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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Project G-Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Alternate Title: The start of the shared universe

So, you know how the Marvel Cinematic Universe is kind of a thing?  Notable in that all the stories impact each other, and the characters intersect much in the same way they do in comics?  Toho’s announced that, starting whenever they start making these movies in sequence again, they’re wanting to use a similar model for Godzilla films.  Which is a little strange to me.  Because they totally did that already.  40-some years before the Marvel films started having Agent Coulson hanging around.

So, there was a big gap in between the second and third Godzilla films.  Of like seven years or so.  But Toho wasn’t done with giant monsters in that meanwhile.  In fact, they made a whole bunch of kaiju films after Godzilla gave that genre a jump start.  And King Kong vs. Godzilla, being the most successful film in the Godzilla franchise, it made a buck or two.  And Mr. Toho, he thought to himself, “I sure like having dollars.  Maybe I should make another movie so I can get another dollar.”  But how do you follow up on a clash of two of cinema’s greatest titans, crossing over from disparate universes?  Well, you just do it again.  Except you go back into one of the worlds you already own, so you don’t have to pay those crazy huge King Kong licensing fees.  And wouldn’t you know it, you just had a really successful and well-received movie just a few years before.  Maybe you could cross that over with your marquee guy.

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And that’s how we ended up with Mothra vs. Godzilla, a sequel to both 1961’s Mothra and 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla.  And in so doing, Tojo tied all their Kaiju films of the era together into one continuous universe.  You start seeing monsters cross over in each others films, Godzilla himself gets a few recurring enemies that started in other movies, and you’ll even get a few films centered not on individual monsters but the people living within them, such as Destroy All Monsters, which we’ll be getting to in a few of these posts.

This is also regarded as one of the best movies of the Showa era, thus proving this was a concept with some real mileage.  So no wonder they’d get some mileage out of it.

Note that this is not Godzilla vs. Mothra.  That is a very different movie.  Yes, the Godzilla franchise sucks at titles.  Kind of an easy way of remembering it is that this move was made when Godzilla was undisputedly the bad guy.  So Mothra, the heroine, gets top billing.  As opposed to Godzilla vs Mothra, which was made when Godzilla was only sometimes the bad guy, so you could still cheer for him.  So he gets top billing then.  See, simple.

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Shadows of Mass Destruction. The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 2-Gameplay

Part 1-Intro

Part 3-Presentation

Part 4-Setting

Persona 1 Retrospective

Persona 2 IS Retrospective

At this point in the Persona series, gameplay has truly become only part of the full experience.  Persona 1 and 2 had plots too, and a lot of characterization, but they were still as much gameplay delivery engines as any other game out there.  Starting in Persona 3, they put a lot more depth and content into their plots and characters, to the point where the gameplay is not the only selling point they have.  And for a lot of people, the gameplay is not even the main reason they get into the game.

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Yet, no matter how good your story, setting, characters, etc. are, if the game side of your, you know, game, isn’t up to snuff, the game as a whole won’t be good.  It’s been tried, and good plot really doesn’t make up for bad gameplay.  So even with the Persona series running head-first into the story-based wall, let’s start by taking a look at where you’re actually going to be spending most of your time when you’re actually playing the game.

By this point, we’ve already had two, but three, but really two, games in the Persona canon.  That’s enough to establish a pattern, right?  Although both of those games are rather distinct from each other, there’s still some common design elements that we can pull out here.

So, what is makes a Persona game, and how do those elements relate to Persona 3?  Well, thus far, to make a Persona, you take the typical for the time Shin Megami Tensei design, strip out a bunch of the more unique to the franchise and complicated features to simplify gameplay a bit and make it more accessible to the typical JRPG fan.  And then you come up with some crazy and experimental features that few if any other games in the genre are doing and make them absolutely central to the whole experience.  And then, of course, there’s the whole plot and themes making heavy use of Jungian Psychology personified, and the main characters with the variable stats and ability loadouts, the butterfly motifs, the vast sum of humanity summoning their own demise, multiple endings but not really, etc. Etc.  There’s lots of stuff in the recipe for a Persona, and it all carries through to this game.

And I suppose this is a good time to mention, for pretty much this entire retrospective, I’m going to be basing it off the FES version of the game.  For those not in the know, there was the original Persona 3, then, less than a year later in the US, Persona 3 FES which was basically Persona 3 with a bunch of DLC before DLC was a thing that you had to pay for, including a separate playable epilogue that we won’t get into here just yet.  Then, years later, there came Persona 3 Portable, which incorporated all the gameplay updates from Persona 4 into Persona 3, gave you a choice in the gender of your protagonist and with that vastly increased the amount of content, at turning a lot of segments from more directly interactive bits into visual novel scenes in order to fit it all on the PSP disc.  There’s a lot of discussion on which is better.  I roll with the FES version because… well, that’s just the one I have.  As much as the games industry obviously hates me for it with the remakes and rereleases and updates and Hyper Fighting Championship Editions Turbos they’re putting out, I make a practice of not buying games that I already own.  So, sorry, P3P fans.  Just going by what I have available to me.

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Project G-Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Memorable Title: The cheap cash-in that’s more than just a cheap cash-in

Just a lead in, when I was originally planning this series, I was just going to be going over the films I had managed to acquire, and the Showa series of Godzilla films was going to end up being incomplete.  Thanks to Red Metal pointing me to where, when, and how I could buy the complete Showa series on the cheap, we get to have all the Godzilla movies here.  So shout out to him for making this all possible.

