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I feel like ranting.

I’ve always, ever since I was just a little kid and first playing games, loved turn-based combat. I wonder if that makes me strange. It certainly makes me geeky, but there’s something really, tangibly satisfying about it. RPGs have been my bread and butter genre, the one I’ve subscribed to and paid the most to over my gaming career. I’ve played RPGs of every make, from the Southwest to the Far East, the colorful and childish and the grim and grotesque and in all of them–well, for a long period of time in the 90’s and early 2000’s at least–all of them were united by turn-based combat. A system where, rather than actively approach and assault your target, you eliminate your enemies in a thoughtful, strategic manner, combing various skills from various units or characters in order to eliminate the foe in the most efficient way possible. It was a thinking man’s game–like chess, but with big fucking explosions and dragons and shit.

I love it. I love being able to lean forward, chin in hand, analyzing boss patterns. Looking for strengths and weaknesses, figuring out the absolute best moment to attack and when to defend. People, I’ve found, mock turn-based combat as slow and boring, but to me it’s just the opposite. Combined with a deep customization system, turn-based combat is a visceral canvass in which your stat-building and character customization choices are painted and the paint is the blood of your enemies. You can mold a unit into a uniquely devastating force of nature through your knowledge of mechanics and your analysis of individual strengths and weaknesses. Through numbers and foresight you mold unto this digital world a God of Destruction, a living embodiment of power everlasting. The satisfaction from this is richly succulent and well worth the effort.

Sadly, RPGs are evolving and, reluctantly, I say for the better. I’m starting to realize that turn-based combat may become, if it isn’t already doing so, archaic and obsolete. New generations may reject it entirely, and I feel that–with evidence being in the absolutely palpable and heart-wrenchingly dramatic and tense Demon’s Souls–action RPGS are finally coming into their own, and managing to craft the dramatic tension present in many turn-based duels from RPG classics, like Final Fantasy IX or Chrono Trigger. The satisfaction from these games and the strategy involved–beyond pointless gimmicks or button-mashing–is also improving. I’m predicting that we will soon see a vein of action-oriented RPGs with a deep emphasis on stat-building and strategy, and that day will be a good day indeed.

Anyway, my point here is that I want you to remember the turn-based RPG, and I’d like to see its place honored. I’d hate for the mechanic to die completely. I hope, much like 2-D games, turn-based RPGs find a strong niche market and explore next generation systems in new and interesting ways. Just as we still use dice to run games of chance, so too may we still allow enemies and allies to face each other in parallel lines and politely take turns whacking each other with sticks. For some us, it’s a lot of fun.

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Boy howdy it sure has been awhile since my last post. Blame the last semester of college and the fact that I’m pretty lazy. I also haven’t been playing as many games as I used to, so I haven’t has as much to comment on. But now I’m graduated and unemployed and boy do I suddenly have a lot of spare time I’m totally not filling in with sleep. So, this fell onto the back-burner for awhile, but I’m turning up the fires and gonna try to really stick to this now. We’ll see how that goes, but I promise to be as entertaining and informative as possible.

Look forward to my write-up on an unpolished gem, a Portal 2 review (far too late for relevancy) and maybe some hot L.A. Noire action. And whatever else I feel like doing. Which could be anything.

Anything.

So yeah, we’re back and better than ever, so let’s get this shit started.

IGN wrote:

” Heavy Rain is a hell of an experience. Its controversial control scheme actually works really well in allowing the fantastic story to dictate how events play out, and many of the game’s scenes will keep you on the edge of your seat. It starts slow and the presentation isn’t perfect, but the character development, dialog and story twists will hook you like few games can. Heavy Rain is not to be missed.”

