Friday, June 24, 2011

30DAPC: Day 2

Day 2
Your Favorite Anime So Far

There is no doubt about this choice.

The favorite one I keep returning to is a little series called Revolutionary Girl Utena. If surrealism were an anime, this would be it. At first the story is gradual and subtle, so if you're looking for an action packed series this probably isn't the pick for you. What is thrilling about it is witnessing the tiny revolution within each character as they tackle their defining moments of adolescence. You have to be willing to sit down and really pay attention to every detail in order to fully appreciate the story, especially when the last six episodes roll around and you begin to realize that the entire story itself is a metaphor for the way a young blossoming teenager views the world as fairy tale princes die and "real life" comes swooping in. Like in real life, the characters are forced to either move on to reality and accept real life for all its disgusting let downs-- such as heart break, neglect, rape, lacking the power to save those closest to you, and the awareness that one's innocence is truly dead-- or hide away from the truth, preserving your innocence at the cost of sacrificing your ability to function as a human being-- burying yourself in your psyche's coffin. Neither are an optimistic outlook on life.

The other students try to go through drastic means to rectify this, as they see the loss of innocence the loss of everything important to them, as most immature children do. One by one they all end up falling specifically because of the one thing they're fighting for, and even when they turn the tables and try to fight their immature wants and needs, they fail again. But despite this personal break down, the student council remains strong and unwavering; because they fail on an individual level, they must strive on a community level.

Utena, on the other hand, is different; she doesn't fight immaturity or maturity, but rather embraces both sides of her psyche, just like she embraces her masculinity and femininity. She is both accepting and honest with herself in ways the other characters haven't seen-- they all have something they're ashamed of, and either try to change the way the rules work so it doesn't become a problem, or try to deny that such an inadequacy exists. But in Utena's case, she isn't willing to change the world or deny a part of herself. Her desire to strike up a middle path where one doesn't have to sacrifice themselves or sacrifice the world to exist peacefully is what makes her so revolutionary, as the other characters begin to see the selfishness of both sides. But as the story shows, the willingness to do great good to not sacrifice one's soul comes at an even greater cost-- one that has drastic consequences for both Utena and Anthy. But as another anime has said, "Perhaps the lack of a choice is a choice in and of itself, one that has its own consequences. But you could say it is the ideal answer."

Or maybe I'm reading too much into it and it really only is about gay sex. After all, it's in a world where hate manifests itself in a physical form. (And we all know that swords are really just really angry penises)

The girls get laid, too!

i obviously have some problems

Thursday, June 23, 2011

30 Day Anime Photo Challenge: Day 1

Yes, it's as fucked up as it looks.
Day 1
Your first anime

Instead of my first anime being the obligatory Sailor Moon, DBZ, or Pokemon, my first experience with the wonderful animation from Japan was actually Little Nemo Adventures in Slumberland. Although if it's asking for anime SERIES, it's probably an equally obscure answer...

Suddenly my childhood is making more and more sense.
Of course, this is during my childhood where all cartoons were "OH PRETTY COLORS" so I wasn't really aware that Japan itself was a country, much less producing these cartoons. So I guess in all reality, the first series that was produced where I was actually aware that it was an "anime" was...

yeah my childhood makes so much sense

Evil Robotic Potato Review (Portal 2 Review)

Okay, I finally caved and rented Portal 2. It didn't have to do with how AWESOME EVERYONE THINKS IT IS, but mostly because of my 12 year old cousin. He touted the fact that he beat the game in a mere 12 hours. When I said "Oh, that's pretty good. I haven't played it yet, but I love those games," he replied, "Yeah, but I think it's a little above your level. It was REALLY hard."


"Of course you realize, this means war."
 Well, for whatever reason I got it, I'm glad it did. It actually beat all expectations. Not to be a hipster, but I figured it was one of those things that everyone loved because... well, everyone loved it. But no, this was one of those rare occasions society picked out a game because it was good! (I also beat it in nine hours.) So let's quit beating around the bush and get to it. Hopefully the internet won't hate me for giving its darling a fair look... This is Portal 2.

"I think we can put our differences behind us, for science... you monster."

Plot Summary
For someone who's never played the first game, I was delighted to know this is one of those sequels where you don't have to know too much about the first in order to play the second. And if there are any questions you might have, they pretty much address it in the first chapter. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, the original Portal was about the playable character, Chell, caught up in a testing facility that would make any lab rat look like it lived the good life. In the end, you have to kill an evil AI robot called GLaDOS (she calls you names, too :<). All is well for a while, until Portal 2 starts up and then... you meet him.

