that, the Epic Games Store app takes a long time to load, even when I’ve got a shortcut to the game I want to play.  It’s got a lot of other features that Twitch Prime does not, like the super valuable ability to pause a download, but overall, it’s not an easy one to work with.

The Epic Games Store overall has been an experience that Epic is obviously putting their big fat Fortnite profits towards bringing people to and getting initial customers from, but not so much into making an easy or pleasant thing to use.  I’ll keep going for it as long as it continues to give me free games, such as it is, but I imagine usage rates are probably still going to be low until the storefront gets a bit easier to use.  Until then, the Twitch Desktop App may be a bit clunky and featureless, and obviously not especially meant as a game delivery service, but it gets me what I need in a more convenient manner.  And my games used seems to reflect that.

Project G-The Return of Godzilla (1984)

More Memorable Title: The Godzilla of the Cold War

We’re back with this, the one where Godzilla’s back!  And back with a reboot and a whole new continuity at that!  All that stuff we’ve been talking about in the series thus far?  All that story, history, origins, everything there?  We’re done with all that.  With the exception of the first film, the OG 1954 Godzilla, everything else is all out the window.  We’re starting fresh, here.  With this film, we officially enter Godzilla’s Heisei era.  

So, the last film of Godzilla’s Showa era hit in 1975.  Toho didn’t intend to end the series there, and in fact tried to get some more productions going a couple of times, but for whatever reason, none of them got off the ground.  In 1979, longtime series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka took charge of bringing Godzilla back to screens for the series’ 25th anniversary, and, inspired by the then-recent Three Mile Island incident and the then-modern adult oriented sci-fi/horror films of the time, wanted to return the series to its adult-oriented, anti-nuclear roots.  He still wasn’t able to get anything going for a while, until finally, in the mid-1980s, pieces started to come into place.  He combined elements from a bunch of cancelled Godzilla projects, made it modern to the cold war politics of the time, and started gathering a team around it.  Longtime director Ishiro Honda wasn’t up for participating, tied up with his work with Akira Kurosawa and also feeling the series shouldn’t be continued after the death of Godzilla’s special effects producer Eiji Tsuburaya, so Koji Hashimoto, who served as assistant director on a number of Showa Era projects, got called up to take the seat. Teruyoshi Nakano, who had led the special effects under Tsuburaya’s guidance when the latter’s health prevented him from working fully, took the lead once more on that front.  Series newcomer Reijiro Koroku handled music composition, making a score that’s quite different from Akira Ikufube’s previous work but honestly very solid for the film.  And finally, finally, they managed to get things going and get a film out, kicking off Godzilla’s revival.  

The Return of Godzilla is, as I said, considered the first film of Godzilla’s Heisei era.  But it was actually made in Japan’s Showa era, as the shift to the real Heisei wouldn’t happen for a few more years.  So, that explains perfectly why a lot of the things that would become emblematic of the Godzilla’s Heisei era; the recurring characters, the laser spamming, the 1-vs-1 monster fights, the prominence of psychic abilities, you don’t really get that showing up in this film just yet.  What you do get, that will carry over to later films until they start going the ‘noble demon’ route with Godzilla, is that you have a Big G here that is bigger and meaner than we’ve seen before.  Gone Is the ‘friend to all children’ Godzilla of films past.  This Godzilla is legitimately monstrous.  Much like the 1954 original, Godzilla here is coming to town to ruin lives and chew bubble gum.  And they don’t make bubble gum big enough for him.  

The Return of Godzilla is a film that reviewed rather poorly, but is very well regarded by fans.  Looking at things from my perspective, who has the better take on it?  Well, let’s dig in to find out.

The film opens with a fishing vessel navigating near an uninhabited island in a fierce thunderstorm.  The crew are trying frantically to force their way to shore to weather it.  One of the crewmembers, Sourface, so named because he shows little emotion other than mild irritation with everything occuring in the film, looks out at the island only to see something very large and monstrous silhouetted in the lightning.

The scene cuts there, and opens up the next morning.  The radio is calling out that in the storm last night, a number of ships, including the one we just saw, went missing.  We’re on a boat, a smaller one this time, a personal vessel.  It’s captain, someone whose name I actually remember this time.  Because he has the same name as that four-armed miniboss from Mortal Kombat.  And that guy from Yakuza that’s crazy awesome, emphasis on the crazy.  For that matter, he was there back in one of the worst films of the Showa era.  That’s right.  I promised he’d come back.  This guy transcends continuity.  We’re looking here at Goro Maki.  Yes, named just like the guy from Mortal Kombat and the guy from Yakuza, once again. So, obviously, Son of Godzilla didn’t happen here, and he’s played by a new actor this time, but the basics of this guy are the same.  He’s a reporter that searches down leads so hard he jumps into crazy dangerous situations.  He dresses exclusively in hideously ugly clothes.  And he is absolutely 100% couthless.  I don’t say that lightly.  You don’t insult a man’s couth.  You just don’t.  But it is impossible to describe him here without mentioning that.  

