Visual Novel Theatre: Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan

Here’s an odd one.  It’s a Japanese Visual Novel… with westerners as the target audience.  And it’s one that aims to be mostly practical, kind of a virtual tour guide of Japan.  Minimal fantasy here, all just storytelling that will teach you thing.  Edutainment.  From a company that typically makes H-games, no less.  And this is minimally H-y.  Only mild amounts of H here.  And pretty tame H too.  

In any case, I kind of wonder about the conversation that led to this being made.  Something like:

A: “So, I hear there are actually some people who like visual novels in all those heathen Western companies.  They’ve got money, maybe we should make something for them.”

B: “Really? I though visual novels were just a unique Japanese thing that other countries don’t really have the cultural factors and industry inertia to appreciate en masse.  Those Western visual novel fans must all be giant nerds.”

A: “Well, I don’t know about that. There is that Aether guy.  He seems incredibly cool.”

B: “Yeah, of course.  But aside from him.”

A: “Oh yeah.  GIANT nerds.”

B: “That gives me an idea.  If they like visual novels, they must like other aspects of Japanese culture.  Maybe they all want to visit.  So let’s make a visual novel about visiting Japan! And we’ll have the main character be the biggest nerd of all!”

A: “Genius!”

And that’s how Go! Go! Nippon! was born.

Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ takes you on a virtual tour of the country, with one of the two Misaki sisters as your tour guide-cum-love interest.  You will be introduced to several Japanese landmarks, learn big FACTS about Japanese culture, and see through the eyes of the biggest damn dweeb you could ever possibly imagine.

Yeah.  That’s this visual novel.  I can’t tell whether developer Overdrive is playing a trick on you, or this is what they think the average westerner interested in visiting Japan is like, of if they didn’t realize just how much of a dweebosaurus their viewpoint character is, but this guy.  This guy.  Such a monumental geek.  It’s absolutely cringeworthy at times.  This nerd is you.  You can name him after yourself.  Which is just going to make the subsequent scenes more funny.  For me.  Probably extra cringe for you.  I don’t recommend naming this guy after yourself, is what I’m saying.

So, your guy loves anime and all that Japan pop-culture stuff.  So much that he learned Japanese to a level that he’s fully fluent and hangs out on forums with Japanese citizens, and yet he somehow avoided picking up anything more than a very shallow cultural knowledge about the country.  Which is understandable from a storytelling perspective, given that he has to not know these things so that the Misaki sisters can tell him and, therefore, us, about them, and it wouldn’t be all that notable in a normal story, but combined with this dude’s personality it makes him seem an extra-large dweebenheimer.  So yeah, he met the Misaki sisters on that forum, and they agreed to host him for a week-long visit to Japan, so he saved up his money and flew out there.  But the sisters, Makoto and Akira, have gender-neutral names, and dude spent however many years convinced that they were actually the Misaki brothers, only finding out the truth when he showed up at the airport and started wondering why women were paying any attention to him whatsoever.  Also their parents aren’t home.  The implications are not lost on him.  But this isn’t an H-game, so nothing comes of it.  

So the visual novel runs along two lines.  Most of the time, it spends being remarkably practical, talking about the ins and outs of navigating Japan or introducing major landmarks or cultural features around Tokyo or Kyoto and giving the stories and whatnot around them.  The first three days of your trip, you’ll choose what location in Tokyo to visit, which will determine which of the sisters you’ll spend time with.  Whichever sister you’ve spent more time with by the time you hit the fourth day and the tale gets more linear will, inexplicably, fall for you.  So it’s not just educational.  It’s a love story, too.  

So, you get one side of facts.  One side of characterization.  The facts can be pretty interesting.  They range from taking you through the sort of things you probably already know if you’ve spent a decent amount of time with Japanese-set works (Japan has robot toilets! Hachiko has a story! Japanese houses are made with Tatami mats!) to things that I, at least, didn’t know (How to navigate paying for and entering subways! A whole bunch of cultural landmarks and the history behind them! Japanese bathrooms don’t have locks so don’t try the door without knocking if your sharing the home!).  I’ve never been to Japan, so I can’t say how useful it’d be, but it strikes me as having a bunch of bits that are helpful, but not nearly enough that you can rely on what you learn here alone.  Then again, it’ll be more entertaining than other guides, by virtue of, you know, having anime girls to go along with it.  Plot and characterization are rather shallow.  I won’t say it’s bad, but it’s not deep.  Makoto’s a traditional high-performing princess type.  Akira’s a tsundere.  I hate tsunderes.  Guess which one the game decided to hook me up with?  Your character wets himself regularly.  They do play with it a bit, in that although Makoto is more of what’s considered traditionally “feminine” in character, it’s Akira that has the more “feminine” hobbies.  Honestly, though, there’s not a lot of mileage to get out of that, especially as such distinctions have less and less weight culturally.  Beyond that, the plot just plays it safe.  Nothing with a lot of nuance, nothing that you haven’t seen before, nothing that takes any risks except for the fact that your lead character is such a huge dweebzilla.  I entertained myself quite a bit by screenshotting all the times the lead acted like a total loser (I got 99 pictures!) but I don’t think it’d be all that fun without it.  Like I said, it’s not a bad story, but it’s not good either.  It’s just kind of there.  It’s plain vanilla cake, no frosting.  From a box.  Overall, your enjoyment of this is going to rest on how much you enjoy all the tourism-related learning, more so than the story.  

Visuals are good for the most part.  The characters are decently designed, although I think Akira’s look is probably better in meatspace than it is in anime.  The backgrounds are absolutely excellent.  Very highly detailed, seems like they really capture the atmosphere they’re trying to project, and I’m assuming they’re really good representations of the real life fixtures they’re trying to transmit here.  At the least, they match up really well with photographs I’ve seen of these landmarks, so I’ve been giving them a lot of faith for their accuracy.  The CGs, big old splashes of character activity, are pretty good as well, the few times they come up.  Art is definitely the high point of this visual novel.  Which, I mean, normally they’re an erogame studio, so they’d better be good at their art, but they use it to really good effect here in this game that’s pretty light on the ero.

