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Discussing Arrested Development

Introduction

Out of a sense of a need for something familiar, I recently decided to revisit an old favorite show of mine; I decided to rewatch Arrested Development.  I remembered distinctly loving the first three seasons, enjoying Season 4, and just… not being able to react to Season 5.  Since then, I’d never gone back.  I’d show my friends a few of my favorite episodes, maybe reflect on some classics, but I never went to see it through to the end.  So, in the eleventh hour of my junior year, I opened up Netflix and fully rewatch-ed Arrested Development.

Here are my reactions, my impressions, and my review of the show about one man trying to keep his family together.

They’re all stuck there together.

Season 1

Pictures taken moment before disaster.

Season 1 of Arrested Development is, generally, exactly what the series is known for.  Every episode is full of great, interesting, and most importantly funny storylines that bring the characters – themselves one of the most important parts of the show – into scenarios that earn those five Emmy awards that Season 1 won.  Some of the show’s greatest moments and character pieces are found throughout this season, with my personal favorite episodes being “Top Banana”, “Bringing Up Buster”, “In God We Trust”, and “My Mother The Car”.  That’s not to say that they are the best, as the entire season is well acted and directed, but some storylines – in particular the courtroom storyline – fall flat, and arguably drag on for too long.  The show, in this season at least, excels at short-form plotlines that highlight the relationships between the Bluths and their associates.

In particular, I want to highlight just how great each of the leads are.  There’s a kind of cast dynamic here that I rarely see in a sitcom, where not a single character feels wasted, and nobody is explicitly leading.  It could be argued that the main characters, Michael and his son George Michael (Jason Bateman and Michael Cera) are the protagonists, as the show definitely follows the two of them.  However, that’d be ignoring the dynamic between Michael and his siblings Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), Buster (Tony Hale), and G.O.B. (Will Arnett), the hopeless marriage between Lindsay and Tobias Funke (David Cross), and how it affects their daughter Maeby (Aila Shawkat), who herself has an… interesting relationship with her cousin George Michael.  However, the most interesting relationship to watch is between each of the Bluths and their parents, George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor), and especially Lucille Bluth, who is being played to damn near perfection by the late Jessica Walter.  The supporting cast, including Henry Winkler, Jeffrey Tambor (again), Liza Minnelli, Carl Weathers, Mae Whitman (in arguably her breakout role), and even icons like Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Judy Greer, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.  Having such a star studded cast brought these episodes to life, and this power carried through into the next season.

The Bluth boys, doing what they do best.

Season 2

The first season of Arrested Development is one of the most critically acclaimed seasons of sitcom TV of all time.  You don’t win five Emmys doing nothing right.

sigh. 

Arrested Development Season 2 is arguably even better in every way.  The plotlines are tighter, the characters are fitting even better into their roles, and there are some major developments being made to the jokes that truly embody what I think people remember Arrested Development for.  Nearly every single story and episode is a hit, from the opener, “The One Where Michael Leaves”, to one of my personal favorites, “Afternoon Delight”, and some of the strongest episodes close out the season, with the run from “Sword of Destiny” to “The Righteous Brothers” being nothing but incredible running gags and conclusions to storylines set up throughout the previous two seasons.  

Pictures taken actually moments before disaster.

Additionally, characters that weren’t serving much of a purpose anymore or lost their role in the story during the climax of Season 1 gained new roles and storylines that defined them for the rest of the show’s run, even after both revivals.  Buster losing his hand and joining the military were inspired choices, Tobias’ attempts for fame through the Blue Man Group is one of the best stories in the series, and Maeby finally found her purpose outside of being George Michael’s “love interest” in living a double life as a movie producer, right as George Michael moved onto Ann (her?) Veal, and the relationship between them that’d define him all the way up to the end of the show’s original run.  If there’s one thing Arrested Development understood in the transition between seasons, it was how to pivot and change characters or storylines to make them more engaging and entertaining.

That’s not to say that the season is perfect, though.  A couple of storylines feel almost lifted from Season 1, and the reduction in the length of the season (22 episodes to 18 episodes) means that a sixth (3 episodes) of season 2 are just… less interesting rehashes of season 1.  When the season’s doing it’s own thing, it’s brilliant; when the series is revisiting old concepts and storylines, it’s skippable.  And, as we go forward, things get… weirder from here.

Season 3

Season 3 of Arrested Development confuses me.  It’s got a lot of the qualities of the prior seasons, with tightly written plotlines and well acted characters.  Things finally get resolved here after being held off, most likely in an attempt to wrap things up with cancellation looming over the horizon.  The pivots continue, in equally strong ways, and the final half of the season feels just as strong as season 1’s opening.  However, it’s… contrasted by some returning issues from season 2, and some new issues that’d plague the series until the end. 

Because yep, this is where we get.

I’ve taken over a week to try and comprehend what started to go wrong here, and I think I’ve summed it up to a single word: subtlety.  Seasons 1 and 2, for the slapstick and sometimes ridiculous events that occurred, felt subtle, as if they were a part of a real, holistic world.  Season 3 opens with a 5 episode storyline about Michael dating someone who may be a part of the British… government, who he’s been told are setting his father up as a patsy in some grand scheme, with him falling (literally) head over heels for her.  Then, there’s plotlines involving a fake coma (admittedly hilarious), a mock trial (with J. Reinhold), and, bafflingly, WMDs in Iraq.  Some of it, some of it, works incredibly well.  Some of it is funny at first, and with rewatches, it’s incredibly less funny and just… not.  Some of it feels actively offensive and not at all the satire the series started out as, even when it seems like it’s attempting to mock the very premise of the series and sitcom tropes as a whole.  It’s rough to get through, although there are highlights.

The ending of season 3, starting with “Fakin’ It” and ending with the former series finale “Development Arrested”, despite some tough plots to swallow, concludes nearly everything the series had set up to that point, and leaves things in a place that, all things considered, suits the story the show had been building for three seasons now.  It bookends the story near flawlessly, with something genuinely touching and somewhat intense, and feels earned.  When I view this as the end of the series, I can see why the fans were clamoring for more; however, knowing what I know now, I wish I could call this the end of the series.  But no, we got more, and now we have to cover that… next time.

To Be Continued


On the next episode of Arrested Development…
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My Top 10… Things of 2020

Introduction

2020 was not a pretty year for anyone, yada yada yada.  Everybody’s year sucked and I’m here to inject positivity into it.  Unfortunately, I was not overly productive, but I did play a lot of games, watch a lot of movies and TV shows, and listen to some awesome music.  Unlike your typical top 10 list, this is just my top 10 things that I played/watched/read/saw.  Not everything is new; a lot should definitely be expected.  LET’S DO THIS.

Honorable Mention: Fatman

My list, my rules about how this runs.

So on record, I’m not out here trying to support potential anti-semite and general shady human Mel Gibson, but he played probably the best Santa Claus in one of the best christmas movies I’ve ever seen.  Everybody in this movie is giving a great performance, from the characters with a single moment to the main stars.  It’s also, almost hilariously, a commentary on American consumerism and selfishness, the military industrial complex, and the struggles of being a quality small-time operation in a world where the standards are getting lower and the requests are getting bigger.  I never expected a Mel Gibson dark action comedy christmas film to criticize the United States government and military, but here we are.  Super good.

Don’t judge a movie by it’s middling reviews.

Number 10: Capcom; the company

I’ve been a Capcom shill since I was shrieking into a laptop microphone on a 4:3 stream, but between 2017 and 2019, I kinda stepped back from their games. 2019 was the year I got back into their stuff with Devil May Cry and Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, but 2020 was the year I played Devil May Cry 5, Resident Evil 2 Remake, Mega Man 11 (well… some of it), and I returned to Devil May Cry 3 for the Switch Special Edition. Capcom dominated most of my free game time over the course of 2020, as I was constantly replaying and trying new things in the aforementioned titles. Capcom’s really on their A-game right now. Let’s see how long this lasts.

Oh, and they released this. Long Live Devil May Cry.

I did a full review of the RE2 Remake, check it out.