So anyways, Goro is sailing the high seas ripping opponents apart with his four arms apparently looking for those missing ships to get a scoop when he comes across one, coincidentally the one we just saw a few minutes ago.  He lashes the ships together, hops on board, and starts investigating.  It appears that nobody’s around.  There is some strange goo on the floor, though.  He gets into some cabin or bridge or ship term or something, and find someone sitting on a chair there.  He turns them around, and it looks like this guy got attacked by the girl from The Ring.  He’s all dessicated and mummified.  Then, Goro searches the ship some more, and finds some more dehydrated dead bodies.  He goes through their lockers, because, why not I guess?  Inside one of them, he finds Sourface, still alive, shell-shocked, clutching a hatchet.  Now, a normal person, would, you know try to help them, but we’re dealing with Goro Maki here.  Goro instead snaps a picture, and then goes through the guys pockets, finding a picture of Sourface with some girl and a student ID.  Then he gets attacked by… eeeeeeegh…. Shockirus.

Shockirus is a giant sea louse.  That’s about it.  But they gave it a name and made it part of the Godzilla monster canon, so they legitimatized it.  I don’t know if you know this about me, but I haaaate giant bugs.  Nearly every time.  So Shockirus can go eat a dick.  And he tries to, leaping onto Goro Maki and maneuvering to start sucking him dry.  Goro grabs a weapon, but Shockirus has a hard shell, and Goro’s unable to pierce it.  Goro starts preparing for the lame death you know is coming for him eventually, but then Sourface manages to hack into it and kill it from behind.

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Visual Novel Theatre: Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru

Let’s establish some facts here.  As you’ve known if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, I am an incredible specimen of a man.  My muscles are like mountains.  My features are proof that man was made in God’s own image.  My bearing is so manly that some women have claimed to have gotten pregnant just by staring into my eyes.  I am a bastion of healthy masculinity.  A paragon of the male form.  This is not up for debate.

So, I’ve been playing Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru.  Discord will, unless you turn the option off, show others what game you’re playing at the time.  My Discord buddies have been trying to sass me for being so manly and also playing Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru.  But it doesn’t work.  Because Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru is the shit.  I am unsassable on this account.  

I don’t get that whole part of people’s assumptions anyways.  Enjoying something that doesn’t match the box they mentally put you in somehow lowers your quality or something?  I don’t got time for that.  Good works are good works.  

Anyways, we’re here to talk Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru.  Eventually I’m going to find some way to shorten that title in writing here, but I haven’t figured it out yet.  It’s a spinoff of the Grisaia series, which I had no idea about while playing/reading through it, but it does retroactively make some things that happened make a bit more sense.  Although I’ve got like no idea of what Grisaia’s all about, so maybe that’s me injecting too much good will.  Anyways, Chiru Chiru Michiru (got it!) is a visual novel about one of those Sailor Moon-esque magical girls fighting against some evil that has invaded her world.  Except everyone’s a blithering idiot.  And it’s awesome.  

Although right off the bat, that does lead to some ‘your mileage may vary’ stuff.  This is a comedy visual novel, one from Japan, and humor is already really subjective and gets even more so when you’re dealing across cultures.  Different cultures find different things funny, so this may not necessarily connect with you.  And it’s very heavily surrealist comedy at that, which not everyone vibes with.  But I do.  And this hit right on the dot for me.  I loved this visual novel.  It left me laughing at a bunch of points.  In, like, a really manly and attractive way of course.  Because that’s how I do everything.  See the first paragraph.

So, the story opens with our heroine, Matsushima Michiru, an aspiring pop idol that’s not really all that successful at it.  The only venue she plays at is a bar owned and operated by Asako, a weapons- and military ops-obsessed friend of hers.  She’s also constantly accompanied by Sachi, a young woman who always wears a maid outfit and loves sharks.  After a somewhat disappointing performance, Michiru goes for a walk when a talking cat riding a star falls from the sky and lands on her, killing her instantly.  

Well, the cat uses a magic wand to beat her soul back into her body, so it’s all good.  And then it says it’s looking for someone to go be a magical girl, and Michiru wishes it luck.  And then time passes eventually they get back together again under circumstances and Michiru agrees to be a magical girl and hunt down the Seven’s Chaos invading from the World of Magic in order to save both worlds and also have her wish granted.  Except she’s embarrassingly bad at it and can’t focus on anything for more than a few seconds and have almost no magical power to speak of.  And it’s hilarious.  

