30 March 2014


Got back from Noah, starring Russell Crowe and my first kid crush Jennifer Connelly (seriously, I lost count of how many times I saw Labyrinth as a kid), and I can't decide if I like it or not. About the only thing I can say without reservation is that it is one of the absolute weirdest films I've ever seen. Bear in mind, I was a film major, which means I've seen a lot of weird, disturbing, bizarre, and downright goofy stuff on screen that I cannot unsee. I'm not asking for a Purple Heart. I'm simply giving context and background to better hit home the point that this is not merely one of the strangest Biblical films you're likely to see, but one of the strangest films you're likely to see, full stop. The film is a nutty, synergistic mish-mash of post-apocalyptic sci-fi--complete with gas mining, aluminum siding, and even a grenade launcher--and high fantasy--complete with magic stones, flaming swords, and rock monsters--all wrapped up in a plot that's only quasi-Biblical at best. 

I'm not kidding about the rock monsters, by the way. 

While there is some Biblical precedent for these giants, they are one of the more fanciful licenses taken with the lore, even more than the magic rocks that make grenade launchers and pregnancy tests work. The trailer doesn't show so much as a hint of them, but they play a very significant role in the plot, if only up to about the halfway point. For what little they're on screen, though, they're the most fascinating film creatures I've seen in years. They have multiple, spindly arms, and hobble around on stumpy, lopsided legs. They twitch and jitter like doddering old folk, yet give them the task of protecting the ark from the last of humanity, and they will bust some heads. 

It may seem like I'm dwelling on these guys as a stalling measure to keep from giving any sort of final verdict on whether or not I liked the film and if I'd recommend it, and you'd probably be right. They are the highlight in that of all the disparate, even conflicting, elements that make up the film, they work the best. The remainder, especially what we're left with in the second half, is a little more haphazard and slapdash, like the movie forgot that it's supposed to be about Noah's Ark halfway through the story and spent the rest of the time ticking boxes on a checklist to make quota. Some boxes, though, get unchecked, and they're the ones that serve to illustrate how the story of Noah's Ark doesn't work adapt all that well to cinema compared to most other Bible stories like Moses or Samson and Delilah or even the story of Jesus. It works better as a vignette, like the tower of Babel or Abraham and Isaac or the story of Job. 

The main reason why the movie's few attempts to stay true to the original story fall flat is that it tries too hard to address some of the logistical issues of the deluge and the ark, namely matters of reproduction in the aftermath. Noah has three children, all boys, and only one of them has someone to take as a wife. Noah takes it upon himself to fix this problem, which might have worked as a main plot if it wasn't simply a fetch quest for baby-makers. That's not to say it's misogynistic or objectifying or anything like that; it doesn't have time to be. It simply isn't handled well, and the film virtually looks you in the eye and tells you in frankness not to get invested in this subplot, then goes through it anyway to waste time. A lesser film would have handwaved the matter altogether, but a better film would have made it central and offered up some great character development. To its credit, there is this very heart-wrenching scene in which Emma Watson's character is distraught over not being able to bear children, feeling like less of a woman for it. You could argue the gravitas of the situation, or at least the consolation offered up by Noah, gets made academic by way of a certain miracle at the hands of Sir Anthony Hopkins, but given that the damage was already done by the botched matchmaking, it's not worth nitpicking. In the end, it still manages to send a strong message about family not being about bloodlines but about compassion and love. 

Going through what does and doesn't work about Noah makes me think of what Kevin Smith said about his post-Askewniverse movies. To paraphrase, he said he'd rather make a movie he knows is flawed on some fundamental level than play it safe for appeal's sake because of the discussions the former will lead to. That's how Noah is. It's definitely divisive, but it's not polarizing. I don't think it's actually possible to wholly love or wholly hate this film. More likely, you'll pick and choose what works for you and what doesn't, kind of like what people do with the Bible. Let's just hope there's a lot less bloodshed than what that's led to over the centuries. I mean, if an argument about 300: Rise of an Empire can end in vehicular manslaughter... Hmm, we may be in trouble here. 

Stay safe, everybody. 

