The 3rd Birthday – Late-Term Abortion

April 5, 2011 by

Aya's sick

First Samus Aran, now Aya Brea. In Parasite Eve and Parasite Eve 2, the former NYPD detective kicked monsters up the Bronx and down the Battery with her mitochondrial super powers and customizable weaponry. Now, in The 3rd Birthday she’s kept locked in a prison cell and only let out to get her clothes ripped off.

How the mighty have fallen.

The same could be said for developer Square, which disappointed the entire damn world Internet for their recent Final Fantasy games, not to mention the Final Fantasy games stuck in development hell and Final Fantasy games with goofy titles. Square and I had our run-ins in the past (I like Final Fantasy VII just fine, by the way, did that not come across?), and I’ve defended them many times before (Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light is a damn good time), but that gets difficult when something like The 3rd Birthday comes along.

Announced way back in 2007 for Japanese cell phones, it made the leap to PSP in 2008 before landing with a thud here in the present. That’s an awful long time, longer when you consider Parasite Eve 2 came out in the year 2000. So, it’s been a decade. And this is what we get.

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Grump Talk – The Grump Who Came In From the Cold

February 4, 2011 by

Oh god, grumpeteers, where have I been? The short of it is: not here. The long answer is that I’ve been embroiled in the final year of my post-graduate education, trying to finish my counseling psychology degree, which involves completing an internship. I won’t bore you with all the gory details, but currently I’m having to help out with a drug addiction recovery group, work four days a week at a homeless shelter, and devoting my Saturdays to working a doomed (dooooomed) group in an inpatient mental ward at a hospital.

That hasn’t left a lot of free time to devote to making snide comments about A Troll in Central Park.

And that’s my fault. Luckily, Tim has been keeping Grump Factory FLUSH with content in the meantime, which I knew would be an advantage to sharing the blog with another esteemed author. So kudos to him!

So what have I been doing in the meantime, besides slowly killing myself in pursuit of a degree? Same as always: watchin’ movies, TV and playin’ games! Let’s see if I can quickly touch on the stuff I’ve seen and am not planning on writing up in greater detail:

House: No, not the “Holmes in a hospital” weekly procedural; I mean the 1970s psychedelic Japanese horror comedy. The first feature film of a visionary experimental film director, House is about a group of Japanese schoolgirl archetypes that visit an old woman’s country house during summer vacation, where they’re preyed upon by the woman’s ghost who feeds on them to rejuvenate herself. It’s an absolute scream of a movie (pun intended!), full of carnivorous pianos, flying decapitated heads and wacky special effects flourishes. Everyone should check out Criterion’s superb DVD and Blu-Ray release of it.

Tangled: Disney’s return to 3D after the quick two-dimensional detour of The Princess and the Frog. An adaptation of the Rapunzel fairy tale, it’s a slight letdown after its gorgeous, charming, hilarious predecessor. Is that to say that the movie is awful? Helllll no, it’s still a giant leap from classic Disney misfires such as The Aristocats, The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Pocahontas. Where the movie really shines are the hilarious and endearing sidekicks and secondary characters. Rapunzel and Flynn Rider are genial enough, but a little unmemorable. Where the real weaknesses lie are in the lack of memorable musical numbers and the weak villain. An overbearing mother figure? Ehhhh. Glad the movie wasn’t a trainwreck, but The Princess and the Frog raised my expectations for Disney’s releases from hereon out.

The Decalogue: From the director of the sublime The Double Life of Veronique came a ten-part series of short films focusing on the everyday, but compelling, moral difficulties faced by the residents of a Polish apartment complex. I’ve only seen parts 1-3 so far, and the results are… interesting, even if it confirms some of the American stereotypes about foreign movies. Often bleak, frustratingly vague and slow as molasses, there’s still an intriguing core to the exercise that I’m excited to see revisited in the other seven parts I have ahead of me.

Enslaved: An action/adventure title that slipped under just about everyone’s radar, Enslaved (along with Heavy Rain) rekindles my interest in Western gaming. Yeah, it has the typical God of War-inspired combat and upgradeable weaponry and skills and blah blah blah… What really makes this game special is the amount of care that got put into the story that the game hangs off of. Loosely inspired by the classic Asian story Journey to the West, Enslaved features a man named Monkey who escapes from slavers with a plucky young woman named Tripp, whom forces him to help her get back home by enslaving him with a headband that can kill him with the push of a button. It’s wonderfully told and acted in exquisitely-animated cutscenes, which really make you empathize with the characters. It was a bit of a financial flop, so finding it on the cheap should be easy.

