Friday, November 5, 2021

Mass Effect 3: Dat ending.

So, just a year or so after I played through the Mass Effect Trilogy for the first time, EA and the animated corpse of Bioware released the Legendary Edition of the trilogy with updated graphics for the first game, and HD textures for the other two, as well as some gameplay tweaks and such here and there throughout all three games.  And with all of the DLC included as well.  So, I was sitting there, looking through what was on sale in the Xbox store a few weeks ago, and there it was, the Mass Effect Legendary Edition 50% off.  I thought, well hey, I only played through one of the DLC packs in the whole trilogy because I didn't want to spend 10-15 bucks a pop (7 years after the final game released might I add.  Those prices are freaking ridiculous!) for a few 1-3 hour story missions, $30 to pick up like $100 worth of DLC, plus the updated versions of all three games?  That sounds like a great deal.

So, I replayed all three games, this time going through all of the DLC along the way.  So, here's what I thought about them.

Bring down the sky from Mass Effect 1 - Was kind of meh.  It was pretty generic without much in the way of story.  It did have a pretty good moral choice at the end though, and it was good for a few extra xp, I guess.

The Shadow Broker from Mass Effect 2 - This is the one DLC pack I actually bought my first run through the trilogy, because I liked Liara.  It's fun.  It's very cinematic and has a lot of cool buddy moments with Liara.  It also expands upon the lore around the Shadow Broker quite a bit as well as giving a better look at Asari culture and the city of Nos Astra on Illium. 


Firewalker/Overlord/Kasumi/Zaeed - Firewalker was basically just a collectothon.  Kasumi/Zaeed were just added characters with short story missions that weren't terrible, but not great either.   I did really like Overlord though.  It's a great story about an insane AI taking over a research station on a remote planet which has some pretty horrifying revelations and moral implications later on in the story.

The Arrival from Mass Effect 2 - I didn't really like this one.  Mass Effect without your favorite squadmates quipping and commenting on things, or adding dialog to conversations is actually pretty boring, not to mention that combat without any of them to support you can be rather challenging.  Also, I didn't like the fact that whether you choose Paragon or Renegade, Shepard is still a mass murderer at the end of the day.  Yes, it was a necessary sacrifice.  A few hundred thousand to save billions.  But it basically gives the finger to the Paragon/Renegade system that the entire rest of the trilogy is built around.  I think that they probably shouldn't have gone with this story for a DLC pack, or reworked it to fit more in line with the morality system that the entire game revolves around.  It kind of feels like my choice is being taken away in a game that is literally all about your choices mattering and having an impact on the outcome of the story.

From Ashes from Mass Effect 3 - This is the absolute worst kind of DLC, vital story content that was cut so that EA could make a few more bucks.  An important character and a lot of important lore is locked behind this DLC paywall and that is freaking unforgivable.  Overall the mission is kind of generic, but what Javik, the DLC character you get from this pack, adds to the rest of the story is priceless and something that enhances the game experience greatly.

Leviathan from Mass Effect 3 - AGAIN!!!  They did it AGAIN!!!  Vital story elements cut from the game and hidden behind a DLC paywall.  This DLC is great.  It goes into where the Reapers come from, what their goals are, and why.  It basically gives a hell of a lot of context to the ending, and motivation to the Reapers.  It's unthinkable to me that this vital piece of the story was sold separately.  What the actual hell!

Omega from Mass Effect 3 - Meh.  I don't really care about what happens to Omega all that much, and though Aria is voiced by Carrie Ann Moss, she's never really struck me as all that interesting a character.  Mostly it's just kind of really long, and really boring, and just not all that fun to play through.

Citadel from Mass Effect 3 - I think this is my favorite DLC of the whole bunch.  Yes, it's silly.  And I can see why the humor doesn't land for a lot of people.  And it's this big comedy bit right in the middle of a very dark and very serious story.  But man, I loved it.  There are so many great moments of all of you past and present squadmates quipping off of each other and it's probably the most fun I've had with the entire series.


The DLC in Mass Effect 3 alone more than doubled the length of the game for me.

Anyway, I didn't really talk about the ending when I first posted about Mass Effect 3.  Now, keep in mind that I came to this series in 2019, long after it had finished.  I didn't have any of the hype going into Mass Effect 3.  I didn't have any of the waiting, or the expectation.  And I'd just come off of Mass Effect 2 which I thoroughly disliked.  I was aware that a lot of people hated the ending when the game came out, but it wasn't really my thing at the time, so I didn't really care.  I have never seen the original ending to the game.  I've only see the extended cut.

So, when people talk about the ending to this game, they're pretty much just referring to the last 10 mins of the game, and the pretty generic what's your favorite color choice.  But, all told, depending on the choices you've made in all three games leading up to it, there are about 12 different endings.  True, most of the differences are very minor, but your choices throughout the trilogy ARE reflected in the ending, if only minimally.  

But I tend to think of the entire game as the ending.  And when you look at it that way, it's a pretty great ending.  People like to complain that their choices didn't matter in the end.  And maybe that's not entirely wrong.  But when you look at the big events of the game leading up to the end, the Genophage cure, the Geth/Quarian conflict, the Cerberus attack on the Citadel, heck, even Miranda's side story.  All of these things can have wildly different outcomes depending on your choices, and many of those choices don't even take place in THIS game.  What the hell do you mean that your choices don't matter?  For me, it's not the last 10 minutes that's important, it's the 45 hours that lead up to them.  Huge things happen in this game, and their outcomes depend on everything you've done up to that point in all 3 games.  Your choices throughout the entire trilogy shape what happens in this game in a big way.  This second playthrough had very, very different outcomes to all 4 of those story moments for me.  It was practically a completely different story with how wildly different their outcomes were for me this time through.  Your choices matter in this game.  They always have.  People are just too busy focusing on the last 10 minutes to see it.

The biggest problem that I can see is that Mass Effect 2 did NOTHING to build toward an ending.  It was all character based.  There was very little plot to that game.  It didn't set anything up.  It didn't move toward a conclusion.  It basically left Mass Effect 3 with the job of being both act 2 and act 3 of the story.  Any problem that you might have with the ending of Mass Effect 3 can be directly laid at the feet of Mass Effect 2.  THAT is why I DO NOT like Mass Effect 2.  Even this second playthrough of it when I had my expectations lowered, it was just too light on story for my tastes.  And Mass Effect 3 suffered directly because of it.

Was this the best ending ever?  Hell no.  Could it have been better?  Yes, it could have.  I understand why people are still angry about it to this day.  Everything built up to what's your favorite color.  I get it.  There aren't 17 million different endings that all play out differently because of everything you did in all 3 games.  I understand the frustration.  But, you know what?  With all of the hype that this game had, no ending, no matter how good or bad, was going to satisfy everyone.  It's a decent ending.  I actually kind of like it.  I also like how your choices throughout the entire trilogy can impact all of the major events of the game leading up to it in such huge ways.  The ending doesn't really need to be fixed, as people are still saying to this day.  It's fine just the way it is.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

NaNo 2021

 Off to a good start on NaNo this year.  11,368/50,000 words so far.  On day 2.  I'm kind of killing it, if I do say so myself. =) Not starting anything new this year.  Just working on Carrying the Weight of the World.

Monday, October 11, 2021

No, Time to Die.