The Visual Novel is surprisingly solid, presentation-wise.  It’s framed like it’s actually an anime, and you get full animated OPs and credit sequences with every episode, in addition to an anime transformation sequence, complete with barbie doll nudity, as is traditional for magical girl shows.  The art is really good, with a wide variety of backgrounds and the character portraits are pretty dynamic, with some action on them to represent the action going on in the narrative.  It’s also fully voiced.  In Japanese, of course, but I thought it was a really nice touch.  

The writing is competent enough.  The plot is super simple, and you’ll likely figure out most of where it’s going within the first hour or so of the first game.  It’s mostly there as a framework for the humor.  There’s a bit of awkward phrasing or odd concept transitions, likely things that weren’t or couldn’t be translated elegantly from Japanese, and if you’re looking for a big great story that makes perfect sense, you’re likely to be disappointed here.  There’s also a few bits in there that seem to come out of nowhere and not really go anywhere, although now that I know that this is a spinoff of the Grisaia series, it seems a lot of those were in fact references to that.  So maybe play/read that first and come here.  Or just don’t sweat it that much.  Although I’m finding now that the dumb little crapkid from Chiru Chiru Michiru is the main protagonist of Grisaia?  Maybe I don’t want to check that out after all.  I hate crapkids.  But yeah, the overall plot is base and predictable, but that’s not really what I’d recommend coming here for.  It’s really all about the humor.

And humor is always subjective.  Here, it’s downright absurd.  Like, there is one character, Michiru’s hypercompetent magical girl rival, whom you could say is the straight man, but even she is so straight it becomes absurd.  Like, to the point of using the limitless magical powers at her disposal, which can literally do anything she chooses, to simply summon mundane guns to blow her enemies away.  Personally, I love a well done absurd humor.  And this is definitely well done.  And you know, when it decides to pull back the humor, to finally inject a sense of danger and action to it too?  Those are well done as well.

So yeah.  If you happen to have a sense of humor like mine, I’d highly suggest checking out Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru.  But maybe check out Grisaia first, so things make sense.  Except not, because I didn’t know that was a thing until literally like an hour ago, and therefore can’t recommend it.  But either way, don’t sass me.  I am unsassable on this account.  

Double Sunshine

Life still hasn’t let up, kicking me in the delightfully shaped rear end while I kick back even harder.  Time’s at a premium, so it’s hard to get posts together, but luckily, that’s where you get friends stepping into help out.  We’ve been nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award several times already.  We possibly might be the most nominated blog in history.  For all I know.  And as I’ve said before, although I don’t really do these viral blog awards the dignity of passing them on, I do appreciate being nominated, as it’s a good way of putting together content when time is limited.  And it’s always nice being considered.  So, very recently, when we’ve gotten Sunshine Blogger nomination number 5 from AK at Everything is Bad for You and number 6 from Red Metal at Extra Life Reviews, it came as a nice breath of fresh air in these busy times.  Good for me, because I get to make some content that I enjoy doing, and good for you, because you get to learn more about the best thing that ever happened to you.  So lets hop to it.

First up, obligatorily and enthusiastically, if you’re hanging out around my parts, you probably already know AK and Red Metal.  You’ve likely spent a lot of time at their blogs.  Because at this point, the three of us bounce things get on so much we’ve essentially formed a Player Character Party in the JRPG that is the blogsphere.  But if you haven’t, check them out.  If you like my work, you’ll likely like theirs as well.  

On to the questions!  Starting with AK’s.

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Playing with the Main Man

Really busy lately, so this post will be pretty quick. Although I don’t have much to say here that won’t be a repeat of this post, so check that if you want to see me run my mouth a bit more.

Anyways, life is complicated, stuff comes and goes, priorities shift, and sometimes people need to drop things out of our schedule. As you may know if you’ve been following me for a while, I’ve been running a long-term D&D game. And, once again, we’ve had a player need to put other things in their life higher than our Sunday afternoon games, so we’ve got an opening we’re currently recruiting for fill. If you’re interested in playing some D&D 5e, and would be up for a roleplay-heavy post-apocalyptic fantasy sort of deal, you can check out where we’re currently recruiting, online here. I think you might need a Roll20 account to view that, so if you’re not sure if you’re up for that just to get the summary, you can check out that prior post I linked for more of a description of our game. We’re hoping to invite someone to our game within a couple of days, so get word in fast if you’re up to it. And although all of you reading this are my dearest, deepest friends, of course, I’m only one of four voices picking our next player, so I can’t really promise a spot to anyone. No matter how much I love you.

