Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ignorant American Gaming: Persona 4 Golden

Dear Persona 4 Golden,
There's something deep in my heart I want to tell you. It's something I've been holding inside and now I want to express it publicly. When I first saw you and your brothers and sisters Shin Megami Tensei and the other Persona titles I knew little about you. Something seemed different about you. Something unique. You were mysterious yet you looked beautiful from what I could tell. You're like the quiet pretty girl at school that not a lot of people know. You may not have the largest group of friends and lovers, but those you have really love you and I can see why. The first of which were your lovers on the excellent podcast Retronauts. It was there that I heard about you and the rest of your family in extensive details. I was immediately interested and wanted to get to know you better. There was just one problem, the only games I could play I either had to pay a premium price or get a new console that would have your titles!
But then a shining savior came that is Sony and graced their digital store with a rom of Persona 3 FES. I immediately got online to buy it (since my PS3 model doesn't play PS2 games but this PS2 rom will). I couldn't express how excited I was to start playing. Unfortunately in the end I didn't play it as much as I thought I would but do plan on getting back into it eventually. Not sure why. But that's for another day. We're here to talk about you, Persona 4 Golden.
After the announcement of the next generation of consoles I was pretty uninterested in what was being offered. The intense focus on online and TV left a sour taste in my mouth. I just wanted the games. You know, a game console for just games, call me crazy. But something that started catching my attention was the Playstation Vita. It had been years since I was a part of the portable gaming scene and with my lack of excitement for what was coming I decided it was time to return. As popular as Nintendo is I decided that wasn't the route for me. I went straight back to Sony and I'm glad I did. When I finally did get a Vita I made sure the first game I picked up (outside of COD which came with the console) was you, Persona 4 Golden. When I popped you in I knew I was in for a great experience, but little did I know that what I would experience would be the best and most immersive experiences I've had in a game in years. Not since Metal Gear Solid 4.
Now I must say I'm usually a bit hesitant when something is very anime themed. And since your game is just that I was a little worried, however I did my best to keep the faith alive that I would enjoy it. It's not that I don't like anime period, I just am not as into it as I used to be. I'm a lot more picky now. But your first good call was how you handled the style in your game. The cutscenes that are actual animations are few and far between, and when they do come up they're short, sweet, and straight to the point. Because of this your anime cutscenes are really well done. They convey the excellent story within the game. Oh, the story, the story story story I love this story. What I liked about it the most is that for a game as huge as this you really jumped right into it and said what the story was and how it would play out. It's a really unique approach to what's essentially a murder mystery. But there's so much more to it than that and that's what I love about it! But that's mostly because of one major thing, the immersion.
I honestly don't think I've ever been as immersed as I've been with your game my sweet sweet Persona. I've played other games with silent protagonists where you customize their name and other features but your's has immersed me more than any other character I've customized. Even though the character is already designed and has specific elements set in stone outside of the name customization I still felt this silent-ish (thank you for letting him talk by the way) was way more relatable and immersive than any other protagonist I've seen or played as. For once you actually made me feel like I was the character and that I was interacting in a story where these other characters were my friends. I got to know them progressively over a long period of time instead of all at once. While my character's friendship with them grew deeper so did my interest in these characters. I watched them like many people watch TV shows in a long run. I was invested in them and always wanted to know what came next and legitimately cared about what happened to them in a story. I rarely have that level of dedication to characters in shows/movies let alone video games which are known for being a bit lacking on the character end. Also I find it amazing how fleshed out and well rounded all the characters are!
Seriously Persona! You did a knock out job with the characters! Almost every character I found relatable and could even connect to someone I've known from high school and college. Youske is for a lack of better words your bro. He talks big a lot and clearly shows he's hot for the ladies. On the surface he seems shallow but as you get to know him he has depth at a level you would have never guessed. Chie is that fun girl who is more like one of the boys. She's easy to hang out with because of her love of king fu movies, and even though it doesn't always show she may secretly have a crush on you. Yukiko is that beautiful yet quiets girl who never really acts out. So when she does it's very surprising. Rise is that popular girl who you're surprised hangs out with you but is just as surprisingly down to earth like you wouldn't expect. And then Kanji is that tough guy who has super sweet side but is very insecure about it. All of them are really fleshed out and you slowly watch them grow as the story continues. In many cases this felt more like an interactive storybook than a video game. That's one of the many reasons I love you so much Persona 4 Golden, you took me in like almost no other video game ever has. I do like story in games but more recently I've been more interested in just getting to the action. But your story and characters wanted me living that day to day life more than anything else. Not to say I didn't like the gamey part of the game.
As you may already know my sweet buttercup, I love RPGs. Specifically JRPGs (sometime begrudgingly). And one of the make or break points in the game is not just the story, some of which you have to be VERY forgiving with, but the combat system. If the combat system isn't your cup of tea then it's not going to be very long before you grow tired of the game. Your combat is so accessible I can't believe it. For years I've been hard wired to the Final Fantasy method of battle so it took some getting used to. Like when I first got my Persona I saw it more like the summons in any given FF game. Something you use that's more powerful but not all the time. No, Persona 4 Golden, my buttercup, you integrated it into the battles and it made for exciting battles. Also the auto-battles from the other characters gave a different strategy instead of direct control over them (despite that option being available). This is another great example of immersion. I was in control of myself but everyone else made their own choices in battle. The battles are filled with varieties of enemies all with different weaknesses whether it's lightning or fire or whatever. Speaking of enemies, let's talk about the boss battles.
The boss battles were pretty incredible if not in design alone. I love how the boss fights are the shadows of each person, showing their other side they're not willing to accept and they are designed that way intentionally. Rise's shadow being the Risette side of her, the celebrity side, showing that a part of her is the overly sexualized character she's been portraying on a day to day basis. Not to mention Teddie's shadow, too! The "mascot" of this game even had a shadow and it was a pretty incredible turn of events. But my favorite is much later in the game when you catch up to the killer. I don't want to spoil much for the readers, which is something I know you'll understand Persona 4 Golden, but I loved this design like crazy. Only going into visuals he was angelic at first glance, pitch black skin with very thin red stripes going across his body vertically, wearing a t-shirt that has the love and peace logo, and wearing a gigantic spinning halo. Hard to describe properly for the proper imagination but I loved it, and that may only be partially because he reminded me of the later scenes in The Lawnmower Man but I think there's more to it than that.
Now the Persona's. OHHHHHH BABY the Personas!!!!! There were times when I would grind just so I could collect more Personas and see what sort of fusions I could pull together. It's like it became a more adult friendly version of Pokemon. I was definitely trying to "catch" them all, or at least I want to. They all are crazy unique creatures, all with different stats that will determine the power of their shared abilities. I must say when the fusion element was introduced I was a bit worried because I thought it may be a bit overly complicated. Like some alchemist abilities in the more "hardcore" RPGs, usually western. But no, Persona 4 Golden, you make it just as approachable as your battles, as your inventory, as your characters, as your story.
Might I say thank you for the incredibly down to earth story. I used to make love to games like FFVII that had an out of this world world and an even more out of this world story. In short I was looking for something epic. But you, my sweet honey, have a story that takes place in a high school, with characters that are recognizable and relatable. It's very straightforward a plot which makes it easy to get into. There are murders, it somehow involves something called The Midnight Channel, and it's up to you to stop the murders. It's not pretentious and despite all the fog elements in your game, you're far from smug (lame attempt at a joke I know but it made me think of that episode of South Park with the Hybrids and the smug attitude). You don't take yourself too seriously. Quite the opposite. You are very willing to make fun of yourself but are serious when it is necessary. Much like late in the game when everything changes drastically and you make the player make a game changing decision. It was heavy and I felt the weight of the situation, especially with what happened just before it. Sadly I made the choice that seemed to give me the "bad" ending, although I would call it less of the bad ending and more like the unfulfilled, anti-climactic ending.
And because of that along with the passion I have for you Persona 4 Golden is why I didn't want things to end there. It all seemed to come so quickly despite the fact I had already spent 60 hours with you. So the moment those ending credits ended I immediately started new game plus to not only re-experience the story, but also to take some different paths than what I did my first time around.
You see Persona 4 Golden... I don't want our time together to be over. I am crazy about you despite your flaws. I may have been praising you this whole time but you and I both know you have some flaws. Like how some of the decisions throughout the game tend to not change things too dramatically, and even getting one of the lead characters your girlfriend surprising changed basically nothing as far as I could tell. That and how the difficulty curve from one enemy to another in the same dungeon on the same floor would rise so high that it's hard to believe they're on the same level. Then the last thing that comes to mind is the fact that the weapons and armor is crazy expensive and getting the money for it can be a bit of a chore.
Now I know there are probably some other flaws here and there but that's not important. What's important is how amazing of a game you are. If I had an actual rating system I could imagine giving you a higher rating than most anything else I've played the last few years. I loved 3D Dot Game Heroes, but that had it's problems. Been loving the Assassin's Creed games, but those definitely have their problems as well. Basically I can't imagine which game in the last five or more years I've enjoy as much or more than you my love. The closest thing would be Metal Gear Solid 4, but that was way back in 2008. And honestly the only time the immersion broke for me was when it seemed like most of the girls I met in the game automatically developed a crush for my character with little to no hints of it when the characters are in a group. But that's a minor complaint cause everything else is done SO WELL! I can't let some minor inconsistencies or bizarre character choices go. No game is perfect and this is a game ported forward from a previous era. If modern games can't cover all bases I can't expect a PS2 game of this size to do that.
In the end I think I've fallen madly in love with you Persona 4 Golden. We've spent so much time together already and I know we'll spend even more time together in the future. At least until I earn that platinum trophy.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I Have a Dream(cast) Review Vol #2: Tokyo Bus Guide

