Fun, And Not As Much Fun

My thoughts on the new Tomb Raider film can best be described by this guy, who currently more or less acts as a gateway into my mind.

To combat this assault of by-the-numbers boredom, I have taken to playing something wacky. In this case, that something is the BlazBlue series. I’ve only played the first one back when it came out, and will now proceed to play through the rest of the series. An interesting, eccentric story with unusual characters. Shields the mind from the onslaught of Hollywood stagnation.

As far as writing goes, I’m still far too slow. Too much going on in real life makes it difficult to get a good writing streak. Nothing to do about that. I write when I can and try to stay somewhat sane and functional.

That’s about it. Stay brutal.
M. T. Miller

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Reporting In

Still alive. I’ve been everywhere, done everything.

I hung out, traveled to see one of my favorite bands ever, Rhapsody, on their farewell tour. This was likely my last shot at seeing them, and I don’t regret blowing a piece of my budget on the event. Easily the best concert of my life.

A band I’ve never seen or heard before opened for them. It is called Beast in Black, and it is actually really, really good. I need to hear more of them.

Other than that, I’ve played and beaten Pyre. Supergiant Games keeps shooting up. Great narrative, great characters, great music. Easily recommended to everyone.

I’ve barely written anything in the last week. I must fix this. Life and experiences are nothing when compared to the big picture. Fame or death. All in. Balls deep. No mercy. Etc. Etc.

Stay brutal.
M. T. Miller

Warframe Burnout

No, not that kind of burnout. Creator’s block is for the weak. I’m talking about being burned out on a game.

Warframe is a whirlwind romance in game form. You discover it, fall in love, waste a chunk of your life, then just stare at it wondering “what the shit was I thinking?”

Oh, the game still plays, looks, and sounds incredible. The movement is like poetry. The weapons roar satisfyingly as you blow chunks off things. You are a space ninja. And it’s free!

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that after getting to a certain point, there’s nothing more to do. So you’ve discovered what you really are, played around with that, then entered the endgame. That’s it. Go and do the daily Sorties, which are nothing but more difficult versions of the stuff you’ve already done. Boring and tedious, especially after all it took to get there.

So it’s basically the same as real life. Hehahahahahahahhah.

I’m not someone with a lot of patience. Isn’t a game supposed to be fun? Doing the same thing over and over again is only fun to people with a certain disorder I won’t name because that would be offensive. And I’m all about being family friendly and wholesome.

Anyway, I predict I will gradually be winding down my consumption of Warframe, which is a shame because it’s such an incredible, unique product. But I want to enjoy stuff, not spend my leisure time swearing at the screen and doing the exact same thing over and over again.

If I want to get angry, I can work.

Stay brutal.
M. T. Miller

Warframe

For the last week or so, I was basically a warframe.

I can’t remember the last time something had me this hooked. Perhaps League of Legends back in ’11.?

Anyway, being a space ninja is incredible fun, and the speed and mobility are really working my (presumed) ADD.

GOTTA GO FAST.

Where It All Started

I keep saying I’m a fan of over-the-top 90s stuff. That is mostly true, but in analyzing the things that make me tick I have realized something I wasn’t aware of before. Namely, that the piece of media that had the biggest effect on me came a bit later.

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Max Payne. Back when it came out, this game had it all. The graphics. The gameplay. The incredible music. But what made it stand out most were its hopeless, gritty atmosphere, and highly verbose and cynical main character.

It was basically Film Noir: The Game. You had your hard-boiled main character with nothing to lose. Your set-up. Your revenge plot. But then a hallucinogenic drug got introduced, and things got seriously messed up. Basically, between the parts where he shot people and dodged bullets (Matrix style), Max had these moments of insanity where he would hallucinate the worst parts of his past (His wife and baby getting killed, mostly). And you got to play through them. Lovely.

Contrary to the idea of keeping the protagonist vague so the player would fill out holes themselves, Max Payne did the exact opposite: it reveled in how much character it had. Basically, each scene was an exercise in style. Max and the gangsters fought for their lives as well as verbal dominance. The one-liners flew with machine gun speed, and they mostly hit the mark. It was magnificent.

