Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Xenoblade Chronicles Mandeldroit

So I was sitting, bare-assed, on a cactus late last week and thought quietly to myself, "This isn't very fun.  Maybe I should play that game all the kids are talking about:  Xenoblade Chronicles.  Maybe that will be fun!"
I raced as quickly as I could to my local Gamestop.

"Hey do you guys have a copy of Xenoblade Chronicles: Power of the Monado, I could buy?" I asked with eager eyes and a wealth of orchestrated enthusiasm.

"Did you preorder it, you scum-sucking water weasel?", the clerk replied with a mouth full of gold.

"Yes I did!" I said with a sparkle in my eye.

"Then here you go you sick son of a bitch.  But I won't let you leave until you preorder a copy of Diamond Dusk Dogs of War IV.  Lock the door, boys!", and with a motion of his hand, three dozen 400 lbs gorillas dressed in red, jumped out and blocked all seven of the exits! I was barricaded inside, until I slapped down $5 for Diamond Dusk Dogs of War IV.  So hopefully that game will be good!

To be fair to the Gamestop clerk, his hostile attitude was somewhat justified as I had just bought a game from his fine establishment, pantsless, and with a cactus stuck on my backside.

Then I ran home, ten miles as the crow flies from Gamestop to my house, laughing like a lunatic, tongue flapping in the air and choking on bugs.  I threw open the door and slid the copy of the game: Xenoblade Chronicles: A Tale of Two Gods.

Later that night, while playing the game alone in the darkness I heard a loud crash from the library.  My dog immediately looked in the direction of the crash and barked.  I felt a cold sweat permeate on my brow.  Should I investigate, or keep playing?  I was on my fiftieth side quest for the night, so I decided the fifty-first side quest could wait.  I set down the controller and slowly walked into the library.  There sitting in the middle of the room was a copy of Stephen Kings, "Desperation." I gasped!  Then as I turned around, I heard, very softly in my right ear,
"Just fuckin' with ya," said the ghost.

One week later.

Over the last three months I have played exactly three Japanese Role Playing Games.  The first was Persona 4.  The second was Final Fantasy XIII-2, and the third is Xenoblade Chronicles: Adventure, Revenge, and Love on the Kneecaps of Hope.

When I discussed where Xenoblade Chonicles: Underboob Edition fit in with these other games, with the ghost that lives in my house, I came upon some interesting conclusions.

First, we both agreed that Persona 4 changed our lives.  And considering my ghost compadre didn't even have a life, this is pretty groundbreaking stuff.

"Why did we even finish Final Fantasy XIII-2?" Dingo (the ghost) asked me in a bemused tone.
"It wasn't a bad game," I said slightly defensively.

"Yeah, it was fun, but man, I felt no real motivation to continue watching you play," he said.  " I mean what the shit was all that about Paradoxes and Changing the Future to Change the Past.  Makes no sense.  And the characters were all way too peppy for the world about to end.  I need to feel a reason to go on the journey.  You know what I mean brother?"

"Yeah I feel you," I said back.  But that wasn't really true.  I couldn't feel him at all, as he is a ghost and as invisible to the touch as Phil Collins would have you believe.

In any case we agreed that Xenoblade Chronicles: The Deus Ex Machina Blade of Justice, fell somewhere in the middle, though heavier on the Persona 4 spectrum.

"It's a lot of fun, and man there is a lot to explore," Dingo said.  "But I'm kind of getting the vibe these characters are a little too happy for a revenge story."

"They are way more realistic than the typical angsty teen hero from most Japanese Role Playing Games," I defended.  "I can do without any Tales games Protagonists."

"But come on," he said.  "At least one scene where Shulk yells to the Bionis, or whatever they are called, for revenge and demanding their blood would have been nice."

"That might come later, we aren't that far into the game."

"Speaking of which, the game is too damn long."

"I think it is at least 50 Hours," I confirmed.  "If it was any shorter you would complain about it being too short, you stupid specter!"

In a huff, Dingo got offended and dissipated in a cloud of smoke.

But his point of it being too long is valid to some people.  I'm a busy guy these days and dedicating so much time to a game is not something I can do like I used to, so I fear I might never see the actual end of the game.  But for people in college or younger, a 50 Hour game is a blessing I'm sure.

The other point of contention is the main character is blonde.  As a brown headed individual I find it hard to get behind a blonde lead character.  Plus the blonde hair and the British accent reminds me too much of Gareth Keenan.  Actually no, I take that back, Gareth as a lead action hero makes this game way more badass.

In summary, Xenoblade Chronicle: Operation Rainfall can be summed up in a word: Meat.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

All Things Alice

I've seemingly been in Wonderland the last two months.

Once I realized my voice is soothing to my son (now three months old), I realized it was time to start reading to him, as I was quickly running out of songs in my mental database to sing to him.

So we plowed through every Dr. Seuss book I have, until I decided, perhaps something a bit longer won't have me trying to get up and jostle the poor sleepy kid every time I finish a book.  Plus I realize he isn't understanding anything I am saying at this point.  I could just as easily read him Dante's Inferno for all he will retain, but I decided to keep it fairly kid friendly in any case.

So I picked up one of my favorite reads of all time, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Through the Looking Glass is the real gem and the book I have the most fondness for, but to get to it, one must pay homage to Wonderland first.  "Jabberwocky" specifically is the poem that changed my life, when I first heard it in seventh grade, and I can still recite the entire poem from memory to this day.  In fact, just last week, at a good friend's Bachelor Party in New Orleans I recited the entire thing in the middle of Bourbon Street after a few too many shots.  As you might imagine, anywhere else in the world that might garner some attention, but hardly anyone batted an eye.

Regardless I have a great fondness and affinity for the works.