 So, one of the things that my parents shared when they were dating way back in the beforetimes of 1974 was a love for James Bond movies.  It was one of the things they had in common, though for different reasons. My dad liked the action, the cars and the gadgets.  My mom had the hots for Sean Connery and Rodger Moore.  The second of which is a head scratcher for me, as Moore isn't much of a looker in my opinion, but to each their own, eh?

So, as I was growing up, James Bond movies were a pretty big part of my life.  One of the first movies I can remember seeing in a theater is Never Say Never Again.  They bought VHS tapes of them.  We'd watch James Bond movies as family activities.  They'd take me and my siblings to new Bond movies in the theater as they came out, even after I moved out on my own.  I own most of them on Bluray now-a-days, and have since read the books by Ian Fleming (which have not aged well, unfortunately).  Are all of them masterpieces?  Nope.  Are some of them pretty cringe in this day and age.  Yep.  Has Bond changed with the times to be a bit more PC?  Definitely.  Do I have a problem with that?  Not really.

In recent years the Bond franchise has taken a bit of flak for being nothing more than "male power fantasy".  And my rebuttal to that is, "yes, and?"  Is there something wrong with that?  Are men not allowed to have our fantasies?  Are women the only ones who have that right?  There's plenty of media out there that is purely female power fantasy.  And yes, people criticize the hell out of that too, but we all really shouldn't.  People should be allowed to enjoy their power fantasies no matter which bits they were born with.  Who cares if something is dudebro power or gurl power?  Let it exist for the people it exists for and move on with your lives.  Here's the thing about media.  You will never, ever, ever make something that is for everyone.  When people try, garbage is usually the best they can shoot for.  The best you can do is make something that some people will really, really like.  And, for the most part, James Bond is for men.  I'm not saying women can't enjoy it.  My mom sure does.  But, as stated before, definitely not for the same reasons I do.  The movies are made with a certain audience in mind, and they play to that audience.  They've made concessions over the years to make them more acceptable and less cringe for the times in which they were made, but, overall, they've played to that one audience.

Fast forward to present day.  Or, rather, whenever the first trailer for No Time To Die came out.  My mom called me and was really pissed off about it.  "Did you see that trailer?  They're cutting James Bond's balls off, and giving them to some really annoying woman!"  Keep in mind that my MOM, a WOMAN, said this to me.  I watched the trailer, and yeah, that appeared to be what was happening.  I watched Lashana Lynch's character thoroughly emasculate Bond throughout the trailer, and was like, "WTF is this garbage?"  And then rumors started coming out.  There had been rumors over who would take on the mantle of Bond after Daniel Craig left, and once that trailer hit, the rumors were all "They're replacing  James Bond with a woman"  "the new Bond movie, Bond will take a back seat to a woman, and then hand the mantle over to her at the end" and things like that.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to see that.  I really don't.  I want James Bond to be the hero in his own movie, beat the bad guys through a combination of smarts and physical kick-assery, and walk away afterward, quipping and straightening his tie like it was no big deal.  Rumors of Bond being replaced with a woman persisted, and seemed to be confirmed by Lynch herself on more than one occasion.  Test audiences for the movie were reportedly extremely unhappy with the movie, prompting extensive rewrites and reshoots, and I'm pretty sure I know exactly what was rewritten and reshot.  Plus there was a lot of public backlash over the idea, and Lynch decided not to heed the cardinal rule of the internet, which is to ignore the trolls, and fully engaged with them making kind of an ass out of herself in the doing.  It was shaping up to be a big mess.

And then the pandemic reared its ugly head and the movie was pushed back for more than a year.  All while more and more rumors about the woke trainwreck the movie had been turned into ran wild.  After what, like 2 years of being pushed back, I'm kind of sick of the movie.  I'm sick of hearing about it.  I'm sick of seeing trailers for it.  I'm sick of people talking about it.  I'm sick of the actors making asses of themselves on social media over the movie.  I'm just sick of it.  I don't care anymore.  When did James Bond turn into this political landmine of a movie?  Remember when James Bond was about a government sanctioned serial killer who saved the world from over the top villains with silly plans for world domination, all while making the world's worst dad jokes, and dressing like a boss?  Yeah.  Those were good times.  I liked those movies.

So, the movie came out.  And though it seems Lynch's character has been toned down considerably after test audiences hated her, and some very vocal parts of the internet completely rejected the idea of her being the next Bond, the movie has one final middle finger for longtime fans.  








James Bond dies at the end.

 WHAT!?  Are you freaking kidding me?  So.  Let me get this straight.  James Bond finds plenty of time to die... in a movie called No Time To Die...?  REALLY?  Really?  James Bond never dies.  He always comes out the other side quipping, and halfway into some ridiculously named woman's panties.  It's part of the fantasy. So they decided to take away James Bond and replace him with a woman, were completely shocked that no one wanted to see that, changed the movie to be more Bond focused, but as a final FU they kill him.  Great.

So, obviously I'm not going to see this movie.  I don't need to watch another one of my heroes die on the altar of woke.  I've seen quite enough of them sacrificed there already in recent years.  Luke Skywalker, anyone?  I don't need to see Bond old and struggling to do things he effortlessly would have accomplished and looked great doing even just ten years ago.  I don't need to watch Bond being emasculated by abrasive women.  And I certainly don't need to watch him die.  That's not what Bond is about.  And anyone who thinks it should be, needs to be shown the door.  They obviously don't get it, and they are a hindrance to the franchise.  You don't take something, completely change it, kill off the hero, and attempt to hand it off to another hero, and then expect everyone to praise you for it.  I mean, come on.  This series has almost seventy years of history behind it, and seventy years worth of fans.  You're going to take a huge dump on all of that, because you feel it's problematic in this day and age, and are seeing all of the new fans you're going to make with your new Frankenstein's monster of a film.  Well, news flash, you're alienating all of the existing fans, and no one else is going to care.  You're not going to be bringing in new audiences, and the audience you had isn't going to stick around for your BS.  So who, exactly, are you making the movie for?  Just to stroke your own ego?  300 million seems like a pretty huge pricetag just to stroke your own ego.

I am absolutely not saying that I hate women, that I don't think women can be action heroes, that I don't think women can lead movies/franchises.  I am not saying that at all.  One of my FAVORITE movie heroes is Ripley from Aliens.  Who, last time I checked, is a woman.  Sigourney Weaver sells the hell out of it too.  When I see her on screen, I completely believe that she is a badass capable of fighting the queen alien in a robotic suit, or of heading into the alien hive alone and armed to the teeth to rescue her surrogate daughter from a horrific death.  Sarah Conner is another of my favorites.  She's a woman too.  And Linda Hamilton sells it just as well as Sigourney Weaver does.  I even have a bit of a soft spot for the Resident Evil movies, terrible as they are.  I'm not saying that women shouldn't have roles LIKE James Bond.  I'm saying that they shouldn't BE James Bond.  If you want to make a movie about a woman who is a highly skilled spy like James Bond, I will wholeheartedly support you.  In fact, that movie already exists.  It's called Atomic Blonde and it was awesome.  Go watch it.  You won't be disappointed.  You can rent it off amazon video for like $4.  Make more of that, please.  I'll happily go see them.  I think that Daniel Craig said it best.  "I don't think James Bond should be a woman.  There should be better roles available for women and people of color."  I absolutely agree.  Women and people of color should not get hand me downs from existing properties.  There should be new and exciting properties for them to be a part of.   