I suppose “controversial” is good enough a term for “endless Quick Time Events that have no rhyme or reason”. This review gushes over the quality of the written dialog, which…eh…doesn’t really hold up. We get such fantastic gems as “Time to be the sexy girl” (from the token female character whose role it is to be naked or a shoe-horned love interest for the main male lead) and “The rain never hurt nobody; c’mon let’s go play” from one of the most insipid flashback sequences I’ve seen anywhere. I suppose you can call the dialog passable–it certainly is dialog, that is words exchanged from two characters to advance the plot. If you ignore the AWFUL delivery of just about every individual line by the myriad voice actors who can’t figure out how to fake sounding French or the fact that much of the dialog serves only to cement how cliche and shallow the plot is, then yes, the dialog will hook you. I was certainly hooked by Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room”, much as watching a train-wreck will hook you too, which is perhaps the most generous comparison I can give to Heavy Rain, so there’s that. It seems to me that Chris Roper has maybe never read a book beyond the instruction manual to a video game, and god knows it’s not like there are examples in gaming of actually good writing and dialog.

1Up.com wrote: “But a game that prides itself on its story is only as good as its writing and actors. The quality and detail of Heavy Rain’s sets are truly spectacular — whether it’s a faded wallpaper pattern or dilapidated apartment, this is a world that feels lived-in and genuine. The characters have a similar gritty realness, but occasionally veer into uncanny valley territory due to some inelegant animations. Regardless, the game conveys a subtlety of emotion that very few games have ever succeeded at.”

A “lived-in” world with the exact same six pedestrian models, all of whom are young-to-middle-aged white people, a world where a drug dealer in a shitty neighborhood lives in a five-room sprawling apartment or a hooker has a spacious and lushly decorated loft or the fact that actually every location in the game, while nice to look at, is completely incongruous and some of them make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Every store and brand is essentially named “Brand”, like “Asthma” brand inhalers or “Video Store” video store. It’s funny at first, but quickly seems to be just plain lazy. The “subtlety of emotion” is wonderfully broadcast by the main character, who is sad because he looks sad the entire game, except for his eyes which never stop staring blankly forward, like a dead fish. Considering the animators took the time to put in nervous habits for many characters, like foot-tapping or twitches of the mouth, it’s odd that no one’s emotive abilities extends to their eyes, and most of the time you have character’s lips flapping up and down while their faces remain completely neutral, even as they’re yelling angrily.

Joystiq wrote: ”
Of all the games on our list, Heavy Rain was the only one whose appearance — even at the most humble position on the pedestal — was called into question. With such apparent spite for the title coursing through our collective veins, you might wonder how it made any showing at all. The answer is indicative of the game’s overall reception in the gaming community’s collective consciousness: Many writers gave the game no weight in the discussion at all, while few gave it just about as much weight as they could possibly throw.”

I read this as them basically saying “Well, actually a lot of people are saying this game is shit but it’s really popular and got great reviews, so it’s on our top ten!” and it makes me laugh a little, a sort of sad, choking laugh that quickly gives way to tears. I also love how all of these reviews point out things that I take issue with–like the questionable voice acting and the primitive animations–yet still reward the game 9’s and A’s, as though they forgot that their “criticism” should carry some weight. I understand that reviewers don’t control the weight and meaning behind their point scores, having to please the myriad of insipid scorehounds and advertisers who just want shiny numbers to slap on the back of their game boxes to drum up sales, but come ON. Can’t we qualify this a little bit? Is it not so hard to say “Well, okay, this part is bad, so I’ll subtract a point”? Either assume a game starts at zero and moves its way up, or starts at 10 and moves its way down–I don’t care, but if you’re not going to take your review system seriously, why the hell should I?

Gamerant says: ”

Does Heavy Rain utilize quick-time events for a number of the game’s action sequences (brawls, shootouts, and a highway chase)? Yes. Is it fair to categorize Heavy Rain as a quick-time game? Absolutely not, because in Heavy Rain, QTEs aren’t patched in as a means of testing the player’s skills or a gimmick to keep you from getting a snack during a rendered cut scene.

The QTEs are as essential to the game as the story because the story continues regardless of your success or failures – which makes the action scenes that much more tense and nerve-racking.”