Rhyme like a Rolling Stone! The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(e); Characters-Koromaru, Ken, and Shinjiro

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

Part 6(b) Yukari and Junpei

Part 6(c) Akihiko and Mitsuru

Part 6(d) Fuuka and Aigis

Koromaru

The Strength

Koromaru is a dog.  With human-level intelligence that can summon a persona.  It’s barely explained.  In fact, for that matter, it contradicts other information given about personae, in that the whole reason Aigis is shaped like a human and not a tank or something is that it’s necessary for her to see herself as human in order to be able to manifest a persona, but here’s this dog with a persona so whatever.  

Anyways, Koromaru is basically Hachiko.  He used to live with a monk that would take him on nightly walks.  One day, the monk got killed by shadows, and Koromaru continued their nightly walks alone, and spent a lot of time hanging around the shrine the monk used to take care of.  Then one day, the team detects some shadows roaming outside Tartarus attacking the shrine.  Akihiko heads there, only to find the shadows already dead and Koromaru injured.  Putting 2 and 2 together because he’s not the dumb meathead the later games think he is, Akihiko realizes this dog must have a persona.  So he takes him back to the team, they get him medical care, and then Koromaru joins up with S.E.E.S.

Every Persona from this point forward has an animal-like character.  Persona 4 and 5 makes sure its a character that can talk, however.  Koromaru can’t, which poses some problems.  To be fair, they do a decent job of communicating Koromaru’s personality through his actions, such as it is, and Aigis can understand his thoughts and sometimes interprets them for others.  From that, you learn that Koromaru is very loyal and protective of those he considers family, and admires bravery.  He also likes certain TV shows demonstrating brave people, and has a near human-level comprehension of the world.  But they only take it so far.  Koromaru gets left out of a lot, not having much input in dialogue heavy scenes, not usually being with the party when they’re away from the dorm, and not really having much in the way of impact on the plot.  Which is a shame.  We only get a shallow view of Koromaru, and there was a lot more room for developing him.  As a result, he’s the most forgettable member of the cast, to the point he either doesn’t get included or gets bound together with another character for most of the spinoffs.  

He does have one big moment, however.  In the midst of the party’s darkest moment, when Shuji Ikutsuki betrayed them and was in the midst of crucifying them, he didn’t bother crucifying the dog.  It was Koromaru who tore the device he was using to control Aigis away from him, enabling her to break free from her programming and save the party.  So, if it weren’t for Koromaru, the party wouldn’t have survived to save the day and make millions of dollars in game sales.  That counts for something, at least.

In combat, Koromaru’s speedy.  The most speedy.  He’s the fastest, most accurate, and most evasive character in your party, and tops most shadows in all those areas, too.  On the flip side, he’s really not durable.  Shadows will have a harder time hitting them than anyone else, but when they do, he’ll go down fast.  Other than that, not especially much to write home about.  He uses knives to fight, and is accurate but not so damaging with them.  He does pretty decently with magic, and has an arsenal of fire and instant-kill darkness spells behind him.  Given the only other character with dedicated fire spells is Junpei, who is realllllly not great at magic, he’s the one to go with if your MC’s personas are focused on other things.  He’s also a very direct character.  Doesn’t have a lot of tricks to him, pretty much just basic attacks and direct damage or instant-kill spells.  His persona is Cerberus, which both fits his doggy nature, and I’m also pretty sure is a reference to Pascal, your dog that you turned into Cerberus in SMT 1.  He does not get an ultimate persona.  That requires personality development, and when you barely show up in the plot, well…

Ken Amada

The Loser

Nobody likes Ken.

Shinjiro Aragaki

The Hieropha-

What?  No.  No, we’re not doing that.  No Ken.  I’m not going there.  You can’t make me.

Ken Amada

The Garbage

Ok, so Ken is this little prat that nobody actually wants around because he ruins everything he touches.  And that’s about all there is to say about Ken.  Let’s move on.

Shinjiro Ara-

Seriously.  There are things mankind is not meant to know.  The existence of Ken Amada is one of those things.  Trust me.

You don’t trust me.  

Jerk.

Fine.

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Aether’s Best of Aether

So, these are busy times for your main man again, and I haven’t had as much time to sit down and write lately as I’d like. Now, I could just skip making a post for now, or I could phone it in and put together a quick bit of nothing, but I love you all too much for that. What I’m going to do instead is lean on my long blogging history and create new content all about my old content.

I’ve been blogging now for eight years. Eight years. That feels freakin’ impressive. I have seen multiple generations of bloggers rise and fall during that time. Now, I’m a decent writer. Good, maybe I’ll allow you to call me. Even great. Sure, we’ll let that go. If you wanted to say stellar, I wouldn’t argue. Awe-inspiring would be an adjective some could use. “The Best Blogger in all of Human History” if you wanted to go there, I suppose. Incredibly sexy, of course, but that goes without saying. I do well enough at what I do. Enough people seem to like and respond to the things I create to give me the spark to keep doing this thing I enjoy doing. But some posts are better posts than other posts. That’s just the way it goes. Even for absolutely gorgeous geniuses like me. I do go back through my old writings occasionally and I’ve got my favorites. So I thought I’d highlight my favorite posts of my own work, and we can all either run back down memory lane or get introduced to some things I did before you started hanging around these parts that I really like.