I lot of the other parts are just fine.  Sound is ok.  Music is forgettable, but not distracting, and matches the mood they’re going for well, generally.  Writing style is mostly fine.  Doesn’t get in the way, but also doesn’t really add to the work.  Plot is inoffensive, maybe trending to the bad.  It’s light on content, character driven, and one of those characters is a tsundere so…. Character conflict occurs late in the story, and at least on Akira’s route, was one of those deals that could have easily been solved if they just agreed to talk like two people who weren’t emotionally crippled for five minutes. But overall, the plot, such as it is, is fine, just running in some very well-worn ruts.  Nothing you haven’t seen before. It’s all safe. Riskless. And in doing so, it doesn’t reach itself toward anything.

Which kind of puts this game in a weird place.  What purpose is this serving?  As a guide for travel to Japan, it’s not content-dense enough to be super useful.  As an entertainment medium, it doesn’t even try to dazzle.  Now, there is definitely something to the fact that you will learn more from something that entertains you, and maybe it holds value there, but otherwise, this has the Red Mage problem.  Doesn’t educate you as well as other things you could get just as easily.  Doesn’t entertain you as well as other things you could get just as easily. Maybe if you’re really curious about Japanese tourism and just starting to dip your toes into it, this could be worthwhile to you.  But otherwise, I’ve completed it once, and I don’t have any urge to do so again.

Project G-Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Alternative Title: The grand finale that wasn’t really the grand finale. OR The one that did the Avengers thing before it was cool.

So, it’s 1967 or whenever this film was being made.  The Godzilla movies were once a big deal, but ticket sales had been sunsetting, and it wasn’t the solid moneymaker it once was.  Toho decided that maybe it was time for a change.  Let’s give the Godzilla film series one big finale, then let’s move it from movies to a cartoon show.  The kids love the cartoons, right?  Except it’ll be anime.  Because we’re Japanese.  That’s what we’ll do!  So they got all the people most responsible for making the Godzilla franchise what it was together, told them to give it a big send off.

Then all these guys, director Ishiro Honda, special effects producer Eiji Tsuburaya (supervising, his protege actually handled the work here, but still), composer Akira Ifukube, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, they were all sitting together, thinking, “You know?  This will be the last Godzilla film.  And even if, by some crazy, insane miracle that nobody can even dream of, something so infinitisemally possible it’s not even worth talking about, it’s not, it’ll still be the last time we’re all working together.  We need to send if off in some great way.  But how do we take this big, dumb series, and give it a finale that will make a proper impact?”

They found an answer.  And that answer is to make it biggest and the dumbest.  And not just of Godzilla.  This is the Avengers of Godzilla films.  The culmination of the kaijuverse.  Godzilla already absorbed monsters from other films, but this one is the king of it.  We don’t just get Godzilla and his rogue’s gallery here. This film is importing Kaiju from a whole bunch of movies in Toho’s shared universe. This is the crisis crossover, the end of this entire universe of stories.

And obviously, it worked.  It wasn’t the highest reviewed at the time, but it resonated really well with the general audience, and brought in enough dough that Tojo shelved their plans to shelve the series, and had them doing a whole bunch of follow up films.  Moreover, time has been far kinder to the film, and it ranks in the list of top Godzilla movies today.  

It’s also a pretty significant turning point for the film.  As previously stated, this is the last time a lot of the key creative minds in the Godzilla franchise all worked on one of its movies together.  This is also, thanks to the big time jump, the final chronological story of the Showa era.  So the handful of movies coming after this all took place beforehand.  Meaning this is the one that gets to have the final say on what this segment of the Godzilla canon is to be.  

So, what’s the Aether take on it?  How does it hold up?  Aether loves big dumb things, but is this the right kind of big and the right kind of dumb?

Let’s explore.

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D&D… on’t Know What I’m Doing but it’s Ok

So, you know how I do that rambly introduction for a couple of paragraphs whenever I’m making a new post? I was set to do one of those here about how I didn’t have the time for any of the larger posts I’ve been wanting to do so here’s a quick bit about what’s been on in my Dungeons and Dragons life. But you know what? That’s not perfectly accurate. It’s true that I haven’t really had the time to do the larger posts I’ve been wanting to do, but honestly, I just want to talk about Dungeons and Dragons today anyway. Even if I had the time, this is what we’d be doing. So let’s do that.

As I mentioned some months ago, I’m a newbie GM with a bunch of much more experienced players. I kind of fell into the role by default, as I was the one to get our group back together after we finished up our last campaign and everyone did their own thing for a while, and nobody else wanted to run the game so it fell to me. But I’ve actually been enjoying it, and I’ve been doing my best to put up a good game. Which has been a bit of a learning process, has required me to pick up a lot of new skills, has seen me through a bunch of missteps, and it takes a good chunk of time, but I think it’s been fulfilling.

I do have a particularly major challenge I’m facing, though. You remember last time we talked about this, how I mentioned that “Your players will follow your lead, easily”? I look at that now. I was such a fool. Such an incredibly sexy, genius fool. How naive was I, then? I imagine any GM with experience was just laughing at me there. What’s the saying, “No plan survives first contact with your players.”? I have been coming to respect that more and more. There was one point that I was thinking on reaching out for help, finding some more experienced GMs and running by them what they think I should do. But as I’m spending more and more time with this, I’m starting to discover, that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

The game I run is pretty heavy on the roleplaying aspect. Between having some long scenes of interaction and nonviolent conflict, as well as my habit of not calling for a skill check in social situations if the players just roleplay it well enough and it seems like the sort of thing that would reach their goal, sometimes a few hours will go by without anyone rolling any dice. So, the players are getting really into their characters. At least, I think this is where this is coming from. In any case, I assume, because they’re so into their characters, when tight situations (read: combat) come up, they don’t typically act in the most tactically advantageous manner. This group will split up all the time, with some members going off and doing things that I hadn’t even thought of. Which makes it really hard to plan out content for them.

