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Well, it’s Halloween, and I know you all like scary shit on Halloween, so I’ve done something horrifying and terrible–I’ve made another podcast.

This one is about a little freeware game called Yume Nikki. Don’t be scared by the Japanese, just click game and you should be fine.

There’s an old Let’s Play here. And you can download a REALLY awesome remix album of the game’s soundtrack here.

What is that on the wall

I pray a demon doesn’t eat you in your sleep.

Okami vs. Zelda

Wow, been awhile since I posted any updates. Sorry about that. Here, have a thing I made as apology.

http://www.tindeck.com/listen/txev

Bioshocking!

So, because I love to be irrelevant, let’s talk about Bioshock.

Shit, it’s a series now? Yeah, evidently the announcement of Bioshock:Infinite cements that Bioshock is now a brand name. What a surprise–a popular video game being branded. If I wasn’t so ludicrously pumped for Bioshock:Infinite I’d be cynical and bitter about a unique and bold concept being mass-marketed and diluted by sequeilitis.

Ah, but there are legacies to think about. What about poor Bioshock 2? This poor, sad shell of a game wasn’t even developed by Ken Levine and the original team that’s helming Infinite. Released to lots of good reviews, but also a lot of eye-rolling from the more pretentious crowds, Bioshock 2 has been called everything from a “knock-off piece of shit” to “a glorified expansion pack”–which is what I say it is.

So that's what Bomberman's been doing on his days off...

The problem with Bioshock 2 is that it plays better in every way than Bioshock 1. The levels are better designed (at least from a mechanics standpoint), the gameplay is more balanced, the combat is improved, the weapons are better, dual-wielding Plasmids and firearms makes combat fun and fluid, and the limitations on health kits and Eve hypos, as well as the layout of the levels and the new system for gathering Little Sisters means that hacking turrets and cameras and laying out traps is far, far more necessary than it ever was in Bioshock 1.

See, in the original Bioshock, while it was awesome all the stuff you could do, it was hardly necessary to do much of it. Sure, you could lay out traps, set up a killzone guarded by turrets, hypnotize a Big Daddy and use him as a meat shield–but you never really had to except maybe in Hard Mode. You could just use the Electric Buck shotgun ammo and win the game. And you will. In fact, there’s a Three Panel Soul comic that really exemplifies this:

Dapper!

See, you could do a lot in Bioshock, but you didn’t have to or really need to. In Bioshock 2, the game encourages you to hack everything and set traps and manipulate the environment through providing item incentives or just making it easier and more cost-effective to do so. In every aspect of gameplay, Bioshock 2 is superior to Bioshock 1.

It’s not the better game, of course, because Bioshock 1 has a very, very tight story. It’s totally solid and really well-told, contained with character arcs and all that fun English Lit stuff. Bioshock 1 is also hell of a lot scarier–it’s kinda hard to feel creeped out in Rapture when you’re a Big Daddy yourself.

But Bioshock 2’s story is still quite good–there’s a big theme about family and what that means and the relationships between family members and the search for meaning and identity, and unlike Bioshock 1, this game actually gives us a fucking ending and not that lazy-ass slideshow at the end of Bioshock 1. God damn, what a let-down that was…but whatever. Bioshock 2 is also much prettier than Bioshock 1, which is to be expected.

Yet Bioshock 2 isn’t going to have an enduring legacy. The original fanbase was divided on it from day one, and the fact that it’s really short and adds very little to the overall story doesn’t help. If it had been released as an expansion pack, it would have been amazing. As a proper sequel, however, it just can’t cut it–especially now that we have Infinite raising the bar higher than anyone’s anticipated.

Yet if you ask me, I’m kind of torn. I really, really liked Bioshock 2–it left me wanting more, which is never a bad thing, and I intend to get the DLC, Minerva’s Den, as soon as possible. Bioshock 1 is very different from 2, and depending on what you want out of a Bioshock game, you may be disappointed. But the gameplay changes, the increased customizability in terms of plasmids and tonics, all of that adds up to a really compelling experience. If you’ve not taken the time to play Bioshock 2, now’s the perfect time. You can find it for $20 and less all over the place now, especially Amazon.

As for Bioshock becoming a franchise, well…we’ll see. I’m excited as hell for Infinite and feel that the developers have enough great games under their belt that I’ll trust them. Franchises are the way to succeed in the gaming, for good or ill. Considering the high cost of games, consumers need names that they can rely on, and if Bioshock can continue being innovative, even as a franchise, then I’ll have no complaints.

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.

Rated T for Titties

Hey guys! Wow, it’s been a long time since my last post. I apologize–classes have started up and I had to do lots of grown up stuff like find a job and take care of an apartment, so I had no time to ramble about video games on the internet. Still, to you, my small but loveable fanbase, I feel as though I’ve let you down. Let me make it up to you.

