“Bleu, why you no blog about Firefly game?”

Those with a keen eye might have noticed that my birthday went by with almost no mention on my part. This should strike you as odd because usually I am all about my birthday to the point of bordering on being obnoxious. I know it’s just marking the fact that you’ve survived the Earth rotating around the sun yet again, but really, I love my birthday! Seriously, there is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating that you aren’t dead yet.1

Maybe it was part of the aftermath of major depression, but I was just blasé about my birthday this year. I didn’t have any plans in mind and in the end it was a pretty ordinary day, which suited me just fine. But you might have caught the passing mention of receiving some Firefly-related goodies.

Among this haul of fandom glory was the card game Firefly Out to the Black. Here’s a shiny picture:

Firefly Out to the Black

I’m not entirely up on all the details, but the long and the short of it is this game was a Kickstarter that got pulled at the eleventh hour. I vaguely recall someone linking me to it last year and that is only because the board game and role-playing game were announced not long before that. Honestly, I all but forgot about this until it was gifted to me.

So, why haven’t I gushed about it before now? Well, that’s simply because I’ve only played it the one time, which probably wasn’t the best experience to use as an example.

First, none of us had played before so it felt like it took us until 2517 to actually get everything set up. As you can see in the picture above there are a lot of pieces to this game and the rules are just slightly different depending on the number of people playing. And nothing is labeled even though the instructions list a number of what you’re supposed to have of each thing.

Also, while the game is advertised as 3-5 players, it’s really does not seem intended for three people because the one big rule change in that particular setup is you play two characters rather than just one. And, you guessed it, it was just three of us playing. Two characters makes an already confusing first playthrough doubly more confusing. Also, it should be noted that there had been a not small consumption of wine beforehand so we were all of us maybe not at our peak cognitive abilities.

So, you have your character(s) and you get cards and then you put a bunch of other cards in the middle to be drawn. There is no board or anything to move around and instead it is all the various cards that are drawn which dictate the events and vice versa. It’s fairly straight forward. Each character has various skills and strengths and all in all the whole game is quite well thought out. I can’t say I was disappointed by it since I had no expectations at all, but for the most part the enjoyment was more about the Firefly references than the actual gameplay.

However, I will say that it was maybe just a bit over the top. The entire instruction book, for instance, is written in a style emulating slang from the show which sounds cool. But personally I found it difficult to follow, like trying to decipher netspeak or something. Certainly, there’s a great attention to detail here and everything is very nicely designed, but it’s not a sturdy game since everything is made from card stock.

Anyway, I’m just waiting to play with some more people before I can comment with any confidence. It’s definitely not a bad game, though.

  1. Plus, I didn’t get to celebrate my birthday as a kid.

Play All the Games!

Generally my free time is all but devoted to reading, but since the majority of my time the last few months has been due to either being sick or injured I actually have spent far more time playing video games. Not surprisingly, I have thoughts on this!

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Okay, let me just say it: I was obsessed with this game when I first got it. Alsatian has blossomed from a sleepy little town to “the perfect town” that “nobody wants to leave.” Er, except all the animals I’ve become close to because peculiarly the game is coded that way. I guess it makes sense if your AC goal is to meet as many of the characters as possible, but considering it’s generally a chore to become besties with your neighbors and often by this point you’re really fond of them I find that incredibly irksome. Every couple of days I have to run around and make sure no one flags me about moving lest it be one of my favorites, including the single “normal” character I have who is the only one in my town that will provide me with suggestions for fantasy-themed projects like benches and bridges. So far she’s only ever given me the streetlamp as a project, which I love since it matches my town hall and train station.1

Anyway, after three months of visiting my town daily, I started to feel really burnt out, which I think was partly because I had run out of new things to do. So, I haven’t really played it much in the last few months, but eventually I’ll pick it back up even though I’ll have to deal with the ramifications of neglecting it.2 In any case, I have had an absolute blast with this game and it is easily the best of the Animal Crossing series.