Availability: Released only in Japan. Was also an arcade release. Unsure of international ports and re-releases but there have been none in America. Making it still very much a Japan exclusive.

Region Played: Japanese version, obviously.

Review: I am really excited about this one because it will be my first Japanese exclusive review. This version of the game nor any of it's sequels ever got an American release on home consoles or in arcades (that I was able to find). And I must say there's a lot of excitement behind this for me. I haven't dabbled in the Japanese exclusive games in years. Mostly because I didn't have the money to import or consoles that were easy enough to work around or mod to allow imports to play. The last one was when I used to have a Sega Saturn with a special cartridge that allowed me to play them. I am kicking myself for not having that anymore. Otherwise I know the PS3 doesn't have a region lock, but there isn't a lot I'm interested in on it that are exclusive to Japan. Also those games are still wicked expensive to import. I'm just glad that Deadly Premonition recently got a PS3 release in America so I don't have to import it for $60+ (almost did). So when I picked up a Dreamcast again I wanted to jump back on the bandwagon right away. Granted this bandwagon is for a gaming console that is over ten years old but I digress.
I do have a theory on why this was never released in America. A theory I'm sure anyone who plays this game for more than five minutes can come up with. This is the type of game that would not appeal to the American audience in a mass market sense. This is a type of game that can fall under the work genre. Ironically there are a series of games out now that feel like work because they're so tedious but those are different than this and related games (See Densha De Go Go!). Where games like Farmville or Sim City thrive, those are based in point, click, point, click, reward. They're strict in a sense but can be played casually. The thing with Tokyo Bus Guide is that it requires as much concentration as actual driving can. And no I don't mean in the same sense playing a Gran Turismo game even though that's technically a simulation driving game. What sets this game apart and would make it unappealing to the average American audience is it's strictness. But before that, my initial impressions.