So, that's pretty much it.  I'm not seeing the movie.  I'm frankly sick to death of hearing about it.  It's the first Bond movie since 1983 that I will not be watching in a theater.  Because they tried to woke the hell out of it, and then killed one of my heroes out of spite when nobody was on board for it.  I'm wholly on board with Bond being updated for a modern audience and modern sensibilities.  But taking his series away from him and giving it to a woman.  That's too far.  Killing him when people were rightly outraged over the idea?  That's petty and it breaks the illusion of the fantasy.  I don't want to see that.  And I'm not going to.  And, apparently, neither is anyone else.  The movie performed far lower than expected its opening weekend at the box office.  It's one of the most expensive movies ever made, due to all of the pandemic delays, stretching the marketing out longer and longer.  And it probably isn't even going to break even.  It has nothing to do with the pandemic, either.  Look at Venom.  That movie sold like crazy.  People are sick of hearing about the movie.  No one wants to see James Bond die.  And people are annoyed by the efforts to wokeify the franchise.  What did they think was going to happen?

Thursday, October 7, 2021


 So.  Last year I wrote four novellas that totaled about 130k words to tell the backstory of several characters and of the world of a project I'd been putting together for a few years before that, which I've tentatively named Carrying the Weight of the World.  As outlined, Carrying the Weight of the World soon became prohibitively huge.  It was going to be a massive, massive story, and would likely have to be split into multiple volumes.  So I thought, hey, why don't I cut these flashbacks I've been writing in the first half of the story, and write them out into more fleshed out stories of their own.  I had a lot of fun doing it.  I think they turned out pretty well, and they let me slim down my outline by a fair margin.  Of course, I had to completely throw out everything I'd written up to that point and start over to remove the flashbacks and incorporate more than a few story elements I'd added in fleshing these stories out, but that was fine.  All part of the process.  

So, anyway, I've been working on Carrying the Weight of the World, on and off, since then, and even with cutting a lot of content and shifting it to the novellas this story is getting pretty damn huge.  I'm on track to hit about 400k words before I'm done, which is absolutely enormous.  This is a story that just refuses to be told in a short 130k words like I want it to.  It's too complex, with too many plotlines and characters, and I may have to cut it up into multiple volumes anyway, even after I cut 130k words of content from it last year.

On the bright side, despite its enormous length, I am really liking how it's turning out.

So, anyway, that's what I've been doing this last year in writing.  I haven't spent the ENTIRE time sitting on my butt and playing videogames.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Xenosaga Trilogy: twenty years later.

Uh, before we start, I did not intend for this essay to be almost 4000 words long.  Buuuuuut, here we are.  So, yeah.  Oops.  I can really get going when I’m talking about things that I love.  My bad.


What is Xenosaga?  It’s a trilogy of games for the PS2, which takes place within the same universe as Xenogears on the PS1, and the Xenoblade Chronicles games on the Wii/Wii-U/Switch.  It’s an epic space opera that’s deeply rooted in philosophy, and the hidden meanings behind the myths that make up religion.  It manages to have religious undertones without being overtly religious.  It merely explores ideas put forth by Christianity from a standpoint of looking at the roots of Christian mythology and examining what sort of sci-fi metaphysical weirdness can be made up to explain them.  


You can watch a pretty good fan made trailer for the trilogy to get an idea of what the series is all about here:


So, one of the side effects of having zero social obligations outside of work for almost two years now is that I’ve had a lot of free time to myself to work through my videogame backlog.  All those games I picked up, thinking hey, this one looks good, maybe I’ll play it sometime.  Yeah, now I’ve played through most of those.  I was sitting there, looking at what was left, and kind of not really feeling like starting any of them.  I mean, I am down to the dregs here.  And, the thought of actually finding something productive to do with my time frightened me, so I thought, what’s a game I really enjoyed that I wouldn’t mind playing again.  And Xenosaga popped into my head.  How long has it been since I played through Xenosaga? 


Holy crap, that first game came out in February 2002. 


That’s almost twenty freaking years.


D’oh.  I’m old.


So, I went to my shelf, and grabbed the trilogy, then headed to my closet to dig out my PS2.  As Bandai Namco, who hold the distribution rights to this series, view the trilogy as a financial failure, they have never invested in porting it to any other systems.  It is available on PS2 and PS2 only.  I dusted off my trusty old PS2, and then went to Amazon to buy a PS2 to HDMI converter, because apparently my shiny new TV doesn’t have RCA ports on it.  So, a couple days later when that arrived, I plugged it all in, popped in Xenosaga Episode 1 and… crap.  My PS2 is so old that it no longer reads discs.  So, back to Amazon, how much does a PS2 go for these days.  TWO HUNDRED FREAKING DOLLARS!?!?!  That’s almost as much as they cost when they released over 20 years ago.  What the hell!  Over to Ebay, then.  Not much better.


But I was set on replaying these games.  What?  No!  Of course I didn’t spend $200 on a PS2.  I downloaded a freaking emulator, hooked my laptop up to my TV via HDMI, and played with a wireless Xbone controller.


So.  A bit of history for this series.  It first began with Xenogears for the PS1.  That was, despite its second disc, my favorite PS1 game.  It did a lot of things I’d never seen, story and character-wise, in a videogame before.  It was kind of more of an adult sort of story, with questions about the meaning of existence, uncovering the truths behind the myths that make up religion, and defining oneself.  It was a game that wasn’t afraid to treat me like an adult instead of a kid.  At one time it was in the running to be Final Fantasy 7, but it was deemed to be to philosophical and religious, and was released as its own thing.  Unfortunately, the team working on the game ran through their entire budget before reaching the end of the game, and when they asked Squaresoft for more, they were given just enough money to slap together a quick visual novel style ending for the game that many people found to be very unsatisfying.  I was annoyed by it, but I loved the story, the characters, and the world so much that I replayed that game several times, looking for all the hidden meanings in everything.  And off course there is that infamous line of text at the end of the credits.  “End of Xenogears Episode 5.”  Whaaaaaaaaat?  There was going to be more of these?  Did I miss four others?  To the fledgling internet, I must know!!!  Yeah, no, they were just pulling a George Lucas and telling a later part of the story first.


Fast forward a few years, and it was announced that Tetsuya Takahashi, the creator of Xenogears, had left Squaresoft to form his own company Monolith Soft, and struck a deal with Bandai Namco to produce a six game series taking place within the same universe as Xenogears called Xenosaga.  I was so incredibly hyped for these games.  A continuation of the game that I’d loved so much?  Maybe those 4 missing Xenogears episodes that were teased at the end of the credits?  Hell yeah!  Sign me up!  So, I watched and waited eagerly for the games to release, Watching and rewatching trailers for the game over, and over, and over again, which brings us to 2002 when the first game finally came out.


So.  Xenosaga Episode 1.  It was all I had hoped it would be and more.  It’s a completely new story with a lot of the same themes, philosophical ideas, and religious undertones as Xenogears, but with new characters and in a new setting.  An alien race called the Gnosis are slowly but steadily wiping humanity from the galaxy in the distant future, while Shion Uzuki, a software engineer, and our main protagonist, is developing weapons to fight against them.  There are half a dozen different factions, all with different goals, vying for dominance while the end of humanity is visible not too far off on the horizon.  It is truly epic in scope, but doesn’t forget that an epic story is nothing without well developed and sympathetic characters.  There are certain things that tie Saga to Gears, but they’re pretty subtle, and you don’t need to play one to enjoy the other.  There are things like the Zohar, Anima Relics, and the Wave Existence that exist within both stories, etc.


