Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers

Hello, Space Monkees!

Remember that needlessly long Dissidia epic I did last week?  Remember how that game was a Final Fantasy title?  Well, this is absolutely nothing like that!  Which is absolutely perfect for me, since I really don't want to be talking about that game anymore!

So if you're waiting for that Part 11, I'd be on your toes, since it may or may not happen.  I'm not sure myself.  Sorry.  Instead I'll be commenting on a game that I personally have been looking forward to for quite some time now, "Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles:  The Crystal Bearers".

What?  Don't tell me I'm the only one who cares about this game?  This is like the Final Fantasy that time forgot.  Are you all really that interested in the Japanese release of "Final Fantasy XIII" to ignore one that's on your own shores?  Well, you enjoy your Doki Doki Japanese-only game, for now I'll be playing this.

Anyway, let's give some backstory here to explain this bizarrely long title.  Final Fantasy is a strange kind of series.  In fact, I don't even know if you can call it a "series".  Its more of a brand name really.  Each game has pretty much nothing to do with the last one.  There's even a debate over what it means to be a "true Final Fantasy game".  I'm not going to get into the subject, but personally I believe its the Chocobosy.  And whether or not your game will be counted in the main series is based entirely on whether or not Square Enix feels like it.  "Final Fantasy XIII" is actually something like the thirtieth game to come out with the words "Final Fantasy" in the title.  Within the Final Fantasy series itself, there are a few real series out there, like the "Final Fantasy VII" games, which all feature the same characters and the same general plot.  Crystal Chronicles is a series based entire on Nintendo systems, all of which take place on the same world just in different places in time with completely different characters and completely different gameplay.

"Crystal Bearers" is the latest game in that series, both in the real-world sense in that it came out just two weeks ago (the official release date was a lie) and that it comes thousands of years after the other Crystal Chronicles games.  Unlike most Final Fantasy games, this is not really an RPG.  Its much more action-adventure oriented, and is completely free of any sort of numbers at all.  You can equip accessories, and those raise the strength of your combat abilities, but that's it.  Instead of a party, you follow a single character:  the magically powered Layle, who is a Crystal Bearer.   The free-roaming kind of gameplay immediately made me think of "Final Fantasy XII", and anything that reminds me of "Final Fantasy XII" definitely has my vote.

In this stage of Crystal Chronicles one of the four major races, the Lilties have become the dominate power, and have outlawed all magic.  The only people with magic powers anymore those with shards of Crystals embedded in their skin, called Crystal Bearers.  Back during "the Great War", the Lilties destroyed a rival tribe, the mechanical creatures called the Yuke.  The main plot of this game is to determine what is behind the mysterious attack of a modern Yuke with the Crystal Bearer power to warp time and space to summon monsters.  There are a few twists along the way, and plenty of fully-fledged characters to interact with.  This is no Dissidia right here - this time Square Enix has written something that actually goes someplace.

Layle, our hero, is much better than the usual Final Fantasy hero fair.  Instead of sitting around finding himself during the journey, Layle is far more confident and cocky.  He jumps straight into the action, relishing the adventure of it all.  His main power is a command of "the Force":  Layle can telekinetically grab objects and throw them around.  Instead of weapons, you'll have to grab whatever junk is on the ground to fight enemies.  Of course, Layle also uses his Force powers on himself, using it in platforming parts and as a dash move to dodge enemy attacks.  The real meat of the game is using the Force to figure out how you can affect the environment around you:  be it turning a floating explosive enemy into a land mine or giving balloons to little kids.  This is a game that rewards exploration and curiosity.  Its really unlike anything else I've ever played.

However, it isn't all combat.  Much like a Legend of Zelda game, you'll be spending quite a bit of time playing minigames outside the main battle system.  One minute you could shooting down dragons in the sky, and the next moment you'll be helping bikini-clad girls win an ass-bumping contest (yeah, an ass-bumping contest).  Very few of these minigames are particularly hard, but they are usually a great deal of fun.  For example, "Crystal Bearers" has managed what I thought was impossible:  it actually has a fun stealth minigame!

Your crystal powers extend beyond the battlefield, so even while walking through town you can grab pretty much anything that isn't nailed down and throw it at anyone.  So you can throw people off their Chocobos and steal them to ride around on, or you can mug Moogles for a few pieces of coin.  Its a weird kind of world, you can throw people around without them really seeming to care.  In fact, you can only talk to people running minigames or the helpful direction Moogle Stiltzkin, who is still traveling the world even after leaving "Final Fantasy IX".  Instead you run through towns filled with all sorts of baby talk and various other grunts.  It is nice and rewarding to make them happy sometimes though.  There's tons to discover throughout the world.  I like changing the channel on the big TV in the capital city, personally.

Some of the more negative reviews of the game have claimed that its all fluff, and has no real challenge.  that mght be true of the minigames, but the boss battles are actually quite challenging.  And I've had my own share of troubles against the regular enemies, I can tell you that right now.  The controls do take a bit of time getting used to - it is all too easy for you to just throw your object away instead of holding it at first.  Also the camera has something of an usual system:  you use the D-pad on the Wii-mote to move the shot.  So your thumb needs to rest further up the Wii-mote, it should not be resting on the A-button, which is used only for special things like opening chests and talking to people.

Of course, as much fun as this game can be at times, there are a few major faults that really bug me.  For some reason, Square Enix has completely made an ass out of the navigation system here.  On your minimap, you can only get little red dots showing where enemies are; you don't get any kind of an outline of the boundaries.  The worst problem in navigation is that the game does not have any kind of map.  You do get a little picture showing what the world looks like in your menu, but you can't use it to find out where anything is.  So if you're trying to find Bridge Town, you have to rely entirely on luck and Stiltzkin.  I cannot imagine what they were thinking when they refused to add a real map.  Combat is made a lot more annoying than it needs to be by having it come in cycles.  Every five minutes or so enemies will appear in certain locations, and then five minutes later they'll leave.  In order for you to really accomplish anything you need to kill every enemy and close a sky portal that comes straight out of "Twilight Princess".  Sometimes I'll just have a single monkey left to defeat, and then the portal will close on me.  Darn it all!  Another major complaint I have is that early on there are no less than three opportunities where there should have been a boss fight, and instead the game plays a little cutscene instead.  There's no reason for these segments not to be playable, I don't know what happened.  Luckily the later boss fights make up for this.

The game also seems to be lacking in polish in certain places.  Like when Layle walks a tightrope, his feet move on it like he's running on flat ground.  He's flying over the tightrope.  The least they could have done is thrown in a little blue whirr under his feat to make him seem like he's using the Force to walk.  Also the camera gets a little crazy at times, sometimes shifting over for a split second over to something else.  The voice acting is a little hit or miss too.  Otherwise they've managed to create a very living and breathing world for you and Layle to explore.

What is definitely one of the better parts of this adventure is the music.  All Final Fantasy games have great music, and "Crystal Bearers" is certainly no exception.  The soundtrack jumps wildly to all sorts of genres and styles.  In one area it could be an upbeat western theme, and in another you'll hear what can only be described as "extreme bagpipes". When the music needs to be epic, its epic.  When it needs to be haunting and mysterious, it throws some nice harmony arias your way.  If I must complain about something, it would be the Chocobo Theme, its one of the worst remixes of the entire series.  Sorry about that.

So ultimately I have to give "Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles:  The Crystal Bearers" a recommendation from what I've seen so far.  I'm only about a third of the way through the game -I think- and so far its been quite a bit of fun.  Unless something incredibly stupid happens (unlike Nintendo, Square Enix cannot be trusted to not drop some bullshit on you in the eleventh hour) this has been a very good addition to my video gaming experience.  Despite the generally negative reviews, I have to say I've been liking this game.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Super Mario Galaxy

Hello, Space Monkees!

Thanks to what I imagine had to be a horrible clerical error at the North Pole, I somehow managed to end up on the "Nice List" this Christmas, and so Santa Claus has rewarded me with a shiny new Wii!  And along with that, two great games for it... and Wii Sports.  But who cares about Wii Sports?  I don't!  Its especially hard to focus on that title when you have a huge behemoth of an Italian platformer staring you in the face.  Yes, its my thoughts on "Super Mario Galaxy" - only two years too late!

I love Mario.  In fact, I think I've always loved Mario.  Me and that Goomba-stomping plumber have had years and years of fun together.  Saving the ever-kidnappable Princess Peach, throwing Bowser into a pit of fiery lava, getting our asses handed to us by the Cloud Guy...  ahh, so many good times.  I mean, just pick a Mario game, odds are that I've not only played it, but that I've played it six million times.  "Super Mario 1" - awesome, "Super Mario 2" - awesome, "Super Mario 3" - awesome, "Super Mario World" - awesome, "Super Mario Land" - awesome, "Super Mario 64" - awesome.  Heck, I'll even make a slightly controversial judgement and call "Super Mario Sunshine" awesome too.  I know some people didn't like it because of the water gun thing, but I say it was just as good as 64, if not better.

However, the last level of Sunshine is complete bullshit.  I do not actually believe that any real person has ever navigated the lava river on that boat, and will refuse to believe it until my dying day.  Yeah, I never could beat that game.  Sorry, Peach, but you're just going to have to stay kidnapped for that adventure.

So without further ado, here's my thoughts on "Super Mario Galaxy":

Let me open by saying that from what little bit of the game I've played (fifteen Stars worth), I can say without a hint of hyperbole or exaggeration that this is without a doubt the single best Mario game ever made.  Its as perfect a platforming video game can ever hope to be, at least to my limited imagination.  Its wonderful.  Its fantastic.  Its beautiful.  Its glorious!  Hallelujah, Blessed Be Its Name, "Super Mario Galaxy" is my new God.  I would kiss its feet if the game disc had them.  Before I put the disc in my Wii, I make sure to take the time to give it a bow of respect before I begin playing.  How something of such brilliance was allowed to come into the hands of lowly unworthy me is a question for the limitless ages.  I really like it.