This seems like an exaggeration, and it probably is. In fact, a lot of characters appear, spout their lines, then get gunned down by Max. One can’t really call them three dimensional. Thing is, this is okay. They did what they came there to do, and they did it in style. Their screen time was used to the greatest effect it could possibly be used for, without derailing the plot or more important themes. We are then free to proceed further into the night, as Max would say.

In today’s world, the word “edgy” is mostly used as an insult or joke. I used it myself in such context in a recent post. People generally don’t like their media to be grim or grotesque, even when it is lined with humor. So it took me by surprise that this parade of unpleasantness was a huge hit. People seemed to love it just as much as I did. I hoped it would open the door for similar products, but they never came. Or at least arrived too late.

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Max Payne got two sequels. The first one (pictured above for its awesome cover art) was pretty much more of the same, with an added focus on Mona, the resident femme fatale. The third one was made by Rockstar, the guys behind GTA, and (to most everyone’s annoyance) turned Max into Walter White. Overall both games were very good, but none reached the brilliance of the original.

So why do I like this stuff so much? I can’t say for certain, but I think it might be association. Basically, I had so much fun playing and getting immersed into the first game that I want to re-live it. Not just replay it, but experience the same intensity again. And to me, this intensity goes hand in hand with grimness and witty banter. I wasn’t aware of it for a long time, but this is the effect I was going for with my writing.

I think I actually know myself a tiny bit better now. Funny.

The Genius Of Nier

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Too long. Luckily, Nier Automata isn’t out yet, so I can talk about this hot keyword and get some free traffic going my way.

Let’s get something out of the way first: I LOVE the original Nier. Videogame storytelling simply cannot get better. There are games with better stories, but I have never seen a game tell a good story this effectively.

I originally went into Nier for the hell of it. Having picked up a PS3 relatively late in its life, I hunted for the action RPGs that my PC platform lacked. The game looked and sounded unusual, so I thought “why not?” Initially disappointed, I pressed through regardless, encouraged by claims that it gets better. Oh, it does, and how.

It was about halfway through that I realized that Nier was part of my favorite piece of insanity: the Drakengard franchise. I honestly couldn’t tell. The characters were eccentric, the music was brilliant, and the budget was wonky, but other than that, it seemed as if they were not cut from the same cloth at all.

To illustrate, Drakengard games are like a crazy ex: full of great traits you can’t find anywhere else, but just don’t work in the end. Sure, you might remember the good times, but going for a replay inevitably leads to ruin. There is a kind of warped beauty about them, but no one in their right mind would ever call them good.

Nier, on the other hand, is that girl who looks great from afar, but reveals more and more imperfections when you get close. Most people would run away screaming at that point, but those with the tenacity to spend some time with her would learn that she could make them happy in a way no one else could.

Indeed, roughness almost killed this game dead. Now considered a cult classic, it struggled with sales back in the day. Lazy, partial reviews by major gaming press didn’t help as well, but talking about that alone would take too long.

But how does it tie into Drakengard, you ask? Oooof… this will take a while. After the final, joke ending of the original Drakengard, the final boss of that game enters our world and decomposes. Sadly, it also releases a disease that either kills people or turns them into mind-controlled monsters (their choice). The body of Caim’s dragon is recovered by the Japanese government and experimented on, becoming a source of magic. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A man (or very young man in the Japanese version) defends a little girl from what appear to be ghosts. He uses the power of a strange talking book to beat them away, but his daughter/sister (again, depending on version) seems to succumb to the disease.

Papa Nier, Badass, Altruism, Big Sword, Huge Weapon, White Hair, Dead, Delete Save

Papa Nier

The game then jumps one thousand three hundred and twelve years later, to apparently reveal the same pair of people, now living in what seems to be a post-apocalyptic (but still lush and green) land. The man (named Nier by default) is kind of a protector of their town, and defends it from the ghosts in the intro (called Shades by the villagers). Shades speak an incomprehensible language and are entirely malicious.

Yonah, Nier's daughter, sister, baggage, little girl

Yes, she’s wearing a drape.

