Thursday, September 28, 2006

Campaign Clear!

After two weeks and a half dozen attempts I finally put the finishing move on the Black Hole armies in Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising.1

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The wars are over!2

Turn-based strategy games are close to my heart of hearts. I vividly remember playing the computer version of Avalon Hill's Afrika Korps on a 286 with an EGA monitor. There were six or eight scenarios and since Avalon Hill's military strategy games were heavily keyed to historical accuracy, all but two were heavily weighted to one side or the other. I had made it a point to play each one with an eye towards masterminding the upset.3

But there really wasn't much masterminding to do, really. The number of units in play was preset (so there were never any reinforcements) and there was no time limit, so even the wimpy Italian's could win despite fielding a force comprised of poorly-trained, ill-equiped troops possessing lousy morale. Advance Wars 2, even though possessed of more troublesome variables like reinforcements, special CO attacks, & time limits, still remains firmly entrenched in this turn-based military strategy truism: there's always a way, you just need to figure it out. From there, its a cake-walk.


1 It dawned on me, whilst blitzing through Fat's Dreamcast collection with him for the first time, that Advanced Wars 2 was the first video game I'd beated (not called NBA Live) since the terribly lackluster Syphon Filter 3. I think I got really close to the end of Legend of Mana but was disappointed how quickly I got there and never bothered to finish it. As I recall, this is also when the Kaiju Sessions experiment launched, at which I labored for about a year and half.
2 Heyyy. Check out that metal protective case shielding that GBA SP! Nice pickup for $2, but I've since set it aside when I realized it wouldn't let me plug in the headphone adapter.
3 And is there any more grand and preposterous upset than the Italian army defeating the British?! Zounds!

So the cops knew that internal affairs were setting them up?

Unfortunately, Fat & I not infrequent enjoy steamy helpings of schlock cinema. I'd venture that half the time we are correct in our rental selection auguries & get the gravy goodness of what passes for some decent grindhouse or exploitation movie, relatively speaking.

The rest of the time we get muddled or confused attempts at filmmaking.

Script problems from day one?

A meddling producer?

Not enough money and too many ideas?

Complete and total incompetence?

The mind spins at the possibilities, because the majority of the time, the film-maker's heart is in the right place, if nothing else (the dude wants to entertain, to make a movie, and what is wrong with that impulse)

A certain moment occurs in these misguided vessels of good will, wherein, desperate to fill in plotholes, a certain character assumes the heroic visage of Captain Exposition, & lectures the audience as to what exactly is going on here - at great lengths and many repititions. This oft more than not comes out of left field, & also tends to attempt to feed you a lot of information in a small amount of time. The sensation can be disorienting.

This disorientation leads me to borrow from Homer Simpson, as we are all apt to do from time to time. Namely, the episode in which Homer joins the "Leader Cult," wherein he is made to view a brainwashing film about the Leader. The film ends and the two cult indoctrinators asks Homer if he likes the Leader. To which Homer replies:

"Wait, I'm confused about the movie. So the cops knew that internal affairs were setting them up?"

'Cause, you see, when he gets bored, he makes up his own plot lines.

This clip below1, this is that movie!


1 Like Fat, I am not the biggest fan of linking to other stuff on the infobahn, but this clip from Demon Cop really brings that Homer quote to life. That said: Scott "Foywonder" Foy, much respect.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Of 3s as 4s.

Chatter floating around of Travis Outlaw playing some power forward this year,since Webster & Miles will probably be locked in at the 3. Kind of a strange proposition, although not entirely without precedent (see Marion, Shawn). 'Course, Trav is no Matrix, but the batting around of the idea of the Sheriff's son from Mississippi burning slower, less athletic "true" power forwards is something I've seen happen.