Bullshit. The QTE’s are a measure of testing a player’s skill, because passing or failing some of the hardest ones dictates who lives and who dies. If you can’t press the buttons fast enough, you fail and somebody dies. Except for the one character who can’t ever die, or the many times where failure doesn’t matter at all, but I digress. The action scenes are thusly not that tense or  nerve-racking  because most of them just go overlong as an excuse to try and shoe-horn some measure of excitement into a game slower than a stoned snail crawling through molasses. But if this statement is meant to be taken at face value, then are they saying that this game doesn’t test the player, and that the player’s involvement is passive and unnecessary? Hm.

Gamerant said: “In addition, the four playable characters have distinct personalities as well as approaches to following the trail of the Origami Killer. Each character utilizes specific gameplay mechanics (one character might be more analytical, another more physical) offering the player a varied gameplay-experience in a title that could have been hammering the same note too often.”

I’m not exactly sure if they understand the meaning of “gameplay mechanics” because the characters all have the same gameplay mechanics, i.e. press or hold a button for a certain amount of time, or twist a control stick in a specific direction for five seconds to make X happen. The difference in characters is that one has X=punching someone in the face while the other has X=JAYSOOOOOON or SHAAAAAWN! The mechanics only very loosely change when you are playing as the FBI agent, who has the only really interesting gimmick of the bunch, a pair of super-sci-fi glasses that can magically analyze DNA and fingerprints instantly from a crime scene, can ID cars from their tire tracks, and basically do everything you see on CSI (regardless of whether it’s something that can actually be done) and eliminating all actual player involvement from crime-scene investigation beyond “Go here and click this”. Imagine a point and click adventure game without any actual puzzle solving and you’ll have Heavy Rain in a nutshell.

What’s most ludicrous about these reviews is that they all end with something along the lines of “If you are twitch-gamer who only plays teh Haloz or shooty-bang-bang kill games, you’ll hate this game, but the more sophisticated gamer will love it” as some excuse for why they are giving almost perfect scores to an over-hyped boring piece of shit with lousy writing and directing and completely uninspiring gameplay, because anyone–say, me–who argues against the game must clearly by a left-brained neanderthal who can’t enjoy a game unless I’m BOOM headshotting everyone from 100 yards away. But as much as I hold modern shooters with a degree of scorn due to their sameness, at least they have some measure of gameplay. Even the most retarded modern FPS at least is more fun to actually play and, in truth, is a better game because I, the player, have more influence over what happens then I ever do when playing Heavy Rain.

The game lovingly rendered his ass too, so in the first five minutes of gameplay it literally moons us.

I just don’t understand it. Are our game reviewers just hype machines? Are we really going to get perfect scores for games whose only great achievment is being kind of “different”? I know we’re starved for innovation in this industry, but this game doesn’t innovate at all–it just says it innovates. It thinks it innovates, but all it does is craft an utterly insipid, cliche-ridden story with a few really good scenes sprinkled about. And yes, there are good scenes, and even good ideas here and there. I’d love to play a game that only featured FBI-man and his magic know-it-all glasses. Like “The Room”, this game is so bad it’s actually very entertaining. But it’s entertaining in every way it doesn’t want to be. It trumps itself as a serious and gritty story, but all it is is a shallow, superficial piece of pompous crap. It’s an ego piece, and not even a very good one. Everything it does well has been done better by other movies–not games, mind you, but movies, because mere video games aren’t worthy of emulation by auteur David Cage, no sir! Again, I recommend watching this Let’s Play to see this game in action, because you’ll laugh your ass off at all the parts you aren’t angrily demanding it explain any one of its many, many, many plotholes.

Maybe I wouldn’t be so upset at this game if it wasn’t for the fact that there is not one big-name video game publication that gave it a bad score. Not one. And it’s not like this game is a flawed gem or that I’m being overly critical, because believe me, I wanted very much to like this game, I did. I went into it expecting to be able to dismiss the many forum-going naysayers and find the good in it. But within the first hours of the game, if you aren’t bored by the lack of anything substantial to do, you’ll likely just be pissed off by the arbitrary melodrama, the unimaginitve gameplay, and the utter lack of respect for the intelligence of the player, who is expected to just quietly bask in awe at the emotional maelstrom this game revels in. Instead, we have a pretty shit game with some good bits here and there–and yet this game, this fucking game sells 2 million copies on the strength of the nigh-perfect scores it earned across the board. How? How the fuck does that happen?