Valkyria Chronicles II: The follow-up to my personal favorite PS3 game, Valkyria Chronicles II had a lot to live up to, and already had a few strikes against it for being downgraded to a portable system and for changing the setting to a military training high school. Even though the characters are not even half has likable as the original crew, there’s still a spark in some of the designs and the gameplay largely translated to the portable system, albeit with much smaller combat areas, due to memory restraints. With new units, unit specialization trees and a tighter focus on short and sweet skirmishes, it’s still a fine S-RPG, and one of the most unique on the market.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn: Kirby games typically come out late in a system’s life and are typically fantastic. Even though this didn’t start out as a Kirby game, this one keeps up the tradition by being an effortlessly charming platformer, full of inventive ways of making the player go “Awwww!!” and little twists on the simple platforming that spice up the very easy gameplay. It’s a perfect choice to just chill out and relax to, and it may well be one of the most gorgeous games ever released on the Wii.

Landing on Saturn – Panzer Dragoon Saga: Forgotten Treasure

January 27, 2011 by

Panzer Dragoon Saga may not have much cachet with gamers these days (what does, besides Call of Duty? olol), but make no mistake: the name used to be whispered amongst gamers beyond just the hardest of the hardcore. Sega’s last hurrah for their doomed Saturn game console. The bizarre RPG follow-up to a rail-shooting franchise. The pathetically small print run which ultimately led to its infamy. Panzer Dragoon Saga was critically acclaimed when it released, but its legacy afterward became the stuff of myths, due to the fact that it printed only 6,000 copies initially, with the final units shipped at the end of its production run totaling 30,000. Keep in mind that most games these days have to sell through at least more than 100,000 units in order to be considered successful. Panzer Dragoon Saga is something of a holy grail amongst video game collectors, a unicorn. One rarely spots a copy in the wild, and if one does, one must be ready to pay dearly for it.

I never, ever thought I would come across a copy outside of, say, eBay. But one day, I found myself on the end of an offer to sell me the game for a price which, while still quite high, I knew I would never beat. I grimaced, forked over the change, and waited for the copy to arrive in the mail. You readers already know full-well the joyous bounty of the package I received, but the question still remained: Is Panzer Dragoon Saga all it’s cracked up to be?

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(Performance Review) Kid Icarus: Uprising – Wings of Wax

January 25, 2011 by

SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT

Nintendo touts Kid Icarus Uprising as the “glorious return” of Pit  in “spectacular 3D.” Designed by Masahiro Sakurai, creator of the Kirby and Super Smash Bros. franchises, it’s a blend of aerial and ground-based shooting “built on elegantly intuitive and streamlined play control.”

Whoa. Wait, no.

Uprising has the finest pedigree in Sakurai, the best graphics so far seen on the 3DS, fantastic art design and fun voice acting, but none of that is going to save this highly-anticipated title until someone changes the controls. Trying to hold the 3DS with the left hand, aim with the stylus in the right hand, move with the thumb pad (left thumb) and shoot with the left shoulder button (left index finger) is an ergonomic nightmare. Trying to do all that and pay attention to what’s going onscreen at the same time is video game equivalent of spinning plates while playing Twister.

To get a sense of what Uprising‘s controls are like, it’s the same basic set-up used by Metroid Prime Hunters for the original DS. It was a terrible control set-up then, too, unless you really like hand cramps. It’s possible toslightly alleviate the awkwardness by placing the system flat on a table or against your leg, but then there’s no alleviating questionable game design.

Stupid sexy Medusa

In each demo level, Pit takes to the skies in a Sin & Punishment-style on-rails shooter, then lands on the ground, switching into a bland, sluggish brawler mode. Both styles of play feel weightless, even when Pit drags his feet across the ground. Control problems persist in the earthbound mode since the only way to control the stubborn camera, and Pit at the same time, is by flicking the stylus all over the place. Awkward as hell. Dodging and running by double-tapping the thumb pad in the desired direction — also awkward . Killing enemies to unlock doors, the most basic of video gamey objectives, was all that part of the game offered anyway. I hope, hope, hope this game is deeper than that.

Listen, weird control styles don’t deter me from playing good video games. Monster Hunter is one of my favorite games on the PSP, and the best way to control that game is to use what players somewhat affectionately call “the claw” — arrange the thumb on the analog nub, and index finger on the D-pad, to control the camera. It sounds awkward, it looks awkward, but it works well.

