Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis

Have I ever mentioned that I love strategy RPGs?  Because I feel it needs repeating every so often.  And I also desperately love Yasumi Matsuno, one of the few men on Earth whom I would willingly give up my freedom for in exchange for a life of pretty sexual slavery if he so desired.  Yasumi Matsuno is the incomparable genius who created such games as "Final Fantasy Tactics", "Final Fantasy XII", "Vagrant Story", and "Tactics Ogre".  "Tactics Ogre"'s PSP remake, by the way, was the best game I played last year, by some margin.  Matsuno built not just Ivalice franchise within the larger Final Fantasy label, but also the Ogre Battle franchise, which is probably the second most illustrious SRPG name behind Fire Emblem.

Unfortunately, SE, in their usual wisdom, has let Ogre Battle lie fallow for years.  What I'm reviewing tonight is actually the last Ogre Battle game ever released, a prequel to "Tactics Ogre" called "Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis".  By the way, this game was made entirely without input from Yaizmat, so its existence is hope - for me at least - that some new Ogre Battle games can be made.  "Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis" came on the GBA some ten years ago, making this my least timely review yet.  Since its a handheld game, its basically a microsized adaptation of of the Tactics Ogre/FFT gameplay that I would usually enjoy on my PSP remakes.  And it plays just as well as any of its big brothers.

The plot essentially is the story of Lancelot Tartaros, the one-eyed leader of the Lodis Dark Knights in "Tactics Ogre", and by far the coolest character in that game.  Tataros wasn't actually fully evil in that game, but he was pretty much the central villain.  This game takes place when Lancelot was young enough to qualify as a hero of a JRPG, had both of his eyes, and went by the name of "Alphonse".  Alphonse travels to the war-torn island of Ovis, a client state of Lodis, along with his best friend and commander officer, Rictor, in a secret mission.  Though the mission seems like a simple mission to stop a local civil war, its actually much deeper.  Something evil is afoot in Ovis, and its up to you to stop it.  That ultimately makes for a great little video game.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Hunger Games

Right now "The Hunger Games" is the biggest thing ever in the history of evers.  It is setting the box office records on fire, and this movie is huge.  Right here is the heir to that teen fiction hole in Hollywood's gut that Harry Potter and Twilight are leaving behind as their franchises wrap up.  I was at a diner yesterday and the two old gentlemen behind, people roughly fifty years too old to be in this film's core demographic, had only one topic of conversation on their mind:  this movie.  This is the flavor of the year.  Unfortunately for many viewers, it isn't very good.

At its core, "The Hunger Games" is a pretty basic plotline that roughly five hundred action movies have done before.  Gather up a group of people in a confined environment, then have them kill each other for the entertainment of the deranged audience at home.  Let me just list off the top of my head five movies just like this:  the 80s action classic "The Running Man", both versions of "Death Race", a crappy Stone Cold Steve Austin called "The Condemned", the Japanese action movie "Battle Royale"*, and a crappy Robert Carlyle movie called "The Tournament" - and there are probably fifteen thousand more I don't know about.  I'm not going to call out "The Hunger Games" for being unoriginal, because honestly, who cares?  Everything is a rip-off of everything else.  The only thing that was ever orignial was "The Epic of Gilgamesh" and that probably ripped something else off too.  All I care about is if "The Hunger Games" can do what those movies did and do it better or in a new interesting way.

The difference between "The Hunger Games" and all those other movies is that they were pretty much solidly unapologetic action B-movies.  "The Hunger Games", in contrast, is a two and half hour epic aimed not at goofball action junkies like myself, but instead the teen crowd.  This movie comes packaged with the first trailer for "Twilight 5".  Now it is interesting to see a more emotional take on the "kill em all on TV" movie, with an attempt to build a whole dystopian future around the idea.  In fact, "The Hunger Games" probably could have been the best movie of this entire micro-genre.  Unfortunately, for all the epic weight and needless length thrown on the story, its ultimately pretty damn boring.  The fight scenes are terrible, the main characters are needlessly flat, and all the side characters are undeveloped.  Its a wasted opportunity for a better more awesome movie, I think.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Our Future Pioneers: Abandoning Destiny

"Dedicated to You, Our Future Pioneers..."

