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The games I played in 2021 and some other stuff

2021 was a weird year. I hate to open with such an extraordinarily cliched term, but hell, it was. We went through the back end of a pandemic, which as of writing, is ramping up again (Over a million cases in the UK right now, of which I am one of them). Personally, it’s been a great year. Well, most of it was great. I left my job in December 2020 to move across the world to teach English in Japan. That January departure date got pushed to March. Then it got pushed to July. That got pushed to September, and I realised I was done with it. I’d put my life on hold for almost 18 months, and I was no closer to being in Japan than I was when I applied for the process. Infact, with the way that Japan were militarising their immigration policy, I think I ended up FURTHER away from being in Japan than I was when I got that acceptance e-mail.

But then on the other hand, I started a relationship with the most amazing person I’ve ever met. We’d been friends for about a year ahead of time, which went from talking in a group chat sometimes, to talking privately sometimes, to talking every day, to talking in any spare minute we had. We realised we had feelings for each other, and just went for it. I can now safely say that, almost a year later (2 weeks!), I’m in the best, most secure relationship ever. This blog post isn’t about my partner, but I’d be remiss to not mention how incredible she is, and how she’s made this year the best year of my life, no questions asked.

Anyway, I played some games in 2021. This was probably the least varied I’d ever been with my gaming selection ever. As I got into my thirties, I’ve realised that my choices were becoming more weird and insular than ever. For all of my harumph and frooferall about how much I hate that all modern games were essentially open world games with RPG elements, I couldn’t help throw myself into them. I came to realise that was my bread and butter for gaming time. However, I couldn’t help notice how little I’d come to play games this year. I keep a meticulous spreadsheet like a huge nerd so I can see EXACTLY how I’m dividing my spare time, and this actually came up with some surprising results. I probably played a hundred hours of games in the entire year, a statistic which I actually found really weird. Back….5/6 years ago, I could easily do that in two weeks, but as I’ve gotten older, I just find less and less comfort in the escapism of games. I guess in a way, this is part of a larger problem, in that it’s not really a problem, but more of just having healthier habits in my real life. Back when I was a troubled teen, I would spend all my free hours playing the hottest and latest J-RPG. They were story driven epics, where the protagonist was largely a self-insert, and often had a romance at the head of the story. I found a lot of solace in the Final Fantasy and Persona games, because they were, at their core, pure examples of escapism.

As I got older, I came to value gameplay over story, and invariably ended up playing a wider swath of games, but I still had a soft spot for the story driven RPG. Particular stands outs include Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Pathfinder: Kingmaker. Anyway, to belabour a point, I think I needed to escape into fantasy less and less, because my real life was just better. I had a lot of friends, my aforementioned partner, I had my life on track, and I ended up playing games less and less. I would still occasionally dip my toe in, as I’ll explain momentarily, but gaming became a luxury, rather than a necessity for me.

I played 12 games last year, all with varying levels of interest. In no particular order (Apart from my GOTY), here’s a few thoughs about the games I played.

Assassins Creed: Origins

A game squarely at the front of the Open world RPG train to which I was a season ticket holder, AC:O was a game that never really hit for me. I suspect that, if I played it at launch, when it was new, I would have found a lot to like about it. But by the time I played Origins, I’d already sunk 50+ hours into Odyssey the year before, and this honestly felt like a downgrade. Now, all the parts of Origins appealed to me. Ancient Egypt was a unique, interesting setting that I don’t think I’ve seen in a game since the EXCELLENT Pharaoh games on Windows 98. It was about the secret cults that lurked in the shadows, so….it should have been everything I wanted in a game. Sadly, it was just kind of...middling. I found myself laboured with those crappy sidequests like “Find ten crocodile skins” and “Find my tools” and “Clear out this camp of bandits in the South East”. It was just everything I’d done before. One of my good friends swears up and down that this is a great game, and arguably the best modern “One of these”, but I couldn’t bring myself to get past the first 5 or so hours to get to the “good stuff”. It was FF13’s Gran Pulse all over again, on a much smaller scale.

3 stars out of 5.

Halo Infinite (Campaign)

I’d never really been a huge Halo fan. That is to say, I enjoyed it on the periphery. I played Halo 3 Legendary edition, which was a horrible experience, and I played the first one on the Xbox when it came out. I also remember quite enjoying Reach for telling an interesting story, and the “SURVIVE” ending was really cool.

