Lasting Appeal, Lingering Memories or Returning to an MMO You Hate.

I never really saw the appeal of MMORPGs until fairly recently. Back in 2004 when friends of mine were raving about World of Warcraft, I was one of those silly fourteen year olds who rolled my eyes and scoffed. "You have to PAY to play the game you ALREADY paid for? That's stupid!" In those teenage days, I was huge fan of JRPGs. I still enjoy them, well, some of them, but back then, when I had much more free time? I LOVED them. They were the only things I ever wanted to play. I thought that JRPGs were the pinnacle of video games, that they could not be beat in any category. So while friends had fun in Azeroth, I was having fun in Sylvarant and Tethe'alla.

I eventually grew out of the singular minded "JRPGs or nothing" phase, dipped a bit in "RPGs or nothing" before finally just saying "Games in any genre can b good." It took me considerably longer to finally give MMOs a fair shake. I still remember the first time I played an MMO. It was in early 2011 and it was DC Universe Online. I got into the beta for the PS3 version and despite all the problems that it had in beta, I still bought it day one. I stopped playing it about seven days later, because I had reached the cap and didn't want to play any more. MMOs and I were not getting off on the right foot.

I would not play another MMO until later that same year.

Before continuing, let me talk a bit about myself. Despite not playing in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign until I was of legal drinking age, I still loved (and still do love) roleplaying. I've always liked telling and writing stories. One of my earliest school memories is when I was seven years old and my school got these little personal pad things that hooked up to the computer. It's archaic by today's standards. Students were allowed to use them during break time if they signed up for it. I signed up for it almost every day all so I could write my masterpiece. It was a story about a sentient fighter jet that had to save the world. It was called Jet Fighter Jet and the secret was that the sentient jet could transform into an even better jet.

My love of telling stories, of writing stories, only grew from there. My early internet days were spent on places like the Gamewinners forums, specifically in their forum RP sections. I branched out to places like Quizilla, any place that had a thriving forum based post-by-post RP community. So many characters portrayed over the years, so many shitty Naruto alternate universe RPs, so much shit involving vampires and angels fighting demons and everything else inbetween. These days I participate in e-fedding which is when you RP not as an anime character or something, but as a wrestler. You RP by having character development and cutting promos and the judges decide who wins the match. I've won fake championships, had rivalries, feuds, have FOUR separate Twitter accounts that are accounts for FICTIONAL WRESTLER CHARACTERS.

I've not grown out of my love of RPing. My love of telling a story. My love of creating interesting characters. I've just shifted out of the anime/vampire/teenage fan shit days.

In December of 2011, Star Wars: The Old Republic launched. I was there on day...three.. even though I had no love for MMOs. My purchase at the time seemed like a no brainer. "The company that made Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and the first KOTOR are making an RPG like those set in a universe I like? Fuck yeah!" Even though I thought KOTOR 2 as a much, much superior game and that the canonical changes to make KOTOR 2 largely irrelevant were shitty, I still bought the game. I still installed the game. I still set up a subscription fee for the game. After the installation and the intro cutscene I was presented with a large list of servers. I was confused. What did PvP mean? Would that mean people would attack me all the time? I didn't want that. PvE? What's that? What does any of this mean? And then I saw it, like the Star of Bethlehem guiding me to my destination. 'Ebon Hawk - RP'.

Here was a server for people like me, people who enjoyed roleplaying. I clicked the server and I was taken away to character creation.

I made a Jedi Consular. A Miraluka named Adaia. Immediately I was excited. There's the Star Wars intro! Oh man, my character is talking! This is so cool! Then after the first scene ended and I was told to go kill X number of Flesh Raiders the realization was starting to set in. This was going to be the whole game, isn't it? Even if every single quest chain was voiced, it would all return to 'gather X' or 'kill X things' or 'go to X', wouldn't it? That was the MMO design, right? I had heard the anecdotes. But I continued on. I continued on, with the slow run speed, the lack of a dungeon finder, the fact that Tython was boring, I continued on.

I continued on, answering questions in quest lines as my character would, not as I would. I had this whole personality and background all made for this character, and I was just waiting for a time to let that out, to interact with people who were just like me.

That time never came.

I stopped playing The Old Republic in February of 2012. Adaia was on Nar Shaddaa. I had thought it would be simple, that I could wave to people in the world and start RPing with them, but whenever I did that I was ignored. I found that most people, even on this RP server, were focused instead on getting to the end game and had the chat windows closed. I was supposed to be surrounded by like minded people, but I wasn't. It never occurred to me to search for RP communities in the game, I was a new MMO player, I just thought RP servers were exclusively filled with RPers.

So much for that. I tried rolling a bounty hunter, but I didn't get off Hutta. I unsubscribed and thought "Well, fuck MMOs."

In April of 2012, The Old Republic introduced patch 1.2, known as the Legacy patch. With this patch came such things like 'matching armor colors to the main piece', 'being able to sprint at level 1' (which is still the best thing they ever did to the game), and the Legacy system. This thing...this caught my interest. The Legacy system was a way to unlock perks and bonuses from every character tied to your 'legacy' (meaning, all your characters on whatever server you were on). Perks like reduced teleport times, faster movement options, mailboxes on your ship, just a lot of handy shit to have. But as neat as all that sounded, what grabbed me was the incredibly useless ability to create family trees for your characters.

I came back to SWTOR a few weeks before the patch went live. I got Adaia all the way up to 50 without ever grouping up, even though a group finder was added. I never got to RP as Adaia. And when the Legacy patch went live the first thing I did was take advantage of a certain feature. See, back before Legacy and the Cartel Market, the races in SWTOR were faction specific. A Chiss couldn't be in the Republic, nor could Rattataki, Zabrak's had different skin color options based on faction, and Miraluka, my favorite race in the game, were Republic specific. BUT with Legacy, if you had, say, a Miraluka at level 50...you could make a Miraluka on the Empire. You could make a Chiss on the Republic if you had a max level Chiss.

So when Legacy went live, I made a Miraluka Sith. Her name was Valalia Selwyn. Selwyn was the name of my Legacy, the last name of Adaia and Valalia.

I had my whole headcanon established. Since I didn't want to play Adaia, I had the story that she was missing after giving birth in secret to her daughter, Valalia, and that Valalia was searching for her now that she was older and wound up in Imperial space where, despite being a near-human race, she was a victim of the racism the Empire was known for. It took some tinkering with the time line of the game (essentially, Adaia never took part in any event in the SWTOR story in my canon) but I made it work. And at least I tried to adhere to the lore. Valalia wound up at the Sith Academy despite her displeasure with the things she witnessed from the Sith. I realized that it was very possible that I'd run into the same problem I ran into with Adaia, that I'd be burned out and quit around the high 20s, but for the moment I was just excited to have a family tree.

That night, as I was doing the quests on Korriban, I met two players. They were standing outside the Academy and as I was leaving on my way to get Khem, the inquisitor's first companion, one of them emoted me. It was a simple emote, a greeting. But I stopped. I turned. I saw that this character was level 50. A Darth. I was level 9. Not even an Apprentice. But, Valalia was not a fan of the Sith and their practices. So instead of bowing and calling the player 'My Lord' I had Valalia say something snarky to him. He, of course, was not amused. But the other character next to him was. "About time the Academy churned out someone who can think freely" she said, "Lighten up, Xion." Xion being the name of the Darth. The other character was named Scyella. They were part of a guild named the Ministry of Imperial Inquest. Valalia and Scyella struck up a natural rapport. This was it. This was RP. I was RPing for the first time in SWTOR.

Valalia wound up being taken on as Scyella's apprentice and I wound up joining the guild. The Ministry of Imperial Inquest, as it turned out, was a heavy RP guild.

That night, I joined the Ministry website on Enjin. The next day, I RPed with a character named Akkat, just a simple meet and greet. Akkat was a doctor with the guild. Valalia and Akkat got along . That same night, Valalia attended a ceremony hosted by the MII which was to welcome new members into the organization proper. Akkat was there. And Valalia was very un-Sith like and got flustered. Everyone there picked up on it, with Scyella even having a laugh and telling Valalia that "Akkat's a good man, don't be embarrassed."

Over time, Valalia and Akkat's friendship grew into a relationship.

Yes, that's right. My character had an in game boyfriend.

Over time, the Ministry grew larger. Valalia rose through the ranks, eventually being granted the title of Lord by the officers in the guild. Even though the game gives players the Lord title when they finish the first act, in the guild you weren't a Lord until your master or the Darths granted you the title. We took RP seriously. With the Lord title, Valalia changed. She went from someone who was not fan of the Sith to someone who openly derided them and their practices. She constantly told her peers that their reliance on the Dark Side was idiotic. She was spouting treason. But she did so because she was protected by the leader of the Ministry, one Darth Ashea. However, in order to not look weak, Ashea was forced time and again to make an example of Valalia. But Valalia was gifted with the tongue, she was able to convince the officers time and again that she was not at fault, even when she blatantly was. All it took was a twist of the words.

It was during this time that I developed a style for Valalia in RPs. Valalia was something of a manipulator, gifted at deception via words. I started writing Valalia without ever using contractions when she spoke, because it sounded more proper and malicious while still coming off as intelligent and stuck up. Over time, Valalia became a known name in the guild. I attended the weekly events, I helped out in planning them, I helped others new to RP get a footing and a grasp on the basics of playing a character.

I was suddenly playing the game not to get to end game, but to RP. Whenever I quested on the planets, I did so because Scyella had given Valalia an RP task and I pretended that doing, say, Hoth, was Valalia completing the task. I reached level 50 before long. During this time, Valalia and Akkat broke up because Akkat could not balance his increased workload, having been promoted to head of the medical division, and a romantic life. Valalia was upset but understanding. And she knew very well that that was an excuse. She knew that everyone in the guild was distancing themselves from her because of her heretical views.

As the guild grew in size, so too did the events. And so too did Valalia's infamy within the guild. She was much more open in insulting those who fully embraced the Dark Side. Valalia preferred the neutral, to remain in the grey, to pass judgment on both the Sith and the Jedi and how both were fools, because at some point Valalia took a page from Kreia's book and grew tired of the Force in general and how it turned everyone into petty assholes. Valalia was searching for a way out, and it culminated in a large guild event spaced over multiple weeks. The Ministry was investigating an Imperial family with rumored Republic ties. Before the event I had co-ordinated with Scyella and the officers and created alt characters to play the part of two of the family members.

The event continued next week with the capture of the son of the Imperial family. There was going to be an interrogation, to learn the location of the Darth father who was a traitor. But when the interrogation happened, the Ministry found that the son had escaped. It was then discovered, after a night of investigative RP, that he was set free. He had help.

Valalia had set him free.

At that point, there was no going back. Valalia had acted in open defiance of the Ministry, the punishment of which was death. Valalia and Scyella fought with Scyella being the victor. As Valalia was 'killed' she smiled. She laughed.

Valalia had died.

At the time it was because it just made for a neat twist on the narrative. No one expected the end of that, and a funeral was held the next week. Of course, Scyella and I had planned it and Valalia wasn't actually dead, but no one knew any better.

At this time, I rolled a new character, a twi'lek named Gem'benin that was hired by the Ministry to be a surgeon. Gem was a very different character, she was a war criminal that once fought for the Republic but her butchering of prisoners and corpses in order to do experiments on cross-species super soldiers was reprehensible to her Republic benefactors, so she sought refuge in the Empire. But Gem was a sweet person, I gave her a bit of a Southern drawl to enhance the innocent but insane gimmick. Gem was instantly well liked by people and Gem eventually rose in ranks. I became an officer in the guild.

I still played on Valalia even though she was 'dead'. I played on Valalia because the guild started doing the raids and I was the second tank when needed, and a melee DPS when a second tank was around. I grinded up two sets of raid gear, one for tank spec and one for DPS spec because I was having so much fun with this guild. I hung out in the Mumble, posted on their website often, I became friends with these people whom I've never actually met in person.

So of course it didn't last.

The guild imploded. Problems with operations and management upset a group of people who split off, quit the guild, and went off to do their own thing. One of these people was Valalia's first friend, and someone I was friends with as well, Akkat. I hitched my post to the Ministry. They had made the game fun for me, and I would stick with them. So the Ministry went on, bringing in new blood and new officers. By this point, Valalia had returned due to an event I ran with help from the guild. But some of the new officers never got the memo about Valalia's character. They also never got the memo about keeping OOC (Out of Character) separate from IC (In Character). Valalia returned to her ways of stating her displeasure with the way things were being run in her absence.

