Monday, January 31, 2011

Michigan State: 13-8!?

MSU Basketball, unlike MSU football, is actually expected to be good year-in and year-out. This is largely due to Tom Izzo who has consistently made our team one of the best in the nation. While we don't have a ton of national titles we do have a lot of Final Four appearances including 2 consecutive. However, as the season now stands at 13-8 (and perhaps we'll finally drop out of the top 25) it seems somewhat doubtful that we'll even get seeded in the tournament. We have 5 more games against teams in the top 25 including the undefeated invincible Number 1 Ohio State Buckeyes. Most of our losses to this point have come against teams now in the top 25 but having a huge loss total isn't going to look too pretty for Tourney seating. 3-6 seeds in the tournament often do well enough and we have made the Final Four as a 5 seed 3 times now I believe, but we'll need to win almost every game for the rest of the season (losing to OSU won't matter) to attain one of those.

With a few more losses we may be relegated to the NIT, which is a nice consolation prize for Division II and III teams but essentially the dregs for us. While North Carolina managed to win the National title and then fail to get into the tournament the next year (last year) upstaging our pathetic failure, perhaps we can somehow pull it off and get into the tournament with a competent seed. If not losing as an 8-14 seed isn't all that bad, but falling into the NIT for the first time in a long ass while will make me sad.

Tom Izzo gets offers from the NBA every year for 5 million + per year to coach, and has always mentioned how much he admires NBA coaches and how it would be the "ultimate challenge." Fortunately our team has done consistently well over his entire tenure, but with a few terrible seasons perhaps he'll advance to the next level and leave us in the dust. Unlike in professional sports coaches actually do matter in the college ranks and losing Izzo would likely relegate us to only the fourth or fifth best team in the Big 10 most of the time. I would like to keep Izzo for as long as possible, even if we don't win another national title he is guaranteed to be in the College Basketball Hall of Fame one day.

As the BCS screwed us over in Football (catastrophic bowl loss not withstanding) the same sort of polling system seems to be our savior in Basketball, as we somehow managed to stay in the top 25 with 7 losses. We have consistently had very difficult schedules for the past 3-4 years, playing Duke and other ACC teams in the "Big Ten/ACC challenge" that our conference almost always loses horribly. However MSU was most often the lone bright spot in that challenge, but this year Ohio State seems to have taken the chalice of omnipotence and we our left in quite terrible shape.

I'm not exactly sure why but OSU somehow manages to have a top recruiting class every year despite only doing well with Greg Oden several years ago and otherwise failing to get all that far in the tournament. Yet we, with our previously historic form, have not managed to recruit at the same level. Usually Tom Izzo negates this as an issue but it's possible crossover from our usually terrible football team is what causes the recruitment backlash. We seem to have exclusively non "one and done" players, which is a heartwarming situation but still limits our potential by quite a lot, all of those players are stars at both the collegiate and professional levels but we seem to have been left with mostly talented but flawed players that take a while to improve. The only MSU players who have done reasonably well in the Professional ranks are Zack Randolph and Morris Peterson, but Ohio State has had Greg Oden, Evan Turner, and now Jared Sullinger in the past few years.

MSU doesn't exactly need a miracle to reach the NCAA tournament with 9 losses but I do think they need a miracle to obtain a decent seed. Tom Izzo is still somewhat unlikely to leave even if we do miss it entirely, but if the amount of money offered keeps going up I wouldn't be so sure. Assuming we take a while to recover he'll only look attractive as a professional coach for a couple more years so he would perhaps be more motivated to take an offer soon instead of tending to another MSU recovery effort after several years of success. The biggest reason I want MSU in the tournament is because they always seem to win me bracket challenges by surprisingly making it to the final four or championship (though it should be noted I've lost in the final game due to picking them numerous times as well), but filling out a bracket is still the most entertaining "fantasy" sports moment every year regardless.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Final Fantasy XIII


Pros:
+++ Most difficult game in the entire series
+++ Unparalleled environmental variety
+++ Great combat system
++ Snow
++ Most difficult main storyline boss in the entire series
+ Solid Summon system
+ Incredible graphics
+ Decent Weapon customization system
+ Linearity strengthens the mediocre plot
+ Variety of challenging sidequest bosses
+ Good music
Cons:
--- Last boss sequence is nowhere near as hard as the area directly preceding it
- First area presented to you is pretty dull
- Supporting NPC cast is forgettable
- Voice Acting is hit or miss
- Only one competent villain
- Plot gets considerably weaker as the game opens up

Music: Snow's Theme

I'd like to structure this review in such a way as to refute some of the foolish arguments against the game. First, however, I'd like to restate the point that the environments in this game are ridiculously varied. The God of War and Uncharted Series are sort of renowned for tossing a new environment at you every 5 minutes, but this game manages to do that for 50 hours worth of environments. Excepting the first bland Final Fantasy VII throwback area the rest of the game is awesome looking and quite distinct from every other area in the game. As previously mentioned the main character Lightning is a hybrid between Squall and Cloud while being a woman which sounds pretty terrible but for some reason it works okay in this and you don't get the desire to cut yourself at any point. Actually the entire game is more or less a series of throwbacks constructed around a plot, VII being the first area and the spiky hairdos, VIII being the Gunblade of Squacloudbitch (that actually works as a gun!), IX being the name of the summons (Eidolons), with X and XII having smaller impacts throughout.

The first main criticism of this game is that it is too linear, but linearity in and of itself can not be a flaw unless the game is an MMO or something. The only thing non linearity does for an RPG is weaken the main storyline since things come out of the blue instead of being constructed around specific events. The actual plot of this game isn't that great but it still has plenty of good scenes and the characters feel well connected due to the linearity. Xenosaga is the stalwart example of a good linear game, and while this game's plot pales in comparison it still works. The database from Xenosaga is here and the gameplay system itself feels like a much more polished version of Xenosaga 3's combat system.

While initially (and for the first 5 hours of the game or so) the game appears to be extremely simple and almost automated eventually you realize you have to construct specific party roles and pick which character you want to control in order to execute the finer portions of those roles. This is done rather swiftly through the "Paradigm Shift" system, and the game focuses around staggering most enemies so they're easy to take down. It is a bit tough to explain but suffice to say this develops into one of the more intuitive JRPG battle systems as the game goes on with a ton of strategic thought involved as opposed to "Spam attack" which perforates most other Final Fantasies. I've heard some people complain that there is an "Auto-Battle" function but this simply speeds up the ages old process of selecting attack over and over, and you will not always use it as you need to select specific attacks for specific enemies. The only problem with this is that for some roles auto-battle is almost useless compared to simply letting the AI controlled allies take that role (such as Sentinel).

Another complaint I've heard about this game is that there are no "towns" to go around and shop and talk to people. Oh no! How horrible that I don't have to run around for 5 hours at regular intervals to "find the cutscene" and figure out how to advance the plot, why must the plot advance for me. I so desired finding a random shop only to find out all of the items were useless and navigating a bunch of menus to sell and sort my items, this on the fly shopping system is terrible! This is the same retarded argument that people use against Vagrant Story, but it comes down to this: Towns in any RPG are generally a pointless timesink and putting the backstory on a random NPC in the middle of nowhere doesn't work any better than simply having an optional database to figure out what the hell's going on.

Exposition is never good storytelling in and of itself, it does little to establish a plot or create interest in a world. Demon's Souls was almost exclusively exposition which was disinteresting at best, you know what made that game immersive? That's right, the awesome fucking dragons. This game is immersive because the sense of scale and huge number of environments shown to you are all dazzling. At one point you're on top of a hugeass airship and you wind up flying directly into a portion of it, only to find that the interior is just as utterly massive as the exterior. Also Snow is ridiculously awesome and his summon is a pair of Icy Shiva clones that combine into a badass motorcycle. Snow actually has a more badass scene where he punches a guard and takes his gun then fires it into the air and says "I am a Pulse L'Cie, I'm here to kill you all!" in order to disperse a crowd. But I am unable to find it, alas.

