Final Fantasy VII: Remake

I cannot believe this game was worth the wait. The original Final Fantasy VII is one of my all-time favorite video games. It felt like a game that was mine even though it’s one of the most popular video games ever released on the original PlayStation, which itself is one of the most popular consoles of all-time. It’s not a niche title. But I followed its development in gaming magazines, and because my PlayStation belonged to me and not my brother (unlike our Super Nintendo, which we had to share), Final Fantasy VII felt like my game. I got lost in its story and characters and gameplay and I’ve played it through multiple times and purchased it on multiple consoles.

There were rumblings of a remake since the early 2000s when Final Fantasy VII was used as demo fodder, and over the years Square-Enix has kept the property alive with sequels and spinoffs like Advent Children, Dirge of Cerberus, and Crisis Core. But what the fans really wanted was Final Fantasy VII: Remake–a game that would give them the Final Fantasy VII story they loved but with the polish of modern graphics since FF7 was rendered with blocky, cartoonish character models due to the technical limitations of the programming. Final Fantasy VII: Remake was officially announced in 2015 and it was finally released on April 10, 2020. Or, should I say, the first episode was released, since Square-Enix decided the game would be too massive to release in a single installment.

Now that I’ve beaten it, I’m kind of in awe of what Square-Enix and the developers accomplished. Without spoiling anything, Final Fantasy VII: Remake walks the line between a trip down memory lane and a completely new experience. It’s a “remake” in the sense typically reserved for movies–they took the original story and used it as a launching point for a new adaptation. This isn’t just a remaster or polished graphics. This is artistically a new and daring thing. Even the things that comically don’t work (looking at you, Barret’s character and dialogue) still kind of work and are part of that original Final Fantasy VII charm. Throughout my time playing Final Fantasy VII: Remake, I kept wondering: okay, when is this going to fall off the rails? When’s the inevitable disappointment? Instead, I was intrigued every step of the way.

Is it a “perfect” game? That’s hard to say. I’ll put it this way: I really have no interest in trying to conquer it on the harder difficulties (I beat it on Easy because I wanted to enjoy it for the story) because that’s not the kind of video game I enjoy. I don’t like working to become good at video games. And if I can’t beat the game on hard, I’ll never collect all the trophies, so do I really want to go back and just do more combat stuff? The combat is solid for what it is; I’m very impressed at how they mixed action-RPG fighting with menu-based combat. But do I really want more of that? How many Final Fantasy VII: Remake trophies do I want to get when I know that hard would be a serious uphill climb? And yet part of me is tempted to do it! I had so much fun with this game that I’m a little hungry for more and the only things that are kind of pushing me away are 1) If the hard difficulty makes the game not that fun; 2) Thinking about all the other games in my backlog. So that’s kind of what I’m toying with right now, but based on my first play-through, I loved Final Fantasy VII: Remake. It can’t replace the special place I have for the original, but it surpassed my highest expectations.

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020 videogames No Comments

Super Mario Bros. 2

I figured I could squeeze in one more game before Final Fantasy VII Remake came out, and I was right! Granted, I made liberal use of the Nintendo Switch’s rewind feature, but whatever. I’ve beat the game normally before and I was seeing if it passed the nostalgia test. It did not. While Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3 are still amazing games, Super Mario Bros. 2 (a remake of the Japanese game Doki Doki Panic for the West when Japan and Nintendo of America decided that the real Super Mario Bros. 2 would be too difficult to American gamers) is kind of a chore. Its central gameplay feature of picking things up and more verticality in the level design doesn’t make the game feel more fun, or, more importantly, more like Mario. Mario is about power ups and in later iterations, collecting with assorted platform challenges. Super Mario Bros. 2 isn’t the worst, but it’s a game I really have no interest in ever revisiting even though the music and graphics are fun.