So, we’re in a fantasy post-apocalyptic world. Our PCs are part of a village that a dragon decided to put together that, as far as anyone knows, is the only large gathering of survivors in the known world. And it gets attacked all the time. The world, whatever is left of it, is ruled by some almost omnipotent jerk that wants to torment everyone in it for his own amusement. Someone in the village falls pregnant, evil overlord sends one of his knights to declare he’s going to be taking that baby once its born and raise it in some faraway location for purposes they don’t understand. That’s just his rules. The village leader doesn’t want that to happen, but knows the town can’t stand against the overlord, so he tracks down an out-of-village survivor that has some information on where the overlord takes the babies, and sends out our heroes to go snoop on the place, get some information on it so that if the village needs to plan a big rescue operation later, they’re prepared to do so. Our party sets off, tracks down a boat, beats some monsters using it, then head off to the island that has the location in question. All as intended.

I was really proud of that island. Put a lot of work into it. It was going to delve into the backstory of one of the player characters quite a bit, had some work that was going to progress a subplot involving another character, and the way to get to the building filled with enemies that were demonstrably too strong to take on directly but also very dense which I had assumed would lead to good opportunities for the more stealth-oriented character to do his thing. I had a couple dozen NPCs there, all with their own little backstories and side plots, and a big old web of how they interacted with each other. Had a number of potential allies they could recruit for the village and build up their community’s long term strength. Set up a few magic items there, too, specifically geared toward increasing one character in combat viability and given him similar narrative resources to what all the others had. I had a lot in there for them.

And everything fell apart. The player of the character that I had the subplot going for could not make any session of that adventure, so that ended up getting canned. The character for whom a lot of his backstory was going to get explored on the island got scared by the enemies there and just completely ran away, leading me to have to ad-lib a whole series of encounters for him for which I had prepared absolutely no material for beforehand. The group found the aforementioned loot, but ended up leading the area guards right to it and abandoning the area before they could pick anything up, so no real improvements in the character’s strengths there. The stealth focused character couldn’t figure out the stealth challenge and so mostly served as a distraction for the one character who was slipping inside. And that character, the one for whom I hadn’t written any material around on this part of the adventure, ended up doing everything single-handedly, but was so direct and violent about it that the group missed out on pretty much all the interwoven plots I had built in there, and only one of the potential allies was willing to go back with them, and he wasn’t willing to stick around them on a permanent basis afterwards. At the end, they didn’t even get enough information for a viable mission into the island later. They survived the adventure, but they failed in about every way possible, and they had nothing to show for their time spent doing so.

At the time, I had worried about that. Thought that meant I was a bad GM running a bad game. The the group would split up to the point that they were all essentially on their own adventures that, thanks to the one guy just straight booking it, didn’t even get back together by the time the chapter was done. It was a bit frustrating to me, as my material didn’t end up telling the story I wanted to tell, and I was worried it was leading to a bad experience for them, as they were going through a lot of content I hadn’t planned for. As I’ve been spending time with this though, building my skills and experiences as a GM, I’m learning that moments like those are really the beauty of this sort of interactive storytelling. I think the reason my group splits apart so much and behaves in ways that are mechanically suboptimal is because they get so into their characters and feel that they have the freedom to do that, both of which are things that we should be aiming for in the GM. And the fact that sometimes they fail, and fail hardcore, even if they survive, is a good thing. Both the story and the game are stronger for it.

And as I get more comfortable as a GM, I’m more aware that it’s not like anything is lost when they screw up. All the important bits that they didn’t see can come back later, if I so choose. They completely missed out on that one character’s backstory? Well, they may coincidentally come across a location that also ties into his backstory in the future, and I can use all that stuff then. They just skip over some enemies or an area that I painstakingly built just for them? That stuff can be reflavored and recycled into later encounters. If I want them to go through something, I can make sure they go through something. Just may not always be when I expect them to go through it.

Moreover, I’m starting to learn that I have the skills to still put together a good time, even when I’m pulling things out of my marvelously toned rear end. At least, I think I am. You’ll have to ask my players to be sure. I’ve got a habit of having at least the story bits of the next couple arcs planned out at any given time, so if someone goes way off the planned path? It’s pretty easy to use it as an opportunity to foreshadow something that’ll be coming down the pipe in the future. Some does something I don’t expect with a character? I’m a case manager. I work with the nature of personalities, values, and choices for a living. I can act out a character appropriately in most any circumstance. If I need to change or create a plot on the fly, I’ve got enough amateur fictioning experience to do that and make it seem rather complete. I spent years being into only roleplay writing, so adapting a story to other PCs is a piece of cake.

It’s gotten to the point that recently, one of the players had made a choice that ended up completely derailing things for about a session and a half, and I was able to just roll with it. The village was invaded by forces way too powerful for any of them to stand up against, so they had to punch their way out and evacuate as many as they could. It was clearly established that going back in was a BAD IDEA. However, one of the characters left his gear in there. He wanted to go back in to get it. He convinced one of the others to help him. So the snuck away from the rest of the party and did so. That set off a whole chain of events leading to one of them being trapped in a burning building, the other disappearing and reappearing under suspicious circumstances, and the other two had to go in and rescue them, leading to things getting even messier to the point that one of the PCs died to give the others the chance to flee. All completely unplanned. But I was able to get it together on the fly using maps I already had, creatures I had already created, and groups I already knew the motivations for. And honestly, I’m pretty proud of it.

In GMing, I am telling a story, yes. But it’s not just my story. And it’s wrong to view the main characters as being out of my control. They’re not intended to be in my control. We’re all telling this story together. And some of the best moments can come from the times where we’re all just barely hanging on.

Visual Novel Theatre- Analog: A Hate Story

Ok, here’s the deal.  Working from home has led to me playing a lot more visual novels.  Taking my lunches in my War Room makes that a bit more convenient.  So we may be seeing some more of these posts in the future.  Recently, I played/read through Analog: A Hate Story by Christine Love, and wanted to give myself a blast from the past, given that two of her earlier works were two of my first posts in this blog that has a hell of a lot of tenure in the old blogosphere.  But, time’s at a premium.  So I’m going to challenge myself here.  Set myself a time limit.  Write this, quick and dirty, in the time I have available before my next engagement. So, this is going to be rough.  No editing.  Little polish.  Minimal talking about how sexy I am.  Which is very.  Just so you know.