So when it came to playing Infinite, I was skeptically excited. It started great. I think. I remember thinking “This REALLY feels like a Halo game” in the initial missions, but the more I played it, the more it felt played out. It was as though they took Combat Evolved, stuck a new coat of paint on it, added a grappling hook, and said “This is what you want, right?” The very definition of a game that wasn’t quite the sum of its parts. If the gun play had that classic Halo feel, it might have felt a little bit more fun to play. But I felt like I was constantly chopping and changing my loadout. It never really let one particular gun “breathe”. You couldn’t really have a favourite weapon, cause you could never use it for longer than 5 minutes. The enemies also had some weird, hivemind like AI, where, once you hit ONE OF THEM in a camp of enemies, the ENTIRE CAMP knew exactly where you were straight away. It if was explained that they had a Flood-like, hive-mind, that would have been fine. But at the time of playing, it just felt like a videogame-ass videogame.

Oh, and it was another open world, complete these tasks and quests style game that really felt like a departure from Halo. If this was “Farcry in Space”, it would have felt TOTALLY bang on, but for a Halo game? Not as much.

3 stars out of 5

Star Wars: Fallen Order

I’ll barely talk about this as, I hardly played it. It was okay. It felt like Uncharted with a lightsaber. I found the story confusing and confounding, to the extent where all I remember is that you’re a dock worker with a laser sword. The environments were cool, and I get that they were going for the whole “Souls Wars” aesthetic, but it never really clicked. My favourite Star Wars game was Jedi Academy, so the whole “Build your saber” thing was cool, but it never really got off the ground running. Part of this was my lack of attention, but the little I played was just whatver. Didn’t stand out at all.

3 stars out of 5.

Unpacking

Unpacking was strange. I heard so much buzz and hype on various podcasts (Fire Escape and Nextlander) that it was a love letter to the 90s/00s, and a real nostalgia bomb. I thought I would have loved it. Instead, I just found myself getting frustrated at trying to put a book on a shelf, but not the right shelf and I ended up just brute forcing my way through things. It had a lot of heart, but just wasn’t what I needed at the time I played it.

3 stars out of 5.

Yakuza: Like A Dragon

I went into LAD full of fervor and excitement. I really, REALLY liked Zero in 2018 I think, and I was promised that this was a lot of what made that good, but removing the kinda crappy fighting game mechanics. The game starts off so well, like all Yakuza games do. It tells a story full of intrigue and mystery, and really leaves you wanting more. However, once that initial stint is over, it almost falls into No More Heroes territory of open world games. I know that might be contentious, but I really felt like I was just exposed into this world of absolute nothing. A tale of sound and fury, told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

The characters were, admittedly, great. Ichiban was a great MC, and really brought a lot to the role. But, and I probably should have known this going in, the open world just felt destitute. It’s like going to a party and feeling alone, despite being surrounded by people. For all of the model car racing, and playing Space Harrier, and side stories about grown men dressing like babies, I just found myself grinding through that fluff to get to the drip feed of the main story.

My main problem with LAD is the quantity over quality argument that I feel surrounds a lot of modern videogames. (Later on in this blog, I’ll be completely at odds with this when I talk about my game of the year, so yes, I am aware of the irony). I don’t need a 30 hour game stretched into a 100 hour game because of all the crap they feel they need to put in to satisfy the “I want to play a game for 6 months” nerds out there. LAD has a lot to enjoy. I just wish they’d streamline it a bit more

3 stars out of 5.

Gears 5

This was the first game I played on my Series X this year. I went in, remembering my glory days of playing Gears on the 360 when I was at University and thinking “Alright, more Gears” but ended my time with it thinking “Oh no, more Gears”.

I’m sure if this was your first Gears game, it would be great. But the gameplay felt like it hadn’t evolved in 2 generations. It was the same run and gun, crouch behind a low wall game it was back on the Xbox 360

And the story was dumb as a bag of rocks

2 stars out of 5

Assassins Creed Valhalla

They ruined the combat flow.

2 stars out of 5.

Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

What a return to form. The king of the modern rogue like really came to fruition. Now, I’m not sure if this came out this year, but that’s when I played it.

It was really fun! The new characters and combinations brought a lot of fun to an already existing game. A lot of fun play-styles and item combinations meant an already great game was made even better somehow. I can’t quite give it a 5, as it doesn’t quite reach the top bar, but it’s still a great little romp into a gross, disgusting world.

I enjoyed watching CobaltStreak stream it on Twitch more than I enjoyed playing it.

4 stars out of 5

Runner up Game of the Year: Resident Evil 2 Remake

I actually didn’t expect to love this as much as I did. It’s weird. I always kinda thought that the RE games were kinda crap. Yeah, I played RE4 like everyone else on earth, and I thought it was alright, but I largely attributed the RE fandom to those weird kids at school who were into Atreyu and Slayer, and used to call it “Resi” for short.

