Monthly Archives: March 2012

Catch ALL the Pokemons?!: Pokemon Black and White Versions

Usually, when it comes to Pokemon games, there will be two games released initially and then a third ‘expansion’ game like, Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, and Platinum. I was actually going to wait until that expansion game came out before I reviewed all three of the fifth generation Pokemon games together. But recently, it was announced that instead of that expansion game, Game Freak is going to release direct sequels to Pokemon Black and White. And those are going to warrant their own review, so I figured I’d finally give Black and White their own review.

This review will be a bit more nontraditional, however. I’ll say right now that these games would get a very solid 9 out of me. I loved loved lovedlovedlovedloved the fifth generation. I think it made some definite improvements to the Pokemon system such as making TMs multi-use and reducing the amount of times that using HM moves is necessary. You didn’t have to carry a shitty Pokemon with shitty HM moves just to complete the game. I enjoyed every single minute that I was playing both of them (except for the Battle Subway).

But, if you’ve been anywhere near the internet in the last year, you would have noticed that there is a great deal of 5th Gen hate going around. So many people are so rabidly against these games, even going so far as to denounce others as Pokemon fans simply because they enjoyed the 5th Gen. And to me, that makes no sense whatsoever.

So, rather than just giving these games a numerical rating, I am instead going to address all of the hate and the reasons behind it and debunk as much of it as I possibly can.

Reason #1: It Just Does the Same Thing As Before!

This complaint isn’t so prevalent, but I’ve certainly seen it. And to this, I say, where have you fucking been? There have been almost no creative leaps in the way that these games are built since the very first generation. The biggest change to Pokemon’s mechanics came with the second generation when the Dark type was introduced. Since then, the formula has been pretty much the same. So, if you weren’t complaining about this before the fifth generation, then you have no right to complain about it now. In fact, this one actually did change the basic story formula around a bit and even question the ethics of Pokemon trainers. More on that later.

Reason #2: The Villain is a Pussy! All of the Previous Ones Are So Much Cooler!

I’ve been hearing this one a lot. And every time I do, I see that when they say this, they are referring to N.

This guy

And there are a few things wrong with that statement. One, N’s motivations are actually the most thought out of any Pokemon villain’s ever. Let’s quickly go generation by generation and list the villains’ motivations (not their methods. There’s a big difference).

Generations I and II: Team Rocket led by Giovanni: They want to take over the world.

Generation III: Teams Aqua and Magama led by Archie and Maxie respectively: They want to take over the world.

Generation IV: Team Galactic led by Cyrus: They want to destroy the world and make a new one that they can then take over.

Generation V: Team Plasma led by N: Team Plasma and Ghetsis have plans for world domination, but N does not. N wishes for Pokemon trainers to release their Pokemon because he feels that imprisoning them and using them to settle all of our disputes is unethical and immoral.

Based simply on their motivations, I’d have to say that N is actually the most sympathetic and well-rounded as a character. And his motivation is actually admirable. He’s not driven by something as cliche as world domination.  And like I mentioned above, it actually calls the ethics of Pokemon training into question. It actually gives the story and extra layer of depth and makes it considerably less superficial.

The second reason that this complaint is bullshit is because N is not the villain!!! He’s an antagonist, to be sure. But there’s a monstrous difference between an antagonist and a villain. But if any of the people complaining about this had played the whole game or paid any sort of attention to it, they would realize that N is indeed not the villain, but Ghetsis is.

This guy

And if you look at it that way, the complaint goes right out the window. Because now, the villain is basically the same as all of the villains before, but again, with the inclusion of N, the story has more depth to it, and it actually makes Ghetsis, the main villain, considerably more sinister, because he was actually willing to imprison and use a child (who may or may not be his own son) for his own ends.

Reason #3: The New Pokemon Are Stupid and Unoriginal!

This is by far the biggest complaint among Gen V haters. And I’ll admit, some of them are really stupid.

Oh, dear Arceus...

But these same people sit there and talk as if there were absolutely no stupid Pokemon at all before Gen V. And hey, maybe they’re right.

Oh...

Oh...

Oh...

Oh...

Not only horrible to look at, but maybe even a bit racist.

 My point here is that every generation had its fair share of stupid-ass Pokemon. It’s possible that Gen V had a higher number of stupid Pokemon, but there are a couple things that need to be realized before this complaint can actually become valid. One, this generation introduced more new Pokemon than any other. And it’s just statistics: More Pokemon means more stupid Pokemon. They could have just made less Pokemon and concentrated on making them all cool and awesome, but I also see why they didn’t. The fifth Gen games are made in such a way that only fifth generation Pokemon can be caught until after the first part of the game is completed. And this makes sense, because the fifth gen region is quite far away from the others. So previous gen Pokemon would not be running around Unova for the same reason that giant Japanese hornets aren’t flying around downtown Chicago. And I liked it that way. It forced me to learn the advantages and disadvantages of the Gen V Pokemon before deciding to use any previous gen Pokemon.