Number 9: Persona 4 Golden Got a Port

My close personal friends and associates have first hand experience with my 3AM “wen P4G switch” texts, and while that’s still not a reality, the game got ported to PC at least, with some additional benefits to boot.  Obviously, there’s higher resolutions and an unlocked framerate, but they took the time to add in custom difficulties and controls that can really make the tougher fights and grindy dungeons even better.  I made an insane “danger mode” difficulty for myself to play with, and in between the game crashing on my desktop and running poorly on my laptop I managed to enjoy it.  It really feels like a one-of-a-kind experience, even with it technically being an HD port of a “remaster” of a PS2 game.  Persona 4 Golden is, in my opinion, far better than Persona 5 and one of the best RPGs of the 2000s, so give it a run.

My friends and I were already downloading it when this trailer dropped.

Number 8: PAX East 2020

It didn’t feel reckless at the time, but in the final days before the looming pandemic crashed down on the United States, I went to PAX East. It was my first con where I didn’t know anyone attending, and so I was left – in Roxas cosplay – to wander PAX completely freely, and it was incredible. I got to see so much, attend a few panels, get called out as Roxas (life goal right there), and even play the FF7R Mako Reactor demo, which practically made my weekend. Despite the covidity being right around the corner, I’ll always treasure memories like playing Chrono Trigger while laying on a beanbag and trying to play Shine Only Fox at a Smash 64 setup. It really was incredibly special, and I can only hope it’ll be safe to go back soon.

Just some of the haul.
Of course I took a mirror selfie without the wig on.

Number 7: Attack on Titan in 2020

Attack on Titan was kinda way beyond me in high school when I was a hardcore anime fan, since it was popular and I was being a contrarian.  Eventually, I gave it a shot, and when I ran out of episodes, I switched over to the manga.  Just like One Piece, it’s almost better to just read the manga and stay caught up, because over the course of 2020 Attack on Titan went on the wildest ride I’ve seen in a manga.  It’s not bad, it’s great, but apparently it’s controversial, or it was initially.  Reactions to the anime adaptation have been incredibly positive from what I can tell, and considering the manga ends in like two months, I can only wait with bated breath at how this story’s gonna conclude.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Number 6: The Fast and the Furious Franchise

So… I marathoned the first six Fast and Furious films in a weekend over the summer, and it hit me harder than a lot of more serious, thought provoking films ever have.  In a world of cynicism, despair, and hatred for ourselves and others, these movies take a sledgehammer to all of it and just asks us to cherish our families, be they by blood or by choice, and to drive cool cars while doing it.  And, for the record, I’m not a car person.  I’m here for the feels.  I cried a lot over the course of this marathon, but Fast Five did it to me the worst.  That one in particular embodied a lot of these themes, and was a really great payoff for watching all of these movies.  Salute mi familia.

Number 5: No More Heroes 

No More Heroes is quite possibly the most abstract yet comprehensible gaming experience I’ve ever played.  If you aren’t invested in it, it looks like little more than a low-budget hack and slash with touched up Wii graphics and a weak translation, but if you play it from start to finish yourself, you’ll find a deep, rich game masquerading as weak trash for a reason.  Everything about No More Heroes feels like Suda51’s unfettered vision, and if you can handle it, you’ll find something incredible.  I didn’t start No More Heroes 2 until the new year rolled around, but I can safely say it maintains some of the original flavor, inserts some good, and adds a whole lot of other stuff.  I did write an essay about the original game and it’s connection to Pokemon, check it out here.

No More Heroes is back, big time.

The game (and 2) are both on the Switch for cheap, and 3 is supposed to be coming out this year.  There’s no better time to jump on the hype train.

Number 4: Final Fantasy VII Remake

This is a big one for me, my “Game of the Year”, being only number four on the list.  As time has passed, I’ve found more quirks and annoying elements that didn’t really bug me when I played through it, and in general I’ve had little to no reason to return to the game post-credits due to the long load times and slow pacing of several segments.  However, this is also probably the strongest we’ve seen a single-player Final Fantasy since… XII or X, depending on who you ask.  It blends elements from the XIII trilogy, XV, and even older Final Fantasies like IV to create something that finally, finally, feels like a celebration of the legacy of one of the most iconic games of all time and one of the most famous franchises of all time, while still maintaining the key characteristics of the original game – especially the characters, which are by and large improved over any of their prior appearances.  Divisive as some changes and story elements may be, I’m sticking to my guns and calling this my GOTY for 2020, and a completely worthy successor to VII’s legacy.

This game truly is freedom. Boundless, terrifying freedom.

Number 3: My Nintendo DSi and DS Lites

Or, more specifically, Chrono Trigger and The World Ends With You.  

I picked up a DSi early in the year, and later on two DS Lites which work… inconsistently, and between lucky finds around my hometown and at PAX East, I managed to get complete in-box copies of Chrono Trigger and The World Ends With You.  I played other games on both consoles, for sure, but these two were my main time sinks and were some of the most powerful experiences I had over the course of this year.  Chrono Trigger was, for the spring and summer, absolutely incredible, constantly trapping me in and having me go “okay, what’s next?  I need to keep going.”  Every scene and area is integral; nothing can be cut, and if we’re being honest, nothing should be. The entire product is masterfully crafted. It’s quickly become my favorite SNES RPG and SNES game in general, and is one of the strongest contenders – the closest a game has ever come to dethroning Xenoblade Chronicles – for my favorite game of all time.  

Classic, timeless SNES goodness. Polished to a shimmering shine.

The World Ends With You, on the other hand, is a much more personal experience: I was initially put off by Neku, and most of the characters really, but as I progressed and learned more about all of them and the story of TWEWY, I just got sucked in.  I don’t think there’s a single character or line of dialogue I dislike in the entire experience, and this is Nomura style at it’s absolute peak.  The character designs, art style, soundtrack, even gameplay all scream “We’re doing our own thing; and we can tune our frequencies to each other if you want, but you gotta vibe with it”  By the end, I was so in love with it that I started to go back through the post-game content, because I wanted more of that flawless character development and awesome presentation.  With any luck, NEO TWEWY will reach that height.  Either way, both of these games are near flawless on the DS if you can find copies.  Give them both a try if or when you get the chance.

Took ’em long enough. Squeenix works so zetta slow.

Oh, and support NEO: TWEWY when it comes out this summer.  Cult classics like TWEWY need dedicated support to see continuations like this.

Number 2: Clone High

This is another one I’ve written about more comprehensively, so I’m gonna keep this brief.  I spent around a decade “aware” of this series and its reputation, and watching it felt like one of the most sublime, comedic, insane experiences I’ve ever had.  For a show with jokes about radio signals in retainers, makeovers including bank heists, and literally eating glass, it hits emotional beats and poignant moments incredibly well.  The art style is unique amongst adult animation, the writing is airtight, the soundtrack is nostalgic, it’s everything it needed to be… the perfect parody.  I don’t know if the reported Season 2 or reboot could live up to the legacy of what we got, but I’ll be there day, date and time when it shows up.  I just want it to be time to watch Clone High again.

I wrote a pretty extensive breakdown of how brilliant this series is, check it out.

Number 1: Xenoblade Chronicles, Definitive Edition

I feel like this is a copout.  Xenoblade Chronicles is a decade old; the Definitive Edition isn’t very “new” in any way besides a polished art style, quality of life refinements, and an epilogue I still haven’t played.  It’s still the same incredible experience I played back in 2014, just even better now.  I’m actively working on a comprehensive review of the game, but it’s taking some time since it’ll probably be the longest thing I post on here, at least for a while.  That being said, I can’t stop thinking about how I’m putting it here on the top of this list, when there’s so many brand new or redefined experiences on this list that are great, and newer than this was.

With a facelift like this though, can you blame me? It’s like a whole new game.

Conclusion: I Wrote a Thesis for My Top 10 List

I’m coming to terms with this list by thinking about what it represents: 2020.  2020.  A year that’ll be remembered for a brush with a world war, a pandemic, a gender reveal wildfire, police brutality causing protests which police used as an excuse for more brutality, an election that didn’t end until it did, and worst of all for me, isolation.  For a lot of people, including myself, this became a year to retreat into what’s comfortable and relive safe, familiar media and experiences.  That being said, I wound up branching out into things I’d barely considered before, some of them not for years.  I think that sentiment reflects 2020 as a whole;  a desire to return to the familiar and safe, contrasted by a need to grow and change.

Or maybe I just discovered the coolest things of all time last year, I dunno.  Here’s to 2021.