Now, I’ll preface by saying I only played one campaign, and it was Claire, but I felt that my time with it was so special that I didn’t feel the need to play the Leon campaign too. I enjoyed playing as Claire a lot. The Zombies felt great, the bosses were good, the levels absolutely OOZED atmosphere, the Mr X stuff was interesting, and I had never seen such an amazing looking game on the PS4. It looked stunning. Now, I will admit: It’s certainly not a perfect game. I think they front load the best bit (The police station) and once you leave, it goes downhill more and more. And to add to that, I think the Sewers were downright miserable. I would have easily given this my coveted 5 star rating, but the Sewers single handedly brought it down to a 4.

Saying that, the game is brilliant. It really felt scary, and it was refined down to a razor fine point. I think I finished it in 8 hours, and none of it really felt like fluff. It was pretty much all killer, no filler. A good example of a game not overstaying its welcome.

4 stars out of 5

Game of the Year: Ghost of Tsushima

This is the part where I become a huge hypocrite, so I’ll address that at the forefront of this micro-review. I got the Platinum on Tsushima, which was a huge slog. I ended up pretty much playing with a guide in front of me to find all the Haiku spots/Fox Dens etc, and I spent a good 15 hours basically running across the map to fill out ticks on my map. I spent so much time going for all the outfits/upgrades/weapons/stances/moves that I am fully aware I am going back on my words of all open world games being the same.

However, saying that, Tsushima was the best game I played all year, hands down.

When I played it at first, I wasn’t really sure what I thought of it. It had that mix of Tenchu/Bushido Blade that was really intriguing, but also SUPER tough. I actually had to turn the difficulty down to easy near the beginning, because I was getting cut to ribbons by even the most basic enemy. But I think, once you get even a few upgrades, the game starts to flow a bit more. Once you get the second combat stance, and a Ghost weapon or two, the game opens up in such a remarkable way. I found myself doing what I imagine most BOTW players were doing at the time, or what most Elden Ring players are doing right now, and just absolutely losing myself in the world. I would just pick a direction to go in, and go that way. Sometimes I’d find a hot spring to escape from the relentlessness of the Mongol invasion, or a Haiku spot to write some poetry, or sometimes, just a big old batch of baddies to have my way with. It felt like, no matter where I looked, I could always find something to do that I enjoyed. The story is interesting and nuanced, and, as many other more lucid people before me have said, the dichotomy between Ghost and Samurai had me hooked the entire playthrough. I will admit, I would have liked it if the game TRULY gave you the option of going Ghost or Samurai in more meaningful ways, but I appreciate that they had to make Jin dishonorable to show the juxtaposition between his moral code and his desire to save his homeland.

It helped that I played this on the Pro, on a 4K TV. I have never seen such a stunning looking game in my 30 plus years playing games. It was breathtaking.

I actually think, looking back, that Tsushima wasn’t just my game of the year, but more my game of the entire generation. I couldn’t wait to finish work, come home, and just lose myself in the world of Feudal Japan.

5 stars out of 5.

So, that was my 2021 through the scope of gaming.

And I largely suspect that this will be my last proper year of gaming for a long time. Since playing these games last year, I sold my Switch/PS4 Pro/Xbox Series X and my gaming PC to fund more interesting avenues in my real life. I think the sun has set on gaming being my main hobby. I might still dip into Stardew Valley/FTL on my work laptop here and there, but I think that I’m kinda done with playing games as a hobby.

This is a problem with how I perceive games to be going as we go into the 2020’s, but also with me as a person. When I got into games on the NES as a kid, everything felt fun, and new, and interesting. It was good to pick up a game, put it in my console, and play it start to end. That’s very different to how it is now.

Now, it feels like every game is trying to monopolise your time in a really sleazy way. With the vast majority of games being “Live games” or “Games as a service”, it’s just not what I fell in love with all those years ago. I don’t want a game to come out, and on release day, see the “Roadmap” extend for the next 2 years about what they’re going to be adding to the game over the next half decade. I don’t have the time and energy to play a single game for 3 years anymore. I just don’t. I got into games for interesting, soulful little pieces of entertainment that were made lovingly by a tight knit team with a direction. Nowadays, it just feels like I’m the “Consumer”, and that all the big game companies want nothing more than to find a faster way to my wallet.

I understand that not every game is like this, sure. There’s been some great single player games in the last couple of years. But I just get sad when I see people playing the same game for 10 years, when there’s so much good stuff out there that gets buried by the fact that hundreds of games come out every day.

Games are still great, for the most part.

They’re just not for me anymore.

1 Comments

How much do you cling to the past, and how quickly do you move towards your future?

Hey gang,

It's surely been a tumultuous time for all of us right? Between everything being the absolute worst, and arguably the worst year in recent memory, we've all been struggling. I know personally, I've been fighting to keep my head above water, but I'm just about getting there, due to some important people in my life.