I guess you could sum up this entry as me disagreeing with someone else’s opinions, and I guess that’s true. After all, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I just didn’t find myself riveted by this game, and these reviewers really, genuinely felt it was fun enough to award such sterling scores to. Then again, maybe somebody ought to say “y’know what? This game’s fine, but does it deserve such a high score?” Maybe somebody should point out that IGN and 1Up’s reviews move copies, and if we’re trusting this people to judge a game fairly and not just hype up a shit game for the sake of hype, maybe somebody should say something once in awhile.

I look forward to being ostracized by the gaming journalism community and never being employed by any of these people as a result of this blog post, leaving me penniless and destitute. But maybe it was worth it.

Voice of Gamers

Greetings programs. Long time no update, eh? Well fear not, because I’m back and this time I’m going to kick this shit into high gear. College managed to rob me of any desire to keep updates steady, but I’ve resolved to turn this blog into something to fear, so get ready. In the meantime, though, have this. It’s what kept me so busy–an end-of-semester project about the Gaming Community. The project was beset with problems and delays, and I can’t say I’m very happy with the final product, but this is probably the best thing that came out of it. It’s gamers on gaming. Big kudos to all who agreed to interviews, and to the Something Awful Forums for their assistance. So, without further ado, here it is: the Voice of Gamers

 

Gaming is more than just games.

Well, okay, no it isn’t, but you need people to play games in order to fund the industry and, chances are, you’ll want people to talk about games, people to follow gaming sites and keep eyes on the bigger companies and gossip and rage on the Internet about whether it’s Aeris or Aerith. Somewhere in this churning sea of discordant bellowing and autistic obsession emerged what we know as “gaming culture”.

And now it’s today. Sites like 1up sit comfortably atop the gaming media mountain, Yahtzee makes angry reviews to the enjoyment of the Internet, SomethingAwful spawns Let’s Plays like tadpoles in stagnant water, and LordKat plays games…until he wins.

Behold the face of gaming.

Until We Win is a remarkably simple show–basically a simplified video walkthrough of games old enough and hard enough to warrant one. It isn’t in-depth or comprehensive, but it’s sufficiently entertaining and as educational as it can be. LordKat–or Jason Pullara, whichever you prefer–doesn’t do a lot of sketches or dress up in costumes like many of his contemporaries over at That Guy With the Glasses which is almost a shame, since he’s got a very sharp sense of black humor, as many of his crossover videos will display. But he doesn’t need to sing and dance to earn our coppers. That’s not what we watch him for.

Pullara’s website is host to a few of his other projects, and he’s hopped onto the incredibly popular streaming bandwagon as well, often streaming live playthroughs of games or podcasts or videologs. I’ve not really had the time to sit down and listen to a full podcast, though he has one called This Week in Games that’s really quite good. It’s a lot of industry talk and, like most semi-professional podcasts, goes on for quite a while. If you are into industry talk and have a fixation for Brooklyn accents, you may very well find some good listening there. It and many more–such as LordKat Eats, where he bravely stuffs himself with horrifying exotic foods like the fat bastard he is–make up an already quite sizeable backlog of videos, and all of them make for good watching. He also plays D&D or something.

I like Pullara because, unlike many web shows out there, he’s not really reviewing or commenting on anything. He has opinions which sometimes slip into his UWW videos, but for the most part his only interest is the challenge–he yearns for it. You can see his eyes light up whenever he’s about to dig into a particularly hard game, and he has bested–legitimately, according to him and those who know him–games that even professional game critics have balked at. Fuck me, he beat the bullet hell Silver Surfer for crying out loud!