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Welcome to the Blog

Here Goes Nothing

Hi.  My name’s Casey S-G, and as of writing this, I’m a college student studying Political Science, Journalism, and Music Tech; I’m also a former Youtuber, active-ish Twitch streamer, musician, game designer, speedrunner, photographer, and as of now, writer.  My interests are wide and varied; before the covidity I was equally likely to be found running at the gym as I was to be playing some obscure JRPG in my room.  I like movies, I love music, and I’m fascinated by stories.

Okay… why does this matter?

Well, in a class I took last fall (Fall 2020), we were required to write blog posts, specifically about the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It blew me away how much people responded positively to my posts.  Every single time I posted, I’d get comments about how much they enjoyed reading my writing, or the ideas I presented in the posts.  I was so happy these posts that I’d written in a few hours before the deadline were popular, that I decided to write more on my own, and here we are.

So, a blog?

Yep, a blog.  Here, on this blog, I intend to write about entertainment – games, film, music, etc. – other periphery topics, and sometimes random stuff from out of left field.  With such a broad spectrum of interests, I want to ask questions and find conclusions on topics, while looking for intersectionality and lessons we can find and learn from the world around us.  Here’s just a few ideas to look forward to in the coming months:

  • Clone High and the “Perfect” Parody
  • No More Heroes vs. Pokemon
  • Political Views in Action Films
  • My Experience as a Speedrunner
  • FF7 Advent Children: Still Prophetic?
  • From the Desk of the Editor: Experiences as a Journalism Student
  • What Academia Could Learn From Video Essays (and vice versa)

If any of these topics don’t particularly interest you, don’t worry.  In between these larger, essay-like posts, there’ll be smaller topics; things like individual reviews, random thoughts, and questions to readers will fill in the gaps between the above topics.  Hopefully, you’ll find something to like.

A Couple Caveats

For those who don’t know, I’m a full-time college student and a full-ish time worker, and I try my best to lead an active social life and stay in some kind of physical shape.  While this benefits me personally, it also leaves me with less time to work on projects like this blog, which means that there could be some gaps between posts at times.  My goal is one post a month, with 2 being ideal, but if I fall behind, odds are it’s because the real world caught up to me.  Additionally, while I’m excited to hear what people have to say and want to hear about, I’m also going to try and focus on topics I come up with, for now at least.  Give it some time, though – we’ll see where I’m at in a few months.

Closing Thoughts

With all that said, I hope you’re all ready to embark on this new journey with me.  I wouldn’t be here without the encouragement and support of friends, family, and classmates, so I’m excited to see what y’all think.  With any luck, this’ll go just fine.

See y’all in the first post.

Spree (2020 Film) Review

Introduction

Okay, so I didn’t intend to watch another social media commentary movie, but uh, here we are.  “Spree” is a 2020 dark comedy horror movie starring Joe Keery of Stranger Things fame and Sasheer Zamata, who did a three-year stint on SNL.  The entire thing is shot primarily using phone cameras, dash cams, security cameras, and webcams, and cut together from there, sometimes using multiple feeds on screen at once to create tension or provide context.  All of it comes together in this dark, comedic, unsettling, real-life thriller experience.

The Good

Joe Keery and Sasheer Zamata are both giving their performances a lot of effort, and they sell a ton of scenes on just that alone.  Zamata’s stand up scene is really good, likely stemming from her history as a comedian, and it delivers the message of the film on top of that.  What shocked me more, however, was Keery as the unstable, socially awkward Spree-driver-turned-murderer Kurt.  I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever seen him as Steve Harrington, who’s a natural charmer and won over audiences in both Season 1 and 2 of Stranger Things by going from a jerk with a heart to one of the most decent, well intentioned characters on the show.  Seeing him totally embody the stereotype of the awkward loner who wants to be charismatic and popular was chilling, and the dissonant serenity he has during his kills contrasts his awkward behavior in other situations, selling the image of a calculated but inexperienced millennial killer.

Indeed, a lot of what works so well about Spree centers on Keery and his performance.  He isn’t the only one putting in work – Zamata does a great job – but considering the movie is centered on him and his story, it really needed the kind of performance Keery brought.  Everything that works so well, be it the realistic livestream or the tense moments before a kill, is revolving around Keery.  Even the other characters he interacts with are more so just playing off of him and his actions; they have a stereotype to fill and Keery plays off of it and into it. 

This has gotta be one of my favorite scenes in the entire thing – everybody’s playing their role super well.

The Bad

Honestly, there isn’t much that’s really “bad” about Spree, but where it suffers is in a certain lack of… excitement?  That’s not the word, but I don’t know how to describe it in just a “word”.  Everything is more or less coming together, the acting is good, the premise is well executed, and the themes are cohesive and well done in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  It’s in those less subtle moments, or in the stereotyped performances delivered by extremely minor characters, that the entire thing falls flat.  It’s less about anything being “bad”, and more so a death of a thousand cuts.

The Awesome

There’s, once again, not a ton here to talk about, but there’s a commitment to the premise that I find to be pretty cool.  I would have to say that 99% of the movie is shot either from webcam, phone, or livestream viewpoints.  The “subtlety” of the livestream chat is reinforced by just how accurate it feels to real-life high-population chat rooms.  In fact, in looking up background info, I found out that the director, Eugene Kotlyarenko, and Keery spent hours both watching and creating influencer-style content to get a feeling both for the character of Kurt and the culture of social media they were setting out to satire and critique.  Along the same lines, the ending sequence – showing the aftermath of Kurt’s “spree” going viral – hits almost too close to home, showing a disturbingly real depiction of how people on sites like 4chan treat individuals like Kurt.  Chilling, and effective.

Quick, blurry screencap, but read the comments – it’s real, or it feels real.

The Ugly

This section is going to serve a different purpose than usual, where it’s typically where I point out social issues, political issues, or other background information that doesn’t directly impact the quality of a work, but more so the context surrounding it.  It’s the segment where I try to reunite the creator’s and their world with the work itself, since I think experiencing things both in and out of context is important – and here it’s different.  

Spree isn’t a decidedly “graphic” film, although the deaths and methods used range from disturbing to outright gruesome.  What really drives the horror of Spree is part of what I touched on in the Awesome section; it feels like it could be real.  Sometimes, it almost feels gratuitously real, to the point where I’d suggest people who’re already anxious about the concept of an Uber, or really just the dark side of social media and the climb to the top should stay away from this, as I feel it could create some level of extra paranoia in people that is unwarranted; the movie plays Kurt’s life as being one that’s entirely normal right up until he starts killing, and some people might see a bit too much of themselves or those around them in him.  It’s like No More Heroes and Travis Touchdown, but instead of Travis being more of a hero than a sociopath, Kurt is a full on psychopathic killer and not someone anyone should idolize, even if Keery is giving an insane performance.  You have been warned.

Conclusion

Spree is a dark, bloody, comedic and shockingly real film that does some things really well, but others are just… okay.  Nothing about it is particularly bad, but not much beyond the performances from the leads and clear effort put into capturing “social media” is particularly great either.  Considering it’s only about an hour and a half, and you can watch it on Hulu with no added subscription, it’s worth a chance – if only for how strong the core of the film is.

Check out the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA1vTNMWMe4

I also have a review of Guns Akimbo, another social media critique, here.

Confessions of a Former Dokkan Addict

Introduction

I was like, super into anime and manga in high school.  Like, embarrassingly so.  I used to bring in my Gunpla models to tinker with during classes and if I got to put earbuds in (and sometimes when I wasn’t allowed) I’d typically be jamming out to whatever OP I’d heard most recently.  And, of course, there were the gacha games.  I started with One Piece Treasure Cruise, but playing it on my tiny phone – I used an iPhone 4 and then an iPhone SE, both small models – was no fun, so not long after it launched, I and a friend started playing Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle.

Full cringe confession: this was my anime collection midway through high school. Still got all of it to this day.

Dokkan Battle consumed around 4 years of my life and hundreds of my dollars, maybe more.  I even tried other games, most notably Treasure Cruise and Fire Emblem Heroes, but Dokkan reigned supreme in my heart and wallet.  Every Dokkan Fest I was liable to spend and pull until I got what I wanted, and for years I was in pursuit of each meta’s Vegito cards; naturally I never got them until well after they were relevant.  And yet, last year, I just sort of… stopped.  Recently, however, I’ve gone back in since a big New Year’s banner dropped, and despite falling victim to some of my older habits, I’ve noticed I’m nowhere near as engaged.  Today, I’d like to discuss why I was so enthralled with it, and why I think I’ve ultimately left the game behind.

