So, Dead Cells is a roguelike action platformer with some Metroidvania elements. It’s awesome. Sorry for spoiling the rest of the review there.
It’s also hard, as befits a roguelike. But sometimes you have to play and beat those hard games. Because that’s how people know that your penis is big. Even if you don’t have a physical penis. Your metaphorical penis is big. The penis of your soul.
Anyways, Dead Cells is really a great model of what makes roguelikes so enjoyable to play. For those who aren’t super familiar with the model, let’s go through what makes a roguelike a roguelike. The model traditionally built around having a high degree of challenge, a very high skill ceiling, and permadeath, meaning that the games are very hard and if you die you’re right back at the beginning, but there’s a lot of room for you to get very very good at them and they’ll throw challenges at you for near every level of skill. Given that you’ll be dying and going back to the beginning a lot, the model makes heavy use procedurally-generated levels (well, at least semi-procedurally generated, a lot of games will cheat by just having premade rooms connected in a randomized layout) and randomized gear and resources, which cuts down on the repetition by changing up the levels and your playstyle each time. In fact, the randomized gear adds a lot to the gameplay of the model, as you have to try out and adapt to a lot of different capabilities and your strategy needs to adjust constantly to the specific things your character is capable of. In more recent games, roguelikes have started adopting a practice of having you collect resources in each run that unlocks upgrades or new weapons or whatnot that linger between characters, meaning the game will grow as you play it more. Success in a roguelike usually relies on three factors, your knowledge of the game and its future possibilities and various microcomponents, your ability to use that knowledge to make strong decisions about how you’re building your character with the limited and randomized resources available to you as well as your decisions to manage risk, and your in the moment gameplay skills in whatever genre the roguelike is.
So Dead Cells takes that foundation, just as described there, and builds on top of it a very technically solid action platformer. Your main character is… well, a sentient blobby mass possessing a headless corpse, but it really doesn’t control like a sentient blobby mass possessing a headless corpse. Your character is quick and incredibly responsive, and it feels very natural controlling them. It does take a little bit of getting used to, but soon you’ll be zipping back and forth around enemies, dodging through their attacks, leaping through platforms and coming up behind them to bring the pain in no time. Moreover, this game does a thing. A thing with speed. Every time you kill an enemy, you get a speed boost for the next several second. This stacks to a certain extent, so if you’re smacking down enemies over and over again, you’ll get pretty darn zippy, which you can then use to beat the level in record time or to be even more deadly against your foes. Complimenting the great controls and speed here are that your rank and file enemies are very distinct in their moves. They telegraph their attacks really well, both with their sprites rearing back as well as with a nice exclamation point decal alerting you to the attack, even if it’s coming from off screen. They’ll also pause just long enough for you to take a single action, aggressive or defensive, as long as your reflexes are on par. There may be a bit of trouble time as you get to recognize the enemies and the nature of their attacks, but once you learn how and what they do, if you get hit, it’s because of a mistake you made and you know exactly what that mistake was. Usually. Because there was at least one point where I got killed by an enemy that attacked in half the time its fellows did with absolutely not warning. Jerk. But yeah, the game is hugely demanding and its very easy to make mistakes, but aside from those few times, its completely fair in its challenge.
You know Dark Souls, right? It’s a great game. Absolutely phenomenal. Honestly one of the best I’ve played. We’ve spent some time on it. Well, let’s imagine you’re a game designer. And you look at Dark Souls. And you see how fantastic it is. And you’re like “Aww, I wish I made that.” You find your craft at the top of its form and wish you could be there, making something of that level.
Well, Death’s Gambit is what you would get if you just went ahead and made Dark Souls again anyway, and put your stamp on it and called it yours.
Honestly, that describes the game really well. This is 2d indie action-platformer Dark Souls. Everything about the game, from its structure, to its set up, to its atmosphere, to its means of storytelling, absolutely everything was incredibly clearly inspired by Dark Souls. Even the unique things it does were built on a Dark Souls base, rather than truly standing on their own. For a while, I wasn’t sure what I thought about it. The game is good. No doubt about that. This is a team that was just making Dark Souls in a different form, sure, but also a team that truly understood what makes Dark Souls great, way more than most of the game’s imitators. But the thought I struggled with was whether or not there was a place for a game like this. Like, why would I play a Dark Souls imitator if I could just play the original?