I'm also coming to a new chapter in my life, which is partly the reason why I wanted to write today (And also cause I just need to get all my thoughts out there, written down). Soon, I'm hoping to move to Japan to teach English. It's been a lifelong dream of mine for...shit, since I was 21, so...ten years ago? I remember when I first head about the idea of it at the time- moving to the other side of the world to teach. At the time, I was just getting into education, infact, I was spending 2 days a week at a local school, just doing some voluntary work- reading and just chatting with the kids. I realized that...this is what I wanna do in my life. I spent the next ten years building a reputation and portfolio of being a respected, dedicated figure in education. I taught from the South of the country to the North, in incredibly privileged areas, and incredibly destitute and "wanting" areas. Anyway, back to teaching abroad.

I always wanted to do it, but I could never really bring myself to make that plunge I guess? I thought about applying with my partner at the time, when I was 22 and she was 21, and I'd just finished university. To cut a long story short, she cheated, and that dream fell through. For the next 8 years, I would find myself grinding out teaching and TA jobs all over the place. At that time, teaching abroad simply wasn't an option for me. I wasn't good enough. I think the downfall of the relationship had deeper impact that I gave it credit for, and it kinda ruined my self esteem for...man, I dunno, probably over half a decade. I quietly contemplated life as I just...got on with things. I guess I was kind of miserable, but I never let it show in front of my kids. I was always 100% on with them, dedicated, and dare I say it, a little inspirational. I know in the last ten years, I've impacted so many lives, and I've helped so many young people move to great things. I'd probably argue that I was put on earth to teach.

So, last year, I applied to the "JET Programme", an international program ran by the Japanese government, with the intention of deploying English speaking people all across Japan, with the intention of starting grassroot programs, and raising the level of English all over Japan. It was a thrilling prospect. I don't know what changed, but I was finally at one with myself, I guess. I knew I had it in me, and I knew I was ready to make this step. Bear in mind, at this time, I was 30, and I'd never left the UK before (I still haven't!!). I figured that if I was going into something...I was going in two feet first, off the deep end, with my eyes closed.

I guess with the pre-amble over, I can get into the real intention of writing today, and that's the concept of living through your past, and how much you look towards the future. Now, at the moment, I'm in two minds:

  • The first one is my life now, as it stands, in the UK. I'm largely miserable at work, as it's clear my school views me as disposable and expendable. I almost walked out of work yesterday, as one of my co-workers said something incredibly upsetting at how I'm (and I'm paraphrasing) "Not working hard enough, and not making enough of an impact to justify the money, so we need to assess your impact to make sure you're doing things right". I've worked this job for about 6/7 years now, and I know that I make a marked difference every day. I work hard, I commit to the children, and I care about what I do for a living. So why suddenly am I personally being targeted for an "Assessment of impact"? Why is no other member of staff facing the same scrutiny? It feels very unfair, and when I heard that I've been picked out for potential cuts, I was pretty devastated, when I think about how much I've sacrificed for that school.

However, there's the other side of my life: My friends. Since signing up to teach abroad, I have met some amazing, incredible, wonderful people. I feel extremely close to a select few, and honestly, they make the day worth getting through, knowing I can talk to them, and commiserate with them after a hard day at work. This is where the dichotomy of my life is tugging at me. I guess I don't want these times to end. For the first time in my life, I've finally found a real group of friends I care about and love. Every day I get to spend time with them, and talk with them is a day that I really treasure, and I mean that. We laugh, we learn, we cry together- honestly, everything I want out of friends. However, this is where the fear of the future comes in.

  • I worry about the future, I guess. Something I've come to hate, but begrudgingly accept as I've got older is how hard it is to just...spend in person, face to face with your friends. Whether it's the fact that your lives just...go in different directions, or you have a family, or you have a job, or you live on opposite ends of the country, or Earth...it's tough. My best friend from college and I spent many MANY years, just the two of us against the world, he's now moved to Toronto. I haven't seen him in over a year now, and to be honest, I might not see him for a very long time.

Nowadays, I've made some extremely close friends, who I don't think I will ever get rid of. You know when you just meet "your people" and you think "Yeah, these are the ones"? It's been that. I guess I worry that life will catch up to me. I know that two of my best friends at the moment, who I'll be going to Japan with eventually, I'll make every effort to stay in contact with them, every day, as often as I can. I'll make the effort to see them, as often as I can, and have as many amazing, shared experiences with them as I can. I can't wait to share this next step of my life with such wonderful, amazing people. I spoke to one of them last night about us all staying close, and we agreed that we're just "in each others lives" and there's "No getting rid of them", which really meant a lot to me.

How do you guys feel about the ever pressing issue of time and tide waiting for no man? How do you "carry the weight" of your collective pasts, and how much do you look towards a brighter tomorrow (Which we all have, no matter what's going on in our lives). How do you find the time to keep in with with those you care about that aren't family? I'd love to have a discussion about how you keep in touch with the ones you care about most, and what you're going to continue to do.