The plot is basically the same as every other Mario game you've played - Bowser comes from the sky, steals Peach, and decides to take over the world  -nay make that universe this time.  So Mario must take to the oddly oxygen-filled cosmos to fight his rival's armies of minions and rescue all the Stars, because that's how a 3D Mario rolls!  The same classic basic plot with the same general goal, only with a very cool twist.  Instead of running around a regular terrestrial world you're running around tiny star systems.  Its the first truly 3D platforming game ever made.  This shift to the stars opens up limitless numbers of opportunities for game design, and knowing the creative teams at Nintendo, by the end of this journey I'll have visited every single one of them.

But its not like the regular flat worlds have been ignored for this jump into space - there are still plenty of worlds where gravity is an absolute direction - down.  Mostly the game does this by throwing black holes below certain areas, but in other locations the game just throws you into a blue sky world.  So while you're jumping through space and riding space junk one moment, the next you'll be riding down a floating river on a giant pirhana. It all looks as good as a Mario game ever has, with the minor details really selling it for me.  For example, if you run to the side of a planet away from the Sun, the area will be covered in shadow.

The controls are quite good, with the Wii-mote serving as an addition to the regular Mario controls, rather than a replacement.  You still jump around, run, and do the ground pound the same way you did in 1997, but here they've thrown in various other moves.  If you give the Wii-mote a nice waggle, Mario will do an extremely useful spin move.  The Wii-mote is also used to shoot various targets and collect star bits, which are used both as ammo, but also as a way to collect another life once you reach fifty of them.  It only takes a few moment to figure out the duel controls, and it works perfectly fine every time.  When I first started playing this game I was worried I would feel that it would have worked better on the GameCube but after several hours of play, I wouldn't have it on any other system.

Okay, some minor complaints:  every so often the controls get a little crazy when you're going from the top to the bottom of a planet.  Also, the game seems to be a bit more linear than the other 3D Mario games.  Instead of having an expansive hub world like Peach's Castle or Delfino Plaza, its just a small satellite world with very few secrets to find. I still haven't found anything like that sliding game that "Super Mario 64" had hidden in a window of the castle, its a little confining.  And like all Mario games, the bosses are piss-easy.

But other than that, this game is basically flawless - its exactly what its trying to be:  an adventure.  It took me quite a long time today for me just to stop playing so that I could write this review thing.  Obviously is this something that any person who plays video games:  children, teenage man-children, jaded older game critics, whoever you are, can enjoy.  Also look forward to a sequel, as "Super Mario Galaxy 2" is coming soon enough.  Yes, this is the game so good that Nintendo has to release a sequel immediately, instead of the usual half a decade we have to wait for a new 3D Mario game.

Look for a review of the other Wii game Santa brought me:  "Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles:  The Crystal Bearers" tomorrow.   ...If you can really call these things "reviews".  Uch, I don't like that word, it makes everything so formal...

Fanwank Corner:  Why does Mario even bother with Princess Peach when he meets a much prettier and more celestial character heroine in Rosalina?  If there is a God, she must be either Rosaline or Cosmos from "Dissidia".  These last two video games have convinced me that God must be female, and gorgeous.  This being one of those days that I feel like believing in God.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sherlock Holmes: The Movie

Hello, Space Monkees!

Here's a good tip for when you're wavering on whether or not you want to see a movie:  Robert Downey Jr. is always a safe bet.  For his first twenty-five years of acting, his quality wavered a bit.  You had great roles like in "Chaplin" and "Natural Born Killers", and even a very early minor role in the 80s teen classic "Weird Science", but mostly it was all a whole lot of fluff.  But in the last five years, even since the criminally underrated "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", the man has just been on fire.  Its been great movie after great movie.  "A Scanner Darkly", "Good Night and Good Luck", "IRON MAN", "Tropic Thunder", along with even a few shining performances in otherwise completely forgettable movies like "Zodiac"; this alone is a more glorious career of work than beyond most people's wildest dreams.

And do you know what the best part of all this is:  he doesn't seem to be slowing down.  We got two more Iron Man movies coming down the line, and something called "Cowboys vs. Aliens" (if that isn't the great idea for a movie ever, I don't know what is).  Happily, I am glad to report that the Christmas release "Sherlock Holmes" is just another triumphant step on Robert Downy Jr.'s seemingly unbreakable winning streak.

So I guess by now you've used your deductive skills to gather that this is going to be a glowing review.

First things, first.  I'm going to be honest here and admit that I know next to nothing about Sherlock Holmes or his mythos.  I do know that he has a sidekick named Dr. Watson, to whom much is "elementary", and that he has an arch-villain named "Professor Moriarty", but beyond that I'm basically in the dark.  Without having actually read any of the turn of the century detective novels, all I can imagine when I think of Sherlock Holmes is the cliches:  a man in a plaid coat and deerstalker trudging around a crime scene with a magnifying glass.  My sum total of Sherlock Holmes experience is a newspaper puzzle called "Slylock Fox" and an extremely short-lived Saturday morning cartoon called "Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century".  From what I've heard, this movie is more or less faithful to the original works, but it includes elements that are often forgotten in the pop culture image of the character.

The film is essentially a complete reinvention of the Sherlock Holmes character, making him act and dress very differently than what you would normally think of when you imagine that famous Victorian detective.  Through Robert Downey Jr.'s excellent British accent (to my American ears, anyway), you'll see a Sherlock Holmes that has more in common than Dr. Gregory House than the prim and proper idea we have in our heads.  Or maybe that's just my original idea of what Holmes was, I could easily be mistaken, considering I know nothing.  He's a very slovenly character, almost Bohemian - solving the riddles of the universe by day, and beating up guys in the boxing arena by night.  Its a rare character who can pull together all the deductive genius and outright clairvoyance of Dr. House and add it to the sheer badass power of John McClain.  So what we have here is a mystery movie mixed in with an action flick, along with some ancient conspiracy and magic stuff just for fun.  All of this is thrown into the backdrop of the brilliantly re-created corrupt and smoggy Victorian era London.  Can this combination possibly fail?

Of course not!

Though my favorite part of the movie has to be the most important interaction:  that of Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson (played by Jude Law).  The relationship is - to use another House comparison - like that of Dr. House and Wilson.  On the one hand, Holmes is completely intolerable, forcing Watson to fight crime, repeatedly killing his dog, getting in the way of his marriage, and just living a life of eccentric madness.  But even during their worst bickering, you'll still get that smirk of friendship between the characters.  This is the driving force of the movie, the real core emotion beyond all the fist-fighting and mystery.  And just in case the movie made you fear that perhaps Holmes and Watson might be "more than friends", they pair them up with different women.  Even so, the movie isn't afraid of making jokes about the homoerotica flying around.

Other characters aren't quite as good, but they all work universally.  The main villain brings fear and looks like Andy Garcia (but he isn't, he's actually Mark Strong).  Watson's girlfriend plays her minor part well, but doesn't get enough screen time to really shine.  If I had to pick a character I liked least, it would be Sherlock's New Jersian faux-action girl friend.  At first she's shown to be an extremely independent character, even able to outsmart Holmes at times.  However, the movie quickly knocks her armor off, turning her into the Damsel in Distress twice, and even having her made a tool of the shadowy character, hiding off in a sideplot to be the villain in the sequel.  But at least she's cute, so yeah.

In the end, I really can't say this was the absolute greatest movie ever, but it definitely works on every level it needed to, and I am looking forward to several sequals - as long as they can keep up the quality.  If you need a good movie to scratch your itch, this will scratch that itch, and more so.  You really can't ask for much more out of a film, can you?  "Sherlock Holmes" is a perfectly fine way to end your 2009 film year.

And if you're having any doubts, just know that full of shit New York Press film critic Armond White hated it.  That's always a good sign.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Its a lovely time for friends and cheer, the happiest day of the entire year.
Santa is has come with merry glee, bring presents and joy to all who be.
I'm not rhyming very well, because my mind is stuck on jingle bells.
A rushed poem is not much to see; its hard to write when you're happy.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, Space Monkees!  Now back to my shiny new Wii.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dissidia Playing Log: Part 9

Hello, Space Monkees!

I BEAT THE GAME!!  Oh yeah!

Following the end of the ten unsatisfying Destiny Odyssey chapters, the game then opens up the four-part finale epic called "Shade Impulse".  Instead of blindly running around collecting Crystals and finding themselves, the heroes now have to band together to save the world without the help of their fallen sexy Goddess.  You see, thanks to an extremely convoluted series of events that will take me until Christmas 2010 to explain, finding the Crystals has killed Cosmos, and now "the Great Will" (whatever that is) has decided that Chaos will win the war.  And being a Final Fantasy villain, Chaos has decided to end existence so that he doesn't have to feel so lonely anymore.  Pretty much par for the course then.

So this is looking good, the tension has finally been picked up, we get to see plenty more of Keith David, and its all flying towards an explosive final battle.  Indeed this is finally where Dissidia picks up.  Took it long enough.  So you run forward through the enemy boards, slowly killing off all ten Chaos villains one by one until finally you fly right into Chaos, for a three-part ultimate boss battle... which has some of the lamest and most inappropriate final boss music ever - but its still epic!  Keith David drowns out the music, so no worries!  Beat him, and then all the heroes return to their own worlds.  Except for the Warrior of Light, who then marches off to Cornelia in what I believe is the start of "Final Fantasy I".  That's pretty awesome right there.