He's not just a regular moron. He was DESIGNED to be a moron.
This little guy named Wheatley, in his attempt to escape from the facility with you, sets off a chain of reactions that inevitably wakes GLaDOS back up. And let's say she's not happy. But in Portal 2, you begin to learn that sometimes stupidity is a much more dangerous thing than just being an evil genius. As you try to escape GLaDOS' clutches and perform a series of tests and solve numerous puzzles, Wheatley once again makes everything worse by taking over the facility himself. You then promptly learn that his endearingly cute stupidity is going to kill you, GLaDOS, himself, and everything else in the facility if you can't stop the lab from self-destructing. Which is ultimately easier said than done... because Wheatley is an idiot, and GLaDOS... well...

"How are you doing? Because I'M a potato."
The rest of the game is a race against the clock where you must defeat Wheatley (who has convinced himself that all is well) and unfortunately put GLaDOS back into power. And of course, there's the big question of what she'll do with you if you both manage to not kill yourselves in the end.

Overall, the plot is exciting, and pretty well done for your standard puzzle game. Even though GLaDOS is a chick to be hated, the more you learn about her, the more you want to feel sympathetic for her. And even though Wheatley's stupidity tries to kill you on several occasions, his stupidity is both comedic and endearing. In the end, you actually care about what happens instead of just caring about the answer to the next puzzle.

Grade: A

The script is ultimately the part that gets everyone to fall in love with Portal 2. My friends and I have beaten it a while ago but we all still continue to quote GLaDOS' little insults (apparently I sound just like her). For a cast made up almost entirely of robots, the delivery of the the quips (either genius or pathetic in nature) is always perfect and will have you giggling to yourself while you're trying to solve the puzzles. It's a perfect blend of smart humor and pure stupidity (which makes sense given the characters).

Well, before I start gushing, I suppose I should just get on with the grade. The only criticism I have is that I hate when the main character doesn't speak, but that's terribly common in video games.

Grade: A

Oh, right. This IS a puzzle game afterall. Well, essentially the puzzles play like a giant temple ala Legend of Zelda. Step on this, move that, except with a bit more difficulty. The controls are graceful,  and the physics seemlessly push you from one portal to the next. I almost got motion sickness from one level where you jump and bound around; but that was mostly my fault because I opened a few portals upside-down and did a lot of spinning. Apparently I'm the only one that felt that way though...

"I'm going to die, aren't I?"
It WAS a little awkward at times just barely missing the portal if you land half way on it. You'd think that'd just mean you'd slide into it, but no, apparently you can stand on the portal half-way. This quickly becomes frustrating if you need to propell yourself through the air "like an eagle... piloting a blimp." Aside from that, the actual gameplay was unlike any other first person game I've ever played and was immensely enjoyable.

Grade: A

. . .

Okay, I think it's easy to see where this is going. Part of me gets sick whenever I gush about a game but don't have a whole lot to critique about it. I mean, that's obviously great for Portal 2, but I don't know, I just don't like to do it.

So I'm going to save both of us some time and just flat-out say that this is probably in my top three favorite puzzle games. Overall, I'd give it an A. If you don't buy it, at least rent it. It'll be the best five dollars you've spent. But don't pass this up by any means.

Til next review, see you later!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Latest Addiction: Read Dead Redemption

Few games have the ability to push the line of "No, they won't do that. They can't. Can they?" But in 2010, there was at least one game that left such an impact on this gamer. An interesting storyline, unique characters, and general badassery makes this game. Grand Theft Auto meets the Wild West meets... Kill Bill? This is Red Dead Redemption.

Now, while this game did have a nice emotional impact, that's not saying this game didn't have its faults. At times the story telling can be a bit weak and some controls take a bit getting used to. It can also be pretty preachy throughout the game, to the point that it becomes more of a political statement than a realistic story plot. So let's dive into this game and take a good hard look at it.

Overall Plot
Enter John Marston. There is no clean voice over or fancy opening that sums up the plot of the story; rather, there is an air of some mystery around this man that you control around the untamed West. There's a long amount of time spent watching John sitting in a train. Yes, the intro is essentially watching him listen to different people talk on the train about people who will have little bearing on the plot. Perhaps RDR is trying to set a tone of suspense, but it falls a little flat. I often found myself asking my friends, "Okay, so when is the game going to start?"

After a very long intro, the game quickly picks up. After the introductory chapter you learn that John is a former outlaw trying to reform his life. However, the federal government didn't just want to grant him immunity after killing rich folks (shockingly) and decided that he must round up his former gang members and, one by one, put a stop to them. If he doesn't, they will execute his wife, another former gang member, and his innocent son. The task of taking down these notorious outlaws is daunting in itself, but he also must do a series of tasks to get strangers on his side and help him. Sometimes he makes unshakable bonds, like with the MacFarlanes, and other times he makes horrible enemies, but you can pretty much see their heel-face turn coming a mile away.