So as typical of how I work, when I get into something I emerge myself in all things related to the work, going down the proverbial rabbit hole myself in a vast wonderland of pop culture.

For some reason, the first thing I checked out was the Grimm Fairy Tales comic book Return to Wonderland.  I believe I just typed Alice into the search bar on my comicology app on my iPhone and that was the first thing that popped up.  I wasn't really familiar with the Grimm series of comics other than their usually racy cover art.

Without any expectations about what the comic was beforehand, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found there.  It wasn't anything mind blowing, as it was pretty standard comic book stories and characters but it was really enjoyable.  It reminded me a lot of the hack/slash series I covered on this blog awhile ago.

The plot is about the daughter of "Alice" who was taken to a demon dimension called Wonderland as a child and is kept alive as long as a a part of Alice of her family goes into Wonderland.  The familiar Wonderland characters are here except they are all evil and they all want to kill Calie (Alice's daughter).  Like I said it isn't very deep, and a lot of the panels are excuses to show Calie in some state of undress, but the action and suspense are good and it's knowledge of the source material is also evident, unlike the abomination of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

This is one avenue I decided not to go down.  Although I saw the film in theaters when it was released, watching it a second time is not a mistake I will make.  Clearly, Tim Burton had either never read Alice's Adventures, or even watched the cartoon version from the studio who funded his insult of a film.  Clearly he wanted to make a Wizard of Oz movie because he missed one important point in Wonderland that isn't true about Oz.  Alice isn't really good friends with anyone in Wonderland except MAYBE the Cheshire Cat.  Alice is like a wave of destruction through Wonderland and the Looking Glass world.  Just ask poor Bill the Lizard, who's life she makes a living hell.

In Through the Looking Glass Alice says to her nanny, "I will play the hyena and you can be the bone."  This is a 7 year old girl with an appetite for destruction.  On top of that, nearly everyone she meets she is instantly bored with and ready to move on to the next odd character.  She doesn't even recognize the Mad Hatter and the March Hare in Through the Looking Glass, because she hardly gives anyone or anything a second thought.  But in Tim Burton's film she remembers everyone and everyone is so happy to see her and it is just like when they all got together and made their way down the Yellow Brick Road to meet the Wiz.... oh wait... yeah now you see the problem.

So enough about that loogie that Burton spat of Charles Dodgson's grave.

Somewhat by chance I then stumbled upon the PS3 game Alice: Madness Returns.  Using some coupons and discounts I was able to snag this game for $4, so I decided not to pass up this chance.  For whatever reason this game went way under my radar when it was released.  Being an Alice fan you would have thought I would have been all about it.  But I really didn't watch any videos or read any stories about it at all.  I think it seemed to come out of nowhere.  It was a sequel to a game over a decade old.

Ignoring the game was even stranger as I actually loved the original game: American McGee's Alice.  In 2000, when the game was released, I was 19.  I had just bought a new computer and that was one of the first games I bought for it.  I remember combing over the included booklet that came with the game, which told about what was happening to Alice in the real world while the game was happening.  After her family house was burned to the ground, and she was blamed, being the sole survivor, she went mad, and thus Wonderland went mad with her.  Her journey through the game is her catharsis to get well.  Repairing Wonderland would repair Alice.

That said, while I loved the story concept and the characters in McGee's Alice I also remember finding the game very bland.  The first level you are dropped into is very dark, claustrophobic, and didn't hearken back any feelings of "wonder" and imagination that inspired me from the original book.  Of course this was a corrupted Wonderland, but it just didn't seem to resemble any Wonderland I knew.

Also, perhaps I wasn't very familiar with PC games, but the controls seemed difficult to use and archaic, in a PS2 world.  

Still I had fond enough memories of the characters, where the sequel should have registered on my radar to some degree.  But for whatever reason it didn't.

So I put in Madness Returns with zero expectations or knowledge of what to expect.  I really wish I could do this with all games, because I think it would heighten my enjoyment of everything.

Madness Returns, so far, is the Wonderland experience I have been waiting for.  From the get go, after a brief stint in the real world, when Alice drops into Wonderland and you get control of her for the first time it is clear that all my complaints about the first game is gone.  Wonderland, while still corrupted is absolutely breathtaking.  The art design in the game is about the best I've ever seen.  The colors are vibrant, rich and deep.  She now has a cool Mario-esque floating spin jump.  She can lock onto enemies like Link and has an arsenal of different moves.

Playing the game feels like playing a cross between Batman Arkham/Mario/Zelda.  And that is a hell of a combination.  And going back to the Batman: Arkham Asylum connection, the overall feel of this game is probably akin for Alice fans as Arkham Asylum was for Batman fans.  The amount of respect and love for the source material in this game is evident, and Alice is very much like she is in the original stories.  Other than the Cheshire Cat (and white rabbit), she pretty much regards everyone else as a nuisance or a means to an end, but is still as polite as she can manage.

I imagine, if you don't have a love for the original stories this game would seem kind of mediocre, as half of the appeal is wondering what classic Wonderland character is going to be waiting for you in the next section.  But the game is fun to play besides just the classic characters, and the puzzles and platforming are all really well designed.

After playing and reading these different works inspired by Alice in Wonderland, it dawned on me however, that these are all "dark" takes on the original books.  I can play Madness Returns in front of my son for the most part, but if he were a little older that would be a no go.  He likes watching Alice jump as she emits colorful butterflies when she does, and all the colors capture his attention.  But this is also a bloody gory game and not meant for little ones who have concepts of what these things mean.

But the game is so beautiful.  It makes me really wish someone would make an actual Alice in Wonderland video game with no fighting where you can explore a world as vast and beautiful as the one in Madness Returns.  Not just so my kid can enjoy it, but so that my inner child with fond memories of the original books can get swept away in it as well.