This is actually a page I’ve been wanting to add to this site for a while. Something to help draw more attention to what I consider my best work to people just recently finding this place, rather than just relying on my newest posts to be most visible. So don’t be surprised if you see this list reappearing on this site later, in some form. And for that matter, for the more long-term projects, I’m only going to be including the stuff I’m mostly finished with. I’m loving the Project G series I’m doing so far, as well as the ongoing Persona Retrospective, but I’m moving through them slowly so they’re far from their final form yet. Seems unfair to include them when I still can’t be sure I’ll be happy with the final product. Anyways, here we go. Aether’s favorite posts and projects on Lost to the Aether.

  1. The Dark Souls screenshot Let’s Play

If I had to choose a crown jewel for my blog, the bits I think are absolutely the best quality, this would be it. When I was first typing up my runthrough of the early bits of Dark Souls, I was just expecting it to be a one-off post, but I had enough fun with it that I decided to come back to it, still not expecting to take this tack through the whole game. But I did. And it’s a series I go back and read through every once in a while. I really enjoy screenshot LPs, and I feel like I managed to capture everything I wanted and get it in just the style that I love to read. And it’s a series I’m really proud of. Making LPs is tough, and this took me 70 hours of game time and more than two and a half years to do, but I got through it, and I feel I made something glorious in doing so. It’s a long read, but if you’re into anything I do here, I’d highly recommend going through that. First post is linked to in the header here, while the whole series is available in its category in the sidebar. For that matter, I think the Fallout LP was going really well, too, but unfortunately my computer died and took the save with it right when I was getting into the end game, so I can’t recommend it too highly, given it doesn’t reach the end. Well-known perils of LPing.

2. The LeftHanders of Video Games

I’m left-handed. In spite of how I act in those posts, it’s not a big deal, not something I really give a lot of mindspace to. But it is a part of being who I am, and it boggles me that for all the variety and creativity we see in our characters in most forms of media, something that’s present in 10% of the population in the real world has nearly no representation among fictional characters. So I wanted to take some time to highlight the left-handed characters that have gotten some show in my chosen medium. At thirty-five characters between these three posts, I’m pretty sure I have the most comprehensive list of left-handed characters in video games on the internet. And I’ve still got more to do. I’ve been collecting notes on further characters showing up to eventually get together a 4th post in that series. So keep your eyes out.

3. The Right Time to be Sexy in Video Games and the remaster, Good Sexy, Bad Sexy

Sexuality is awesome. There’s long been loud voices absolutely hating any hint of sexiness in media. I know, I grew up with some of them. There’s the moral guardians, there’s the pearl clutchers, there’s the culture warriors, all abhorring the scantily clad characters and the sex scenes and the fan service and the titillation. Moral judgments get placed often. Being as drop dead sexy as I am, I’m pretty enmeshed in sexuality, and you’re never going to convince me that it’s a de facto bad thing. But it is often misapplied to the detriment of the work it’s in. In these two posts, we take a lot at that, working out when sexuality does and does not work in all the various forms of storytelling.

4. Visual Novel Theatre: Doki Doki Literature Club

This is my favorite review I’ve ever written. Was fun to write, it’s still fun for me to read, I really dig it.

5. The Saints Row Retrospective Series

I really enjoy doing these deep analyses and retrospectives, but trying to make a summation of whole games like this is really time consuming and intensive to create. Still, although I probably won’t be getting back to it until after I’ve hit a good stopping point with the Persona Retrospectives, I still made a really good take on a bunch of games in one of my favorite series, and this was one of the biggest things bringing people here early in the blog’s life.

6. Your Primer to NJPW’s G1 Climax 28

This post is one that’s way outdated now, but I got to talk at length and put together an introduction to one of my big passions. I feel I put a lot of spirit into that one about a subject I was really excited about, and although it’s probably not going to interest most who visit the same way it does me, that’s one of the posts I’m most proud of, personally.

7. All up in Nintendo’s Business

People have a lot of opinions about company’s actions, and Nintendo’s choices have often seemed very unusual. I don’t work as a business consultant anymore, but it’s still fun for me to step back into those shoes an analyze the internal cultural and organizational factors that might make a business move the way they move. I’m probably super wrong on a lot of it, but the mental exercise is still fun to go through, and I hope, to follow along with.