28 March 2014

Concept of Deceit

The trouble with games getting retitled upon release in various regions is that it you may completely miss a release because you literally don't know what to look for in searches or what to ask for in stores. For weeks, I'd been seeing trailers on Classic Game Room's trailer channel for a game called Conception, specifically, Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars. I had no real interest in it, so when I saw something else called Deception IV: Blood Ties, with somewhat similar-looking video thumbnails and artwork, I skipped over it. In fact, it wasn't until today that I decided to check on its official page in the PSN store. 

I suddenly felt very, very dumb. 

In my defense, the Deception series has gotten the Final Fantasy treatment when it comes to installment names, and I don't merely mean "IV being II" or "VI being III." I mean, Final Fantasy Legend and Mystic Quest-levels of "where did this come from and where does it belong?" 

Backing up, the first game in this apparently very long series that I played was Kagero II: The Dark Illusion. When I first heard of it, it was called Code Kagero. That article mentioned it being a sequel to a game called Tecmo's Deception, an early Playstation release from 1996. The games are a kind of action/strategy/puzzle synergy, feeling like an odd mix of Resident Evil and the skate park editor from the Tony Hawk games, if you can picture that. I always liked describing Kagero II (which was released as Trapt in 2005, but I refuse to call it by that name) thusly: 

"You play a beautiful princess in a gorgeous mansion... who makes a deal with a demonic spirit to give her the power to fight off bounty hunters after she's framed for her father's murder."

The setup is that you're being pursued by bounty hunters (and anyone else allured by the price on your head) who generally move fairly slowly, yet hit very hard. Your only real defense is running. Apart from that, and thanks to your demonic contract, you have the ability to pull booby traps out of thin air. When you enter a menu, the game freezes and the room gets broken up into a grid. You can set three different types of traps: ones that come out of the ground such as bear traps, ones that fall from the sky like boulders, and ones that come out of the wall like arrows. Each trap is assigned to a controller button. You decide where they're placed in the room, triggering them with the assigned button. The trade-off is that you have to lure the baddies close enough to you to get ensnared without getting hurt yourself. The other issue is that some traps take longer to set up than others. So, if a trap doesn't work, and you decide to assign another trap to pick up the slack, you'll have to stall. The traps can often work in conjunction with the mansion's architecture and decor, including torches, stained-glass windows, electric chairs, spike pits, and mechanical alligators, to name a very small sample. 

I frigging love this game. 

I freely admit it appeals to the sadist in me. As much as I'm not big on fantasy settings, there's something perpetually intriguing about castles, dungeons, secret rooms, and hidden passages. I also love the moral ambiguity, the way you question your actions (and delight in them) as your victims mutter pensive final statements as they meet sticky ends, to say nothing of the greater plot behind the scenes involving your father's murder. It definitely has its problems. It gets very repetitive and falls victim to the dominant strategy conundrum. Points earned help you purchase different traps, but you'll often find yourself sticking to a pattern of the same handful of devices, leaving you very little incentive to experiment. Still, the pros outweigh the cons and I consider the game a masterpiece. It was a fairly late release on the Playstation 2, and I was convinced I wouldn't see another entry in the series for some time, if at all. 
Now, nearly ten years later, not only does it get a sequel, and not only does it get to come stateside, but it completely flies under my radar with a name I don't recognize, and barely makes sense as a title. 

In fact, Blood Ties isn't even the proper name of the game. It's Dark Side Princess (which sounds way more badass). Even the IV isn't accurate as the game is labeled as a direct sequel to Kagero II. Remember how the Rambo series' first film is simply called First Blood, with Rambo being the "over title" of First Blood, Part 2, with Rambo III dropping the "First Blood" part altogether? Kagero II is technically Deception IV, but it's called Kagero II because it follows Kagero: Deception III. Is it any wonder this series is so obscure not only in America, but in Japan as well? 

So, given all I've gone on about the series, how I felt dumb, then excited, then confused, then back to excited, the question remains: will I be picking up the game? Not right away. There's a few dealbreakers that sour the package despite all the praise I foisted upon it. 

Firstly, the game is produced by Tecmo, who recently merged with Koei. I wasn't happy about this merger, as Tecmo saw fit to insert characters from its Ninja Gaiden franchise into Koei's Warriors Orochi games. That should make me happy, as the Samurai Warriors series is another staple of my PS2 top 5. However, it simply makes me sad. 