Confession 1: The Friendliest Grind

Die hard players can probably correct me on this, but Dokkan has a really friendly introductory period.  You are practically showered with Dragon Stones to summon with, and most of the early story stages range from laughable to requiring the most basic of team building.  Speaking of, team building is simple and easy to grasp for a new player, with types and categories making it easy to group all your characters under one banner – Super STR, “Fusion”, “Goku’s Family”, really simple to grasp divisions.  As a result, I wound up getting a slow, safe introduction to the game right as the meta was entering a relatively prosperous period.  

This team, my team right here – carried me so hard.

Having a whole bunch of Dragon Stones, the premium currency of Dokkan Battle, as well as a friend to keep me engaged with the meta, led to me playing constantly.  Constantly, that is, until my phone broke and I had to take a break right as the first Super Vegito card dropped. Yaaaaaay.  I was going mad with the need for that card; as unhealthy as it sounds, there were days where getting a new phone to play Dokkan was most of what I thought about.  Needless to say, when I got back to the game, I took advantage of new banners to really dig my heels into the meta so I could clear more content to get more Stones so that one day, when he returned, I could pull Super Vegito.

Confession 2: The Most Extreme Luck Ever

For some reason, I had super weird luck when it came to summons.  Generally, I’d pull “average” stuff, but then I’d wind up getting the new exclusive cards off of a single pull (5 stones, as opposed to a 10-pull multi for 50) or just get the rarest, “LR” card off it’s new banner on my first summon.  However, there were some days where I just couldn’t pull anything worthwhile.  More specifically, I couldn’t pull any Super Vegito cards, and they were consistently somewhere between great and outstanding.  One of my favorite characters was top tier and I could summon anything but him, for years – literal years.

First,

second,

and third. All in one day.

It lowkey tormented me, that this character and specifically the AGL Super Vegito were nearly perpetually out of my reach.  I pulled meta leaders left and right, like the STR SSJ4 Goku and LR PHY Fusion Gogeta, and well into the category leads, I was pulling cards like the LR TEQ GoBros and both the transforming AGL Gohan and INT Cell.  But, somewhere in that process, and very late into that process, it happened.  I got my AGL Super Vegito, and a PHY Super Vegito, and most of the Vegito Blue cards and even LR INT Potara Vegito.  I achieved my goal for the game, and practically nothing could stand in my way anymore.

Super Vegito himself, the day I got him. It was the end… or it probably should have been.

Confession 3:  Diminishing Returns on Dopamine

The real catch of gacha games is how much they make the warm fuzzies go off when you pull a card you want; it’s just like opening a booster pack in real life, but with flashing lights and sound effects.  Every 50 stones, and every dollar spent, could have a screen crack or a fusion animation guaranteeing a rare card.  I realized it was becoming a problem and got my friends to help regulate what banners I pulled on, but it wasn’t enough.  I wanted those warm fuzzies so badly I’d drop $10 or more on a whim – just for a shot or two at getting the rush during times where I did not have that money to throw around.  I was in way too deep.

And then, it just sort of… changed.  I stopped checking the game daily, and I never did daily missions.  If a tournament or something was approaching, I might participate, but those were once a month at best.  The rush of summoning felt hollow, rooted purely in nostalgia for “better” days.  I started working more, and had less time to dedicate to the grind.  My money started to go to more productive investments; equipment, software, and subscriptions aren’t cheap.  If I had to chalk it up to anything, though, it’d be that I found other outlets that fulfilled the same rush, and began engaging more extensively with those.  I played Dokkan less; I biked more.  I dropped the grind and I picked up running.  In the end, the game slipped my mind completely.

Conclusion: 

This… was kinda different.  I decided to write this piece as a response to myself.  I wound up logging back into the game in early January, and I bought a few stones to summon while they were discounted.  It was then that I realized just how hollow it all felt.  There was no rush, no excitement, no hype, and I was a little confused.  I needed this to help me piece together why I felt this way, because otherwise I might have just kept on going in pursuit of that nostalgic rush I got so many times in high school.  I don’t want to go down that hole again, and I’d rather avoid seeing others do it as well.

Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle is a decent enough phone game, and it has a lot to give to Dragon Ball fans in much the same way One Piece Treasure Cruise does.  However, it’s also a money and time vacuum, and one that will not stop until you give in.  If you’re gonna give it a shot, don’t give it your money and especially not your full attention, like I gave it mine. 

Guns Akimbo (2019 Film) Review

Introduction

I don’t know if y’all remember, but a while back – like a few years – ago there were pictures floating around the internet of Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter, other stuff) dressed in a bathrobe with handguns strapped to his hands.  Turns out, these photos were attached to a film, one that reportedly spent a couple years on the shelf, waiting to be released.  Guns Akimbo finally dropped in 2019, and it sorta slipped off my radar, despite it having actual human Daniel Radcliffe and InsertBlogNameHere Awards’ “Most Likely to be Drenched In Blood” 2019 winner Samara Weaving headlining the film.  The premise is that Miles, a code monkey (his words not mine) who gets his fun out of trolling people online gets dragged into Skizm, a live streamed death game service, where he has 24 hours to either kill or get killed by Skizm champion Nix.  Armed with two handguns crudely bolted to his hands, Miles goes on the run, slowly learning how to live outside his apartment… in a death game.  It’s a bloody good time.

You all remember these memes, right?

The Good

So, as expected from the guy who played Harry Freaking Potter, Daniel Radcliffe kills it here.  He is perfect as the loser troll-turned-badass by necessity in nearly every scene, and his interactions with other characters early in the film feel pitch perfect for the tone.  Similarly, Samara Weaving utterly captures the psychopathy of her character Nix, a coke-fueled dervish of bullets and blood.  These two drive much of the film forward, and I think every interaction they have is great.  I think that the aesthetic of the film is brilliant; the director Jason Lei Howden is, based on his IMDB page, primarily a visual effects artist who worked on films like The Avengers and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it shows.  There’s a strong sense of lighting and color, with scenes in daylight feeling bright yet stark and scenes set in darkness using lighting and shadow to create a comic book-esque, gratuitously cool feel.

Let’s be real; Harry Potter with guns is way cooler than anyone expected.

The villains are also incredibly campy yet somewhat serious; after all, what other kinds of people would intentionally create a literal bloodsport death broadcast?  On that note, to the movie’s credit, this is handled with some cynical commentary on how normal people get their enjoyment out of watching “others” suffer in violent competition.  People on the street and in public openly recognize Miles once he’s on the run, do things like ask for a selfie, and their opinions change (with the exception of a hilarious character played by Rhys Darby) throughout the death game, ranging from cheering Miles on to laughing at him and outright despising him.  It’s a remarkably insightful criticism of real life internet communities, where comment sections and message boards are outright toxic places and full of ever-changing conflicting messages – there’s a reason I stopped reading Youtube comments years ago, and why I close Twitch chat during major events like FGC tournaments.  Making Miles a troll-turned-combatant helps highlight this; he himself was once part of the toxicity, and now he finds himself the subject of it.  It’s good stuff, in my opinion.

A livestream setup from hell.

The Bad

I’m gonna be straight up; if you’re looking for “high cinema”, this isn’t it.  Character development and growth is kept to the absolute minimum considering the genre and tone, and the only person who’s really “grown” by the end is Miles himself.  If you need deep characters and a complex, multilayered story, you will not find it here.  This is absolutely a popcorn flick, full of flash and fun but not much substance outside of what I talked about above.  Thematically, it feels inconsistent and almost like it’s calling out the viewer for enjoying the film, while actively making the action seem as cool as possible.  That kind of dissonance is a fault that I’ve seen other reviews point out, and while it didn’t really detract from the experience for me, it’s definitely an inconsistency that some might find turns them off.  Midway through the film, a handful of subplots are also quickly introduced to provide insight into character motivations and create plot points for later, but it almost feels like it was done too late.