Easily the best part of these chapters, and indeed, the entire game for that matter, is the touching ways that the story sends off the villains once they're killed.  Unfortunately, only three of said scenes are mandatory in the main storyline:  Garland, the Emperor, and (weirdly) Exdeath.  For the rest, you have to load up the chapters with the right characters.  So if you want to watch Sephiroth's big moment, you have to fight him as Cloud.  I, still going with Onion Knight, only got to see the one for Cloud of Darkness.  Luckily we live in a modern age, so if you want to see Kefka's end, go to Youtube and find the right video. Saves mr a Hell of a lot of trouble in leveling up the other characters who I've been neglicting.

Anyway, here's a few final scattered comments I need to make about the storyline:
  • No, I have no idea what the heck is going on half the time either.  Everything is left really vague, characters are mentioned in passing, random dialogue is thrown around without any explanation.  This is all in anticipation of a sequel, I imagine.  Watch, much like the Kingdom Hearts series, things are going to get more and more complicated, darker, and more absurd in Dissidia 2.  Though I'd follow Kingdom Hearts straight down into Hell if it goes there, I don't think I'd follow a possible Dissidia series for that long.
  • All game, the Emperor from "Final Fantasy II" had been built up, with plenty of claims about how he'll "be greater than the Gods" or whatever.  All this time they've made such a big screaming deal about his evil scheme... only for it to go nowhere.  He decides to fight the heroes for no good reason, and well, dies.  I'm disappointed.
  • I neglected to mention this earlier, but Golbez's voice sounds ten times better in this game than in "Final Fantasy IV DS".  It was bugging me why, until I caved and looked it up.  He's changed voice actors.  Power to you, Golbez.
  • The way this game treats the "Final Fantasy VII" characters, even in the end, is completely lame.  But I can accept them being out of the spotlight, this is supposed to be an ensemble piece.  Still, I would have liked to see more out of Sephiroth instead of just recycled lines from old games.
  • During the end credits, there's a long orchestral piece made out of tunes from the main series.  Its like traveling through time, watching the series' evolution through the years.  Sort of like we're watching the series grow up from the mediocre NES games to the glory its become...  Well, until "Final Fantasy XI", because everything after that doesn't count as much in the universe of Dissidia.  Which curiously enough leads me to my final word and conclusion on the subject of this game:
  • WHERE IS "FINAL FANTASY XII"?????  (Actually this was my original word on this game, so if nothing else I've remained true to who I am.)
Gameplay:  Naturally, things get more and more difficult as you go along in Shade Impulse.  You start out fighting enemies at level 20, but by the last few boards of Chapter 3, the enemies are in the 60s and 70s.  I even ran into a level 99 Garland... who I couldn't beat (I suck), so I just restarted that board and ran straight to the real boss.  This is interesting, since you'll run around fighting level 70 regular enemies, then fight the real Sephiroth as a boss, and he'll only be at level 44.  So after huge epic battles where you survive only by the skin of nose, only to fight a boss who is wiped out in ten seconds.  Then for the last two boards before Chaos, the game's difficult suddenly nosedives completely off the radar.  These final enemies are so piss easy that I thought I was playing a Mario game for a brief second there.

With only the slightest bit of level grinding outside the main storyline, I was up to level 70 by the time I ran into Chaos.  So it just wasn't a fair fight at all.  He has three forms...  all of which are more or less exactly the same, though I didn't get to see enough of it to really know.  Here's a play by play.  In the first battle, I guarded against his attack, then killed him with a ground HP attack.  Over in five seconds.  Second battle, took a bit longer, but still won with ease.  Final Battle, Chaos beat me up a bit this time, had me down to 1500 HP, and then started using his Limit Break.  He suddenly grew to five thousand feet tall!  This is no job for the little Onion Knight:  we need Godzilla or the Power Rangers for this!  Luckily he couldn't hit me the first time because I broke his Brave, and the second time I learned how to dodge the attack.  Finished with Comet.  Sorry Onion Knight for doubting your ability to fight five thousand feet tall avatars of pure evil.  You're my little buddy, you know that?

Its a curious thing being much more powerful than the boss you're fighting.  Backwards, to say the least.

Now that I've beaten the main game, Dissidia has finally decided to let loose the FFXII that I've been wishing for all game.  Its just an extra mode where you fight all the main villains then Gabranth, after which you can get him as a character.  I'm playing it now, and rocking out to the Theme of the Empire.  Even so, this is certainly not enough FFXII...  not at all.  Maybe in the sequel it will be properly represented, by which I mean anybody but Vaan.  Also we need some "Final Fantasy XIII" and "Tactics" too come to think of it.

Next on the Log, the very last entry. Its nice we have ten parts, but why have ten, when you can have eleven?
Update:  There never will be an eleventh chapter to this.  The FFXII and FFXI sections were so incredibly boring that I simply could not bring myself to write anything about them.  Its like describing a sandwich you kinda enjoyed back in fifth grade.  I don't want to talk about it and nobody wants to hear it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dissidia Playing Log: Part 8

How you doing, Space Monkees?

Normally I would be talking about "Final Fantasy VIII"'s chapter of Destiny Odyssey in this post.  However, I have officially run completely out of complaints and comments to make.  I'm done.  I'm finished.  Instead of going through each and every little chapter and delve into what I admit is needlessly savage criticism, I've instead decided to lump all three chapters into one post, and move on to something else.  Honestly, I really do want to get past this whole Dissidia epic and move on to some other topic of posting.

Since I just want Dissidia's plot to finally move on already, I've actually begun to skip cutscenes once the dialogue begins to run dry.  Which is fairly often.  And since I've fought the same twenty enemies about 100 times each now, I've begun to dodge fights too.  I guess ultimately my enthusiasm for this whole thing has begun to wane.  Really, the game needs to jump up into a new level of intensity, both plot-wise and in gameplay.  How many times can you fight a level one Firion while keeping up your personal level of excitement?  Twice?  Maybe if you're really really like disturbingly into "Final Fantasy II" (there has to be at least one guy out there), but for the rest of us, it isn't going to fly for very long.  So what I wanted to do is fly right through the last three chapters and jump into Destiny Odyssey where I'm sure things will finally pick up.

But first, a brief overview of each Chapter.

Plot-wise:  There's nothing to talk about in Destiny Odyssey VIII.  There's nothing to talk about in Destiny Odyssey IX.  I really believe, honestly, that whoever wrote the scripts for these chapters just did not care at all about how they performed on any level.  If you are out there, Japanese person who wrote this game and if you poured your heart and soul into this, I am sorry for being so furious with my critique.  I guess it was somebody else's fault that the shine of your ideas didn't shine through in the finished product.  Or if you just wrote whatever got your check signed, then I guess my suspicion was correct.  And you should definitely find something that you actually care about to do, because you're only hurting others by writing stuff like this.

Surprisingly, and I do mean its a surprise, Destiny Odyssey X is actually one of the better chapters plot-wise.  Because something seems to happen.  Tidus begins his journey hating his dad, Jecht for reasons that you would understand if you played "Final Fantasy X".  By the end of it, he's gained a respect for the old man.  It may be just a replay of that plot line from FFX, but it worked there, and by God it works here.  I never thought I would like Tidus's story, since he's easily my least favorite character to appear in Dissidia.  His narration is as grating as ever, but at least its a nice homage to the original game.  And that's what these chapters should have been:  homages.  As for the others, I just don't see.  Squall kinda gets a lone wolf sort of thing, but there's no love interest to drag him along.  Nothing at all happens to Zidane, which is sad since "Final Fantasy IX" is the second-best game in this compilation.

(I still can't say with a straight face that "Final Fantasy XII" is really in this game.  One bonus character that I can't figure out how to unlock and has appeared once is not enough.)

Characters:  Squall is a brawler, Zidane is quick, and Tidus is some kind of weird compromise character with HP attacks are painfully hard to land.  Tidus is probably the worst of the three, Squall the best.  I'm basically out of things to say here too.

On a completely unrelated note, the pronunciation of Zidane's name bugs me.  For years now, I've read it with a long 'A' (rhymes with "bane"), since in the English language, when you add a silent 'E', that typically makes the vowel after it long.  However, it turns out I've been saying it wrong the whole time.  Its a short 'A' (rhymes with "con").  It just sounds wrong to me.  "Zidon" is such a weird way of saying it.  He sounds like a stuck-up womanizing French guy.  "Hello, my darling.  It is fate that has brought you here to partake in the dance of love with me, the great Zidane."  Why have a silent 'E' in the name if it doesn't do anything?  I don't get it!

So now I've moved onto the final chapter.  Its a four-part epic called "Shade Impulse".  Here the Warriors of Cosmos will have to band together to face off against the victorious Chaos after he killed off their sexy Goddess. So finally the tension has been mounted.  Hopefully, these ten stages have been nothing more than an extended intro for the main course.  The heroes merely had to find themselves before they could move on and face off against the full power of evil.  Now we shall experience full darkness!

PS:  Why do the villains fade away like members of Organization XIII when they die?  And do they even die?  Its very unclear how death works around here.  Sometimes the villains swear revenge, but other times they act like they're being killed off for real, like Jecht did at the end of the last chapter.  I just don't understand...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dissidia Playing Log: Part 7

Hi, Space Monkees!

I've been playing Dissidia for awhile now, and I've been extremely unhappy with the storyline so far.  Of course, no matter how disappointed I've been with the plot in the past, not a single one of my complaints come anywhere near how absolutely furious I am over the complete and utter waste of a chapter that is Destiny Odyssey VII.  Before, it was just laughs, now its pain.  This chapter is little more than a soup of mental excriment and last-minute ideas.  Its almost as if the inspiration, "Final Fantasy VII", was just not a sufficent source of plot material.  So instead of using that game's excellent and classic plot, they instead went with several conversations on the meaning of fighting, and then they brought up that stupid rose motif again.