This eventually led to the new officers telling me to leave if I wasn't happy. They thought Valalia's thoughts IC were the same as my own thoughts OOC, which just wasn't true. But I increasingly felt like I was unwelcome. I was suddenly getting ignored in RP, officers were wondering why I was even sticking around. I was being given the cold shoulder.

So I quit.

I was upset. Physically. I had honestly felt betrayed. I had been part of the guild and active, and this was how it came to an end. I had thought that to be the end of my SWTOR adventures. Realizing I still had a month left, I figured I'd at least do the Hutt Cartel stuff that had recently come out. During what was to be my final month, I met a new character. A Chiss. Our characters got along well, really well. And I was taken to different RP events put on by other guilds. I was introduced to the server community website, where events were planned and posted.

Eventually, Valalia and this Chiss character were married in game. Yes. I was one of THOSE people. I get super into my characters. I subbed for another three months.

But, both my in game spouse and myself were growing bored with the game. The RP I was having on the regular was declining. The Chiss left the game before I did. We had one final RP together. I stuck around a bit longer. I guess I have trouble saying goodbye. It was now the springg of 2014. I realized I had been playing this game for quite some time, not because of the content, but because of the community. I realized also that I really didn't like the game part of SWTOR. But I loved the community. I loved the RP.

Over the summer I met another character. We stayed up until about two in the morning RPing. We became fast, fast friends because both of us were tired of the generic, boring 'cantina RP' and we were both impressive to the other. We struck up a fast friendship, RPing often and with others. We even started questing together. We created new Republic characters together and gave them a backstory. (They were siblings!) I was suddenly enjoying the game again, because I was back to RPing regularly, and with a new batch of people.

But, of course, that slowed. And again I was playing the game part of the game, which was my least favorite part. My new RP friend became the leader of a guild thanks to circumstances involving the old guild leader not wanting to run a guild anymore. My friend didn't want to lead a guild, and I didn't blame him.

In August of 2014, I quit SWTOR. Life got in the way and I couldn't commit. But it wasn't as if I was a fan of the game anyway. I was a fan of certain people, and most of them had quit as well. I left without saying goodbye to my final friend.

The second expansion to the game came out in December 2014. I still had no love for the MMO part of the game, but I did have a max level character in Valalia, and I was mildly curious about the new story beats...I mean...Revan is back. And as much as I think Revan is a shit character, I was not a fan of his treatment in the regular game...but I didn't bite the bullet right away.

Yesterday I signed into the game for the first time since August, just to see some of the new stuff like housing. I found I was still in the guild that my friend had become the leader of. It had grown. Considerably. There were people in it other than just us two. I had no idea, obviously. But I posted a simple "Uh...hi" in guild chat.

I was then greeted with a whisper from my friend. He expressed how glad he was to see that I was alive, that he was worried that when I up and left all of a sudden that I had died or something. He went on to explain to me how the guild was doing, their current storyline, and how excited he was that the guild was going and that I was back.

It was heartwarming. I was smiling and on the verge of tears as I whispered back, realizing that I was actually, genuinely missed. That this person that I've never met in real life thought of me as if I was a dear friend. It was in that moment that I finally understood why people who were into MMOs were way into MMOs. I finally understood the friendships that are forged in MMORPGs. The only difference is that mine didn't come out of running raids with people over and over again. My friendships were formed because someone responded to an emote out of the blue.

Today I resubscribed to The Old Republic and purchased the expansion. I can't say for how long I'll stay subscribed...but I think it's time for another chapter in Valalia's story.

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Wherein I Make a 2014 GOTY List Based on Factors Other Than Gameplay and Quality

It's that time of year again. The time when people put together lists of games they liked and also of movies and music they liked because it's the end of the year and that means we have to recognize what things we liked were the best at being part of the field we liked. While the best album of the year is clearly obvious (It's 'Life As A Dog') and the best movie is not going to be decided until like March for some reason, with games it's way more cutthroat and dangerous. It's like beefing over turf. One side you got the people saying how this game is better than the game the people down at the Circle K rep and how there's gonna be straight brawls breaking out over superiority.

Well I say enough with that. You see, any one who holds a controller or taps on the keyboard a bunch can get together a list of five or ten games they enjoyed the most based on how much enjoyment they had based on a criteria of things they enjoy about games and genres and shit. That's easy mode. Everyone is out there doing it or has done it already. So instead I'm going to make a list of the ten best games released in 2014 based on something that isn't 'Yeah, I had the most fun playing this game this year' or 'yeah this game's systems and mechanics did a lot for the stagnant genre'. Instead I'm going to rank the ten best games of the year based on game soundtrack.

Yeah, that's right. In the wave of reviewers talking about pointless crap like 'framerate' and 'graphics' and 'gameplay' or whatever, very few seem to mention the music in a game unless it's impressive enough to mention or a part of the game. No, please don't give me evidence to the contrary, that defeats the point. Look, I like music and though my knowledge of music extends to 'In grade school I was in the band, I played saxophone' and 'in high school I won a guitar at Gameworks because I spent all my card points on the Deal or No Deal game and won like 10,000 tickets because I just picked the same case every time and eventually it all worked out', I like to consider myself an expert on the subject.

I did this same type of list last year and it was kind of an excuse so I could give GOTY to Remember Me. You might think I'm doing this type of list again for similar reasons. You're right. I am. And if you can guess what my number one game is WITHOUT scrolling down and cheating, I'll give you a high five. It REALLY shouldn't be hard to guess, if anyone out there has a good memory and/or connects the dots between another blog of mine.

But I'm also doing it to highlight some rad video game music from 2014.

Keep in mind that just because a game is on this list doesn't mean I've played it. I need not play a game to think it has good ass music. Also, a game like Super Smash Brothers for WiiU/3DS doesn't count because it's like a mixtape of music and that's not fair.

So let's get this list started.

10. Bravely Default

Let me start off by saying that I do not like this game at all. I love JRPGs. Some would say I love them too much, but whatever. JRPGs were my SHIT growing up. Like, some of the first games I got way into were JRPGs. Bravely Default thought it could be all "Hey, it's like a classic JRPG, you love the job system and shit about crystals like you was playing FF3 or 5 or some shit, right?" And I'm all "Yeah, Bravely Default, I do fuckin love me some FF5 I will totally play you." And then I play you and while I like that you have the whole encounter slider and your battle speed up button, what I don't like is LITERALLY EVERYTHING ELSE. Your characters I found bad (People that found 'Mrgrgr' endearing are ASSHOLES!) and I didn't give one shit about your plot and when you were like "Now do all this shit over and over again" it wasn't fun and I hated it and soured me on a game I wasn't all big on in the first place.

HOWEVER

One thing I cannot DE-FAULT (See what I did there? BOOM!) the game on is its soundtrack. It's got that vibe from a classic JRPG, with its sweeping melodies and easily hummable tunes. The sad songs have that slow paced emotional vibe, the world map song has that 'This is an ADVENTURE!' feel to it, which I like in my map songs, and the battle theme could literally be in a Final Fantasy game and not sound out of place. Which is probably by design. Bravely Default, I like your music a whole bunch. Shame about everything else. We'll always have Baby Bird and it's saxy flair.

9. Dragon Age Inquisition

I really like Dragon Age Inquisition. I like it so much that after finishing it (clocking in at just shy of 90 hours...I spent a LOT of time picking plants and shit) I set it aside for another time. I don't want to play through it again so soon, even though I did enjoy my time with it, narrative gripes and all. I killed every goddamn dragon in the world. I upgraded my Skyhold. I found every single shard in the game. I did so much stuff that I really don't want to do it again until, like, the gaming release drought in 2015's summer or whatever. That said, while the music in Inquisition is appropriately 'fantasy blockbuster fanfare' that uses a leitmotif (Seriously, listen to a background song or a dragon fight song and see how many times it uses the 'Dawn Will Come' melody) I do not mean those songs.

I specifically mean the bard songs. Not the Blind Guardian song. The songs the lady in the taverns sings. For my money, the tavern songs in Dragon Age are 2014's sea shanties. I made it a point to always stop by the tavern after a return trip to base just to listen to a song or two. My Inquisitor may have started off really not liking humans or their religious fervor, but fuck if she didn't like the way they sang a song with a lute. Also one of the tavern songs was a throwback to Origins, and that made me smile even if the song was a dirge.

8. Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix

I mean, sure, Kingdom Hearts 2 is from 2006 and Birth By Sleep is from 2010 BUT this is the first time the final mix versions of those is available in North America and technically this came out this year. And, well, the music has been remastered so it's like all new songs. In some cases, the songs are even better and not crap (He's A Pirate in the Pirates of the Caribbean world now sounds like it's from the movie it came from, which rules) so I mean...it counts. It totally counts. I have an odd relationship with the Kingdom Hearts franchise. I think Kingdom Hearts 1 was pretty fantastic. I think Chain of Memories was an interesting...thing, and I think Kingdom Hearts 2 shit the bed and every single release since then has been more shit added to the bed to the point where Kingdom Hearts is a franchise covered in shit. Having gone through KH 2 Final Mix on the new critical difficulty, I now have a better appreciation for the game's combat, which I wrote off as "Button mashy" since that was what it was. I still think the plot is dumb and needlessly convoluted, but I don't hate it as much as I did, especially since the final mix games have more narrative cohesion with newly added scenes and whatnot.

All that said, one part of Kingdom Hearts that has always been enjoyable has been the music, and that hasn't changed in these re-releases. I have to give it up to Birth By Sleep for having probably my favorite boss theme in the series. It's Kingdom Hearts, and whatever you think of the franchise, it still continues to have solid music.

7. Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Man, this game. This game got me good. While I thought some of the puzzles were kind of silly and pointless, I found the narrative just engaging enough to push through every puzzle and to get over the inclusion of a mustache twirling villain that didn't need to be there. That it could effectively mix more lighthearted things (like the car missions) with the overall depressing and terrible setting of World War 1 is kind of remarkable. The music, when it isn't remixing classical songs, is effective at creating this depressing tone. The menu music alone puts you in the proper mood even despite its somewhat playful art style. A lot of the music is based on simple piano melodies, but I love a good piano track, and when it is this effective I don't mind.

6. Destiny

I think I'm like a lot of the people out there in feeling that Destiny was an overall disappointing game. I really wish I liked this game, but there just wasn't enough to the core experience for me. The shooting was solid and there was some really nice looking areas, it's just...I dunno, I guess I wanted something different out of it. Like a compelling reason to go to these areas, or even A reason at all. I would have taken some characters even, is that asking too much? I didn't have the time to invest in grinding out to post-twenty levels nor did I think it was worth doing in the first place. But hey, look on the bright side, Destiny, you've still got some fantastic music. Is it really any surprise that a Bungie game has good music? I mean, ya'll played Halo, right? Ya'll just need to hear those chants and you're back to a wonderful place where everything was right with the world.

You're still not a game I like, Destiny, but hey, you've got fans and that's totally cool.

5. Velocity 2X

What a surprise this game was. I knew nothing about this game, I just saw that it was free for Plus members and so I bought it sight unseen because if it is free I get it. I mean, why not? It don't cost nothing. Man, this game is all kinds of fun and I really dug the whole vibe and setting and overall feel of the game. Zipping around in the ship and on foot was never a hassle, it all flowed really well together. I don't know about you guys, but I like my space shooty games to sound, well, spacey shooty and not just 'Hey we like Daft Punk' electro-house shit. Give me songs that sound like they come from a 1980s look at what the future would be like. Like, synths and shit. Synths are the sound of the future.

Velocity 2X does not skimp on the synth. It rules.

4. Transistor

One day I'll play this game. I wasn't a fan of Bastion which probably explains why I haven't played this one yet. Some of you might think it's kind of bullshit to put a game I haven't played so high on this list. Well whatever, I listened to the soundtrack and it gave me this super trip-electronic-post-rocky vibe that I absolutely dig. So if the game is as good as the soundtrack maybe I should play it sooner rather than later. Good music is good music, regardless if I've played it or not.

Seriously, I can't be the only one to get a Portishead vibe from The Spine, right?

3. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13

I feel like with the Lightning Saga's final entry, Square got to be super experimental not only with how Lightning Returns plays in terms of battles and gaining stats, but also in terms of music. Final Fantasy 13-2 got super experimental with its music, incorporating a wider variety of styles that ultimately worked out in its favor, and Lightning Returns is the natural continuation of that. It also is the natural conclusion of the Lightning Saga's love of stringed instruments. I am a defender of Final Fantasy 13 but one field I feel it never needed defending in was its music. 13-3 continues that trend. People may not like the game (I mean at this point, the internet has already put FF 13 to rest) but me? I dug it. I thought that the story was really bad (coming from a guy who LIKED 13's narrative up to chapter 10-end) but shit, the game was just fun. I haven't had this much fun dressing up a character since Resonance of Fate. Crimson Blitz is a fucking awesome battle song that just makes an already fantastic battle song (Blinded By Light) way better by just cranking up the intensity while still retaining the part that makes it memorable (those fucking strings!). This game would be high up on my regular ass list as well, I enjoyed it that much. Say what you will about this trilogy, but never let me catch you saying it has bad music because then we're throwing down behind the Wal Mart. Next to the dumpsters.