The OG Godzilla film was a pretty big risk for Toho.  Big, expensive, ambitious, in a largely unknown genre.  And, as it turns out, with some of the other high expense movies they were making at the time, Toho was gambling with their very existence.  Either those films turned a profit, or Toho was bankrupting itself out of existence.  And, in the type of example that would be glorified in the average business textbook, their risk payed off.  Godzilla was a big success.  So was the Seven Samurai, for that matter, which was another film they had in production at the time, but we’re not going to talk about that right now.  Godzilla made it big, baby!

And what do you do when you have a huge success?  You do another business textbook thing, and you reinvest.  You strike while the iron’s hot!  You take all that goodwill and interest and you hit when it’s at its peak!  What, the director of the original is already committed to other projects?  Who cares?!  We’ve got directors lined up out the door!  And you want what kind of budget!?  No, no, of course not, we just barely escaped bankruptcy!  We made the original at a time that we needed to escape bankruptcy, that’s why it had the giant budget it did!  Yes, there is a massive difference between the two situations.  Don’t ask questions, just go make the movie.

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And so they did.  Starting pre-production just weeks after the release of the original Godzilla, Godzilla Raids Again is the traditional tag-along sequel, made to capitalize on the success of the original, capture its momentum, and share in its success, with speed of release being more important than quality.  It brought back much of the creatives of the original Godzilla, with one notable exception.  OG director Ishiro Honda was already wrist deep in his next project, leaving Motoyushi Oda to take the helm on this one.  The rest of the crew was largely the same, with Tomoyuki Tanaka producing, Eiji Tsuburaya directing the special effects, and Haruo Nakajima taking the place of the big G inside the suit.  And rapid-fire sequel though it is, it does bring in a development that would change the Godzilla franchise forever.  So, you know how giant monsters are metal as hell, right?  What if you had, get this, two of them!  Blowing your mind right?  And they hate each other!  Kickass monster battles, man!

The movie ostensibly has its protagonist, but the way it rolls out, it really seems to have two dudes in the leading role.  And the film opens with both of them in action.  You have Planebro and a character I don’t even need to make up a memorable nickname for because the movie did it for me, Mr. Groom, doing their day jobs as aerial spotters for a fishing company in Osaka.  After Godzilla struck Tokyo in the original movie, that city’s still pretty ruined, so Osaka has become the center of Japanese civilization.  Mr. Groom’s seaplane suffers a major malfunction and he has to make an emergency landing near some island.  Planebro rolls in for the rescue, and the two of them pal around on the island for a few minutes until SUDDENLY!  There’s Godzilla!  And some other giant monster!  And they’re beating the hell out of each other!  And then they fall into the ocean.  Planebro and Mr. Groom wisely decide to get the hell out of there.

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We Used to Own This City! The Saints Row Retrospective: Saints Row 2

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Saints Row Retrospective Introduction hereSaints Row 1 here, Saints Row The Third here.

Saints Row 2. This is where it gets real. The first Saints Row was good and all, but this is where the series cut its teeth. You’ve probably heard of the Saints Row series being wild, chaotic, and proudly removed from reality, but if you started with the first Saints Row, you would understandably end up confused. “Why don’t I get to crash into things on a quad while on fire?” you might ask. “Where are the missions where I let lose with a septic truck?” “I thought I would get to kill people with a giant purple dildo!”

Well, you don’t get to in the first game. That game has its moments, but it still leaves a foot in the real, the rational, the “mature.” It was content with its position as being “mostly a GTA clone” and did not stretch itself any further than that. Saints Row 2 was where the series got its wings, where it finally took efforts to distinguish itself from Grand Theft Auto and its many imitators. And although Saints Row 2’s gameplay did get updated, that’s not what really sets it apart. This is where the Saints Row character was defined. This is the game that established the insane moments, wild fun, and blatant, loving immaturity the series is known for. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Sinners Welcome! The Saints Row Retrospective, Part 2: Saints Row

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Saints Row Retrospective Introduction here, Saints Row 2 hereSaints Row The Third here.

We’re moving forward with our Saints Row Retrospective project, finally getting into real games. Who needs that foo-foo introduction crap anyway? This is where it’s really at! Here’s where we get into the meat of it, where we really find out what Saints Row is all about!

So here we are, talking about Saints Row, the first game in the Saints Row series. Go figure. Saints Row establishes a lot of what the following games pick up on and run with. And by “establishes” I mean “rips off from GTA” of course. I give it a lot of guff for that, but really, lots of games were ripping of Grand Theft Auto by the time this came out and Saints Row did it better than one might expect. Its definitely built off of the mechanics and style GTA III started, but the developers really added their own bits to it and made something unique. On-foot combat was made into something useable. The irreverent tone was expanded upon even as most crime games, GTA included, ditched the jokes for the drama masks. The city you were terrorizing had much more for you to do in between missions. Saints Row added enough to the formula that discounting it as just a GTA clone is doing it a disservice. It’d be more accurate to simply call it “mostly a GTA clone.”

Saints Row is a sandbox game where you are responsible for inflicting as much chaos, destruction, and straight up weirdness on the city of Stilwater as possible. Your nameless, customized character, known only as “Playa,” is an enforcer for the Third Street Saints, and as enforcer, your goals are to end gang warfare in Stilwater by murdering each and every member of the other three gangs in the city. Along the way, you’ll commit no small number of major and minor crimes, mostly through missions and non-storyline activities. It’s a sandbox game. Those things are made for messing stuff up. You’ve got pretty typical driving and third-person dual stick shooter controls. They put them together in a way that’s not quite great, but it functions well enough to make thousands of bangers dead. The plot’s fairly straightforward. There’s only a few twists, and they’re mostly towards the end. But you’re not playing for the plot anyways. The game doesn’t expect you to. All it expects you to do is destroy, and it dedicates itself to setting up just what you need for that.

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