Not knowing what to expect I don't jump right into story mode. I knew I would need to get an idea on how this game wanted me to handle things and I wanted to be ready for when the game recorded my actions. So lucky for me there's a free play mode! I fire it up, I see all the people get on the bus, and I drive off. I barely left the bus station before the game failed me and I had to restart. I was really confused. I kept playing over and over seeing what each button does but I keep failing before I even get to the next stop! You see, whenever you do something wrong the game flashes up what you did wrong in bold red and then tells you how many points you lost. Your "health" bar in the bottom left corner tells you how much is left and if that goes empty that's when you lose, of course. Here's the problem, I don't speak or read a word of Japanese. The game tells me exactly what I'm doing wrong only I can't read it. After some more trial and error I went online to find out more info. Keep in mind I couldn't refer to the manual for obvious reasons. After I got the details down I was off and running for quite a while before the stage ended again. Still working through the kinks in my initial playthrough.

This is the number one reason why I don't think this game would fly in America, both today and when it originally came out in 1999. The game is very strict. Not only do you have to pay as much attention to how you drive as when you drive an actual car, you'll have to pay even more attention because you have more responsibilities. Here's a quick rundown of the basics. When you're ready to leave you first have to close the bus doors manually, then you signal to leave the stop you're at, slowly make your way onto the road (you can't ram the pedal and speed off), every turn you'll have to use your turn signal, stay in your lane when you do turn, make sure to follow each light properly, etc, etc, etc. So you have to follow every rules of the road but even more strict than you probably learned in driving school. Also since it's Japan they drive on the left side of the road and it could throw off American (Fuck yeah!) audiences. A minor thing but still something that could be a turn off. This is the same country where audiences will reject some of the best films ever created because there's subtitles. Playing through it's strict rules is tough and requires a lot of patience to get used to. This is especially the case if you're used to driving in games like Burnout or GTA.
Actually, my first playthrough of this game made me think of back in middle school when my friends and I would try to play good guy GTA. We would follow all the rules of the road and try to cause as little commotion as possible. It would only last about a couple minutes before we go on a mass genocide again. But the thing with other driving games like GTA are that they're built for mayhem. Those games are not realistic with their driving (well, maybe besides GTAIV but even that isn't quite "realistic" enough). Now comparing that to Tokyo Bus Guide it's somewhat more realistic than other driving games at the time. I'm glad it's not too realistic, though. It's hard enough to drive around without causing disasters in most video games. So while Tokyo Bus Guide is strict and challenging it's not that terrible difficult to get used to once you know what to do. You don't have to be constantly straightening out the bus while driving it like, well, you know, real life driving. Once you're on a long stretch of road across a bridge you can just hold your finger on that right trigger and you're off good until you hit a turn. Essentially the driving mechanics are pretty simple. However they are still tough to maintain because of gamer instincts fighting you the whole time to drive absolutely insane and kill some pedestrians.

I guess if this game is anything it's time consuming. There are actually a lot of levels to this and you can't just blaze through it. Because of it's strict nature it will force you to take your time. Because of that strictness you'll also want to keep going back to improve on your old score and see if you can do better. This makes it a great bang for your buck if it winds up being something you get into. I even didn't mind the music that accompanied the game. It's soft and soothing making for an easy ride. The only stressful parts are the rules of the road combined with the big red warnings telling you you're messing up. The only thing that may grow old is the visuals of the game.

To put it simply this game is not nice to look at. I always try to take things in within the context of the time. So when I play an NES game I want it to have that old-school 8-bit look and feel because that's what belongs there because that's what was there. The same goes for a modern console. It doesn't have to push boundaries but it should at least take somewhat advantage of the hardware at use. I'm immediately reminded of the White Knight Chronicle games which are surprisingly unappealing visually despite being first party Playstation 3 games. So when I play a Dreamcast game, a console that was technologically speaking absolutely incredible for the late 90s, I can't help but feel disappointed when I look at this game's visuals. In short, this game looks like it belongs on the Sega Saturn. It's visuals are pretty weak. When the passengers walk onto the bus it's not polygonal characters with actual motion, it's blurry 2D sprites that fade in an out to different areas on and off the bus to show movement. Compared to other third party Dreamcast games it's unacceptable. I'll accept the cutscenes which are static images of people on the bus because they're actually full on characters. But when you've got a game where the visuals in Blue Stinger (Which looks terrible despite being on the Dreamcast) look better you know you've got a problem. Come to think of it, the piss poor 2D sprites mixed into the 3D world in Super Mario 64 look better than this.
I'm coming down on the game a little too hard. After all I really do like it. Despite the poor visuals this game really is engaging. Luckily the visuals I mentioned only show up in a few spots. Most of the time you're looking at either the road from behind the bus or in the bus. And the visuals are still pretty poor polygons but not distractingly poor. Another one of those small details I feel is worth mentioning is that the game provides you with four angles to drive by. You can either have directly behind the bus, an awkward angle looking down at the bus, first person in the bus with a visual of the front window and steering wheel ahead of you, or the same first person but no extra visual of the front window. Personally my favorite is the last one listed. I like the inside visual without the extra stuff all around. The view from behind is fine except it's hard to tell when you're gonna run into the car in front of you. I don't like the overhead view because it's hard to navigate. Then lastly I don't like the view inside with the wheel and such because of how it treats turns. Whenever I turn so does the camera slightly as if it's the drivers head turning. I don't like this because I find it confusing and makes it harder to control. Otherwise I would love to have the wheel and everything for the aesthetic alone. Matter of fact, I really want to get a steering wheel controller just for this game to complete the experience.