It took a while, but eventually, the unique bits about Death’s Gambit won me over. Particularly, it was the more compact nature of Death’s Gambit that did it for me. I love Dark Souls. It is a hugely dense, long-form game. The run we did here took me over 70 hours of game time, and there are plenty of those hours I didn’t make any real progress in, just trying and failing and learning and trying again over and over. Dark Souls is a huge, multi-layered cake. Death’s Gambit is a cupcake. And sometimes, you just want a cupcake. You get the complete experience in around ten hours game time. Even though the bosses required a similar mechanically complex means of handling, and had the same scale of tension as Dark Souls, they were far more achievable and it doesn’t take quite as much an investment in time to achieve them. The levels have less back and forth, better placed checkpoints, and it doesn’t take as long to traverse them. So yeah, here, you get a lot of what you probably love about Dark Souls, but you’re able to do it with less of an investment of time. And I ended up finding that really valuable. Snack size Dark Souls is really meaningful as well, especially when you don’t have the emotional bandwidth to do the “Try, Die, Learn, Repeat” for hours on end that Dark Souls requires before you complete any particular challenge.
And I do rather like a lot of the unique things it does here, some of which wouldn’t work out in OG Dark Souls. In addition to your starting class being a selection of stats and starting equipment, they also come with their own abilities and skill trees. You can still spec any class however you want and gear them with whatever they have the stats for, but your unique abilities and your skill trees are different for every class, and both give more replayability as well as more impact. I wouldn’t want that in Dark Souls, the ability to design anything however you want there is really powerful to the game’s structure, but it works a lot better in a quicker game. So does the way they’ll sometimes interrupt your deaths to give you a bit of story before they revive you. Your character here is a defined personality with a bit of backstory, which I wouldn’t want in Dark Souls but I feel they were able to make work here. I also have to give particular props to the way this game handles death. Normally, in Dark Souls and all the games that copied it thinking this was why Dark Souls was good without understanding the other factors around this, when you die, you lose all your money/experience points unless you can get to where you were and grab those back. Here, you leave behind one use of your standard recovery item. Which you can choose to pay out the nose with via money/experience if you can’t get those back yourself, so that option is there, but it’s not by default. It still keeps death feeling like it has consequence and impact, but it’s not as punitive and time-sinky as losing your combined cash/development resource. That’s something I’d absolutely like to see more Souls-likes picking up on. Between that and the better-placed checkpoints, you can bounce back from failure with a lot less frustration, which is fantastic in a game that’s built around you failing a whole lot. Honestly, the walk back after Death in Dark Souls was always my least favorite part of the game, and it almost absolutely ruined both Demon Souls and Bloodborne for me. You have a game here that mitigates it very well, while still using the same structure, so… yeah. Good going.
Combat maintains the relatively slower pace, high consquence actions, and generally more thoughtful, tactical feel of Dark Souls, although it’s slight faster. You’ve got a couple of additional factors here, though. Being a 2D action platformer, of course you have to worry about aerial combat and environmental threats. Positioning becomes a lot more important, and you’ll need to know the range and arc of your weapons in a variety of different circumstances, both ground-based and in the air. As in Dark Souls, defense is your primary consideration in most circumstances, so you’ll need to keep an eye out for how you and your enemy will move in all these circumstances as well. In addition to your bread and butter weapon attacks, you also equip three abilities at a time, most of which will have you do a heavy attack, and will often also leave an ongoing buff, debuff, or other active factor for the next while. There’s a fair amount of variety to them, and I found myself really relying on them a lot as the game progressed. In fact, by the time of the endgame, my own success seemed to lie just as much as my designing equipment and abilities in effective combination as it did with my in-the-moment twitch reflexes and decision making.
Presentation in this game is a bit weird. The art is absolutely gorgeous. All over. It looks really fantastic in screenshots. The animation is horrible. The game makes heavy use of rotoscoping, even for basic animations, and with the complexity of the sprites, it looks particularly unnatural to see them wholly shifted into angles. You get stray pixels and mismatched components everywhere. Which is a shame. Because the art design is so good, and the pixel art, generally, so fitting, this game could have been a visual treat, but that ends up just making the poor animations stand out. Music is pretty great, though. Definitely worth a listen.
Storywise, it does have a lot of the opaque storytelling that Dark Souls did so well, giving hints and pieces in item descriptions and bits of dialogue and whatnot, and having a lot of features you come across that are only hinted at, while also having a more clear throughline than Dark Souls had. You’ve got a defined character, Sorun, a soldier of a nation that’s been locked in a decades’ long war with a nation of lizardfolk that had uncovered the secret to immortality. The rulers want the secret of immortality themselves, while Sorun’s looking for his mother, who was drafted into this same war when he was a child and never returned. Sorun, is killed in battle early on, but Death appears before him, and offers him a deal. Death, understandably, isn’t a fan of immortality being out there, and if Sorun is willing to slay all the immortals of the land, Death will grant him eternal life himself. However, he warns that immortality has costs of its own. Sorun agrees, and a contract is signed, although Sorun’s more concerned with his own aims, and uses the quest against the immortals as a means to an end.