That's a minor gripe, though. The biggest problem is a matter of time and money. Deception IV has been released on PSN for Playstation 3 and Vita, but is not cross-buy. As much as I get why not every game gives you both the console and portable version for a single asking price, I feel like this is a huge misstep for a series that didn't really catch on outside of a very niche market in the states. A game like this really deserves to be played on the PS3, but I've been favoring my Vita of late. Whichever version I got, I wouldn't be completely happy with it, but their combined price isn't exactly worth it to me. The other issue is simply that I've reached a point where there's too many games out there and too many games in my library for me to spring for another. Child of Light is on its way, along with Hyper Light Drifter, and Wayforward will soon be delivering on the new Shantae game I preordered during the Kickstarter campaign. As far as current playing habits go, I've been really invested in Pinball Arcade, specifically the Gorgar and Black Knight tables. Speaking of pinball, Zen Studios recently announced a new 4-table pack for the Star Wars line, including a Han Solo-themed table and even one focusing on the Droids. So much to do, so little time. Wait for me, dear Deception IV... or come to Playstation Plus, whichever comes first. 

Here's a recent trailer for Deception IV

15 March 2014

Dear Grail Diary, Still Looking...

It should not surprise me that someone would make a replica of the grail diary from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. By the law of averages, someone would have to take up the task of meticulously recreating something that is only flashed on screen a few times in the course of the film. Actually, it turns out recreating it is not all that tedious; the LucasArts graphical adventure game of Last Crusade, released in 1989, came with a manual/hint book that may not have fooled any prop collectors, but did (in theory) foil a few software pirates. Given that, it's also no surprise that more than one person has recreated the diary. 
What does surprise me is simply how much of a cottage industry making these things has become, whether it's on DeviantART, Etsy, or eBay, not to mention the myriad of tutorial sites out there. I suppose it would only make sense since, despite all the merchandising of Indiana Jones over the years, an officially licensed version is strangely absent. The "Journal of Impossible Things" from a single episode of the revived Doctor Who series is available, but not the life's work of Dr. Henry Jones, Sr.. Something equally baffling to me, was seeing that someone on eBay named amazingthings678 not only recreate the grail diary, but take the challenge a step further by miniaturizing it. 

I see this and I think at first, "Oh, cute, he found a little notebook and put a hairband around it so it sort of looks like--" then you see the inside: 

In the words of the University of Chicago admissions department, "Why so awesome?"

05 March 2014


As I mentioned on my Twitter feed, I decided to give Lootcrate a shot after seeing it featured on Rev3 Games and more recently on Dr. Ashen's YouTube channel. If you don't know what it is, it's basically a grab bag; you get a box of random stuff each month. Said stuff, if past "crates" are anything to go by, includes a lot of blindbox figures, buttons, decals, and the odd t-shirt, among other things. It's a bit silly, overall, but I can appreciate the niche novelty and, by dammit, that's the kind of bold business venture I want to support... if only briefly. I don't think I'll stick with the service, but we'll see. 
As this is a grab bag, it's likely I'll like some of what's in the crate, and not care much for the rest. To that end, and a big reason I decided to go for it, I'll be passing along whatever I don't want, try to make a few people smile. I'm actually a tad anxious about the first box I'll get as the coupon code they posted to their site was "TITAN" which, given this is geek/gaming related stuff, could mean anything from Titanfall to Attack on Titan. I could honestly care less about the former, and have even written a painfully long essay on how not interested I am in the latter. Admittedly, I have reneged on a few points since I wrote it, but not many (i.e. the skinless titan still looks fricking stupid). 
While I don't think I'll be doing unboxing videos or anything like that (seems a bit pointless, as each box is technically unique), the fact is I'm terrible at guessing what people might like, and would like to avoid simply sending things willy-nilly every which way. So, I will be making the odd post now and again or, if I happen to be on Skype with you or PMing you somewhere like DeviantARTFacebookTwitter, or Google+, I may ask out of the blue if you want something. For the record, these will be gifts. I don't want any money or shout-outs, and I'm definitely not shilling for Lootcrate (though they did give me a referral link, which I'd appreciate you using if, by chance, your interest is piqued and you want to sign up). However, if you really want to return the favor somehow, I won't stop you. Void where prohibited, no obligation, cancel anyt---DAMMIT!