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix

I never played the original Kingdom Hearts so I can’t really compare the two. In fact, I really didn’t know anything about KH games before I popped in this disk and so my resounding feeling is that of bumbling about and stuff just happens. The game is pretty linear, but I never seem to know what to do next or, well, at all. If this were any other game I’d say that was incredibly frustrating, but something about KH just makes all that almost amusing. I guess it’s hard to find lack of direction out of place when your main character is swinging a giant key at stuff. The logic seems to be pretty much inline with LEGO games: when in doubt, bash stuff!

Now that isn’t to say there aren’t elements that I find frustrating because hoboy do I! First, there’s the platforming: it sucks. Sora routinely doesn’t jump when you want him to or you need to be at the very tippy edge of something to actually make the leap or the camera gets in the way, etc. And your party members are stupid. Actually, I can’t even call them party members because to me such a name implies I can control them and no matter what options you chose in the menu here, the AI controls their actions. Sure, there’s the “assist me” button, that can either call them over to aid you or direct them to attack the enemy you have targeted. But that always seems to do the opposite of what I intend and generally I find they help me more when I’m not trying to tell them to. It’s really confusing. I can only say that there must be something about the wacky combination of Disney and Final Fantasy, though, because for all its faults I just love this game!

Final Fantasy X HD Remaster

It should be noted this is not a remake, but a remaster. Essentially, it’s FFX with a shiny new coat of paint. And I guess that’s why I don’t really have strong feelings about it one way or the other, since FFX isn’t one of the standouts to me among the Final Fantasy series. I like it well enough, but it’s not one of my favorites. And so, I sort of got distracted by a slew of other games and unfortunately abandoned Tidus and company with about a third of the game to go. I’m sure I’ll get back to it at some point.

Final Fantasy III

This is one of the lesser FF games in my opinion. It’s not bad, but it’s definitely an NES era game. It’s an RPG that can be very grueling in punishment. Unlike modern games, there isn’t a handy save point right before a boss or phoenix downs to be purchased and so often you make a trek through a dungeon only to make that same trek again because you wiped. It can be very tedious, but it’s to be expected given the time it was made. No, what I dislike about this particular FF is that it’s gimicky: you can only go through this dungeon miniaturized; you can only beat this boss as a party of dragoons; you can only fight these enemies with a specific type of weapon or they multiply continuously, etc. I think the idea was to showcase the diversity in spells and the fancy job system, but I feel like too much of it is forced on the player. Plus, FFV just does the whole thing better.

Anyway, after trekking up and down the final dungeon more times than I cared to count I had to take a break. I’ve yet to feel up to the task of dealing with the tedium.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

This is easily the biggest Dragon Quest game ever, which is kind of ironic given it’s also the first to be on a handheld platform. The main story is okay, though, somewhat of a departure from the usual. Also, it lacks some explanation of specific plot points that really bewilder me.3 Gameplay is pretty much what you would expect from a DQ game to the point that I found there was almost no strategy to the battles. Yeah, some have an elemental weakness or resistance and I know the post-game has some very difficult bosses, but within the main story you usually don’t have access to those spells/abilities yet.

Nintendo has shut down the wifi service for DS and Wii games, so I can’t comment on any of the multiplayer aspects of the game or even a good chunk of the post-game additions. Even so there is a ton of stuff to do after the main story. Except a lot of it just seems to be random fetch-questing or really odd tasks that involve fighting something with a ridiculously low level skill. Granted a lot of these quests can be done before finishing the main story, but without following a guide it’s pretty much impossible to trigger all of these beforehand. And even so the tedium isn’t lessened all that much. Still, this is definitely one of the best DQ games I’ve ever played and I really enjoyed it.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

I cannot stress this enough: this game is just breathtaking. Level 5 is truly the master of cel-shaded graphics and this game honestly just blows me away. I find that I’m driven to distraction by it. Anyway, Ni no Kuni has a lot of traditional RPG elements mixed with Pokemon-style monster collection. I’ve never played a monster collection game, so I can’t really compare the two but I find the evolution element in this game is very reminiscent to the fusing in Persona games. It’s certainly almost as complex. The addition of the various monsters makes for very intricate battle strategies and after hours of play I’m still finding out new things. I will say it can be somewhat chaotic with party members and monsters all running about during battle and I sometimes wish I had a touchscreen to select things.