8. Lagging Behind on the Leading Ladies

I get tired of having to play as characters that look basically the same all the time. As I kid, I got frustrated with being a mascot, as a teen, got bored with being a random anime dude in most every game, and at the time I wrote this, I was just plain done with being a brown-haired 30-something schmuck in most every game. I’d like to see more female protagonists in the games I play, to give it more variety. But I also hate people pushing for simple solutions to complex problems. And as I thought about it, the choice of a protagonist’s gender is quite complex. I go into detail on just what those complexities are here, as I see them. Things that can be overcome, certainly, but I’m not going to go pushing for more gender diversity in my protagonists without acknowledging that they’re there.

9. Visual Novel Theatre: Yandere-Chan and Yandere Simulator: The Destined Battle

According to my site stats, I’ve had hundreds of people move from the first post to actually checking out the game’s site. I’m not really big-time enough to swing audience numbers for most things, but given the magnitude I’ve had with that post and Yandere-Chan being an independent, amateur project, that feels like I’ve made a difference there. Of course, that started up a strange thing with the searches that drew people here, with hundreds of people now finding my blog while looking for either the similarly named Yandere Simulator or porn of the similarly named Yandere Simulator. So I feel by that point, the Yandere Simulator post is obligatory. I had a lot of fun with it, though.

10. The Fantasy Prejudice Problem and Constructed Worlds vs Civil Rights Metaphors

This is a huge pet peeve of mine, when creators will have their aliens or mutants or monsters or what have you face discrimination and try to relate it to real-world discrimination when they’re really cheapening the discrimination people face in real life by having their beings be actually different or actually dangerous, and introducing a whole lot of unintended counterarguments as well. I talk more about it in these two posts, and it’s something I wish more creators were aware of.

11. Inspiration for the Legend of Zelda Currency?

This is a little nothing of a post. Just an idle thought I had, put down, and never went back to. I found a Japanese Rupee, which they used when they occupied Burma during World War II, and related it to the Legend of Zelda Rupee. Obviously, there’s no actual relation there, it was just a thing I through out into the world based on the vaguest of connections. I don’t know that the post is even all that interesting or entertaining. But it is my most popular. This post gets more views than anything else I’ve done on this blog. So, for that alone, it merits a place on this list. I guess that’s something people really wonder about.

12. Freytag’s Pyramid vs. Non-endings in Storytelling

I am darn proud of this post. Get to explain foundational plot structure to you way better than your English teacher ever did, and bag on that punk Frank R. Stockton while I’m doing it. I feel really good about the things I discussed there. Think I talked about a smart but dry thing in a really entertaining way. There’s also been a fairly prolific writing vlogger who’s referenced the post and used the multi-climax pyramid I created for the post in a few of her videos, and it is incredibly fulfilling to me to have created something for other people to use and build off of. That was one of the things I had in mind when I was starting this blog, wanting to be a creator of content, not just consumer, and it’s really nice to see something I made contribute to something else. The left-handed posts did as well, but I can’t find the posters folks made off of them now.

So there. Go check out those posts. I like them, and I’ve got phenomenal tastes. You should too.

A Grinding Pain

I don’t like grinding.  Controversial statement there, I know.  Not exactly a whole lot of outlets out there being all like “This game has tons of beautiful grinding therefore 11/10!”.  Once upon a time, I actually rather enjoyed grinding.  Because I was a weird kid.  But particularly on handheld games, there was just something satisfying about having the GBA in my hands and the TV on and being able to pummel goons mindlessly as background noise while watching all my numbers go satisfying up.  I ground my way to a full 150 in my Pokedex way back in the day which is a hugely time consuming feat and don’t let anyone tell you different.  Of course, that was back in an era in which I had few games but copious amounts of free time.  Now, the situation has reversed.  And so too has my opinion on grinding.

The act of doing repetitive activities over and over past the point of enjoyment with minimal new content introduced in order to incrementally make your numbers bigger or gain desired resources.  Looking back, I realize I’ve done it a lot over the years.  The aforementioned full Pokedex.  Getting the Sword of Kings in Earthbound.  Building myself up to be able to take on the post game superdungeon in later versions of Final Fantasy VI.  Running back and forth in the sewers to level my party up until they have the skills I wanted to take down Matador in SMT: Nocturne.  Going through huge long ordeals to get the materials needed to craft better equipment in Dragon Quest VIII, which ultimately killed my interest and led me to quit the game just before it allegedly ‘gets good’.  Spending over an hour dodging lightning bolts in Final Fantasy X.  And I can go on.  Actually, it’s amazing how many distinct memories I have of grinding in games.  Like, all my gaming experiences, and that’s what I devote mental real estate to?  Weird.  Anyways, Red Metal had a game review a while back, I don’t remember which one but will probably update this with the link if he’s kind enough to remind me in the comments, where he talks about grinding as resonating with the Japanese cultural values of seeing results from hard work, and something that’s been frequent in JRPGs because of it.  And that makes a lot of sense to me.  At one point, I shared in it.  A lot of those memories above I look back on fondly.  But it’s not anything I want much to do with now.  