Albeit, these things I've seen transpired in the confines of my laptop's harddrive over the duration of last winter and five seasons of NBA Live 2005. Although touched on before1, one of the unmentioned beauties of NBA Live is the ability to exploit matchups against the AI. Since, until this summer, the Blazers had one, and only one, true PF (Zach), I chose to go "mismatch," and alternate Miles & Outlaw at the backup 4. Both tended to tire quickly from getting pushed around by bigger guys, but a general lack of talent and athleticism and endurance by the team as a whole meant that Zach and Telfair logged the heavy minutes and the rest of the team ebbed and flowed on and off the court in an endless stream of substitutions.

After two seasons of mastering the smoke and mirrors of playing (and winning) w/ a team consisting of one PF, a general retardation of talent, and no outside shooting, the Tinzeroes Blazers finally locked a playoff spot. However the Sonics & 'Wolves went on slumps at the close of the season & I found myself w/ the 3rd seed overall.

In a blending of Cinderella shit and favorable matchups (these Coach Tinzeroes' Blazers played little to no defense, making teams like Dallas and Goldenstate ideal opponents) Portland found itself in the Finals, where I was promptly and summarily SPANKED in five games by the Indiana Pacers2. Season 4 saw another trip to the playoffs and a Western Conference Finals appearance ending in defeat at the hands of the Wolves in 5 (I think the Cavs beat them in the Finals - poor KG).

Season 5's playoff run was a gamer's delight. Nuggets in the first round, Suns in the second, Mavs in the third. Note that I play 20 minute games. One Dallas series game went double overtime and the final score was in the 80s... in 30 minutes of play!! Blazers in six.

Finals appearance part II was vs. Miami, and after two real soul-crushing, fear-of-a-repeat-of-the-Pacers-series defeats, down 0-2, two things happened.

First, entering the series, James Posey was injured and would not return.

Second, in game 3 Antoine Walker & Miles were both injured and confined to the IR for the rest of the series. With few options to begin with, it was Travis Outlaw's time to shine.

And shine he did. After a tight game 3 win Outlaw became the go-to scorer whenever Randolph wasn't on the floor, and was the high scorer in games 4 and 5 (high 20s, I think). Basically Haslem wasn't talented enough to merit being the go-to guy to exploit his size over Outlaw, and Outlaw would just murder Udonis at the offensive end.

And so it was, D. Wade and U. Haslem slumped off the court, at the buzzer of Game Six.

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And thereafter the newly-anointed champeen Blazers hoisted the O'Brien aloft.

image hosted by photoBucket.

Jack and Dixon up front. Outlaw, obviously, is behind them. Sebastion's holding the O'Brien, and Ratliff, I think, is next to him trying to get his paws on it.

In conclusion, the AI in NBA Live can't handle positional mismatches, victory animation cut scenes are the shit, and after coaching last years Blazers five seasons, and then winning a championship, I feel my work with NBA Live is done. Guys, best of luck but you're on your own.

This personal milestone duly noted, I will now get back to Super Robot Taisen.


1 Mostly in the comments of this post regarding the Reviewieran tendency to play NBA Live with shitty teams.
2 The Blazers only win coming in Game 3, as I recall, perhaps 4. I do remember it was a blowout, strangely. Upon my game five defeat I discovered another unheralded bonus to NBA Live '05: the losers would sit on thier haunches and then be consoled by a teammate, whilst the winners hoisted the O'Brien above their heads. This pleases me immensely.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Can anybody tell me, who is the grand poobah 'round here?

Yesterday Wayne Cooper and Clyde Drexler passed through my locale of employment. Oddly, I was more delighted with the glimpse of Cooper than Drexler.1

Drexler was getting his parking validated when I was getting on the elevator to go on break, and I patently ignored him. Once outside, the impetus for being so unimpressed w/ Drexler's presence was pondered.

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I went to the game in 2001 in which the Blazer's retired Clyde's jersey at halftime, which sucked doubly because (a) Drexler was openly, and somewhat pathetically, pandering for a front office job, and (b) he said "this year[index finder raised heavenly]… could be the year" to which the Blazers (in their first game to feature the return of Rod Strickland) promptly responded by getting pounded in the second half by the lowly Vancouver Grizzlies. They then proceeded to get pounded AGAIN by the Grizz on the road a mere two days later, followed by a a turmultous tumble to the seventh seed and a first-round 3-game sweep at the hands of the Lakers. That series included Sheed throwing his towel in Sabo's face. The faithful of this once-proud provincial franchise will have little difficultly in remembering that the 2000-2001 season was the one where where the wheels really came off, and I was there, and Clyde was there, when the scales tipped.