So, was the game as good as I remembered it being?  Well, yes and no.  The story and characters are still amazing.  But the English translation is terrible, and the voice acting isn’t much better.  The gameplay and graphics are very dated.  Your character moves at a snail’s pace.  The battle animations are ridiculously long and cannot be skipped or sped up in any way, and it has a lot of sections where there’s just a ton of pointless backtracking toward no real end but making the game longer.  There are also some pretty hefty difficulty spikes early on in the game.  It is not balanced very well AT ALL.  The game was also heavily censored for the English release, removing several scenes deemed to be too intense, and removing a fair quantity of blood.  But oh man, that story and those characters.  I loved it.  Even with the clunky gameplay, bad acting, and terrible translation.  It’s still a great, great game even now, twenty years later.  While playing through it, I was constantly saying to myself, this game is so good.  This game is better than I remembered it being.  Man, I love this game.


The game sold pretty well, but not amazingly so.  It made money, but only just.  It also had a lot of criticism.  People didn’t like the way that the story is told through long sections of prerendered CG cutscenes.  There are some very long sections where you’re more watching the game than playing it.  It was also pretty short.  You can do a full completion of the game in under 30 hours.  These two things are pretty typical by today’s standards, but back then, people got pretty annoyed at the number of cutscenes, and the fact that the game wasn’t 60+ hours in length.


So.  That brings us to Xenosaga Episode two, which released 2 years later.  I don’t think I have ever been more hyped for anything in my life than I was for this game.  And it did not disappoint me.  It was better than I hoped it would be.  The game also ends with one of the most epic cliffhangers I’ve ever seen in a videogame.  Now, this game is the “controversial” one in the trilogy.  People really seem to HATE this game.  The focus shifts from Shion, the main protagonist in the first game to Jr., who was more of a side character that didn’t really enter into the first game until about halfway through.  And Shion is basically sidelined for a pretty large portion of this game while we delve into Jr.’s backstory.  But, as Jr. was a pretty intriguing character in his own rights, I wasn’t mad at the shift of focus from Shion over to him.  I still really like Shion, she’s my favorite character in the series, but I understood that Jr. really needed to be the focus of this story.  People were angry that instead of cutting down on cutscenes like they wanted, Monolith Soft doubled down and added in far more cutscenes than in the first game.  They also created an entirely new battle and skill system, and whoo-boy, that battle and skill system.


To call the battle system complicated would be an understatement.  It is ridiculously complex, and it requires a fair bit of strategy to get through even fights against trash mobs.  Enemies have weak and strong zones in a paper rock scissors sort of thing, and every enemy is different with its weaknesses.  And then there is a break mechanic, and a knockdown mechanic, and a boost to skip enemy turns mechanic that all have to be mastered and utilized or else the game will just completely steamroll you, because it uses all of those things against you at every opportunity.  The game also breaks its own rules on how the battle system functions on several of the boss fights to artificially make the fights more difficult.  It also does an EXTREMELY poor job of explaining how it all works to the player.  I had to look up a guide to explain it to me in detail the first time I played this game, because I was getting slaughtered on just normal trash mobs, much less boss fights.  Luckily you don’t have to remember what each enemy’s weak zones are, because there’s a skill you can unlock that will remember them for each enemy type you encounter after you figure out what its weakness is.  That is, of course, if you can figure out how the skill system works.  The first time I played this game I didn’t even realize that there was a skill system until I was almost halfway through the game.  That is how poorly the game explains things to you.  The skill system is also overly complicated and pretty clunky to use.  The battle system is so unwieldly that it even the simplest of fights can take forever to get through, and boss battles can last upwards of 30-45 mins.  This is not helped by the fact that the battle animations, like in the first game, are extremely slow, with no way to speed them up.  Back in the day, when 3d character models were kind of a new thing, gamers were awed by intricate battle animations.  They were a brand new thing that added to the experience.  Now-a-days, we’ve all seen it and ain’t nobody got time for that no more, but back in the early 2000s, that was just the way that games were made, and nobody complained because we didn’t know better, and we were still being dazzled by the graphics.


And so, all of these things kind of pissed a lot of people off, and turned them away from the series.  And even so, I still love the game.  It’s a perfect continuation of the story, delving deeper into the mysteries, while also advancing the plot and the characters.  But, Xenosaga 2 still outsold Xenosaga 1, despite the backlash.  Again, the sales were respectable, but not amazing.  So, as Monolith Soft was gearing up to head into production for the third game in the series, Bandai Namco came to them and told them that the series was underperforming, and they had one game to finish their story. 


So, they took the story that would have been Xenosaga 5 and 6 and they crammed them into what would become the Xenosaga Episode 3 that we have today.  It’s pretty blatant that this is the story of two games in one, as there is a very distinct climax and cliffhanger cutting off point that was clearly meant to be the end of game 5.  But what about the story for Xenosaga 3 and 4?  Why, thank you for asking, random imaginary person I made up to ask that question.  The story for what would have been Xenosaga 3 and 4 was stripped down to it’s very, very, very bare bones and released in a six episode visual novel, which was, of course, never officially released outside of Japan. 


All together, the visual novel parts add up to being about 90 mins long, and it’s basically just a couple of the voice actors telling you a brief summary of what the games would have been.  It’s pretty unsatisfying, and extremely low budget, if I’m being honest.  The problem is that some elements of the third game do not make any sense at all without having seen this visual novel first.  Shion does a bit of recapping the events that happen between the games, but she doesn’t go into enough detail to make it all gel and make sense.  A lot of it is left to your imagination, which can be pretty annoying.  It wasn’t until years later that I was able to find an English fan translation on youtube, and finally fill myself in on the missing elements of the story.


You can find the fan translations I watched here:


Bandai Namco had so little faith in the international sales of this game that they only produced a limited quantity of the English discs.  Basically, if you didn’t preorder this game, you probably never saw it in a store.  And it was never even released officially in Europe.  There are even stories floating around on the internet that people who did preorder it never got their copies, because Bandai Namco didn’t send out enough copies to cover the preorders that some stores had taken for the game.  It was this mess that prompted Nintendo of America to pass on translating and releasing Xenoblade Chronicles, the next game in the Xeno series, until the fan outrage reached epic levels.  And even then, they botched it with a craptastic Gamestop exclusivity deal that managed to piss pretty much everyone off, including Gamestop.


Anyway, when this game came out, I was pretty disappointed with it.  I can’t even remember why.  Fifteen years ago me was a freaking idiot.  This game is amazing, and it is now my favorite one of the trilogy.  Now that I know what happens in the year between Xenosaga 2 and 3, the story makes a lot more sense.  The battle and skill systems were simplified, streamlined, and BLESSEDLY sped up.  The graphics were improved upon.  The focus shifts back to Shion as the main protagonist, and man does this game put her through the wringer.