7 Comments

Those of us gaming in the 80s/90s...What do you remember most fondly?

Hey gang,

Lockdown is ending, in a way, and I'm becoming nostalgically wistful. I guess a part of it comes with entering the summer season of my life story too. It's becoming very easy to look back on "the good old days" of gaming. Which is weird, because in terms of life, I'd argue that "These are the days". Life has kinda never BEEN better. I'm off work for 6 weeks for summer holidays, I'm going to Japan in....well, to be confirmed (Once the immigration problems end), and I have Tsushima, a game I've been looking forward to for...4 years? I actually started it on Friday, but...life's got in the way. Between my Japanese lessons, D&D, and all in all living life I haven't had much time to sit down with games.

Which I guess is what's got me nostalgic about the good old days. When I think back about fond gaming memories in the last....5 years, I struggle to think of...well, anything really. I remember really enjoying the first time I heard "Rivers in the Desert" in Persona 5, and that scene in Yakuza Zero where Kuze was riding the bike with the big steel pipe. I guess I also remember 2B's arse, but for less ideal reasons.

However....when I think back about my experiences with the yesteryear of games, there's a LOT of memories. Going back to the 90's, I remember my FIRST EVER game and level, which was Snake Man's stage in Mega Man 3. I had an NES with SMB and MM3, and I think I kinda just played Snake Man and Gemini Man on repeat. Those were good times. I remember getting a Super Nintendo for Xmas one year. I remember when I was allowed ONE game for Christmas, and I picked "Super Mario Kart". That was a good year. I remember my dad getting me an N64 from the LOOT magazine back in ...98 I guess? I was about 9-10. I remember getting South Park with it and playing a LOT of it. It was actually pretty shit. I had a black N64 and a Green controller with a red rumble pak.

The absolute greatest Xmas of ALL TIME was when my mum struck ABSOLUTE GOLD. She got me Goldeneye and Ocarina of Time, and it was just....man. That was a REALLY REALLY good 6 months or so of gaming.

I remember when my best friend, Alex and I would play Dynasty Warriors 4 every weekend. We'd pick a new character every month and grind them out really fast. I was a big Pang Tong fan, and also Taishi Ce. I remember when he got the PRIMA guide for FFX, and we spent 18 months squeezing ABSOLUTELY EVERY DROP of fun out of that game.

A fond memory was playing the SNES/PS1 Final Fantasy games. I had a lot of fun with FF6, but I actually never finished it. I got to Kefka's Tower and just...couldn't beat it. I didn't really understand the need to level up, and grind things out, so I had one SOLID team of guys (Locke/Gogo/Sabin/Edgar) and the rest of my guys sucked. It's one of my ultimate secret gaming shames, that I never finished one of my all time favourite games.

I guess more than ANYTHING, I remember how...pure the gaming experience was. You'd go to a store, you'd see the boxart, and then look at the back of the box, and that was IT. A little later on, you'd use gaming mags for a little guidance, and later on with that, you'd have PC Gamer with that AWESOME demo/utility disc every month. I think I got my first WINZIP off that disc. I loved how good games were before the internet. You'd get a solid, stable gaming experience. You put your cart/disc in the console, and you'd be PLAYING. No patching, no 8 minutes of loading, no notifications, no trophies, no achievements. It was just you, and the game.

I miss those times. What about you?

45 Comments

Dealing with lockdown, and being nostalgic

Like many of you, I'm suffering from lock down fever. How is everyone managing with it? I'm seeing both sides of the coin from people I talk to. There's those of us who live alone. We're not working, and we're struggling for human contact/interaction. We go to the store, and that five minute conversation with the pretty cute cashier makes you well up inside. Their fingertips graze your palm as they give you a receipt, or some change, and your skin gets that electric feeling to it. You play out entire lifetimes in your head, about how this VERY SPECIFIC PERSON and you, that you don't know outside of your 49 second interaction, save for their name. You could hang out during lock down. You could eat ice-cream till 4am watching Full Metal Alchemist. You could go on walks down a canal, and discuss your goals in life.

Then you slap back into reality, say “Thanks, I'll see you next time, stay safe” and just fucking....get on with your life. Within 3 minutes, you've forgotten about them, and you're thinking “Should I have that can of tuna on my wrap, or shred some chicken...” and that entire lifetime is gone, in an instant.