I am sick and bloody tired of hearing about that goddamn rose!  The first time they said it, I got a chuckle because of how silly the whole idea was:  your big goal in life is to plant a bunch of flowers?  But now its come up over and over again in every chapter.  By this point, its breaking me down into hysterical tears every time its comes back again.  Even the simplest of simple plots, pure good vs evil, is not this mind numbing!

I mean, why should Cloud Strife, of all people need to sit around contemplating his belly button about his reason to fight.  He's the last person in the world who needs motivation around here.  Let's review his life story:  Cloud was a lonely kid so he used heroic stories of Sephiroth as escapism, but then his childhood hero proceeded to burn down Cloud's village, kill his mother, injure his best friend, nearly kill his childhood love, succeed in killing his second love, take control of Cloud's mind to bring about the apocalypse, come back years later as a disease that infected both Cloud and his adopted children, and nearly kill him about a dozen times.  I mean, isn't that enough?  We don't need any more motivation, game!  Let's just cut to the action already!

But enough complaints, now I shall try to improve!  Here's how Destiny Odyssey VII should have gone.  Cloud is really pissed off at Sephy for all the awful shit that's happened to him.  So, just like in FFVII, Cloud spends the entire chapter in a mad furious dash after his foe.  But then, in maybe by the fourth section, Cloud finally confronts Sephiroth, but it turns out he's actually has been used as a puppet this entire time.  Cloud has a bit of emotional turmoil, which is solved from some cryptic comments from Cosmos or Golbez - doesn't matter what the advise is or who says it.  He then goes after Sephiroth, beats him, gets the Crystal.  Simple, simple, simple.  Basically just a replay of FFVII's story, only with the other games' characters hanging around.  This should have been the best chapter of the lot!  Instead its just worthless!

Who the Hell wrote this game?  I really do need to talk with the guy who wrote these lines, because there are a few conversations in this game that just don't make any sense at all.  Cloud and Sephiroth's big confrontation is a masterpiece of confusing dialogue.  There's not a line, not a single line that I could completely figure out.  I can't help but feel that this doesn't make any sense in the original Japanese either.

It doesn't help that any quality of the voice acting is ruined by the worst case of Lip Lock syndrome I've ever seen - even worse than "Final Fantasy X"!  Lip Lock is a way of dubbing foreign language works by making the English sentences fit the mouth motions of the original language, the other way is "Godzilla-style" where you just ignore it  alland have the characters speak with no relation to the motion of their mouths.  Done with skill, and you won't even notice it like "Final Fantasy XII" (even then, it wasn't perfect), done badly, and you get this.  There are some pauses in the dialogue here that are long enough to fit a Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier through.  How did they mess up the dubbing so badly in this game?  They had nine months to localize this internationally.  Nine months!  You couldn't find a way to make the dialogue move more naturally?  You couldn't use that time to go back and reanimate the mouth motions to avoid this problem?  Remember, this is a handheld game; half the time I can't even see the mouths that clearly.  You lose a lot more than you gain.  And when you have awkward pauses on dialogue spoken on a character facing away from the the screen, then I get pissed.

Well anyway, let's move on to something that doesn't annoy me as much.  Umm... Cloud himself as a playable character!  He's okay, a nice brawler.  A little too easy to dodge though.  I really didn't get to try him out all that well since Destiny Odyssey VII is the easiest chapter in this entire game.  I think he could be more useful after some more moves are learned.  Onion Knight is still my boy!

I also played this chapter using the Command Style gameplay.  You see, Dissidia is an action game marketed towards a fanbase that plays RPGs.  So I guess Square Enix thought that maybe some players would be so weak at playing video games from using menus their entire lives that they couldn't control an action game.  (Square Enix does not view its players with very much respect.)  So instead of direct control of your character, you get a command window like in a turn-based RPG.  Yeah... I think that's the stupidest idea ever too.  But it was worth at least one try.  Its garbage, forget about it.  The computer does react surprisingly well to your commands.  It actually works a lot better than I thought it would.  But you still lose direct control, and the computer is a moron sometimes.  I lost to Sephiroth about six times because when I ordered Cloud to use an HP attack, he would just use it six miles away from his foe, leaving him wide open for a counterattack.  So unless you only have one hand to play with, I recommend using the normal gameplay.

So that's that...  I was warned that this game would only get worse, and it looks like it did.  At this point I have absolutely no hope for the last few chapters, but as long as the gameplay stays acceptable I can deal with a shitty storyline.  I'm going to finish this bitch, one way or another.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Yo, Space Monkees! Two posts in just a few hours! Isn't it great?

"Avatar" is probably the most-hyped sci-fi/fantasy movie of this entire year. It has been hailed as a revolution in pretty much everything: special effects, storytelling. This right here is supposed to be a landmark of science fiction - a "Matrix" for this decade. James Cameron has pulled out every stop in his hype machine, claiming basically that this is his magnum opus, a story so epic that he needed to wait no less than a decade and a half for the technology to catch up to his vision. Personally, I think he's full of shit. But then again, I think everything a creator says about their product is bullshit. You can't trust them. Their aim is clear: make their story and themselves look good. I've been waiting since mid-summer for this film; its basically the highlight of the 2009 autumn film season for me. So now that I've seen it, what is my ultimate opinion?

Before I start here, I know that this film is already pretty controversial, and not in the traditional sense. A normally controversial film will show something shocking and offensive to a group of extremely devoted people, like say "The Passion of the Christ". This is not that kind of controversy. I know a few people who got extremely angry - absolutely furious - at this movie, but that's only because they're neo-con loonies who can't stand anything that looks like a swipe on President Bush or the War on Terror. The thing here is that merely by reading the plot line, you can immediately dismiss this movie as being nothing more than a load of white guilt, preachy hippie environmentalist crap, and basically a pretty remake of "FernGully". I'm going to be honest here, the plot was completely predictable. There was not a beat in this plot that I couldn't see a mile away. In fact, there were a few points in the story where I saw directions that the plot could have taken that were much more believable and in fact interesting.

The plot is pretty much "Dances With Wolves"... IN SPACE. In the future, we Earthlings have come to the alien world of Pandora to mine for the McGuffin substance that is totally not a stand-in for oil at all, Unobtainium. Get it? Unobtainable-ium? I like to imagine that this movie is some kind of sequel to the ridiculous disaster thriller, "the Core", since the craft that movie used to travel to the center of the Earth was also called "Unobtainium". But Pandora is inhabited by a native population called the Navi, playing the Indians in this morality play, while I guess us humans are playing the Evil White Man. Our hero has to take on the body of a bio-doll Navi called an "Avatar". Of course, he's accepted into the Navi tribe, and is paired up with the chief's daughter purely in a romantic Contrivance of the Plot. From here, you can basically guess where this is going.

But even so, despite all of that, I really liked this movie. Hell, I better than liked it, I rather think I loved it. I mean, I can't call it the greatest movie of the entire decade, its not up to "Matrix" levels, but its still really good.

To tell you why I loved this movie, I first must talk about Pandora itself, the alien world where this movie takes place. 99% of this movie is pure CG, making it more of a cartoon than live action. I can live with animation - especially when it makes a world so unbelievably gorgeous and amazing as this. Every shot is a dream-like fantasy world; a magical place of whimsy and wonder that you'll only find in dreams, and a few video games. And by select video games, I mean Final Fantasy. I really don't think you could possibly go through this world without conjuring up visions of "Final Fantasy X" and the upcoming XIII. What we have here is a fully rendered alien world. The best way I can describe it is imagining our own sea creatures fusing with the land animals to create hybrid aliens.  It even has real Space Monkees!  As for the Navi, they're ten-feet tall blue-skin slender humanoids, and strangley sexy in the weirdest way. They're not exactly fairies, but its easy enough to see them as such when they're talking with some Mother Goddess (thankfully not called "Gaea" - if that word had been said once I would have left the theatre), riding dragons, and living in trees. Heck, they're even named after your Fairy companion in "Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time". As with everything in this movie, the Navi are a feast for your eyes. Their faces are expertly rendered from the human actors playing them. So when you're looking at the Sigourney Weaver Avatar, you see Sigourney Weaver. Its a little jarring, I'll say. Luckily none of the major Navi faces are so recognizable as Weaver's, so you're not distracted during the movie. If say, George Clooney were the main hero instead of a relative unknown like Sam Worthington, I think I might have lost it while watching this.

Interestingly, the Navi women march around completely topless except for a pit of feathers and other loose garbage. Amazingly, not once did you ever see a full breast. There's plenty of side boob, but no nipple. And trust me, I spent a good long time looking for them.

Despite having what is essentially a play-out and predictable storyline, the movie managed to keep me going for the entire thing. The Spoony One, who absolutely hated this movie, complained - amongst many other things - of pacing problems. I really didn't see it. For the most part, the characters managed to do their jobs acceptably, and despite the movie being two hours and forty minutes, I can't say the movie ever seemed to drag. The length worked here, it wasn't an arduous drag like in "2012", or far worse in "Transformers 2". It didn't all work, however. The bad guy, Colonel-Hardass-Big-Dick-Badass-Hoorah!-Marine-No-Nonsense-Kick-Ass-Motherfucker was such an unbelievably over the top stereotype that I couldn't help but find him more funny than anything else. In the final battle, I was actually rooting for him to keep on fighting, just to see to what extremes this guy was willing to go before being taken down. Man, he is hard to kill.