The Ugly

So, hi, cis white guy here with an outsider’s look on the female experience and a limited understanding of the treatment of women in film; I can typically peg “gratuitous” shots and scenes when I see them, but sometimes more complex theming escapes me.  I wanna pose this to people; is it normal for me to be kind of disappointed that midway through, a damsel-in-distress subplot is added?  The film lampshades it and there’s subversion work done here, but I genuinely wonder if it was necessary given Miles already has sufficient motivation.  One can write it off as Miles fulfilling the role of “hero” that, given his loser-nerd nature, he’s probably been indoctrinated into through entertainment, but I’m not sure it’s enough to make up for the subplot.  Also, content warning for people – if you’re not good with blood, excessive violence, and watching lots of people die, stay away from this one.  It’s not for you.

The Awesome

Where do I begin?  The VFX work and aesthetic are on point here; there’s a lot of “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” vibes coming off of this one.  The shoutouts and usage of visual elements aren’t as frequent as they are in that film, but a lot of small references and recurring elements really help sell the style of the film.  Nix, as a part of her badassery, regularly snorts drugs or finds them in scenes that give her a “power boost”, accompanied by a retro-style video game power up noise.  In general, any fight scene is an absolute joy – disorienting, but incredibly stylish and energetic.  If there’s ever a No More Heroes film, it needs to look and feel something like this does.

One scene that captures the style just right.

In fact, if I had to sum up this movie’s strongest point, it’d just have to be how heavily it leans into that video game style.  I could gush about every individual thing, like the power-ups and montages; the potentially unintentional shoutout to Zelda 1 with the homeless man helping Miles out, the sound effects like Miles dropping rings when he runs into someone, or the way some scenes switch between normal speed and slow-mo just like in No More Heroes with deathblows.  If I’m being completely honest though, I think the outright best element in the film is the ammo counters that appear both on Miles’ guns and as a popup at certain critical moments when he checks his ammo reserves.  After all, he only has 50 shots in each gun; it’s important that he makes them all count.

Conclusion

Guns Akimbo is an awesome, violently fun time that doesn’t feel the need to take itself or anything too seriously.  While it has some messages to send about the nature of “internet bloodsports” and the harsh truth about those of us who enjoy watching the misery of others online, this is mostly just a fun dark action comedy with no shortage of style and cool moments.  The performances are mostly awesome, the aesthetic is on point, and the entire thing feels like a good video game or comic book.  If you’ve got the stomach for some of the more intense scenes, check this one out.  It’s worth the price of a digital rental at least.

Speed Take: 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim and TWEWY, Cult Classics

Introduction

Welcome to Speed Take, a style of writing where I sit down, get words on a page on a topic without doing much research and drafting, and send it out to all of you when I’m done.  Today, I wanna talk about something that slapped me in the face like a wet fish tonight: the similarities I see between 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim, and The World Ends With You, while attempting to spoil neither.  

Just for context, I have finished TWEWY and read through the post-game content, but I’m only about a third of the way through 13 Sentinels.  Spoilers in the comments will be removed on sight, and the only spoilers I’ll be talking about in here are with regards to the core gameplay and “style” of both titles.  Basically, if I think you could get it from the box art or manual, I’m considering it fair game.  Got it?  Let’s jam.

TWEWY: The DS Cult Classic

Can’t you just taste the style?

I think “Cult Classic” is exactly the way to describe The World Ends With You, since the game reportedly sold okay in the West and worse in Japan; just to give you an idea, the game came out the same year as the handheld ports of Final Fantasy I, II, and IV, Dragon Quest IV’s DS port, Final Fantasy Tactics on the PSP, and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII.  That’s a recipe for any game to be absolutely buried on the DS, especially a new IP with an unconventional control scheme.  Despite that, the game was a critical darling, doing as well in reviews (and sometimes better) than Crisis Core, a higher-definition bigger-name action RPG.  

In some part, I’d argue that TWEWY’s absolute abandoning of conventional RPG standards worked in it’s benefit.  The combat is a unique spin on action RPG combat, featuring a control scheme that uses both the DS’s buttons and touchscreen in tandem to create a complex, difficult to learn but mesmerizing battle system.  I never imagined controlling two fights at once would feel good or intuitive, but the Stride Cross Battle System (please make normal names Squeenix) works incredibly well once you have a sense for it.  The pins, which function as equippable moves, generally all have unique properties, and for a normal playthrough, the player is genuinely allowed to (and sometimes required to) experiment with their gameplay styles, forcing constant evolution to avoid falling to some of the more dangerous foes found in the late game.  Between that, the musical style drawing heavily from 90s and 2000s sounds, and the story being an ever-changing twister (ha) of motivations and actions, as well as one of the best uses of an amnesiac protagonist I’ve seen, TWEWY represents ambition achieved.  It’s a title that welcomes the kind of person who loves being taken on a thrill ride in a story, unable to predict what’s around the corner at any point.

This is from Final Remix, but you’re just gonna have to take my word that this A. represents the game and B. makes any sense at all.

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim: 2020’s GotY You Didn’t Play

I feel like this is literally all of the game I can show. Geez.

As I stated above, I’m not done with the game yet.  I need to genuinely find the time to sit down and drink it in, because 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim is the kind of ever-changing twister TWEWY turned out to be.  Everything so far has lined up in place, and I can make guesses and predictions on what’ll happen next, but I’m genuinely always impressed with the kind of swerve the writer George Kamitani comes up with.  Much like I think a player going into TWEWY has to have blind faith that it’ll all come together in the end, I think someone going into 13 Sentinels has to adopt the mindset I have; it’ll all make sense once I’ve got all the puzzle pieces together.  However, at 300k sales as of January 2021, it’s not quite a “powerhouse” like it could be in my eyes.

A large part of that has to come down to the conceit behind the game:  it is, in a non-spoiler way, absolute sci-fi.  Somehow, it manages to weave every trope and convention I can think of, and still manage to surprise me every time I pick it up and go through a new story segment.  The visual novel adventure gameplay mixed with some light puzzle solving help keep me engaged enough to push onward to the next big reveal.  This works in tandem with an interesting tower defense style mode, where the titular “13 Sentinels” and their pilots defend a point on each map from being destroyed or invaded.  On the surface, it looks like an RTS, but if I had to define it, it’s more like if Super Robot Wars had an ATB system and more interactive maps.  Pilots perform moves with cooldowns, and move around in real time as enemies move around the map.  Once a cooldown is up, you can select a new action – attacks, moving, defending, or ejecting to repair a Sentinel – which restarts the cooldown again, much akin to an ATB system in a turn based RPG.  All in all, I think it makes for a wicked cool new kind of strategy game that I would love to see expanded on someday, although I can imagine it doesn’t have mainstream appeal at all in the way something like Fire Emblem does.

Conclusion: Two Cult Classics

I think I’ve dropped enough hints in here indicating what I think is similar and what makes these two an interesting pair.  It’s not every year we get games that buck conventions both in storytelling and in gameplay, and even less frequently do we get titles like these that require such a willingness to hold on and expect everything’ll be okay in the long run.  To me, this is part of what makes them so amazing to me, and likely to others as well.  These two exude confidence in their writing and premises, and hold no prisoners in their gameplay concepts and what they demand from a player.  They aren’t crowd-pleasers like best selling triple-A titles are, and they aren’t trying to appeal to that crowd.  These cult classics, TWEWY and 13 Sentinels, are made for the cults that’ll love and adore them.  Give them a chance if you think it might be you; you never know if one’ll be your new favorite game until you’re in.

Resident Evil 3 (2020 Remake) Review

Introduction

As I said, the last post was supposed to be a RE3make review, but that got bumped because I felt it was important to cover the RE2make first since the two are intrinsically linked.  As a remake of the 1999 game and a game in the lineage of the REmakes, it had a lot to live up to, but even as a non-RE fan I was hyped from the announcement trailer.  I knew the RE2make was acclaimed, and through Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 I had a understanding of the kind of unstoppable force Nemesis could pose.  I bought it launch week, not long after the covidity really struck, and put it off until very recently.  I’d dipped my toes in before, but I just dove in this time.  When I surfaced, however, things did not look or feel the same.

The Good

This game continues to prove the power of the RE Engine, giving all of the characters a truly lifelike feeling while maintaining the “game”-ness of their designs.  I know Jill and Carlos’ redesigns brought mixed responses, but I think they fit their respective characters, and Nemesis is imposing and grotesque, looking like he’s had his skin stretched over his head and his big, pearly whites just freaking me out.  On a similar note, all of the environments – even the sewers – look amazing.  The emphasis on outdoor sections really pushed my PS4 to the limit, but it was worth it.  The soundtrack hits hard here too, with some areas featuring more ambient tracks that are unsettling, and others featuring grander, more actionized tracks befitting the breakneck pace and intensity on display.