I’m getting sidetracked.

Analog: A Hate Story is, as the name implies, a successor to Christine Love’s first work, Digital: A Love Story, and you could maybe call a sequel because for all I know they take place in the same continuities.  You’re some sort of future space scavenger.  Which basically just means that you go into space and hack dead people’s email accounts.  Somebody hires you to go do that to the Mugunghwa, an old Korean space ship that’s just shown up on the parts of space that people bother looking at again after like a thousand years.   So you go there and start up the ship and it turns out you’re the first person to do anything with the ship in like 600 years, and everyone’s dead, and even before everyone died things went to hell.  So you talk to the AI and snoop through people’s e-mails, which are strangely full of logs that are actually useful and descriptive and more like diary entries and there’s not a penis enlargement spam thing to be seen.  I don’t know why they keep sending those to me.  My penis is glorious enough already.

I’m getting sidetracked.

Gameplay-wise, the ship itself, you control through a text parser.  When you activate the AI, you’ll get a more flexible interface to be reading all the stuff.  The AIs are very advanced, incredibly human-like, and have their own motivations, actions, and what not.  Unless you know the right codes, you can only see whatever e-mails the AI are willing to show you.  The AI’s ability to directly accept speech has been broken, so your interactions with them are limited to answering binary questions they present to you and showing them whatever emails/log entries you want them to comment on.  And, that’s how you progress through it.  Read the stuff, slowly piece the story together, try and get enough of a dialogue going with the AIs to get to the real good plot-twisty material.  

The plot itself largely centers around sexism.  And before we get the idiots from both sides that seem to make up the loudest voices whenever sexism comes up in games, this is a specific type of sexism, that doesn’t really apply to modern day life.  No matter how much said idiots talking about the game online seem to try to make it do so.  In the ship, it looks like most everyone all died at one specific year.  300 years or so before that, something happened to the ship that set their culture, collective knowledge, and overall intelligences back to a Joseon-era Korea style community.  So this is about sexism in Joseon-era Korea.  With artificial intelligence.  And e-mail.  And spaceships.  It’s a weird sort of anachronism that honestly seems a little forced, although the VN doesn’t say why they got culture-shocked back to the bad times so maybe it makes more sense once the sequel picks it up.  In any case, when that happened, AI memory got wiped and reprogrammed, everyone turned into idiots, and things got bad.  Like, we see it from the women’s point of view most often, and they definitely got the short end of the stick, but backwards societies are no good for anybody, and, realistically, nobody’s really living up to their potential there.  Birthrates have been falling to an incredible degree, men and women’s roles are sharply divided and both are recognized solely for their political positioning rather than their merit, few know how to actually work the technology they depend on to survive and they have even less knowledge of medicine, old age sets in when people are in their 20s to 30s, etc.

C’mon Aether, gotta pick up the pace here.

Witcher 2 and Tough Love Training

I’ve gotten pretty good at video games, in general.  I won’t say I’m the best.  It’s not hard to find someone better than me at any given challenge.  Now am I necessarily good at all games.  You could probably beat be at a racing or fighting game.  Or a rhythm game.  Or one of those sportsers.  Or… you know what?  We’ll just stop there.  In general, overall, I’m pretty good.  And I’m starting to get an appreciation for those games and challenges that have made me better.  We’ve talked about a few of them here.  Ninja Gaiden honed my instincts and reflexes.  The Dark Souls run taught me to make full use of my resources.  Well, I want to honor another such experience I’ve had lately.  I played Witcher 2.  And it, too, has made me better at video games.

Witcher 2 is perhaps not as hard as Ninja Gaiden or Dark Souls was, but it was just as much of a tough love teacher for me.  The important thing about that game lie in just how its combat system works.  In contrast to the OG Witcher game, where almost all the gameplay that mattered was tied up in your preparation and planning, Witcher 2 is a lot more active.  It has a structure you might recognize from other games.  You’ve got a light and a strong attack.  You can dodge roll or block.  You can fire off a spell or chuck knives or bombs, if you’re needing ranged attacks.  If you break it down like that, it sounds a lot like your typical action game.

And it plays a lot like a typical action game, which is what made it such an effective teacher for me.  Every single instinct I had told me that I could just wade into a fight like I would in many other games and trust in my reflexes and spur of the moment decisions to see me through.  So I would do that.  And I would die, so many times, to random gangs of jobbers.  Because while the Witcher 2 feels like an action game, it’s not.  It’s an RPG.  That has its roots in the first Witcher, where anticipating situations, crafting solutions, and making the right choices of your preparations before you ever wandered into the fight were the big keys to making it anywhere.  If you’re playing Witcher 2 at any higher level than easy, your enemies are as strong or stronger than you and can bring you down in just a couple of hits, and the controls, although they’re a lot more free that in many other RPGs, still aren’t fluid enough to let you weave into and out of enemies like you could in something like Bayonetta.  If you want success in this game, you need to unlearn a lot of the lessons that action games have taught you, and actually think about and strategize your fights.

That’s a hard lesson to learn.  “I’m playing stupid” became a common refrain of mine when I found myself falling to a challenge that seemed completely feasible to me, needing to remind myself that I couldn’t just hack and slash through whatever like I could with most games.  Success required preparations.  Walking into a fight without using alchemy to buff myself and my weapons, without a good set of traps and bombs at hand, and without an idea of what I wanted to do with my spells would quickly lead to my demise.  And the game didn’t make the planning process easy, either.  The whole system was built around managing downsides.  Blocking and spells used up the same meter, and using that meter reduced your damage, so if I was needing to play defensively or use some of the powerful magic effects, I needed to be prepared to be a bit less sword-happy.  Yet, trying to keep my sword damage at max made my Geralt inflexible and rather vulnerable, and particularly poor at dealing with crowds.  The most powerful buffs came with equally powerful debuffs.  I could significantly increase my damage at the cost of significantly reducing my health.  I could speed up greatly how fast I regenerated the blocking and magic juice, but I’d get hit hard by status effects if I did so.  Preparing for a battle wasn’t so much a matter of picking which numbers I wanted to go up as it was a matter of trying to determine a significantly varying strategy for a potentially unknown situation and sticking with it until it worked.