When people aren’t complaining about how stupid the new Pokemon are, they’re complaining that they are unoriginal. They just take any old animal and stylize them Example:

Stylized polar bear

But again, every generation had Pokemon like that.

Stylized snake

Stylized sheep

Another stylized snake

Stylized hippo

 So, again, the complaint is completely invalid. And while they’re sitting there complaining about all of the stupid new Pokemon, they tend to completely ignore the fact that Generation V also added some incredibly cool Pokemon to the already expansive collection.

This Hydreigon picture belongs to the artist, Xous54.

And that’s not nearly all of the cool new Pokemon. I’m sorry people, but you cannot complain about the bad without acknowledging the good. But I constantly see people talking about this new gen like it’s some kind of affront to Pokemon and all of its fans, and that’s simply wrong. I can understand this not being your favorite Pokemon game. I can understand if you don’t particularly like it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I get that. But is it so much to ask for you to treat it as just an opinion and not a gospel that you would damn people for going against? Or if you want to treat it as such, that you at least get the facts straight before cursing those with a different opinion? It’s a simple request that anyone should be able to handle.


The World’s Longest Sidetrack: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Halo Syndrome: A term that I’ve invented to describe when a particular video game gets so much hype that no matter how good the game actually is, it will still fall short of everyone’s expectations. But still, everyone who fell for it insists that it lives up to the hype simply to justify the fact that they fell for it. The name is, of course, derived from the original XBox launch title, Halo: Combat Evolved. It was being advertised as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) games of all time, and so many people got so excited that they went out and bought an original XBox (one of the worst consoles released since the Atari Jaguar) just so that they could play Halo. And when they did, they got some pretty impressive graphics for the time, and little else. It turned out to be, in my opinion, a completely average shooter. But, if you’ll recall, it was still instantly lauded by the general public and Halo fever didn’t die down even a little bit until some time after the release of the third game. Halo single-handedly allowed Microsoft to continue making consoles and also to popularize gaming among the general population, which is not as good a thing as it sounds. It’s because of all of Halo’s fucked-up hype that I now get called a faggot almost every time I play a  game competitively online. So, thanks for that!

So what does that have to do with anything?

Well, I recently played through the worst sufferer of Halo Syndrome since Halo itself, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the game for the most part. A game that suffers from HS is not necessarily a bad game, just hyped so badly that it could never be nearly as good as everyone thinks it will be. And believe me, poor Skyrim could never live up to the hype. You wouldn’t believe the kind of acclaim it was getting when just the teaser trailer was released.

But, unlike Halo, I was actually excited about the prospect of playing Skyrim. The Elder Scrolls games have a habit of at least being good. I had never played an Elder Scrolls game all the way through, but from what I did play of Morrowind and Oblivion, they seemed like pretty solid games, even if they were a little difficult to get into.

I didn’t get Skyrim right as it was released, as I knew it would be a Christmas present. But, I still followed it to see what everyone was saying. And my Arceus, the kind of bullshit that was going around. More than a few people were saying that it was their favorite game of all time, it spawned at least three internet memes almost immediately including the “Arrow to the Knee” meme that makes me want to stomp on puppies at this point, and even a writer for Cracked, a site that, on average, is pretty well-grounded, was saying that the environments in Skyrim were so vast and beautiful that he found himself skipping his daily walk to take a walk in Skyrim.

BULLSHIT!!

Everyone was saying that Skyrim was the embodiment of video game perfection. Luckily, I was aware enough to identify HS when I saw it and was able to play the game for what it was and not be influenced by the hype. And when I did that, I found an overall very good game with a few problems.

On the good side, Skyrim is fucking huge! There is so much game to be played. Throughout the course of the game, I never had any desire to find everything. But at the same time, I wanted to get the Platinum Trophy (which is actually fairly easy to do in just one playthrough), so I ended up discovering a couple hundred locations. And I wasn’t even close to finding everything. It would take probably a few hundred hours of gameplay to run out of things to do. I played for maybe 150.