I went to see this movie in 3D, since that was the only version my local movie theatre was providing. I have to say, 3D really doesn't do much to enhance the experience here. Despite all the technical advancements, it still just seems little more than a novelty to me. Such a long exposure to 3D like this might give you a headache - bathroom breaks help your head a bit. Plus no matter how good the technology gets, it still just doesn't work. There's depth but no shape. Its like looking at cardboard cutouts. Worse yet, it will never work in a regular rectangular movie experience because the edge of the screen ruins the effect. If something that your mind interprets as being closer to you than the wall of the theatre is covered up by said wall, you have no idea how to make sense of what you're seeing. It tears you right out of the experience. So save your movie, it isn't really worth it. I mean, it was cool once, but I really hope this fad dies out soon. I don't want to have to wear those dorky 3D glasses every time I go to the theatre.

Honestly, it would have to take a real lot of quality film making to make me forgive such a tired storyline, and this movie actually managed to succeed. It really says something to James Cameron as a director to make such a mediocre idea shine like this. "Avatar" is the medium of film is all about at its core: entering a new world, seeing things you've never seen before, losing yourself in adventure of it all. See this movie, definitely.

Hell, if I can forgive Hayao Miazaki for environmentalist hippy crap in movie he makes, I should be able to forgive James Cameron.

Fanwank Corner: If I were going to fix the plot of this movie, and I do want to, a few changes have to be made. In the actual film, the main character actively betrays all of humanity to fight for the Navi. Couldn't we be able to find some kind of better solution to our culture clash woes than just calling one side evil? So my plan is to change the third act, where we would have a sudden shift to tragedy. Trust me, do this and you'll have the greatest movie ever made.

After the Navi home tree is destroyed by the evil humans [SPOILER ALERT], the main character is cast out by the Navi, and his girlfreind (I forget her name, I'll just call her "Pocahontas") turns away from him, seeing him as a traitor. The chief is dead, her home is destroyed, her life ruined, its natural that Pocahontas would hate humans as she does in the actual film, but why not turn to hate the main character too? Its love turned to hatred by this crazy culture clash situation. The Navi retalliate and destroy the human base, and while the place is burning, the main character as a human is confronted by Pocahontas. She kills him in rage, but only then realizes how horrible her actions have been. So while both tribes kill each other, Pocahontas takes her own life. And there the movie ends, blood in a lake of fire. Pandora is ultimately destroyed not just by human material greed, but also by the violent anger of the Navi. Nearly every major character is killed in the battle, leaving only one, a secondary character, to be left in the carnage and make sense of it all. Curtains.

Dissidia Playing Log: Part 6

Hello, Space Monkees!!!!

Welcome to part six of the possibly endless playing log of "Dissidia Final Fantasy". So far we've had a few laughs, quite a bit of tears, and if I must admit, more enjoyment out of this title than I expected. But merely beating my incredibly low expectations cannot be enough for a final judgment, oh no. The show must go on! Enter "Final Fantasy VI".

In the past, I may have badmouthed "Final Fantasy VI" quite a bit, but that's what I do really. When you're writing a walkthrough on Wiki, basically the only thing to keep your brain from leaping out through your eye sockets is to entertain yourself by criticizing every little detail of the game. Also, its just a lot of fun to argue with people over whether FFVI or FFVII is better (the answer is obvious - VII, and everybody who thinks otherwise is filthy and wrong). What we have here is an excellent game, the second-best RPG you'll find if you're deathly afraid of 3D graphics and all innovation in human society since about 1995. I overuse the world "classic" in these tales, but that's only because there are just so many things to call classic in this wonderful world of fiction, and FFVI definitely is a classic.

Its just too bad they didn't make it in 3D... or with voice acting. Impossible back then, but certainly possible now! However, Square Enix, if you get the idea to remake FFVI, be sure to do so after that FFVII remake I've been waiting for since the PS3 launched. Thanks, you're a peach, Square.

So here we are, finally Dissidia needs to handle something with care, because if they mess this up, I'm actually going to get mad this time. You see, before I really couldn't care less what say, Cecil did or didn't do. I was actually pleasantly surprised about how well Onion Knight turned out to be. But this time, you might be in for some serious FANBOY RAGE!! Remember all that bitching I did about Terra's hair color? Yeah, it can be pretty ridiculous at times.

Terra Branford is weirdly enough the only female protagonist in this entire series - so far. The as yet unreleased in English "Final Fantasy XIII" has Lightning, but she's not in this game, so I don't know why I even brought her up. All its going to do is annoy me that she's not here. Anyway, being the only girl, for some reason Dissidia makes her out at first to be a character that is in desperate need of being protected. A kid, Onion Knight, purely thanks to his ownership of a penis, comes into the idea that he must guard her from all the evils of this game. And he fails pretty quickly because it just wouldn't be any fun to play as Terra if her allies did all the fighting for her. Here Terra is very wispy and unsure of herself, which is exactly how she acted in FFVI, to my annoyance at times. But at the very least some actually events occur in this chapter. She get's mind controlled, then snaps out of it by kicking Cloud Strife's buttocks. And you get to play as her while she's very briefly working for evil! Yay! Finally some nice moral grey area.

Of course, my happy feelings are ruined by what has to be the single worst dialogue scene in pretty much anything when Cloud and Terra discuss... (sigh) dreams. Yeah, we're back to Firion's ridiculous fantasy about filling the world with roses. Except Terra wants to put in other flowers. Is this what this game is really about? The epic struggle between light and dark is all a dispute over gardening? Hey, Terra, if you want some flowers, I can get you some flowers. Its a simple walk maybe three blocks, BAM, you're at a flower store. What do you want? Poinsettias? Lilies? Orchids? I can get them for you like that. Give me a few hours and you'll have a very nice little grove. This is not a life's ambition here, nor a reason to save the world.

Plus, Terra's big lesson to learn is that you need a "dream" to live a full life. Of course, Kefka has a dream. He says it every few seconds - he wants to destroy everything. He has his shit figured out. Merely having an ambition is not a good thing on its own. Who was the moron who wrote this storyline? Is this really what Final Fantasy was all about this whole time? Perhaps it was all a waste of time on my part.

.......yeah, that may be going a tad bit too far. Let's change the subject.

GAMEPLAY! Terra is something of a beast when it comes to gameplay. Her HP attacks are very difficult to dodge, and have excellent range. Tornado will hit anybody anywhere near Terra, and if you can get them stuck in a corner you can just repeat this move over and over again until they stop twitching. And Flood hits any character at any distance, no matter how far away you are from Terra. Unless you jump away, you're going to get hit by it. Her magic is just nothing to be trifled with, as Terra is a monster at a distance. Her main Brave attack is this Blizzard bullet, like Firion's, only hers can deal real damage. However, Terra's only physical combo is a complete waste, absolutely awful. With this combination, beating her chapter is a breeze - and its supposedly just as hard as Destiny Odyssey I!

I think I still like Onion Knight better. Then again, I can't really judge any of these characters since I still haven't unlocked even half of their moves.

Well, floral adventures aside, I'm actually very excited about the next couple of chapters. Next up is my favorite game out of the ten, FFVII! Its only by default since "Final Fantasy XII" isn't around in full, but that will do. And even better, the game gave me a preview of what looked like a battle between Squall and Warrior of Light! Could it be a real plot development to something more interesting? I sure hope so! Dissidia could pull out a win in the end anyway!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dissidia Playing Log: Part 5

Hello, Space Monkees!!!

Careening out of the mediocrity of "Final Fantasy IV", we now enter the brand new mediocrity of "Final Fantasy V". FFV is the kind of game that you play halfway subconsciously while on an airplane. It really only deserves half your attention while playing it, because really there's nothing to actually warrant the focus of every brain cell in your skull. There isn't much of a plot, honestly you can't say its much deeper than FFIII. At least there are characters this time, and one of them is easily the greatest character to appear in this series before the advent of the PlayStation - the one, the only, Mr. Battle on the Big Bridge, GILGAMESH!!! At the very least the battle system is quite good; far deeper and enjoyable than that load of shit that FFIV was trying to pass off as entertainment. This is the best Final Fantasy title there ever was... well, before the series started getting actually good.

So how has Dissidia done in transferring the feel of this early 90s 2D game to the modern 3D world? Terribly. Why? There's only one reason. I have one complaint with how Dissidia treated this game, one complaint: no Gilgamesh. Why in God's name would you not have Gilgamesh appear in your celebration title of the Final Fantasy universe? Are you seriously going to try to stare me right in the eye and say with complete honestly that Exdeath deserves to be here more than his lovable incompetent right-hand man? You can't. You screwed up, admit it.

Getting past that little bit of a personal issue I have, we will now move on to talking about the FFV representative for Destiny Odyssey V.

Bartz Klauser was not a well-crafted, deeply developed character back when he first appeared on the Super Nintendo. In fact, he has only one personality trait to speak of - he's kinda stupid. Remember, FFV did not really have a plot (I honestly believe they made up the entire thin storyline on the fly after the game had been put together), so you're lucky to get even that. In his newest appearance, he's retained his denseness. There is no lesson for Bartz to learn, I doubt he'd be able to even comprehend it. Instead all he does is race against "Final Fantasy IX"'s hero, Zidane to get a Crystal first, and wind up getting tricked by his arch nemesis, Exdeath. Then he fights said arch nemesis, and wins his Crystal. So I guess the game managed to boil down FFV's plot style by making it all really thin, and completely pointless.

Also, the game never does tell you who won the race. It bugs me.

As a playable character, Bartz is supposed to represent the Mime Job Class from his game. Mimes were definitely one of the best classes out there, since they had a few more slots for you to put in magic commands. FFV had like seven kinds of magic, and they all took up a slot on your command menu, so Mimes were perfect for mages in this respect. Oddly, Bartz is not a mage, but rather a physical fighter. What he does is mimic the combos of other fighters. So he'll swing around the swords of his fellow Light Warriors. It is indeed very cool to start off a combo with Cloud's Buster Sword and end it by shooting an opponent into the sky with Squall's Gunblade. Though being a Mimic I though that I could copy the actions of my opponents somehow, or at least add their swords into my combos. Dissidia has no such system, the Mimic thing is nothing more than visual style. Bartz actually fights like all the others. He's more of a physical fighter than anything else, and he's quite speedy. All of his HP attacks are borrowed from allies, but they're pre-set, so you can't decide which ones the game gives you. I'd love to have Terra's "Tornado" and Onion Knight's "Comet", but its all up to game as to which ones I might end up with. I saw Cecil's "Darkness" attack and a "Wind Shear" attack. I don't know which character that last one came from.

One thing I do like about Bartz is his EX Mode. Three stars appear over his head like you'd see in FFV's menu when you Mastered a Job Class. Then his Limit Break is named after my favorite strategy for FFV's endgame: Spellblade + Dual Wield + Rapid Fire. That right there is the recipe you need to defeating all of FFV's endless numbers of superbosses and difficult enemies in the last dungeon. If you do it correctly, you'll get eight hits, just like that combo would pull off.

Ultimately, I still like Onion Knight better. Though I've tried out Terra, and she can be quite lethal. Perhaps when I enter the glory of "Final Fantasy VI" this game will finally start to pick up? Ask anybody, Final Fantasies VI - X were much better than I - V. So I'm sure that the game will be much better after this to reflect upon that trend. Or maybe not... We shall see. We shall see.

By the way, I've bought all twenty characters. Now all that remains are those two secret characters. I guess to unlock them you have to beat the game or something. So let's get right on it then! Destiny Odyssey VI is next. You're going down, Kefka!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dissidia Playing Log; Part 4

Hello, Space Monkees!

I fear that these posts are going to grow shorter and shorter as I run out of comments to make about the game's system. So I'll leave all that with this final word: having variable levels and abilities in a fighting game is complete rubbish. Being able to customize your character is indeed a good idea, but ultimately it should only be used in a limited manner; as in, streamlining the character to fit your fighting style. That's it. There should never be a situation in any fighting game in which it is mathematically impossible to defeat your opponent. Whoever thought of this RPG-fighting system was off his rocker. I knew I would hate this element of Dissidia, and this is why I avoided playing it up until now.

But at least its not a deal breaker... I think. I still haven't played (and most likely never will play) another human being, so I don't know how one of those battles might go. My worst fear is that in order to be at all competitive in this game you need to level up to 100 or something. Other than that, it is very cool to fight Advent Children-style battles in the middle of some crazy battlefield. And even though the camera is a broken mess, luckily the game avoids corners so its only a problem in one map.

Now onto Cecil.

"Final Fantasy IV" is not a great game. In fact, I'm a little unsure if I can even call it a good game. "Passable" might be the only word for it, though I'm leaning more towards just calling it straight-up "bad". However, if you wanted to hear my opinions of that game, you should probably read my walkthrough, which is here: . So honestly whatever happens to the FFIV characters is not going to make me care one bit. Actually, I'm more interested in the "Final Fantasy VIII" portion that FFIV, and should be shocking to anyone who has heard me go on for hours about how much FFVIII sucks. At this point I'm just playing through the chapter as quickly as possible to get on to something more interesting, like "Final Fantasy VI". ("Final Fantasy V" isn't very interesting either.)

The storyline of Destiny Odyssey IV is a return to the regular nonsense we saw before Onion Knight's section. Cecil and his big bro, Golbez, are the enemies this time. The only weird thing is, Golbez is actually on the side of Cosmos. So actually they have absolutely nothing to fight about, and the only thing that's keeping them fighting is... I don't know. Its never really made clear why characters fall into one side or the other. Mr. Zaku-Face is not evil, all he ever seems to do is guide along the heroes towards self-discovery, which is metaphorically represented by a Crystal. Cecil's bit of self-discovery is that he should not rely on his friends, or something. It isn't explained well. In fact, Cosmos is started to piss me off in spite of her ridiculous hotness due to the fact that you can never seem to get a straight answer out of her. She just says something cryptic, and somehow this inspires one of her heroes who then goes out to beat up one of Chaos's warriors. For example, Cecil goes out and kicks Golbez's ass for no particular reason. Then a Crystal appears, chapter over.

I think awards must be given out to Destiny Odyssey IV since it marked something of a turning point for me. I finally got so sick of this nonsense dialogue that I decided to skip a cutscene, specifically the one right before Cecil fights Golbez. Don't worry though, I saw the asskicking segment.

Cecil Harvey has a unique fighting style in Dissidia in that he's actually something of two characters in one. He can switch between his Dark Knight and Paladin forms by performing an HP attack in either the air or the ground. I kinda wish the game thought up a more convenient switching system, because sometimes I don't want to attack, I just want to switch forms. HP attacks leave you open for a counterattack right after you use them, so it can be dangerous to even switch forms. The difference between Dark Knight and Paladin is basically this: Paladin fights better in the air, Dark Knight fights better on the ground. And since in this game I seem to be constantly in the air, I used the Paladin form more. Dark Knight Cecil at least has a ranged attack, that's sort of useful. Beyond that, he's a good physical attacker, better than Onion Knight. Even so, I think I like my little Vegetable Buddy better in the end.

That's all for that. In other news, I bought the alternate costumes for Onion Knight and Terra so that they'll show up in the correct form. Onion Knight now has Luneth's hair cut so that I can pretend I'm playing as the real hero from FFIII, and Terra has green hair. Some people seem to be under the mistaken idea that Terra is actually blond, such as art designers for this game and FFVI. But if you actually play FFVI, you'll know that she very obviously has green hair, more a teal really.

Discussion over. Green hair. Shut up.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dissidia Playing Log: Part 3

Hello, Space Monkies!

"Final Fantasy III" was without a doubt the best Final Fantasy title on the original Nintendo, and it was certainly a treat to play back when it came out... if you were Japanese. You understand that the game took no less than sixteen years to finally be released outside of Japan, and even than only a Nintendo DS remake. Not that there's anything wrong with remakes, the original NES versions of these games are absolute abominations to look at and play - even the most deluded and nostalgic man in the world has to admit that. FFIII was not without things that really pissed me off (no Save Points within dungeons, and a seriously fucked-up magic system), and it didn't have a plot - at all. But it still holds enough love in my heart for me to care a great deal more about it than the earlier two games. Hearing the overworld theme play in Dissidia was a nice moment for me.

The hero of Destiny Odyssey III is "a boy with the legendary title of Onion Knight", instead of the game's actual hero, Luneth. I guess they went with this anonymous blond character with candy stuck in his air over grey-haired Luneth because Luneth was an original character created for the DS remake. So bully for you Japanese who could play the original Japan-only version. Even so, I came to like this Onion Kid, even if the "legendary" title of Onion Knight is a total Narm-fest. He travels around with "Final Fantasy VI"'s heroine, Terra, protecting her from Chaos's many baddies. I don't know why mighty Terra, master of gamebreaking magic combos needs protecting, but that's a minor issue. Not-Luneth's mantra is simple: "don't fight battles you know you can't win", and I have to agree with him. At one point Onion Breath runs into Exdeath, and decides inexplicably that this foe is too much for him. So instead of fighting Onion geodes Exdeath's immense ego and makes the idiotic villain go home without a sword being drawn.

Stuff like that is what makes this chapter far superior in pretty much every way plot-wise to the other two. Onion Knight and Terra actually seem to have some kind of comradely and a real relationship. Something actually happens this time instead of just empty running from place to place ending up with a Crystal gained. I mean yeah, that happens too, but at least actual events take place. You see, Terra is still suffering from her mind control problem, which Kefka is all too willing to exploit with the help of the half-naked Cloud of Darkness. (It can't be a fighting game without fanservice.) She is eventually turned into a puppet by the enemy, and during the game you wind up fighting her! Yeah, you're fighting one of the good guys! Its pretty sad that this game has gotten by expectations down that low that this little bit is enough to get me excited. Onion Knight gets a pep talk from Cosmos, and then saves her. It isn't the most complex plotline, but its better than merely passable. This is an example of what the first two chapters should have been like.

I mean yeah, the moral of Onion Knight's story does amount to basically "ignore reason and listen to your heart", but I can forgive even that load of nonsense pseudo-philosophy with a plot this good. Its all balanced out by a few scenes of Kefka acting completely bonkers as usual.

Fighting wise Onion Knight is probably my favorite character so far. He has a nice bit of speed and great air and ground combos. Even better, magic actually can deal some damage this time! Best of all is his aerial HP move, "Comet". You aim Onion Knight's furry of deadly magic meteors, giving you a much better chance of hitting your target. I think its range is a little less than what Firion's HP attack could do, but range is an acceptable trade-off for precision guidance. The only problem I have with Onion Knight is that his Brave combos are incredibly weak, and they don't seem to ever send the opponent flying.

What really makes me happy is Onion Knight's Limit Break. While in EX Mode, he'll change Job Class to either Ninja or Sage (sadly my favorite Job Class, Dragoon, is not included). Previous Limit Brakes had generic systems for pulling them off: spam the O button, hit this combination on the D-pad, the usual. But Onion Knight has this system where you have to enter turn-based RPG style menus and look for the right spell or item to use. Its great to see this game have a sense of humor and parody the difficulty of menu-fighting that this series is all too-often guilty of. Man, I have plenty of horror stories about rushing through the menus to find the write spell and accidently hitting "Death", wasting my turn.

Random battle system complain time: EX Cores. These items will randomly appear on the stage and will boost up your ability to go into EX Mode. However, they appear in random spots, usually very far away from where you're fighting. Its impossible to find them if you can't see them, but the Computer characters can naturally sense their locations. So as soon as Core comes into play, they'll make a B-line for them before you can even react. Usually I'm so focused on fighting that I miss the message. The only times you'll get a Core is when they appear right before you. So the computer will go into EX Mode about twice as often as you will. This wouldn't be a problem against a human, but alas, I'm all alone here. Looking at the comments for these entries proves that fact.