2. Child of Light

Ubisoft took a lot of shit the last month or so, but as far as I'm concerned between Valiant Hearts and Child of Light, Ubisoft is okay in my book. So what happens when you take a Canadian singer and have them do a video game soundtrack? Magic. Magic happens. In a word, this soundtrack is beautiful. There's not a bad song on the thing, and most of it is super relaxing to listen to, but not like those sounds of nature albums they still sell. Like, actually relaxing, songs you can kick back, pop open a book, and just get lost in a swell of sounds and emotions. Even the battle theme is sort of just...calming. It's a bit more intense than some of the tracks, but it's still easy going while still adding the excitement a battle theme should have. I was going to do this paragraph in a poem but I'm not that clever.

So just enjoy your Child of Light music because it is good. It is very good.

1. Drakengard 3

Here it is, the Game of the Year. Here's a game that I will probably never see on any GOTY list unless it is for "Worst Game" or something because let' face it, this game does not really do anything to win over the hearts of anyone. It looks rough, it plays rougher, and its characters can be downright off-putting to most. But you know what? That's EXACTLY what Drakengard should be. The problem with this game is that people were possibly expecting another Nier. Nier was a game that looked rough and played...competently, but it was a brilliant game with a strong narrative, characters, and was smartly deconstructing video games as you played. Drakengard, despite coming from the same twisted mind of Yoko Taro, was never Nier. Honestly, fault can be given to the devs for saying that Drakengard 3 references Nier or whatever, it colored expectations and I can see where some were disappointed.

I was not one of them.

I love this game. I love it even though it does everything wrong. The levels are terrible, the framerate chugs whenever like four things are on the screen at once, the story takes way too long to get remotely interesting and most of the game consists of you going through the same areas only with a different day/night setting toggled. But god damn if it wasn't a game I fell in love with. It is, to date, the only game I deliberately got a platinum trophy in. A full 100%. Which means I spent literal HOURS upon HOURS of doing nothing but grinding the same two missions to get enough money to buy and upgrade each and every single weapon, do each and every combat arena, get every single item in every single level, all of it. I did it all.

It's not as fantastic as Neir nor is it as absolutely depraved as Drakengard 1. But it does its own thing while still adhering to what makes a Drakengard game a Drakengard game. And above all else, it boasts a fantastic soundtrack. Which is to be expected from the same dude what did Nier's music, and Nier's music was fantastic as well. The emotional songs are perfectly beautiful and, well, emotional, the boss themes are wonderfully intense and have character befitting the bosses in question, and even the trailer/theme song is one of those weird songs with vocals like it was an anime or a Tales of game. I mean, for fuck's sake one of the bosses starts with a dubstep drop and then becomes a kind of dubstep song. It's fucking amazing. The music is not afraid to just go for it, and since music is kind of a theme in the game it actually makes sense. That each boss theme uses a different style is both thematically appropriate for the game and effective at creating unique, memorable themes that all lead up to a fantastic climactic song that reincorporates elements from the vocal tracks before it.

Music is a theme in this game, and it really, really comes across.

Drakengard 3 will never win any awards for quality, and that's fine with me. In my eyes, there were plenty of games that played and looked better, but there was no game that sounded better nor any game that I had a more enjoyable time with.

Seriously, there's a dubstep crab boss in this game. HOW IS THAT NOT THE BEST THING.

So there it is, my list. If I missed a game that you feel had a better soundtrack, welp, oh well. Okay, see you guys in 2015 or something.

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Save The Future: A Look Back At The Lightning Saga (Part Two)

In a year's time, the saga that is the Final Fantasy 13 trilogy will probably be one that people look back on and make some snide remark about while hyping up 15 before the crushing disappointment settles in. The negative comments surrounding the games have been done to death at this point, and even though I like Final Fantasy 13 the first thought I had when I finished it wasn't "Yes, I'd like to have a sequel to this." In my first part I talked about Final Fantasy 13's shortcomings and high points and now in part two I'm going to talk about its sequel Part three will be all about the narrative between 13 and 13-2 and how 13-2 is a really bad sequel. The fourth part will be about the third entry in the series...once it is released and I have finished it, of course.

I'm not sure who really wanted a sequel to Final Fantasy 13, but if I had to hazard a guess it would be Motomu Toriyama, the director of 13 and 13-2. There's kind of a good reason that Final Fantasy games don't typically have direct sequels, and it's because they've all pretty much been worse than their predecessors. 10-2 had a fun battle system but nothing else about it was enjoyable. Final Fantasy 7 had Dirge of Cerberus and Advent Children and the less said about those the better. Even Final Fantasy 4 has The After Years and that is a hunk of actual junk. But unlike Final Fantasies 4, 7, and 10, FF 13 was not loved by the majority of people who played it. Sure, a lot of mess is talked about FF7 but it all seemingly comes from people looking back; FF7 is still beloved by many. So with 13, a sequel couldn't really hurt the bad reputation that the first game had, right? Hell, if anything it'd actually be an improvement.

No. People who think that 13-2 is a better game than 13 are wrong. Fuck opinions, this is god damn science.

Final Fantasy 13-2 follows the tradition of being worse than the one that came before it, but it also holds the distinction of being kind of a better game too. The writers of 13-2 would call this a paradox. I call it an accident.

I don't pretend to know anything about making a game - I'm just some dork that likes Japanese games a whole bunch - but 13-2 feels like a game that the team behind 13 decided to make to address the complaints of 13. Kind of like what BioWare claims to be doing with Dragon Age 3, but not at all. Paradox. The fact that it was released rather quickly after 13 combined with the actual gameplay found inside adds some kind of substance to this claim. Almost as soon as you are in control the game feels like it is pulling at your arm and showing you how everything is different and better while being all smug about it.

"Oh, you didn't like that it took three hours to get to a level up screen in 13? Well check it out, one hour in and you get the Crystarium." "What was that? You didn't think it was a good idea to gate the Crystarium based on story progression? Well hey, now you have FULL ACCESS to the Crystarium at the start! Oh, and did we mention it's not as mindless as holding down X to watch the line move? Now you can totally obsess over min.maxing your nodes! Hell yeah! And just open that map, BAM, all kinds of turns, no straight line running in THIS adventure!"

Final Fantasy 13-2 is a snake oil salesmen whose pitch is that this elixir will make you forgot about Final Fantasy 13.

Much like how FF13 tricked players into thinking the game opened up in chapter 11, 13-2 tricked players into thinking it was a better game than 13. Sure, the game doesn't take its sweet time unlocking systems and within two hours you have your three man party and an unlocked battle system, but that doesn't make it a better game. It makes it a game where there's no need to gate progress because there's no need to do so. In 13, your Crystarium is gated due to the narrative; it makes sense that the Crystarium opens up more completely in chapter 10 after Dysley flat out tells you to get stronger. In 13, the story was the driving force behind the majority of actions, it was why you didn't get a level up screen until chapter 3, it was why you had two characters for a large chunk. A better game might have struck some kind of balance between gameplay and story, but locking certain systems based on progress never felt like that much of an issue. In 13-2 this system lock is a non-issue because there's no story reason for there to be an issue; the game just handwaves the issue of "Why can this future boy and this ex-l'Cie fling around spells?" with something about 'crystal residue' or something and now even normal people can use magic sometimes. No one ever does, the NPCs still walk around using regular ass guns, but hey who gives a shit when it means you've got the paradigms and the Crystarium as soon as you're in control of Serah.

Normally I wouldn't mind but it's a lot easier to swallow the progression of the characters in 13. Lightning and Snow were already accustomed to danger and fights and adapted once they got their magic, Hope specifically went with Lightning in order to grow stronger physically. In 13-2, Serah just suddenly knows how to fire a bow and arrow, swing a sword, and fling around fire and ice as if she's been doing it her whole life. This is mere SECONDS after nearly being attacked and injured by one of the weakest enemies in the game. Again, this is all just handwaved away with Serah going "If I have to" when asked if she could fight. Later on in the game she mentions that she is more comfortable fighting, but she was never uncomfortable. She was always just the same, flinging spells and swinging swords. Her time as a l'Cie was spent crying and walking on the beach before becoming a crystal so it's not like she had any combat experience prior to Noel showing up and handing her a mooglebow. Sure, this might come off as me being petty or nitpicking, but it just irked me. I'm not suggesting they totally change the battle system, I just wish it was handled better in the narrative. But then, considering how the gates were seen as a negative before, I'm not surprised by the end result.

At the same time, the battle system in 13-2 is better and feels like the logical extension of the flaws in 13's system. No longer is the game over when your controlled character dies, no more are you forced into an animation when you first swap paradigms. The battles are even faster and with the added benefit of being able to modify paradigms, the tactical options are enhanced. The simple addition of 'Cross' and 'Wide' add more flexibility to the paradigms and their roles, and being able to save three decks of six paradigms gives you more easily accessible paradigm choices, though unfortunately you cannot swap decks in the middle of battle. Battles are much more fun thanks to the changes and the swiftness at which battles happen. I liked the combat in 13. I loved it in 13-2.

Almost everything in the game feels like the result of the developers looking at all the criticisms and doing the opposite and it is apparent even in the first area, New Bodum. The first game opened with a bunch of narrow paths and straight lines, in the sequel you open the map and it's a series of turns and such, but the map makes it look bigger. It gives the illusion of more explorable paths, like it is daring the player to try and say the maps are straight lines. Map design is something I'll admit the sequel does better. Sure, the areas are more open and ripe for exploring, but at the same time you're spending the game revisiting the same areas only with a new coat of paint. It's neat exploring the Bresha Ruins. It is less neat when you go there one hundred or two hundred years in the future and the only difference is that the map is snowy and the background music is different. Somehow the game does setting worse than 13. Both games consist of a series of locations that are barely connected to each other. But at least in 13-2's favor there's a better reason for this.

13 had a noticeable lack of towns and side activities and NPCs. 13-2 attempted to rectify this by having a bunch of NPCs you could have flavor dialog with and sometimes an NPC will give you a sidequest. The sidequests in 13-2 range from boring to mildly boring. The only enjoyable ones are the ones where you are tasked with defeating an optional monster because they allowed for more time with the battle system and were also similar to the side activities in 13. The other side quests are all pretty much fetch quests. Fetch quests involving time travelling, but still fetch quests. When are fetch quests ever fun? They aren't ever. And yet, in 13-2 not only are you tasked with searching for vague items for random people, often they are hidden (because paradoxes) and you'll spend time wandering around an area looking for the faint glimmer of a hidden chest. The worst part is that these fetch quests are mandatory to get the 160 hidden collectibles that are needed for the super secret ending. There's also a casino in the game because everyone loved the Golden Saucer. I hope you didn't want to play poker or Chronobind, because you'll get a big fat "BUY THE DLC" message when you do, and then the card games aren't even playable by the main characters. Even after you buy the DLC the BUY THE DLC pop up happens. It'd be like the guy in the party camp in Dragon Age Origins sticks around reminding you that the Warden's Keep is only available in the DLC and to get there you have to go through the main menu. Enjoy your slot machines and your chocobo races. Mini games. Hooray, what a great addition. But hey, at least there are mini games, right? That's what you really want in your JRPGs.

Things like that are why I feel like 13-2 tricks people into thinking it's a better game. It adds NPCs and sidequests but both of those things don't enhance the game outside of getting another tick on your quest to 160 fragments. Take a game like Nier, its sidequests may have been lackluster but doing them got you insight into the world and its inhabitants while also developing the main cast. 13-2 doesn't really do this, it just has an NPC tell you he lost something and then you go find it and yay, here's a fragment. It adds things the first game lacked just to say that the game has them, as if the lack of those things were why the first one was so disliked. Hell, maybe that was what was disliked the most, I still don't know what people hated so much about 13 and I've heard pretty much every bit of criticism towards it; but 'lack of mini games' never seemed to be high on the list. Even the mini games are just a means to an end. On their own the side quests aren't entertaining or even all that interesting. But JRPGs have a habit of having mini games and side activities to go through and 13 was lacking so here you go, just like you always wanted, a series of fetch quests and virtual Where's Waldo. And let's all agree that the Temporal Rifts were stupid.