I definitely would recommend this game if you can get your hands on it. It's one of the most unique games (as an American) you'll probably ever play. I haven't played the sequel(s) on the PS2 but I can't imagine they're a lot different. Outside of fine tuning some of the weaker points I can't imagine what else you could do to expand outside of new maps. And that's not a bad thing. The game knows what it wants to be and sticks to it. It is crazy strict but if it were easy and forgiving then it could be blazed through in no time at all, making it less interesting. I doubt it would ever be re-released in America but if you have a Dreamcast it's not hard to get. You can buy a special disc from NCSX to play imports and then go to Game of Japan where you can get it for a little under $20 (minus shipping). This was one of the first imports I got after re-buying a Dreamcast. Not the first import I ever got for it but it was for my most recent run with the Dreamcast. Give it a shot cause it is FAAAAAAAAANtastic!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ignorant American Gaming: Juggernaut

Availability: Was only released for Playstation back in 1998 in Japan and 1999 in America. No ports or re-releases currently available.

Version I Played: Only one available. Specifically the American release.

Review: In case you haven't noticed I am a big fan of horror and things that are generally speaking pretty fucked up. Hard to say exactly what the story is behind it but I do enjoy the thrill of terror. Not the kind of terror that comes with a roller coaster but the kind where you feel like that killer or demon on the screen or on the page may very well be in the room with you in the dark. And when they're a bit more on the fucked up side (aka not what you may see coming and what does come is really out there) it sometimes enhances the experience depending how it is used. Those factors put together is one of the many reasons I was drawn to Juggernaut. And I would say my initial draw to it was in a few stills I found, much like when I discovered D. Take a look at the back cover art for example.

Honestly that was enough to draw me in. I could tell it wasn't a traditional modern horror themed game. It was even more old school than I thought. It's a point a click adventure game, or as much of a point and click can be for a home console (ala Myst or D). And despite poor reviews I found myself too stubborn and wanted to see it for myself. Honestly for the most part I was not disappointed.

The plot is a good mixture of old and new ideas. The game starts out where you're called upon because your girlfriend is demon possessed. So you go to her home where a priest performing an exorcism and explains what has happened up to that point. By the end of this explanation he tells you that in order to save her you'll need to enter her soul to draw out the demon. So the game does not actually take place in the physical world. It takes place in a spiritual world within your [lady's] soul. I thought this was a great and innovative approach to handle an exorcism instead of a game that involves you running around town refilling the holy water containers and all around what you would expect from an exorcism like in The Exorcist. This allows things to get really fucked up, because in case you haven't noticed things can get really fucked up in one's head. Way more than in real life. What does follow is a very wide range of locations and events that all are bizarre in their own right.

The first place you go is to this beach/forest area. And the first thing you see is a view of what appears to either be a lake or ocean, and in the sky is a blood red moon. It's a really eerie image and a great way to start a game. One thing I should make clear before continuing is that I feel that early pre-rendered 3D modeling can be really creepy without really trying. It's a different type of uncanny/creepy similar to modern 3D modeling where it looks really realistic, but just off enough for it to be off-putting (See Polar Express or the new TinTin). I don't find that stuff creepy. Well, not as much as this older type at least. Now when this older style of 3D modeling tries horror, oh boy can it be creepy. It's a bizarre view since you can tell the developers are really trying to make it as realistic as possible within their limitations, but it isn't quite there yet. As a result a lot of the imagery turns out much creepier for me than it would if it were in a stronger graphics engine. Also since it's all pre-rendered it is much smoother a presentation, which makes it creepier for me because it looks a bit more "realistic" that way. And lastly, it's almost entirely still images. There is some animation when walking from one location to the next, but otherwise it's all still. I find still images way creepier than seeing things in motion because it allows my imagination to run wild. Also there is something strange about seeing something so still, especially when you're experiencing it in a medium where you're used to it moving. Really hard for me to explain and have you understand. But in an effort to make more sense, I on a normal day would find the image below on top creepier than the image on the bottom:

So this is going to be the standard for what style will be seen throughout the rest of the game. But what kind of stuff could be happening inside this girl's demon possessed head? Well, quite a bit of random scary shit that's for sure. Through the first chunk of the game you'll find yourself walking through a forest and exploring brick and wood homes/towers for clues on where to go next. It's here that you'll discover one of the games biggest flaws. It doesn't have a good balance of difficulty. Some of the puzzles will be really, really easy, and others will be way too complicated. One I got stuck on early in the game was when you're supposed to know what path to take through a series of doors based on the sound they make when you approach them. Your only clue is in the first room by listening to a record player. Then with each room you go into you have to figure out which of three doors it would be. And a lot of the noises sound similar. Honestly, that's when I busted out the youtube videos because it was getting frustrating.
And that's something with this game and this genre that doesn't always meld well with me. I don't have a huge amount of experience with point and click adventure games. My specialty is more along the lines of platformers, RPGs, and puzzle games. And there are critical thinking elements in each of those in their own respect, RPGs more than the rest, but point and click adventure games is not just about using logic, but the logic the game creates. Sometimes that logic is really wacky and one can wonder how anyone would have ever thought to use said item in said way. It's a world of wonder and you really have to get in the right mindset of that world. In short I like adventure games but I'm no good at them.
Now with Juggernaut it definitely has those puzzles. I always try to avoid using a guide as much as possible but there were parts that I definitely needed it. And I tried, believe me I tried. But once I was able to figure out what to do next I found another problem with the game. It will make you do the runaround so much. There's a lot of backtracking and running around here there and everywhere. And this is expanded because of some mechanics you have to deal with later in the game. This is something that unfortunately takes a big jab at the game overall. I constantly want to keep moving along with the game but sometimes what I need to do is so tedious it makes me want to shut it off. I'm just glad the theme and initial story of the game kept me going. That and wondering what could come next because the game was already coming off as unpredictable in it's first couple hours.