For me, at the moment, it's been surprisingly Zen. I have a schedule, in that I have no schedule. It's like when you see an office where everything's just scattered. To the outside eye, it's...pandemonium. But to you, there's method to the madness. That's what my life is at the moment. I roll out of bed anywhere between 9 and 10:30. I grab an energy drink (Zero sugar, zero cal, I gotta lose that weight). I might make some prawn toast, or have left over stir fry. Then I roll over to my desk, and start talking to my friends. I have a lot of different friends, and they're all equally valued. I have one good friend, who I talk to, and we go from topic to topic like a fucking ping pong table. I have my gaming friends, who, realistically, are my best friends. Like, I kinda lost a lot of my real life friends a long time ago. After University, we kinda just...drifted apart. It's like any friendship I guess. Once you lose that proximity, it takes a herculean effort to stay in touch, because...you just stop giving a shit. One of my absolute best friends I've ever had, we make an active effort all the time to talk. We met in college, aged 16, and we've probably talked every day since. He actually left the UK to move to Canada with his girlfriend. I'm thrilled for him, cause she's a fucking winner. I'm ecstatic that he won the lottery of life, and is now living his best life. I hope I see him soon. Anyway, yeah, my internet pals. I have an extremely tight knit friendship with the 5 of us. We hang out every day, we're playing games, we're chatting shit, we're meming. All sorts. One of my closest friends, we hang out every day on discord. Like I said, there's no real schedule, but at 1pm every day, we make time to have a voice call and just...hang out. Like, we don't really do much. We just chat. And boy, is that daily conversation absolute fuel for my fire at the moment. I wouldn't know what I'd do every day without my friends. I guess I wanna say...make time for your friends at the moment. Recently, I was inspired to reach out to an old friend. One of the best friends I've ever had. I moved away, and we just lost contact. Such is life. But I reached out to him, after not speaking to him in 6 years, and it just...sent this shiver up my spine when I got that message back from him. We've both been through some shit, and it was just amazing to hear back from him again. And, I worry that, without lock down...I might have let that errant friendship gather more dust, and rot away. I have the people I'm going to be depending on for the next...1-5 years- the ones that I'm moving to Japan with. I've been speaking to our 90 person strong Facebook group, daily. We have an even more bespoke LINE group, where it's just bonding, all day every day. I have people who I've been talking to directly, who I've come to love talking to every day. I've made so many friends, and I'm still 3 months outside of Japan. Imagine what it's gonna be like when we actually get to meet up. Neo Tokyo is about to explode. If I'm allowed to surmise this train of thought, please take this message:

Please, reach out to your loved ones, and people you care about. That friend you haven't spoken to since college? I promise you, they'll be as thrilled to hear from you as you them.

Right, what was I going on about again? This blog was supposed to be about nostalgia, and how massive of an impact it makes in our lives

So, in my lockdown state of mind, I've been doing some thinking about “The good old days”, and if they were infact, the good old days. I know there's the whole notion of “The Rose Tinted Glasses”, and I think that statement rings through in such a sonorous way nowadays. I'm not necessarily talking about “pre COVID 19” era, I mean thinking about a time in your life when you thought you were objectively “happy”. When I think back about that, I think of a very specific time, and I know it exactly.

It was around about the time when I was playing World of Warcraft back in 06-09. Back at that time in my life, I was just in absolute Nirvana every day. I'd wake up, and I'd go to college and hang out with my friends all day. I think back to those times, when we'd just hang out in-between lessons every day, and it was just...man, it was something else. I'd finish school for the day, and go home and play WoW with my online friends. At the time, despite playing MMO's for years, I don't think one connected with me like Warcraft did. It just had this...IT Factor for me that, looking back, I don't think any other game has, or likely, ever will again. But I'm not sure if I actually liked the game at the forefront of this memory. I think, arguably, it was the time in my life when I played it. I had the world at my feet, and it was just this 4 years of absolute harmony in my life. Then the end of University hit, a bad relationship happened, and the weight of the world was kinda on my shoulders. I stopped “enjoying” life, and just “got on with it”. One way to interpret, I guess, is that I was “existing” and not “living”.

That kinda extended for a while. Bad, sporadic relationships and a lack of effort about life made me kinda exist with this smog of miasma across my life. It was like, when you have the TV on in another room. You can kinda hear that it's on, but you can't really define what's going on. There's just this...background sound going on.

When I think back about the “Good old days”, I used to think “I wish there was a way to know you're in the good times before you left them”. A friend inspired me lately to think of a more modern approach about it.

It shouldn't be “Those were the days”.

It should be “These are the days”

If life's taught me anything lately, it's that you need to just...grab that ring. It's why I'm dropping everything in my life and moving to Japan to teach English in September. There could not be a bigger leap of faith for someone like me, who's historically played it safe. I wanna get out there man. Live new experiences, meet new people, make new friends, just go out there and get life.

I take a lot of inspiration from Aurelius, but if I was to sum up his thoughts, it probably speaks to me most with “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live”.

How are you all coping with lock down? Are you keeping in touch with your friends and family? What's driving you to go on at the moment? I'd absolutely love to talk about what's making us happy.

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Playing "classic games" without nostalgia

Hey gang,

Like many of you, I play a lot of games. Like...a lot.