Now, Clyde Drexler is clearly not to be blamed for the failures of his former team nearly 8 years after he last suited up for them. But in the years between the retiring of his number and the recent rebuilding moves, I have listened to old men in bars and fair-weather fans alike wax fucking poetic about the "Rip City" Blazers, an endless recital of former play-by-play man Bill Schonelly's catch phrases and the virtues of the hard-nosed blue collar ethic of guys like Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey and Buck Williams.2

The Portland media does little to dispel this mythos, especially in regards to Drexler. Interviews are inevitably as cream-puff as they come, and he never says anything of note or substance, since he's still pining for that front-office job, in Portland or elsewhere. Instead, he talks about golf.

Portland being Portland, especially as the rest of the state slips to the right, Drexler's well-manicured golf-course nice-guy routine3 perhaps runs some what contrary to how the city perceives itself - or at least how I perceive it. I think this generational shift in city self-perception -I think older fans still do relate to the ah-shucks self-restraint of the early '90s teams4 - is why many Blazer fans still adore Rasheed Wallace, whose temper tantrums and fucking-with-system ways easily slotted into Portland's "Little Beirut" identity tag.5

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An interesting line of thought in itself, here - the projection of group identity onto that most ridiculous of mantles to bear such a load: the sports celebrity. At the same time, in smaller markets this is perhaps absolutely critical for the team's success as much as winning.

The Blazers enjoyed a nice chain of succession through Drexler-Cliff Robinson-Brian Grant-Rasheed Wallace (as I remember it), although Zach Randolph seems to be having a hard time capturing the public weal's imagination. And if not him, who?

-d.d. tinzeroes

1 Txt exchange w/ Fat:

ME: Wayne Copper just walked thru the office.
FAT [almost instantly]: Wow! The NBA's fourth-best shotblocker in 85-86! Get his 'graff, seeker of power!

2 Nothing against those guys, by the way.
3 This same self-presentation is why I don't care for Dwyane Wade.
4 I never saw the Blazers play at Memorial Colesium, but I've got to Portland Winterhawk games there, and in that glorified gym of an arena one can appreciate Portland's more blue-collaresque past and how that was stamped on the team, appropriately or not.
5 In this sense, it’s a double-whammy we lost Jermaine O'Neal, since a couple opinions from him about Bush and/or the War, and I think this city would be eating out of his hand.

Friday, September 08, 2006

a valentine for Astro Boy

I bought Astro Boy: The Omega Factor a long time ago. One of my first GBA titles, Freddy's clearance rack. I knew nothing about it. I didn't know about its ecstatic reviews. I didn't know it'd been made by the guys who made Contra, I didn't know that those guys were deified by the sort of game-players who write longwinded appreciations of video games on the internet. Alls I knew was I liked Astro Boy(1), and I figured the charm of the license would help me through a potentially mediocre game.(2)

I can't say my play experiences have been as shattering as half the internet's. I can say that the game is as engaging as the source manga, and thoroughly faithful to the license.(3) It's a great time, playing this game. A very videogamy great time. When the play mechanics change--say a stage is a side-scrolling flying shooter, or there's a level that's a pure platformer(4)--it doesn't feel like there's a story, with a character, who's just been put into a new situation. It feels like there's been a change in play mechanic, for you to play with. Play, as in fun.