About 20 hours into this game the world does open up and become essentially nonlinear, you wind up in the Calm Lands from Final Fantasy X and are greeted by this scene which at 5:00 shows a gargantuan Fal'Cie named Titan who eats a giant turtle elephant thingy (Adamantortoise). Yet another criticism of this game is that you were unable to fight Titan (or the giant snake also shown in the cutscene), but to put the sense of scale in the game in words one of the Adamants that he ate is roughly 500 times the size of your character and does about 8000 damage to everyone in your party in one hit, so to fight Titan would be a tad impossible.

This games sidequests are relatively uniform, go here kill this monster, due it in a short amount of time for a special prize. All of them only become available 20 hours in and you wander through the Calm Lands, which is 6 or 7 times as large as its Final Fantasy X counterpart to find them. I have done about 70% of them and 5 starred them all but as I went to replay it for a bit yesterday I did another 5 and found the last one took around an hour and a half of attempts (doing it one of the easier ways possible to boot) and I would have to grind to have any shot at about 10 of the rest of the marks. The last monsters you fight are all tuned around your maximum stats so that they're vaguely possible at that point if you don't use a bizarre strategy, and the game does have fairly low hard stat limits, thus making it next to impossible to overlevel these optional bosses. In essence it has 10 Omega Weapon fights except they're all more difficult than that. This is the main reason I couldn't get a Platinum Trophy without playing the game another 50 hours, though I still relish the thought, if not the grinding, to get to that point in the future.

This game is sort of designed around Trial and Error, you fight a boss the first time and get slapped then figure out a general strategy to fighting him the next time around. If you die or feel the battle is going poorly you can "retry" which puts you an inch before the fight with the capacity to redo your party and paradigms to your liking. Eventually you will find out a set of paradigms that beats most of the game with relative ease but there are still plenty of fights that will give you trouble. As a result you may die 50-100 times in the course of the game (in most other Final Fantasy's I tend to die less than 5 times throughout) but it doesn't feel grinding and irritating and isn't designed in such a way as to piss you off like Demon's Souls.

Adamantortoises also have baby versions (merely 25 times the size of your party) and only one of these is a required fight in the course of the game, but this type of fight is completely unique in the game. To damage you they stomp their feet, but if you are aerial (i.e. attacking with melee strikes) you take no damage from anything except their huge spells. You can't stay aerial forever so you time it in such a way that you do a substantial amount of damage in the air and then transfer to a defensive/rebuffing paradigm on the ground until you feel you're prepared to attack in the air again. While this fight isn't that difficult with higher stats it is merely a shadow of fighting the giant ones which are among the game's tougher and most rewarding challenges.

To amend my previous point there is one part of the game which is like a huge "Hahaha fuck you" sign if you aren't appropriately leveled. If for some strange reason you rush to finish the game instead of messing around a bit in the huge open area you will find yourself faced with the hardest boss in any Final Fantasy. Let's call him "Bart part 2" for short, if you do fight him while lowleveled he will flatten your soul even if you use the "cheesy" method of aegisols and fortisols to buff yourself pre-fight. Bart Part 2 looks and acts the same as Bart Part 1 but there's a hugely important difference that takes a bit to figure out and even if you do figure it out he's still a huge pain while low level.

Zeromus from IV on fastest was the former titan of difficulty but this fight is much more difficult than that. Despite my great desire for dying repeatedly in RPGs I leveled up a bit (the game lets you assign your own stat points essentially so you have control of your own leveling speed can can store up "experience points") and did eventually beat Bart without taking 20 times, though I did get the game's massive hint that it's okay to explore and level a bit prior to getting to that portion of the game. Aside: The boss I actually had the most trouble with is the early fight with the Eidolon Odin, which was the only main storyline boss I had to use Aegisol/Fortisol to beat instead of just trying over and over for another 15 times until I got lucky or grinding.

At this point there isn't a lot of the game left and nothing is quite as hard as Bart Part 2, but there are still a ton of lengthy battles. The very last area of the game is essentially a mega boss gauntlet where even the most basic enemies take 2-3 minutes to kill and several of the fights will take you at least a few tries. Unfortunately and somewhat predictably the actual last boss is fairly trivial compared to the massive 5 hour gauntlet prior to him, but oh well. This game still managed to defy the only huge issue with Final Fantasy games and make it quite a bit more difficult while still having a fun and intuitive combat system.

Final Score: 9/10
 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Horror! The Horror!

My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—’ everything belonged to him. It made me hold my breath in expectation of hearing the wilderness burst into a prodigious peal of laughter that would shake the fixed stars in their places. Everything belonged to him—but that was a trifle. The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own. ~ Marlowe, Heart of Darkness
Apologies for the block quote but Heart of Darkness is so dense and awesome that it demands reading at least a subsection of it's massive paragraphs if I am to quote it. I actually don't think Apocalypse Now is all that great of a movie (certainly nowhere near as good as The Godfather), but Joseph Conrad's masterpiece is absolutely outstanding and I'd suggest you go and read it right now. It is only around 75 pages and relatively cheap/easy to find if you try. Anyway, this horrifying 5:30 plan post is brought to you by Kurtz! The mighty Kurtz, his ivory, his river!

In the ensuing month the Coen Brothers' trilogy will continue and I may move on to a new set of films or simply do random ones for the rest of the month. I had something in mind but it escapes me at the moment. Additionally I am quite liable to review several Koei games to your great horror.

Sunday ~ Final Fantasy XIII
I had actually intended to review this after getting the Platinum Trophy but doesn't look like that's going to happen all that quickly with all the other random games I'm playing so I'll keep to my word of 1 Final Fantasy a month. As I've said before this game is massively underrated, and while the pictured main character is a combination of Cloud and Squall the character actually works for an icy bitch for some reason. Let's call her SquaCloudbitch for short, since Lightning is reserved for my own beloved. I see 5 hours of playing this in my immediate future...
Monday ~ Michigan State Basketball
Well, we began the season number 2 with all the hope of retaining a number 1 seed in the big dance but evidently the magic left us and we'll be lucky to still have a playable seed in the tourney (3-6). Michigan State used to be an every other year team, one year would be a final four and the next would be out in the first or second round (one year famously to Final Four shockers George Mason), though the latest trend has changed that since we made back to back Final Fours. Unfortunately this year has gone awfully so far so one wonders if the perturbed Mr. Izzo will stick around and save us from our untimely demise. Either way Izzo is the second best coach in the nation to some asshole at Duke. If you like Duke you deserve to be slaughtered en masse I say. Unless you're Christian Laettner.

Tuesday ~ Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Me reviewing a comedy? Insanity! This and The Princess Bride are two of my favorite films and I guess its a tossup as to which one I think is funnier. Suffice to say for a few years after watching this for the first time that particular moment was the greatest of my life. None shall pass.

Wednesday ~ Dynasty Warriors 2
You may be seeing a lot of Koei games over the next month. This game is actually on the PS2 blue disc so I might not be able to get it to work. This particular game was ridiculously innovative for its time though they managed to do little or nothing with each of the sequels. However as a Romance of the Three Kingdoms fanboy I am a registered slave of Koei that owns about 15 of their endlessly repetitive games. Mock me if you will.
Thursday ~ Detroit Lions
I bet you were expecting a needless pre Superbowl post! No, I realized at the last second that I hadn't done a Lions post and would not likely have another logical opportunity to do one. The Lions are like the Chicago Cubs, endless futility. Listening to Matt Millen call games this year just made me facepalm all day long (though he is relatively intelligent in the booth).
Friday ~ Dark Knight Rises Musings
In the wake of Anne Always-Naked Hathaway's selection as Catwoman I have decided to discuss the potential success of Christopher Nolan's next masterpiece. Unfortunately I don't have much faith (unless the whole cast commit suicide prior to release) that this film will exceed its direct predecessor but oh well. I have no idea when I'll decide to review The Dark Knight, probably when I decide to have a 3 week series of Nolan films.

Notes
I finished Mass Effect 2 already (still haven't returned to Dragon Age) and it was actually a lot of fun throughout. It was far from perfect but relatively entertaining and I still adore the mouse and keyboard feel for shooters even though I only rarely get to experience it lately. I won't review it until I beat it on Insanity or decide preemptively that it is much more tedious than difficult. Red Dead remains captivating for around 10 hours before it gets kind of boring once more.