Remember that one blog post I did about the different types of gamer? Pullara, if his show’s name isn’t indication enough, seems clearly a type-A gamer. He’s in it for the challenge–he wants to break the game mechanics over his knee, wrestle the system to the ground and feast on its digitized blood. Old-school tricks that all of us had to sharpen our thumbs on at some point–memorization, quick reflexes, pattern recognition and just plain, simple luck–sit at the top of his arsenal and it’s pretty epic to behold him conquering the hardest games there’ve ever been.

The show isn’t perfect, mind. He repeats a lot of footage (which he uses an emulator and savestates to get, though he says that he always beats the game legitimately beforehand) and it only occasionally follows what he’s saying. He’ll describe challenges or obstacles or situations that you’d expect to see on screen, but don’t. It has to be a stylistic thing too, since he seems to get footage from the whole of any game he plays, so I don’t know what his excuse is. Some episodes as well seem a little questionable–he doesn’t always play Nintendo Hard games, and sometimes seems to give himself a break between particularly tough games.

But those are pretty minor complaints. I’ve given you the links–you should check out his stuff. First and foremost because it’s good, secondly because it’s entertaining, and thirdly because I say so. Just…be careful about any videos that mention strawberries. You have been fucking warned.

Filler

Proper update tomorrow, have an awesome thing instead.

Why I hate Final Fantasy XIII

Jesus, I know, two Final Fantasy posts in a row. I’ve had it on the mind for awhile, mostly thanks to the last post and, since then, listening to other FF soundtracks–like VII’s. It’s aged a bit–they were still using midis or something back then, so it’s all got this real weird electronic, beeping sort of sound to it. It’s also excessively grim. See for yourself–go and listen to the world map theme music and tell me if that doesn’t sound like the saddest thing you’ve ever heard. It’s like an old dog dying slowly on a porch, his last fleeting moments spent capturing nothing but the green grass lawn stretching far out to…

…that went to a strange place. At anyrate, it kinda makes you wanna kill yourself. FFVII was and is a very dark game. Akin to how the Dark Knight Returns is pointed at as the start of comic books becoming excessively dark and “edgy”, FFVII did much the same thing to video games, or at the very least, RPGs. Before FFVII, RPGs were generally bright, colorful, and rather silly. I mean, Jesus, just LOOK at FFV!

Compare this...

...to THIS

The Final Fantasy series got a hell of a lot darker, but it wasn’t trying to start a trend–the writers just decided that this new story had to have a different tone than previous games. At it’s time, it was strange, edgy, new, and it blasted into popular culture like a flaming meteor.

People say it’s the best FF ever. I disagree, but I don’t want to get into that old argument now. Here’s the point I’m laboriously reaching at–FFVII felt genuine. It felt like it was inspired, that there was passion and energy in it. Everyone was giving their all because they really, truly were behind this. I’d argue that even FFVIII, easily the weakest of the PSX-era games, had at least a lot of fervor and passion behind it. The amount of ludicrously unnecessary detail crammed into that game’s encyclopedia is mindblowing. They were into this shit, and they were with IX and, honestly, X also.

X gets a lot of flack, but I actually defend it. It has some silly designs and silly characters and weird weapons, but I buy it. They wanted to start a new thing, shake off their old trends and go someplace different. They succeeded immensely in that regard, if you ask me. XI I won’t count because it’s an MMORPG and, well, the less you make me talk about those the better.

XII is where we hit a stutter. First off, I absolutely love FFXII. I thought it was incredibly charming and really, really fun to play. I love its battle system more than words can describe, and my greatest frustration is that the vastly, vastly improved International Edition has not been localized for American use. But FFXII had a problem. There was plenty of passion behind it, plenty of drive and hard work, but something was…missing. It seemed directionless, aimless. There was something it wanted to get at, but it couldn’t seem to figure out how to reach it. I still love the game for what it is, and found its story refreshing, if nothing else, to the series’ then-trademark sappy romances.