As I replayed 13-2 I struggled to understand why some think it is a better game than 13. The things it does better, battles and level layout, aren't enough in my eyes. But at the same time I had more fun playing 13-2 than I did 13 and if I had to replay one again right now, I'd pick 13-2 every time. It is a better playing game than 13 but it is a worse game at the same time. Paradox. I suppose it boils down to what you want in a JRPG. 13-2 is a shorter game and the earlier, ungated access to the Crystarium means you can make the game a breeze with minimal effort which makes it more fun to play. It's not as heavy a game and lends itself well to shorter sessions.

All that aside, even though I enjoy the part where I am playing 13-2 (as in the battles, mostly), I still have no idea why it needed to be made in the first place. Final Fantasy 13 did not need a sequel and 13-2 is such a bad sequel that I'm still not convinced that it is one.

The reason why 13-2 is such a bad sequel is because of the follow up in terms of narrative. As a pure gameplay thing, 13-2 is better since the battles are more fun. But as far as narrative is concerned, it's much, much worse.And if you thought the story was bad in 13, holy shit does 13-2 make 13 seem like a masterpiece in comparison. This is why I consider 13-2 to be both a better game and a worse sequel. So let's get into the story....

Next time. Because this is already getting long and no one wants to read a fucking dissertation on Final Fantasy 13 and 13-2.

As always, thanks for reading.

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The Battle Within Begins: A Look Back At The Lightning Saga (Part One)

I'm sure pretty much all of you are now thinking something along the lines of "Who gives a shit about Final Fantasy 13 anymore?" or something similar, perhaps something more hostile and/or vulgar. That's fine. Go ahead and think that. I won't stop you. Anyway, with the release of the third (and final?) entry in the Final Fantasy 13 series releasing here next month, I thought now would be a chance to look back on the much-maligned entry into the long running franchise. I'm probably not going to be saying stuff that is new or interesting, but hey, I'm trying. I've been replaying 13 and 13-2 in preparation for 13-3 and so these first parts will be all about the first game in the Lightning Saga. Since that's what it's called now I guess. Just so you know, this isn't going to be all about praising 13 even though I do like it, I'm going to be positive and negative.

Right out of the gate I'm saying this: Final Fantasy 13 is one of the better 3D Final Fantasy games. I think it is better than 8, 10, 10-2, and 12, and the spin-offs that don't count like Dirge of Cerberus and Crisis Core. To this day I don't understand why 10 gets so much love when 13 does a lot of what it does in terms of character leveling and progression better and has a better cast of characters. So I figure that's a good place to start. Comparing FF 10 to FF 13.

The reason being because the director of 13, Motomu Toriyama, was the event director for 10 and was largely responsible for the characters and events that happened in 10. Final Fantasy 13 is a more fleshed out and realized vision of what Final Fantasy 10 was planned to be: an interactive movie. Both of them contain similar features in regard to how the story advances and yet only one of them gets singled out for it. Linearity is a constant complaint about 13, how it's just a game of walking in a straight line and advancing to the next cutscene. While this is how the game is for the first few chapters, what made this a problem here but not in 10? A large chunk of Final Fantasy 10 is following a singular path to the big red arrow on the map with random battles tossed in. Sometimes, like in the Luca Forest, there will be a left or right branch to take to the red arrow, but generally you're going in one direction and pausing to engage in combat or in cutscenes. The exploration in 10 is broken up by the temples, but those are just dungeons without random encounters.

In 13 the same general design happens. There's a path to the end, sometimes there are branches but ultimately all roads lead to the goal and along the way there are battles and cutscenes. I don't think the linearity is the real problem, I think it's the environments. The areas you're running around in aren't all that visually interesting (outside of, say, Lake Bresha or the open air areas on Pulse) and generally run the gamut from steely corridor to pulsing lights because technology. Cocoon as a setting is bland and the blandness of the environments you're running around in don't help things at all. Comparatively, Spira is a much better realized world with appropriately varying environments. Besaid looks different than Luca, which looks different than Bevelle, which looks different from Gagazet, which looks different from Zanarkand, but at the same time each of those places feel like they exist in the same world. In Cocoon you go from a frozen lake to a junkyard to a techno-forest. None of the locations really feel like they belong in the same world, and it isn't really until you get to Gran Pulse where the various locations feel like they belong together, and that's because the areas on Pulse, much like the areas on Spira, are all connected to each other.

Nothing in Cocoon that you experience is connected to anything. You start out in some area that has a lot of train tracks, wind up in a frozen lake, and then you fly off and crash into a junkyard. Where is this junkyard? Somewhere. It exists somewhere on Cocoon but it doesn't exist in relation to anywhere else. What about Bodhum, the town that exists only in flashback? It's somewhere on a beach but is it near the Hanging Edge? Is it anywhere near Palumpolum, Hope's hometown? I would assume no since he and his mother were on vacation there, but for all I know they could be a simple train ride away. Cocoon feels less like a place where people live and more like a place slapped together with dungeons in mind first. It's not the lack of towns that make it feel lifeless, it's the way in which the player experiences the world. Because both FF10 and FF13 don't have an overworld map they have to sell their setting in other ways. FF10 managed to do this with the aid of its little on screen map showing your path as you entered a new area as well as having you walk everywhere. FF 13 doesn't manage this because nothing in its world is connected to anything and you're constantly flying around the world and hopping around between characters. Cocoon is a terrible location and a boring setting. Both games, meaning FF10 and FF13, are linear but FF10 masks its linearity by having a better realized world. It's a point to FF10s favor, but I still consider FF13 the better game despite this.

That said, despite the setting the game has the story and characters that inhabit it aren't boring. Well, most of the characters anyway. It's odd that Square-Enix is hinging so hard on the character of Lightning when she is the least interesting of the core group. She's not a bad character so much as she is a bland one. The main six characters all have their issues and personal conflicts they work towards. Hope has to deal with the reality of losing his mother on top of everything he knew about the world being flipped around, he's a confused and angry kid working through issues. Sazh is dealing with finding a way to save his son while also having to come to terms with being an enemy of the state. Snow is foolishly clinging to the idea of never having to take responsibility for anything while losing everything and everyone around him, from his fiance to the innocent civilians. Vanille is harboring the greatest secret but rather than finding a way to deal with it, she believes that running away will solve everything and that if she doesn't do anything, nothing bad will happen; a childish belief but it's all she has. Fang is..well she's not exactly fleshed out. But then there's Lightning. The thing with Lightning is that in contrast to every other character who we see grow and change over time, Lightning's growth and development is handled mostly through the datalog.

There's a part in chapter seven where Lightning and Hope are under the city of Palumpolum and discussing the fal'Cie. Lightning suddenly has this revelation about things and tells Hope that "Operation Nora is over". This causes Hope to have a moment of confusion and growth. But Lightning's sudden change of heart is barely touched upon and seemingly just happens out of nowhere. A trip to the datalog then reveals Lightning's motivations and thoughts behind this sudden act. It's a poor way to develop your character because there's no development actually going on. Lightning doesn't have a moment like the other characters do. Hope has his moment with Snow, Sazh has his moment in Nautilus, Vanille has her moments in Nautilus and with Fang, Snow has his moment with Hope. But Lightning doesn't. She doesn't have a moment that you can point to as evidence that her character has changed and developed. There's no arc to the character. She just suddenly goes from being a loner to watching out for Hope to suddenly not wanting to punch Snow anymore. And all of these developments are detailed not through the game itself, but through the datalog. Lightning is a flat character and I really doubt that'll change with 13-3, but that remains to be seen. And even if it does change, it's too little, too late.

Still, the characters of 13, not including Lightning, are better and more believable than the cast of FF10. Lightning may be a flat character, but she's not an utterly boring and passive character like Yuna and at least Hope gets over his parental hangups. The characters are interesting and flawed and just likable enough to get someone invested in their adventure.

Even though Lightning is flat, I think the other characters are handled much better. Snow and Hope get a lot of hate which is unearned in my eyes. I feel as if Hope is one of the better characters in recent Final Fantasies and Snow is barely a factor for literally half of the game. What I like about the characters and the way the story handled them was that none of them really wanted to work together. They each had their own goals and motivations and god dammit they were going to do them with or without anyone else. It's a much better approach than having a group of people each with a common goal. Ironically this approach to story telling and characters is what leads to the complaints that the game doesn't let you pick your party until twenty hours in. Yes, this is accurate, but I don't see how it's necessarily a negative. Until that point in chapter nine, the characters are not interested in working together and thus have no reason to stick together beyond the superficial. It may go against some unwritten JRPG code, but I never saw any problem with not being able to choose my party. Sure, that meant you never got to take full advantage of the paradigm system, but the game was tailored around the structure. There was never an instance where a third character was needed in regards to the battle system. You still had plenty of paradigm options and honestly, unless you spent a huge amount of time grinding it was unlikely that you would get the whole benefit of the paradigms with a full party anyway. It's not like the typical player was going to max every role with every character; it was more likely you'd stick to the main three of the characters.

While we're on the topic of paradigms, the battle system is a point of contention as well. Some dig it, some don't. I dig it because it is both fast paced and incredibly tactical at the same time. The essence of the battle system is all about finding ways to hit the enemy like a god damn truck over and over again. It's incredibly satisfying to stagger an enemy, launch him into the air, and keep him afloat like you're juggling fools in Tekken. People that just use auto battle are missing out. Sure, you can probably auto battle your way to he end of the story, but if you want battles to not take forever you'll be taking advantage of buffs, debuffs, chain bonuses, and on the fly paradigm shifting. It's kind of like swapping in characters in Final Fantasy 10 only instead of having to bring in Lulu to deal with an elemental flan, you can just swap to a magic using paradigm and go. I really like it when a game has boss fights that require you to use the mechanics you've learned in order to have the better chance at defeating them, and on that end FF 13 works. The penultimate boss can either be incredibly frustrating or less so depending on how well you use the paradigm system (hint: use poison). The final boss is unwinnable if you don't know how to best use your paradigms because you have a limited amount of time to stagger him and defeat him and he's immune to a lot of techniques. But it's a fun system and a satisfying one. It's not without its flaws (seriously, the fact that the game plays that stupid little animation whenever you first shift paradigms in a battle is fucking terrible, especially since the A.I. doesn't stop) but I'll take it over a traditional turn based system any day.

I suppose now would be the time to talk about the story, since a story is kind of important for these kind of games. The story in FF13 is odd, mostly due to how it is structured. The game opens in medias res and starts tossing in terms with no context. What's a fal'Cie? What's a l'Cie? Pulse? What the hell is that? What's even going on? Over the course of the game there are several flashbacks that attempt to fill in some of these questions and for the most part it's successful. The datalog exists to fill players in but it's not needed to understand what people are talking about. Sure, it takes time, but if you don't use the datalog the game makes it clear what a fal'Cie is and what l'Cie are through context. The problem I have with the story is that it essentially becomes the same as a number of any other JRPGS: Kill all deities. While not a parallel to religion as, say, Yevon in FF10, the central conflict in FF13 is between the six characters and the Primarch/fal'Cie. You're pretty much going up against the pope president who is a deity in disguise. What FF13 attempts to do is create the conflict between the characters rather than an opposing antagonist. Primarch Dysley, the main antagonist, is present early on but he doesn't factor into the story until chapter nine when he does his big reveal. Until then all the conflict is internal with the most overt one being between Hope and Snow.

This, to me, is what the game does well. When the characters are at odds with one another is when the story works best. Rather than having the characters band together early on, they stick to their original goals and branch away from each other. Lightning decides to attack Eden, Hope goes with her so he can grow strong enough to kill Snow, Sazh thinks Lightning's plan is stupid and does his own thing and Vanille tags along because she's running away from reality, and Snow stays behind because he's desperate to save Serah and protect her. There's no world to be saved. It's not a story about saving the world, it's a story about saving themselves. Time is not on their side and they don't have any clue how to prevent themselves from turning into monsters so they each have their own ideas how to resolve the problem. Some people think that the game gets better later on but I disagree. I think it gets worse after chapter nine.