So altogether, this was a much better chapter for me. I'm still not 100% sold on any one character yet, and I have been trying them all out. I just need a few more hundred PP and I can get the last four villains to play as. Next up is Cecil from "Final Fantasy IV". Can his Dissidia appearance prove to be more satisfying than that circus of mediocrity that was FFIV?


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dissidia Playing Log: Part 2

Hi, Space Monkees!

Here we are in part 2 of the running log of my Dissidia experience. This time we're delving deep into the utter mediocrity that was "Final Fantasy II" by playing as the rebel against the Evil Empire, Firion. FFII wasn't exactly a bad game... it was just frustrating, and confusing, and had barely a storyline, and was just a waste of time. Okay, it was something of a bad game, but that's not what we're talking about here! Its Dissidia time!

Firion is played by none other than Johnny Yong Bosch, of "Trigun", "Power Rangers", "Devil May Cry 4", "Last Exile", "Akira", "Eureka Seven", "Code Geass", and "Bleach" fame. If you have an anime, and it needs an English voice actor for its protagonist, then Johnny is your man. He's pretty much the only man who could possibly make a non-character like Firion sound at all compelling. And he doesn't really suceed. I don't care if you're Sir Alec Guinness, Commander of the Order of the British Empire himself, you can't possibly deliver lines like "I dream of a world filled with beautiful roses" without making me bust a gut. At the very least, I liked Firion a lot more than Warrior of Light personality-wise. And he at least had some semblance of a character, so there's that. You'll still get annoying soul searching lines and angst, which is frankly neither needed or required. I fear that the entire game is going to be like this.

One thing that bugs me about this game is the locations. All fighting games have only a few stages, that's normal. In this game, all the stages are locations within the final dungeon. So you got the bottom of the Northern Crater, the floating castle in the Rift, and the throne room in the Temple of Chaos. Its all okay, and in fact kinda cool to seem them in full 3D. But its not just the fighting that takes place in these spots - its every action in the entire game. Supposedly Firion and his companion, the protagonist from "Final Fantasy X", Tidus are on a journey someplace. But they never make any kind of progress. You're always just shifting around these same spots. The only movement takes place on the game board, there's no real visual clue that any progress is being made. There's hardly a plot either, you just wander around, fighting pallet swaps. Right before boss fights the game remembers that there's a storyline and you'll have a bit of dialogue.

Then again, this is a fighting game, so why the hell am I going on and on about the storyline?

Let's talk more about gameplay. During the battles, you'll find every so often that one character will be launched into the air. This starts a little sequence where both fighters will float next to each other trying to get a hit off. Most of the time the computer will be too dumb to remember that it can dodge, but sometimes if its supposed to be at a high level, it will dodge every strike before giving off a pity hit after like the eightieth time. This worries me since I imagine that if you get two really skilled players into this floating thing, both guys will just dodge each others attacks forever. Also, HP attacks are really freaking slow to charge, they'll take you almost an eternity to get going.

Onto Firion specifically. In FFII, you can basically move things around in a complicated system so that pretty much any character can perform any role. I made Firion my healer/weak attacker. In this game, they seem to have decided to make him the ranged fighter. That's fine, only that his ranged attacks are terrible. You can only perform real Brave Attack combos on the ground - if you're in the air, even just by a foot, he'll instead use this horrible weak homing Ice spell. The ground combos are okay, only that the buttons are terribly confusing. Firion can use more long range combo if you hit Square, but he'll use combo without any range when you hit Square and nudge the nubby thing a bit. Its the exact opposite of what you might expect, and trust me, you'll never get used to it. His only HP attack is "Straightarrow", a super long-range attack that can snipe targets from across the stage. However, with unlimited range comes a really slow charge, and enough distance so that any good player will know to dodge it.

I hear that Firion grows more useful after he's learned more abilities. This doesn't make me any happier since this is a fighting game, remember?? I shouldn't have to learn my abilities! They should be there right from the start! Checking on my former wiki, the only way to unlock those abilities is to level up, in some cases up to level 40 or so. During the course of a chapter, you only gain about ten levels, so I have no clue how in the world the game expects me to get up to level 100.

With this in mind, I decided to try out the Arcade Mode, hoping that in this mode all the abilities would be already unlocked. I can't say if they did, since all the battles basically went exactly the same. I still can't find all the button combos. Other than that, the Arcade Mode is actually a lot more fun than the main game. You don't have to deal with any of that annoying game board or cutscenes. Instead its just a rush mode, you fight five opponents and then you're the champion. And its real characters this time, none of those silly pallet swap crystal things. That makes it all the more satisfying. Too bad the only way to unlock a more difficult Arcade Mode is to buy one. Why does everything in this game have to be unlocked beforehand? The characters, the moves, the chapters, even equipment, character icons, and I think even some stages. Its almost like the game doesn't really want to be played - like its trying to stop me by putting up all these barriers.

Before I leave, I must first depart a nice little horror story from the game. In the second stage, you run into an enemy that is about twice your level. Its a pallet swap of Exdeath, the "Final Fantasy V" villain. I've heard that Exdeath is the joke character of the game, but man this enemy is hard! He starts out with twice as many Brave Point as you have, and no matter how many combos you perform you can never Break him. Breaking is this mechanic in the game where you destroy all the enemies Brave Points, which cripples their ability to use any HP attacks, and greatly boosts your own Brave. That points you in prime position to go on the real offensive and crush them with a serious HP hit. But this time, no matter how many combos you perform, you'll only take out many 100 - then he'll regenerate them somehow. I don't know how it works really. But if you get anywhere near him, eventually Exdeath will pull off a combo of his own, giving him well over 1000 Brave Points, more than enough to toast your ass. The number of Brave Points is equal to the strength of your HP attack. I tried fighting him every which way until eventually I found the only strategy that worked. Instead of fighting him directly, I stayed far away and spammed "Straightarrow". Your Brave always returns to around 130, so you can keep on doing damage. Exdeath has 2500 HP. That means you need to hit him twenty times at least to win. Annoying, yes. But I still beat him. And there is no better satisfaction than pounding that peon's face into the ground.

So that's really all I got to say for now. Next up is a character from "Final Fantasy III" who strangely is not Luneth, the main character. We got a better character this time in Firion, but he's worse gameplay-wise. Hopefully FFIII can deliver both. Even if it doesn't, I'm on this train 'til the bitter end!

Dissidia Playing Log: Part 1

Hello, Space Monkees!

First thing I have to report is probably the coolest discovery I've made about this game so far. You can reverse the game's cover! So in case you want the villains on your PSP box instead of the good guys, here's your option.

After an unbelievably easy and slightly too long prologue tutorial session, the game opened up no less than ten playable chapters for me to enter. Each one is based around the ten main characters of the first ten games of the main series, and they're all named "Destiny Odyssey" in that old timey pretentious Final Fantasy spirit. So for the very chapter, I decided to go for "Destiny Odyssey I" since according to its name, it was the very first chronologically. I mean, it sure looks like the very first chapter, since it has the roman numeral for one in the title.

Turns out that is not the case. In fact, I just played through the last chapter, and possibly the most difficult. The game gives you little stars at the bottom of every storyline to warn you about difficulty, but I just ignored it. I was not going to let five red stars stop me from playing this game in the right order. And so I jumped right in, once again playing as the Warrior of Light, one of the playable characters from "Final Fantasy I". Yes, his name actually is "Warrior of Light".

On the Warrior of Light: first of all, I'm glad to see that Dissidia has been faithful to the non-existent character of Warrior from FFI by leaving this character a completely uninteresting and one-note jumble of dullness. I think the guy knows about three lines: its either "Cosmos!", "I want my Crystal.", or "I'm going to end this war." That's really all we got about this guy. He wants to save the world for the Goddess of Light, Cosmos, by getting his Crystal. Along the way several villains pop up to try to discourage him, but they are wasting they're time. They don't know that Warrior of Light is basically a robot, with no other programming but to fight evil and get his Crystal. And its not like his voice acting is doing Warrior any favors either. Not to mention that this script has dialogue so embarrassing that there are times that I wish I could switch the language over to Japanese. For example: Warrior comes in and meets Sephiroth. Sephiroth decides to ask him really stupid questions like "Why do you fight?" This would call for a snappy answer in my book, but instead Warrior decides to once again tell us why he's fighting, just in case you forgot. Remember the Crystal? Don't worry if you forget, since he's going to remind us about it in every single scene. Then Warrior fights Sephiroth, and they go on their separate ways.

Another thing I have to say about Warrior is this: I'm not entirely sure this guy actually is the main hero of FFI. At the start of the game, you pick out four characters out of six job classes, and one of them indeed is Warrior. But I'm perplexed why Warrior was picked. Anybody who has played FFI will tell you that Monk is a much better physical fighter, Black Mage seems more popular, and White Mage will save your ass more often than anybody else. I think they only went with Warrior just to keep up with this game's theme of heroes with swords. I mean, everybody here has a sword - except like three characters.

At the very least, the battles here finally give a real challenge, and its actually pretty fun to fight. Sometimes. It really depends, since battles here can end in a matter of seconds. I remember that the Sephiroth battle ended in ten seconds flat: I went into some kind of super mode called "EX Mode", used a Limit Break, cut him down, battle over. You wander around each level, which is a board game, fighting pallet-swap enemies and eventually reaching a boss fight. Since Warrior's level happens to be one of the harder ones, the enemies aren't kidding around. Usually they're all many levels above you. So you'll be one level 1, and they're on level 7 at first. It isn't easy, especially when I'm not entirely sure what I'm doing. I just rush in, beat them down with Brave attacks, then mash the HP hitting one.