And my recent experiences show this is a practice that’s far from dying out.  Two games I’m currently playing, one from last year, one from a decade ago, both hit a point where grinding was necessary, for very similar reasons and for very similar results.

So, RPGs, right?  Some have more room for strategy and skill and alternate approaches than others, but at some level with all of them, you’ve got a set of numbers and you’re mashing it up against another set of numbers until you get the result you want.  But usually you’ve got plots going up alongside them too.  And when you’ve got gameplay and you’ve got plot, you want them to kind of sort of go along with each other.  Plot climaxes should follow or be followed by gameplay climaxes, generally.  So when you’ve got a game about numbers, that means big important characters should have big important numbers.  Now, your numbers are the most important, of course.  But they might not be the biggest.  So you have to grind to make them bigger.  

I’ve talked about Yakuza: Like a Dragon in this space before.  For the most part, my opinion is unchanged on it; I love most of it, but dislike the combat.  But I’ve also spent 55 hours in the game to this point, so you can take that for what you will.  Anyways, the game is divided into chapters.  I’m currently midway through Chapter 12, which so far, seems like the biggest chapter as far as the plot goes.  The game spends all of its early and mid acts setting up a complex and somewhat nonsensical set of dominoes, some of which it inherits from previous games from idly, and Chapter 12 is where it feels like it starts giving you all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to get the full picture and put together your gameplan for moving into the endzone.  I mix my metaphors like a boss.  Anyways, it’s a big momentous chapter.  And it starts by saying “HEY WE NEED 3 MILLION YEN FOR REASONS AND ALL THE CRIME LORDS ARE BROKE HOW ABOUT YOU GO GRIND FOR IT?”  Well, I didn’t grind for it.  Because as I said, I hate grinding.  Instead, I just spent 20 minutes running my bomber businesses, and got that 3 mil much easier.  So then, after that, it takes you some place.  And you’re like, “Oh man, I wasn’t expecting the game to go here, this is awesome!”  And then it’s like “OH HEY HOW ABOUT I TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO INTRODUCE YOU TO THE PERFECT PLACE TO GRIND.”  And you’re like, “No, thank you, grinding totally sucks.” And then your party members start encouraging you to GRIND but you ignore them because you’ve had no problem with any story encounter up to this point.  So you get back into the plot, which is really moving, and you’re heading to resolve a plot point that’s been hanging over things literally all game, so you move through the dungeon to do that, but then you run into some guys I don’t want to name because of spoilers but you’re like “Oh these guys are here? Things just got like 10 times more awesome now.  And I get to fight them?  That’s sweet!”  But then you realize those awesome guys who absolutely should be a challenging fight are ten levels above where you’re expected to be by this point and have some absolute bullhonky numbers that you can’t do anything about so they wipe the floor with you.  Like, not even trying. If you follow the game path as intended, even doing almost all the side content available to you up to that point, you’ve got no chance of beating them without grinding.  Your numbers just aren’t high enough to match theirs.  And Yakuza: Like a Dragon isn’t a game where strategy and prep work make a huge impact on the momentum of combat.  So you can’t smart your way out of it.  No, you have to take all that story momentum and all those awesome feelings at seeing those two badasses, for whom you’d be honestly disappointed if the boss fight was easy, and put them on hold while you go back and grind.  

And a blast from a decade earlier, at about the same time I hit that point in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, I also hit something similar in Devil Survivor.  Day 3, for which anyone who’s played the game instantly know what I’m talking about, but there’s a boss there that’s already been well established as one hard beefcake, who has shown up in gameplay before and left you no choice but to flee for your lives before him, and who is already prophecized to straight up murder your party at exactly that time.  This fight has to be tough.  And it delivers.  The general monsters around you are a step above the ones you have been facing up to this point and could potentially overwhelm you on their own, but the boss himself goes well beyond that.  Offensively powerful, can hit every member of your group on the map, and invincible to absolutely everything except for a single attack your protagonist has just for this battle.  Now, Devil Survivor is an SMT game, which usually has a heavy emphasis on the mental work over just raw numbers, so there’s still plenty of room to strategize your way past challenges without having to do a huge amount of grinding, but the only attack you have that can damage him?  It’s a physical attack, which means if you sacrificed physical might to make your protag an arcane powerhouse like I did, you still need to back off for a while to go hammer out a few levels you can put in your strength to do some decent damage.  Once again, at a big climactic plot point, but I had to run it back to go spend time doing something of minimal value only to go at it again feeling much more irritated.  