Random Favorite Song: Warriors of the World

Random Favorite Game Music: Red Dead Theme

Friday, January 28, 2011

Academy Awards

The Academy Awards are a specious at best ceremony but generally the film picked for Best Picture is at least halfway decent. The best film is only occasionally picked but usually nominated for BP but generally the two awards I find to be the most reliable judges of good films are Cinematography and Best Actor. True Grit was completely shut out of the Golden Globes yet has been nominated for 10 (!) Academy Awards, and while Hailee Steinfeld deserves to be nominated for Best Actress I guess we'll have to make do with Best Supporting. Somehow or other The Town evaded getting nominated for more than just Best Supporting Actor while a few random unheard of films replaced it on several of the other nomination locations (what the hell is Winter's Bone).

Since I last wrote a post about it The Social Network has become a juggernaut favorite to win Best Picture, unfortunately Inception, True Grit, and The Fighter are all superior films. For the sole purpose of spiting my comment about all billionaires being douchebags Zuckerberg donated several hundred million dollars to charity and was named Time's Man of the Year. There is no way he'd even be thought of as possible for the award without the film being in the national consciousness. I think the Social Network is gradually starting to fade into relative obscurity even now right before it almost certainly wins Best Picture. If the voting occurred right now the King's Speech would probably win the award but since it occurred a month ago there's not much chance. If I had to put the odds on it at the moment I'd say it's about 60% Social Network, 10% True Grit (for being the lone saving grace of the holiday season), 10% The Fighter, 15% The King's Speech, and 5% Inception for chances to win Best Picture.

In other news I bought Inception on Blu Ray and watched it again and found myself completely enraptured once more. Unfortunately the film was released way back in July and recent films almost always win Best Picture. However, despite Inception being one of the greatest technical achievements in the history of cinema Christopher Nolan wasn't even nominated for Best Director. David Fincher should and will win for turning the Social Network into a good movie despite being based on the worst topic imaginable, but Nolan should have been nominated, certainly the biggest snub of the Oscars. If only Inception were about Millionaires suing Billionaires and how much better Harvard students are than everyone else in the country and how capitalism is pretty much infallible and every other pretentious issue you could think of, perhaps then it would have won Best Picture. Alas, Christopher Nolan actually prefers to make good (not to mention commercially successful) films instead of tripe.

Most of the time the Oscars have at least one difficult to choose category but this year Picture (Social Network), Actor (Colin Firth), Actress (Natalie Portman), Supporting Actor (Christian Bale), Director (David Fincher), Cinematography (True Grit), Original Screenplay (The King's Speech), and Adapted Screenplay (Social Network) are all relative locks to win. This leaves supporting Actress as the only remaining interesting category, which I think is a tossup between Melissa Leo for The Fighter and Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit.

As to the justice of all the other awards I think most of them are spot on, Supporting Actor should be more of a debate between Jeremy Renner and Christian Bale than just Bale, but again the Fighter is a more recent, more successful film so Christian Bale will undoubtedly win. Both roles were outstanding so I have no real complaint on that front. Amongst those nominated the least deserving are Jesse Eisenberg for Best Actor, (while there were several Best Supporting Actors in The Social Network that were worthy and shut out) Jeff Bridges, and Javier Bardem; but Colin Firth winning seems to be valid enough so /shrug. The distinction between "Actor" and "Supporting Actor" is pretty vague (Anthony Hopkins won Best Actor with about 18 minutes of screentime in The Silence of the Lambs) so I think Andrew Garfield could have been nominated in Eisenberg's place and Dicaprio could have gotten a nod for Inception even with little or no chance of winning.

I think everyone should see Inception, True Grit, and The Fighter, but overall this year's film selection was excellent. I saw around 12 movies in theaters this year, about as many as the past 4 years combined, and I don't think I was disappointed more than a few times (The Expendables comes to mind). While Inception will continue to be a rewatchable masterpiece True Grit is mostly cinematography (and the plot is joyous instead of conflicting) and The Fighter is a standard boxing movie. I may write another post after the Oscars, particularly if there are any notable surprises, but I'll likely just move on to future films and more reviews from movies I already own or have recently seen.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Australian Open

Men's

Men's Tennis has been in very good shape for the past 4 or 5 years with the rise of Federer and Nadal, both arguably in the top 5 all time. Federer's lone weakness in being the greatest is Nadal, he would have 22 or so majors without Nadal around but he still did exceptionally well regardless. Personally I always root for Federer since he seems like the one genuine nice guy professional athlete in the universe. Nadal's polite enough and relatively standard for a successful Tennis pro, and he certainly shows a good deal of respect for Fed. Even though Federer was completely immortal for about 3 years sans the French Open he did eventually show some human emotions and is incredibly easy to sympathize with. At the moment he's maybe 75% as good as he used to be, which is still substantially better than everyone that isn't Nadal, but the little chinks in his armor seem to have inspired all the people he had 8-0 or 8-1 records against to win a few times.

I am a tennis fan because naturally I played Tennis in High School and while I wasn't all that great I played just enough to hit some really great shots or serves and a few particularly good matches, so I am fully able to appreciate the intricacies of the game and the incredible skill of Federer and Nadal. The really huge issue in Men's Tennis is that in a few years Federer will be out of the game and the only thing to stop Nadal is injury. Nadal does have letdowns in early rounds of majors, something Federer is famous for avoiding (23 straight semis, 10 straight finals at certain points in his career) and they haven't played in a major final in quite some time as a result. Once Nadal is finished, presumably much earlier than Federer agewise there really is no comparable players left. Nadal vs. Federer is the best Tennis ever to be played, and the next generation will have nothing quite like it, which for me at least sort of kills most of my interest in the sport. Tennis' success is predicated on one or two dominant players or rivalries, Lendl, Sampras, Federer, and Nadal sequentially have shown this, but it may be a few years before tennis recovers once Fed decides to quit.

I set my alarm for 5:00 AM and watched the Djokovic Federer semifinal, since disaster struck and Nadal was eliminated this was sure to be the most interesting match of the tournament.  I began watching early in the second set, which was wholly entertaining, but unfortunately Federer lost it despite a somewhat commanding lead, and never really recovered. It's the first time in a long while I can recall Fed losing in straight sets not in the French Open final vs. Nadal, though he had a few good games along the way and still showed some of the old brilliance. Djokovic is a very solid player and this is probably the second best rivalry in the sport at the moment. Fed, with the loss, still leads the series 18-6 or 18-7 but he'll probably be pissed about this one for a while. Djokovic is Croatian and has an army of followers who yell randomly and display absurd amounts of Nationalism, and as humorous as this can be sometimes it still rattled Fed at points in the match and I'm quite sure he passionately hates Djokovic.

The reason Federer has stuck around as long as he has (he has 16 majors and the career grand slam) is just to ensure people remember he's the greatest of all time by getting 20 majors or something. Even if someone did say Laver or Borg was better he'd just laugh and say, "Hey I've got twice as many majors morons." I don't think he's harming his reputation by sticking around when he's relatively old at 28 (Tennis prime is 22-24 or so) and he does still dominate the vast majority of the tour including Djokovic. Unfortunately unlike the old days he does have letdowns in majors where Nadal is already eliminated now, where back in the day it greatly strengthened his resolve. Still it is interesting to see if he can manage to win a few more majors before the end and solidify his placement, or if he'll ever play Nadal in a final again. The 2007 and 2008 matches at Wimbledon are the two greatest matches of all time by most measurements, and the 2009 Australian final was shaping up to be one though Fed lapsed in the fifth set inexplicably, I just want to see that sort of tennis played again in my lifetime. Every shot is an awesome on the run right on the line crosscourt winner but it still gets returned and each rally goes for 15 points... Ah memories.
Women'sWomen's Tennis is in much more dire straits than Men's, while Men's Tennis gradually gets faster and faster and the players get stronger and bigger (though grace ultimately still wins) Women's Tennis does not rapidly keep pace. As a result the game needs a dominant player like Henin as opposed to Serena Williams. Serena weighs 178 lbs according to the all knowing site, which is 30-50 pounds more than every other player except Venus. Venus however is 4-5 inches taller than Serena and that weight at that height (6'2 as opposed to 5'9) is not unheard of. But really just watch Serena play, she's like a football player; ridiculously muscular and powerful yet still fairly speedy. Eventually Women's Tennis might revolve around players like her but right now she has a comically absurd advantage over just about everyone. Fortunately she doesn't really seem to be all that interested in Tennis or she'd probably have more majors than Steffi Graf.
Reference is to last year's US Open where she threatened to shove a ball up some Linewoman's ass or something
 Justine Henin was dominant yet interesting in a way similar to Federer, where as opposed to overpowering the opponent she won through capacity to get every ball and hit good angled winners et cetera. Unfortunately she retired around peak and is no longer all that good (though she just retired again so this is basically posthumous). Women's Tennis needs a couple of Henins to rise and get extremely good to generate any great interest in this side of the sport, watching Serena dominate everyone just doesn't hold that much sway anymore.