There are a few things you’re probably going to notice right off in this game.  The first is the sound design.  For some unfathomable reason, someone thought jacking the volume on your character’s footsteps up to 11 was a great idea.  It’s kind of annoying.  There are also several sections where someone is repeating something endlessly over an intercom in the background and it can get pretty annoying.  The next thing you’ll probably notice is that there are nowhere near as many prerendered CG cutscenes in this game as in the previous two.  This was done to save time and money, and help facilitate cramming two games worth of story into one game.  The first game had something like 7 hours of prerendered cutscenes.  The second had 12.  This one has 3.  Instead, we have rudimentary in engine graphics giving simple motions corresponding with what’s happening, while the story is told through dialog text boxes that are voiced over it.  Oddly enough, for me at least, this made me feel more like I was playing the game rather than watching it.  Strange that such a lowering in quality in the visuals of story scenes would be more immersive than the prerendered cutscenes, eh?


This game has far more censoring than either of the two previous games in the trilogy.  And there are some pretty egregious edits here.  The complete removal of blood from the game leads to some hilariously bad scenes where the blood is a big part of what is happening.  A young version of Shion trying to pour her dead mother’s blood back into her because she doesn’t understand what death is and thinks she can fix her by doing so comes to mind.  Imagine a scene where she’s doing that, but her hands are completely empty because the censors removed all the blood.


The ending is a little rushed, and it’s pretty open ended.  Things are resolved, and it is a clear ending in the story, but there’s room for more stories if ever they decide to continue it.  But I loved it.  Like I said, after replaying the whole trilogy, this game is now my favorite of the three.   Shion is a great protagonist that goes through so much horrible crap through all three games before she finally comes out the other end stronger and better for it.  She’s not perfect.  She makes mistakes.  Hell, she even joins the villains at one point in the game because she’s so desperate for someone who will show her even a little bit of love and kindness, and accept her for who she is.  It makes her overcoming everything and realizing that what she was really looking for is the ability to forgive, love and accept herself that more impactful. 


A character like this would just never exist in modern media.  No female character is allowed to be anything short of perfect these days, which makes them very boring and hard to relate to.  Any big character moments are completely undercut by the fact that they’re never wrong, completely incapable of failure of any sort, and have nothing to really overcome and earn that story moment.  But a character who is suffering from things I’ve suffered from, who is looking for the meaning in her own existence, and who keeps getting beaten down repeatedly over the course of the story, but still finds the strength to stand back up again.  That’s a character who is meaningful to you long after the ending of the story.  That’s going to stick with you.  That’s a character you’re going to remember.  Who is going to teach you things about yourself.  A character that you can stand up and root for when the odds are long, and cheer for when she finally overcomes. 


It just really illustrates how completely awful modern media is at the portrayal of strong female characters to me.  Strength comes from more places than just a character's muscles.  A character can be strong without being an ultimate badass in a fight.  The ability to endure, and stand back up again when the world slams you to the ground is another, and frankly more meaningful, way of showing one's strength.  A character that doesn’t earn her eventual triumph in the end isn’t a character worth remembering.  For example, if she didn’t have the Star Wars brand attached to her, would you even remember who Rey “Skywalker” even was at this point?  Can you remember ANYTHING that she did?  Can you name one single defining personality trait that she has, or quote a single line of memorable dialog that she gives? Neither can I. Did the Captain Marvel movie earn her Carol's moment of triumph at the end of her movie through overcoming any sort of adversity?  What's that, she just remembers dealing with shit literally every human being on this earth deals with on a daily basis and pretends that overcoming it is some epic triumph?  Yeah, fuck you Captain Marvel writers, you have failed to write a character that is even the slightest bit compelling or unique.  She's not even uniquely bad, because characters exactly like her bland, unrelatable ass are popping up in all forms of American media.  Shion earns it by having a dark and tragic past that is deeply explored throughout the trilogy, being shown to fail time and time again, being visibly beaten down by the horrors of her life, and, when faced with her own death, decides to deny the villain what he wants, something that SHE also wants very much, for the greater good.  Choosing to sacrifice her life, if need be, to do the right thing, instead of the thing that she feels she deserves after all that she’s been through.


Do you see the difference?


So.  The question is: Is the Xenosaga Trilogy worth playing in 2021? 


Yes.  It absolutely is.  With some minor caveats.  It is a great story, about great characters.  It explores some really deep questions about the meaning of existence, and why we go on with our lives.  It delves into interesting questions about religion without pushing an overt religious message down your throat.  The gameplay and graphics are a bit dated.  Gameplay in the third game is more in line with modern JRPGs, while the first two games are pretty clunky, slow, and needlessly complicated to play.  These games have long been near the top of my list for favorite videogames of all time, and replaying them has only reaffirmed to me why they deserve to be there.  They are epic in scope, and emotionally meaningful.  That is, if you can get past the clunky gameplay, bad translation, silly censoring, and questionable acting in the first two games.


Now for the bad news.


These games were never released on any system but the PS2.  They never sold terribly well, which means there are limited copies existing in the world, especially for the third game.  A full set of all three can run you upwards of $400 these days.  And that is assuming that you have access to a working PS2, which, as I found out, I no longer do.  For most people, the only financially feasible way of playing these games would be to… ahem… sail the high seas, if you know what I mean.  If you can get your hands on copies of the games, or have no compunctions against piracy, I highly recommend them.  They are among my favorite games of all time.


(Note that I do not condone piracy, I’m only pointing out that the option exists for those with fewer scruples than me.  Yes, I did emulate the games to play through them this year, but I still own them.  I have the discs sitting on the shelf right over there.  I paid money for them, and I ripped the .ISOs from the discs myself to plug into the emulator.)


Also to note, there was a 12 episode anime series made of the first game.  It is extremely low budget, and the story is changed significantly.  It’s just not very good, and it kind of misses the point of the story entirely, so I wouldn’t recommend it.  But those games man.  They are amazing and beautiful.  Go play them, however you’re able to.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Why keeping your promises in writing is important.

 These days there's a lot of buzz about subverting expectations in media, whether it be movies, books, video games, comics, etc.  People want stories that take age old tropes and turn them upside down.  Or, at least, they're told that they want it by people who keep trying to make it happen, and keep failing miserably at it.  There's a time and a place.  Doing something shocking to shake things up can work in fiction, and it can be a powerful storytelling tool when it's used correctly.  UNFORTUNATELY, it rarely is in modern media.  And as I was thinking about this current trend of creators seemingly trying to one up each other on who can come up with the most epic subversion of the audience's expectations, I got to thinking about the negative side of that.  Sure.  Something unexpected happened in the story.  But when it wasn't set up in anyway beforehand, it more often than not comes of as the writer lying to me and breaking promises that they made earlier in the story in order to upset the status quo.  And that got me to thinking about stories that make promises that they either can't keep, or that they never had any intention of keeping, and why it's important to keep your promises as someone telling the story.

So.  I started thinking back on all of the media I've consumed throughout my life for examples of promises not kept.  And I found the perfect example to illustrate my point in an Anime series called Berserk.  No, I'm not talking about that crapfest from 2016.  That one's bad for completely different reasons, namely that it's made by a moron who has no earthly clue how to properly block a scene or tell a story in a visual medium, and it looks cheaper than the first season of RWBY as well as being ugly as sin to look at.  No.  The Berserk series I'm talking about is the one from 1997.  I hate this series.  I HATE this series.  HATE.  I absolutely despise it.  And it's not because it's a bad series or anything, but because it breaks promises that it makes in the first episode in a spectacular way.