And yes, the environments are very well-rendered and expansive. When out in the world of Skyrim there are a lot of very pretty things to look at. It’s one of the better, more detailed worlds that I have explored in a long time. But the problem with Skyrim’s environment is the insane amount of cliffs involved. There were so many times that I was travelling, and it should have been a short trip, but because there were so many sheer rock faces, the trip took a few times longer than it should have. A sizable chunk of my 15o hours was just trying to traverse cliffs. And because of all of the fucking cliffs, there were a great deal of invisible walls and obstacles that could not be traversed directly. Say you’re climbing a cliff because your objective is at the top and it would take a great deal longer to find your way around to the preset path. So, you’re jumping your way up the cliff when suddenly, the game disables your jump. You can’t continue this way because it’s not the ‘correct way’ to get to where you’re going. I can’t stand things like that. The path would be easily traversable even in real life, but you can’t do it because the game just wantonly decides that you can’t.

And though the environments are really nice to look at, the characters are considerably less so. They are by no means the worst character models ever, but because they put so much effort and detail into the environment, the character models suffered for it. The lip movements don’t come anywhere close to fitting the dialogue, and the textures are far from perfect. They’re not very expressive either. Its rare, when talking to someone, that they’re doing anything besides looking at you blankly with their arms crossed over their chest or just hanging at their sides.

The music was pretty good as well. It suited the game quite well, and when you were fighting something, it became sufficiently intense and epic. I found myself thinking that a couple tracks sounded like something lifted straight from the Fable series, but I never found myself thinking that the music was ever bad.

I also highly enjoyed the experience system. There are a number of skills that you level up with use such as Lockpicking, Light Armor, One-Handed Weapons, and each school of Magic. Each time a Skill gains a level, it adds to your overall level. Level up so many Skills and you gain a character level and your stats improve. It may sound a little complex, but it’s very good. It allows you to play in many different ways, but not be any less powerful than any other character.

At the same time, Skyrim suffers in much the same way that I’ve gathered that the other Elder Scrolls games suffer. After you get to a certain level or skill, you become nearly invincible. There was definitely a point where the game was at least a little challenging and I needed to think my actions through in battle. But once I got to about Level 40, maybe a little lower, I was pretty much able to abandon all strategy and just swing my weapons at anything I came across without fear of death. I was on Level 53 when I beat the final boss and it took me about forty seconds before it was dead. Let me repeat that. The final boss took me only forty seconds to kill. And that was without taking advantage of the game’s mechanics to overpower my equipment. I know some people would really enjoy being so powerful in a game, but I do not. I want there to be some kind of skill-based challenge to it.

The game was also glitchy as shit. You wouldn’t believe some of the weird shit that was going on due to all of the glitches. Example: I had a magic-user follower. So, naturally, I wanted her to wear some good robes that I found to improve her magic. When I gave the robes to her, she took off the armour she was wearing… but didn’t put the robes on. She was running around in her undergarments. It took me fifteen minutes of trading items around with her to finally get the robes on. And when I did… her head disappeared. You did not misread that. Her fucking head vanished. But I just went with it. At least she had put the robes on. But then, a few hours later, her head came back… but she had taken the robes off again. That follower would eventually disappear from existence with all of the items that she was carrying. But in the end, the glitching didn’t ruin the game. It just frustrated me a few times, and with the exception of my follower disappearing, it was never anything a quick game reset couldn’t fix.

This video by Mega64 actually illustrates my problem here better than a few words can.

But where the game really suffers in in its loading times. My Arceus, the loading times! It’s not that the loading times are especially long, there’s just a fucking ton of them. Every time you enter a new screen, loading screen. Every time you fast-travel, loading screen. Every time you load your game, you get a different loading screen, and then, loading screen. If I ever accidentally entered the wrong building, I wanted to take my own life! I had to sit through a loading screen. As soon as it loaded, I had to turn around to go back to where I was. And hey! Another loading screen! And it was just as long as the first one, which I think is weird considering I was just in that last screen! It really got to me during those times where I had to fast-travel a lot. I get that moving instantly from one map to the next would require a loading screen, but I really wish they could have found some way to reduce the amount. I’d take a small decrease in graphics quality if it meant a reduction in loading times.

One last thing. The huge play time of Skyrim comes from its side quests and exploration. But what if someone just wanted to play the game and see the story? Let’s say for a second that you could beat the final boss and the dungeon that comes before him without gaining too many levels. The actual story quests would probably only take about 8-12 hours to complete. And by doing that, you’d find that the main plot is actually pretty bland. Many of the sidequests had much more interesting story and history than the main questline. The biggest enjoyment of the game does not come from the plot, but rather all of the distractions and sidetracking you do to avoid the main quest.

But again, I really did enjoy playing this game quite a lot. If you can ignore the Halo Syndrome and just play the game, you’d find that it comes out to be a well-above-average gaming experience.

Gameplay: 8/10: It would be higher if it weren’t for all of the glitches, loading, and being far too powerful later in the game.

Music: 8/10: There was nothing mind-blowing, but like I said, it’s sufficiently suited to whatever situation you’re in.