However, in my almost 30 years of gaming, I've missed a lot. Growing up, I played almost exclusively JRPGs. I mean I played a LOT growing up, all different genres, but I missed some big games.

I didn't play Super Metroid till I was 22, and it came out when I was 5. There's still some absolute massive games that I've still never played. However, I tried to remedy that recently, with Nintendo's Seminal "Link to the Past"

Now, growing up, it was everywhere. Loads of people were playing it, talking about it in the playground, it was in the Nintendo mags- all over the shop (And all over the shops too!). However, I never played it. I guess I missed it? I got into Zelda with Link's Awakening, then kinda played them all up to Skyward Sword, where I almost entirely fell off. (I've had BOTW for 3 years but not made it past the tutorial, and I've tried twice!)

So, I figured I'd right a wrong. I had a SNES Classic, and it had LTTP on it, so why not give it an honest whack? Dan harps on about it, and I respected Dan when he was at Giant Bomb, so I thought It would be amazing.

I didn't really rate what I played...

Now, I know I'm going in almost THIRTY years late. Games have changed since then. Zelda has changed since then. They added a third dimension! But with all the hype I heard about LTTP, I went in thinking it would change my life.

What I actually got was 3/4 hours of really middling gameplay. It was also really hard! Finding hearts is really scarce, and hardly any enemies drop them. All the enemies do a full heart of damage too. Your sword doesn't have a cleave, it's like, if you don't hit them BANG ON, it doesn't register the attack. The items feel kinda jank. The dungeons are uninspired and the bosses difficulty spikes are weird. The game does not hold your hand AT ALL. It just kinda goes "Okay, your next objective is in...this region I guess. Go for it pal"

The music and aesthetic are A+, but that's not enough to keep me going. Maybe if it was a pure dungeon rush game, I'd like it more, but as is, I actually found it a massive letdown.

Has this happened to anyone else? Have you gone into a "Legendary game" and thought "Actually, this is kinda crap"?

I'd love to hear your thoughts

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Why Jojo's Bizarre Adventure means to much to me

Hey gang,

If you've seen the anime thread on here, or know me personally from discord, you'll know my appreciation for JJBA over the last...6 months?

I guess I better start...where my re-introduction to anime began.

When I was young, I fucking adored anime. I first got into it when I watched Ghost in the Shell that I found on VHS at "Music Zone"- A little chain of shops in the North West of England. I took it home, put it in, and it absolutely blew me away. It did everything right. Cut to 10 years later to when I did a Film and Media degree at university, and specialized in anime. I did my thesis on "Posthumanity in Sci-Fi Anime" and basically analysed the meaning of post life in GITS, GITS2, Serial Experiments Lain, and Akira. It was a golden, prosperous time. Now, as the years went on, I'd watch anime, and play JRPG's, but I never really got back into it like I did that 4 years I was at university. By the time I'd turned 25, I almost stopped watching entirely. Not because I fell out of love, or because I grew up: it simply didn't "do it" for me anymore.

Cut to Autumn 2018.

At this time, I'd been on a small, tight knit discord community, and dived into their anime channel. It was a small subset of an even smaller discord, but there was a lot of hardcore fans for certain shows on there. One of those shows, was Jojo's Bizarre Adventure (Henceforth referred to as JJBA, or Jojo's to save time). I was umming and aahing for years about wanting to get back into anime, and I thought if I was gonna get back in, I was gonna go DEEP. I settled on JJBA, and went in with both guns blazing. I made a rule to watching anime: 2 episodes of 2 shows a day, every day: a rule I mostly stick with to this day (with some exceptions). One of the shows was JJBA. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I was told to "Go in with an open mind" and that "Every part is different".

You better believe those 2 statements were accurate representations of my next 6 months or so. I decided to buy into Crunchyroll, an anime streaming service with parallels to Netflix, but for anime. CR had the entirety of modern Jojo on there, so I subscribed, and set off to work. Now, I could, (and did before deleting an hours work) talk about each individual part of Jojo, and how meaningful they were to me getting back into anime, but I'm gonna focus on one part: Stardust Crusaders. I'm gonna try to summarize why SC was so important in my life, and getting back into anime again.

Please know now, spoilers are naturally to follow

Stardust Crusaders

I know this might sound IMMEDIATELY cheesy, but Crusaders really is greater than the sum of its parts. It has remarkable art, fantastic animation, spectacular music, and a cast of characters that really feel like family by the end. Now, I'm a big fan of One Piece. If you've read/watched it, you'll know a central theme of OP is that of "Friendship". No other show in HISTORY has accomplished this idea than Stardust Crusaders. Each and every character feels...meaningful to the story as a whole. You begin with Jotaro, the moody, eponymous protagonist. Now, at the start, and I said this to my discord pals, I HATED Jotaro. I hated his look, how he spoke to his mother, how he acted- I just felt really turned off a character in a way that made me wanna drop the entire season. With some encouragement, I carried on going, and Goddamn am I glad I did. What occurred in the next...48 episodes really ticked my box in a way I didn't think any modern show would.