The series begins with a grizzled old mercenary with a comically large sword walking into a bar and freaking cutting some guy in half for annoying him.  It's brutal.  It's bloody.  It's dark and edgy without being so to a cliche degree.  In short it was EVERYTHING I was looking for in an anime series back in 1997.  We see this walking force of destruction then hunt down and slaughter a demon while searching for someone he means to avenge himself upon.  It is glorious.  It's an amazing setup for a story.  I was super hyped up for the next episode.  Where would this death metal sentient bloodsplatter go next in his quest for vengeance?  What new and interesting monsters would he face as he hunted down the man he wanted to kill?

Well, screw you~~~!!!  The show never had any intention of telling that story.  It is actively lying to you, the viewer, with this first episode.

So.  Next episode, we see the same man, visibly younger, and with all of the pieces he was missing in the first episode still attached.  Oh.  Okay.  We'll have a short flashback to show who betrayed him and why he wants him dead so badly.

Five episodes later, I was starting to get annoyed, thinking, man, this is a really long flashback, can we get back to the present day now please?

Five more episodes later, I was like.  Crap.  This is the entire series, isn't it?

And it was.  24 of the 25 episodes of this entire series are spent on this flashback.

At the time, I was not familiar with the source manga series that the series was adapted from.  I didn't know anything about it.  All I knew was that I really liked that first episode and I wanted more of that.  I have since found and read the entire manga series (R.I.P. Kentaro Miura, may the afterlife somewhat resemble the Idolmaster games you enjoyed to the point of never finishing your epic series within your lifetime).  The Golden Age Arc, as this flashback is called, is relatively short.  Especially when you compare it to some of the other arcs in the series which span across multiple volumes.  I'd say that there was probably enough material  to fill up maybe 6-7 anime episodes.  Which means, 6-7 episodes of content were stretched to fill up a 24 episode quota.  This leads to some pretty severe pacing problems, and long, loooooooooooong stretches of episodes where nothing interesting is happening.  And all of this while the broken promises of the first episode are hanging over it.  This same story arc was remade into a trilogy of movies almost 15 years later, and though the runtime is shorter, it still suffers from the same pacing issues of a one movie story being stretched into three movies.  Plus the cgi used for some scenes in the movies is absolutely terrible.

The first episode of this series makes promises.  It presents itself as one thing, and then does something completely different.  The show lies to you, and goes off in a completely different direction than the one that it promised in the beginning.

Had I not seen this first episode, I probably would have loved this series.  It's a pretty decent story about a mercenary joining a company, and working his way up through its ranks until being horribly betrayed by the man at its head.  A man he thought was his friend.  But the longer the story dragged on without returning to that original hook in the first episode that so captivated me, the more annoyed and angry I got with it.  It's really irritating for a story to start out as one thing, then flip you the bird and do something completely different after page one.  The story can be objectively good, but I'm still going to hate it because it's not the story I was promised.  The show lied to me, and I'm always going to hold that against it.

I look at a lot of the books, games, movies, and TV I've seen/played recently, and I'm seeing broken promises more and more.  Storytellers are relying on broken promises more and more often these days to subvert expectations and bring shock value to their work.  Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, probably THE piece of media I was most looking forward to last year breaks basically every single promise made by the first book, and a fair few that it makes within itself.  Some of this can be chalked up to the fact that the book was absolutely terribly written, but a lot of it was the author giving the literary equivalent of a double bird to her readers in order to subvert their expectations.  The Name of All Things by Jenn Lyons is a particularly egregious example.  It throws out the first book entirely, and tells a completely unconnected story about a character than was in MAYBE 10 pages of the first book if I'm being generous.  The Last of Us 2, gawd don't even get me started.  The Last Jedi and the Rise of Skywalker, both movies break promises made by the first movie, and they both seem to be in a competition with each other to see which one can make the audience hate them more because of it.  

Game of Thrones.  

Ah, poor Game of Thrones.  

The thing that's really interesting in Game of Thrones is that George R. R. Martin subverts all kinds of expectation, but he does it in a way that both makes sense within the context of the story and the characters as they have been presented thus far, but that also keeps the promises that it makes.  It's masterfully done.  If only he'd masterfully get off his ass, and write the freaking ending already!  Seriously, it's been over 10 years since the last book came out!  That goes completely out the window after about season 5 of the show though, after they ran out of source material to make into the series.  Everything after season 5 is basically glorified fan fiction, and you can really, really see the difference in the way the subversions are handled, and how the writers of the show, without the framework they'd been building upon up to that point, start breaking promises that the story has made.  The broken promises start piling up as they break bigger and more important promises, until the story and the characters are so fundamentally broken that they just can't be saved no matter what they do to try to course correct back.

Anyway, I guess the point of all this rambling and complaining is that stories need integrity.  They need to remain true to themselves.  When they break promises made to the consumer, it isn't interesting or investing.  It's annoying and angering.  When expectations are subverted just so an author can yell, LOOK WHAT I DID, AREN'T I CLEVER" (I'm looking at YOU Rian Johnson!!!) without any setup or payoff other than momentary shock value, it destroys the integrity of the story and the characters, and it makes people who have been enjoying the story angry and annoyed.  I don't know about you, but when someone lies to me, or makes a promise to me and then breaks it, I don't immediately praise them for their bold choice in selective truth telling.  I tell them they're an asshole.  I have been wronged and I want an apology.  Fiction is no different.  When a story promises you one thing and then gives you something completely different then expects you to praise it for breaking its promises, it's not a bold, inventive, or revolutionary choice in storytelling.  It's an author lying to get a few exclamation point emojis out of the people consuming his media.

A story needs to keep its promises or it has no integrity, and without integrity, what is it?  Nothing.  It's absolutely nothing.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Two things that have absolutely nothing to do with each other, I'm sure.

 So, for the last ten years or so, my baby brother (who is now 30) has been living with me.  Basically freeloading off of me.  He chipped in for rent, but his portion was pretty much just a token pittance.  Pretty much his only expense was feeding himself.  I allowed this, because he had nowhere else to go.  My parents are very pissed off at him.  Even still, after ten years.  He had his life made.  He is a freaking genius.  He can do complex calculus and physics problems in his head in seconds.  He got himself a full scholarship to MIT.  And he flunked out in a single semester.  Because he is the world's single most lazy person.  Anyway, he's been working at UPS for the last ten years loading trucks on the graveyard shift for not all that much money, and leeching off of me, because I am pretty much his only financially stable sibling.  Go Gen-X!!! 

But, last year, he got a promotion at UPS.  He's making nearly double what he used to.  And, with two friends, he was finally able to get out on his own place, not leeching off of me, but actually paying his fair share of the rent for the first time in his life.  He moved out last November, and it's been kind of nice to have him gone, to be honest.  His incredible laziness translated to a home that was constantly messy.  Me having to constantly be cleaning up after him because the only time he would ever do it himself was when I stood over him and made him do it, and frankly it was just easier and less stressful to do it myself.  An apartment full of clutter because when he moved in, he never really unpacked, or found places for all of his stuff.  An ungodly pile of shoes blocking my front door, because he would never throw out old shoes once he bought new ones.  Boogers smeared all over the back of my couch.  The dude would even leave half eaten food just lying in the middle of the living room floor.

Aaaaaanyway.  Since he moved out, it's been amazingly easy to keep my home clean.  Like, I hardly even have to do anything now.  There's this huge amount of stress I never realized I was carrying around that's just gone now.  My home is clean all the time.  There's a lot less annoying clutter.  It's infinitely easier to keep things clean.  And it's just so much less stressful now that I don't have to deal with him anymore.  You never notice it until you don't have to deal with it anymore, but having a home that is constantly messy and cluttered is really, REALLY stressful.  Or maybe that's just me, and my OCD a place for everything and everything in its place mentality.  