The present number 1 Women's player is Caroline Wozniacki, who's actually pretty hot. I don't think it necessarily matters if you're hot as the champion as long as you're not exceptionally ugly like Amelie Mauresmo or Svetlana Kuznetsova. Unfortunately she's just not all that good. Wozniacki is a retriever, meaning she gets to every ball and just puts it in play conservatively, while that works pretty well for winning minor tournaments and sticking around forever it doesn't make you a compelling player in the least and prevents dominance at the majors. She may eventually win a major since the Women's side is so weak but it won't be due to any interesting prowess. Sharapova is less hot and more publicized but she also gets injured every 20 seconds like Yao Ming, which is unfortunate because she actually does well against the Williams sisters.

The Women's side success is generally altered by how successful the Men's side is, even an extremely dominant player like Martina Navritilova wouldn't generate much interest if someone like Federer wasn't around to bring the sport to the public consciousness. The Men's side still needs some American player to become hugely successful to make it at all marketable in the United States. I still feel that Tennis is easily the most watchable and entertaining individual sport and obviously has the potential for incredible competition but sometimes requires the stars aligning to achieve that competition.

Every tournament each player has to go through an enormous number of rounds just to reach the final, and this is the primary issue with Nadal vs. Federer, if they just set up matches that said "you win X Open with this victory" between them they could have had 30-40 matches while Fed was still in his prime, but instead we were merely fortunate to have gotten as many matches as we did. Most other human players can't continuously get to semifinals and finals and thus it is very hard for another player to emerge as the dominant figure in the sport or for another rivalry to form. Still, here's to hoping Federer gets his 20 majors, Nadal gets 4 majors in one year, and they play each other 3 or 4 more times in Grand Slam finals. Hope is what I live for.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Suikoden V

Pros:
+++ Georg
++ Excellent Strategic Battles
++ True Runes actually seem absurdly destructive in this
++ Best storyline in the series
++ Best voice acting in the series
++ Great Soundtrack
+ Solid Combat System
+ Good Graphics
+ Beavers
Cons:
-- Random Battles are a pain once again
- No more First Person camera
- Retarded amount of fanservice

This game is the saving grace of a relatively dead series. Konami, much like Square and many other one massive franchise companies is extremely reliant on Metal Gear releases to be successful and this series really took a hit after Suikoden IV, but it's nice to see they put a lot of effort into making this into a solid game. Unfathomably I did not have a last boss/last area save game for this Suikoden so I just played a section in the middle for a couple hours, killing one boss and one strategic battle. This game has quite a bit of choice on paths to take for strategic battles, so there's somewhere around 20 total in the game.

Those Strategic battles occur in a real time setup with a rock paper scissors scheme between troops (i.e. Cavalry > Infantry, Archers > Cavalry, Infantry > Archers). In addition to having to coordinate on the fly sometimes you'll have a naval fleet to fight with alongside your regular troops so it can get difficult to manage everything, but I think that positioning is much more realistic than the turn based and utterly trivial strategic battles in the previous 2 games. Setting up your troops in just the right way is often the best way to win a battle. Early on you don't have all that many Stars of Destiny (Characters) so you can't just brute force your way through battles and manage to get a "Victory+" which nets a bonus item and an inch of epeen.

Eventually you will recruit more characters and get used to the system which makes it somewhat easier but these battles are overall still a lot more fun and moderate challenge than in either of the previous 2 PS2 games. As a bonus certain units are amphibious, like the Dragon Cavalry and Beavers. That might not sound like much but Beavers annihilate every ship type by "Gnawing" on the boatsides in a hilariously awesome animation, and once you're done with the fleet you can come on land and help win that battle. Prior to figuring out that beavers were godlike the Naval portion of battles gave me much more trouble than land based fights, but afterward it was sort of a romp.

The other major positive of this game is that around 30-35 characters in this game are both competent in battle and interesting characters in their own right, in the previous two games maybe 10 at best could claim that distinction. While you only have 6 in your party the game does give you 4 reserve slots and stick you with a variety of different characters for short periods of time as required party members, and the final area splits your group in 3, but unlike Suikoden 3 all 3 of your groups can be competent and efficient so there's no need to worry about managing your top 6 or 7 characters or anything. Several characters in this game are also in Suikoden II and I'm pretty sure this was intended to be a throwback to that game, which was vastly superior to Suikoden IV, and pretty much every one is interesting even in bit parts.

The storyline of this game is also much improved. The true rune of this game (each game is centered around 1 or more true runes) is called the Sun Rune, and much like it's nuclear nomenclature it can completely annihilate the entire planet at will as well as vaporize people instantly. Unfortunately this game doesn't have quite as solid of a scene structure as Xenosaga so the only good scenes are very spoiler heavy (but there's still quite a few of them), but I'll grant a summary. You are a prince of a kingdom built on what looks like a Dam whose ruler (always a Queen I believe?) keeps the Sun Rune. Unfortunately this Sun Rune has made your mother into at least half a lunatic and she annihilated some poor shlub town that decided to resist Sol-Falena's dominance.

That town is where you start the game, investigating what happens alongside the Queen's sister and Georg, the ultimate badass. Eventually the Queen and her husband (Captain of the Guard) die under mysterious circumstances and the murder is blamed on one of your companions. For most of the game your goal is to figure out what happened and then take back the kingdom with a variety of betrayals and intrigue along the way, but suffice to say the Sun Rune having nuclear powers as opposed to some vague destructive force makes the whole thing the game is centered around that much more interesting. This extraordinarily spoiler heavy scene shows what actually happened and is pretty dramatic if you understand the context. It's not up to Xenosaga standards by any means but it's still probably the best scene in any Suikoden game.

Overall this game is outstanding compared to its peers and one of the better JRPGs on a system with an assload of them. Fortunately I was able to get Georg back into my party just to witness him brutally murder a few monsters, but he's sort of sprinkled in through the game so you get a taste of his awesomeness without having an overpowered character for most of the game. I may one day return to the game and finish my second playthrough (around 2/3rds of the way through), at which point I might post another shorter review of it.

Final Score: 9/10

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fargo

Fargo begins with a message, "This film was based on true events," which you'll find in numerous other movies and which is used as some sort of selling point. I know more than a few people who buy into this as some amazing feat that makes a movie more attractive for historicity or some such. However for this film it's a lie, or at least the addendum is a lie. There was once a person who put up around a million for a ransom and there was a completely different guy who stuffed a corpse in a woodchipper attempting to get rid of the evidence, but those are the only two things that are "true" about the film. This I feel is a fitting introduction to the Coen's, they like to fuck with preconceived notions about films and that makes their movies that much more humorous.

I am not a Coen fanboy as it were but they certainly have an outstanding cinematographer that makes each and every film immersive. It had been extremely cold the past week here so I felt Fargo's Minnesotan icy winter was appropriate (ironically during filming they actually ran into a problem of their being no snow and had to import most of it). The film's narrative is relatively easy to follow but at the same time feels sort of disconnected, each character save the sheriff is independently dense and strangely motivated and except for the two "villains" they all speak with that Canadian type of accent.

Both of those villains are played exceptionally well, granted one of the roles wasn't exactly difficult to play but he still nailed the scenes to comedic effect. One is Steve Buscemi who is *surprise* a fast talking weasel who specializes in kidnapping morons for other morons who negotiate with rich morons to get money. The other introduces himself with the greatest line in cinematic history "Where is Pancake's House?" These two fellows set out on a mission to kidnap William H. Macy's wife so her rich dad can pay them off and he can get rid of some outstanding debt. The plot and length of the film are a fairly simple basic thriller but the way it turns out and the humorous design of the characters and portrayal of "Minnesota Nice" people are what makes this movie great.