While the whole redeeming one's self bit isn't exactly original and neither is having a morally ambiguous character, where RDR truly is original is that it's willing to go a step further than other games. It's realistic where others are more fairy-tale-esque; graphic where others are more vague. It isn't afraid to kill off characters central to the plot and doesn't make much of a side-show to drag out one's emotions along with it. The way the game plays to your emotions is very subtle, and it works. And of course, the ending was both expected and unexpected at the same time-- you suspected it was going to come, but you weren't sure if RDR had the balls to make it happen. Long story short: it does.

Fucking gov'ment scum.
However, for all its emotional subtlety, there are certain points that the story just drags out. You could make a drinking game out of RDR for everytime someone mentions how the government is interfering with people's lives. Granted, it IS interfering with John Marston's life, but he used to be a murderer, and technically still is depending on how amoral you play him throughout the game. But with everyone else it begins to get pretty annoying. In the final chapters, you also get a bunch of new points beat into your head, but I won't spoil it for you.

All in all, RDR's storytelling is varied. Too understated in some areas, and too strong in others. However the story still manages to tug on your heart strings (assuming you still have one).

Grade: B
Good story, but doesn't come without its own share of problems.

Alright, the reason why I was so forgiving with the bash-you-over-the-head points is because I realized most of the problems ultimately laid with the script. While some of the points were stretched so far they became plot points, ultimately they were just a collection of problems with the script. For some reason the writers thought it was appropriate to repeat certain points over and over. One could argue that it was because these points were "important" and needed to be driven home, on the other hand it came off as pretty annoying and unoriginal.

The script's saving grace, however, is when the characters aren't trying to come off as innocent country folk, it's just fun to watch them interact with each other. I had so much fun I almost want to replay the entire thing; it's like wanting to watch your favorite movie over again. Luckily, this makes up for a majority of the machinima cut-scenes.

Side Note:
The side quests range from hilarious to down right disturbing, but they were all fun to do. Not many of them take a lot of time to do, either, so it's just a silly detour.

Grade: B
Some points are annoying, but it's generally fun to watch the characters interact with each other.

While RDR does have some problems with its script, the greatest problem it has is with its lack of challenging gameplay and awkward controls. Now, I am not very good with shooter games, and yet I breezed past most of the levels. Truly, if you have enough medicine, you can survive any encounter pretty easily. That is, after you get used to the awkward controls. When I say awkward, it's sort of hard to nail down what exactly the problem was. But once you play, you'll notice it from the moment you begin to move John around. And this isn't standard RockStar controls-- I started playing immediately after finishing Bully, another RockStar title.

Another problem I had was the amount of button mashing required to move around quickly. Was there really any reason to have a button to make the character run, and repeatedly tab to have them sprint? Can't you just have someone run that fast from the beginning, and hold down that button to sprint? I was genuinely worried about getting carpal tunnel at some point because of this.

But once you get used to how the controls move, the way you play is relatively simple: shoot your way through the bad guys and save the day. There isn't much of a challenge to it. So while it isn't broken, I can't say I actually enjoyed the actual gameplay of it. The collection and ambient challenges were neat, but what RPG doesn't have collection and in-game achievements nowadays?

Grade: C
Not broken, but not even really that good.

I have to say, I really did like the look of this game. The starlit nights in Mexico were absolutely beautiful in HD, the animals looked realistic, as well as the people. However, there were a few glitches here or there, but for the most part, I was able to enjoy the story and not be distracted by bad graphics. The blood while skinning animals were a bit unnecessary but, you know. It's RockStar. It's going to be exaggerated.

John Marston. Cowboy. Vigilante. Flower-picker.
I almost stopped and said to someone, "Isn't this beautiful?" Before realizing it was a completely fake reality on a number of occasions. This is by far one of the best points RDR has to offer.

Grade: A

Ahh, another point I really loved about RDR. Again, it was subtle, but when it was used, it really added to the tension. Instead of going into too much detail, I'll just share a song that was played as the final chapter began:

Grade: A

Yes, this game is not without its problems. But in the end of it, it was an excellent game. It'd hard to summarize what an emotional experience it was... so for once, I'm turning to a simple youtube comment, because it captures the feelings I had for it in a way I can't top.
Literally I pushed my horse so hard to get to Beechers Hope when I heard this song. One of the few times you just become full entangled in a game and the experiences of the character you play. I honestly, felt a desperation to get back to the Wife and child that I didn't have. -- PatInferno, from the video above.
I'm having a hard time returning this game back to the rental, because it means this journey will finally be over.

Overall Grade: B+/A- 

Final Verdict: Buy it.