A headless Final Fantasy is better than a heartless one, at least, and that brings me to XIII. I have a laundry list of gripes against XIII–its lack of player involvement, its shallow, superficial customization, its completely linear nature, its absurdly tedious sidequests, its horrible pacing or even its bland, uninspiring music. But y’know what I hate the most about it? It has no soul. I’m sorry, I just don’t see it. It feels…empty. It feels like a flailing, confused attempt to appeal to as many demographics as possible and losing sight of any sort of creative vision. Though there’s a certain artificiality to FFXIII that truly sparks my ire–the sheer, unyielding attempts to tug at our heartstrings.

There are several things I enjoyed from FFXIII–its cutscenes were very pretty, it has amazing graphics, and its “story” is pretty entertaining, if badly paced. But the game has many, MANY scenes where it just gushes for your sympathies. It plays every old card in the book to make you cry or laugh, and even if it works, it feels hollow, insubstantial.

I feel that FFXIII wasn’t created so much as manufactured, assembled piece by piece–an aging giant piecing together its favorite toy, long after it had cast it aside. I think, somewhere in that mess, there was a real story–fuck that, a real game that somebody wanted to create. Damned if I can find it though.

Since this rank, talentless philistine has somehow managed to not only drive this insufferable blog into the ground, what with his lengthy, rambling essays and, of all things, film reviews–god, I think I’ve just thrown up in my own throat–it seems that it is up to me, the MidiMaestro, to return this video game blog to a rightful bastion of critique, analysis, and cultural relevancy.

Thus, we shall discuss music.

Specifically, we shall discuss the music of Nobuo Uemetsu, the premier video game composer and keyboardist, whom many are familiar with as the longtime composer for the brain-hemorrhagingly popular Final Fantasy series.

In particular, we shall discuss the soundtrack for Final Fantasy IX.

By jove, what an unseemly cast of characters. See if you can correctly spot all the girls in this picture.

To the ill-informed, Final Fantasy IX was the capstone upon what may be seen as the finest era of the Final Fantasy series. The three PSX titles–VII (7) VIII (8) and IX (9)–were considered groundbreaking achievements for gaming, both for their incredibly vivid, detailed graphics as well as their outstanding, bombastic soundtracks. To this date, many would content (and would do so incorrectly) that Final Fantasy VII is the best in the series ever. Even with just three games to its credit, the PSX-era of the franchise remains the most innovative and influential.

Final Fantasy IX is this era’s highest mark, at least in sheer technical terms. Very few PSX games look as good as FFIX does, and only one comes to my mind that could even surpass its graphical legacy. But I don’t give a flying baboon’s arsehole about the damned thing’s graphics–I care about its music.

The score for FFIX is littered with simply outstanding tracks. Considered the composer’s own personal favorite of all the soundtracks he’s done (mostly because he had so much time and freedom to work on it), FFIX is an eclectic blend of orchestral melodies, synthesized trip-rock, grungy guitar riffs, operatic organ tunes and so much more.

I posit this: every and all Final Fantasy game has been vastly inferior to its soundtrack. From 1-10, Uemetsu helmed the series’ musical elements, and in IX he brings together his past and present, blending tunes, melodies, simple chords and entire arrangements into one incredible work of art. Characters who might otherwise remain unremarkable are instead transformed into striking personalities by virtue of their theme song alone. Every unique area and location has its own music, from the murky, isolated Qu’s Marsh to the Burmecian Kingdom, drowning in rain.

A great example is my favorite character from the game, Freya. Freya’s a Burmecian, a race of rat-people who live in a perpetually rainy land, surrounded by monsters. Trained in the arts of spear-wielding, physics-defying dragon knights, Freya’s own somewhat tragic backstory and motivations are, sadly, resolved within the game’s first major act. Subsequently, she ends up being somewhat less pronounced in the later parts of the story, and is often buried in the background. I like her for a variety of reasons–she’s easily one of the best characters you can use in game, she has a really interesting design, a visual homage to the earliest FF games–but fuck that, she has an awesome theme song.