And I had to do that again, and again and again.  Fall into old habits, realize I’m playing stupid, then stop turning my brain off and relying on pure twitch gameskills and actually think about it.  Use my reflexes, yes, but don’t rely on them wholly.  The Witcher 2 had me practice this again and again until I finally started to get used to the idea that I actually had to use my conscious mind in a fight, not just the instinctual one.  And since I finished that game and moved on to other ones, that practice has stuck with me.  The “I’m playing stupid” and actually strategizing on top of my raw skills has been coming again.  And I’ve been seeing faster successes because of it.  

So yeah, at this point in my gaming career, it’s starting to get a bit rare to see the game that can have the sudden and long-term impact on my skill like this.  Witcher 2 has made me a better player.  And that’s something to celebrate.  

Project G-Son of Godzilla (1967)

Alternate Title: Ok, I guess Godzilla’s a dad now?

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I don’t care about this movie.  You can’t make me care about this movie.  I can barely bring myself to write this post.

That’s how you know this post is going to be a good one, right?

So this movie is another Jun Fukuda joint, the same director behind the previous film that wasn’t quite up to what we’ve come to expect from Godzilla and didn’t make a whole heck of a lot of sense but was still kind of ok.  As I believe I previously mentioned Fukuda wasn’t a big fan of his own Godzilla output in retrospect, although I would say he’s probably being a bit too harsh on himself, overall.  He did make a few that are really good for those like me who love the extra dumb ridiculous stuff.

That probably doesn’t sound like it’s a compliment, but I’m intending it as such.

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Where was I?  Oh yeah, I was crapping all over this movie.  So whereas Ishiro Honda would direct Godzilla films to be about big dumb monster action but also had this hidden theme of social commentary layered underneath it, and underneath that would have a sense of vague sense of “you know, this is all good fun but this would also be crazy horrible to live through”.  Three layers there.  It’s like a cake where the top layer is crazy fun but the middle layer has encyclopedia pages in it that make you think of how horrible society as a whole is, and the bottom layer has a picture of your abs crying in it so you regret the whole thing.  That analogy got away from me a bit, I think.  But yeah, Honda’s movies were more dumb fun that made you think a bit about it.  Jun Fukuda cut out the thinking part.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it didn’t.  It didn’t here.

Son of Godzilla is notable for introducing Minilla, the hideously ugly Godzilla baby whose existence proves there is no such thing as a kind and loving god in the Godzilla universe.  Even as far as child-relating young versions of Godzilla, Minilla somehow manages to be even less cool than Godzooky, and at the modern day, we’ve gotten exposed to Godzilla Jr. who is both way cuter than Minilla could ever be and could mop the floor with him without even getting short of breath.

Minilla

Look at him.  Doesn’t that make your soul shrivel up a little?

Anyways, lets get on with the recap.

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The Mystery Blogger Award!

A while back, we got another one of those social bloggy award things.  And you know what, it’s time to run those down.

So our blog award today comes courtesy of noted friend-of-Aether Red Metal, and I think this one, the Mystery Blogger Award, is in fact one that I haven’t gotten before.  Given how award winning this blog is, that’s becoming more and more of a rarity.  So, Red Metal, thank you for the easy content and the opportunity to express myself.  And hey, you like video games, or movies, and hate traditional media critics, you should give his site a looksee.  You’ll probably like what you see there.

Jumping in, we’ve got 11 questions to run down.

  1. What’s the most unusual work you’ve ever experienced?

I had to think long and hard about this one.  There’s a lot of values for unusual that we could go with here.  Maybe the works that make a point of being unusual?  Or how about the ones that have a whole bunch of elements that only seem connected by PCP?  Or maybe we should take a look at the things that have never been replicated, or the ones that came out of strange circumstances, or the ones that speak to me in a way I don’t think they’re going to to another human being alive?

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In the end, I just kind of settled on the Sword of Truth series.  This is not the most unusual work by many of the metrics I listed above, but it is very notable for being the absolute best example I can think of for when editors look at something, figure ‘eh, it’s still making money’, and let the creator just have whatever they want out of it.  For a long time.  It’s a huge novel series, I think twenty one novels as of this current writing, and I kind of checked out of it at around book 10 so it could be going even stranger places than I remember.  It starts out as something of a more typical fantasy novel, albeit with a side villain that rapes little boys serving a biggest villain that will make little boys come to a familial love with him so he can murder them in magic rituals and also the lead character spends a lot of time being captured by murder BDSM practitioners and the titular Sword of Truth is a magic sword that makes people really really angry and apparently that helps them find the truth, so you know, your value of typical may vary.  Then, it got successful.  Then, author Terry Goodkind got to do whatever he wanted with it.  And author Terry Goodkind loves two things; 1: writing incredibly detailed, lavish descriptions of settings and actions that end up stretching the plot so long that he runs out of space and time at the end of the book and has to rush to wrap everything up in as few pages as possible, and 2: creating incredibly strange situations so he can force his sometimes stupid political views down your throat.  Over the course of the series, the hero has murdered the local equivalent of the senate because he grew tired of their politics working against him, slaughtered a bunch of pacifists, decided that it’s foolish to believe in the afterlife in spite of the fact that he has been to the afterlife and has regularly spoken with the spirits of the dead and the devil equivalent, has a personal army of torturers, marries someone that comes from a clan of women that reproduce solely by raping men they’ve turned into mind-slaves and forcing them to kill any male children that result, and he’s the hero.  Anyone that has a problem with any of that is wrong and evil.  You’re expected to take it all as completely, unambiguously capital-r Right.  Also, he’s a magician, but his magic works by emotion and need which is basically a means for the author to write in whatever the plot needs to move forward without bothering to justify it.  Like, it’s in his magic that he just instinctively knows whatever to do without needing to learn it or actually figure things out…3

It’s actually kind of interesting to see, this is how far someone can take stuff like this.  The thing that makes this unique, is that it’s sometimes actually rather well written.  Like, the author is not like most that’ll devolve into just going on screeds all the time, where it largely seems to be that they don’t have skill beyond the central idea.  Terry Goodkind has real fantasy writing skills when he feels like using them.  He just doesn’t, most of the time.