The world of Siradon here is also rather interesting as well, and it does some nifty things of its own. As Death warned, immortality has not been kind to its residents, and although everyone else wants it, as you venture inward you find that it has caused this civilization to tear itself apart. You’ll run across high magic establishments. You’ll run across unique takes on standard fantasy settings. You’ll get hints that things aren’t quite as clear as expected, through some enemies and locations that seem way out of place. You’ll end up in absolutely freaky locations that seem straight out of the depths of your fears. And through it all, you’ll get these hints, leading you along to greater places. The locations are phenomenal, both from a soulsian level design perspective as well as from a lore/backstory one.
Also, I’ve got to give good props to the boss fights here. The bosses are the best parts of the game, and all of them deliver a great amount of tension. Some of them used mechanics I hadn’t seen before in a game like this. And almost all of them hit that fantastic Souls level of skill ceilings, where they seem completely impossible at first, but you try, and fail, and learn and grow as you’re doing so, until you earn the ability to overcome them and feel absolutely phenomenal doing so. It doesn’t take as long as Dark Souls did, as I previously mentioned, and they’re not as complicated, but they’re still thrilling fights nonetheless.
So yeah, it took me a while to warm up to Death’s Gambit, but I ended up really enjoying my time with it. This is a game that copies Dark Souls so closely it’s not possible for it to be anything more, but it does feature enough smart changes and care in the design that it does create something different. I could definitely see myself diving back into it, and its more compact design makes it easier to do so when I’m jonesing for some Souls goodness but not ready to make a huge commitment for it.
Alternative Title: The one that was made on drugs, probably
Ask Godzilla fans what they think about Godzilla vs. Hedorah and you’ll get reactions ranging from “eh, it’s OK” to “OMG this is the worst!” One thing they’ll all agree on though, is that this film is balls to the wall, pants on head, writers with cocaine and a dartboard WEIRD. This movie runs like a fever dream. Full of things that you never expected, never thought you’d see, and after you saw them, you’ll wonder why the hell they showed it to you in the first place.
So this one follows up on Son of Godzilla, being a low budget, quick turnaround, child-oriented take on Godzilla, which is frankly where the series is going for the next while, so buckle in. Had a new director, Yoshimitsu Banno for this one. He got fired from the series after this. Longtime series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka absolutely hated this film. But Banno did come back to help out with the 2014 American Godzilla. So… that I guess. Anyways, this wasn’t a film that was set up to succeed, and then had some really weird and questionable decisions upon release, was reviewed horribly upon release, and had significant ramifications for that.
But, at the same time, there are some interesting things it does. It’s limited budget was used with purpose, Hedorah is legitimately threatening, and it has some neat parallels to some of the better Godzilla films, so it has some layers to it.
Also, Banno started this film with an ENVIRONMENTAL message in mind, inspired by seeing heavy pollution in the rivers and smog in cities. So there is an absolutely heavy ENVIRONMENTAL moral to this story. That being that the ENVIRONMENT IS GOOD and POLLUTION IS BAD. It will hit you over and over again with all the grace of a jackhammer. So, keep that in mind as you’re reading this. To be fair, this was made at a point where ENVIRONMENTAL conditions in Japan were absolutely horrible, and it got better in the years following this film, so maybe it was super called for and Godzilla vs. Hedorah is exactly what Japan needed to make a comeback. But in any case, there are few morals that will be slammed into your brain harder than this. It will crash and splatter everywhere. Kind of messy, in all. If there’s ever a point while you’re reading this that you’re thinking something other than how absolutely terrible it is that there’s POLLUTION in the ENVIRONMENT, you need to adjust your expectations and start over again. It doesn’t matter that nothing else in the film makes sense. ENVIRONMENT!!!
Rail shooters haven’t had a great time since arcades falling out of favor. The Wii picked up a few good ones, which makes a lot of sense, as I’d guess that controller was tailor-made to mimic light gun games if I didn’t know any better. But post Wii, what did we get? We get Blood and Truth. That’s what.
Not just Blood and Truth, really. The rise of VR opened up the genre all over again. I can’t say whether they’re good or bad, ‘cause, you know, I haven’t played them. But I can say that VR+Motion Controller+Rooty-Tooty Point and Shooty makes for something that’s just viscerally satisfying. It feels good. It feels right.