Boss battles offer a similarly classical feel, with a two-part experience. First, you scramble around, trying to stay alive while you figure out the boss' pattern. Second, if you're as lame as me, there's a seriously lengthy period of struggling to execute against that pattern. Challenging and a heck of a lot of fun. I can't imagine it's like anything other than playing a video game.(5)

Even if playing the game wasn't a high-fun endeavor, I think I would've gotten $25 worth of enjoyment just out of the graphics. Falling into stage 1-1, you see a gorgeous cityscape. 10 minutes later, you get a lovely sky-and-cloud stage, and besides the backgrounds, almost all the bosses look great. The colors are incredibly appealing throughout. They add a wonderful feel to the b&w Tezuka style, which is reproduced both well and beautifully. Just pure eye candy, on a platform that's not really supposed to be able to pull that off.

Also appreciated is the game's optimization for portable play. All but one or two of the stages feel like full-fledged challenges, real chunks of both story and play. Which is surprising, since they're all well under five minutes long.

It's not all good, mind. There's a lot of slowdown, and the you-just-died music is intensely annoying. A sort of mocking death-spiral, it made me want to punt my DS more than a few times. You're beating me over and over again, Treasure, do you have to be dicks about it? You will hear this death music a bunch, too: this game is hard.

Astro Boy redefines nothing. It breaks no ground, and it won't make you think. Nevertheless, the game is a triumph. It accomplishes everything it sets out to do, with polish and precision. I like video games. That's why I like this one.


(1)At last count, I had 11 of those Dark Horse reprints. The Astro-repudiates-humanity arcs DDT mentioned earlier to-day are "Blue Knight" and "the Melanin Tribe" in 19 and 20, respectively. The cover of 20 features the shirtless, childish Astro struggling against thick metal chains. A couple summers ago, I was reading this issue on a flight to Oakland. Looked up to see some woman frowning at me. After a minute of confusion, I realized that, as far as she knew, I was reading some delicious Japanese child bondage porn. What the fuck do you say in this situation? "It's okay, he's a robot"? "Robots were built to help humans"? "Mind your own fucking business"?
(2)This works for half of a game, anyway. I'll never finish Animaniacs: The Great Edgar Hunt or Robotech: Battlecry, but the license kept me going far longer than the mediocre games alone would've.
(3)I love the premise of the game: Astro has to meet people so that he can learn from and about them, to become more human. Lovely sentiment, for a game where you mostly shoot and punch things. All the people you meet get categorized on a matrix with two axes. These axes run between (a) justice and evil and (b) tender and brave. It's this good-natured element that I love about Tezuka, and Treasure nails it here.
(4)A tex from DDT:

How the fuck, in Mu, do you get past the rolling discs?

Answer: with prolonged, aggressive boosting. The game calls it "dashing", but that's crap.
(5)Both the gameplay and boss battle feels are similar in the more recent Drill Dozer. That title has a more standardized level design, though, with a very clear enemy-stage/platform-stage/boss-stage form throughout. One major difference is that Astro Boy has a surfeit of moves and techniques, whereas Jill's Drill Dozer has two: jumping and drilling. I vaguely remember a guy on Kotaku claiming you could beat Astro Boy using only the kick-attack. I know you can beat it without ever using the EX Dash, because I did. (Forgot it existed.) Drill Dozer, though, has many platforming sections where there is only one solution to get from point A to point B. Both games offer a different brilliant solution to one problem: how to give super-good gameplay.

speaking of retail...

There are, essentially, two types of specialty shops. One is all stuff. Wares are crammed in everywhere. The prevailing display method is the pile, and the organizing principle behind the collection is, at best, obscure. The second kind of store is sparsely outfitted. The idea there is that the store is of impeccable taste. "Trust us," they say, "all is good here. You can't go wrong...because we won't let you."

I much prefer the first type. --While I don't like buying the wrong thing, I do enjoy learning new things, and buyer's remorse offers excellent opportunities for insightful musing.