The sheriff, played by Frances McDormand, is introduced after they kill three people attempting to avoid discovery about 30 minutes into the film which is just 98 minutes long. However she is by far the best character and despite eye witnesses best efforts to describe the two men as vaguely as possible she still makes progress on the case. This incredible tip is what actually leads to her finding the house where the two villains are staying. Here's a non sequitor of a non sequitor within the film, which is hilarious after you've seen the film and fairly strange the first time, just a sample of Coen-style humor. The way he says "You were such a super lady, I been so lonely" is awesome.

Overall this is the most acclaimed film that the Coen's have made and I believe relatively the most commercially successful until True Grit. I don't necessarily think it's any better than No Country for Old Men but it's still an excellent film to add to their repertoire. While it might be slightly overrated to people that hate the Coen's (Fargo was great, everything else was terrible! They aren't funny! Blah blah blah) I still think it's a respectable film that feels just as immersive as their other works. The stark contrast of blood and snow is the most memorable part of the film for me.


Final Score: 9/10

Monday, January 24, 2011

Playoffs Part Trois


Packers vs. Bears
This game started out just the way I wanted it to, I figured the Bears wouldn't score all that much so as long as we put a few TDs up we should be able to win. Of course the Packers drove down the field in the 2 opening minutes and scored after 3 20 yard passes, picking up right where they left off last week. I did not expect the Bears to keep giving up points so I wasn't all that surprised to discover our newfound inability to score afterward. Fortunately the defense played extremely well (perhaps aided by the ineffectual Bears attack, sans Matt Forte) and we never lost the lead.

The game was 14-0 at half though it felt a bit too close for my tastes, while it may have looked boring to others. There were a ridiculous number of punts on either side, and while it's usually a bad sign when an announcer says it the punter actually did have an outstanding day and Devin Hester didn't do much throughout the game. Aaron Rodgers threw two picks, the first was fairly baffling, he tossed it at his receiver's feet and the guy managed to throw it up in the air right to a Bears' player. The second pick was his fault and could have made the game tied without a miraculous tackle post pick (a la Roethlisberger), but despite his Sanchezian 55 QB rating he wasn't really all that bad. He took a murderous helmet to helmet hit from Julius Peppers in the second half but managed to get up and still play effectively. One thing about the Packers is Rodgers makes the receivers look better than they are and occasionally they just decide to fuck it up and drop a bunch of easy catches in a row, such is the story of the second half. Jennings is pretty good but the rest of the staff are mediocre at best, Rodgers is just so good that they all looked amazing last week (and about as bad as they did this week the week before).

The Bears Offense suddenly got much better after losing it's first 2 Quarterbacks, though he was still fairly unreliable ultimately and threw two picks that clinched the game for us, including the Raji rumble into the endzone pictured above. It was a stereotypical "smashmouth" sort of game, as every Packers Bears game has been this year and has been in general. Even though it looked like we might blow them out early somehow they hung around to make it interesting. Hopefully Rodgers didn't have a concussion that he won't tell us about until after the Superbowl, this hit was the nastiest I've seen all year.
Score: 21-14
 Steelers vs. Jets
I was hoping this game would be halfway decent but it looked to be more of a blowout than the Packers game at half (24-3). Fortunately the mighty Sanchez decided to play good in the second half while being horrible in the first as is his wont. The Steelers offense suddenly became inebriated after driving effectively all game and didn't score at all in the second half and their defense also failed miserably. Presumably Rex Ryan gave some inspiring speech like "Football is about heart, here's this obscure military reference that has nothing to do with anything, now go out there and play inspired!" at half and this singlehandedly made the game close. I guess LT didn't listen though as he was stopped on fourth and goal in what would've given the Jets a solid opportunity to win the game (losing the ball and getting a Safety instead just cost them 4 minutes on the clock).

The Steelers had to get 2 first downs to win and did so in spectacularly dramatic fashion, with the second coming on a difficult low pass to clinch the game. Rex Ryan then threw his headset in a glorious display of "damnit I failed at my preseason prediction, the horror." If the Jets had beaten the Steelers they'd have beaten the top 3 seeds in the AFC much like the Packers have done in the NFC and we'd have 2 6 seeds in the Superbowl, instead we have two extremely storied franchises. I don't actively hate good teams in professional sports (except maybe the Colts) like some people might, I like the Yankees a fair amount, I think the Heat are interesting (though the Lakers and Celtics are pretty dull all things considered), and the Patriots stopped the Rams to win their first Superbowl after said Rams beat the Packers in consecutive playoff appearances so I don't have any enmity toward them either. However hopefully the Steelers of the second half show up to play tomorrows game whilst our Defense plays spectacular and Rodgers returns to top 3 QB form.
Score: 24-19

The two favored teams won as more or less expected so perhaps this wasn't a supremely interesting week of football but it was certainly much better than last week. Hurray for the Pack in the Superbowl! Boo Steelers. Now to find a Bears fan to prod with a stick.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Demon's Souls Comprehensive Review

Pros:
+++ Flamelurker, Penetrator, and False King boss fights are fantastic
+++ Extremely smooth and intuitive control scheme, possibly the best for any Action RPG ever
+++ Best usage of Dragons in any visual media period
+++ Boletarian Palace
++ Stonefang Tunnel
++ Shrine of Storms
++ Close to infinite replay value
+ Capacity to beat every boss with Melee, Ranged, Magic, or a combination of the three
+ Solid Graphics
+ Decent Score
+ Most of the regular enemies are challenging and well designed
+ Character Tendency is well done and interesting
+ Mephistopheles and Yurt
+ Extremely difficult
Cons:
--- Valley of Defilement
--- Essentially no storyline to speak of
-- World Tendency, while an interesting idea, doesn't function very well at all
-- Giant Depraved Ones
-- A large number of things could happen that could fuck you over completely just on accident
-- Vast majority of the bosses are easy
- Inability to see is often the most dangerous opponent
- Tower of Latria
- Much of the extraneous portions of the game would take hundreds of hours to figure out on your own (i.e. upgrade system, crystal lizards, crow lady, tendency areas, character tendency vs. world tendency)
- Weapons and Shields are wildly imbalanced
- Warding can trivialize portions of the game

This game is easily the most hit or miss game I've ever played, though the general trend is great. I think the best way to review this is world by world, giving each world an individual score and then adding them up and dividing by 5. I know what that number will wind up being but I'm still debating whether to give it a 0.5 bonus for being so unique and wondrous or not. I probably will given the preponderance of high scores I've doled out already. I'll keep an approximate death counter for each world for your entertainment as well. I played essentially the whole game blind aside from the first area.

Those are corpses in his mouth


Boletarian Palace
Listen to this while reading: Theme of the False King
 
This portion of the game is resoundingly atmospheric with visual cues for each portion of the palace which is quite large and extremely detailed. The first area is basically the first level of the game and isn't particularly difficult but still gives you a taste of a variety of enemies and methods for dealing with them. Phalanx is a good introductory boss though it may be possible to brute force him. The second area is where things start getting interesting, a gigantic badass firebreathing dragon comes down and lights ablaze sections of a bridge that you have to cross in a well timed fashion.

This is what made me buy the game is knowledge of how awesome this sounds and looks (and made Yahtzee hate it conversely). There are even garbage enemies standing there that get massacred the first time he goes over that particular section. Without giving too much of the game away this video shows off the first appearance of the dragon (which is still in the first area). Dragons have always been an awesome sort of creature in your head but visual media has never really captured the full effect until now. Tower Knight is a solid boss that smurfed me with his shield the first time I walked in the door, though I did beat it on the second try with relative ease. This game does difficult bosses both well and poor and also does easy bosses both well and poor, keeping with the hit or miss theme.