The one thing about this game that kind of bugs me is the fact that the main character is essentially on a quest to bring his mother back from the dead. The story itself is actually really interesting, but this driving force for the protagonist just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. That aside this is easily one of the very best modern RPGs I’ve played.

Persona 4 Golden

Persona games are basically an RPG version of The Sims. And honestly it was that description that kept me far away from the series and boy oh boy was I missing out! This is the first of the series I’ve played and I think I picked very wisely: P4G is an enhanced version of Persona 4, which I think has the best story of the series.4 The gameplay is a mix of daily life as a high school student — go to class, hang out with friends, etc. — and dungeon crawling. What’s surprising is that both of these are equally enjoyable! And that they both actually relate to one another. People you meet and befriend may well end up being the same ones you battle your way to save. It’s an incredibly deep game and very rewarding. And, of course, the whole idea of the game is that your social life only enhances your powers in battle and so one element just reinforces the other.

It’s also a LONG game. Even if you don’t do all the optional side-questing, which is generally very much advised since often times those lead you towards additional Social Links which in turn grant you more fighting ability. I’m just astounded how much is packed into this game and it’s one of the very few I can see myself playing again and again just to see how alternate paths might pan out.

Bravely Default

Despite the bizarre name, this is essentially Final Fantasy. A fact I didn’t know about until I started playing and what a pleasant surprise to discover! It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a classic FF game: turn-based battle, airships, crystals, an intricate job system. However, Bravely Default has a few unique elements, most notably the battle mechanic for which the game is named for. I really like the battle system in this game. There’s just as much, if not more strategy involved than the active time battle (ATB) system that FF games are more-or-less known for and I can still walk away and make a sandwich if I want without my whole party winding up dead.5 Plus, it has two things I wish every RPG had: you can fast forward through battle animations and tweak the random encounter rate.

Unfortunately, for all this game does right it still has some drawbacks. Mainly that the last third of the game is quite a slog and incredibly tedious since you are essentially replaying the same dungeons again and again. I’m really surprised by this and sincerely hope the sequel does not fall into the same trap. Also, it’s unabashedly linear to the point the game literally chides you for trying to explore outside the story. Despite this, I still think it’s an excellent game. And I am absolutely thrilled to hear that its success has shown Square Enix that RPGs are enjoyed over here in the West!

  1. The train station is another project that is a pain to get since it requires 100 visits from friends via wifi.
  2. AC games run in real time, and take into account time not played. This particular version isn’t as harsh since you can elect an ordinance that does away with some of the negatives like weeds and cockroaches, but you still get reprimanded and guilted by your neighbors for “ignoring” them.
  3. Why is it my character is tasked with saving the world when I’m the only one who essentially loses her powers? And, why exactly did I lose them in the first place?
  4. P3′s story is equally good, but there are some thematic elements that just aren’t my thing. Plus, the mystery element gives P4 just a slight edge for me. Both are incredibly emotional and riveting stories, though.
  5. I was sick for a majority of the time spent playing these games and there were a few times in FFX that I randomly fell asleep and woke up to full party wipe. Oops!