This brings us to Pink Godzilla, a videogame store in Seattle. I visited it three weeks back. It takes a little work to find something in the tiny, cluttered space, and that's rad. The rest of the experience is also terrific: the rad little Asian girl behind the counter will try to sell you a copy of Rhythm Tengoku, which is a rhythm game by the Warioware people. She will use all the tricks of the attractive retail worker. She will make you play the game, even after you admit that Space Channel 5 proves that you can't play rhythm games for shit. She will brandish her imported DS Lite, the black one, and politely not notice as you drool. While you paw clumsily at her sleek hardware, she'll say "see, you're not so bad!" She will smile charmingly as she thus reassures you. In a minute, she'll move you to her favorite stage, where you pluck hairs from an onion, and, cleverly, she'll apologize for making you play the harder part, after she has demonstrated the easy section.

Again, this is superb retailing on her part. Even before this interaction, I'd resolved to pick up an import copy of dotstream, a beautiful-looking racing game from the Japanese Bit Generations series. Her excellent work made me comfortable enough in the environment to double my expenditure and throw in a copy of Orbital as well. (Next time I'm there, I'll probably yoink a copy of Sound Voyager.)

Amusingly, it appears that two weeks later, Tycho had an almost identical purchasing experience.

Aside from the items I scored, there was some most satisfying foraging to do. Controllers of nigh-limitless variety hang from the ceiling. Small inaction figures fairly throng upon the shelves. At the time of my visit, I was around halfway through Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation, and loving it, so naturally I was enthralled by the Japanese Super Robot Taisen Alpha.(1) Then I remembered that a solid third of the SRT experience is staring at menus, customizing mechs. Then I remembered that I don't read Japanese. Sigh. I gotta get on that.

They also rocked copies of the brilliant Japan-only 'Cast fighters Marvel vs Capcom 2, Street Fighter Zero 3 and Street Figher III.(2) Now, I know I talk big about how my "Street Fighter days are over, because all that SF once did, Soul Calibur does at least as well, adding a bunch besides," but what you have to realize is that these are Street Fighter games. That are Japanese. They are Japanese Street Fighter games. And so I must buy them. That visit, I resisted the purchase, but only because they had all three, diluting my cravings amongst them. Had there been only two, I could have made a decision, and be even deeper in hock than I am.(3)

What a store. I'm no teacher, so I shouldn't be giving a grade, but the experience of shopping there gets an S.


(1)There's much more to come on this topic. For now: the SRT series in Japan is known for bringing together mechs from many different series. The box art suggested that Evas might fight Veritechs, for example. The Atlus-released American versions can't do this, for stupid legal reasons, so they stick to the NamcoBandai-owned Gundam machines. Which are awesome, but c'mon. Evas vs Veritechs! How do I not want to battle those?
(2)Or anyway, the Japanese versions are 'way easier to come by: a couple of these did see American release, as I recall, and are shocking expensive on the secondhand circut.
(3)Also I need an arcade stick for my fighting games, and they didn't have one. 6-button fighters are all but unplayable with a standard Dreamcast controller.
(4)Did I ever mention that I picked up Advance Wars for 8 bucks at Goodwill? Or the highly-regarded (and punishingly difficult) Fire Pro Wrestling for five?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Reviewieran Iconography 101.

The casual reader might suspect the occupants of the Reviewiera offices of being a bit off, and to support that inkling I submit Exhibit 1 in a series of many.

Maybe it was the five pints I imbibed, or the late, heavy meal I ate, or the level 6 mission in Advance Wars 2 I finally completed right before I went to sleep, or the shitty sleep I got thereafter since some car wrecked or something near my residence and some tow truck was making holy fucking hell noise at 3:00 a.m., or maybe it was all of those things in a punch bowl that was spiked with me swimming in the Willamette River down in Milwaukie1 the day before.

Whatever it was, something in the middle of the night x-rayed into my brain the image of AstroBoy's head imposed over the basketball part of the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy.

Since I'm not one to ignore providence, well, if you get the impression you should put the head of Astro Boy on top of the Larry O'Brien Trophy, then YOU PUT THE HEAD OF ASTROBOY ON TOP OF THE LARRY O'BRIEN TROPHY!!

image hosted by photobucket. All rights fukking reserved!!