  1. What is the best work you have experienced that no one else seems to know about?

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Here’s another one that’s taking some thought, and I can go a couple of ways with it.  Orwell is the one that rises to the top of my mind, though.  It’s a 5 episode game, kind of visual novel-esque, where you’re working for the government of a rather oppressive country, basically spying on people’s digital communications and passing information you find there on to a handler in order to try and track down a gang of terrorists.  It’s very well written and plays with its medium very well.  The story branches in a few select moments based on what information you choose to pass on, if anything, and the choices actually do seem meaningful and nuanced in a way that constantly had me questioning the choices I was making and the outcomes I was pushing for.  It had a central mystery that I kind of got wrong in rather glorious fashion and enjoyed every step of my process getting there.  And it brings a surprising amount of tension for a game in which you’re staring at fake e-mails and chatlogs all the time.  I had a rather great time with it, but it’s not one I’ve heard of from anywhere else.

  1. If you could go back in time and go to the premiere of a classic film, which one would you choose?

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The 2013 Lone Ranger.  Which is an odd one, given that the film is really not great, but it’s a personal one.  I worked on the film.  It was a rather small capacity, but there’s one scene that would have been very different if I wasn’t involved.  However, I’m not in the credits, nor was any acknowledgment ever forthcoming.  The production company originally working on the film was happily working with my organization, then a dispute caused Disney to can them and get another production company on it, who were just coincidentally wanting to do the exact same scene in the exact same area with the exact same resources that the original production company was planning, but if they publicly acknowledged my organization or anyone else who was involved in that, they’d basically be admitting they were stealing work.  So yeah.  It’s not something I’m bitter about, but it’d be nice to have my part in it recognized, so that’s why I’d want to head to the premier.

  1. If you decided to write fiction, which genre would you choose?

This is an easy one.  I have written fiction.  And I go for speculative fiction stuff.  Sci-fi, fantasy, or magical realism that’s kind of heavy on the magic.  I enjoy constructed worlds, or having places that aren’t where I’m currently living.

  1. What is the most disappointingly predictable plot twist you’ve ever experienced?

The Passion of the Christ.  Jesus coming back from the dead at the end.  C’mon, totally saw that coming.

  1. What do you consider to be the strangest title for a work?

Let’s talk Touhou.  I’m not sure what their naming conventions for their games are, but I’m pretty sure it involves an English dictionary and a dart board.  Let’s see, some examples:

  • Antimony of Common Flowers
  • Faith in the Goddess of Suwa
  • Immaterial and Missing Power
  • Shoot the Bullet
  • Undefined Fantastic Object
  • Double Dealing Character

Granted, I’ve never played any of the games, so maybe there’s a way to parse the titles and have them make sense, or interpret what the content of the games are, or something.  I’m betting not, though.

  1. Where in a theater do you prefer to sit?

In the middle, and high enough up that I’m either looking straight at or down at the screen.  Looking up doesn’t bother me as much as it seems to others, but it’s not my preference.  I hate spending the whole film looking slightly to the left or right, however.

  1. Do you have any graphic novel/manga series you’re currently following?

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Yeah, a couple.  Now that they’ve been releasing omnibusses for it, I’ve been catching up on the Grant Morrison run on Batman, which I think is one of the best runs Batman’s had.  It does some really interesting things, treating everything that’s ever happened to Batman as canon, but largely shuffling aside the stories and characters everyone knows in favor of the weird, the obscure, and the cringeworthy stuff, so much so that the Batman fans are just as lost as the newcomers, and then interpreting those into the current bits.  It also brings up some consequences for that weird not-supposed-to-be-canon time Batman got raped in the 80s, had the original Robin take a role as a rather different but frankly excellent in his own right Batman, and introduced some really interesting villains on top of Batman’s usual rogue’s gallery.  Unfortunately, some of the greater DC universe stuff at the time lended some things that didn’t really mesh well with the traditional street level Batman, and I’m not as much a fan of the Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman Inc. lines as many others are, but overall, it’s a frankly excellent run.

I’ve also been reading through the X-men, started with the originals some time ago and am just now getting caught up to the modern era.  They were never as great as they were when Chris Claremont was writing them, although there are some quality stories in there over the years as well.  And I picked up basically all the published works of Hiro Mashima a while back through Humble Bundle, and I’ve been working my way through Fairy Tail.  It’s kind of a typical shonen thing, and it suffers a bit from the author obviously going by the seat of his pants, but it starts to get pick up a bit and try a lot of new things around the middle of its run that have me interested, so far.

  1. When it comes to reviewing films, which do you feel are more effective – traditional, written reviews or video essays?

Written.  In general, I prefer written reviews.  More content in less time, they don’t require presentation or editing skills to get ideas across effectively, and it feels a bit easier to explore the ideas being presented.  I’m well aware my take on things and what’s important to me doesn’t exactly match up with most other people’s, so I prefer to be able to get my own take on the review and filter it through my own preferences, and that’s a lot easier to do when its written.

Although I kind of wonder, given that this question is posed to a bunch of bloggers, if there might be more of a tilt that direction.

  1. What aspects of old-school game design do you wish would make a comeback?

I’d like to see more turn-based RPGs gone through a modern lens.   To some extent, turn-based battle systems have largely gone a way, and in a lot of cases I’d say rightfully so because a lot of developers would just end up leaving them rather mindless in design, just hammer the A/X button until you beat the game.  But I do think there’s definite potential in the structure.  Zeboyd Games has shown that by bringing some more activity and strategy into the turn based structure, Shin Megami Tensei manages it by putting enough pressure on you that you have to strategize within it, and the Mario RPG’s action commands inject energy.  It’s never gone away completely, there’s always our Pokemons and what not out there, but I’d like to see it more, albeit with modern sensibilities and creativity in mind.