Once the characters come together suddenly it becomes a save the world story. The six characters finally meet Dysley/Barthandelus who reveals that he's plotting to destroy Cocoon to summon the Maker. Suddenly the conflict of saving themselves is tossed out of the window in favor of a story of being friends and saving the world like every other JRPG. The sudden realization that the leader of Cocoon is a corrupt and evil god doesn't seem to faze them outside of a single scene at the start of chapter ten, instead the characters pretty much walk hand in hand skipping along to Pulse. With the exception of a single moment where Fang tells the others to fuck off and let Cocoon get destroyed (which was then resolved with a single eidolon fight) the characters are all buddy buddy now, all differences aside. The character development stops after chapter nine and the game is worse because of it. Sure, the game needed an antagonist, but the antagonist is introduced at the expense of character development. The game shoves all development into the front half of the game which had the unfortunate side effect of turning the early stages of the game into a game of 'find the cutscene'. Compare the first half (chapters 1-9) of the game with the second half (10-13) and the number of cutscenes is diminished drastically. It's not because the game has finally opened up (though chapter 11/Pulse is where all the side missions reside) it's because there's no longer any story for the characters to go through anymore. Once the six people land on Pulse the most that happens is Hope and Vanille getting their eidolons. Otherwise the entirety of the Pulse chapter is simply going through a mine, a spring, a tower, and Oerba with limited interruptions.

It's such a drastic change from how the early parts of the game are structured that it managed to trick people into thinking that the game gets better after twenty hours. They think that way simply because you're given the illusion that you've been taken off the rails. You haven't, it's just no longer a matter of being handheld in one general direction to find the next story bit. There's really little reason for the characters to go to Pulse other than because that's where the game wants the player to go. The story justification is that the l'Cie are training to get stronger in order to come up with some way to go against Dysley's wishes, but when they get to Pulse they stare at each other dumbfounded because there's nothing there and soon enough they are back on Cocoon anyway. The second half of the game is supposed to be when the fal'Cie plot comes together, they start up a civil war of sorts by making Cid into the new pope and having Cid's organization fight the government while the Pulse monsters invade but there's no reason that for this to happen the central six had to go to Pulse first.

The story gets worse after the party comes together because it suddenly makes less sense. The whole point of the game is Dysley wanting the l'Cie to destroy Cocoon because Cocoon gods can't cause direct harm to Cocoon because the Maker was a fan of the laws of robotics or some such shit. Dysley puts forth that he's been helping the l'Cie on their journey which is just blatantly untrue. The whole second half of the game is the characters wanting to save Cocoon by defeating Dysley and saving Orphan, but then the final boss is Orphan and they kill it and almost destroy Cocoon in the process with the hand waving explanation of 'Well if our purpose was to destroy Cocoon that must mean we can also save it'. This winds up happening but it's total bullshit and it's really just because Fang and Vanille were there to become Ragnarok again. The ending sections feel more like the characters don't have any idea what to do and got lucky which is a terrible way to have a story conclude. The whole time they were acting like they were going to do everything in their power to defy the will of Barthandelus and their Focus but they wind up doing exactly what he wanted them to do up until the crystal pillar happens. The villain was so close to winning. It's a very hollow victory and ending for the game.

Final Fantasy 13's story is half interesting. The earlier parts of the game are better because the conflict is much more personal and interesting and thus engaging. It just becomes boring and dumb in the second half, which is unfortunate. But then, the stories in Final Fantasy have rarely been above the passable level so I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been 10-2. All that said, I still think Final Fantasy 13 is a good game. It's not the best Final Fantasy but it is in no way the worst. It's got a good bunch of characters (Lightning aside), the battle system is fast paced and fun, the music is great, and despite its boring environments it's still a fun little adventure that lasts a solid thirty or forty hours. I really like Final Fantasy 13, probably more than most, but I totally understand and acknowledge the faults people have with it. But hey, in fifteen years when Final Fantasy 20 or whatever is out, people will probably look back on 13 with fondness. Because it'll probably be better than whatever the future of this series has in store.

Though the story becomes silly (sillier?) in the second half, it at least had a happy ending for the characters. But then the sequel came along.

In part two I'll talk about the sequel and how it is both a better game and a worse game all at the same time.

I'll see you then. Or I won't. Either way, thanks for reading or skimming or doing neither and saying how pointless this is/was. I appreciate it either way, and I mean that.

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Wherein I List the Ten Best Soundtracks of 2013 and Determine GOTY.

With everyone focused on what the best game of the year is based on such silly concepts as fun or interesting mechanics or gameplay or emotional investment or lack of ludonarrative dissonance or whatever people judge games on I opted instead to judge the games I played in 2013 based on the only criteria that really mattered. Their music.

I don't pretend to be some kind of musical expert and my tastes in music are probably far too eclectic to make this an accurate list, but that's the joy of opinion, right? Let me preface this by saying that I am limiting my options to games I actually played, so even if something like, say, A Link Between Worlds has a great soundtrack, I can't put it on this list because I haven't played it. Sorry. Them's the breaks.

So join me on yet another topic about GOTY 2013. There will be music involved!

10. Anarchy Reigns

Yeah, starting things off with a technicality. This game was released outside of Japan in January this year so as far as I'm concerned it totally counts. If this was a list of games that made me sad, this'd be on there because I was so sad that I didn't like it more and that the small community kind of fizzled out. But one thing going for it was its music and the various character themes.

I could sit on the main menu screen for hours, though my record is thirty minutes. It's the perfect introduction to the style and overall mood of the game. Funky.

The character themes range from loud, blaring electro affairs to dumb rap beats that end up getting stuck in your head by accident. But damn if it doesn't make for appropriate fighting music. Even the annoying Bandy Leggz songs. Especially those.

9. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney Dual Destinies

While my thoughts on the game itself wasn't as positive as others (I liked SOME of it) I can't tell you how thrilled I was to hear remixed versions of some of the old Ace Attorney tunes right alongside some new material. The Pursuit theme in particular is like the perfect punctuation in a trial, it's when you know that the shit has officially gotten real.

If only real world litigation was this exciting.

8. Guacamelee!

Guacamelee might be the most fun game involving wrestling I've played recently, but it might be my love of those 'Metroidvania' type of games that has me saying this. As someone with no real history with lucha libre, I still couldn't help but love the theme and setting of the game, and that extends to the music. Sometimes it sounded like the music I would hear at my local Mexican diner but I mean that in a good way. Either way, the various songs made elbow dropping skeletons a fucking blast.

7. Ni no Kuni

The best thing Ni no Kuni has going for it is its soundtrack. Then comes its visual style. And then the accents. That's all. There's a pattern brewing where games on this list are ones I didn't much like but still had great music. While it isn't my favorite overworld theme, the one in Ni no Kuni really nailed the whole adventure feel of just wandering around a world map and exploring the world. Few games do that for me, scratch that adventure itch. But man, Joe Hisaishi can do that like no other. I'm actually putting this game on the list just because I love the world map music that much.

6. Contrast

Here is a game where I was sold based purely on the aesthetics and boy did I pay the price. You give me an art deco noir aesthetic and I will give you fifteen American dollars to play it. Fortunately I had an alright time with Contrast and the music helped considerably with that; it sold the setting better than the visuals did. Seriously, once I hear swing jazzy instruments in a game I can't help but love it. And boy, did Contrast have that.

5. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

I just have to say Rules of Nature and people in the know already know, you know? MGR was insane and I think I liked it? I played that game way back when it came out and I'm still not sure what I thought about it, other than that I played it and that I loved it every single time I did damage to a boss and the music intensified. You know you're doing well when the vocalist comes in screaming about whatever the fuck they sing about in this game and every single time this happens it is incredible. This is dynamic music done right.

4. The Last of Us

One word describes Gustavo Santoalla's work on The Last of Us and by extension Naughty Dog's use of his work: effective. The music in this game is both beautiful and disturbing and it is used perfectly, to punctuate scenes and to build anticipation for coming moments by knowing just when to stop. The relative slow pace of some of the songs really lets the score shine. Seriously, just sit on the main menu for a while and listen to the way the ambient noises mix with the soft score, it is unnerving listening to that guitar while also being somehow calming, as if setting the stage for the gut wrenching adventure that is to follow.

3. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

Now I might be cheating but fuck it, it counts. The Wind Waker is the second best Zelda game (the best is clearly Majora's Mask and you're all wrong if you disagree!) but it has the best soundtrack and that holds up with the HD version. Much like with Ni no Kuni, Wind Waker's ocean theme hits that adventure vibe something fierce. It is, by far, my favorite Zelda overworld music and I was ten years younger when I heard it in the HD version for the first time. Giddy, wide eyed, and excited to just be out on the sea again, sailing and seeing what new islands had in store for me.

2. Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn

Say what you will about newer Final Fantasy games, the one thing they always have going for them is their music and FF14 is no exception. From the redone crystal theme in the main menus to the nautical sounds of Limsa Lominsa, to the boss fights, to my personal favorite Ul'Dah night theme, the music in FF14:ARR is absolutely phenomenal. Beautiful when it needs to be, intense at the right times, and chock full of backing tunes that you'll probably be humming as you wander around killing cactuars and shit. Seriously, though, I can idle in Ul'Dah for hours and just listen to the beautiful music that plays. It is that good.

1. Remember Me

I'm going to be totally honest with you, I only made this blog to inform people just how fucking great the music is in Remember Me, a game that got middle-of-the-road reviews but one I absolutely loved. I loved the setting, the visuals, the underused memory hacking mechanic, the combat, Nilin, but above all I loved the music. It kills me that this game's soundtrack didn't get more recognition, but I guess it's because no one remembered Remember Me. I did. I sure did. Olivier Deriviere did an amazing job making the soundtrack this blend of electronic and symphonic that is mixed in such a way as to give everything this glitchy/techno feel in keeping with the abilities of the protagonist and her techno-based memory remixing ability. It's a soundtrack that enhances the game and just feels like a natural fit. Seriously, even if you have no interest in playing the game, just listen to the soundtrack. It is fantastic. There isn't a bad song to be found.

And there you have it. The ten games that I felt had the best music in 2013. It is thus safe to conclude that 2013's overall game of the year is Remember Me. At least in my mind it is.

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An Ode to Cavia Inc and Nier, A Game Studio That Hated You and the True Game of the Generation

Because GiantBomb's community just had its Game of the Generation tournament I thought now would be the best time to educate the community on a game that has a devoted cult-ish fanbase/following to which I belong. It is, to me, the best game of the generation and you can't take that away from me. I am talking about Nier. Nier was released in 2010 by Square Enix to little buzz and absolutely middle-of-the-road reviews. Justin McElroy gave the game a zero because he couldn't catch a fish then refused to go back and actually finish the game when people told him how to do so. Critics did not much care for the game, and I can understand why. It's not the prettiest game in the world, nor is it the most innovative when it comes to action RPGs. The sidequests, which make up a larger chunk of the game than the main quest, range from annoyingly tedious to 'why am I even bothering with this garbage'. But despite that, the game has something many games these days do not: heart.

Strap yourselves in, duders, this is going to be long and probably not all that interesting. I'm going to filibuster this shit.

Nier was made by Cavia, a studio known for making...well...utter mediocre to utter shit games. They are also known for being masters in the art of fucking with their players. Bullet Witch has an achievement for beating the game on the hardest difficulty, which is brutally difficult thanks to the fact that enemies are bullet sponges and the last boss has about a two second vulnerability period every, oh, five minutes or so. The achievement for beating the game on hard? It's with a single point. One point. Cavia hates you. Cavia hates you, the person playing their game. They hate you and they hate fun. Or rather I guess they HATED you because Cavia is no longer a game studio, sadly.

But the biggest fuck you they pulled? Drakengard. You might be familiar with Drakengard. It was a terrible game. No. Do not defend that game. It had boring ground combat that makes Dynasty Warriors look like Bayonetta. The Panzer Dragoon sections were terrible and don't even get me started on the insane things you had to do to get all the weapons and then max them out. Not to mention the fact that the game has one of the hardest final bosses ever in video games for all the wrong reasons. Fuck Drakengard. Drakengard has two saving graces: its story and its soundtrack. At first listen, the soundtrack is nothing more than noise. Pure chaotic dissonance. Just people making instruments do things they were not meant to do. But then you dig deeper and you start to understand that the songs contain entire sections from classical pieces all skewered and fucked beyond recognition. And then you realize that the chaos, the manic sounds of instruments, is exactly the point. The music exists to unnerve you, to make you think that something is very, very wrong.

And oh yes, there is something very wrong with Drakengard.

Can YOU spot the classical piece in this cacophony? Oh yes, spoilers for Drakengard will now follow.

Even though I think the story in Drakengard is pretty shit all around, I like it because of the characters and their eventual fates. No one in Drakengard is likable. Except for MAYBE Angelus the dragon. Or Furiae. And when I mean no one, I mean NO ONE. Not even the protagonist. Your supporting cast, the people in your RPG party consist of the following:

-A child so in love with the story of an ancient hero that he is willing to do anything, including end the world, just to be called a hero.