Blood and Truth is a Playstation VR exclusive made by the same Sony London Studios that made the Playstation VR Worlds collection of quick little tech-demo games, and specifically, this game is pretty much an updated, expanded version of The London Heist from that collection. The game has you in the shoes of Johnny Shootbangs (note: not his real name), a UK Special Forces soldier who gets a leave of absence and gets called home after his father, the boss of London’s largest crime family, passes away. From natural causes. Kind of unexpected given his occupation. Anyways, you go home to do the family stuff, and one of your dad’s crime captains kills your friends and kidnaps your family-family so he can take over your crime-family. So you have to go shoot everyone until things are better. Just like in real life.
I didn’t actually say that. FBI, please don’t add me to a list.
Anyways! Big thing with Blood and Truth. Think of action movies. Imagine you’re the lead character. This is that. I would say this is inspired just as much by movies as it is by video games. Except that’s almost certainly wrong, and I am never wrong except when I’m doing it deliberately for art, so I don’t say that. But still, very inspired by movies.
So yeah, it’s a rail shooter. Remember the arcades. Like Time Crisis or House of the Dead or Virtua Cop or something. You’ve got a gun that you can point and shoot. Or you can do two guns. If you’ve got the motion controllers, you’ve got two of them, and you’ve probably got two arms, so you can dual-wield like crazy if you want. I want. Makes me feel like a badass. Like I mentioned before, the gunplay in this game feels fantastic. Even better than those arcades. Something about the nature of VR and the specific feedback this game gives really makes it work. Normally, with rail shooters, the game controls the rate of your progression, but here, you do. To move forward, you have to point at a suitable location and press a button. So slightly more interactive than your typical rail shooter. I really have to complement the game on its handling of accuracy. Real-life aiming is freakin’ hard, but this game has it going to where it feels rather satisfactory. There’s enough give that you point and shoot, it feels like you get some real action to it. I’ve had mixed results shooting in meat-space, but here, I’m able to aim well enough to get some real progress, while still feeling like it’ll miss when I truly deserve it. Even dual-wielding, which is near impossible in real life, is rather achievable here. This game feels really good in gameplay as a result. I don’t know that I can overstate it enough. This game feels absolutely fantastic. It’s visceral and hits a really great level of game-feel, like you’re getting enough feedback through sound and visuals that that it seems more than just like you’re some incredibly sexy nerd with a doofy headseat and weird controllers in your hands.
As I mentioned before, this game feels like an action movie. Which means a couple of things, different from your typical video game. First is that there’s actually long periods of time in which you’re not shooting things. Some games, that would be a bad thing. Not here. Honestly, they make incredibly good use of your non-combat time. The dialog in this game is really good. Sometimes you’re just spending time getting to know your siblings, or arguing with the CIA guy who’s interrogating you, or flipping off people you hate, and it works really, really well. The characters, although they largely take up pretty typical archetypes on paper, actually feel rather unique and charming in execution. The story, much like the characters, wouldn’t be much to write home about in summary, but honestly, in execution, it feels pretty solid. In terms of writing, things really shine in the details of the piece. I mean, we’re talking about larger-than-life professional criminals and killers whom we barely get any time with, relatively, but things feel surprisingly human in that. It’s the little pieces, your brother’s sense of humor, your rival’s love for his brother and for art amidst his pettiness in his campaign against you, the mystery amongst your handlers and that weird woman working for the enemy, they take this story from a simple one-paragraph summary to something that you can build a connection with. Second, the game is big in setpieces. Every level has at least a couple of big, visual capital-M Moments. Giant explosions or gunning down some sort of heavy enemy equipment or basejumping (which is an incredible experience when you’re using VR to treat a visual-motion disorder, btw) or making a daring escape by leaping on top of moving things that aren’t meant to be leapt on top of. This extends even to the non-combat scenes, which some absolutely fantastic look-what-we-can-do-in-VR interactables that are seriously impressive and stand as examples of what other genres should be doing in VR, even when there’s absolutely nothing that you want to point a gun at.
Hey! As it turns out, with this whole quarantine thing going on, all those people endlessly hounding me looking for romance actually back off for a bit, which means I’ve actually got some time for my hobbies for the time being. Now, I’m a man with many irons in the fire, so that doesn’t mean I can devote everything I have to games just yet, but I have been able to get in a bit more time than usual. And I’ve got some thoughts. As I do about everything. And as all my thoughts are, they are absolutely genius. So I thought I’d share. My gift to you. So here’s another installment of Snap Judgements. Many games! Short reviews! Three paragraph max! Let’s go!