For me the game came much more alive and the creep factor went way up when you enter the mansion. First to even get in you have to talk to these strange men in coats and masks (See the image I posted a few paragraphs ago). The weird thing is that there doesn't appear to even be a front door to the mansion as you have to essentially be transported into the mansion through a painting. Now I found the mansion way creepier than the forest stuff. Why? Another personal creep factor. I've always loved the haunted house type of horror. It's a lot like being trapped without an easy escape. Also it adds a factor of claustrophobia because there's very little ways to escape. Also, and I think this is something we can all relate to, being alone at home in the dark can be some scary shit. It's like you can get this sense of anxiety thinking that someone or something is waiting in the next room to get you. Anyway, I love it cause haunted houses and the like are really scary to me.
For the most part the mansion is what you would expect until you get into some of the deep nooks and crannies where all the creepy stuff is hidden. For example you find a machine that provides you with a body. It's hard to describe so take a look back at the back cover of the game case and you'll see a shot in the upper right hand corner. It's between that body and a smaller body in a separate machine where you can access different areas or even use certain keys in certain locks. It's a good way to add variety to the game where you need to explore or factor into puzzles how you'll progress with either a large or small body. However this is yet another time when things get tedious. Rarely are the two machines for the different sized people near each other. So realizing you should have jacked into the small body when you're in the big body across the mansion is a pain cause you have to trail all the way back to the other machine to get it. And sometimes that'll take time to get back to it.
That aside what feels like the main goal first and foremost is to collect reels of film throughout the place to reveal a video that would help you move forward. Not much to say about the journey to get the film besides tedious. But once you get them all together it makes a bizarre and creepy video. It's another one of those things that's hard to describe but it essentially opens up a portal to another part of this world. In other words you literally choose between three doors and then walk through them via the projection. Keep in mind this is all in someone's mind so anything is possible.

At the time of this review I still have not beaten this game and I actually had to start from scratch when I replaced my old, YLOD PS3 last year. The farthest I got was into one of those extended worlds within the projection where I found myself walking around the internet (Talk about a change of pace). So I will take some time to complete the game to the very end and add an extension to the review when that happens. I have played enough for now to know where it's going and I have a feeling it'll will be a lot of the same, which ironically means more surprises with not being able to predict what comes next. The game is three discs long which means it provides quite a long set of gameplay and I was only on disc two when I had to start over. I've got a long way to go. But I wouldn't feel guilty watching a Let's Play to get me back where I was.
At the end of the day this game fascinates me at best. I'm interested in where it's going and there's been plenty of creepy things to give me chills down my spine whether they intended to or not. Yes the game can get weird in a not good way and the way it handles itself can be corny from time to time, but it's still cool. Hard to recommend cause I feel it take a special kind of game to get into this game. Maybe if you enjoy D like I do then you could give it a shot. Hard to recommend to point and click adventure players cause it would pale in comparison to other games in the genre. So my overall opinion is that it's kinda a game for me but I'm not sure who else. There's enough to keep ME interested but I don't know if YOU will be as forgiving as I am. It has it's problems, but I still like it.

If America Made It: It probably wouldn't be much different. Have you ever played Phantasmagoria? That and this were released only a few years apart. Pretty similar in how they're both really fucked up but have completely different approaches. I'm trying to think what would be different and the only thing I can think of is in concepts and slight differences in execution. Otherwise I imagine it would be pretty similar.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Review: Birdemic: Shock and Terror

Version I Own: Blu-ray. Nothing like shit in HD.

History: This joke of a movie actually has a bit of a fun and rich history. James Nguyen has no formal training for film making outside of watching a lot of Hitchcock movies while growing up. His love for the cinema gave him enough motivation to make movies independently. He made two movies before this one, Julie and Jack and Replica. It wound up taking four years to complete Birdemic. However it was because shooting would be done mostly on the weekends making it spread out over a long period of time. Also there was a long period of time before he was able to get a distributor. So a movie that started filming in 2006 didn't get released until 2010. James Nguyen actually tried to submit his film into Sundance but was (as you can imagine) denied. After this happened he drove around Sundance in a large van painted and handed out flyers to promote his movie. However on this promotional material he misspelled the name of his own movie as Bidemic, with a sub title that stated "Why did the eagles and vultures attacked?". I should point out now that English isn't his first language. In the end the movie cost around $10,000 to make and quickly became an instant cult classic. The distributors wound up spending more on promoting the movie and purchasing the rights to it. Now it has a following similar to The Rocky Horror Picture show where people have things they say and do at different parts of the movie. A sequel has since been made and is currently available for digital purchase on the movie's website. I'm personally waiting for the DVD release.

Personal History: I have seen this one at least three times and plan on watching it again and again and again. I've still got to watch it with commentary (and there are multiple tracks).