-An elf who killed and ate her own children and continues to enjoy eating children, believing that all children will be safe inside of her womb. You meet her after she has been imprisoned for eating children and laughing about it.

-A man who is upset at the death of his brothers not just because they were killed while he was away, but because the reason he wasn't there to protect them was because he was off in the forest having sex with young boys. Dude's a literal pedophile. And he's somehow the LEAST worst person.

And then there's Caim, the character you play as. The protagonist. The 'hero'. Caim is nothing more than a psychopathic murderer who revels in the blood and guts of his enemies (and friends). Caim regularly kills children who beg and plead for you to spare their lives. Caim exists only to kill things that stand between him and his goal, he doesn't give a shit who. Because Caim is you. Caim is the player.

But therein lies the beauty. Because every character is an unforgivable moral black hole, the game sees fit to not reward them in any way. The child who wanted to be a hero? He causes the apocalypse by causing the elder gods of the world to descend and destroy it. The gods are also giant babies. Which then proceed to kill and eat the elf who enjoys eating babies. The pedophile also gets killed by the giant babies. But what happens to Caim? He and his dragon buddy get the worst of it. Caim, not fit with literally killing a world so hard that gods came to start it over, sends the QUEEN OF THE GODS into modern day Tokyo where he and his dragon friend kill it and are then killed by an airstrike and the dragon is impaled on the Tokyo Tower. Did I mention this is the ending you get after participating in one of the hardest final boss battles in video game history? Don't believe me? Here's a video of the final boss. Keep in mind, Drakengard is first and foremost an ACTION game and the final boss? Well...it's not an action game boss.

The final boss in this action game is an incredibly difficult and precise rhythm game where if you fuck up you have to start all over again. And what is your reward? The main characters get killed and the credits roll silently over the cloudy skies of Tokyo. It was a giant slap in the face. All that work, all that effort, for a crazy ending with no real payoff. But when you really think about it, the ending was perfect. There was no moment of redemption for the reprehensible characters in the game. Instead, every character ended up getting killed. Every. Single. Character. At no point do these characters undergo a deep moment of clarity or undergo a personality shift in wake of a massive event (such as the end of the world). No. They remain as fucked up as possible until their death.

And this "Fuck You" ending leads into the best game of the generation. Nier is the true sequel to Drakengard, not the shitshow that was Drakengard 2.

Nier has more in common with Drakengard thematically than Drakengard 2. Not to mention that Drakengard and Nier have the same director (that being Yoko Taro who was NOT the director for Drakengard 2). Nier also happens to take place 50 years after the TRUE ending to Drakengard in the remains of our world in the wake of magical god particles causing a worldwide epidemic. Turns out when you mix magic and giant gods into a world not used to magic and giant gods, shit goes south. Another similarity the two games have is their bland gameplay; except the gameplay is much better in Nier because it is functional in its repetitiveness and not the unceasing tedium that was Drakengard’s system. And in Nier, the saving graces are in its music and its story. I’m not going to touch on its music other than saying the soundtrack is fantastic and you should go listen to it.. So instead I will talk about the story and why Nier is as fitting a game as Cavia could ever make both as a sequel to Drakengard and as the final game they ever made. So be warned, I will be spoiling Nier in the next paragraphs. So if you want to play it, leave now or skip to the end or something. If you have no intention if playing it/don’t care about spoilers, feel free to keep reading.

In the seven years between Drakengard and Nier, Cavia learned something about storytelling and characters and that was: If your characters are likable/believable, people will be more inclined to care about them and be affected when shit happens to them. And with that in mind, the character of Nier was created. (For the record, I will be talking purely about the American version of Nier, since the Japanese version has a different character/set up but the game remains largely the same) Nier is quite unlike most JRPG protagonists in that he is in his 40s and is also a father. While other protagonists have some vague goal revolving around destiny or something equally as cliché, Nier cares only about one thing: saving his daughter.

The game opens with a prologue that sets the entire tone. It is set in 2049, nearly 50 years after Caim and Angelus fucked up our world, and it is snowing. In summer. In an abandoned, empty grocery store, a haggard man wields a pipe while black monsters begin to attack him and his daughter. In a last ditch effort, the man touches a book who promises it can give the man power to protect his daughter. This man is named Nier and upon touching the book, he gains magical powers and begins laying waste to these monsters. He returns to the grocery store to see his daughter coughing and holding a cookie. A copy of the book is next to her as she offers a single cookie to her father. He refuses, saying he isn’t hungry. His daughter, Yonah, calls his bluff and the two end up splitting a cookie. And then it is revealed that Yonah touched the book and, in exchange for her health, all she got was a single cookie. Nier takes her daughter away from the store, vowing to cure her sickness.

Cut to 1300 years later.

Nier and Yonah are living in a small village in a dying world where the sun never sets. Yonah is sick with a fatal disease called the Black Scrawl and Nier wants nothing more than to find a cure. This is where the game really starts. Nier does not have his magic book powers, but he does have a sword and a goal. He will do anything to save his daughter. And this is where Nier’s secondary purpose comes into play. At first glance, Nier is nothing more than an action JRPG. But it is more than that. It IS that, but it is also something more.

Nier is, at its core, a systematic deconstruction of Japanese video games, action games, and the expectations of the player.

The first thing the player does in the game outside of the prologue is getting a quest from the village chief, Popola, to kill some sheep for mutton and wool. Nier, happy to help out the village and its people, agrees. To do this quest, Nier leaves the village to the plains where the sheep are. Outside of the village he runs into the black monsters from the prologue. And here is where the player instinct takes over. Given that you just killed upwards of 100 of the monsters not three minutes ago, your first and only instinct is: “ENEMY! KILL!” and you do. You cut the monsters down and then continue on your way slaughtering sheep. But here is the first instance of the game hinting at something more. If you stay your blade, you will find that the monsters are not hostile towards you. They do not attack you. They are just…there in the world. Minding their own business. And Nier kills them for no reason other than you, as a player, have been conditioned to kill enemies and because you have to. After doing some oddjobs for Popola, the friendly leader character points you to a place called the Lost Shrine because A: It is rumored to have the Lunar Tear, a rare flower that can cure illness. B: Yonah heard this rumor and set out to the Lost Shrine on her own, and C: You need to get your daughter back because the Lost Shrine is dangerous because it is home to Shades, the black monsters you just killed. So you, being the resident dadass, head to the Lost Shrine to kill the monsters that have put your daughter in danger.

And once in the Shrine, the Shades appear like they would any other enemy in any other game. Like an enemy in a Zelda or a God of War or any turn based JRPG. They are in your way, so they must be taken care of. Only, much like the Shades outside of the village, the Shades in the Shrine are not hostile to you. They don’t attack. But you don’t know this because you have been conditioned to kill things in your way to the goal. In the back of your mind you might be asking yourself “How did a sickly ten year old get to the top of this place?” and you dismiss it because “It’s a videogame” but the answer is right in front of you. It’s because the Shades don’t mean you any harm. So you wholesale slaughter your way to the top of the Shrine to the obvious boss room. And when you get there, you see your daughter behind some kind of barrier protected by two stone guardians. Obvious boss fight. But when you enter the room, nothing attacks you. The obvious boss just stands there, doing nothing. Shades pop out, but they are not hostile, they are just there.

Nothing happens until you, the player, cause it to happen by picking up the magic talking book being guarded by the boss. As soon as you touch the book, Grimoire Weiss, you gain a magical power and suddenly the Shades and the boss become hostile. Weiss, the talking tome, is an arrogant artifact who boasts about his infinite power and ability, but all he can do is fire some puny blasts. At first glance it is because “It’s a video game”, it’s like Samus losing her powers at the start of every Metroid. It is the ‘hook’ to get you on a quest. You need to get Weiss’ power back by travelling the world and when he gains his power back he can save Yonah. That’s the hook. But what really happens is that it is your fault. It is Nier’s fault because to get to Weiss, he hits it several times with his sword. The book. He hits it with his sword until it pops to life. You, the player, have given the tome a form of amnesia. The entire journey is because you, as a player in an action game, have learned to solve problems with force. This is reinforced when, upon gaining the magical abilities, it is worded as remembering. Weiss remembers how to use magic. Throughout the game, Weiss constantly brings up things in the past but admits that his memory is hazy.

After getting Weiss/saving Yonah/killing the boss, you return to Popola and her twin sister, Devola, and the two of them tell you this ancient legend about a world saving book, Grimoire Weiss, and an evil book, Grimoire Noir, and how Weiss is destined to defeat Noir and save the dying world. But to do that he needs the Sacred Verses, and ta-dah, you have your quest. Why do the twins know this ancient legend but no one else does? Doesn’t matter, you have your quest, go do it. Upon finishing the first dungeon, you open up sidequests, a staple in any JRPG. The sidequests are given to you by random citizens in the various towns of Nier, or by talking to Devola. The sidequests, as mentioned earlier, are often annoying and time consuming and aren’t always worth it in the long run since you aren’t always given a decent reward. But early on you learn that by doing sidequests, you get both a glimpse of the way of the world and insight into the characters you roll around with. The characters banter about the quests and in turn they develop something called a personality. A talking book feels human over the course of these talks. Some of the banter even becomes the characters discussing the general futility of these quests, but as a player you want to do them, maybe not all of them, but a percentage of them because it both extends the length and because you know from past experience that doing optional things often lead to great rewards or game-breaking armaments.

The joke is that when you realize this is not the case in Nier, you have been sidequesting for hours.

On your quest to get the Sealed Verses you both explore the remaining civilizations in the world and meet your ‘party members’. Kainé is the first and at first she seems like a generic JRPG female character: scantily clad and fanservicey and obvious love interest. But in a twist, not only does she have a LEGITIMATE reason for wearing so little, she's hardly a love interest and is far more capable at killing things than Nier. Also she's a hermaphrodite or something. You also meet Emil, a boy forced to wear a blindfold because his eyes turn things to stone. Emil lives alone in a monochrome manor and he is just thrilled to finally have friends. Emil is what happens when you take the 'power of friendship' cliche to extremes.

Your quest takes you to various locales that seem a bit unusual given the world you are in (such as a desert kingdom, a forest village, and a mountain of scrap metal, all within walking distance of your quiet village and a coastal town) and each one contains allusions and parodies of other video game genres. One is a giant Zelda reference, complete with parody Zelda fanfare and ‘mute’ hero. One contains a top down shooter out of something like Gradius. Still one is a fucking text adventure including a boss that you have to fight using text. (Eat your heart out, Saint's Row The Third) It may seem like these things make for a disjointed and jarring experience, but that’s the point. It is pointing out the eccentricities of video games as a whole by forcing you to go through these hoops to get your prize. Why does the desert dungeon have a gimmick banning you from using certain abilities? Because games do that and it is stupid. Nier understands this and is openly mocking it.

Upon collecting the plot macguffin, the game takes a huge swerve. You know how in many JRPGs, the hero’s hometown gets utterly fucked? That happens in Nier. Upon finishing your quest to get Weiss’ power back, you return to your village and then a massive Shade attacks. He starts wrecking the place up as he tears ass towards the village library, where the entire town – Yonah included, is holding up. The way the game has been built up/written, the entire scene is one of desperation. You keep attacking the boss and draining its life, but it keeps getting up and fighting. It is like those battles that you can’t win but you waste the time trying to anyway, only on a much larger scale because the stakes are so high. This monster is going after the place where your daughter is. You don’t want that to happen. But as the situation gets more and more desperate, you finally succeed in sealing the beast inside the library basement.. The day is saved, the village is saved, Yonah is saved.

And then Nier gets stabbed by a man-shaped Shade and his magic talking book.

The man Shade, known as the Shadowlord, rises from the blood of the giant monster while the book, Grimoire Noir, begins to taunt Weiss and telling him that Weiss was made to serve the Shadowlord and that he was a traitor. All the while Kaine, who is sealing the door housing the giant monster, and Emil who was in the corner afraid, are yelling at Weiss about THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP. Weiss snaps out of it, thanks to friendship, and you fight Noir. Noir then stabs you AGAIN; the Shadowlord kidnaps Yonah and flies away. Things have gone horribly wrong. And to make matters worse, Kaine can no longer hold the door shut. The solution? Emil has to petrify her and the door. In a move straight out of MGS3, you, the player, have to pull the trigger. You are given an option to not go through with it because, you know, friendship. But try as you might, you have to do it. You have to essentially kill your friend. Yonah is gone. Kaine is petrified. Nier is wounded. The Shadowlord, leader of the Shades, is out in the world.

And then the game skips ahead five years.