…a little disturbing, isn’t it? I understand that we have fancy things like jiggle physics and that we may be tempted to give our lovely video game ladies some more bounce, but one doesn’t need to reduce the female breast to a rubber ball surgically grafted to a 90-pound frame.

The female breast is actually something quite familiar to gamers–an enduring image associating with changing times and technologies. With every console generation we have had games that set out with one singular purpose–to render the female body as lovingly as possible. From Lara Croft to Ninja Gaiden’s Rachel, the female anatomy is almost always the very first object to be rendered by a next-gen console, and that’s kind of my problem with it. That it’s an object.

Sex sells. We all know this. In gaming, however, sex doesn’t just sell–it practically drives the market. It’s no big surprise to anyone that women are not particularly well-treated within the context of gaming. When they aren’t being paraded around in tight, skimpy, or otherwise ludicrous outfits then they’re being snatched and held captive atop some distant tower, awaiting our rescue. Neither depicti0n is particularly flattering, and anyone who is confused as to why there are significantly fewer female gamers compared to male ones needs only to play Bayonetta.

I mean, Jesus Christ, what the hell is up with her legs? This is anatomy gone horribly wrong!

And you know what? There isn’t really anything being done about it. There’s no particularly loud outcry demanding that gaming stop representing women as objects and try to at least provide some veneer of dignity to the fairer sex. While gaming journalism calls it out when it sees it, most reviewers seem to take it in stride, or at least see no overarching problem with it. Maybe once we could chalk it up to gaming being an “adolescent” medium, young and still allowed to waste its resources on silly things like boobs.

Except now it doesn’t seem so silly. We live in fairly enlightened times–and I think we’re smart enough as consumers to know when we’re being pandered to. Games like Wet or X-Blades exist solely to cater to sex-starved shut-ins desperate for any sort of virtual love they can find, because real love has abandoned them. Sadly, these developers seem to assume that the mass gaming market falls under this unfortunate description, and you know what? We’re not really all that offended at the suggestion. In gaming, you have trade conventions marked with B-list models strutting the floor in flimsy cosplay efforts just to drive up interest in whatever schlocky, cut-and-dry, bland simulation that company happens to be peddling that day.

Yeah, that’s right. I don’t like E3 Booth Babes. I don’t like the notion that a supposedly journalistic conference–a literal trade show, where writers and experts on a technology (in this case gaming technology) gather to see what major companies have planned for the year ahead–is treated like a Vegas gala, complete with half-naked women traipsing around trying to grab as much attention to their employers as they can. Games with big marketing departments, who can afford the most lavish parties and most gorgeous models get the largest write-ups in the big magazines and websites, regardless of whether the product they are offering is at all newsworthy!

E3 was gutted because of this Caligula-esque hedonistic facade, but that lasted what, a year? Maybe two? I won letter of the month from EGM commenting on how I felt this was a very good thing. And what happened? E3 came “back”, resumed it’s regular circus show, and is scarcely even a credible tradeshow anymore.  The Tokyo Game Show and especially PAX have completely eclipsed the once gargantuan E3, and we’re all the better for it.

This is all game developers think you really care about.

I don’t really consider myself a feminist. I laugh at too many inappropriate jokes for that sort of moniker. That being said, the treatment of women in gaming is absolutely abhorrent. It’s reminiscient of comic books, really. Both comics and games are considered a “male-dominated” medium, and thus they put out a product that not only alienates any potential female customers, but actually drives them away with shameless and insulting imagery while promoting shallow, insubstantial products loaded with nothing more than innuendo and blatant gratification. Comics is, I think, slowly turning away from this sort of disparaging imagery–writers like Gail Simone are certainly doing their best to move their medium away from that, and I’d like to see something similar happen in gaming.

The problem here is that the mainstream gaming audience doesn’t seem to care. Why aren’t we indignant that developers think so little of us? Why aren’t we calling them out on their sexist bullshit? Is it really enough to slap a pair of tits on the cover of a game to get sales? Why do developers need to resort to such petty sales tricks to get the numbers they need? It seems odd to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What do you think of the portrayal of women in the gaming media? More importantly, why do you think they’re portrayed in such a way? I wanna know what you think.

Sorry again for the late update. I’ll be moving to a more regular schedule from now on.

Standing in for the Internet is me. I saw it, yes, and if 1up.com is allowed to write a review about it, then so am I.

So, Scott Pilgrim. What did I think?

I liked it. I think it was well-made, and I think it was a good adaptation. I feel a little disappointed, but I can’t really determine what by. I think, honestly, I was too distracted as I watched it by the subtle changes to the pacing of the comics–the movie doesn’t follow the manga’s order of events, but it generally fits all the events in there. It’s like clever reediting of the comic, and I approve–but it was distracting for most of the film.