So, my freeloading brother moved out, and all of a sudden I'm free of a lot of stress and it's super easy to keep things clean.  I'm sure these two things have nothing to do with each other.  

In more entertaining news, one of the two people he moved in with is just as messy as he is.  The other is a meticulous neat freak who is CONSTANTLY flipping his shit.  I mean, this is the setup for a bad sitcom, right?  He came to me and asked how I dealt with my brother yesterday, and I was like, "You knew what he was when you signed the lease with him."  I may, or may not, have added a maniacal laugh afterward.  You'll never know for sure.  For some reason, seeing someone else struggling to deal with what I've been dealing with for the last decade is kind of hilarious to me.  But then, I am kind of an asshole.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Star Trek

So, for Christmas, I was given a bluray set of 10 Star Trek movies.  Which is all of them, excluding the JJ Abrams Kelvin Timeline ones.  Work has been completely ridiculous for, oh, about a year or so now, but I finally found the time to watch through them all again.  It's been a while.  So, I figured I'd post my Star Trek movie rankings.  These are in order best to worst.

1.) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - Seems to be most everyone's favorite Star Trek movie.  Probably because it's one of the best Sci-fi movies ever made, much less a great Star Trek movie.  This movie is extremely tight.  There is not a single wasted second in it.  Every single frame of it serves a purpose to the plot or the characters.  That's a very, very rare thing to find in a movie.  It brings back a kind of silly villain of the week from the TV series and turns him into a nearly unstoppable force of vengeance that is one of the greatest threats that the Enterprise and her crew have ever faced, and delves deep into themes of aging, what it means to be human, and sacrifice.  It's a lot deeper than you might expect from a Star Trek movie.

2.) Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - This movie is basically the Berlin Wall going down as a Star Trek movie.  I really like it.  It's got some great villains, a really cool space battle, and a lot of political intrigue.  A lot of the characters are forced to look at themselves in a new way, and to change for a better tomorrow.  It was a really great sendoff for the original cast.

3.) Star Trek: First Contact - This one is BY FAR the best of the Next Generation movies.  It also has some of the best acting out of any of the Star Trek movies.  Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner, and Patrick Stewart all give really, really good performances.  A lot of people like to call this one the Wrath of Khan of the TNG movies, and it's not hard to see why.  It's a great story, and brings back an old nemesis of Picard's as the villains, and forces Picard to face himself, and the fact that he is not above anger from having been hurt in the past.  It also has one of the more memorable main music themes of the series.

4.) Star Trek: Nemesis - A lot of people will probably be surprised that this movie is so high up on my list.  It doesn't have a very good reputation amongst fans.  I don't really understand why.  It's a really good movie.  It's probably a lot better than you remember it being.  People just seem to hate this one, and yeah, it's got a few parts that are kind of dumb in it, but what Star Trek movie doesn't?  This one was trying to be another Wrath of Khan, but instead of bringing in a past villain for Picard to face off against, the villain is his clone.  The plot parallels Khan pretty well also.  Villain who wants revenge and has a superweapon that can destroy planets.  Main cast crew member sacrificing himself at the end.  Picard facing defeat for, really, the first time.  If they had just cut out the B4 plotline and tightened it up a bit, and given Shinzon a bit more development as a character, this one might have been even better than First Contact.

5.) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - Normally I hate it when movies take the characters out of the setting that is a large part of what I like about the series, and put them in modern day Earth.  I'm not watching Star Trek to see Star Trek Characters in 1980s San Fransisco.  BUT this movie makes up for it by just being really, really entertaining.  All of the character interactions and reactions to the 1980s are kind of hilarious.  And Spock continuing to attempt to swear throughtout the entire movie, even up to the end, is kind of great.  In the end, the filmmakers used a relatively low budget to get a lot of mileage out of what they had to produce a movie that I really should have hated, but kind of really like instead.

6.) Star Trek III: The Search for Spock -  The Search For Spock is usually cited as one of the "bad" Star Trek movies.  It's kind of a general rule that the even numbered ones are the good ones, and the odd numbered ones are the bad ones.  While that holds true for most of them, it's not so much true for this one.  This isn't a bad movie.  It's just sandwiched between two much better movies.  Coming off of Khan as probably the best villain Star Trek will ever have, the villain of this movie is pretty weak, and the stakes are considerably lower than those of the previous movie as well.  But that doesn't make it a bad movie.  There are just better movies in the series.

7.) Star Trek: The Motion Picture - This would have made an excellent episode of the original series.  Unfortunately, they stretched a plot that would have fit snugly into a 45 min Star Trek episode into a more than 2 hour movie.  There's a good hour of this movie that's just special effects, and the characters reacting to them.  There's actually kind of a funny story behind that.  Roddenberry didn't really know how to make a movie, and wasn't used to using movie grade special effects, so he commissioned just ridiculous numbers of effects shots and spent a crapton of money on them.  And it turned out there were way more of them than were needed, but he spent so much money having them made, that he was damn well going to use them all whether they fit or not.  And so, a good hour of the movie is characters reacting to special effects shots.

8.) Star Trek: Generations -  This is not a very good movie.  I was pretty hyped for this one, being the first of the TNG movies.  The problem with it is that it just feels like a episode of the series, and the inclusion of Kirk was pretty unnecessary, even as a passing of the torch.  They didn't really need to pass the torch, TNG ran for seven freaking years.  It had already run it's series finale.  It was over by the time this movie came out.  No torch passing required here.  We already know who the characters are.  It's got a pretty weak villain with kind of weak motivations, the action is subpar, and the plot is pretty cluttered.

9.) Star Trek: Insurrection - Like Generations, this doesn't feel like a movie.  It feels like an overlong episode of the series.  And not a very good one at that.  It has weak villains, literally NO stakes whatsoever, and it kind of goes against what Picard has chosen to do in similar situations earlier in the series.  He's all full of righteous anger over moving 600 people for the greater good, when he has done that himself more than once in the past.  Plus, sci-fi civilizations who choose to do away with their technology for a simpler life, and then lord it over others like they're so superior for the way they live their lives have ALWAYS annoyed me.  Of all the freaking scripts they could have gone with for Star Trek 9, why this one?  Surely there were better ideas for a freaking Star Trek movie lying around than this?  It's a pretty nothing movie, and definitely the worst of the TNG movies.

10.) Star Trek V: The Final Frontier - This movie is basically Shatner's ego, arrogance, and hubris on full display.  A vanity project that just sort of deflated with a sad farting noise.  It doesn't make sense.  It gets pretty much every character's personality wrong. The special effects were garbage.  They used sets, props and even generic canned music from the TNG series because they ran out of money due to Shatner's mismanaging.  It also breaks continuity with the rest of the series, creating some rather large plot holes.  It pretty much treats everyone but Kirk like crap, and really shows how Shatner sees his costars.  Definitely the worst of the Original Series movies, and also the single worst Star Trek movie ever made.  It's not even entertaining to watch in a so bad it's good sort of way.  It's just bad.  With a lot of really cringe things in it.