  1. What aspects of old-school game design are you glad went away?

Lives and continues.  Frankly, I think doing away with those really opened up the medium as a whole.  Repetition is not good for entertainment, being sent back to the start upon enough failure would ruin storytelling, and severe consequences for failure means that the challenges need to be simpler and easier to maintain interest.  Doing away with those let developers up the complexity, give more long-term storytelling, and expand their games a lot more.  We’re better with saves and checkpoints, overall.

Eyes on Judgement

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If you know anything about me, you know this world is a far better and sexier place with me around.  But that’s not super relevant to this post.  You might also know that I’m a big Yakuza fan.  Like, the series, not the organized crime bastards.  I love the games.  The extreme manly drama, the pitting of the romanticized noble criminal ideal against the wicked pragmatic crimelords that exist in the same sphere, the excellent and fast-paced action, the city district we’ve gotten to know so well that it’s almost a character in itself, the placing of dark story beats right alongside impossible to take serious goofiness, it fills a very warm place in my cold, dark heart.

However, the series is in a place of big transition right now.  Yakuza 6 broke the mold in a lot of ways.  The biggest, after 20 some years in meat-time and with us watching through Kiryu’s eyes over an in-universe time period from the late 80s up until the end of the new 10s, and the developers decided it was time to close the book on him.  They closed the book in a way that they can and almost certainly will open it up again, but for the time being, the developers are serious that whatever Kiryu’s future involvement, he’s not going to be the center of the story anymore.  Which, honestly, has been a long time coming.  With the series kind of trying to hold onto at least something of a realistic sense in its conflicts, they’ve long had troubles with managing Kiryu’s in-universe power level.  Yakuza 1 started with him being feared, and saw him, with some complicating factors on his side, just rampage through the strongest yakuza family in his area.  Yakuza 2 had him as an absolute legend, and saw him as the muscle of a small group that conquered like four crime families.  Yakuza 3 had to have an absolutely ridiculous plot bringing in the CIA just to up the stakes enough to where his power standings at this point was.  Yakuzas 4 and 5 had to sidestep the issues by having Kiryu as the member of a team of player characters with the least direct involvement in the plot just to keep things feeling threatening, and even then 5 still had Kiryu end a gang war single-handedly take on every single member of another crime family. At the same time.  And win.  At the end of the first act.  So yeah, his power level was a big in-story issue, and there was only so long they could stave it off with prequels and side games.  So it makes sense that they’d see him retire from his main character role at the end of 6.

But we still need our Yakuza fix.  And sure, there’s Yakuza 7 coming out, but what if that’s not good enough for you?  What if you want a completely new perspective of the Yakuza series?  What if you were really curious about what a Yakuza game would be like as seen through the lens of Phoenix Wright?

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Judgement is a Yakuza game through and through.  And it manages to be something different at the same time.  The gameplay is familiar.  The setting, which has been so integral to the series, is familiar.  The spirit behind the game is familiar.  But now, we’re looking at it through a new lens, and in a game that’s willing to break the traditional franchise rules.  Let’s jump into that.

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Apocalypse Log: Part 3

Again, crossposting the stuff I’ve been writing to amuse myself and my family to hopefully amuse you guys too.

Apocalypse Log: Day 18

Scavenged at the grocery store today. Barely escaped with my life. Mutants were everywhere.

Apocalypse Log: Day 19

Apparently Chaos Demons feed off of each other. When you separate them, you have considerably less Chaos Energy to dispel. Without her younger sister, the older one periodically decides to just clean the house when she gets bored. Or she’ll do her homework. She’s generally out of the way. This is amazing. Takes me back to a fonder day, one I can barely remember now.

Apocalypse Log: Day 25

I had to drive to Denver today. For essential business, yes, but it’s always a pain going to Denver. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Denver is what, in the old world, we used to call a city. It runs younger and more hipstery than most, and has inexplicably summoned a murderous horse-devil to a place of honor in its airport, but otherwise, mostly typical. It does have one fatal flaw however. Some years ago, as far as I can tell, Denver decided it didn’t have enough space in its schedule for both drivers ed classes and its autoerotic asphyxiation course, so apparently it decided to just teach people to do both at the same time the way everyone in Denver drives.

So, even though there was only a fraction of the usual traffic on the road, two times, I still had to combat mutants driving two ton death machines trying to murder me. I’m not sure whether that’s because of the apocalypse, or just business as usual for Denver.

Apocalypse Log: Day 31

Went scavenging at Costco today. Supplies were surprisingly intact, likely because Costco itself exists inside a separate dimension of which only the select few may enter with their sanity intact. Costco can be very dangerous in the best of times. The Madness of Stuff it instills can drive a strong soul to a sobbing quiver. It is impossible to accurately describe to one who has not already endured it. Costco is a test of character, it likely has what you desire, but you must walk the shifting halls in a realm where time has no meaning while gremlins offer you samples seeking to fill your shallow physical needs to distract you on the path there. There is no rhyme or reason to that place. Shredded cheese is not located near the sliced cheese. Fresh fruits are in a garage connected to the butcher’s station. Port existed there last week, it’s gone now. You could die in Costco, and nobody would ever notice in those winding halls.

It is a true peril to your physical life and your mortal soul, but it was fully stocked with supplies, so I unlocked the dimensional portal with my membership card and headed inside. In spite of the cabal’s initial advice that this was utterly useless, now, we’re supposed to wear masks, I assume so the mutants don’t see how beautiful we are and attack us out of jealousy of what they have lost. Following this guidance, I shrouded myself in an American Flag bandanna and put on my leather gloves for safety. Thus dressed like I was going to rob the place, I walked into the portal as if I was going to rob the place. Nobody batted an eye. I assume because they’ve been robbed plenty of times since the apocalypse started already. I did not proceed to rob the place.

It seems a few of the mutants have glommed onto the idea that those of use still clean have started to wear masks, but don’t quite seem to understand why. I spotted one older mutant wearing what was clearly a pair of Pokemon underpants as a mask. An odd sight, but it makes me stand out less, so I rolled with it. Walking among the mutants was a strange experience, but not an eventful one. I did manage to escape intact, but not entirely successful. Costco has still buried my port under the waves of time.