So, I’m not going to say there’s no value to mandatory grinding in a game.  I absolutely hated Dark Souls stupid checkpoint placements, but I do remember feeling early on in the game that there was an odd benefit there in needing to practice with the jobbers and slowly build up resources over the course of replaying familiar sections of the game again and again every time you lost.  But I am going to say I hate grinding, and if it has to happen, it needs to be well placed.  Both these examples landed their difficult spikes, and thus the necessity of grinding, right when their story momentum was reaching a height, and the necessity to take a break from the plot in order to get what I needed to move through it robbed the big moments of a lot of their impact and emotional gravitas.  It was horrible for plot pacing, in short.  And both of these have big story moves following those spiked battles, but it lost a bit of narrative continuity because I needed to stop and grind.  I don’t have a good solution to that.  Both of those fights needed to be hard, and needed to be harder than anything else you’ve faced.  But I do know that grinding is not the solution there.  Both of those imposed grinding at absolutely the worst place, and the stories suffered for it.  

Snap Judgements: Springfell

You get those strange feelings sometimes.  Those urges.  Those unusual desires which can only be fulfilled in one way.  You don’t need to speak them, I know.  Deep inside you, you have a passion, a craving, a drive, screaming at you for relief.  In polite society, you ignore it, pretend its not there, but its never far from your thoughts.  It’s more than a want, you need it to feel whole.  You find yourself saying in private moments, in hushed tones “I wish Aether would explain his thoughts on a bunch of video games in relatively short form.”  And it makes you feel dirty.  But it doesn’t need to.  Those desires, they’re perfectly healthy.  You don’t need to be ashamed of them.  Besides, I’m here to satisfy.  So go ahead.  Get yourself ready, and relax.  I’ll take the lead from here.

Batman: The Telltale Series

So there was that #LoveYourBacklog event we did a while back.  Answered a bunch of questions, talked about my giant but slowly shrinking backlog.  One of those questions was leading up to the #MaybeInMarch deal, where you take the game that’s been on your backlog for the longest time, Hitman Absolution in my case, and play through that in March.  I didn’t do that.  You might notice this about me, but I don’t play by your rules.  In fact, I don’t play by your rules so hard, that I instead played through the game that’s been on my back for the least time, instead.  So take that.  

In that post, I expressed that I had grown tired of Telltale’s usual “Everything is suddenly awful because we said so but really it’s your fault” style of storytelling, but held out hope that, given that they’re working with a property in Batman that’s generally more optimistic than their usual licenses, they’d be avoiding their usual habits with this.  And in large part, they did!  It trends towards the darker end of Batman stories, overall, and there’s times where things just go clumsily sour and there’s nothing you can do about it, but in the greater context where it’s not trying to beat you over the head with how awful everything is all the time, I had a much better time with it than I had with many of Telltale’s other narrative adventure fare.  It’s definitely not perfect, it still has a lot of the omnipresent Telltale Games writing flaws, false choices, and a sloppiness that grows the further the story progresses, but it also has a pretty strong beginning and does some unique things with the Batman property, and I did end up enjoying it much more than I though I would.

One thing I did absolutely love about this game was how it changed the standard Batman status quo.  Batman is one of those properties that, whatever your medium of choice, everyone knows, and knows fairly well.  You know Batman’s story.  You know his character traits.  You know his major antagonists.  Comics, film, tv, video games, books, beyond, Batman has been in them all.  It’s hard to make Batman stories in new mediums feel fresh.  Whereas Marvel’s Spider-Man (the PS4 game) surmounted this problem by highlighting a really solid villain from the relatively more recent comics that hadn’t been around long enough to gain such a hold in the public’s consciousness for most of the game in Mr. Negative, Telltale’s Batman gets over it by taking their most famous antagonists and changing them up entirely.  Batman and his usual circle of support are all the same, but the typical famous villains for him are completely different.  Two-Face arises in a situation rather different than what we usually find him in and as a result you don’t really know where things are going with him until they get there.  Penguin has a lot of traits in common with usual depictions of him yet is still completely unrecognizable.  Other famous villains show up in roles pretty far askance of what you’d usually find.  And the central villain of the piece is both a brand new character and is not at the same time.  I loved seeing how they shook up the traditional Batman characters, and that really got me much more interested in it throughout.

And for the record, I’m partway through Season 2 of Batman Telltale now, and although it still does some nice things with continuing shaking up the villains and supporting characters, but, although it was clear they planned for a season two initially, it’s just not as strong as the first.  Season 1 ends conclusively, minimal problematic sequel hooks and all, so it’s not diminishing the quality of the first, but it’s still a bit of a disappointment after how much I enjoyed the initial.  Maybe it’ll bring it back by the end, though.

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