Then I had to get used to the casting. I never fully bought into Michael Cera as Scott, but he does well here. He’s got enough of Scott’s attributes that it doesn’t seem like he’s derailing the character in anyway. He’s Scott–but he’s not necessarilly the one you imagined.

I derail myself slightly to discuss something I read in Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” textbook. In it, he discusses realistically drawn comics and cartoons. Realistic comics can show off more detail in terms of characters and settings, but cartoons get something special. The more simple the drawing, the more the reader imparts their own imagination into it. So, a cartoon smiley looks however you want it to–your mind constructs an image for it, rather than have an image given to it. So, Scott Pilgrim is well known for its distinctive, manga-esque, cartoony style. People get upset about the casting because no actor could ever match what they’d seen in their mind’s eye. The way the characters are interpreted by the reader/audience is unique to every individual reader’s preferences. Scott’s lines, his attitude, his tone and type of voice, his physical appearance are all generated by the reader’s mind, and as such, may not reflect either what the author intended the character to be or how others see the character. Edgar Wright must have taken this into account, and probably just decided to do how HE envisioned the Scott Pilgrim universe to be. No cast could ever cater to everyone’s unique tastes, and with that in mind, the movie’s cast is quite solid.

Everyone gives an energetic performance, the pacing and chemistry between characters is generally pretty good. The movie’s overabundance of style leads to some conversations sounding stilted or forced if only because the actors are also reacting to strange events happening around them, or else are making a pose or performing an action that requires a lot of concentration. Cera’s Scott is definitely not a rehash of his earlier characters–the similarities are there, but they are more token than anything else. Cera does his best to embody Scott’s doofy sort of simplicity and it comes across well, even if it…well, I don’t know. In the end, I still don’t fully buy Cera as Scott. I don’t think it’s any fault of the actor, but I do think it was a bad casting. I can’t imagine who could do Scott to be honest. Maybe a young Will Ferrell. My friend suggested that to me one day and I laughed, at first, but it made sense. Ferrell’s so damned flexible and emotive, capable of hitting highs and lows quickly and effortlessly–if only he was twenty years younger and didn’t have curly hair he could absolutely play Scott. But that’s a digression.

The movie is definitely all about its action sequences. At least half are completely different from what was seen in the comics–which is an added treat for the theater audience. We get much more kung-fu, and crazy-awesome sound effects bounding around everywhere. The style is cool, the comedy is present, and there’s always a rockin’ sound track to accompany it all. Best of all, Sex Bob-Omb, the band Scott is in, is brought to life vividly; leading us into the opening credits and accompanying us throughout the movie. The band holds the movie together as a set piece, a traveling bit of familiarity and fun to mesh all of these scenes together. The music is stellar, fast and loud and crazy as hell, both funny and foot-tappingly strong. The band members grow on you immensely as well.

The supporting cast is done really well. Gorgeous Anna Kendrick plays Scott’s little sister pitch-perfect. Kieran Culkin is really good as Wallace too–he has that sleazy, yet charming sort of aloofness, and probably remains one of the better cast characters. Knives Chau, a very important character, is also very well done. Newcomer Ellen Wong gets the spazzy, obsessive nature of the character as well as her determined, stoic side, and she manages to steal the show in many a scene, though, like in the comics, Knives is a character that starts to grate on you, and the best part of her subplot–her father trying to cut Scott in half for a whole volume–is sadly not in the movie.

A lot was cut, mostly for the better–the movie is overloaded with conversations as it is, so a lot of the character-developing filler was left out. Sadly, most of the Envy Adams chapter got removed as well. She shows up and plays her part and gets a few good scenes, but she’s scarcely more than window dressing compared to the comics. I feel they could have left some of the flashbacks to Scott’s past–if not kept all of them–and not lost too many people in the audience. They really develop Scott, which is important because he’s kind of a dick. He’s called out on it many a time in this movie and in the books, but you really feel for him once you know a little about where he came from and what he’s gone through.

Oh, and of course, the movie is [i]loaded[/i] with video game references. The screen is awash with bleeps and bloops, eight bit numbers, all sorts of stuff. The pop culture overload is embraced whole-heartedly. Indeed, this movie gets that probably best of all, able to bring sound and motion to what were otherwise just throwaway remarks. Most noticeable is a part where Scott mentions he can play the bass line from Final Fantasy II and then just starts strumming away. Most of the references were expanded upon in this way, which makes for another nice treat to the movie public.

Having seen it once and am now familiar with the way the movie goes, I think I’ll enjoy it much more the second time I see it. It’s definitely worth catching in theaters and grabbing on DVD–or Blu-Ray preferably. It’s very fun, certainly on par with Kick-Ass.

Plus, y’know, it’s Scott Pilgrim: the movie. Are you really NOT gonna want to see it?

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.