Historically, I'm a big watcher of what you'd call classic anime. I'm talking turn of the century stuff. Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Lupin, Tenchi Muyo, Dragonball, Gundam- the list could go on. I honestly didn't think a modern show could really turn me on the way that Jojo did.

The show largely revolves around a central cast of characters who have the power of Stands- a physical manifestation of mental acuity. Some stands are more combat orientated, some are more outside the box ones. (This expands the further into Jojo you get, with Parts 4 and 5- where I'm currently up to taking this to the nth degree).

There's Polnareff, who's stand is an armored swordsman. Avdol, who can control fire. Kakyoin, with the power of body manipulation. Iggy, with the power of manipulating sand and dust. Joseph, who's stand allows him to see into the enemies location, with the side power of shooting weird purple vines (?) and the titular Jotaro, with a basic, but incredibly powerful fighting stand that has lightning quick reflexes and can punch...fast. Like, really fast.

You're introduced to each character through 1/2 episodes, and you get to see the basic idea behind their stands. After they come together as a group, they find out that Holly, (Jotaro's mother and Joseph's daughter) is dying from a stand trying to emerge from her. She doesn't have the mental prowess to handle a stand, so they travel to Egypt to fight the fearsome DIO (Yes, the same Dio from Phantom Blood), hoping that by ending his life, they will negate the manifestation of Holly's Stand, saving her life.

What follows is a good old fashioned "Stand of the Week" mentality, through about...40 episodes? They encounter stands from the Tarot cards (Not so dissimilar to the Persona games), and tend to highlight a party members strengths, and creative ways in which they can use their stands to fight off the encroaching enemies. Some stood out more than others (Steely Dan being one of the most memorable, or D'Arby the Gambler). I won't bore you by reeling off each individual stand, or why they were good, but eventually they arrive in Cairo, and encounter the lauded villain, DIO.

What follows is some of the most tense, moody animation I've ever seen.

It just bleeds atmosphere. You've been built up towards DIO throughout the whole arc as this almost ubermensch-esque figure, and when he's finally revealed, it just....works. His design is absolutely killer, his voice actor is menacing, and his power just seems unbeatable. See, DIO's stand is "The World", or as you may know t from decades of internet memery "ZA WARUDO". It's similar to Joseph's "Star Platinum" except that it can stop time. If, like me, you played the JJBA fighting game on PS1, you'll have fond memories of the ROAD ROLLAH finisher, and this is naturally torn straight from the pages.

But it's not the bombastic nature of The World that really summarizes why DIO is such a great villian. For over 40 episodes, you seem him in shadows. Talking to subordinates. Leading his troops from an almost medieval like castle. You don't actually SEE DIO in the flesh till the last 5 or so episodes. They just spend an entire arc of anime building to this one incredible character. Don't get me wrong, the SC posse are an impassable group of super friends. But DIO is clearly the star of Stardust Crusaders. To quote something I've seen online "He's someone that bleeds excellence"

The finale is magnificent, and has to be seen to be fully appreciated. To sum it up, DIO is defeated, and Holly is saved, but not without losing a few members of the SC crew. But the deaths all felt meaningful, ya know? They all had purpose in pushing the story forward, or developing the characters that either died, or survived as a matter of their death.

In conclusion, Stardust Crusaders really is greater than the sum of its parts. It depicts a well thought out story, with interesting, meaningful character interaction, married together with wonderful art, animation and music.

Final Thoughts

I know you've read so far, but you're maybe thinking "Well...why did Jojo mean so much to you then" like I originally claimed?

You see, Stardust Crusaders came at a really good time in my life. I was struggling at work with an increased load of responsibility, I didn't have many friends, my anxiety was at its absolute PEAK, and I was suffering from an uncommonly high amount of depression. It really helped, knowing that when I came home from work every day, I had something consistent in my life in Jojo. Every day, when I was at work, I was thinking about Jojo. What was gonna happen next, who was gonna appear, how they'd get out of tricky situations, when DIO was gonna appear. It all just clicked in a way that I haven't felt since I was watching "Legend of the Galactic Heroes"- my all time favorite anime.

Please understand that even small things, like a great anime can have a big impact on people's lives. Anime is designed to entertain, and help you escape from reality. Jojo really did that for me. In my worst moments, it helped knowing I had "friends" to come home to. I should give a big shout-out to my friends from my discord channel, key components in helping me keep going in Jojo, and having something awesome to talk about at the end of every day.

Thank you for reading.

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