The girl (named Yonah) doesn’t seem to have gotten over her sickness over the course of a millennium, so she can barely do anything at all. This is the part where the previously-mentioned imperfections play a large part. About half of the game is essentially a series of fetch quests and world-building. This pays off later, but is mostly agonizing early on.

Grimoire Weiss, Talking Book, Magic, Liam O'Brien, Snark

The expression says it all.

Through circumstances too complicated to explain, Nier gains possession, or rather companionship of another talking book. It calls itself Grimoire Weiss, and seems to be lacking a good part of its knowledge. Luckily, this knowledge can be recovered, so Nier uses Weiss to cast an ever-expanding assortment of spells throughout the game. Weiss is also quite a bit of a wise-ass, providing most of the game’s humor. Calling it Liam O’Brien’s greatest role would not be a stretch.

Kaine, Hermaphrodite, Saw swords, Companion, Shade, Possessed

No words for this character design.

As Nier continues his fetch-quests (most of these are aimed at helping people, but a lot produce nothing but tragedy), he comes across a hermit of a girl who calls herself Kaine. Kaine is a foul-mouthed, lovable minx who is on the hunt for a gargantuan shade that killed her grandma. Also, she may or may not have a penis. Overall, a charming person. She and Nier team up (her exchanges with Weiss are nothing but brilliant) and she eventually gets her revenge, but it soon becomes apparent that she is also partially possessed by a Shade. In time, she would become one herself.
Overall, Kaine was a lot of fun, and I loved the time she spent on the screen. Another performance of a career, this one from Laura Bailey.

Nier Emil, Skeleton, Moon face, Magic weapon, Sacrifice, Tragic

Cute little bugger. Right?

Saying who the fourth party member is would a major spoiler, so let’s just put his picture up here for the sake of completeness. Plenty of places on the internet with info on that guy. I’ll just say that his highlight scenes are among the most intense in the game.

In fact, saying pretty much anything beyond what I just did would completely ruin the experience for whoever was lucky to have yet to play it. Nier is tragic, immersive, and witty in a way very few games from Japan are. Not saying that Japan’s lacking in wits, it’s just that something tends to get lost in the translation. In this case, that didn’t happen. Everything about the localization is just about perfect.

Let’s leave it at that.

I know. I’ve already spoiled Drakengard 1& 2, so why not Nier? I’m not so sure I know the answer, but I’ll try to give one regardless. It was Nier that showed me that the people who made this just might in fact know what they are doing. It becomes hard to mock the craft of someone capable of taking you for a ride, turning the whole thing up on its head, and ending it all by wounding you horribly. Yet you somehow don’t hate them for it. In fact, you want more.

Thank you, Yoko Taro. Thank you for this work of genius. And fuck you. You know why.
M. T. Miller

The Insanity of Drakengard Vol. 2

Drakengard 2, Cavia, Yoko Taro, Nowe, Manah, Eris, Caim, Angelus, Legna, JRPG, horrible

When something horrible goes wrong, does it effectively go right? The answer is no.

Sequels are hard. They rarely outperform the original in both acclaim and sales. And then there is the unique dilemma that only creators of strange things face: whether to make it more accessible (and risk alienating fans) or go full retard (and possibly live in a cardboard box for the rest of one’s life).

The makers of Drakengard 2 chose the former, and the world is poorer for it. I blame the absence of the series’ resident director/lunatic Yoko Taro. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ahem, the sequel to the most messed-up thing I’ve ever played, read or seen takes place in a timeline that vaguely follows the original’s first ending. Eighteen years have passed since the red dragon had agreed to become the next Seal, and the world is at peace once more. The Union has taken over, and you play as generic JRPG protagonist #9999. Let’s call him Nowe, since the game does so already.

One of the first things the Union has done after winning the war was to install a brand new set of Seals, and appoint some badass knights to defend them. This organization is headed by a guy named General Gismor (a definitely-not-evil guy), and the new Hierarch Seere (the kid from the first game). Four lieutenants serve under them, and they are just about the only interesting characters this game has to offer. With the exception of a happy few.