The new crest to festoon the battle standards of the Reviewiera mecha-nized legions? A unique Reviewieran conflagration of stuff with other stuff? Either way I am powerully moved to place an order for some stickers...

The ghostly visage of Astro maliciously glares at you...2


1 Yeah, you heard right!! Me! Swimming! Willamette River!
2 And, as everyone knows, the best Astroboy story was the one where he lost his faith in mankind, and decided to fight against humanity, rather than protect it. Brrr!!!

Plastic Forms of Escape III

Probably for the better, my appetite for brightly-colored injection-molded plastic has significantly diminished, from its hoary heights three years ago to a little more than a passing yet learned interest.

Credit where credit's due, but a significant factor in this precipitous drop-off was the passing of the venerable and cluttered and charming Dr. Tongues' 3-D House of Collectible Toys up around east Burnside and 14th.1 Since Tongues fell victim to the double whammies of recession and the commoditization of geekdom2, I have steadfastly refused to take my business to some bullshit faux-geek hipster boutique, & of the few purchases made since3 are of the online variety.4

Just this past glorious Labor Day, however, I was at the local Fred Meyer marketplace, & betwixt the aisles were the ever familiar clearance tables. I've never had much luck at the clearance table market5, but this time these bizarre, cutesy, Japanese-animination-esque, robotic- or at least power-armoured monkeys caught my eye. A cursory look-over revealed them to be from some Jetix television series, which, like so many cartoons today, has adopted a very heavy yet watered-down "anime" look, or at least character design, to it. 6

Of course, I don't give a shit about the show. The yellow one, "Hyperforce Nova," with clenched fists nearly the size of her head, was making eyes with me. Her clearance sticker marked her down from about $8 to $5.50. Good enough for me.

Later(!), enjoying a pint at Hedge House, girlfriend points out to me that the table was one of those "60% off whatever the sticker says," so I check my receipt, and sure enough, I paid a mere $2.25 for this cutey-pie!!

Waitaminute! This looks familiar…

Rearward-swooping spikey-thing at the top of her head? Check. Fin-like ridge thing that starts above and between the eyes and curves back and then down behind the head? Check. Large, bug-like eyes which suggest protective eye-wear? You betcha. Small mouth, or at least set at such an angle as include the chin, sorta? Yep.

Familiar... like... looks like..

[snaps fingers]

Oh yeah! Like Ultraman Astra!!

Always thought Astra stood out in a crowd, the jaunty motherfucker.


1 Dr. Tongues, however, perseveres on the infobanh
2 Seriously. I mean, comicbook shops that rely on the sale of Pokemon cards to stay afloat? The absolute glutting of the movie-houses w/ comic-book after comic-book adaptation? Adult Swim? Ugh.
3 Stikfas,
of course.
4 Credit where credit's due: my girlfriend still buys me an action figure my birthday and/or X-mas. Ahh.
5 As opposed to Fat, who has had some
decent success, scoring everything from Gundam model kits to GBA games, the jerk.
6 I'm not sure if its ironic or sinister or simply cross-cultural exchange at work, but:

A) Far as I can tell, JETIX is a block of animated programming on the Disney channel that features Japanimation-esque series. In other words, Disney appropriating Japanimation styles & design.
B) Generally acknowledged alpha-patriarch of the Japanese manga AND Japanese animation, Osamu Tezuka, cites the art and animation of Walt Disney as his inspiration (Mickey Mouse, it is said, is why Japanese manga & animation character have those big eyes).

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

this week in retail and rage

O. Introduction.
Right now I'm exceedingly cravy. Between Starfox and Deep Labyrinth, my RPG-hunger and my appetite for space shooters are both powerful and sharp. Unfortunately, I'm broke as shit, and need to save some room in my budget for Contact and Baten Kaitos Origins later in the month.

Since these 'Cube and DS games are out of reach at the moment, there's only one outlet for my depraved retail and gameplay desires: my beloved pink handheld, the mighty GBA. I have thus far adopted a two-pronged strategy. To appease my desperate need for a new RPG, I have told myself most sternly that first, I must finish an old RPG, one already in my collection. And to satisfy my overwhelming desire to purchase something, I have embarked upon a massive clearance-rack safari. I shall treat of these out of turn.

1. Shooting for clearance, with clearance to shoot.
Yesterday, I put in four hours on my bike, roaming around, hoping for some clearance magic. Really, I was looking for Nanostray, a DS space shooter by this company Shin'en, who made a super-neato GBA space shooter called Iridion II. Seemed like a cheap way to scratch the itch caused by Starfox.(1) Struck out, though. Out of the two Targets, two Freddys, Circut City, three GameStops and an EB, there was no trace of Nanostray.

Indeed, there was little trace of anything even slightly interesting. Some Star Wars game where you use the Millenium Falcon to do shit, fly around, probably, blow stuff up. Now, not to offend, but I've logged my hours in Tie Fighter, I've played a fair bit of X-Wing, and the Millenium Falcon is pretty close to the bottom of the list when it comes to ships from that universe I'm interested in flying. Teen Titans for ten bucks for the 'Cube, that mighta worked, or Lego Star Wars, but I really did want something handheld, and something in the shooter genre, while I wait to score my next RPG...

Finally, however, at least a little bit of lightning struck. SigmaStar Saga. This is an RPG...whose random battles are space-shooter segments. I have no clue how long this will remain engaging, but for a ten-spot, it seems like a lovely way to provide myself with a purchase, an RPG, and a new shooter.(2) Now this is a retail victory!

2. Levelled up, but never level-headed,
old JRPGs will make you insane.
Just today, over at Penny Arcade, Tycho and Gabe have both issued terrific defenses of the classical JRPG. This is a genre they've both (among many others) savaged in the past, but its appeals are strong for them, and for me. For me, turn-based party combat is just about as good as it gets in a video game, and when it's done right, it'll easily carry me through the many, many sins of the average JRPG. At least for a while.

And it would be hard to find a more average JRPG than Final Fantasy IV. I quit playing this game a while ago. A long while ago. Since I put it up, I have beaten two GBA RPGs, gotten halfway through two more GBA strategy RPGs, put 30 and 65 hours into two 'Cube RPGs, fallen in love with Metroid Prime, and started a torrid affair with the Dreamcast.(3) Never did finish the fucker, though I felt like I was pretty close...

Two nights ago, Canada comes downstairs to deliver some recently-burnt cartoons. He finds me engaged in the most rage-filled gaming session I've ever had. I unloaded on him my bile and contempt for confusing dungeons with battles Every Four Steps and the total annoyance of the Active Time Battle System.(4) At the time, I was seriously foaming at the mouth and anus: no battle system is fun Every Four Steps, particularly when you're having to backtrack all the god-damned time, due to a shitty map system.

Three hours later, I was 9 rooms into a 12-room dungeon with no save points, and I decided to take on a minor side-quest battle. Halfway through the battle, the bad guys somehow took command of my party. I then got to watch the game play itself, as my Three hours of time, totally wasted, because SquareEnix just couldn't make a handheld game with a workable save system. Right around here I made a note to myself:
I have never enjoyed a video game less.

The next day, I recognized that particular rage as my usual response to being inadequately leveled up. This is a "feature" of JRPGs that gets me Every Single Time. At least once in every such title, I beat a boss, they tell me about the next boss, so I take the game at its word and go find that boss. Then I proceed to have an incredibly frustrating play experience, because my characters are nowhere near ready for that part of the game.(5)

So I spent a couple hours yesterday and today happily running through the new-weapon dungeon and snooping around for other side quests: when the characters are well-matched to the environment, even the Active Time Battle System can be fun. Something has to be fun, here: I've got 40 hours in this game on this one playthrough, probably another 12 in the first two times I tried to play. Not that I can explain why I've played so much, exactly.

It can't be the story, which 1,000 internet nerds claim was a breakthrough in video-game narrative, because (a) I couldn't follow the thread when I was actually playing it, and (b) I gave the game up for so long that I had actually forgotten three separate members of my party.(6) The gameplay? Well, I can't actually remember any point at which I was really stoked to be playing this game. The music's pretty great.