“Sailor Moon Crystal”

Sailor Moon was the very first anime I watched. It’s not the very best nor even especially a favorite of mine, but I’m a fan nonetheless. Actually, when I was taking Japanese for school, I read the original manga for practice which was a mostly pleasant experience.1 Suffice it to say I’m pretty well-versed in the series. Anyway, Sailor Moon is currently going through a reboot and there’s a brand new anime series currently airing. Here’s the snazzy trailer:

My initial thoughts were surprisingly brief. It’s pretty, which is part and parcel with SM and the overarching “magical girl” genre. But I found myself really distracted by the art style. I just finished watching Persona 4 The Animation, so you’d think I wouldn’t find the long-and-lean look so alarming, but I do. Not that the original anime is exactly short and chubby or even the source art from the manga. I just find this particular design alarmingly lanky and disturbingly awkward like these Sailor Senshi have stepped out of A Nightmare Before Christmas.2

And, unfortunately, I am no less off-put after watching the first episode, which is entirely due to the jerky animation. Not to say that the animation itself is bad, as it has some really nice touches here and there. It’s just not as fluid and crisp as I tend to expect from Japanese animation. And I’ll throw my hat into the ring of Internet uproar about the “dead eyes” and lack of expression. I suspect that’s at least partially intended since this version has a distinctly less whimsical vibe, but Usagi seems very one-note and, frankly, not as likable. Then again, I’ll be the last person to complain about the absence of whining because I find that grating in any situation even if we’re talking about a self-described crybaby. The CGI is pretty underwhelming and I found the slow-motion style of the transformation sequence made it seem overly drawn out.3

The plot is straight from the first act of the manga and since this is the umpteenth version I’ve seen of this I can’t help but stifle a yawn. This particular version is such a faithful recreation that it borders on unoriginal. Honestly, its such a carbon copy in some respects that even though I wasn’t specifically trying to compare the two anime, I kept finding myself doing exactly that. This is really a disservice to the reboot because it left me pining for the more dynamic characterizations from the original. Mamoru, for instance, is just a blank slate in this version rather than the mildly irritating and somewhat mysterious figure he is in the original. Maybe this works for someone who is completely unfamiliar with SM, but even so it’s still pretty flat. And given that the odango covers warning system and the supersonic crying powers are only ever seen in Act 1, I really don’t understand why these things keep getting translated into every adaptation. It just seems sloppy to me.

I’m still on the fence about the music. I don’t exactly dislike it, but neither am I especially fond of any particular piece save for the ending theme “Moon Rainbow.” Not much of a surprise about that since it’s composed by Akiko Kosaka, who also composed two of my favorite songs from the original anime: “Tuxedo Mirage” and “Moon Revenge.” At the very least, none of it is nearly as memorable as past music, which seems especially true for me having just come off Persona 4‘s amazing soundtrack.

Surprisingly, the one thing I expected to have issue with didn’t really bother me at all and that’s the voice-acting. Kotono Mitsuishi is the only original seiyuu to return, which I feared might only emphasize the differences in the rest of the cast. But for the most part I hardly noticed the changes, though, sadly I suspect that’s because of the low-key nature this version seems to have. And to be honest I was somewhat placated by Kotono’s familiar portrayal of Usagi that even though she’s far less dramatic than her counterpart from the original anime, I wasn’t bothered so much as I was just aware there was a difference.

At present, I’m underwhelmed, but I’m not disappointed and for now I think that’s good enough. Certainly this reboot isn’t groundbreaking, but at least it’s not tarnishing anything that came before it. For that I am deeply relieved.

  1. My tastes in manga are pretty much inline with my tastes in comics in general and so I found Inuyasha far more interesting to read than Sailor Moon.
  2. I can make references to this now since I finally watched it!
  3. A fact, I might add, that also bothered me with the live-action show and, while not the main factor, it was one reason I only managed to stomach a few episodes before giving up entirely.

“Veronica Mars”

Veronica Mars was one of those television shows that I adored and so, of course, was canceled far too soon. Though, it did get three seasons of wavering quality and increasingly diminished ratings before the axe fell, so it doesn’t top my personal list of tragic cancellations. But it is one of the very few to be revived via a feature film, which would have been a news story even without the record-breaking Kickstarter campaign that helped make it a reality.