Review: Every year there are a ton of bad movies. Movies that were made with little care in order to turn over a quick buck maybe with a famous face or theme. These are easily passed by and forgotten. Also they're usually pretty hard to get through because they're boring in lacking essential features to a story. Then there will also be movies so bad that were made with such little care or were made with good intentions but they fall so flat that it needs to be avoided cause you will get nothing out of it. But then there are movies that are so bad, SO BAD, some done seriously and others as a joke that the bad turns around and becomes a good. Famous examples of these include Plan 9 From Outer Space (or anything Ed Wood did, really), The Room, and Troll 2. But there was a movie released as recent as three years ago that became an instant classic. A movie that had such strong intentions but failed so badly that it makes Ed Wood look competent. That movie is Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

Here's the thing. The movie is so bad in such a great way that I don't even know where to begin. The basic plot of the movie is that a young couple fights to survive when birds suddenly start attacking people out of what seems like nothing. So basically it's the plot of The Birds. And that's one of the many things you'll notice about this movie. James Nguyen is a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock and it's easy to see that The Birds was inspiration for this movie. And by inspiration I mean total ripoff. On top of this he tries to add in other elements Hitchcock used, like suspense, a love story, and hidden bits and pieces here and there. Well it has all of those things. Too bad (or wonderfully?) all of these themes failed to be any good or subtle. In short this is a case of an incompetent filmmaker thinking he's better than he really is and takes things way too seriously. So without further Apu I bring you my commentary and extensive synopsis of Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

I was gonna use a series of time codes and send you to the movie on youtube but now they make you pay for the rental so poo poo.

The first thing anyone will notice is the production quality. This movie was made with essentially a consumer level digital camera showing it's level of "cheapness" to it. Now I want to take a sidebar for a second. Just because they're using a digital camera doesn't mean the movie will automatically be crap. A lot can be done with those cameras and very well I may add. One fine example of this is David Lynch's Inland Empire. That title was made entirely on the cheaper, more consumer friendly digital cameras. It's got a unique look to it different than actual film but it's still VERY well done and actually feels like a movie more than a home video (like you may get the feeling from with some of these digital cameras). That was before this movie was made but just by a few years. Granted this movie was made over the course of four years but that's not because it needed that much time and attention, it was a scheduling conflict situation. So a quality movie can come from these types of cameras, but in this case it was used horribly and gives the whole movie a very cheap look.
Speaking of cheap, take a listen to the music. How much more stock can you get with that music? Between that, the unnecessarily long shots, and the slow opening credits you know you're in for a "wild ride." And as a side note, James Nguyen made up some of the credits to make the movie appear more professional. James, James, James, it's gonna take a lot more than that to make this look professional.

Once the movie starts you'll be able to tell how cheap it is on so many more levels. Whoever shot this movie (Probably James) didn't know what they were doing because in the first few minutes alone the focus of the shot is way in the wrong area or the shot holds for way too long. Which brings me to the editing. The editing is terrible because it gives no sense of direction or provides good pacing. When our "hero" first appears on screen he is walking down the street to get some breakfast. What could have easily been a shot of him parking and then cutting into the restaurant with him already sitting down looking at the menu they felt it needed to go on a lot longer than that. First he had to get out of his car, then he has to walk across the street, then he has to walk down the street, walk in the restaurant, say hello to the hostess, then get seated by the hostess, hand him the menu, and tell him she'll be back with him in a moment. Keep in mind this all happens slowly, with no music, wooden movements, and again horrible editing to go along with it. And that's just the start of it all. There are so many examples of terrible scenes in this movie, but all you have to know from here on out is how cheap it looks. Sweet, sweet, terrible looking, cheap.
As promised there is romance in this movie and it doesn't wait around (unlike the bird attack). In the first scene is when our hero meets the love interest. They... hit it off? This is the most wooden acting I've ever seen. The guy makes an automated voice message system have character and charisma. Well in the story they start going out right away. This seems weird cause they just met but we soon find out they went to high school together. However they never hung out or anything so it still seems weird cause they essentially did just meet in a restaurant and they're talking quite personally and communicating like they've been together forever. It's painful to watch them on their dates, mostly because so much time is spent on them. And when they're not slowly walking around town while the camera follows them they are having long drawn out conversations that feel more like interviews than an actual conversation. Something very similar happens when the girl has the guy meet her mother. The mother just sits there and keeps on talking, telling the story of her life in a dull, drawn out manner. There's no engaging from her daughter or the young man, just talking like it's an interview for a local TV show. And this isn't something that's just wrong with the acting (which is some of the worst you'll ever see) but just as much with the writing.
James Nguyen clearly has no idea what he's doing in terms of telling a story. His method of exposition is to just tell you. He doesn't just show you anything or lets the story tell itself. It's all in your face "THIS IS WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT" type talk. Even the not so subtle, not so hidden messages in the movie are more present and in your face than the actual bird attack. The whole movie has this heavy "going green" theme with other related material. One of my favorite not so subtle lines is at the end of the double date. The lead guy starts the scene with, "What a great movie. An Inconvenient Truth." First it's weird that this would be a double date movie as opposed to a fun action movie or a comedy, also why would you say out loud what movie you just saw as if they didn't know? But what makes this line so great to me is that it's delivered on top of so much that's already been said and will be said with going green. These other examples include a news report in a couple different scenes that talks about global warming, our hero purchases and installs solar panels on his roof, he pulls together an energy saving product for his company and sells it for something like a million dollars. How the hell should I know, this movie barely communicates anything properly. It's got no subtlety and whenever it feels the need to REALLY tell you something it is in your face about it. Cause not only does it have this going green message but also a message for peace. I swear, there is a line late in the movie where one character says, and I quote, "Why can't we just give peace a chance?"...I was speechless.