All I can say is that a couple members of the supporting cast are really appealing to me. There's a guy who gets brought back to life by his wife. This is pretty neat. However, she pulls this off by whanging him on the dome with a frying pan. That's awesome. Cid is genius throughout the game: every single time he died, I felt genuine stirrings in my tiny, blackened little heart.(7) Palom is such a mouthy little twerp that his sister bitch-slaps him, which is fairly common in these games, but is still hilarious. And Kain has a really cool helmet. A really cool helmet.(8)

Which, apparently, is good for 40+ hours. Christ, I can't wait to be done with this stupid game. And never again will I play any Final Fantasy game without a good map by my side. Come to think of it, maybe I just won't play another Final Fantasy game.(9)


(1)Curse you, Nintendo Power! You know I'm powerless to resist your miniguides! Such a cunning way to advertise...

(2)The opening text crawl is a nifty hard-boiled sort of science fiction. The middle paragraph of the main character's narration runs:

The Krill found earth sixty years ago, a humbling day for humanity. Their spaceships swarmed over the Atlantic. Gouged out a hunk of ocean floor the size of Canada. The sea boiled for three years, turning the sea life into gumbo. Melted ice caps and exposed mantle sludged into the hole like a wet rag. Good time to be a mapmaker.

That's nice stuff there. An added bonus is that the music is by Shin'en. The soundtrack for Iridion II is one of the finest game music achievements I've yet experienced, so I'm stoked for a bit more of their work.

(3)This is just to mention my involvement with comparable games. I shall pass over in silence the couple of action games and the several puzzle games I have involved myself with over that span.

(4)Combining the most irritating features of turn-based combat with the nagging insistance on your attention of real-time play! Thanks, SquareEnix! (Cockjockeys.)

(5)Frequently, I can actually prevail, due to my intensely awesome RPG playing. Seriously, nobody uses a healing spell, then a fire spell, then a couple physical attacks quite like me.

(6)I suspect that I cribbed the phrase "breakthrough in video game narrative" from GameSpot.

(7)And every time he came back, I felt like a chump for having been so easily manipulated by the dumb game.

(8)Seriously, the helmet is so cool I refuse to take the guy out of my party. I am in no way kidding. I even like the look of the helmet when he's in low-HP mode: his head looks exactly like Trumpy! TRUMPY!! "Trumpy, you can do stupid things!"

(9)Well, I do still have that copy of FFII to get through, and I've got maps for it, so.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Starriors! come out to play...

As I work on a piece about the most impressive and charming Drill Dozer, I become reminded of the first super-cool human-piloted giant robots what ever fascinated me. Starriors.

The Starrior roster.

This toy line was a cousin of Zoids. I actually had a couple Zoids: the idea of a great big robotic dinosaur (with a little gold dude in a spacesuit sitting in the head) was pretty irrestistable. Building them yourself was equally nifty, particularly because the heads came off, and were very much like an escape-pod, starfighter kinda thingy, so when you got tired of giant-robot-dinosaur fun, you could fly the head around, shooting lasers at things.

This head-with-pilot functionality was also present in the Starriors, which I couldn't afford, but craved. Now, the idea of human-piloted giant robots was always in my head, near as I can remember. I mean, I don't really remember not being aware of Voltron, for example. But Voltron always struck me as basically lame. These guys, though, these guys I could see. Robot lion? Please. I want a giant chest-mounted buzzsaw, or twin-laser, or drill. I think it was this industrial, useful feel that first enthralled me about Starriors...

Crank.  My boy!

I have a very clear memory of being in the Wal-Mart toy aisle, holding the box with this guy in it. Would have been 84/85, looks like. This one was the one I wanted. I'm no longer convinced that a chest-mounted drill is all that functional, but I'll still take my chances. Except maybe against this guy.

Gouge.  Nemesis.  Role model!