Anyway, those are my Star Trek movie rankings, and a bit of what I thought of each movie.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021


So, I have mentioned on my blog from time to time that my brother buys me games that he wants me to play, not because I actually want them, but because he wants me to have them.  This time he got me the Halo Master Chief Collection, and Halo 5 for Christmas, and I've finally managed to work my way through all of them.

So, way back in the beforetimes, I bought the original X-box because I wanted to play Knights of the Old Republic.  A Star Wars RPG set in the distant past of the Republic?  That was worth buying a system to me.  Usually it only takes one game I really want to play to shell out for a new system.

Anyway, it was, what 2002?  2003?  So, I had my one game.  And a game console that I didn't really have much use for beyond that.  Then, one night, my friend called me up, and asked if I could come over and keep him company.  He'd said something extremely stupid to the girl he was dating (who he eventually married) and she had dumped him.  He needed something to take his mind off of it.  So, knowing that he liked shooter games, I suggested I bring my Xbox over, and we go rent Halo from the Blockbuster that was like 3 blocks away from his house.

At the time, I sucked at shooters HARDCORE.  (still do, kind of)  I couldn't really do much but throw myself on enemy bullets and make sure the ground was good and soaked with my blood.  But, seeing as how it was to cheer him up, rather than for my own enjoyment, we went and rented it.  And then we proceeded to play through the entire campaign in split screen co-op on his 21 inch CRT TV.  We kind of had a blast.  Even though he was pretty much carrying my dead body through the entire game.  We were both drawn in by the story of the game.  It was a very cool sci-fi universe, and it did some pretty awesome things, story-wise that we'd never really seen before, especially not in a shooter video game.  We were pretty surprised that a shooter would have such a deep and rich story.

So, anyway, he made up with his future wife the next day, and we went on with our lives.  And that was pretty much the end of my experience with Halo.  I never really picked up the rest of the games, because I don't really play shooters, and I suck at them.  So, even though I was extremely interested in the story, I didn't have anyone to piggyback my worthless ass through the story campaigns on the rest of the games, so, I just sort of skipped them.

Well, with my brother buying me a whole bunch of shooters lately, I've come to suck somewhat less at them, and was able to get through all 7 Halo games on normal difficulty, except for 4, because that one was exceptionally hard.  I did most of that one on easy.  So, here are some brief thoughts on the series now that I've made my way through them all.  

Halo -  I pretty much already said my peace about this one in my intro above.

Halo 2 - I understand that a lot of people really love this game.  It's considered to be one of, if not THE best of the series.  But, to me.  It kind of felt like the Matrix sequels.  Like they didn't expect the first one to do so well, and then were faced with a, oh crap, now we have to make another one, what do we do now sort of situation.  The story is really rambling, and kind of goes way off the rails.  It doesn't really have much of a decisive ending either.  It just sort of ends.  The additions of new weapons, and some improvements to gameplay and graphics are nice, but the story just kind of felt like it didn't know what it was even supposed to be.  It has a lot of filler missions that are pretty much just there to pad the game.  They make you play as the Arbiter for several missions, and I kind of didn't care.  Most of his missions just dragged on FOREVER and were really boring.  And then after this game he kind of just disappears from the story entirely. He's in like, one mission at the beginning of Halo 3, and then that's it until they bring him back near the end of 5.  It was okay, but it had a lot of problems with the story that made it somewhat less enjoyable to me than the first one.

Halo 3 - This one was much better than 2.  The story is a lot more coherent, and it has an actual ending.  The gameplay has been further improved upon, and there's lots of new goodies to play with.  This one feels a lot more like the first game, story-wise.  And though the ending is pretty open ended, I felt it was pretty good.  A great way to end the story.  And then 4 more games came out.

Halo 3: ODST - Okay, I REALLY liked this one.  This is the first of two spinoff games that take place during the events of the main trilogy, focusing on different characters and events.  You play as a pretty entertaining cast of characters from a unit that's dropping into the beginning of the fight on Earth at the beginning of Halo 2.  It has a really entertaining cast of characters, and it gives you a new perspective on the war with the Covenant, that of the normal soldiers, rather than super cyborgs in indestructible power armor.

Halo Reach - This one is definitely my favorite of the bunch.  It's the other spinoff game that Bungie made, and it was their last contribution to the series before selling off the rights so they could go work on something new, which would eventually become Destiny.  Like with ODST, this one has a really entertaining cast of characters.  You play as another Spartan attempting to fight off the Covenant invasion of Reach, just before the events of the first game.  This one feels a lot more epic than any of the others that came before.  You're fighting a war that you know you're going to lose, because you already know that the planet is going to be destroyed.  Your job is to get data on where the first Halo is located to the ship from the first game before the planet goes boom.  It's this desperate fight through overwhelming odds, sacrificing team member after team member until there's just one guy left to hand the data off, and then sacrifice himself so that the ship can get away.

Halo 4 - I don't like this one.  It's probably the worst one of the entire series.  You can really, really tell that it was not made by the same people.  They changed the look of the enemies to make them look weird and more generic.  The level design is terrible, and the weapons are not balanced at all.  And they upped the difficulty considerably, and turned all of the enemies into ridiculous bullet sponges.  Enemies you could take down with a few well placed shots in previous games, you can empty three or four entire clips of ammo into and they'll still keep coming.  I found that guns were basically useless in this game.  The only things that really took enemies down were grenades or a succession of melee attacks.  It was ridiculous.  Shooting guns in your shooter game is the least efficient way of getting through the game.  Additionally, your shields are made of paper, and they take.  WAY.  TOO.  LONG.  to recharge.  And then there's the story.  It feels like fanfic.  Probably because it is.  It contradicts preestablished lore about the Forerunners.  It just goes completely off the rails in the complete wrong direction.  It's just not a very well made game, and it's really, really not a good story, or a worthy continuation of where we left off at the end of Halo 3.

Halo 5: Guardians - The gameplay of this game is VASTLY improved over Halo 4, and it has a lot of little quality of life changes that make it a lot easier and funner to play.  The enemies are no longer indestructible like they were in Halo 4, which is a plus.  The problem is when you get to the story.  Oi.  The story.  Okay, first of all, it's not a direct continuation.  I was pretty lost at the beginning, wondering what the hell is happening.  After looking it up, I found that there are several books that come between Halo 4 and 5 that 5 assumes you read.  I should never, ever have to read supplemental material to know what is happening in the story of the main line series.  That is just BAD storytelling.  But it gets WORSE.  This was sold as a game where the Master Chief has gone rogue and you are sent out to hunt him down.  It was built up to be this huge, epic confrontation between him and the guy you play as.  And the marketing just flat out lied about ALL OF IT.  Next, you only play as the Master Chief in like 3 missions of the 15 or so.  This is a main line game in the series.  It should be mostly from the POV of the main protagonist of the series.  You want to give me a game about Locke.  Fine.  Don't call it Halo 5!  Because it's NOT.  Just call it Halo Guardians.  And then the story just continues to shatter preestablished lore and continuity and really shows the people writing this crap do not have the first clue as to what they're doing. It might have made a pretty good sci-fi story... if it wasn't Halo, and at the same time, shitting all over Halo.  I spent most of the story just saying aloud, "What?  Really?  Oh come on!"  But it's still a better game than Halo 4.

So, anyway my rankings for the series, best to worst, go like this:

Halo Reach

Halo 3: ODST


Halo 3

Halo 2

Halo 5: Guardians

Halo 4.