Like geez. The RE Engine is intense.

Similarly, the gameplay has been re-tooled from RE2make to be faster and more action-packed.  Gunpowder and ammo were plentiful when I knew where to look and how to use it, and the emergency dodge – a mechanic introduced in the PS1 original RE3 – makes a grand return as a quick escape-or-evade option from nearly everything.  Pulling it off even puts you into bullet time, allowing for some clean kills or knockdowns.  Jill gets access to a wide assortment of weapons, from a customizable handgun and shotgun to mine rounds for the grenade launcher and a burst action handgun like Leon’s Matilda.  In the scenarios where you play as Carlos, he gets access to an assault rifle and a counter-punch (replacing the evade) to round out his basic kit as well.  Speaking of, instead of two stories with shared locations, everything’s on a linear path made up of smaller zones.  Your mileage may vary, but for a 3rd person action game, it works.  Jill and Carlos share only one area that changes meaningfully based on their skillsets when you explore it.  It works, at least for me.

The Bad

In my review of RE2make, I made a big point of talking about how good the atmosphere was and how effective the game was at re-imagining an old title, and in both instances, I haven’t finished the originals – just another mini disclaimer.  This game goes “horror atmosphere?  More like, no fear, shoot guns and blow stuff up” (somebody please take away my blog).  Nemesis, the perennial stalker, the unstoppable force, the namesake of the original game, is reduced to boss fights and scripted encounters, with only one incredibly quick stalking section that pales in comparison to Mr. X in RE2make.  He’s even, disappointingly, stoppable, with grenades, explosive barrels, and electrical discharge boxes dotted around the landscape.  I’ve heard that isn’t the case on the unlockable higher difficulties, but those are unlockable.  I just wanna play the game.  Your mileage may vary on this, but the game changing into a more action focused, gunplay and dodging game took away most of the fear I had regarding Nemesis, T-virus zombies, the Hunters, and made it just a fun, spooky 3rd person action game.

Just toss a grenade, it’ll be fine.

Additionally, the shift from a more open, non-linear experience in RE2make to a linear series of pseudo-open levels in RE3make is, well, a shift.  If you liked the setup in RE2make, this is gonna feel weird and different, and you might not like it.  I personally did, and even though I can appreciate the change in structure, I still prefer RE2make’s setup.  Metroid games were my favorites in my preteen years, and RE2make captured that while RE3make didn’t hit home nearly as closely for me.  I can imagine it’ll frustrate fans of the original RE3, and people who were hoping for more games closer to the original puzzle-based setup of classic Resident Evil.  It’s just not here, and it’s not what this game was going for.

The Ugly

I think it’s kind of clear to see that this game was developed quickly, even with a different team working on it than the RE2make.  The single campaign on offer lasted me around 10 hours, less than even one of the campaigns in RE2make, and that’s long compared to HowLongToBeat’s estimate of 6 hours.  I tend to take longer with these kinds of games since I play cautiously, but I finished this in a single night once I sat down to do it.  A lot of assets appear to be taken from the previous game, and you even re-explore the RPD like in the PS1 version, albeit with less areas to explore.  There’s even re-used bosses, with one of the Nemesis fights being repeated late in the story.  The game does open up a shop for you to purchase stat boosts, helpful items, and infinite weapons with points you get by beating the story over and over, and there are unlockable difficulties that apparently ramp things up to the extremes.  Ultimately though, it doesn’t make for nearly as compelling replay value as the 2nd runs and additional story scenarios from RE2make, and leaves this game feeling emptier in comparison.

I… feel underwhelmed.

There’s also, and this is a personal complaint, a lack of costumes and additional options to play with.  I would’ve loved to have played the game with a blocky, polygonal Jill or even the retro Nemesis design, but all we get are the classic outfits for Jill and Carlos, and a S.T.A.R.S. outfit for Jill you unlock in the shop.  There’s no beta designs like the Elza Walker outfit, no weird stuff like Leon’s Noir outfit, and no PS1 alternate OST to play with.  Overall, it leaves me with this impression that the game was done quickly, and intended to cash in on the success of the RE2make.

The Awesome

Ugly and awesome aren’t mutually exclusive, and there’s a lot of awesome here.  The boss fights, all of them with Nemesis, are intense and engaging struggles that flow amazingly and have good mechanics to them.  It’s natural to me that blowing the fuel back on his flamethrower up would be the solution to stopping such a hulking monster, and his attacks take advantage of Jill’s mobility options.  The second fight is, in my opinion, one of the highlights of the story, as it’s this big, fast paced fight where you have to use the unique mine rounds and all of your tools to take him down.  Jill giving Nemesis the finger in the end is just so… cool.  It caps off the adventure fantastically.  There’s other cool set pieces too, like Carlos versus a horde of zombies, the showdown in the underground warehouse, and the return to the RPD.  It’s a thrill ride through and through.

Oh god DAMN IT.

Also, and maybe this is just me, but there’s something so satisfying about Jill kicking so much ass and taking no prisoners.  I get Aliens-era Ripley vibes from how determined she is and how stubborn she is in the face of everything, never giving up and constantly using the resources she finds both in cutscenes and in gameplay.  Even when she begins to warm up to Carlos and a select few other members of the U.B.C.S., it feels earned and like a natural growth in her character.  While I’m on that, Carlos and Tyrell are great dark action movie characters, and the interplay between them and Jill is fantastic when it’s on display.  Casting William Hope, Lieutenant Gorman himself, as Mikhail, makes the Aliens fanboy in me go squee.

Conclusion

Maybe that’s the best way to look at this game; it is to RE2make what Aliens was to Alien, in a strange sort of way.  It’s a less terrifying, more action-packed successor that draws on positive elements of the original, but focuses more on a breakneck pace and set pieces over isolation and suspense.  The lack of additional, post-story content does make it less of a easy recommendation at full or even half price, and I didn’t even bother touching the Resident Evil: Resistance game that comes packaged with new copies of the game.  If I wanna play Left 4 Dead, I’ll play Left 4 Dead.  I’d rather get engaging single player content over a multiplayer mode, but maybe that’s just me.  If you liked RE2make and are willing to accept a potentially shorter run time, pick this game up.  It might not be worth full price, but it’s sure worth giving a shot.  Jill’s last escape is an adventure to remember.

Resident Evil 2 (2019 Remake) Review

Introduction

So, originally this was going to be a review of the 2020 Resident Evil 3 remake, but I decided that to cover that game, I’d have to cover the 2019 Resident Evil 2 remake first, since the two are so closely linked in gameplay and story, just as the original games were.  Resident Evil 2make (what I’ll be calling it from now on) was released in 2019, a full 17 years after the remake of the first RE came out to near universal acclaim.  I’ve been a Capcom stan since I was an edgy teenager, and it’s only grown in time as I moved on from Mega Man and Ace Attorney into the fighting games and Devil May Cry, Resident Evil’s pizza and monster-fueled cousin.  Resident Evil 2make was my introduction to the series, and even then I got to it a year late, meaning a lot of the spooky horrors were somewhat spoiled by the internet screaming “X GON GIVE IT TO YA” at me.  That aside, this game is something special; it’s something I’d never played before and haven’t found since.

The Good

RE2make does atmosphere better than any game I’ve played since my first experience with Metroid Fusion.  I’ve heard some people rag on the limited lighting, the flashlight cam, and the shift from fixed camera angles to an over the shoulder camera; these people typically claim that it hurt or changed what RE2 was, and I agree – for the better.  I’m not gonna claim to be some RE2 expert; I’ve never seen past the Sherry section in the original game out of frustration.  I do think, however, that the change in perspective and presentation took nothing away from the feeling of empty isolation the original game gave me in my time with it, and if anything, it made encounters with the terrors lurking inside the RPD more terrifying to me.  Helping this is the relatively clunky, slow movement of Claire and Leon; just like the tank controls in the original, movement is not your strong suit, and you need to come up with other ways to get through or away from enemies.  Dodging past Lickers requires planning and strategy, assuming you can see them coming at all.  Everything comes together as a result of the changes in gameplay from the original, instead of detracting from the quality of the experience.