Graphics: 8/10: This score suffers a bit because of the character models.

Story: 6/10: I’m only including the main plot here. All of the sidequests you do have no bearing on the actual story.

Total: 8/10


Rock Me Miyazaki: The Secret World of Arrietty

Before anyone asks, no, I do not have any reason for referencing Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus in the title there. I just thought it sounded funny. And I was right.

More importantly, I saw The Secret World of Arrietty in theaters recently. For those that don’t know, this is the latest work of Studio Ghibli and legendary super-animator Hayao Miyazaki, whose work (in case you didn’t know) includes Spirited Away (2001), which won an Oscar for  Best Animated Film, My Neighbor Totoro (1988), whose two main characters had the worst case of ADHD I have ever seen and may have also been on some kind of psychotropic drug, and the utterly shit-wrecking Grave of the Fireflies (1988) which may actually be my favorite, I’m not sure.

I have never seen a Studio Ghibli film that I did not enjoy, except maybe Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989). So, when I found that a new one had come to theaters, I got understandably excited. So, I immediately drove to the nearest movie theater and got my ticket.

As you can see at the bottom of that promotional picture there, The Secret World of Arrietty, is based on The Borrowers by Mary Norton. So, if you’ve read those books, you pretty much know the story. I, however, have not read the book, but from what I’ve gathered from my brief research, the movie actually changes some things around, invents a few character traits, and mixes in a few events from the second book. I’m not complaining or anything. It’s fine if the creators wanted to take some artistic liberties, and I think the changes made everything a little more suited to a movie rather than a novel.

But for those that haven’t read the novel or seen any of the movies entitled The Borrowers (1973, 1992, 1997), the story revolves around a family of tiny people referred to as Borrowers that live underneath a house and take small items such as sugar cubes and pins and other things that won’t be missed from the house above in order to survive. They do this while trying to remain undetected by the resident human ‘beans’ that inhabit the house.

The first thing I noticed while watching was the cast. The title character is played by no one of great import, but the cast includes such names as Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, and Will Arnett, which seems strange because this movie is most certainly not a comedy. The voice acting is spot-on, but they still seem like odd choices for a drama such as this. Poehler’s and Burnett’s roles are comical at a few points, and that works out fine. But what really got me was Will Arnett’s performance.

Be sure to keep this face in mind while watching this movie.

Arnett’s character is stone cold serious throughout the entire movie. And this is so weird to me that it took me a few minutes to realize that the person doing the voice was indeed Will Arnett. I didn’t even realize it was legal for him to be anything but a goofball. The performance is perfectly good, but I couldn’t help but boggle every time he spoke just because I couldn’t get used to Will Arnett being serious.

The animation, as is to be expected of any Miyazaki film, is gorgeous and flawless. Studio Ghibli is not to be trifled with when it comes to making a movie look amazing. Even the lip syncing is pretty damn close. You know how when you’re watching an anime and it’s just riddled with run-on sentences, grammatical fuck-ups, and sentences that simply make no sense (“This hand of mine is BURNING RED! Its loud roar tells me to grasp victory!”… Seriously, what the fuck does that mean?), it’s usually because the translated script is written without actually thinking about the lip-syncing. They just translate the words and put them on paper. But Ghibli always seems to take great care in dubbing their movies in such a way that every sentence at least makes sense and fits nicely with the lips of the characters. It’s not always perfect, but it’s something that they seem to be improving with over time.  The Secret World of Arrietty got it pretty damn close.

Where Arrietty suffers a bit, however, is in the pacing. The premise is solid, the story is solid, but at the same time, the movie seems to move really slowly. I understand that this is not an action-oriented film, but there still seemed to be an inordinate amount of downtime between the important plot events. I’d even go so far as to say it got boring at a few points. But hey, at least there was a plot (I’m looking at you, My Neighbor Totoro!).

The characters were all memorable and mostly well put together. The human boy, Shawn, was a little bland, and his voice actor didn’t exactly give a riveting performance. Will Arnett’s performance, while pretty good, was a bit boring and monotone. Amy Poehler’s performance was delightful and fit the character near perfectly. But I have to say, the real star performance was that of Carol Burnett. She rocked the role of Hara, Shawn’s caretaker and main antagonist. Her voice acting was hilarious, but at the same time, just the right amount of sinister. She made the movie more than any of the other actors.

The Secret World of Arrietty is by no means my favorite Studio Ghibli film. It was definitely worth seeing. And I’d probably watch it again some time in the future. It certainly had its share of imperfections, but on the whole, I’d still say it was pretty good.

Story: 8/10

Acting: 7/10

Cinematics: 10/10

Total: 8/10