Monster Boy in the Cursed Kingdom
I have to thank Red Metal for this one. He gave a great review of this game himself, one of his very rare 9/10s, then got it into my hands. And you know what? Turns out Red Metal knows what he’s talking about.
So this is an officially licensed and assisted indie-produced sequel to the Wonder Boy franchise. Fan-made products can be a real mixed proposition. Enjoying a game, even enjoying a game deeply, doesn’t give you a great insight into how to build one, and the flavor of any creative work requires such a sensitive balance that is not always apparent to its consumer. So yeah, when you have the fans creating the new media in an established franchise, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it ends up incredibly misguided. And this game, and I say this as someone with barely any history with the Wonder Boy series, is good. Even outside the Wonder Boy history, this stands alone as an absolutely fantastic game. At its core, it’s a very tightly designed Metroidvania built around a character transformation mechanic, where you get a number of different forms with a number of different combat and traversing abilities. It’s a little hard to describe what makes the game work exactly, it’s just really well-designed. You get to use abilities in a lot of really creative ways, but ways that they have great visual cues to indicate to you. Presentation is excellent, with beautiful visuals and music, and gameplay is generally tight. A lot of it works like a more responsive classic Castlevania, you’re up against a bunch of enemies with rather defined movement and attack patterns while your most reliable attack has a very specific range and spread that you need to manage constantly, although you do have resources and tools to extend of change that range. The world is also generally a joy to navigate, and again, it has some really creative puzzles before you.
Which is not to say there’s not some faults in it. It does have some issues. Checkpoints aren’t always convenient, and the game has a big problem with not giving enough health recovery out. The economy gets to be a bit of a problem in the end game, and you don’t get enough money naturally to get everything you might need or want. And the ability progression is a little lopsided, to the point that once you get your late game forms and equipment, you don’t have a reason to use the unique features of your earlier ones unless the game forces you to. But really, it is an absolutely marvelous game, even for someone who’s not a Wonder Boy fan by any means.
Alternative Title: The bad one. The really bad one.
So if you talk to anyone who knows Godzilla films, they’ll generally have their opinions. They’ll have their unadulterated favorites. They’ll have their guilty pleasures. They’ll have their personal bombs. Those lists won’t always line up. There’s a lot of room for opinion variation on Godzilla. And that’s really a beautiful thing. Everyone gets their own journeys through these films, unique to them. Except for All Monsters Attack. Everyone, absolutely every single Godzilla fan, hates this film. And not in a love to hate kind of way. Not in a ‘it’s a pain, but watch it once to get it out of the way’ kind of way. Everyone straight up just recommends you skip this one. I told people I was writing up all the Godzilla films. Everyone who knows Godzilla assumed I was just going to skip this one.
So that’s how you know you’re in for a good time, right?
So lets rewind a bit. Destroy All Monsters was the Godzilla team blowing everything they had on it. All the monsters, all together. The biggest, baddest conflicts they could come up with, serving as a massive denouement to their kaiju saga. The story was resolved, and they gave Godzilla the sweetest send-off they could, before Toho kicked in its plan for shelving the movies for a while and launching the Godzilla Multinational Cartoon Universe. Interest in Godzilla movies were waning, and it was drawing less and less money over time, so that decision makes sense. Give the series new life in a different format. But, said cartoon didn’t come out. The companies Toho was going to be co-producing it with didn’t end up going through. Meanwhile, longtime Godzilla producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was looking at the competition, particularly the Gamera series of films, who were making bank by producing incredibly cheap kaiju films and marketing them directly to children. And he was like, you know what, we can do that too.
So he called up a screenwriter, and asked him to slap something together on the back of a napkin. Then he called up Ishiro Honda, longtime Godzilla director, and told him to start digging through people’s couches, because whatever change he found there was going to be this movie’s budget.
And that’s how this magic was born. A film where its questionable whether or not all the previous Godzilla movies actually happened and Godzilla et al are real in this universe, or they’re just movies in this world too. A film where children dealing with typical kid stuff is the primary conflict. A film where, although Eiji Tsuburaya is credited with the special effects out of respect, his health was too poor for him to work so all special effects had to be handled by his protege and by Honda on a shoestring budget, with rather poor results. A film that makes extensive reuse of the footage from the previous handful of films rather than shooting anything new. A film that centers on Minilla.
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?
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 myfirst 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.
Alternate Title: Ok, I guess Godzilla’s a dad now?
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.
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.
Look at him. Doesn’t that make your soul shrivel up a little?
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?
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.