Movie poster

I won’t mince words: this movie is pure fan service. That’s not a bad thing, since I’m a fan, but I really don’t think it would be nearly as enjoyable a film if I weren’t. Basically, it plays like an episode of the show that is a bit longer and peppered with inside references. All of which is awesome for the Marshmallows and will go completely over the heads of anyone note familiar with the show. In fact, I’m pretty sure I missed a lot since in the interest of instant gratification I didn’t bother waiting to rewatch the entire series before delving into the film.

The story picks up nine years after the show ended. Veronica has moved about as far as she can from her life as a private detective in Neptune and is interviewing for a corporate law firm in Manhattan. But conveniently her ten-year class reunion is coming up and it takes the span of about two weeks for her to toss that New York life down the drain and be, well, Veronica. Oh, and Logan being (wrongly) accused of murder. Because that’s never happened before. It’s actually the speed with which things happen and the convenient nature of the events that I find to be the only real negative for this movie. It’s a negative that I can easily forgive as a fan, though, because it all is a means to get on screen the things that fans of the show want to see.

Anyway, the story itself centers around Veronica trying to sleuth out the facts in a murder that Logan is accused of. It’s a pretty good mystery and one that easily could have been stretched through a season of the show. Condensed down to a feature film running time means that it does seem a bit rushed, though, I didn’t find it sacrificed any legitimacy. Of course, I admit I was more interested in just seeing all the cast embodying their old characters to be too focused on tight storytelling or plausible suspense. I was impressed, to the point of distraction, with how much of the cast was crammed into the film and with only one character having to be recast, too. I stayed away from most of the news announcements to stay as spoiler-free as possible, but had I paid attention back then I would have been truly baffled how and if all the pieces would mesh.

It would have been needless, though, because in the end it’s not so much Neptune High’s class reunion as it is one for the viewer. And rather than awkwardly mingling with so-called friends trying to piece together the hierarchy everyone’s lives have fallen into, you just get to sit back and see a remixed version of all the old favorites. There’s far too many things to list out here because they really are spread throughout the entire film. But if there’s some aspect you truly enjoy about the show, there’s almost positively an homage to it somewhere in there. I could gush on about it endlessly.

A must-see for any fan of the show, but then you’ve probably already seen it. If you aren’t a fan, I definitely suggest watching the show first because (a.) it’s a good one1 and (b.) you’ll enjoy this film so much more. Otherwise, it’s probably not going to feel worth the price of admission or a rental.

  1. At the time of this writing, DVDs and digital copies are on sale, too.

“Oz the Great and Powerful”

I’m really out of the loop with what’s coming out in theaters, I suppose, because this was one I didn’t know anything about until recently. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

Movie poster

Oz the Great and Powerful isn’t a terrible movie. It’s a fun enough distraction, if that’s what you’re looking for. And I think kids will enjoy it, though, I can’t quite endorse it given the central character of the film is a womanizing con man. A fact which is stated roughly every fifteen minutes throughout the course of the film.

It’s also quite a visual spectacle. Unfortunately, since we don’t have the luxury of introducing some newfangled technology like color this is mostly for show.

I would say it was breathtaking, but it’s this spectacle for spectacle sake that really lost me. It’s just so, well, fake looking that while it’s a very pretty and all it’s almost distracting. It’s such an obvious thing that it’s even the subject of some not-quite-fourth-wall-breaking jokes, which seem to me to be mocking the 1939 film. (“Bubbles are just for show.”) And when it wasn’t riding the coattails of The Wizard of Oz, it was almost too campy to be entertaining.

Mostly what bugs me is that there really is no plot. And I don’t just mean there was no story, I mean, that nothing really happens AT ALL. I’m still kind of baffled by the whole thing. So, of course, there’s already talk of a sequel. But even without any story, things didn’t quite make sense. Chiefly, I really don’t understand why Weisz and Kunis speak with different accents when they’re sisters — and Weisz can fake an American accent quite well, I think.

Personally, I was glad I had a free pass. If I’d paid full admission, I’d probably have a more heated rant.