But let’s get back to our boy Nowe, who is incredibly boring. He is a reformed semi-wild child that was found in the company of a black dragon, and is about to become a knight. His draconic partnership (mysteriously attained at no Pact cost) basically makes him a special snowflake that rises through the ranks rapidly, and is in turn hated by more or less everyone. Everyone but his friend Eris.

Eris is your prototype First Girl We See. That means that she is bossy and serves to spout a whole lot of exposition, but is ultimately more or less useless for the plot except as a victim. She doesn’t even get to be Nowe’s love interest, besides showing an obvious infatuation with him. More on that later.

Anyway, despite becoming a knight, Nowe still hangs out with the black dragon who had raised him. This dragon (called Legna) is very fatherly and seems to have genuine affection for the young man. Together they embark on a series of jolly (and relatively unimportant) adventures in the name of the Union, until the actual story of the game takes off: the new Seals are under attack and their breaking must be stopped.

Nowe and Eris are then sent to defend a seal alongside a Lieutenant called Zhangpo. Like all Lieutenants, Zhango has a Pact with a supernatural creature, except his doesn’t actually appear in the game. Probably cut. The price he paid for his Pact was very strange: he is unable to eat, yet somehow still lives.

After visiting a Seal location, Nowe learns that the place is being kept in existence by draining the life-force of incarcerated Empire soldiers. He is horribly upset by that, despite having nothing better to suggest. Then again, the man hadn’t seen the Watchers/flying babies from the original, so he isn’t exactly acquainted with the alternative.

In defending the Seal, the party meets a fully-grown Manah. She is on an apparent crusade to liberate the soldiers of the old Empire, despite the fact that doing so would end the world. An amazing way to atone for almost destroying everything, I think. Of course, Nowe is instantly smitten with her. Manah kills Zhangpo, breaks the Seal, and is captured… for about an hour. As Eris prepares to burn her at the stake, she escapes by using sorcery.

Nowe returns to have a drink with General Gismor, only to be betrayed and poisoned, but Nowe’s apparent Super Saiyan heritage lets him survive it with zero consequence. He fights the general and escapes the Knights’ stronghold. Eris stays behind to mope, and Nowe and his dragon are left seemingly without backup.

They pick up Manah as they flee, and our hero decides to help her in breaking the Seals. Why, you ask? No idea. Men do silly things to impress women, I guess. The two of them proceed to the next Seal, this one defended by someone called Hanch. Hanch is a beautiful young woman whose Pact cost was her charm, so now no one willingly approaches her. She dies, of course, and her Seal breaks.

A new character joins your party; a guy called Urick. He is an… interesting sort.He is one of the Lieutenants of the Knights of the Seal, which means that his is the duty of defending one such location. Like all other Lieutenants (and Gismor for that matter) he has a little Pact himself. With Death. In exchange for his ability to die. I think this is a pretty sweet deal.

The game then kind of loses steam for a bit… until THIS happens. That’s right. The man, the legend, Caim arrives to save this game from being completely horrible! It turns out that our old friend is out to destroy the new Seals so he could see his dragon again. Manah flips out entirely, and I can’t say that I blame her.

You see, in-between the two games, Caim got a little bit busy. He took little Manah by the hand and basically dragged her out to every place that survived the disaster she had brought on. I presume the point of this was for the people to point at her and laugh, which they of course did. After a bit of time, Manah mistook this genuine affection for torment, so she escaped after stabbing him in the eye while he slept. He is understandably pissed.

You get away from Caim and proceed to the next Seal. It is being kept by a guy called Yaha, who is you standard elven fabulous blond guy. Yaha’s Pact with gnomes (yes, all of them) gives him ridiculous beauty, but also prevents him from feeling any sort of pleasure. He dies horribly and another Seal falls. Nowe doesn’t question why this is being done.

You reach another Seal, the guardian of which turns out to be Urick. He tells you that he wishes to help you out by dying, but doesn’t know how. Luckily, Caim arrives and fixes this problem by killing Death itself. Urick expires after throwing Caim into a deep chasm (he gets out pretty fast), and you can proceed further. Wheeee.

In continuation of this glorious pattern, you all reach the final Seal, which is defended by Gismor himself. Nowe tries to kill him, but hits Eris instead, who seems to die. Gismor drops his set of armor, revealing that he had given up his body for a bunch of darkness-based powers. How exactly this works, I have no idea. He seemed to have had a functional body for pretty much the entire game. So you fight, he loses, and he breaks the Seal himself. Just to spite Nowe or something. I don’t know.

We are then treated to a pretty cool scene of the red dragon getting freed from her shackles. It turns out that all of these previous Seals were in fact only there to keep her from getting free. Driven mad by the pain and imprisonment, the red dragon decides to set the world on fire. She doesn’t even recognize Caim. You have yourselves a major fight, and she plummets to the ground, mortally wounded. Caim meets her where she falls, and they die together, still bound via their Pact.

The sky breaks, and the world starts going crazy again. Eris turns out to be alive somehow, and Manah starts acting stranger than usual. Nowe and his dragon fly to an ancient dragon temple because reasons, where Nowe learns that he is something called a New Breed. Basically, he is the posthumous progeny of Inuart and Furiae from part one. Inuart had found a unique Seed of Resurrection (called the Bone Casket), entered it while still carrying her body, and out came a superpowered child who also had a partial pact with Inuart’s black dragon.

Manah gets possessed by the Watchers again (like she was in the first game), and Nowe gets inside her mind via means unexplained. He then basically exorcises them via the power of love. Legna reveals that he had only raised Nowe as a weapon to fight the Watchers (i. e. the flying babies), and that he expects the young man to step up and help him in conquering existence.

In the first ending, Nowe refuses, and Legna conjures up a legion of so-called holy dragons. Seere fights them with an army of golems, and Nowe officially goes Super Saiyan. He then proceeds to fight the dragon in a surprisingly poignant air mission (since he can now fly without assistance). Legna dies, and Seere makes Eris into the next Goddess/Seal. Nowe and Manah go off to lead their lives in enjoyment, while Eris does what she did throughout the game: watch them.

Now… I am getting tired only writing about this. Actually playing it is even worse, and becomes damn near intolerable when it comes to getting endings two and three. Why, you ask? Well, because unlike the original, Drakengard 2 doesn’t allow the player to start any mission they’ve beat at any time at all. What this means is that in order to unlock the additional endings, you need to play the whole game again, start to finish. At increased difficulty. I’d tolerate this if the different endings were in any way good. But they aren’t, and the game suffers horribly from it.

Ending two has Nowe actually choose to side with Legna. The Bone Casket appears, swallows up Manah, and Nowe has to destroy it along with her. Eris and Nowe then ride Legna up to the heavens to fight the floating babies for dominance over the world.

Ending three… is basically ending one with some additional scenes. That’s it. Whoopededoo. I’ll have you know that unlocking it takes up about 60 hours of one’s life. Truly, truly masterful.

So… what went wrong? Well, other than the Caim/red dragon stuff… pretty much everything. Every component of this game is lighter in tone than in the original, from the scenery, to the music, and all the way up to the characters themselves. The protagonist is absolutely insufferable, and can basically be summed up as a kid who chooses to end the world in order to impress a girl. Absolutely brilliant, I say.

There is a distinct lack of trying in everything. Character models stay still in cut-scenes as if they were statues. The game over-explains everything, so you see every possible twist from miles away. I wouldn’t be surprised if the development team had intended the whole Knights-of-the-Seal-not-being-that-bad thing as some kind of crazy twist, but their fear of losing your average player caused them to spoil their own story. And the thing with the endings was just horrendous.

Perhaps they hoped to compensate with the slightly improved gameplay, but in my eyes this wasn’t nearly enough. Drakengard has always sucked in that regard, and a slightly more fun Drakengard is still a thoroughly underwhelming game. Take away the madness, and all you’re left with is another me-too.

All in all, a game I can’t recommend even in summary form. It genuinely tired me to write this up. Luckily, the franchise only became better after this.

But that is a story for another time.

M. T. Miller