But what about the birds? Isn't this a movie about bird attacks? Well, yea, but the reason why I'm taking so long to get to it is because the movie does the exact same thing. Before the actual attack there are two moments that either show or reference birds and they're both in scenes when our beautiful love interests are on dates. One is simply looking up at a tree and seeing a group of birds flying around it. The other is on the beach when they find a dead bird. Now they didn't use real birds for these scenes. No living birds are on set here. Want to know how they were presented, then? I'll get to that in just a second. So, anyway, there is all this BS about how wonderful life is going and continues to get better for our heroes for forty-freaking-seven minutes and there have only been two scenes with birds. Neither of which are attacking. Now we come to one of my favorite parts of the movie. At the halfway point of the movie just when things just can't seem to get any better our lovely lovers decide they're really horny. They rent a motel room (why they couldn't do this at one of their homes I don't know cause we never got the hint either of them have roommates) and have sex. Just before the sex starts there is one of the most awkward and painful to watch make out scenes you'll ever see.
Fade to black.
Fade back in and we're treated to some extended shots around the town. It's shots from far away to show the town's... skyline?... Some shots of cars driving around, the beach, shops, just totally random unrelated material. It's literally filler and doesn't have any meaning in terms of transitioning. However this is where the split on the movie is. It's where one movie ends and another begins. You know, the movie that should have been playing this whole time!!!!! But why this is one of the best parts to me is because the tone of the movie changes so drastically I had to go to the hospital for whiplash. After these peaceful, long shots of random activity around town the movie fades to black again, and when it fades back in there are birds FUCKING EVERYWHERE! It's essentially the birdpocalypse out of absolutely nowhere. On top of just seeing them flying around they are literally attacking by throwing themselves to the ground and EXPLODING! This is all so amazing first because it's hilarious how quickly they show up. Then the background shots the birds are presented in front of are just daily life so you see people walking and driving around like nothing is happening. But the best part of all this are the birds themselves. The birds are all CG and it is some of the worst CG you will every see. They're poorly animated so they look far from natural. On top of that they lack any sort of texture to their bodies. And lastly it's just the same animation used over an over again. There's flying left or right across the screen, circling, staying in one spot in the air, and diving toward the screen or to the left or right at a side angle. That's about it. It screams hilarity especially when our heroes start fighting the birds cause they are just waving their "weapons" (wire hangers I shit you not) in the air. But since the birds don't interact it looks horrendously hilarious.
This really is when the movie picks up. However you had to go through so much just to get to this point that it does become difficult at parts to keep moving forward with it. Unfortunately that's the case with these good bad movies. The "gimmick" if it being so bad it's good doesn't always hold up throughout the entire thing and it starts to ware off towards the end. There were definitely parts toward the end of Birdemic when that was happening. The movie is so hilariously bad it's enjoyable. But keep in mind it's still bad. It's only entertaining in it's flaws. But sitting through a 90 minute movie that is filled with nothing but bad is still hard to get through despite how good it may be. You stop caring and a lot of the bad is just getting repeated. But that doesn't mean there isn't notable spots in the second half.

It's so hard to talk about this movie without simply describing the scenes. But the problem with this type of movie is that it's really seen to be believed. If you didn't follow my time codes for when certain things happen then I urge you to go back to get some examples of what I mean. They're really funny out of context but even better in context cause you're not expecting them. So whether you take my examples or watch it as a whole I urge you to check it out if you're a fan of good bad movies.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Moving Special, or I've Got Updates

Happy summer one and all to those of you who actually enjoy it. Personally I hate the heat. But summer is a time for fun the sun but also a time when you need to get shit done that you couldn't during the busy winter. And in case you weren't in the loop I'm going through some changes right now. One of those things is moving! Not far, more or less my wife and I are moving across town. With that said I may as well kick a few other things into gear with all this other stuff going on. One of which is to provide you fine people more content more consistently.
Over time I started and nearly finished or pretty much finished (minus touch ups) many reviews and commentaries. It's getting a bit absurd how many there are so what I'm gonna do is try and focus on finishing those off cause I've got some good stuff in there. Along with that there are plenty of updates that need to be done, too. This mostly consists of updating my overall collection list. It's been a long time since I updated it and a lot has come and gone since then.
So keep on the watch for a large flow of movie reviews, Ignorant American Gaming, I Have a Dream(cast), some commentaries in both movies and games, and even another unique review I'm yet to do yet. But you'll have to wait and see what that is. You'll probably be able to tell when it comes. Also I just ordered a big batch of new laserdiscs from a 25% off EVERYTHING sale from LaserDiscs by Duff so I will probably review a few of those as well. Got some cool stuff from the sale including the entire Godfather trilogy!

Keep your eyes open!!!!!!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review: The Last Stand

Version I Watched: Redbox rental DVD.

History: Aside from this being Arnold's first lead role since Terminator 3 there isn't a lot of history with this. The movie wound up with somewhat favorable reviews ending up with a 60% on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie was made with a $30 million budget and it opened in 9th place with only earning $6.3 Million. Overall it made approx. $37 Million, and while it exceeded it's budget it's not quite enough to consider it a success.

Personal History: Wanted to see this when it was in theatres but wound up having my first viewing on home video.