This is the final epitaph of "Macross Plus", a SciFi anime miniseries/movie that I absolutely adore, a show that all people need to see.  The entire Macross franchise, being space giant robot adventures, is largely a tale of humankind stepping out into space and traveling the stars.  By "Macross Plus", mankind has settled an entire planet for at least a generation or two, has faster than light travel, has cohabited with an entire alien race, and is rapidly spreading out into the stars.  "Macross Frontier" takes place a generation later, where the covered wagons that settled the Old West have their successors in nation-sized armadas of space stations soaring through the cosmos looking for new worlds to inhabit.  Yeah, this isn't exactly the most hard science franchise, but it still imagines a future where mankind has stepped deep outside of the solar system, well beyond our home planet.  "Macross Plus", by the way, is set in 2040, an immensely optimistic date for such achievements.  Ignore the science and practical concerns, and just look at the message for a second:  Macross is the dream of exploration, the dream of spreading outward, the dream of our children spanning the galaxy and ruling the universe in a sea of endless space and freedom for all.

Meanwhile, in the real world, that dream seems to be going nowhere fast.  2030 is the current fantasy date of most space projects, from landing men back on the Moon to sending something or another to Mars.  In my lifetime, in the realm of space exploration, we've accomplished basically nothing.  2040 is going to pass, and we're not going to be settled on any other world, let alone Eden so many lightyears away.  I've long ago accepted that I'm going to spend my entire life on this one world, and the day I realized that was massively depressing.  Look, on a fundamental level I believe the only real future of the human race is in outer space.  We either move on to other worlds, spread out genetic material out into the vast reaches of the stars, or we go instinct, either due to some manmade disaster here like nuclear war or overpopulation or whatever, or a big figgin' space rock blows up the Earth!  Either way, if mankind wants to survive, we need to spread out.  Its a wild dream, but I'm a wild guy, I dream big.

But right now... we're fucking it up.  Even in the minor goal - relatively speaking to full galactic human empire - of landing a man on Mars, we're screwing it up.  Our space program is a mess.  We seem to have no real goal, no money, no plan, and finally, most embarrassingly, no spaceship.  NASA just doesn't have the money or the resources to accomplish what we need.  This is a depressing post to write.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Macross Frontier

There haven't been any major anime posts in a while because I haven't found a show that I liked enough to comment upon.  "Macross Frontier" has broken that streak, happily.  This isn't a show I think I'm just going to forget about any time soon.

The greatest giant robot anime franchise is without a doubt Gundam.  However, in second is Macross.  Gundam has had something like ten gazillion series and movies and whatevers, while Macross has had only about five.  But the history of Macross is at least as storied, and it is a name that every true anime fan knows, or should know.  "Macross Frontier" is the heir to that long legacy, which includes the super-classic anime "Robotech" and arguably the best anime movie of all time, the supremely fantastic "Macross Plus".  Unlike Gundam, however, Macross is a lot lighter, typically.  The giant robots transform from humanoid to fighter-form, that's a rule.  There's a love triangle, that's another rule.  Usually at some point during the series, some female character will sing a reality-defying Jpop ballad that will pacify the universe and spread love throughout the cosmos.  Because love, as we all know, is the greatest weapon - if Obama were to drop a Love Bomb on Afghanistan, all our problems would be solved.  But as you can see, Macross is a lot more idealistic than Gundam, the shows aren't going to end with every major character dead or insane.  Instead, raw anime heroism will win the day, usually in an absurd twist of events.