Music is essential to buying into a game’s story–and in general, sound is essential to gameplay. Music in games has evolved from simple sound-effects to accompany actions to sincere and powerful works of art. Every chord in FFIX is lovingly played–you can feel the composer’s passion in every passing sound, every note, and this passion surges under the fabric of the game itself like blood, feeding and enriching the experience, pumping life and vitality into all of the game’s individual parts. Without it, the significance of events–from crushing defeats to powerful confessions of love to intense, dramatic battles would be negligible. The music brings Final Fantasy IX to life.

If you’re one of the (surprisingly many) people who never played FFIX, either because you were turned off by the art style or the return to a more traditional fantasy landscape or just weren’t into the series at the time, I urge you, please–at the very least, buy the soundtrack (or download it, I don’t care). The game is worth playing, beating, and playing again on the strength of its music too–and hey, it’s actually a pretty incredible RPG in its own right.

There’s a lot of people who seem to think the only critique that’s worth a damn is negative, because it’s funny and often more insightful into a work’s flaws, which–when identified–allow the creators to improve upon their creation. However, I think we’re bereft of true, genuine praise on today’s Net landscape. Final Fantasy IX–and Nobuo Uemetsu–earn this praise. The final product is, quite simply, one of the finest–if not the finest Final Fantasy game. It marks the end of an era, and it was probably the last Final Fantasy game that Uemetsu really enjoyed making–especially if the rumors about how demanding Squaresoft was on him during the production of FFX.

It wouldn’t be very good of me to finish a review of this game’s soundtrack without giving recognition to the best song on it. There might be some who argue me on this–and I gladly welcome such meaningful discussion–but those who play this game to the end remember one sequence far and above any other. The moment in the story where the hero is at his absolute lowest, as if all hope is lost and and all that he has been fighting for has been snatched away from him. Unable to trust in anyone, not himself, not even his loyal companions, he goes out into a den of monsters to end his life at their hands. Yet at every battle, his companions rush to his side, and support him, even as he insults, derides, and denies them at every turn. At the end, overcome by emotion, he is unable to carry on by himself, and returns to those he abandoned, seeking their forgiveness–which is readily given. It’s an incredibly powerful sequence, blending gameplay and visuals–and it is set to this amazing song, simply–and aptly–titled “You Are Not Alone”.

Enjoy.

You guys ever hear of movies? Y’know, those things that are just like video games, except you don’t actually play them and they don’t cost as much to see or own. Yeah, this post is about them.

Well, actually, it’s about one movie in particular I saw–The Other Guys.

I went to go see this on a whim. I’d seen the trailers, thought the premise was at least kind of interesting, even if Cop Out had just done a similar idea not too long before, and was pleasantly surprised. This movie is a lot of things–a gut-busting comedy, a cavaclade of great cameos and characters, and–get this–a rather adept bit of social commentary.

I am not fucking kidding.

The movie is a ludicrous series of nonsequiters. You know how Family Guy will just cut to random scenes in order to tell a joke? That’s the entire, oh, first two-thirds of this movie, and the ever-increasing degrees of ridiculous scenarios the two main characters stumble into provides more than your ticket’s worth of laughs. Mark Wahlberg plays a somewhat dim-witted, overqualified desk jockey dying to get out of the office while Will Farrell plays a bookish, nonconfrontational, Zen-like accountant who never wants to leave. They fight crime! Sort of.

Mostly they just get into weird, goofy, hilarious situations. New York City is a fairy tale land of bizarre happenings, and it seems to exist solely to shit on Farell and Wahlberg. Deserved or not, every situation they stumble into seems to always go badly for them, yet their dogged perseverance almost demands that you at least root for them to acheive some semblance of a victory. There’s hardly a scene they aren’t in, and consideirng the team-up, the pair have great chemistry. You could call this movie “Marky Mark shouts at Ron Burgandy a Lot” and you’d not be all that wrong. Both characters are well-developed and funny in their own ways, and it’s kind of nice to see that Ferell isn’t really playing the stooge this time, so it’s a change of pace.