For five years Nier has made no progress in finding his daughter. On the plus side, Emil has discovered a way to cure petrification. He succeeds in freeing Kaine and the party is back together again. And then suddenly Popola and Devola just so happen to discover that the Shadowlord’s castle is tied to the Lost Shrine. As a player no doubt you are thinking “Seems a bit weird for the village leaders to suddenly learn this after five years.” But you brush it aside because “It’s a video game” and thus you return to the Shrine and discover one part of a key. A key in five pieces. Returning to Popola, she just so happens to be able to translate the text on the key and tells you, in very vague terms, how to finish the key. Again you have your hook, your driving force. The keys are tied to the various locations previously visited. One in particular brings you to Kaine’s home village, a village full of xenophobic shut ins who hate outsiders. This village turns out to be full of Shades and the entire village turns into a giant abomination to stop you. This, in turn, leads to Emil nuking the town. One key has you fighting a robot and the Shade that controls it.

Upon gathering all the keys, you go back to Popola and Devola who seem sad to see you go. But go you must. So you and your party go to the Shadowlord’s Castle via an elevator in the back of the Lost Shrine. Now when you think ‘Shadowlord’s Castle’ you, as a player, obviously think some giant evil tower or something because it is the home of the evil guy ruling over the evil Shades. It isn’t. It is a fairly modern looking office building it what appear to be the ruins of Tokyo. There is working electricity and everything. Upon reaching the castle, you are stopped by Devola and Popola. The same people who have been guiding your entire quest have been working with the Shadowlord the whole time. Nier is then forced to fight the twins, his oldest and most reliable friends. They then retreat, taunting you to go further into the Castle. Which you do, stumbling upon a ballroom where ghostly images of humans are dancing as you continue. The ghosts then turn into Shades, you end up killing the Shades and their smaller reinforcements, and then they turn into a giant boss. You deal with it and continue your ascent until again you meet the twins who then drop the plot bomb on you.

You, Nier, are a Replicant. A few years after the ending of Drakengard, the world went to shit thanks to White Chloronation Syndrome, a sickness that turned people into salt, killing them. This is what happened after you killed the elder god in Drakengard. It caused a disease in our world. WCS eventually became a worldwide epidemic after America, in an ironic twist, nuked Japan on August 6, thinking it would get rid of the virus. It instead spread it throughout the world. In response, Project Gestalt was born. Human souls, called Gestalts, would be seperated from their bodies and clones of the bodies, known as Replicants, would be made. Replicants would be soulless husks immune to WCS. Gestalts would be put into ‘sleep mode’ while the Replicants, under supervision of Androids, would go around cleansing the world of WCS and sending it back to Drakengard’s world through bullshit magic. Things, of course, went wrong. Replicants began to develop sapience and sentience. They, essentially, became people. Meanwhile Gestalts were constantly going into relapse. Relapsed Gestalts were mindless creatures that became hostile. You knew them as Shades.

For the entire game, Nier was killing what remained of the human race.

The point of Replicants were to be vessels or ‘shells’ for the Gestalts once the world had become cleansed of WCS. To that end, they needed an ‘Original Gestalt’ to keep the Gestalts in line via magic. Grimoire Noir was created to find the Original Gestalt. He was found in 2049 inside a rundown supermarket. Grimoire Noir contained the files to restart humanity. Grimoire Weiss contained the .exe to activate Noir’s program. The Shadowlord is Nier’s soul from 2049. The Shadowlord had spent 1300 years trying to keep his daughter’s soul alive and after such a long period of nothing happening, he decided to take action by kidnapping Yonah’s body. Devola and Popola were the Androids tasked with keeping the Replicants in line. Only they fucked up because Replicant Nier bashed Grimoire Weiss so hard that he forgot his programming. And in the process of the journey, Weiss chose friendship over purpose.

And the final boss of the game is Nier killing his own soul. He gets his daughter back, yes, but at the cost of killing his own soul. What the game doesn’t tell you is that by killing both Noir and Gestalt Nier, there is no way for humanity to become whole again. The Gestalts/Shades will all go into relapse and the Replicants will all get the Black Scrawl (which is caused by their corresponding Gestalt going feral/relapsing) and die.

You, the hero, end up causing the destruction of the entire world because you thought you were doing the right thing. In the most ironic twist, by preventing Weiss from going with Noir via the power of friendship, you caused the destruction of the world. The power of friendship, one of the oldest clichés of the genre, was the cause of the end of the world. Good job, hero.

But the game doesn’t end there. Oh no. You then start a new game plus and more scenes are added. Scenes involving Shades. That Shade that controlled a robot? As it turned out, the Shade’s mother had been killed and the robot was its friend. As you kill the robot, the Shade is screaming at you to stop hurting its friend. Remember the village I mentioned? The one with the xenophobic people? Turns out they were a village of Replicants and Gestalts living together in harmony and as you kill all of them on your quest to find the key, they are begging for you to spare them. And then Emil nukes the entire city. They had done nothing wrong. You know the dancing Shades in the Shadowlord's Castle? And the little mini Shades that back them up? Those are humans just minding their own business until Shadowlord saves the world. The small Shades? Those are their BABIES. Nier, in essence, kicks down the door to an apartment/orphanage and kills everyone inside.

Nier is a game where the point is illustrating how much of an asshole you are. Because you HAVE to be one for the game to continue.

The final nail in the coffin comes from when you get the final ending. Much like Drakengard before it, to get the final ending you have to collect every single weapon in the game. To that end, you have to do those sidequests. You gather all the weapons because you want to see the ending to the story. And you get all the way to the end again, you kill your soul and the real final boss reveals itself.

Kainé.

Specifically the Shade form of Kainé.

The game forces you to fight and kill your only living friend to beat it. After beating Kainé, you are given the choice to save Kainé’s life at the cost of your own. How does this work, you ask? The game asks you to sacrifice all that you are. Your whole identity. Everything. The world will not remember you. Your daughter will never have any memory of you. Kainé will never know you existed. To save your friend, you have to give up everything. And in one final masterstroke that truly lets you know what Cavia thinks of you…

…to go through with the ending the game erases everything you did. Everything.

The menu opens. The map is wiped out. Your item screen is shown. All your items are gone. All your status buffing words get erased. The keys you acquired disappear. The weapons you worked so hard to get? The sidequests you did because you felt compelled to do them? Gone. Forever. You, as the player, spent all the time doing these quests and getting these weapons and the game then erases them in front of your eyes, fully letting you know how pointless everything you did was. And then, the final fuck you is delivered.

The game erases all of your saves.

Every.

Single.

Save.

All the hours you spent. Gone in an instant. When the game says you will be erased, it means it. There is no real closure. No grand fanfare. By killing your soul, you doomed the world. Your daughter will die. Kainé will die. The entire world will die because you went around killing every last bastion of humanity in the world because you were told to. And then the game erased your saves. It is one final “Fuck You” from the masters of “Fuck You” in video games. Oh, you want to play again? Too bad, start all over again.

Whereas Drakengard ended with the death of the characters, Nier ends with the death of the entire world and the death of the player. In one grand motion they managed to invalidate every accomplishment you did in their game. It is their way of telling you how pointless it is to gather useless items and accomplish useless things because in the end you won’t be remembered for it. No one will care. No one.

And that is why I miss Cavia. No other studio out there would make a game where at the end of it it erases your data and prevents you from going back. Upon starting a new game, you are not allowed to name your character the same name. Cavia made a sequel to a game with the biggest '"fuck you" ending in video games and they ended said sequel with a massive middle finger to the entire player base. On top of spending the entirety of subsequent playthroughs informing the player just how much damage you did by following basic gameplay elements and instincts gained from playing other video games. Replicant Nier had good intentions for the entire quest. But you know what they say about the path to hell.

Cavia hates you. Cavia hates children. Cavia hates happiness. Cavia hates everything. The only thing Cavia loves is tormenting the player. And I will forever miss them for it.

God bless you, Cavia. Shine on, you crazy bastards. And if Drakengard 3 doesn't end with some sort of "Fuck You for playing this game" well then it'll be a worse game because of it.

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Changing the Villain in Final Fantasy 8 (SPOILERS abound!)

Alright, so with the recent announcement of a PC re-release of Final Fantasy 8 I thought it an appropriate time to take another look at the game. Final Fantasy 8 is a pretty polarizing entry in the series. Personally I enjoy, let's say MOST of the game. I like it more than 7, not as much as 9. But it ranks high up there in terms of soundtrack. I'm not here to talk about the merits of 8 versus the others in the PSX era FF games. I'm here to tell you that Square fucked up in their choice of main antagonist.

Okay, so who is the antagonist in FF8? For the first two discs it is Edea. The sorceress who kills the President of Galbadia, prevents her own assassination, and begins a plot to destroy the Gardens and thus SeeD from the world. At the start of disc three it is revealed that all of Edea's actions were not her own, but instead those of future time witch/sorceress Ultimecia. Ultimecia, shown briefly at the end of disc two, has the ability to send her consciousness into the sorceresses in the past in order to further her own goal. Unfortunately for Ultimecia, there are only three sorceresses left in the period where the game takes place, and one of them is in space.

But what is Ultimecia's plan, exactly? Why does she need the sorceresses? Ultimecia suffers from a similar problem that many JRPG villains also suffer from. She wants to be a living god. But why? Arrogance? Her space alien mother? Nope. She just wants to escape her fate. Her fate being the defeat at the hands of the 'Legendary SeeD'. Which is why she uses Edea to carry out her destruction of the Gardens. But the eradication of SeeD is only one step of her goal. Ultimecia wants to compress all of time into one so that she could absorb all of time, space, and whatnot. She can't just do this from her castle in the future, she needs to go far enough back in the past so that all of time can fall under her spell.

Which is where Ellone, that mysterious girl that Squall often meets, comes into play. Ellone has the unique ability to send one's consciousness into the past, which she does various times to send Squall into Laguna's past. Ellone is Ultimecia's second goal with Edea. By having Ellone send Ultimecia/Edea further into the past, time compression could begin. But, since this is a JRPG, Edea is defeated and Ultimecia is forced to change plans by entering Rinoa's body.

Now, here is where I begin to suggest a different villain should have been used. Ultimecia is all well and good if you like your villains to exist in the future and only interacts with the party by silly body take over moments. No, I'm not suggesting Rinoa be the main villain because that would spark a Rinoa = Ultimecia debate and no one wants that. But, if you'll go back a paragraph or two you'll note I said that there were three sorceresses in the game, Ultimecia not included. Hell, if you've played the game you know exactly who I mean. Adel.

Adel should have been the main villain in Final Fantasy 8.

Here comes the part where I tell you why she would make for a more threatening and villainous villain than Ultimecia.

Adel, unlike Ultimecia, is responsible for many events in the game's past. You experience a lot of events caused by her through the eyes of Laguna. At points throughout the game characters make reference to the Sorceress War, the war seventeen years ago that left Squall and friends orphaned and under the care of Edea/Matron. You take part in bits of this war when you play as Laguna. Adel is directly responsible for this war because she got a bit too power hungry and wanted to dominate the world. And really, when you and you alone have access to powerful magical abilities, what else are you going to do? Adel, the ruler of Esthar, began a two year war for control that was slowly going in Galbadia's favor thanks to them winning Timber. Adel then discovered the Crystal Pillar which could evoke the Lunar Cry.

The Lunar Cry calls monsters down from the moon. Because space whales airships aren't the only thing from the moon these days.

But Adel, as a sorceress, needed to pass her powers onto someone else. Enter Ellone. Ellone was just a little girl in Winhill at the time. She was raised by Raine after Esthar soldiers killed her parents (also Adel's fault) and shortly after Laguna entered her life as well. Eventually Ellone was kidnapped by Adel and Laguna took action to get her back. Adel was unable to be killed by normal means, being a sorceress and all so Laguna, being the master tactician he is, decides the best course of action would be to launch her into space. So they do. And in doing so they rendered all wireless communication useless for a good 17 years.

So Adel is pretty vital in the backstory of Final Fantasy 8. Ultimecia is not. But that's not reason enough for why Adel would make for a better villain. Adels presence and status is hinted at as early as disc one. In Timber, when Squall, Rinoa, and friends witness Deilng's broadcast on the huge television, there is a brief flash on the screen where three sentences can be seen.

"I AM ALIVE HERE" "I WILL NEVER LET YOU FORGET ABOUT ME." "BRING ME BACK THERE."

Adel is alive and super fucking pissed. She has had seventeen years to hold a grudge against the planet and its people for keeping her in deep freeze up in space. A pissed off sorceress with an affinity for domination makes an interesting case for a main antagonist. And, in my opinion, is much more interesting than a sorceress who wants to be a god because she accidentally caused her own time loop cycle of death.