He’s gonna give it to ya.

Another big change made from the original game is the reported change to Mr. X.  Like I said, I never made it past the Sherry section in the original game, so I never got to see him in his original form.  Encountering him in this game, however, awoke a primal fear of the “unflinching stalker” I had when I was younger.  I remembered the actual fear I felt as a kid watching the original Terminator film, knowing that it would stop at nothing to crush me.  I’ve since looked into the game’s design and programming to see that Mr. X is actually an incredibly effective hunter, who doesn’t teleport around the RPD – he moves quickly through unloaded rooms and will zoom in on you when you make loud noises.  Combined with everything else, he makes the game a terrifying ride where every room, every encounter, could mean a game over.

This feels like a real place.

A couple of other notes; the game looks beautiful.  It’s become a joke amongst a couple of friends that the RE Engine can do literally anything, and this game helped prove it’s potency at creating a photorealistic game that still looks like a video game.  The stories of Claire and Leon surviving the Raccoon City outbreak are just as compelling as I’ve been told they were in 1998, and the changes made all work in favor of creating a streamlined narrative.  Everything they did and changed worked in favor of creating the most terrifying action-packed ride they could, just like the suspenseful action movies I grew up on.

Well… mostly.

The Bad

I’m gonna be real with y’all: I’ve only ever played the back half of this game like, two or three times, and I have to have played the RPD section upwards of 6 times in the past year.  The RPD section of the game is nearly flawlessly designed, and everything feels polished to perfection; the same cannot be said for the sewer section or the endgame lab raid.  The sewers take the dark, flashlight cam and make it even darker, which works for the gross-out  horror it aims for, but isn’t exactly what I like about the experience.  It also features a lot of roundabout exploration, including the ability to backtrack through the entire RPD to pick up items you couldn’t get previously.  Compared to the optimizable experience of exploring the RPD, this feels sloppier and less intricately planned.  The endgame has a similar problem, except without the ability to backtrack to earlier zones, and in my opinion, more interesting visuals.

Imagine a room where that blob is the wallpaper.

The game also lacks a lot of “interesting” boss fights; while running from Mr. X is awesome, the forced encounters where you have to fight him or the other major bosses feel less epic and more like basic run away and shoot at range encounters.  This is exacerbated in the “2nd Run” scenarios, where ammo is more limited in an artificial way – all handgun ammo is replaced with specialized handgun ammo that only the 2nd Run exclusive starting gun can use.  The problem with that is that the 2nd Run exclusive gun can’t be upgraded like the other weapons, and it can only use the ammo you find, meaning your ammo supplies are going to be split down the middle, taking up a lot of inventory space.  I understand the goal behind doing it, but it was still frustrating for me.  Also, and this is weird, but the soundtrack is kinda bad.  It’s minimalistic and “film-like” to a fault, and I ultimately wound up changing over to the PS1 OST after a few hours.

The Awesome

This game offers a lot for die-hard fans of the original that even I could appreciate.  A handful of the changes made in the remake are apparently lifted from the Resident Evil 1.5 prototype, a version of RE2 that was scrapped when development restarted.  Things like the firing range in the basement, the G-monster calling for Sherry, and the Elza Walker skin for Claire are lifted from that project.  It doesn’t do much for me personally, but bringing that stuff in is so raw that I appreciate it by proxy.  The inclusion of the original costumes is cool, and the PS1 models being costumes is even better; I play as them more than I do as the remake models probably.  I honestly think releasing the PS1 OST as paid DLC was kinda lame, but considering I bought the deluxe edition, I got it for free and loved it.  I think it’s the optimal way to play the game; those songs work just as well now in the modern remake as I’ve heard they did back in 1998.  Shoutouts to the Safe Room theme and “The Second Malformation of G”, as those were standouts to me.  

This is, objectively, the best way to play.

Unlocking the infinite combat knife changed the way I approach the game; it adds a new level of decision making in that I now had to consider what the optimal way of stunning a zombie was to go in for melee attacks as opposed to just running by.  I genuinely love playing with just a handgun and the infinite knife.  

Conclusion

Resident Evil 2make is an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget.  Despite the flaws in the back half of the game, and my personal disagreements with the 2nd runs, I will always come back for more just because of how enjoyable the game is as a whole.  Everything feels perfectly tailored for me to enjoy it, and there’s a ton of replay value because of just how enjoyable it is.  If there wasn’t, I wouldn’t keep coming back to it as much as I have.  It was worth the $20 I got it on sale for; and I’d definitely argue it’s worth even more. Although it’s not the first Resident Evil, a perfectly faithful remake, and in some people’s eyes it might not be the best representation of the series, I think it’s an amazing experience and a great place for new people to step into the world of survival horror.

No More Heroes Vs. Pokemon

Introduction

The entire world knows Pokemon; it’s quite possibly the largest media franchise on the planet, spanning best selling video games, one of the most famous anime of all time, a live action Hollywood film, and the hearts of literal generations – people who grew up playing Red and Blue have kids playing Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee, we’ve reached that point. The premise of becoming “the very best, like no one ever was” is etched into the minds of millions, and in the wake of Pokemon GO, that number potentially climbed into the billions.  I love Pokemon, you love Pokemon, the world loves Pokemon.

I’m not gonna put words in his mouth, but I think Goichi Suda – Suda51 to most – has some problems with the gaming industry.  I’m also not here to claim that his modern classic No More Heroes is a direct criticism of Pokemon, since it’s not; as a whole, No More Heroes is a scathing criticism and piss take of the modern gaming landscape that wastes absolutely nothing and takes no prisoners in mocking nearly everything we hold dear in video games.  Suda’s vision is harsh and uncompromised, and to dilute it to just one target would do the entire package an injustice.

With that said, I’m here to break down what No More Heroes does mock about the Pokemon franchise, because I feel like attacking one of the most popular and beloved brands on the planet is perfectly “me”.  Wish me luck.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the entirety of No More Heroes, Pokemon Generation 1 (Red/Blue), and Pokemon Generation 7 (Sun/Moon/Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon), as well as references to the themes of Pokemon Generation 5 (Black/White).  You Have Been Warned.

PETA Might Have Been Right, And Some Other Stuff

Hot take, but if you strip away the wholesome “friendship” and “bonding” players do with their Pokemon, it boils down to animal fighting non-lethal bloodsports where two people, typically children, compete to become the #1 Pokemon trainer in their region.  Obviously, there’s more to it than that, considering the plot of Generation 5 both deconstructed and reconstructed the bonds between trainers and Pokemon, and the fact that friendship is a mechanic in nearly every game in the series, but the point still stands.

Welcome to Po Town, home of runaways and failures.

Even in the Pokemon world, the quest to be the League Champion is generally seen as brutal by the average trainer.  Generation 7 goes to extra lengths to highlight this, showing us a villainous team made up entirely of dropouts and runaways, led by a failed Trial Captain in Guzma.  The Pokemon world, and all of the struggles contained within are only seen as such a bright, cheery adventure because we’re viewing them from the perspective of a prototypical hero, who’s always one step behind a (generally) worthy rival.  These strong, abnormally gifted yet inexperienced main characters go on a practical rampage, defeating nearly everyone in their path to being #1.

The rival fight that defined a franchise.

There Are Literally No More Heroes

No More Heroes is, quite unsubtle-y, about Travis Touchdown, our inexperienced (he got his lightsaber on EBAY) yet abnormally gifted protagonist, as he quite literally cuts his way through the strongest assassins and fighters in Santa Destroy in his perverted quest to become #1.  For the record, I mean it quite literally – decapitated, bisected, impaled, vivisected, head blown off with a grenade, as many disturbing ways to die as possible.  There’s a reason I was told to wait for this one until I was older.  By the end of the game, Travis has left a mountain of fallen hopefuls, assassins in their own right, in his wake.  Among them are people trapped in the life of an assassin like Holly Summers, who just wants an escape from the endless fighting at the hands of someone like Travis, or someone like Destroyman who practically revels in the chance to beat challengers in the most underhanded way. 

This boss fight right here. Spoilers ahead.