The third and fourth areas (not unlocked until you fully clear another world) are probably the best looking part of the game, you fight the same general soldiers that you encountered before but they're much tougher. You also fight Red Eyed Knights and Fat Officials which are both well designed enemies. The Fat Officials in Stonefang Tunnel were the first difficult enemy I faced and I died several times before figuring out how to dodge effectively while still damaging them. While there is no awesome dragon in this area there's still a lot of dangerous enemies and bizarre traps. I suppose if you found yourself here in Black World Tendency you'd be completely fucked early on but assuming you magically know how World Tendency works it's not that bad. Penetrator is easy if you fight him with Biorr but very challenging without Biorr and also very well designed. He has a huge attack radius but doesn't move as rapidly as Flamelurker. With fast rolls it's still possible to avoid much of the damage and as such the boss is feasibly beatable even as he tears out your soul and eats your children.

The Fourth area brings forth another Dragon which hits even harder than the last and an incredible procession area lined with statues and dead corpses as the road to the de facto Final boss. The False King is once again an outstanding boss with a variety of attacks and great music. He, along with Flamelurker, took me 5 tries to beat though I did almost beat the King on the first try. Quite the epic struggle it was. Each time you die you have to corpsewalk to get your souls (leveling power and currency) back which will inevitably cause you to die again and lose all of those souls, but the King himself has a nice soul suck attack that takes an entire soul level away from you. Assuming you fight him last that's around 50,000 souls. While this is easy enough to avoid it is still quite brutal when it does hit at the end of a long attack chain. You can still, fortunately, get those souls back as long as you can get to your corpse again whilst fighting the boss after proceeding past the fire breathing dragon, 2 ministers, an assassin, some crossbowmen, and a Red Eyed Knight that can nearly one shot you. And that's one of the easier run-backs the game has to offer. Bahahaha...

Just in case you thought the rest of this area was too easy Old King Doran waits to massacre you in one of the optional (this one easily accessible relatively speaking) areas of this region. If the whole game was like this I'd be hard pressed not to give it a 10/10 and say it's just as good as Vagrant Story despite having no storyline whatsoever! Alas it was not to be.
Area Score: 10/10
Deaths: Tower Knight ~ 1, Falling ~ 3, Knights ~ 3, False King ~ 4, Doran ~ 10


The Dragon God

Stonefang Tunnel
Listen to this While Reading: Theme of Flamelurker

This area is fairly intuitive as a whole and has good shortcut systems throughout (though the short way to Flamelurker will take some trial and error). I find the elevator to Ed and up to near the Armor Spider is the best shortcut in the game. The first area is moderately difficult assuming you do it as the second area you go to, as there are boulder throwing douchebags and Fat Officials around to go with wolves, salamanders, and miners. This is the first time you'll be faced with having to vary your weapon selection (assuming you don't have something like the Crescent Falchion yet) to do appreciable damage. This isn't like Vagrant Story where it makes you do 0 damage all the time if you're not set up appropriately but it does speed things up to experiment. The first boss is, methinks, the fifth hardest boss in the game and is the long aforementioned boss where I died twice then said fuck it and brute forced it while using up all of my herbs in the process. This was quite tense and exciting at the time and since it was so early in the game I was ecstatic. Unfortunately most of the other bosses aren't as difficult. At the time I had no idea how the dodge system worked so I wasn't about to fast roll dodge everything. If I had not brute forced it it would have presumably taken a lot more than 3 tries.

The second area is much more atmospheric since it's not pitch black most of the time but there are the annoying bearbugs that have shitloads of HP while not being much of a threat which are the lone dark spot on this whole area. Fortunately it's possible to bypass them if you're into being suicidal and falling about 8 or 9 times to figure out the short route to Flamelurker. The area moving up to Flamelurker is lined with petrified enemies and dragon bones, just to make you think about how many times this Ifrit looking fellow has pounded your face in. Flamelurker is the best boss in the game, probably top 5 in any action game period, and while his theme song isn't that impressive it does have a sort of perserverant theme, he is the unstoppable relentless force that murders you over and over. Actually I did beat Flamelurker in relatively few attempts (5), but the first 2 fights I took him down about 5% before dying horribly just to make me respect his greatness all the more. I got substantially better each of the next two attempts before defeating him on the fifth, but one wrong step or too few dodge rolls and I'd have died horribly once more.

The third area is your first introduction to the gimmicky boss fight design of all the third areas. Aside from Penetrator (which still has a cheap exit with Biorr) each of the other four bosses are relatively easy, though I respect the Old Monk fight's design, they're sort of puzzle based where a wrong step can kill you instantly but gradually figuring out the puzzle is none too difficult. This sort of makes the Dragon God less impressive than the other two Dragons in the game since he goes down simply enough, though he'll probably nail you with his awesome fist of doom at least once.

Area Score: 9.5/10
Deaths: Armor Spider ~ 2, Flamelurker ~ 4, Miners ~ 2, Falling ~ 5, Fat Officials ~ 5, Dragon God ~ 1

Maneater
Tower of Latria
Listen to this While Reading: Theme of Old Monk or Maneater

The first area of this zone was the first time I had to contemplate what the fuck to do to progress. The area is sort of a maze with very little light so it can be hard to avoid falling to your death over and over and over and... Yeah.  As you may have noticed falling is easily the most dangerous opponent in the game and this is the poster child level for falling to your doom. The bigger reason is the enemies in this area, evidently lovecraft inspired Squid headed guards that have three very powerful spells, 2 of which just do a ton of damage and stun you, the third paralyzes you so they can run up and stick their tentacles into you and kill you in one hit (at least as early as I went to this zone).

Now, the game does have a cheesy way to deal with these guys but I was nowhere near having it yet so I just had to get good at stealthily walking up to them and unloading before retreating out of sight once more. It was always pretty tense but this is probably where I got over the learning curve hump and actually grew competent in the game, 3-4 hours in. As I've said numerous times Vagrant Story's learning curve is much, much steeper than that, but a 3-4 hour curve is still mildly impressive. The first boss has a pretty stupid gimmick but ignoring that the fight is alright, not utterly trivial.

The second area is one of the better looking areas in the game, though it is once again almost universally dark. This time instead of random ass pitfalls you walk along narrow ledges the whole time (though I only fell once or twice at this point) and new enemies. By this point in the game I was using a spear/shield setup which is pretty much the best way to deal with regular enemies unless you're a magic user (though I imagine most everyone who plays eventually comes around to using magic, bows, and melee weapons combined to the degree of their own taste) and it completely annihilated most of this area. There's another H.P. Lovecraft inspired Giant Heart which is nice and bloody and thumping while you go around, but it looked like a Marlboro to me to start with so I had no idea of this particularly atmospheric region, even while wading through blood below. This game does not have a precisely free camera, it isn't possible to look straight up so it is sometime hards to gage your surroundings, but in general it works well.

Yurt is also found in this area, and I believe he deserves an extra special aside. Yurt is in a cage from which you can free him (the cage is also an elevator to the floor below) at which point he'll wander off. He suggest he's there to help you slay demons but in reality he murders people. All of the NPCs who serve some vendoring purpose in the nexus save Stockpile Thomas and Ed will be murdered one by one by Yurt unless you kill him first, one for every demon you kill subsequently I believe. While this is pretty evil on the game's part I think it's pretty hilarious and the bonus is that if you kill Yurt and then go off and murder some innocent civilians you'll be tasked by Mephistopheles to murder those same people. This is probably the most creative quest the game has, though to figure this out on your own would be absurdly difficult.

The boss of the second area is Maneater, a pair of gargoyles who aren't especially difficult by themselves, you get about 1 minute to kill the first before the second one lands. However when both of them are active at once the fight is absurdly hard and the area is very constricting (just a long, narrow bridge with falls to your doom on either side) so it behooves you to kill one as fast as possible. I don't really have a problem with the design other than it feels like a gearcheck in an MMO, some of you may be gearcheck fans but I think they're pretty boring and prefer an individual difficult boss to one that forces you to just do an asston of damage in a short period. I wound up using the Clever Rat's Ring which got me killed about 5 times before I got it to work. While I did die the most during it this fight was boring overall. It might be the 4th most difficult boss in the game but it's just very tedious and boring as opposed to thrilling and terrifying action like the other top 5 bosses.

The third area of the Tower of Latria is a fight with the Old Monk's vessel, who if you're playing online can be a player who gets a special piece of headware. This is actually a pretty cool design and I would've like to see it in action but I don't play the PS3 online very much and it would've screwed up World Tendency stuff so meh.