"Macross Frontier" makes itself a great heir to that family of anime.  I can say with nothing but 100% certainty that "Macross Frontier" is not as good as "Macross Plus", but honestly that's being cruel to a very fun show.  As a matter of fact, "Macross Frontier" is usually the kind of anime that I hate, but we'll get into that confusion later.  What is important that "Macross Frontier" was so good, that my waning interest in anime has been seriously resparked.  And that is remarkable, I have to say.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Doctor Who

"Doctor Who" is that show you should have been watching your entire life, but only discovered last fall.  Wait, I'm sorry, I slipped into the second-person there.  I'll start again:  "Doctor Who" is the show I should have been watching my entire life, but only discovered last fall.  And by the way, you should have watched it too.

When I was a little kid I loved anthology SciFi/Horror shows like the 90s "The Outer Limits", "Tales From the Crypt", "Are You Afraid of the Dark?", the original "Twilight Zone", and of course - and this one is closest to my heart - "The X Files" (which technically had a plot but who cares?).  I just loved that idea of sitting in front of the TV waiting for a new fantastic adventure to start up, never having any kind of clue what kind of insane things can happen.  One week its wizards in the woods, another week you got incestuous hillbilly monsters, and then there are killer fire ant aliens, its was awesome.  Sometimes they were scary, sometimes they were funny, and often enough, you'd realize that the possibilities to your universe are far more infinite than you would possibly imagine.  Where are the anthology SciFi shows of yesteryear?  Where is the comforting cackle of the Crypt Keeper making terrible ghoulish puns?

"Doctor Who" basically is one of those SciFi anthology shows.  Its like a British "X-Files", only with its own deranged wackiness and genius.  The Doctor is a character everybody needs to know, and then love.  I usually don't review non-anime TV shows, if you've been reading this blog for a few years you'd know that.  I'm making an exception here.  Because "Doctor Who" is that good.  I'd put it in the running for some of the best television I've ever seen.

200,000 Pageviews

Its a thing I did.  Or well, you guys did.  Because let's be honest, only a tiny fraction of those pageviews can possibly be me.  Thanks.  Keep reading.  Stuff is always coming up here at the BlueHighwind Blog.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Graveyard of Empires

The War in Afghanistan is now the second longest single conflict in American history, right after Vietnam.  And for roughly half the war's running time, we've been losing.  Barrack Obama, fulfilling one of his main campaign promises - "to end the pointless War in Iraq and focus on the real threat in Afghanistan" - massively upped the tempo of combat, increased troop strength, and aggressively fought the Taliban and Al Qaeada insurgencies in Afghanistan and their main base in Pakistan.  Unfortunately, this aggressive stance, though successful in killing Osama Bin Ladin, has succeeded in just about only that one thing.  Pakistan, who was always something of a false friend, seemingly playing the United States and the Jihadist against each other while not really committing to either, has fully dropped support for the United States.  And now after a series of disastrous incidents, most notably a horrifying massacre of Afghanis by a crazed American soldier who was supposed to be protecting them*, we might have lost all alliances with the main Afghani government.  Worse, we're no where closer to defeating the terrorists.  Somehow or another in the Central Asian region, the United States and the rest of NATO has turned into the main villain.

What the heck are we supposed to do now?  Obama's main strategy for the last couple of years was to bring the Taliban to the peace tables, but offering very little to persuade them.  I'm going to get critical on the President now, his handling of this war leaves a lot to desire.  In fact, he probably lost it for us.  Yes, Obama refocused the mission to Afghanistan, but clearly he never brought enough force to frighten these guys into capitulating.  Obama's decision to put a 2014 timetable for withdrawal of US forces from the region completely undermined whatever effect the surge in troops could have had.  Its even math for the Jihadists:  just wait the Americans out.  And unfortunately, the Afghani government isn't all that much better.  Hamad Karzai is... well, a dictator, let's not joke around there.  So now the Afghanis have a choice:  either the corrupt Karzai dictatorship, the drug-dealing warlords, or the Jihadists that promise Islamic Empire.