And indeed, Travis cleaves his way through all of them, using his beam katana and combat skills learned from video games and anime to make his way to #1 in the UAA, the ranking system for the United States; not so hot take, but this is bloodsports for entertainment.  Travis’ fights are literal bloodsports, and the only person who ever gets a step ahead of him for longer than a moment is his brother and unknown rival, Henry Cooldown.  In the boss fight against Letz Shake, Henry even killsteals on Travis and defeats Shake, prompting intervention from the UAA before an unlicensed battle between the two can occur.  He uses a beam katana just like Travis, fights in a similar manner, and ultimately the two clash before reconciling in the long term… I think, I’m in the middle of playing Desperate Struggle as I write this.  My point is – Travis and Henry beat everyone, from normal mooks to the head honchos, and Travis reaches the top.

Noticing anything similar?

Time to draw some parallels.

No More Heroes Is Pokemon

It’s a bold statement, but No More Heroes truly is what Pokemon is through a blood-tinted window.  It’s the truest deconstruction of the “To Be A Master” trope that most people were introduced to through the Pokemon games and anime.  Random trainers make up your mook assassins, gym leaders are the ranked assassins, and Travis and Henry are Red and Blue.  No More Heroes takes the time – painstaking time – to point out how ridiculous and depressing such a world and journey would be, between the needed grinding for money just to get new weapons and reach battles, the dead-end lives led by the ranked assassins and gym leaders, and the number of lives and hopes the heroes step on to get to the top.  No More Heroes even includes an overworld devoid of much besides pickups and timewasting sidecontent that serves little purpose beyond boosting you into combat.  Go back and look at the most popular Pokemon games – what is there to do besides pickup items, do content to get money/boosts for your mons, and fight?  No, seriously, if I’m forgetting something I want to be called out on it.

I like, know there’s the game corner, but what purpose does that even serve besides getting the rarest Pokemon and TMs?

And, not to read too deeply into Suda’s uninhibited vision, but I think this was part of his point.  No More Heroes is widely known as a criticism of gaming’s most popular tropes, including the “get the girl by winning” trope famous in Mario (something I was exposed to by Codex Entry’s essay including the topic), the mirror-match rival made iconic by characters like Vergil and Blue himself (Henry has a SS rank on the Vergil test, Blue has an S), the rampant, unnecessary open worlds found in console and PC games from the mid. 2000s and beyond, and the shocking, bizarre endgame plot twists found… in everything.  From there, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that the framing device and structure of No More Heroes could be a criticism and deconstruction of Pokemon’s structure and world.  It’s Pokemon, looking in the mirror, and seeing just what it would be under different circumstances.

Conclusion: This is No More Heroes

Maybe I’m overblowing the entire structure of No More Heroes, or making it out to be something it’s not.  I know I’m not alone in what I saw in this game, however, and I know for a fact that with the release of Travis Strikes Again that this is really what the series is meant to be.  Indeed, with what we’ve seen of No More Heroes 3, it seems like Suda’s doing it again – this time with the genre-busting superhero films that exploded into the pop-cultural zeitgeist immediately after No More Heroes was released.  With No More Heroes, Suda got to criticize Pokemon and more, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Clone High Is A Perfect Parody

At this point, the internet knows what Clone High is.  Everybody’s seen the “My day be so fine” meme, the various crossover fanarts, and I’d guess a ton of us can tell you about how nothing bad ever happens to the Kennedys.  The Clone High Series Marathon video on YouTube that I used to watch the series had around 5 million views when I watched it, and now it’s up to 7.6 million.  The show might just be as popular as it deserves now.

I feel like I need to say this, because I’m not here to talk about the jokes, the memes, the physical comedy.  I’m here to talk about how great Clone High is at being what it makes fun of.

The Music

If you’re anything like me, you know a bunch of alt rock and pop punk music by heart.  It’s the soundtrack to the late 90s and early 2000s, for me at least.  Using that music, licensed music, as the soundtrack for Clone High was a brilliant decision.  It sets the tone not just for the era in which it was made, but the characters and attitude the show has as well.  If you need a good example, the entire licensed soundtrack is on Spotify.  Give it a go, you’ll be shocked by what they used.

On a side note: the show’s opening song, Master by Abandoned Pools, is just as brilliant for setting the tone and tells you everything you need to know about the backstory of the show, as well as the moods of the characters.  Give it a shot. 

Character: High Expectations

Something brilliant that comes up a lot in Clone High is the idea of needing to live up to something.  The main theme contains this line that I think sums it up well: 

“Why, there is so much to live up to, expectations are so high”

If Clone High has a central theme, it’s this.  Every one of the main cast – Abe Lincoln, Joan of Arc, JFK, Cleopatra, and especially Gandhi – have the weight of their “original’s” legacy hanging over them in some way.  For JFK and Cleopatra, it influenced the ways they act and treat people, as they saw the superficial elements of the original JFK and Cleopatra as what they needed to live up to.  In the second episode, JFK himself says it when he says:

“I thought he was a macho, womanizing stud who conquered the moon!”  

Yeeeeeeaaaah.  For JFK, at least, the show starts to show him breaking out of that simple mindset into being “more” of a person by the end.

Gandhi, The Most Tragic Character

The real Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most iconic people ever to have lived.  Figures like John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln are revered in the United States, for sure, but Gandhi is a worldwide figurehead.  Naturally, when creating Clone High, Phil Lord and Chris Miller included the character of Gandhi as one of the clones, one of the main characters.  What they did was… interesting.

Clone High’s Gandhi is an irreverent, crude, party animal who lives for the party and never takes anything too seriously.  If there is an example of a character who demonstrates cracking under the pressure of legacy, it’s Gandhi.  The story of a teenager being forced by quite literally being Gandhi and breaking because of it is incredibly tragic, and the show makes sure you know it.  He’s irreverent and bold; he’s deeply insecure and lost.  

JFK and Ponce

Episode 10 of Clone High is typically regarded as the high point of the series, because for one episode, the show truly steps across the line from parody back into pure emotion, and none of it is played as a joke.  The machismo of JFK is quite literally broken as he discovers what it feels like when, well, something bad happens to a Kennedy.  It’s obviously meant to be a parody of the sitcom drama episodes where someone tragically dies, with the Narrator saying just as much, but in Chris Miller’s infamously hammy performance, there’s real sadness, almost better performed than in the teen dramas the show is parodying.  Helping it is the deconstruction of the show’s “main character”, Abe Lincoln, who goes from being the lame-but-honest loser to being a jealous, cold hearted jerk –  flipping the script on JFK, the stereotypical jerk jock, who show this sentimental human side he’d always tucked away.  Of course, it all ends with a broken, self-aware Aesop about how littering is good, but that’s just the style of the show.  

The Point: A Perfect Parody

Clone High is one of those works that manages to transcend just being “haha funny”, and circles right back around to “taking this funny thing seriously now” because of just how well done it is.  

This isn’t just a Clone High thing; our pop-cultural landscape has long since accepted “loving parodies” as being defining works of their genres.  Think about Earthbound, widely regarded as one of the best SNES JRPGs despite deconstructing many of the conventions and tropes popular at the time in franchises like Final Fantasy and especially Dragon Quest. It takes the formula of heroes on a destined quest against the darkness, and picks it apart before adopting it.  In doing so, it synthesizes itself as a new, self-aware, but poignant story and game.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller have done this since Clone High, too – the quality of 21 Jump Street is questionable, but it and The LEGO Movie both take full advantage of the norms and tropes of their genres and development to deconstruct and reconstruct something better.  All of these loving parodies do this in some way; after all, Earthbound still ends like a classic JRPG, and Clone High still ends with the most important night of the year, prom.

Conclusion: Prom, Changes, The Meat Locker (Spoilers Ahead)

I’ve avoided talking about the ending of Clone High on purpose; as it serves as this gut-punch of a scene that both embodies everything teen dramas are, and everything Clone High is.  Finally, after a season of mocking the love triangle, Abe Lincoln realizes he’s in love with Joan of Ark, only to find her in bed with JFK, a shocking twist straight out of any teen drama.  The scene is set for a cliffhanger to end the season and tease the next one.

And then Principal Scudsworth flash freezes the entire cast sans himself and Mr. Butlertron in the meat locker, cutting short the lives and loves of these characters we’ve laughed, shivered, and cried with.  

In one, perfect moment, Clone High flipped the switch again.  Gone was the cliche storm love triangle.  Gone was prom, gone was John Stamos, gone were the shadowy government figures.  All that was left was a real, genuine question:  what happens next?

Maybe someday we’ll find out on another very special episode of Clone High.