Area Score: 7/10
Deaths: Falling ~ 12, Mindflayers ~ 5, Fool's Idol ~ 1, Maneater ~ 7

This enormous Manta Ray is called the Storm King
Shrine of Storms
Listen to this while reading: Old Hero's Theme

This area has the best designed regular enemies of any area in the game, with the Dual Katana black skeleton being the fairest (but yet still difficult) opponent who can nearly one shot you. If by this point in the game you haven't picked up on guarding with your shield a lot you will get mercilessly slaughtered by the regular rolling skeletons however. There are virtually no shortcuts in the whole area, which can make the bosses a slog.

The first area is fairly atmospheric and for once the game is not extremely dark all the time, albeit there is a ton of bloom instead. Whatever happened to normal lighting? As you progress you gradually realize you have to use ranged weapons to kill the Manta Rays floating around, which takes a very long time. The runback, assuming you don't know the very obscure shortcut, is around 25 minutes to the first boss which is the most painful portion of the whole game. While going through this area is fairly fun the portion along the cliffside with the heavy skeletons and manta rays beating the shit out of you while you can't maneuver can go straight to hell.

The first boss only took 2 tries but it took me 2-3 deaths just to get back there due to the damn cliffsides. This area of the game gives the most souls so it wasn't all that horrible but it was the first time I put up a music montage to make it less annoying. I'll pick several random songs while I go through a tedious repetitive part of a game and listen to them, this not only makes me play better but makes the tedium bearable and generally I'll succeed relatively quickly. That first boss is the first actively poor boss in the game, with very easy to avoid attacks and an annoying gimmick, but I did make it through about 30 minutes into my montage (GTA IV had two such missions that each took about 45 minutes).

The second area features Grim Reapers that summon infinite ghost monsters that are fairly difficult themselves. The reaper hits very hard and is fairly difficult in melee but if you learned from your Manta Ray shooting gallery experience they're not too bad. While this also has a long runback featuring cliffsides and no shortcut it's not nearly as bad as the first area and you'll be making nearly a soul level per trip to start with. Assuming you're wearing the Thief's Ring (which you should for the vast majority of the whole game) the Manta Rays aren't as annoying as they are in the first area and there's actually room to maneuver around the Gold Skeletons of doom. The next boss, the Old Hero, is interesting because he's blind, but he also hits ridiculously hard and crushes your soul if you aren't careful. I beat him on the first try but had a few close calls since 1 hit took off 90% of my HP.

The third area has the Storm King, who is only defeated using either ranged attacks (you're insane if you do that the first run through the game) or the Storm Ruler sword which has a nice special effect in this region where it rends the sky with a hugeass wave of destruction that murders those oh so irritating manta rays that have been tormenting you for the past 4 hours. Next to the Dragons in Boletarian palace this is the most visually impressive and "coolest" thing in the game. The Storm King can kill you in one to two hits if you're not dodging effectively but the fight isn't all that difficult. It is the best example of a good easy boss design as opposed to the triviality of the bosses in the next area of the game, that slog through a river of shit called the Shawshank Redemption Valley of Defilement. /shudder

Area Score: 8.5/10
Deaths: Black Skeletons ~ 5, Falling ~ 7, White Skeletons ~ 3, Ghosts ~ 2, Gold Skeletons ~ 3, Adjudicator ~ 1, Storm King ~ 1
Maiden Astraea
Valley of Defilement
Best song in the game: Maiden Astraea's Theme

Well, if the rest of the game rounded out to a 9.5 you had to know something was going to come out of hell itself to shit on your face. This wondrous place features the three easiest bosses in the game and a mindblowingly stupid second area. While it is atmospheric in the sense that it feels like a river of shit and is a river of shit even if you do Shawshank like Andy Dufresne at the end it still sucks horribly.

The first area of this zone isn't that bad, you're faced with Ratmen (Depraved Ones) fairly early on but they're much easier than the Shrine of Storm's basic enemies until you realize how annoying they can be when grouped up. One of the normal Depraved One's attacks is this charge where he flails about in an inch or so range in front of him, but it has comically ridiculous reach and will still hit you 8 or 9 times if you don't block it. Joy! Fortunately Spear/Shield massacres them so you're fine in this area up until you reach the last 2 rooms, where there are Giant Depraved Ones. Fuck them.

Let's just call them Ogres for short but they have a hugeass club that knocks you on your ass and stuns you until they get off another attack and you die, while you only have to fight 2 of them in the whole game (there's a lot more you could fight but you can just avoid them). I don't necessarily have a problem with the attack as long as it didn't have a weird ass hit detection radius and hit you 90% of the time even if you're rolling out of the way. To go along with this you're fighting the first 2 in narrow rooms and can't maneuver around them as well so it pretty much comes down to you dying, coming back, dying some more, and then pondering why this is in the game. After fighting these retarded beasts of death and destruction you find yourself at the first boss, who's a joke and falls over a minute later unless you run off the opening platform to your death... At which point you yell gibberish.

Believe it or not they somehow managed to make the second area worse than the first! This time you're walking through a poisonous swamp. Yes walking, never running, the most you can manage in the swamp is a brisk 2 MPH jog that drains your stamina. You can't roll, nothing. There's Giant Depraved ones again but you'll avoid them all costs if you have any sense. Oh and there's a Black Phantom with a Meatcleaver that one shots you as you feebly try to walk away slowly. I only died to it twice but it was still rather annoying, I like the enemy design just the placement is awful. Even if the swamp wasn't poisonous this area would be annoying as hell. Then you reach the second boss and he also falls over within a minute having done very little damage to you. Amazing!

The third and final area is the fight with Maiden Astraea and Garl Vinland, which if the game had a storyline would be wondrous and amazing. As it is its a great contextless scene with an awesome theme song that isn't all that difficult. I certainly love the song and the dialogue in this area and I even like the plague swamp in the area that has little plague enemies that eat you alive if you fall in. Granted as long as you play it smart it's very easy to avoid him damaging you, but it's still much much better than the rest of this hellhole. Andy Dufresne, who crawled through a river of shit.

Area Score: 5/10
Deaths: Falling ~ 3, Giant Depraved Ones ~ 5, Meat Cleaver BP ~ 2, Plague Babies ~ 1

Compiling we find the score is 41/50, or 8.2, I'll be kind and bump it up to 8.5 but this game could've easily been a 9-9.5 with consistent design. If they managed to make 5 Boletarian Palaces it'd be the best game ever, but alas. Hopefully they'll make a good sequel (as seems to be the trend) and improve upon the original a bit. Still, I very much like this game and look forward to my New Game + kill of Flamelurker wherein he one shots you always (enemies do substantially more damage in NG+). Took 2.5 hours to write this, wee.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Dark Souls Posts: Preview Day One Week One Week Two Week Three Week Four Review









Saturday, January 22, 2011

I'm finishing my coffee

Oh please, dear? For your information, the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint. ~ Walter Sobchak
Huzzah plan post. I've decided to start a new sequence of films right away instead of waiting a couple weeks, though I may watch an alternate film next week depending on what happens. I only have 3 of them but Coen Brothers' films shall follow!
Sunday ~ Demon's Souls
Ahoy! This will be the most detailed review yet in a single post, as I feel this game deserves an elaborate treatment to determine it's final score. It is certainly the most intriguing of the PS3 exclusive titles, if not the best, and while it is very hit or miss sometimes it is overall an excellent game and a bright sign in a sea of brown haze.
Monday ~ Playoffs
Yet another playoff post, perhaps if the Pack had failed initially I'd be less interested but I'm now locked in for the whole postseason. The Bears Defense almost singlehandedly won my fantasy football league so I'm still scared. Perhaps McCarthy had an epiphany last week and won't play the game retardedly, or perhaps Tramon Williams will save the day.
Tuesday ~ Fargo
Fargo is universally praised, even by Coen' Brothers haters, and for good reason. In this ridiculously cold weather I feel it is fitting to watch this beloved film and its silliness. Some of my family is from the Upper Peninsula so I'm used to people saying "eh" all the time and the hilarious accent, though it's not quite as silly as it is in Minnesota.
Wednesday ~ Suikoden V
I haven't played Suikoden II all the way through yet but it felt a bit stale compared to this wondrous game. While most of the other games suffer greatly from the 108 characters this one integrates quite a few of them well into the story and the main cast of 15-20 or so are more or less excellent. Strategic battles that are actually vaguely difficult and strategic! Insanity.
Thursday ~ Australian Open
Behold the sport that I pay the fourth most attention to! I'll go through most of the potential storylines and describe the situation on both the Men's game and Women's game in general. Nadal vs. Federer remains the most exciting sporting event I have ever witnessed neglecting the 2005 World Series. The Nadal vs. Fed Open Final of 2 years ago was absolutely amazing, and I'd recommend anyone watch it on ESPN 3, live or not.
Friday ~ Oscar Nominations/ Inception vs. Social Network Part 2
I waited this late so I'd have a clearer picture of who precisely is nominated, but in case you didn't notice the Social Network is now a Juggernaut favorite as opposed to a moderate favorite to win Best Picture. It has fallen to 8.2 on imdb and will quickly fade into nothingness as people realize it's pretentiousness and overall mediocrity compared to some of this wonderful year's films. However at the moment it is still receiving ridiculous praise.