Apocalypse Log: Day 32

As part of my employer’s efforts to make me a hero and save people from being cast out into the cold, probably Infected streets, I’ve talked to hundreds of people with our emergency assistance interview processes. I’ve started to notice that perhaps there’s a tell, in this stranger apocalypse where you never know who is truly safe to be around, as to what affiliation they might belong to. Many, many people will answer the questions “Do you have any children living with you?” with something along the lines of “Oh yeah, I have my dog/cat/mongoose/whatever.” Those people are almost certainly Toilet Paper Hoarders and should be either avoided or exterminated with extreme prejudice. If they refer to their pets as “furbabies” in their answer to that question, they are probably also mutants.

Take this information. Use it to survive. Be a Survivor.

Apocalypse Log: Day 35

Ended my week of helping people with emergency assistance by approving a rather significant amount of money for someone I’m pretty sure was outright lying to me about their need, but I had to approve anyways because I have no way within the constraints we’re working with of knowing with certainty.

Being in customer service mode all day long has left me totally fine with staying in the stronghold all day, because I don’t want to deal with the people in the outside world anymore anyways.

Snap Judgements: A Random-Ass PC Game Party

If you game on the PC, it’s not hard to get a massive collection built up for very little money if you’re not particular about what makes it in there.  Steam sales will aggressively discount games.  Humble Bundle can get you a curated collection for very cheap, and if you get their Choice option they will shove 60-some DRM free games right in your face.  If you’re on Amazon Prime, they will give you 5 games a month through Twitch.  The Epic Games Store drops at least 2 free games on you a week.  So yeah, my PC backlog has become unmanageable, really.  Hell, this month’s Humble Choice has two games I’ve specifically had my eye on for a long while, and I can get those and 8 others for well less than the MSRP for each, and I’ve been refraining because I don’t want my Steam list to grow anymore until I’ve actually played a bunch more of the games on it.  When I was a cub owning a game was a big deal.  You thoroughly explored that game, you came to know it better than your own reflection, you mastered it as much as a gawky little kid that sucks at everything can master anything.  Nowadays, at least as far as the PC goes, it seems the various game makers and distributors want you to have a library rather than having explored every little thing; I don’t think many expect you to actually play all the games they’re throwing at you.

But that’s not how I roll.  I like to play all my stuff.  And lately, I’ve been motivated to do so.  I’m still keeping up with that focused run-through of playing all my games that I’ve done all my years, although yeah, I’m needing to adjust my expectations to deal with all these random-butt games that I’ve built up over recent years on my PC library.  And apparently, how I deal with that is I just change the rules so that I’m not expecting myself to give a full playthrough to any game I didn’t directly play through and we go from there.

So, in any case, lately, in addition to the games I’d normally be playing, I’ve also been trying out many of the random games I’ve been picking up through other means.  So here’s some quick judgements on some of the games I’ve been playing lately that I don’t think I’m going to end up doing a full post about.  Some of these I’ve given a full playthrough, some have just been a quick try, but either way, I’ve got words to put on them, so here you are.  I’ve been starting at the top of my various collections, so if you’re wondering why so many of them have titles that would pop up near the top alphabetically, well, there you go.

A Normal Lost Phone

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This is a quick little experience, kind of has an interesting idea.  Essentially, you find someone’s unlocked phone, and rather than turning it into anyone, you start snooping to try and figure out whose it is.  Turns out, judging from recent messages on there, the guy unexpectedly disappeared.  So you have to read his texts and emails and break into his apps and dating profiles and other stuff to try and figure out what’s going on.  I like its approach to puzzles, they hit the right spot to me where I was never stuck and constantly able to figure the challenges pretty quickly, but they still took enough mental work that I felt rather accomplished in doing so.  I ended up rather hating the game, though, because it’s rather preachy.  Yes, being trans is a difficult thing fraught with a great deal of challenges and bigotry that I’m sure I do not understand because my knowing personal exposure to trans people has been rather limited, but an unnuanced black and white strawman-filled take on the subject that wants to hammer you on the head with the “feel the plight of trans people” hammer over and over is going to irritate me to no end even as I agree with the central thing it’s trying to push.  And it’s preachy in a way that’s just going to galvanize the base, make the people that already agree with it feel better for agreeing with it, without actually adding more to the subject matter or approach anyone on the fringe.  There were a couple of times I missed out on puzzle clues because I got tired of wading through walls of text on how horrible the strawmen were that I just stopped looking at the things that point in a direction.  Also, I take issue with the ending, the same way I did with Gone Home’s.  Spoiler: dude just ghosted his family because they’re homophobic.  At least he’s got more reason that Gone Home’s couple, but either way, ghosting your family for anything but avoiding actual danger is a sick, horrible thing to do to them.  Yes, I would say that’s worse than the homophobia.  Treating it like a romanticised ideal bothers me a lot.

Abzu

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I’ve heard this described as underwater Journey.  I haven’t played Journey, so I can’t really speak to that, but if you have, hey, maybe that means something to you.

So, you may call this a walking simulator, except there’s very little walking in it.  Usually you’re swimming.  You’re a diver exploring the underwater wildlife of an area, and sometimes exhibiting the strange power to create sea life where once it was missing.  You explore underwater ruins, solve a few ‘find the switch/drone/item’ puzzles to open doors, and go through a bit of a minimalist story that’s surprisingly well-presented for having no dialogue and only one real character.  Overall, it’s really just a relaxing, chill experience, one that does bring you some tension but otherwise has a rather meditative quality to it.

60 Parsecs

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Yeah, it comes first alphabetically, but I don’t have much to say about it and I didn’t want to lead with this so it goes down here.  You manage a small team of space station wreck survivors as they head into an escape pod, trying to keep them alive and have them find or develop new items to increase their odds of survival until sheer random chance inevitably kills everybody and then you wonder what the hell that was all about and uninstall the game.  Not recommended.

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