The Chaos Blogg 56: it’s like one of my Japanese animes

So it’s been a long time but here we are with what may be the final Chaos Blogg of the year 2014. It’s taken a while but that’s because of one rather large game that I felt like I needed to include in this particular blogg. I’ve also got one movie and one anime series being looked at here, so hopefully you’ll find something of interest. Anyway here’s the usual remixes, I hope you enjoy yourselves.

Castlevania II: Simons Quest (NES emulator):

I’m sure most of you have at least heard of this game by now, it’s infamous across the Internet for being a terrible game thanks to the likes of AVGN and Egoraptor. So it may surprise you to know that I didn’t actually find this to be a terrible game. Wait what? Have you gone barmy? that harsh Australian sunshine finally melted your brain? I can already hear the questions, well thankfully I can explain. Castlevania II is a terrible game IF you don’t know what to do before hand, the game is terribly cryptic for one and it also lacks any sort of map, if not for the Internet you’d get stuck fairly quickly. However I only decided to tackle the game on a whim after watching a couple of online playthroughs, which means for the most part I knew what to do. Once you have that knowledge it removes one of the biggest problems of the game and makes the overall experience more enjoyable. Does it make it a good game? well not really but it does make it playable and at best a decent framework for better games. First of all the game has a wonderful soundtrack… well mainly just Bloody Tears but the rest of the soundtrack is also nice and somewhat catchy. The graphics aren’t as terrible as some have said but they do leave something to be desired even by NES standards. As for the gameplay the closest comparison I can make at the moment is Zelda 2, lots of 2D side-scrolling with many dungeons (mansions) and plenty of grinding. You walk around killing enemies in order to collect hearts which let you buy helpful items, whip upgrades and side weapons. There’s also a level system that isn’t very prominent but whenever you level up you refill your health bar, which for me occurred at rather convenient times. Personally I didn’t find the grinding in this game unbearable however I do see the potential for it to get frustrating as a game over reduces your heart count to zero. In fact the most frustrating sections of the game involve the dumb green blob enemies, which are incredibly cheap and often dickishly placed. Of course another infamous part of the game is the day/night cycle. “What a horrible night to have a curse” has become an infamous video game quote and really the transition is not as annoying as you’d think it’d be but as time has gone by other games have made the transition much smoother. What is annoying though is the fact that towns close during the night meaning you can’t refill health or buy items and often just have to sit and grind the night away (grinding the night away could be a good thing in a different context). It’s really dumb when you consider the fact that the game has you on a timer with how long you take determining the ending you receive.

The mansions are pretty bland most of the time and the bosses are pretty much a joke (there’ only 3 of them). This leads me to my largest complaint with the game outside of the obvious, the level design. Simons Quest has level design that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Metroid or Zelda game but the problem is there’s no reward for exploring large portions of the game. Perhaps they simply intended to have areas meant for grinding but considering I noticed most of these sections at the end of the game it seems like they were there to extend game time. These areas are pointless, hell there’s even a mansion with a random room filled with boulders suspended in mid-air. Behind the boulders is nothing so there’s no need to go near them to begin with, why not just make the area inaccessible and not waste my time. There’s a solid foundation of a game here though, it controls as well as the first game, and it’s pleasing to the ears. It’s however hindered by poor level design and unintuitive progression. I will not recommend this game unless you’re compelled out of curiosity like I was in which case I recommend watching someone else play it first unless you want to rip your hair out.

Shantae (3DS eShop): 

Shantae is what Simons Quest wished it could’ve been, it’s an action adventure game that takes place on a 2D and has exploration elements. It feels like it was heavily influenced by the Metroid and Zelda games of old and it’s at least a decent example of metroidvania gameplay. Before I end up gushing praise I want to address all my complaints with the game first. For starters there are weird glitches on occasions mainly involving strange changes in colour and there was one time the game completely froze on me, however thanks to emulation this wasn’t too much of an inconvenience. The main problem I find with this game though is the hitboxes, the phrase “where the fuck are they?” comes to mind. Luckily it doesn’t break the game to unplayable degree but hitting enemies never feels consistent and I suspect this is one of the many drawbacks of the detailed sprite work. Also one thing this game didn’t fix from Simons Quest is the lack of a map, it always helps to have a map and in these kinds of games I would say it’s essential in helping the player navigate with little frustration. Navigation is also made difficult due to the inconsistency of the platforms, background objects, and objects you can interact with. The tutorial level is a great example as you can walk through some barrels and crates but not others, this could of been fixed by perhaps colour coding or even just using some sort of outline. I’m also not a big fan of fireflies as they only show up at night which is a little dickish, I did enjoy collecting them though but I think this aspect of the game would have been more fun had they given shantae a dance in order to switch between day and night, as it is you have to wait long periods of time if you want to find the fireflies and it’s kind of a pain. At one point in the game the NPCs give you the wrong directions, in what is either a big blunder or a intentional dick move, you can end up traversing the wrong area for quite a while. I also want to mention that there is a life system which I think is a little redundant in these type of games but when I consider the hitboxes, the instant death obstacles and the close up camera I can understand why they decided to go this route.

Now with all the flaws out the way lets focus on what makes this game pretty freaking good. Well for starters there’s the beautiful 8-bit sprite work and animation, it’s some of the best I’ve ever seen and it compliments the art style. The character designs are nice and would eventually lead to wayforwards signature style with the likes of Might Switch Force. The soundtrack is another positive, it’s catchy 8-bit goodness and while I won’t say it’s the game boys best soundtrack, it’s better than a lot of modern soundtracks and suits the game well. One of the key mechanics of the game is dancing, which allows you to transform and eventually travel across the world easier. Dancing is a fun mechanic and while it can have moments of tediousness, it seems like a pretty clever way of working around gameboy limitations without having to navigate through menus. The transformations are pretty cool and they have balances to make them all rather useful, for example the monkey transformation has momentum and is harder to control while the elephant can’t jump more than a little hop off the ground (Just some advice: the spider is useful at the endgame). I also love the design of the Labyrinths which are basically Zelda dungeons in a side-scrolling style (similar to the mansions), they’re fun and have plenty of puzzles and gimmicks that keep things feeling fresh. The main one I remember is the 2nd one as it involves magnetism in a somewhat interesting way. Aside from the fireflies collecting in this game is enjoyable with heart containers, warp squids and animal transformation upgrades to collect, they’re all useful in game and are therefore very rewarding to find, and most cases you’re required to solve some sort of puzzle to get some of them. A lot of these puzzles actually require you to buy items from the stores which is something I encourage anyone playing this game to do. Experiment with the items and you’ll eventually be rewarded but don’t be too spend crazy as permanent combat upgrades require your coins and while there’s only 4 of them they’re all pricey and may require you to do some grinding. Shantae expands on some of the better ideas present in Simons Quest and even made the day/night cycle in this type of game more seamless and less annoying (towns stay open at night, hooray!). Of course it has it’s own fair share of problems but most of these seem to be the result of hardware limitations rather than just sheer stupidity, and hopefully when I get to the sequels these problems have been ironed out altogether. Shantae has a pleasing aesthetic and is whole lot of fun to play, I personally recommend this one and I’d say it’s worth playing.

Interstellar (movie): 

Interstellar has to be one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, however just like most of Nolans movies it’s somewhat polarising. While I personally like memento, Inception and the batman trilogy I sometimes find myself wondering if they’re actually profound or just pretentious. I don’t think I’ll ever reach a solid conclusion on this issue so I’ll try to put it aside for now. More importantly I think this is something you should all check out on your own time with minimal spoilers so I hope not to go too into detail on anything plot wise. Visually this movie is very impressive and I personally found it to be one of the more beautiful movies of the year, and they managed a nice variety of locations. The soundtrack is excellent and Hans Zimmer once again proves that he can make moving pieces of music that are also somewhat memorable, it works very well with the space backgrounds and also heightens the drama nicely. In short I’d say Interstellar is a space drama based on characters trying to survive in a harsh apocalyptic setting. They do a good job of establishing the relationships between the characters and every character felt like they had an actual motivation. I also feel they do a great job in world (galaxy?) building as the slower pace at the start allows for the audience to somewhat understand the dire situation the human race finds itself in. It’s an incredibly long movie and this may be seen as negative but unlike some long movies I have seen I was heavily engaged with this one. I was caught up into the drama, the mystery and the sheer beauty of it all. They also tackled an issue I had never before seen tackled in a movie before, which is the concept of relativity. Not only was it interesting it was a great way to build drama and tension, and it’s a concept that I feel provides this movie its most emotional scenes. What I will say though is that the ending enters some less believable territory but it didn’t really detract from the experience overall and instead gave the story an overall cohesion (At least in my head any way). Once again I very much recommend this one, unless of course you don’t like Nolan at all which may be the case for some of you.

Metal Gear Solid (PSVITA):

I’ve never played a Metal Gear game before and honestly the series has a reputation of being more cutscene over gameplay, to the degree that many people jokingly call the games movies. I was reluctant to check the series out and when I tried the demo of MGS3 on the 3DS I was pretty much turned off the series as the demo felt clunky and unintuitive. After all the years of hearing people rave about the series though I got curious and decided to download the first game, and I’m very glad that I gave this series a second chance as MGS1 is a fantastic game. I can see why people regard this game highly, it’s quirky with lots of neat little ideas but the gameplay still feels very retro. By that I mean it’s both fun and addictive in the same way that games like A link to the past or Super Metroid are but also with a larger story focus which feels like a lot of current games but with a lot more effort and charm. While I’m not a fan of he convoluted plot present in this game it does a good job of building characters, and manages to build some serious drama and emotions while at the same time as being rather ridiculous. It’s hard to describe because it’s almost like “playing” a parody of spy movie while at the same time actually playing a spy movie. I won’t say it’s award winning writing but it provided lots of entertainment and I’m impressed that they made it work. I also believe the presentation helps in this aspect as the game has a really good soundtrack (not the best on the PS1 but still pretty good), that is made of both atmospheric tunes and some catchy melodies. The game also looks pretty good for the PS1 and manages to maintain it’s own somewhat unique artstyle.

The main thing I enjoyed about this was the gameplay which is funny since I’ve never been a huge fan of stealth in video games as it’s often stressful and very slow, mainly due to all those moments of “how the fuck did they see me”. In MGS I didn’t really notice too many of those moments as the game does a fairly good job of establishing what the AI can and can’t see. It also helps that the game gives you a map and a top down fixed camera viewpoint which allow for easy navigation. You can also enter first person mode to check ahead and the camera often changes when you lean up against walls and cover. When it comes to combat though the game is very clunky and it can make many of the boss fights really difficult. However I didn’t really find the combat annoying in anyway but I kind of wish the game had more weapons based tutorials (in the tutorials section obviously) as it’s not always intuitive, of course I may have missed a conversation in game explaining the mechanics since that sometimes happens. For any other first timers you should probably learn how to choke enemies using the square button and also to crawl over claymores to collect them, it’ll help you out big time. I also love the small amounts of exploration in the game as it rewards you with ammo and extra upgrades for sneaking in to somewhat out of the way areas. I will say that backtracking in this game is a little annoying though mainly because it’s forced to the storyline and just travelling can be a challenge in a stealth game (At the same time the game is self aware of this fact and Snake is typically more pissed about it than you are, which is pretty funny). There’s all sorts of interesting gameplay elements like the anti-anxiety meds used in the sniper battles and the fact you can catch a cold which can instantly be cured with cold medicine but also makes you sneeze and therefore alerts enemies to your presence. Even the codec system is really interestingly designed and it’s really clever way of installing hints, tutorials and saving into the game without breaking the immersion, it helps that the voice acting is charmingly hammy but not actually terrible (if that makes sense).

I do have one pretty major complaint though and that’s the multiple endings, first off why would you let the end of the game be decided by an out of place button mashing section  I guess they were trying to simulate the torture that snake was going through but it feels very out of place and in no way should any amount of importance have been placed on this segment of gameplay. It’s like having the fate of Hyrule depend on the fishing minigame in OOT (thank god that’s not the case). Also the button masher has several cutscenes before hand and it takes a relatively long time -once you get the game over and for some dickish reason get booted to the title screen-  to get back to the button masher. It doesn’t help that I personally hate these types of button mashing sections to begin with as they’ve always felt like a cheap way of stopping player progress. It’s what I consider the worst part of the game and it made me reconsider playing through again to obtain the good ending. In the end though I really enjoyed Metal Gear Solid and it gets a solid recommendation from me. It’s an addictive game and I’m sure you’ll have a blast, just make sure you’re in the mood for lot’s of continuous dialogue and cutscenes.

Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS):

Fire Emblem Awakening is addictive but it also fundamentally changes the Fire Emblem series gameplay and I can see why some don’t see it as a proper Fire Emblem game. From my perspective some changes are welcome, like being to have a shit ton more supports and the whole ‘sparkly spots that give you shit’ thing replacing secret spots that only give thieves or really lucky units stuff. However because of the sparkly spots and the large number of merchants on the map it’s incredibly to end up with way too many weapons to the point where item management is pretty tedious, but the game compensates for that with an optimisation feature which works pretty well, but it feels a little hollow compared to other games (even though in FE7 I had too many weapons I was still able to keep track of most of them) where item management was a somewhat relaxing experience. The biggest change is the emphasis on supports with the pairing system, which makes supports more important in combat and in many circumstances down right necessary. The system allows adjacent units to attack together and sometimes defend each other but it also allows you to combine your units effectively giving you a way to rescue weaker characters without consequence. The emphasis on supports seems to have affected the effort put into minor characters during the main story, which means most characters get one chapter of story related dialogue and the game depends entirely on supports to flesh them out. It’s a little disappointing since Radiant Dawn did I better job of building the characters within the main story and it was a more solid story for it (I think even Path of Radiance did a better job). It almost feels like Awakenings support system is a reaction to the lack of good supports within Radiant Dawn (and if memory serves correctly shadow dragon) and it’s very clear that they put a ton of effort into this aspect of the game. The supports are really nice though, and do a good job of characterisation, they also make sure that every player will have a slightly different experience and this really shows when S ranks enter the picture. It effects both gameplay and dialogue and it lends the game an incredible replay value that trumps most of the series (which is saying something since I think Fire Emblem has high replay value).

The pairing mechanic is kind of broken and fundamentally changes the way the game is played. I felt slightly less strategic and cautious but at the same time it makes the game go faster and gives you more options when in a pinch. It also eventually balances out as you realise pairing too much limits the amount of attacks you can make on a given turn and in some battles extreme caution is still recommend even while using pairing. There’s also a bit of weird difficulty curve as one chapter can be incredibly easy while the next is a huge pain. Grinding is back from Sacred Stones and is very helpful early game but can make your team op pretty quickly for certain chapters so I don’t recommend overdoing it except when you’re about to tackle side chapters 18 to 23 (In fact it may be better to tackle the final boss before doing these side chapters). As a whole I feel the game is a lot easier than previous entries but it still has it’s moments of brutality and often the AI will punish if given the chance (sometimes you just get shit luck though) and don’t get me started on Side Chapter 23, it’s hell and I still haven’t been able to complete it without sacrificing someone (didn’t save after that though). There’s a quality cast of female characters (I’d be here a while if I listed all that I thought were well done), while the male cast is very bland design wise with many shades of brown hair but they at least have plenty of effort put into characterisation. Only Frederick, My Unit (aka Robin), Gerome, Owain and Chrom really stood out for me straight away, however a lot of characters grew on me over time. Tharja is freaking amazing, both combat wise, personality wise, and design wise (see images bellow I guess), but she ended up being less powerful than some of the later game units in the end (like Noire for example).

As for the story itself well I didn’t feel it as much as I should have, partly due to some spoilers but it didn’t pick up until chapter 7 and while it’s certainly a better narrative than the GBA games the world itself felt like it was lacking details, however this is in comparison to PoR and RD which went to great lengths to establish the countries and even the politics of those countries (Also there were battle briefing scenes where we got to see the strategies being planned). Awakening only gives a small glimpse into these types of matters with notions of Khans and Conquers but doesn’t give it any importance than “these guys are your opponent now”. With that said though many chapters such as chapter 10 were beautifully done and the core of the story is solid and allows for character drama, and many great moments that are all pretty much spoilers. The music in this game is a mixed bag, some of it sounds like generic JRPG stuff, while a lot of it is really beautiful and captivating (chapter 10 for example). While PoR and RD seemed to excel at character specifics tunes and tracks that played mainly in the dialogue sections, Awakening for the most part doesn’t do a good job with those and instead does an excellent job of battle and combat themes. For those themes alone I’d say it’s an excellent soundtrack. Overall I’d say I love this game and for now it’s found it’s place just above Sacred Stones in my ranking of the series, of course I also think it’s lacking some things and it doesn’t measure up to Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn but it doesn’t really have to. As of this moment this game is one I can highly recommend to all 3DS owners, it seems perfectly suited to newer players but I will warn veterans that this is a rather different experience but luckily the core remains intact… except for the magic triangle and light magic for some reason. Also if you want a laugh you might want to purchase the Scramble pack DLC, it actually provides more characterisation (also fan service).

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun (Anime):

I’m really not sure how to go about describing this series, but I guess at it’s base it’s a comedy about people who make romance manga. So in many ways it makes fun of troupes and conventions. In this regard it’s somewhat like Watamote and I don’t think I’d be able to recommend this to any anime newcomer. With that said though the I found the series genuinely funny and while it’s not marathon material I felt like it was worth watching. It looks and sounds good as well, so it doesn’t lose points in that regard. I’d give it a place alongside other comedies I enjoyed like Working and D-frag, perhaps even a little higher. I honestly don’t have any complaints at all for this one, although it doesn’t really go anywhere it felt like it used that to it’s own advantage rather thanconstantly trying to pretend it was going somewhere. There’s also no generic male protagonist character and for the most part there’s very little fanservice which will either be a plus or minus depending on your tastes and maybe even your mood. Very interesting characters overall and interesting character dynamics, for those who are more versed in this medium I think this series is a safe recommendation.

and the next track is a joke one.

And here’s some pictures.

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Thank you for being patient with me, it took me far longer than usual to create this particular post. I’m glad I was able to do it before the year ended. I’m also sorry for the length of some of these, I had a lot of thoughts on my mind about most of these games and then when it came to the singular anime I had very little on my mind (Probably partially due it’s good quality and my current tired state). I hope you enjoyed yourselves and if you want to talk about any of these things more feel free to do so in the comments.

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