But what this movie is REALLY about is the fucked up discrepancies between the rich ruling classes and everyday Americans. In its sluggish and much slower-paced final act, the movie takes a chunk of time to make a pointed political statement about how inadequate the systems we have in place to check and balance corporate investors and their money-lending cronies really are. The main “villain” of the story is simply a money lender who gave away more than he had, forcing him to find some poor saps to con with a Ponzie scheme.

The end credits are one of the finest I’ve seen in a movie–an elaborate pseudo-Powerpoint presentation of graphics and figures detailing the levels of excess and the hard data behind a lot of what is discussed or mentioned in the background of the film. Assaulting fat cat CEOs and con-men like Bernie Madoff with relish, the movie reveals a startling level of, if not outright depth, certainly more complexity.

It becomes a bit…shall we say, incongruous…when you compare how the film sets itself up with how it concludes. The cartoonish, almost random sequences that fill most of the first two hilarious thirds of the movie don’t really make you think of satire or commentary, but now that I’ve seen the whole film, I’d want to rewatch it again, to pay attention to scenes that I’d dismissed as just exposition. Amidst the laughs, there’s a lot of very sharp comments pertaining to the inequality of wealth we have in this country.

Excess. It’s everywhere in this movie, especially in regards to the “villain” (he’s far too pathetic to really be properly considered an antagonist) whose sheer volumes of wealth, his teeth-grindingly self-serving speeches about the value of overspending and lavish living in the center of a vast urban sprawl, made up of miserable, poverty-stricken nobodies or else peacefully apathetic middle classers who just want to keep going, just want to keep their china clean and their bellies full. In a way, the two main characters represent these dichotomies–Wahlberg is blue-collar, through and through, and despite his qualifications and skills he is simply unable to progress in the world, whereas Ferrell is a smart, educated and fairly well-off man who has everything–and believes that only by completely ignoring how good he has it–in fact, by never leaving his desk–he can make it through the day.

I may be overthinking it. The movie is far less pendantic and heavy handed as I am now–but it’s one of the very few comedies released recently that’s really made me think. I’m still completely shocked by this–but y’know what? I can dig it. Considering this is from the same house that built Talledega Nights and Stepbrothers (Christ Almighty, STEPBROTHERS!) I am as shocked as horse that just sprouted a hump that this movie did anything more than entertain.

Check it out. Considering the pedigree, you’re guaranteed a funny movie–and y’know what? You may just get a pretty smart one too.

Lethargy

It’s been a slow, dull several days. I’m in the midst of packing up my whole apartment, but I’m way ahead of schedule and am just moving at a snail’s pace until the end of the month. Filling in all the empty hours should be the ever comforting bleeps, bloops, and simulated gunfire of my favorite video games, but…

Alas. I’m in a rut. I’ve played all my games, and packed most of them by now, and I crave something new. I just can’t get immersed into anything at the moment. Terrible, isn’t it? I blog about games and I’ve no games to blog about. Well, I’m not going to let it get to me.

I’ve come down with a serious case of lethargy. Lethargy is a sad affliction that affects millions every day. When one is overcome by a listlessness, yet stricken by an absence of energy, drive, or desire to do much of anything but…sit. Lay. Doesn’t make for exciting blogging material.

This isn't me.

I’m thinking of maybe replaying Jade Empire, try to do the Closed Fist route, but that thrills me about as much as a humming bird could thrill a bull elephant. There aren’t a whole lot of “bad guy” mysteries I’d be that interested in following–like with KOTOR, taking the “bad” route just results in less gameplay, or more bland outcomes. Either “everyone dies” or “everyone dies but you have to fight them first” or the even rarer “Nobody dies, you just rob them of their hopes and dreams”–it’s too predictable to engage, and, sure, being an evil bastard has its moments of fun, but much like KOTOR before it, Jade Empire restricts your villainy to the uninspired Skeletor variety–evil for evil’s sake.

I am looking forward to pick up a shiny new DS game, which should make for some inspired blogging, and once I’ve moved you’ll be seeing a lot more updates, including–god willing–some video blogs and packages I’ll be whipping together. We’ll have to see though, things are in a flux.

Apologies for the short update, hopefully next time I’ll have something more interesting to write about.