Kid Icarus Uprising doesn’t, and I’m not even sure if it’s a good video game. It feels shallow. I don’t know what can be done about that, but the controls can be fixed easily by including different control options, ones that don’t need the stylus. There’s plenty of time to do so. Besides, more options are good! It’s the way of the world now.

Or, I guess I’ll opt to play something else.

P.S. I went this whole time and never mentioned the 3D. Well, it’s blurry. It never focused for me. Switching it off gave me a great-looking game — lasers shooting at Pit from all directions were a brief thrill — so it was no loss. But shouldn’t the 3D in a first-party Nintendo 3DS game work? Plenty of time to iron out those kinks, Nintendo.

(Performance Review) First Batch of Nintendo 3DS Games – Baby, They Ain’t Done Yet!

January 23, 2011 by

During Nintendo’s Nintendo 3DS showcase last week, I had opportunity to get playtime with many of the handheld’s upcoming titles. Here are a few early impressions.

HAY LSN
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
I rushed to play this one first. It’s the same game you played in 1998, with far better graphics and an improved control set-up. Using the 3DS’ thumb pad to move Link around the playfield feels really good, way better than the N64’s dust-making plastic stick (and no one’s going to miss the blurry, ugly graphics of the N64 original, either). Ocarina 3D‘s visuals impress with smoother, sharper and more detailed textures. In 3D, Kokiri Village and the Deku Tree look fantastic, with particle effects flitting about in the air, but I did switch off the 3D effects so I could concentrate on winning the Gohma boss battle. Aiming the slingshot and looking around using the gyro scope is cool, and it works, though I preferred just using the thumb pad in the end. Thank god for options. Too bad there’s no release date for it yet.

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TRON: Legacy – Despite Some Hang-ups, I GOT IN

December 17, 2010 by

Wow, been a while since I talked about a movie. Good thing it’s a movie about video games.

The original Tron was a slow, plodding sort of Star Wars rip-off with a few interesting concepts and a light performance from Jeff Bridges. Though it lacked in entertainment value, it provided the first foray into cyberspace on film, something that the sci-fi and cyberpunk subgenre would build upon for 27 odd years since. The Matrix, Ghost in the Shell and, if anyone remembers them, cartoons Reboot and The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest all used variations of the Grid, designs that relied on neon and skintight leather, and rogue hackers who changed the system and fought soulless corporations and/or machines. Tron helped pave the way for all that. It showed that past the monitor there’s a whole other universe inside the computer. Alice in Wonderland for the digital age — “a digital frontier.”

It was also among the first movies to portray video games in a positive, interesting way. Bridges’ character, Kevin Flynn, was an arcade hero who used his video game prowess to survive the disc and cycle games in the gladiatorial world of The Grid. And games have come a long, long way since Flynn’s Arcade. They’re the most innovative, lucrative entertainment medium there is today, and everyone plays them from Angry Birds to Plants vs. Zombies, to titles like Heavy Rain and Call of Duty that arguably push and blur the boundaries of what a game could be, making billions of dollars in the process.

Movies have responded in kind. Inception, Speed Racer, Avatar, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World — not to mention those unmentionables based on actual video game franchises — all emulate the kinetic imagery, rhythms and instant gratification video games provide, and most prominently, Tron‘s pioneering use of CG. Today, CG is so common that special effects are hardly special anymore. In a strange turnabout, practical effects like puppetry, prosthetics and — gasp — actual sets are novel once more.

So, with the history lesson out of the way, and a TRON: Legacy review to get into I have to reveal something first.

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(Performance Review) The 3rd Birthday – Aya the Body Snatcher

December 10, 2010 by

Cinematic Sultry Advertising Action-RPG Parasite Eve is a favorite of mine, as its wintry New York setting and bizarro sci-fi tale spoke directly to my tastes. So upon hearing its new PSP iteration, The Third Birthday, would be a third-person shooter I couldn’t help but fret. Square Enix’ last notable shooter was Dirge of Cerberus for the PS2. Yeah.

After some time with Aya Brea’s new adventure at a Sony video game showcase in NYC yesterday, I can shed my fears slightly. I wasn’t blown away by it, but I wasn’t underwhelmed either. I managed to jump into the game and get used to the controls immediately. They’re very easy, simpler than Peace Walker or Monster Hunter, though similar to both.

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