Adel is built up by Odine and various others in the game as being incredibly powerful and smart. So all you would realistically need to do would give her Ultimecia's power of being able to send her consciousness into sorceresses. Odine created the machine that allows Ultimecia to do it, and Odine is not exactly a loyal guy so it could be written that he junctioned it onto Adel and she used it to control Edea so that Edea could restart the war with Esthar. Change the SeeD system slightly. SeeD is a group whose goal is to kill 'the sorceress'. But they are pretty much mercenaries. After the failed assassination on Edea/Adel instead of punishing Garden to get rid of SeeD, Edea uses the Galbadain army to attack Esthar. This would bring Squall into the battle as hired mercenaries to back up the Esthar war effort. Squall would fight Edea and knock Adel out of her. Adel would then inhabit the nearest sorceress, Rinoa.

Rinoa would then proceed to do what she does in the game: release Adel's tomb while Squall and friends talk to Ellone up in space. Back down on Earth, Seifer raises the Lunatic Pandora/Crystal Pillar from the ocean and starts the Lunar Cry to bring Adel back to life. While Squall and Rinoa are fucking around on the Ragnarok, Adel, now with a bunch of monsters and a seventeen year grudge against the world, begins her plan of total domination. The Sorceress War starts again, but this time it is the united efforts of a Laguna-led Esthar, a pissed off Galbadian army, and Balamb against Adel and her Knight, Seifer.

Now here is the part that needs some work, but this is just one person coming up with a silly idea so bear with me. The party would be unable to defeat Adel in their time so they would turn to Ellone who would send them back sometime either before or during the Sorceress War with the express purpose of stopping Adel. By going to the past there would create that self-fulfilling time loopy business where Squall and friends would be the cause of them going to the orphanage in the first place, similar to how Squall was responsible for Edea starting the SeeD program to kill Ultimecia. Have Odine create some plot device similar to the bangle from disc one that would prevent Adel from passing her powers onto Rinoa by removing her sorceress powers in the first place. I dunno, I didn't think that bit through.

But think about it, having Adel as the villain would not be that much of a stretch. You could even have a similar ending where in trying to return to their time, Squall gets lost in time until he is saved by Rinoa. Adel has about five lines of actual dialog in the game and is still a better antagonist than Ultimecia. Her motivation would be simple revenge. She has an actual presence in the game's established history and the party has a connection to her, as small and coincidental as it is.

Sure, having a future sorceress who is the cause of her own prophecy of her downfall is cool, but I think having Adel as the central antagonist would've made for an interesting direction for FF8 to take. Granted it wouldn't fix some of the game's other problems, but eh, those are just details. Adel could've been so much more than just a simple boss fight.

If you've read all of this, thank you. Obviously it's not perfect, but I've been talking with friends about FF8 recently and the topic of its villain was a frequent point of discussion. I'm interested to hear thoughts.

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Catherine - Initial Impressions

Ever since it was announced, Catherine has set Atlus fans on fire with anticipation. An HD game from the Persona 3 and 4 team? A game about infidelity? Naked cartoon pussy? Sign me up! The fact that it wasn't going to be an RPG didn't deter fans, since the game would no doubt be appropriately crazy when it came to plot. So now Catherine is out in America and Atlus fans finally got their grubby little hands on the game. I'll admit to having a morbid curiosity in the game but to say I was hyped might be stretching it. I have toyed with the game for about three hours or so now so I feel like I am the best person suited for the job of talking about initial impressions.

Catherine is not like most games. Hell, it's downright unique. From word go the game assaults you with so much weird shit that if you don't go "The fuck?" you're a liar. The game itself is presented as an episode of a television show in the same vein as the Twilight Zone. Which is both fucking ridiculous and entirely appropriate. You play as Vincent Brooks, a 32 year old computer systems analyst or something similar to that who is about the last person you'd expect to be a video game protagonist. He's just a dude. He has no super powers. He doesn't shoot aliens. He isn't the chosen one and he isn't out to save the world. He goes to work, spends the night drinking with his friends, and has a relationship with five year girlfriend Katherine; Vincent also has no drive or ambition in life. He just wants things to keep on going as they have been. Katherine, on the other hand, is a lot more mature and concerned about her future, namely settling down and starting a family. Vincent sees this as a threat to his casual lifestyle. And then Catherine enters the bar one night.

Catherine represents everything Vincent desires: someone who just wants to take things as they come and fool around without getting too serious. The problem, however, is that after a one night stand Vincent finds himself evaluating his relationship with Katherine and realizes that he has some kind of feelings for her. But yet he keeps waking up with Catherine at his side.

As expected the best and most interesting part of the game is the story. The cutscenes play out spectacularly and the colorful cast of characters are as believable as they are interesting. Vincent's trio of friends, Jonny, Orlando, and Toby provide comic relief and provide insight into Vincent's whole dilemma based on their own ideals and experiences with women. The divorced Orlando is quick to say marriage is a bad idea while Jonny defends the notion of soul mates and spending a life with a loved one. But it's not just them that make up the cast, other patrons of the bar are just as entertaining to interact with. Erica, the waitress, being the sole exception since outside of cutscenes she doesn't really add anything. Though early on, the seeds are already planted for some crazy dramatic and insane shit to happen. So I'm hoping the game continues with this early story potential.

Ironically enough the worst part about the game is the part where it is a video game. The gameplay manifests itself in the form of towering block puzzles that you must solve and scale in a short amount of time. These sections aren't bad but they are a giant roadblock. Also, and perhaps this is just me, but sometimes it seems like the controls in these sections are kind of hit and miss. Sometimes I am on a roll and then sometimes Vincent will push the block I need straight off the edge of the world immediately after I press X. It is kind of...slidey and oftentimes I find myself fucked over without it feeling like it was my fault. The camera can also get pretty bad which also leads to deaths. Also FUCK TRAP BLOCKS. Sorry, I needed to get that off my chest. When the big monster creatures get involved, there is some tension but sometimes the fact that you have to go fast seems to go against the whole 'look around for solutions and don't just rush your way' thing. Plus they are kind of annoying, like the one who has an AoE attack that, if you get hit by it, will reverse your controls for far too long. You definitely get used to how the systems in the puzzle sections work (even though they constantly throw more shit on top of it like the god damn antagonist sheep that I hate hate hate) but they are still the lowpoint of the game. For me, anyway. Though talking to the sheep in the intermission is interesting. Not as interesting as talking to the boys at the bar, but interesting in its own way.

The game also has moral choices, though they aren't a black and white issue. Before advancing to a new puzzle section you will be asked a question like "Does life begin or end with marriage?". Your choice shifts your little karma meter and the answer you think may be the 'good' option may not be so good, such as "What is the worst form of cheating: A physical encounter or an emotional tryst?" Your karma doesn't just shift in these question and answer sessions. When you are at the bar you will get text messages from Katherine and Catherine that you can choose to respond to. How you respond to them will also change your karma. These are a bit easier to see how they change karma. Being nice and honest to Katherine will bump you up. Being flirty and nice to Catherine will bump you down. But not always. You have to read the situation and respond accordingly. During one section Katherine called me and asked if our discussion earlier upset me. I said "No" and it cost me karma points.I was being honest, but Vincent wasn't. Though when it comes to the question and answer sections I urge you to answer as you would and not try to game the system. A little neat touch is that after answering the question you see the result of other players' answers. Though it doesn't give you a percentage or anything and so far an ungodly amount have been the 'good' karma.

Catherine is a unique game, I'll say that much. I am not nearly far enough to make any sort of proper judgment call, but so far the story is engaging enough to make me want to keep playing. If only because I want to see some titty mmm-bop-bop-tittays.

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Something that would improve Medal of Honor.

So Medal of Honor is receiving some mixed reviews it seems. I don't know, I've only seen Jeff's review and read on the forums that Gametrailers gave it an 8.1 or something. Honestly the game doesn't really interest me so I haven't been keeping up with it. But that won't stop me from suggesting a feature that would, in my mind, make the game GOTY material.  And it's something that another game has already done. 
 
There exists a really shitty game named Fugitive Hunter. It's a bad FPS with a hilariously awesome soundtrack and commercial. However, something in the game is a feature that should really be in all games with a contemporary conflict. 
 
Getting into fistfights with terrorists. 
 
Now, I may be wrong but in Medal of Honor you are fighting Al Quaeda and Taliban soldiers, no? Well I don't know about you guys, but the characters in Medal of Honor should end each level by getting into a fistfight with some big name terrorist. And then capping them. And all this would lead up to the final fistfight between one of the characters and Osama Bin Laden. 
 
If Fugitive Hunter can have a fistfight with Osama, so can Medal of Honor. Though I would suspect that the fistfight mechanics would be way better in Medal of Honor. Hell it doesn't even have to be Bin Laden. Just some big shot terrorist. There comes a time where you need to drop the guns and just punch a dude in the jaw. I'd buy a copy if I could just deck some terrorist in the face. For America.

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Inglourious Basterds. A quick review.

  Just a short, quick review before I have to leave.
 
Quentin Tarantino is one of the most widely debated directors currently making films. Several people love his work, others call him a pretentious film snob who weighs down movies with dialogue and pointless insertions of obscure cinema. His last film, Death Proof, part of Grindhouse, was generally considered to be the least entertaining part of the whole shebang. Whatever the opinion on the man, at the very least he, unlike fellow Grindhouse director Robert Rodriguez, is consistent in his films.

Inglourious Basterds is a story set in Nazi-occupied France in the early and later days of World War 2. The Third Reich has started routing out Jewish families, thanks in large part to Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), the 'Jew Hunter'. But the Nazis are not without their problems, and the problems for the Fuhrer are ten men led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), known collectively as the Basterds. The Basterds, all Jewish soldiers, have made it their mission to collect 100 Nazi scalps. Each.

Though it may seem like the plot leads into a shoot-'em-up style of movie, the truth is, while there are moments of people getting killed in graphic ways, the majority of the film doesn't even focus on the Basterds but instead on the character of Shosanna Dreyfuss, owner of a small French theater. Movie-goers expecting a bloody action movie (and this could very well be the fault of the trailers) will be sorely disappointed as most of the movie finds characters engaged in discussions, be it in German or French. Though rather than hurt the pacing of the film, it enhances the moments where something exciting does happen. It's the build-up to the payoff that always comes after lengthy discussions; punctuated all the while by Tarantino's often sharp and witty dialogue.

The performances range from passable (Eli Roth's character 'Donny' mostly stands around talking with a funny accent) to outstanding (Christoph Waltz is fantastic as Landa; a nomination for Supporting Actor should be promised, if not given to him flatout), and even the cameos from Samuel L. Jackson (maybe not a cameo so much as the narrator) and Mike Meyers are delightful. The majority of the film is either in German or in French and naturally from native speakers they perform their roles exceptionally well, though the only true stand out is, again, Christoph Waltz. Brad Pitt seems a bit uncomfortable speaking in his accent, but he manages to pull it off with few hiccups.

Though the lengthy conversation scenes are plentiful, they are also a main flaw with the movie as a whole. Scenes tend to go on for far too long and serve no real point other than to name drop an obscure foreign film or to establish a character trait the audience already knows. Early on in the movie, for example, the character of Shosanna engages in a lengthy conversation with Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) about the differences between German films and French films and marquees. Later in the film, Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) is in a bar populated with drunken German soldiers and the ensuing scene, though very well crafted, drags until finally the climax arrives and the audience isn't quite sure what happened, but only that something went wrong.

Tarantino is a story teller, and this fact is made known throughout this movie. It is well-shot, but most of the camera movements are used simply to give the audience a little variety from the scenes of conversation; very rarely are the camera sweeps used in a clever way, though when they are used cleverly, they really add a touch of style.

Though the movie certainly is entertaining, the editing sort of falls apart at the end. Not to give anything away, but at one point during the end something happens to Aldo Raine and he encounters someone, but there was never any indication of why or how that person got to where they were, and considering who it is it's kind of a misstep on the part of Tarantino. Though much attention is given to certain characters, others are literally forgotten by the midpoint. Half the Basterds, for example, are literally out of the picture after their initial scene with no explanation as to what happened. Most likely this was done due to time constraints, but to introduce characters only to drop them soon thereafter is silly.

On the whole, though, Inglourious Basterds is a solid, engaging film. People expecting an action flick will be sorely disappointed and no doubt bored. It's no Kill Bill volume 1. But it's not Death Proof, either.

"This might be my masterpiece," says Aldo Raine at one point during the film; though it's a quality film, it's no masterpiece and it's not as good as Reservoir Dogs, but then, which of his films ever will be.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS: 4/5

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