Review: Personally I find a lot of people's obsession with the 80s a bit obnoxious but that's probably because I didn't grow up in that era. Granted many people feel the same way about the 90s, but that's an era I'm also a bit annoyed with, too. And I did grow up through that! One thing I do love about the 80s and 90s, though, are the action flicks. This was in a time when actions movies had a plot of "Good guy. Bad guy. Kill! Kill! Kill!" Sometimes something deeper of a plot would be thrown in there but that usually involved a hostage situation or domination of a country, blah-de-blah-de-blah. One thing I talked about in my Good Day to Die Hard review was that too many action movies now are trying to be James Bond or Jason Bourne instead of straight up action. Granted there's been a market for those types of movies for a long time, it's just that unless something like Crank comes around these days we don't get straight up 80s style action too often. With that said we come to The Last Stand. One of multiple movies that have starred old heroes in new adventures (The Expendables and Bullet to the Head being other examples). When I found out that Arnold would be starring in his own movie for the first time in years I was very excited. Sadly I missed it in theatres cause it wasn't there long due to it being overshadowed by bigger titles (happened to Bullet to the Head, too, but even worse). In the end Arnold clearly didn't break it big with his return to the big screen. But I think it's more so people not being interested in Arnold anymore. I don't believe off the bat that it's a reflection of it's quality. There's tons of amazing movies out there that didn't do so well at the box office, some of which were flops. I'm writing this opening paragraph before I watched it so it is an early, uninformed perspective. So let's sit down and watch it.

Before I continue I do want to give context to how I went into it. I don't really get too excited for anything anymore despite stating my excitement to see Arnold on screen again. I try not to let hype or excitement overshadow what it will logically turn out to be. Even when, let's say, I was literally quoting "I wanna see Expendables 2 like a fat kid wants cake" I still left open the possibility it could be really bad. But I wanted to see it opening weekend, which I did. My Dad and I went and we both really enjoyed it. So as excited as I was to see Arnold back on the big screen outside of a cameo I was excited. But I knew, I KNEW that it wouldn't be the same because that's asking way too much. Why would I want to see something that's the same as before anyway? Well in a sense I did because I was hoping it would have elements of his previous work that made Arnold who he is. No I wasn't looking for a remake of Terminator 2 or The Running Man, but I was looking for that charm that made those movies great. In short I went in with semi-low expectations. I was wondering if I would be too critial or too forgiving because I'm such a big fan. Turns out in this situation it would be both. Enough beating around the bush. Let's get to brass tax.

In concept the movie is old school and very Arnold-esque. A small town cop defends his town from a kingpin who is racing through it to escape the country. It's a story about the "little" guy rising up against a big force to fight for what's right and just. What does that sound like? Sounds like something like Die Hard. But another thing I was worried about going in was Arnold's age. This guy is older than my dad so I bet he's not all there in his health anymore. But I think we can all agree he could still beat the shit out of any of us in his sleep any day of the week with just his feet. But being tough doesn't always trump being old. Which brings me to my first complaint with the movie. I don't know if this is how it was just written or because of the previously mentioned "health concern." But Arnold showed up right away in the movie but then was barely in it for about 30-40 minutes. And then when he showed up again his character had little to no involvement for at least another 10 or so minutes. My wife watch a little bit of this with me. Around half way through she turned to me and said, "I thought you said this was a Schwarzenegger movie." Well that's what the DVD cover and the trailer told me. So far I'm not crazy about the movie's execution.
Not necessarily because of a lack of Arnold. As long as he's used well on screen that's what matters. It's just that the opening plot giving the background on what's happening and why was too long. It's like if Die Hard focused more on what Severus Snape was doing before he got to the skyscraper and held everyone hostage. But that's not what happened. He showed up and shit went down. And it was excellent. Why did we need so much exposition with this enemy? Why couldn't more time be spent in Arnold's town? Give me more story with the hero than the villain! And most of all, why does the government have to be involved in everything? Yep, something you should know by now annoys the hell outta me. The government always seems to get involved in some way shape or form. Everything these days has to be a sleek spy thriller or a crime drama. Can't stand it. Thankfully here it didn't have as much of it as A Good Day to Die Hard. That one was loaded with it. It's just that this would have been much more enjoyable if less was known about the enemy, it's was mostly or entirely set in Arnold's territory, and it wasn't high level government authority getting involved. It was the cops against the bad guy. That would have been silly fun action. Throw in a few more one liners as well and we're good as gold.
So I guess my biggest beef with this movie is the first half. It was far from necessary to see that much back story for the bad guy. This isn't James Bond. This is about the small town cop fighting a powerful fugitive. We don't need to get to know the entire bad guy's story before he shows up. That can be done through more creative exposition. Just show up, bang bang bang, Arnold's on the job.

Once it did get to Arnold's town and Arnold was in the driver's seat I must say I was pretty underwhelmed. They were made aware of the threat coming through so once it's actually in the town it felt like a lot of time was spent getting ready for the fight. This provided some more comic relief that was more boring than anything else. One subplot revolved around Johnny Knoxville's character and the crimes he's committed over the years. There's the irony in how he's beem such a bad guy and is now needed with all his weapons to help fight the bad guys coming through town. This part got more boring than anything as they were trying too hard to extend the run time of the movie, or that's what it felt like. So when it finally got to the Arnold action I was bored and tired of waiting so what they gave me wasn't exciting enough for the wait. Granted some of the action in the last act of the movie were pretty awesome. Like when they had a car chase in a wheat field so it was a guessing game on where each other was. Then of course spoilers spoilers the good guy wins and everyone goes home happy.
As I'm getting to this point I'm coming to realize I didn't have as much to say about this as I thought I did. I wouldn't say it was a bad movie cause there were plenty of redeeming values. If anything it was sub-par. There were a lot of things that I felt should have been re-worked or polished to make it better overall, but instead we got this. Some laughs, some cool action. So it may be worth the dollar rental at redbox for a quick fix but otherwise it's hard to recommend. Don't shy away, though. Give it a shot. Maybe you enjoyed it more than I did. I just spent way too much time waiting for Arnold, and then when he showed up I wasn't as excited as I hoped I would be. If you want a better throwback action movie then just go with the Expendables or Expendables 2. But now I want to see Bullet to the Head to see why Stallone had the worst opening sing Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot.