Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Legend of Zelda: First Impressions of the Wild


Some caveats: Technically this would be a "seventh" impression since I have now played "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" through seven sessions across approximately fifteen hours of gaming. I played deep enough to have beaten the first dungeon and boss, met a sexy fish prince, and gotten a good handle on most of the game’s systems. Most of the game was played on a WiiU but I’ve also played a bit on a new-fangled Nintendo Switch.

A little bit over five years ago “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” came out to what was then very high praise. I was in the minority back then when I called it "a game from the past, too restrictive, too structured, and too small". I didn't want to be in the negative camp, I really to love "Skyward Sword". But slowly all the little weaknesses tore it down for me, I still consider it to be the worst game in the series. "Skyward Sword" was badly padded between dungeons and story segments, it lost all sense of freedom, and it offered no new innovation other than motion controls. As it turns out, I was on the right side of history on that debate. Motion controls were not the future of the franchise, "Skyward Sword" was a mistaken dead-end. Thea actual future was in pure expanse, the adventure of an open world. Thank goodness for that.

"Breath of the Wild" is a game that borrowed ideas from a million other titles of this decade. It has "Assassin’s Creed" climbing, it has "Metal Gear Solid V" combat variety, it has "Dark Souls" ruthlessness, and it has the maddening scale of many other open world titles. But it also feels like a natural extension of Legends of Zelda past. I chuckled at gaming sites reporting that "Breath of the Wild" would be the "first open world Zelda". They forgot that Zelda was a pioneer of open world gaming back in 1986 along with things like "Hydlide" and "Ultima" and "Dragon Quest". Zelda might be borrowing concepts from other games. But those games are its grandchildren, and they owe Zelda a lot more. "Breath of the Wild" isn’t Zelda fighting to keep up with trends. It’s Zelda finally returning to what it was supposed to be.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Trump's Muslim Ban and Foriegn Policy by Imagination

What twitter hashtag should we use to describe this newest Trump executive order? #TravelBan or #MuslimBan? Which is more accurate depends on your perspective, I suppose. Opponents of the measure call it a Muslim Ban because that's the clear intent here. Trump and his supporters want to ban Muslim immigration, let's not dance around this fact. Yet his supporters point out that this order is limited in scope, does not cover all Muslim nations, and is "temporary". This is actually the kind of illogic that Trump and his government intended when they wrote this order. It's a cloud of dishonesty, creating confusion and nonsense.

Trump supporters believe that this executive order is both a Muslim ban and it isn't. To them, the president fulfilled his campaign promise to ban Muslim immigration, while arguing that he did not fulfill that promise because it is illegal. The left is overreacting in their eyes, yet Trump supporters really do want Muslims gone from this country. So the president is somehow both making good and not delivering, whichever is more convenient at the time. Trump himself has been pretty glib about the ban's intentions, saying "call it whatever you want". This is the kind of attitude that speaks volumes really.

So let's say for the sake argument then, this Travel Ban is not about targeting Islam specifically as a religion. Then what is it for? What are the operational goals of this Travel Ban? How can we measure success or failure? What is the strategic justification of banning travel from the sponsor of terrorism, Iran, and not the sponsor of terrorism, Saudi Arabia? Why target the civil wars in Sudan or Somalia and not the civil wars in Nigeria or Ukraine?

Consistent logic is not really a part of Trump's foreign policy. Trump has never made a case for why this ban is necessary because there is no case to make. It isn't about making a case, and never has been. Facts and strategy are too physical, they can be disproven. You can't argue against emotion and fear. How do you disprove foreign policy by imagination?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Long-Delayed Final Fantasy XV Review

It's incredible, looking back, at just how long I waited for "Final Fantasy XV", or "Final Fantasy Versus XIII" as it was known for most of its development cycled. I would have loved for that ten year saga of delays, false trailers, and terrible unnecessary CGI movies to have had a happy ending. But looking back now, it's actually the story of me and one of my favorite video game franchises growing further and further apart. Until we come to "Final Fantasy XV", a game that is definitely not something I can recommend, yet still not quite bad. It is a game that is just not for me.

When "Versus XIII" was announced I felt Final Fantasy was at a high water mark. I had just spent a couple years feverishly playing through the entire series. "Final Fantasy XII" was just around the corner, representing a huge revolution in the series. That was what I thought the future of JRPGs was going to be. (A decade later, turns out it was more of a dead-end.) I was so obsessed with Final Fantasy I would end up spending my high school years editing the Final Fantasy Wiki. Then came the disappointments. "Final Fantasy XIII" and "Final Fantasy XIII-2" were both awful experiences. I don't think any other games have made me as angry for as long as those two. But weirdly enough, I actually finished those. Months and months after starting "Final Fantasy XV" and spending an unwise $60 on it, I realize now I'll never bother to get to the ending.

See, I understand "Final Fantasy XV". I get it. If I were a game developer today who needed to sell six million units of a Japanese RPG, I would probably make a game just like "Final Fantasy XV". It's clearly following popular trends: it's open world, it's got beautiful graphics, it has very cool-looking fast action combat, and it's full of mindless sidequests to grind hours of freetime into. "Final Fantasy XV" is competent and safe. It is a huge step forward for Final Fantasy... into becoming utterly generic and nothing I want to be a part of anymore.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Do Not Impeach President Trump

Impeaching Donald Trump is going to be the Holy Grail of the political left in this country for the next four years. It is also, like the Holy Grail of legend, a complete fantasy. The Democrats in the Senate do not have the votes to achieve an impeachment. And also in what should be more a important detail: they don't have a crime. There is plenty of insinuation, and rumor, but no evidence of a law being broken. People have made phone calls, other parties were hacked, weird statements were made, Donald Trump has lied openly, and his positions have been contradictory. But it's all smoke, no fire.

Russia has returned to be a specter in politics for half a year now, at least as long as Donald Trump appeared to have a legitimate chance to beat Hilary Clinton. It seems that Vladimir Putin wanted Trump to be president. (In the Cold War Khrushchev also bragged about "voting" for JFK, a vote he probably regretted by 1963.) As sexy as stories of Trump having wild piss parties with prostitutes on the bed that the Obamas slept on are, they're suspicious. These are exactly the kind of thing liberals were dreaming of. The story only could have gotten better if Trump had also used the N-word. National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn has been fired over what is, right now, a minor infraction. He's not going to jail for this, he isn't going to be tried for treason. He is not a Russian sleeper agent.

I've loved the idea of a giant "do-over" button too. One where Trump breaks the law somehow and he's stopped before he takes office or does real damage. But unproven conspiracy theories are not the answer, they're just a repeat of utter nonsense. We can toy with this idea that maybe this Trump thing can go away, that divine intervention will put Hilary Clinton into office (or if you prefer, Bernie Sanders or Michele Obama or Chef Boyardee). However, that intervention isn't coming, nor should it. President Trump is the, if not democratically elected, at least legally elected president. He will have his four years in office, barring actual proof.

The alternative is far worse.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Top 15 or 16 Movies of 2016

2016 was a bad year if you weren't looking properly. There was plenty wrong with the world and plenty wrong with the world of cinema. But that was only from a certain point of view. There will always be bad movies, and there will always be mediocre movies. A lot of the worst movies of the year were unfortunately also the most visible. "Batman v Superman" got a huge release while most of the movies on my Top 15 did not. That is not fair, but it also means you have to work harder and find things worth loving in life. Or in the theater as the case may be.

Unfortunately the Top 15 List this year is telling me something. The sad fact is that I am officially an Adult. You can put that word in brackets and a scary font. [A-D-U-L-T]. A lot of the movies on this list are indie or relatively unknown or just more artsy, and is that really a surprise? The fact is that most bad movies, or even most mediocre movies, are bad in a very boring way. I don’t need to see that "Ben-Hur" remake to know it’s awful. I’ve seen this kind of garbage before. I'm sixty-six or something (give or take forty years) come last week, I've lost count how many years I've been writing this blog. I'm not even interested in reviewing bad movies anymore. I saw something like thirty to thirty-five movies in the theater last year. I've done it all too many times already, and frankly am just too old to waste it on trash. A lot of the movies here are stuff I would not have recommended when I started this blog, or things I probably much interest in. However, there is also a lot of stuff that me, no matter age, would love.

The final list does not have a single superhero movie, or even a single sequel. Frankly, 2016 was a year where blockbusters held no interest to me – and I’m not alone  there. People were decrying the death of cinema at the end of the summer because nobody could work up the self-contempt to pay money for "Now You See Me 2". Most of the big budget movies last year just flew me by. There was a Tarzan movie last year?! How? Why?? So 2016 really left audiences with no choice. If you loved cinema, you had to go weird, you had to eat your vegetables. You had to really dig. And behind all the dirt of the sequels and the bad reboots and the utterly generic, there was a lot of gold to dig up. In 2016 you really needed gold at the movies.

2017 doesn't look much better, so this list is my small contribution to maybe making your year better. (And of course, utter egoism, as always):