Karzai, wisely noting that his own political fortunes might leave with the Americans, has now positioned himself against us, demanding that NATO scale-back and withdraw much faster.  Obama has so far refused, planning to stay the course he has already laid out.  But should he have taken that offer?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

John Carter of Mars

So for the last few weeks the sharks have been circling around "John Carter", with all the major Hollywood press junkets gloating about the flop-to-be.  250 million dollars have been spent by Disney on this SciFi epic, and honestly nobody seemed to interested.  I've gone around and judge the word of mouth for my own friends and family - guess what, I went to see this thing alone.  They're right, this movie is flopping.  Disney is losing a fortune on this thing, and if you're one of those big fans of giant failures, "John Carter" is your next "Waterworld".

"Waterworld" for about fifteen years now has been the by-word for a total disastrous expensive flop of a movie.  Its the "Watergate" of flops, a single incident that defines the entire embarrassing phenomena.  "Waterworld" was a huge overblown disaster that, along with "The Postman", flat-out killed Kevin Costner's directing career.  However, there's one thing people forget while gloating over the hilarious box office failure of "Waterworld"... it wasn't a bad movie.  Go out and rent it, "Waterworld" is actually a lot of fun.  I recommend it.  And "John Carter of Mars" is actually a damn good move, forget the box office.

If you're after a SciFi adventure that works in all the places that matter, "John Carter of Mars" is what the doctor ordered.  This is the kind of movie I would have loved as a kid, its the kind of movie I love now, and God help me, its the kind of movie I'll love until the day I die.  When you get too mature for simple thrills and quality storylines, then what's the point of even watching movies any more?  It was just a lot of fun:  you got the pretty visuals of a Star Wars prequel, BUT with a more competent director and a much better script.  So I loved it, there you go.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Paying For Sex

For the past few weeks I've been attempting to ignore a long discussion in our Capital, mostly for the same reason that I've ignored a few political issues lately:  its goddamn depressing.  So right now in the Congress and around the country we've been back to debating about abortion and birth control and sexual freedom, issues that some people might have thought were settled back in the 1970s.  Like really, abortion again?  Didn't Roe v. Wade solve this shit?  Then you got candidates like Rick Santorum who honestly are out there standing in opposition to the idea of Sexual Liberation and pretty much every modern definition of sexuality.  Its frightening how goddamn crazy the world is getting.

I mean, I try to play up some kind of visage of being a moderate, but its really hard to stand in the middle when the Right keeps getting more and more insane.  Also, I don't like abortion personally, I've had this discussion before (and honestly came off as idiot the last time, I should apologize).  Its hard business, a minefield of contradictory morality that makes it difficult to decide on what or how it should be handled*.  So out of the interests of being a moderate, I'll give Conservatives some credit here.  They aren't talking about banning abortion, they aren't talking about banning contraceptives, but they are talking about blocking the government's funding of them.  Yeah, this an Obamacare situation, so it gets very complicated.  Its specifically the part of Obamacare that demands that religious organizations have to buy Health Insurance for their employees that include birth control.

Now, that doesn't sound so bad, and I guess I came off at the Right too hard at first.  Simply blocking one part of a large bill for one special case isn't all that big or crazy, but the Conservatives don't only want that.  I haven't seen any serious interesting in compromise out of that entire wing of politics for years now, and even when Obama does give ground, they're just as unsatisfied as before.  Also, the debate right now isn't that small, its blown up pretty badly, mostly thanks to one Rush Limbaugh, who went ten steps too crazy.  He went ahead and called Sandra Fluke, a woman who wanted to testify before the Senate for this debate (making her the first, sadly), "a slut".  He went ahead and recasted the debate by ranting against Miss Fluke wanting the United States to "pay for her to have sex", casting Fluke as the prostitute and Obama as her pimp.  Oh, now we see what its really all about, don't we?


"Coriolanus" is the next step in my long evil plan to see every good movie ever made.  Now I only have a million more to go.  I should be done by this time tomorrow, I think.

Since this is a good movie, that means I get to write a positive review.  "Coriolanus" was written by William Shakespeare, who is easily the best screenwriter in Hollywood, but oddly never seems to ever get that Oscar he so desperately deserves.  "Coriolanus" is one of his more obscure plays, and having seen this movie, why?  This is also the directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes, and he stars in the movie too.  Shakespeare, to his misfortune, didn't get much say in the artistic development of this movie, because he clearly wanted this to be set in the ancient Roman Republic, but Fiennes instead casts it in depressing modern-day Eastern Europe.  These creative differences led to Shakespeare taking his name off the final movie, and instead they gave screenwriter credit to the imaginary pseudonym "John Logan"*.  But despite this behind the scenes acrimony, "Coriolanus" was a great movie, something that Mr. Shakespeare should be proud of.

"Coriolanus" is a political tragedy where the titular Gaius Marcius Coriolanus throws away his future in the Roman Republic for hating the people and refusing to compromise.  Its also a violent war movie, with an awesome action scene (but sadly only one).  This is like a fully modern war drama only with Shakespeare's special brand of incredible writing which is arguably the greatest work the English language has ever produced.  Its hyper modern, where BBC news anchors on TV have replaced the traditional Shakespearian character of a Herald.  Instead of togas and spears there are officer uniforms, business suits, and machine guns.  A lot of Shakespeare movies set themselves in modern times, but usually stylized Victorian times or a Fascist Britain, "Coriolanus" goes so far as to have cellphones in it.  So go out and see it immediately if you can.  Definitely one of the best movies of 2012 so far.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Here's a seven minute video from Quantic Dream, the makers of "Heavy Rain", that interactive movie game from a few years ago.  "Heavy Rain" was a game I skipped over mostly because of how weird and inhuman the characters looked.  If this new video is any indication, the Uncanny Valley is truly dead, and that's what most game bloggers are going to be buzzing about.  Honestly, I couldn't care less about any of that, because this video is quite simply beautiful.  The technical innovations are dwarfed by the brilliance of the dramatic scene here.  Just watch:

"Kara" is a pretty basic SciFi concept, androids coming to life.  You could probably be cynical and point out that its been done a million times before, but its probably not been done this well*.  In just a seven minute scene, "Kara" sets the stage for what could be an amazing story, which is actually a pretty good parallel for what Quantic Dream has been trying to do for years now.  They've been out to create the perfect digital human, an artificial person much like Kara herself.  In this video I'd say they've succeeded, beating out both their original "Heavy Rain" and really beating out Square Enix's "Spirits Within" from over a decade ago.  They also seem to be facing the fact that their digital humans are little more than commodities to be sold, and in a few nude scenes, purposefully designed masturbation pieces.  Then they ask themselves, what if their characters really were alive, and so "Kara" is born.  But I don't know if its just technology that makes this a success.  I don't care about the tech, I just want to see more of this story.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Act of Valor

Now for a movie that's slightly more relevant than a WWII movie that probably isn't even playing in your theatre anymore:  "Act of Valor".

Now "Act of Valor" is not a good movie, let's start with that right now.  As a matter of fact, its probably considerably less fun than "Red Tails" and if I really needed to choose between the movies I'd go with Lucasfilm rather than the Pentagon.  But I really feel bad saying that, because "Act of Valor" is one of those movies you really want to be really good.  Because this is a movie made by the Pentagon starring active duty Navy SEALs fighting in exact combat tactics, often using live ammo.  These are the supreme badass warriors fighting around the world for the American way, doing their thing on camera.  Of course, you can't just have a movie about combat exercises, you do need things like plot and characters and dialog and stuff.

So obviously "Act of Valor" does a really kickass job with its action scenes.  They're easily the most authentic combat scenes of modern warfare of any modern movie.  And its all real people doing real things.  That truck that blew up?  That's a real truck.  And that's a real submarine and a real helicopter and a real boat and real dudes jumping out of the plane.  Its not a CG cartoon wonderland like well... every other movie that's been made in the last ten years, basically.  So right there "Act of Valor" is a respectable movie, not to mention how it honors the world's most awesome badasses.  However, beyond the action scenes, this movie has very little to enjoy.  The plot is thin, and really the characters, acting, and script are um... lousy.  But I feel so bad saying that, because god bless these guys they're trying.

"Act of Valor" really makes me feel conflicted.  I guess I could trash this movie like I did "Red Tails", but that would make me feel like a bully to people we all should respect.  Yeah, this movie isn't very good, but its not like the Navy SEALs couldn't make another movie, with maybe a better script, and well... a real actor.  And just saying that feels mean.

Red Tails

Today I went to see two separate mediocre military movies, one being the remarkable Navy SEALs epic, "Act of Valor".  This is not that movie.

"Red Tails" instead is George Lucas' latest movie that isn't an unnecessary 3D remake of a crappy Star Wars prequel.  Its a hundred million dollar epic based on the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen, the famed all-Black WWII fighter group, made with an all-Black cast and a ton of CG.  Notably it was not directed by George Lucas, nor was it written by him, but he came up with the idea, had all the money, and even personally directed reshoots after the main filming was over.  Yeah, Anthony Hemmingway has the director's seat, but how much of a director was he really?  So what we're seeing is George Lucas' vision brought to the screen.  And if you're a "Boondocks" fan, Aaron McGruder was the co-writer on this thing.  Its not entirely "Star Wars Episode VII: Red Tails", but its about 50% that.

As you might have noticed, I'm about two months behind on "Red Tails", and I truly have no excuse of any kind.  But luckily I live very close to what Hollywood calls the "urban market", so there are theatres near me still playing it.  Also thanks to lots of hindsight, we can conclude that "Red Tails" was a total flop and since then George Lucas has declared that he's done making Blockbusters, which honestly is something I couldn't help but meet with more than a small degree of sadness.  Yeah, George Lucas has been the Internet's punching bag for more than a decade, and really after so many failures the guy could use a nice success.  He was trying something different here than fiddling with Star Wars or Indiana Jones, and that's something worth celebrating*.   This was a labor of love for him, somehow it took him twenty-two years to make this Tuskegee Airmen movie, and I really wish it worked out.  But no... it just didn't.

"Red Tails" is a pretty mundane movie, actually fairly boring.  I guess its better than a Star Wars Prequel, but still, really an unremarkable piece of work that nobody is going to remember in two years.  But for fun, let's see why:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Iran Crisis

Right now the entire Iran situation is scaring the crap out of me.  Right now, Iran, a nation that has been on America's "hit-list" for about a decade now ever since President Bush listed it in his Axis of Evil speech, is currently on route to a war with Israel over its nuclear program.  This could result in the first war between nuclear powers in history, with Israel and Iran trading blasts across the Middle East, and the inevitable involvement of the United States.  President Obama has already positioned ourselves in an anti-Iran posture, hoping to choke the Iranian regime to submission with an oil blockade.  We have committed ourselves to stopping Iran from building a nuclear bomb, which would be fine, but our ally, Israel, wants to smash Iran's potential to build a nuke, which means that we bomb the crap out Iran's nuclear sites and go to war with them immediately.  Israel might just want to move unilaterally, which might drag the US into a full-scale regional war, and after that, nobody knows what will happen.

Luckily for the world right now, President Bush is not in office, instead we have the far more cautious Obama.  If anybody recalls "the Bush Doctrine", those rules of military intervention meant that the United States could invade any country it wanted entirely on its own to defeat a threat to American security.  In the Iraq invasion of 2003, that was based entirely on the false assumption that Saddam Hussein was building Weapons of Mass Destruction, which lead to a nearly-decade long quagmire of police-keeping in the destroyed nation and absorbed Bush's entire presidency.  According to the rules of the Bush Doctrine, Iran is building WMDs and we probably should have invaded them already.

Obviously we don't want a war with Iran.  Do I need to explain what the downsides would be?  Even if its a limited war simply to bomb Iran into abandoning its nuclear program, it would be a disaster for Iran, and a mistake for American use of force.  If we went for an all-out regime change invasion, it would probably be at least as troublesome as the Iraq War, only in a much bigger nation with a more powerful and stable regime being torn down.  Right now, I'd say Obama is actually walking the right path with Iran.