Notes
Mass Effect 2 was finally released for PS3 for the whopping price tag of 60 bucks. The game is fully a year old now and after watching this LP I was legitimately interested enough to play the sequel, but the price tag instantly turned me off. I don't really understand why they wouldn't release it for at most 40 even with a lot of DLC included, DLC has always been a ripoff compared to the price of the actual game (Rockstar excepted). I bought Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, possibly the best new game out right now for 40, but this year old tripe can't be sold for less than 60 beans on PS3 when it's going for 20 bucks on 360 and less on the PC? Madness. I bought it for PC.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King


This movie actually held my interest for about a half hour longer than I expected. The whole first disc is pretty solid, a few of the scenes are even Oscar worthy. To be fair I did take a 7 hour break between the two halves so maybe it does start to drag earlier than my most recent experience with it. The tonal difference between the book and the movie is fairly staggering though, Denethor is more or less wholly vilified in the film but he's a nice guy to Pippin in the book. I'm pretty sure the Faramir relationship is quite a bit better in the book as well, though he does still go nuts eventually. The siege of Minas Tirith had possibly the most impressive sets to go along with the CGI in film history, the design is quite respectable as a result. However as I've said before the Nazgul simply aren't as impressive in flight as they are on horseback, even the Witch King who sort of flies around and says fuck you to everyone present at Pelennor Fields. The same thing is true of Trolls, which greatly deteriorate after the first film's experience with the most long lived Troll in the universe.

As impressive as the Oliphaunts first look they all die with relative ease even before the green goo of doom gets there, Eowyn, Eomer, and Legolas each handily taking one down almost single handed. This is a fairly large problem with the series, everything which is a great struggle to defeat in the first film becomes trivial in the second and especially the third. Aragorn is invincible throughout and Gandalf is close, but in this film everyone else becomes invincible as well save poor Theoden. While the whole battle looks pretty impressive the more orcs are mercilessly slaughtered the more you feel that they're hopelessly outmatched.

Denethor sending Faramir to his death is one of the best scenes in any of the three films, seen here. Another good scene is Sam's fight with Shelob and his later rescue of Frodo, he actually does show off some badassery in this film! The second best scene in the film is the Mouth of Sauron taunting Aragorn and co. in front of the black gate, though it's only in the extended cut. Unfortunately that scene is the only interesting scene in the last hour of the film, the rest is just a really long dragged out procession of blah that could've been shown in a tenth the running time.

Alright, on to the shittiness. The first huge flaw with this film is the depiction of the "dead" warriors that assist Aragorn, they didn't have to be magical green goo but could have been fairly invincible skeleton warriors instead, at least to make Pelennor Fields look more like a struggle and less of a rout. After that battle is over the rest of the film is utterly terrible, tedious, and disinteresting. I tried to watch about 15 minutes of it but eventually realized that nothing was happening at all in that timespan and quickly turned it into background music for the rest of the film. The first 2-2.5 hours of this movie are very strong, easily up to par with the other films and perhaps slightly superior to the Two Towers, but the ending being God awful is impossible to ignore. While Fellowship's ending was somewhat abrupt I would much prefer that here to what a boring slog it became.

Fortunately the Hobbit is actually a much better story than the Lord of the Rings and has a Fellowship of the Ring feel to it throughout. Once that film actually comes out some time in the next century we'll have another fantasy epic to entertain us at last! This series as a whole is excellent but pretty gruesome if you watch it all at once. Fellowship is infinitely rewatchable but the other two films get a bit tiring after a while (though the Two Towers is still fine throughout it doesn't have any particularly joyous moments) but it's certainly nice to see a bit of New Zealand countryside now and then.


Final Score: 7.5/10

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Miami Heat

The Miami Heat may be the one reason to ever watch the NBA regular season, but it seems they haven't quite hit that portion of dominance that would make them enthralling throughout the year as of yet. While they did win 23 of 24 games they've now gone on a 4 game losing streak to halt any vague chance at beating the Bulls' 72-10 record. Injuries have mostly caused this; if you look at this you can see that they are possibly the most top heavy team in league history. Lebron and Wade are both in the top 6 in scoring in the league and Bosh is doing relatively well, slightly off his career stats but not by much; the entire rest of the team is doing terrible. With an admittedly unlikely surge in scoring Lebron or Wade could feasibly win the scoring title.

If they stayed healthy the whole year and played like they had been playing for a month and a half since the Akron Hates You chant inspired Lebron to be more productive then maybe they could beat the 72 wins, but that's more for next season than this one. The main question is how well can they do in the playoffs. Mike van Gundy was the most prominent figure to suggest that they would win 72 games this season which is supposedly a conspired action with his brother to take the pressure off the Orlando Magic. However the Magic have sucked while the Heat were successful, and while the Heat sucked at the start of the season they seem to have come up with a decent strategy for winning regular season games.

Simmons and numerous others expect them to fail in the postseason since "the game slows down" there. However I don't necessarily think this is a limiting factor in and of itself, it could be possible to speed up the pace of the game. Phoenix under D'Antoni may not have been all that successful in the Postseason but they were still able to speed up the pace of the game to their level, they simply had an inferior team. Once Miami finds at least some halfway decent depth than I believe they can easily run the court in the postseason provided they keep every early series short by dominating. The biggest knock against the Heat's potential success this season (pretty much everyone expects them to win at least a few titles in the years to come) is the two early losses to Boston, which I did actually watch!

Even when watching the Heat in the regular season I was still struck by the general apathy of either team prior to the 4th Quarter (or the 3rd in Lebron's case), Lebron will go nuts at some point in most games and then Wade comes in to close it out. While Lebron still hasn't found the triple double every day Oscar Robertson numbers he still facilitates his teammates a fair amount. Those teammates just happen to suck. Lebron and Wade do not play well on the court together, though they may eventually, this is probably what kills them in the Postseason more than the pace of the game. Athleticism, whatever that means, is very much an asset in the Postseason, while it isn't quite as much of advantage as size, it can still lead to games tiring out the other side. Even though Miami has no depth they can still manage to outplay the other side at their premium positions. Bosh is extremely consistent regardless of who defends him, while he isn't Dwight Howard I don't think people expected him to be.

The most humorous thing to note about the Heat apart from the inventive Cleveland chants is the way everyone was ready to crucify Spoelstra when they were 9-8, a week ago they were 30-9 and now everyone says he's the Coach of the Year. Coaches tend to get too much of the credit and blame in pretty much every sport, but this is hilariously stupid. Fire Spoelstra, we want Riley! Oh wait takes a few weeks for the team to get used to playing together, stunning, perhaps now that Spoelstra has a ridiculously talented top 3 tandem we should just hand him Coach of the Year on a silver platter. Hopefully the Heat do well in the future simply to make the league more interesting, watching Celtics-Lakers every damn year is none too riveting for people that don't hate women non fans. I don't have a compulsive hatred for the Heat, I'd just like to see some entertaining basketball in the playoffs.

Expected Record: 63-19
Expected Postseason Finish: Lost in Conference Finals to Boston Celtics