Warrior happens to really tick me off by having just one HP hitting attack that I could figure out: Light Shield. He takes a million years to charge up a blast of light that most enemies just dodge like its nothing. Actually, I could only figure out two of his moves. That Light Shield thing, and his regular Brave combo. I once got him to do a fireball attack, and I have no idea how I did it. Happily my former wiki is no help at all in figuring out how to perform Warrior's moves, so its onto GameFAQs, which doesn't help either. Great. For most enemies I still win somehow, but for some its just impossible. Jecht is that enemy. He instantly blocks whatever attack I want to use, then crushed me with a Falcon Kick. And I know that I said no more Smash Bros comparisons, but I know a Falcon Kick when I see a Falcon Kick. That's a Falcon Kick. Everybody else I could fight with some competence, though for some enemies I lost... a lot. Sephy's crystal form managed to take me out about seven times because I had to start that battle in critical HP. It was only later that I realized that damage carries over from battle to battle. Also it took me an inexcusably long time to figure out how to run along terrain. I'm just not that good...

So anyway, I still beat it all. I went through Hell and back, but I beat up Garland, the main FFI villain, and took my Crystal. So it is doable. And with one storyline chapter beaten, I can now say with all honesty and integrity that I'd rather be playing Smash Bros. No, no, no, no! Blue, stop it! Smash Bros is gone, forget about that game! We're playing Dissidia! Move on!

...Sorry about that.

Oh, here's a fun bit of spoilers for you. Right after Warrior completes his mission and gets his Crystal, all the other heroes pop up with their own. Actually, you don't even have to play any of their chapters because the game unlocks the final level right after playing this one. However, lets stick to the storyline. During the fifteen minutes or so of pure cutscenes, Cosmos appears before the heroes and is burned to a crisp by her rival God, Chaos. Chaos is this big evil dude with four arms and is played by none other than... KEITH DAVID!! That is so friggin' awesome that I'm almost at a loss for words. I know he's basically a low-rent Lou Gossett Jr., but still, its Kieth David. By the way, he's acting circles around whoever is shaming himself by playing Warrior of Light. Its so refreshing to hear emotion behind lines that I can go on gushing forever.

But I won't. Let's end this here. I do have some other good news. After every battle you win or lose, you get some PP. And with that you can buy the villain characters to use. So first thing I did was buy Sephy and send him out to beat up a super weak Tidus. However, the battle was over after just two combos, so I didn't get any real satisfaction at all.

Next up: Destiny Odyssey II. Me, Firion, and Johnny Yong Bosch are going out to beat up an evil Emperor. Maybe Warrior of Light just isn't my character, maybe the game will get better in other chapters. I'm still hopeful, but is it all in vain? Find out in next part of this series!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dissidia Playing Log: Prelude

Hello, Space Monkees.

This is the start of what will be a needlessly long and tiresome series of playthrough comments about the recently released fighting RPG, "Dissidia Final Fantasy". I'll be doing a log of every single chapter of the single-player game once I complete them, along with all my gripes, complaints, and assorted other commentary about what has preceded in game. So along with this one, there's at least going to be ten more logs, and expect them all to be very very detailed. You see, I would just do a playthrough but there are three good reasons not to: 1) I would hate to embarrass myself by showing off my horrible gaming skills, 2) playthroughs are annoying and not very funny unless you're the Spoony One, and 3) I have no clue how to make a video playthrough on a technical level. Also there's a sneaking suspicion that if I show my face on the web that I'll never be able to obtain respectable employment. But considering that I'm the writer of THIS blog, I should have long since abandoned any hope of fitting in with normal society.


As you may or may not know, I'm something of a fan of the Final Fantasy series. I've beaten most of the main series, except XI for being an MMO and VIII for being shit. Hell, I wasted my high school years working at the Final Fantasy Wiki at Wikia. I wrote nine walkthroughs there. Nine! Ouch, that does not say much about me now does it? So, I guess I'm something of an expert on Final Fantasy stuff. Its not a bad series; five of the games are actually bonafide classics, most of the rest are pretty okay. Its not Zelda, but what is? So when a fighting game featuring the heroes from all the games comes out, naturally I would have to be there. And thanks to the good work of Norman the Hanukkah Penguin, I am now the proud owner of "Dissidia Final Fantasy" for the PSP.

I'm not exactly too big on the fighting game crowd though. The only fighting game I was ever good at or even played all that often is Super Smash Bros. And even there I'm only good with Star Fox. At my dorm, we play the original Smash Bros all the time. Its awesome, the N64 at its best. Obviously I should stop comparing this game to Smash Bros already, so I will. It will only make me pine for what is certainly a better game than this.

...though really, I could go for some Smash Bros right now. Come on Fox, let's air juggle some poor jerk's ass!

There are a few problems, right off the bat. First of all, I'm not sure how a handheld fighting game is supposed to work in multiplayer. Actually, this won't be a problem, since I'm the only person in all of New Jersey apparently who owns this game. In fact, I'm the only man in my dorm who even has a PSP. That poor PSP, it doesn't get any love. So that means that multiplayer is out. Already the game fails as a fighting game, since if I can't play multiplayer its just nothing. However there is a deep and detailed single-player mode, so I guess I can treat this as just another action RPG. Fine enough, but here's another issue. Where is "Final Fantasy XII"?? I see I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, and X all right up there, but FFXII only gets one secret side character, and its not even Balthier, the sexiet and coolest man of all video games.

I heard that in development the creators considered putting in Balthier, but instead they went with Judge Gabranth, because he was FFXII's logo. Look Square Enix, you don't think about putting Balthier in. You just put Balthier in!! Do I make myself clear?

Of course, I could bitch about character choices, like how Tidus is here instead of Yuna, and how the new girl Lightning is nowhere to be found, forever, so I'll stop right now. We can always save that for the latter logs. Another key issue I have here is the tagline: "Who will you fight for?" This must be some kind of rhetorical question, since there doesn't seem to be a choice. In the storyline, you can only fight for the good guys. That's it. I know you might want to play as Sephiroth and bring about 1000 years of darkness, but this game isn't going to let you do it. Also, like all fighting games, most of the roster is locked at the start. It sucks, but there's nothing you can do.

At the moment of writing this, I've completed the prologue (which actually takes place before you can even watch the opening cinematic or see the title screen). Basically all you do is wonder about some game boards and fight a few piss easy enemies. I'm saddened to report that the enemies here are all just pallet-swaps of the twenty-two playable characters. So that means twenty-two enemies, that's it. Its too early to really judge the fighting system, but I can at least comment on the graphics - they're really good. Just about the best that the PSP has ever done. Also the music is pretty cool too. I never do get tired of the Final Fantasy victory fanfare. Never.

So I'll stop here. Tune in later for what will be many more logs about "Dissidia Final Fantasy". I also got to review everything else Norman brought. And there are lots of good movies coming out too. Thank God I got all Winter Break to waste this time and deconstruct all my favorite nonsense. See you later, Space Monkees!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Norman, the Hanukkah Penguin

Happy Hanuka, Space Monkees.

As you may or may not be aware, I'm Jewish. Yet for some reason that has not stopped me from eating pork, turning the lights on on Saturday, hating God, and being extremely frivolous with my money. It also hasn't stopped me from loving everything about Christmas, the most wonderful holiday of the year. Its got Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch, and an entirely canon of various other stop-motion beloved children's characters. Isn't it just the best, absolutely secular holiday out there? Right now I got a make-shift Christmas tree up in my dorm room, but there is not a menorah to be found. Yup, I'm in the Christmas spirit. Too bad we first have to get through Chanukkah.

Chanuka is an impossible to spell minor Jewish holiday. The miracle it celebrates happens to be easily the lamest miracle you'll ever here: following a very interesting war story, a candle burned for eight days when it only had oil for one. Really? Is that it? I mean, yeah, its an act of God all right, but couldn't he do something more dramatic? How about taking part in that war story? Anyway, the only reason that Chanoocka has become so popular in the last century is its proximity to another better-known holiday in the same month*. Basically the Jews were jealous of Christmas, so they took one of their own holidays around the same time, and threw in kid games like the dredel and presents. Some have even throw in a Hannuka bush, just for complete redundancy.

By the way, as for that "eight days of presents" you non-Jews might have heard of, it really isn't anything too special. You'll get one, maybe two good gifts like LEGOs, and terrible presents like socks for the other six days. Christmas is where the real presents are at. Maybe this is why I'm so sour over the whole Hanuukka thing. Once I got a library book - which was due to be returned! That's not even a real gift!

However, I feel that Haanuka just really isn't going to be a true rival for Christmas until it goes ahead and makes it own lovable cast of stop-motion characters, like Christmas has. And what better place to start than with Santa Claus himself?

So now I bring you... Norman the Chanuckka Penguin.

(Lyrics sung to the tune of "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer", with apologies over my terrible composition.)

"Norman the Chaanuka Penguin,
Lives in the cold South Pole,
With his bear wife Lora,
In a house made of coal.
All of the Jewish chil'ren,
Love happy penguin games.
They're good for their parents
For toys that aren't lame.

In his Chevy Malibu,
Norman drives no sleigh,
'Round the world eight times.
Toys for those free of crime.

Oh how the Jew kids love him,
They'r ought to yell in glee:
'Norman the Hannukah Penguin,
We're all very happy-y!"

The Norman the Hannuukah character is a joint creation between me and my Dad. Of course, most of the major details are my

*Usually, the Hebrew calendar shifts every year, so nothing ever happens on the same day. Hanucka can either take place at the same time as Christmas or as early as Thanksgiving.