Thursday, April 9th, 2020 videogames No Comments

Super Metroid

I thought replaying this would be a nice way to kill time in the lead-up to the release of Final Fantasy VII Remake, and well, it’s still six days to go until Final Fantasy VII Remake. As for Super Metroid, it wasn’t as fun as I remembered it, but I think I had been a bit spoiled by Samus Returns, which allows you teleport around the map rather than requiring so much backtracking. I still like the sense of exploration Super Metroid provides, and I think it’s particularly good-looking 16-bit era game, but I’m not sure if I had as much playing it as I’d hoped. The controls, at least on the Switch controls, could be a bit finicky, and the amount of back-tracking made the game feel artificially longer. Obviously, it’s a Super Nintendo classic for a reason, but it was my mistake to play a game like Samus Returns directly before playing a game that preceded it by a good 23 years.

Saturday, April 4th, 2020 videogames No Comments

Metroid: Samus Returns

I finally got around to playing Metroid: Samus Returns (despite having bought it when it was released in 2017), and for the most part, it’s exactly what I want from a Metroid game. I like the exploration and gaining new abilities that then unlock new areas and make Samus more powerful. The Metroid formula works, and while I have no idea why Nintendo treats one of their marquee titles like an afterthought (my working theory is that unlike Mario and Zelda, Metroid wasn’t created by Shigeru Miyamoto), but the franchise formula works whether it’s in 2D or 3D. Metroid is also a great title for the 3DS since you can always have your map screen ready to go and it doesn’t take up space on your gameplay screen.

The one part of the game I really don’t like are the boss fights. There are various qualms I have with the game overall–the different areas aren’t visually distinctive; the enemy types are repetitive, the mini-bosses get to be kind of tedious–but none of them are as bad as the boss fights. Near the end, you’ve got three really tough boss battles, and some people live for those kinds of challenges. Those are people who play Dark Souls and Bloodborne and I am not among them. I do not want a game to punish me. I do not want to work to get really good at a video game. I want the video game to make me feel empowered rather than banging my head against a wall as I struggle to succeed. I managed to fell all three bosses, but not before I finally had to resort to a strategy guide to figure out how exactly they needed to be defeated.

The boss battles didn’t ruin the game for me, but they did make it a bit more tedious and take me away from the parts I enjoyed the most. All that being said, Metroid is one of the best franchises Nintendo has ever made and it’s insane that we’re still waiting on Metroid Prime 4.

Friday, March 20th, 2020 videogames No Comments

Batman: The Telltale Series – The Enemy Within

I didn’t expect two of the best Batman stories in recent memory to come from Telltale, but here we are. From a gameplay perspective, The Enemy Within feels like a step back. They ditch the detective stuff and narrow the canvas to put Bruce Wayne/Batman in the crosshairs of Amanda Waller. But where The Enemy Within makes a genius turn is what they do with Joker.

For some, the game’s approach to Joker may seem like sacrilege. Joker is traditionally (or at least since the era of Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and beating Robin to death) the chaotic arch-nemesis to Batman’s quest for order. Telltale turns this story on its head in plenty of ways. For starters, it makes Harley Quinn the dominant member of the relationship, which is fascinating in its own right. Then it has “John Doe” (aka Joker) eager to be Batman/Bruce’s friend. Basically, they attempt the tricky balancing act of making Joker as sympathetic as possible while still making him dangerous, and it works! You really feel for John and think that you might be able to save him.

Batman typically doesn’t have that kind of emotional investment in a villain before. It’s usually reserved for Harvey Dent, but leaning into the similarities between Joker and Batman to show them not as polar opposites but, to use the game’s phrase, part of the “same stitch” makes for a fascinating relationship that really goes in a fresh direction. The recent iterations of Joker in popular culture–Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix (no one cares about Jared Leto’s take)–have been about how Joker is a reflection on the world or society, respectively. By leaning into Joker’s relationship with Batman and making The Enemy Within a kind of origin story, the writers came up with something exciting and new.

While I don’t think they quite stick the landing on the Joker/Batman story, they do find it with the Bruce/Alfred relationship and doing what some of the best Batman stories do: questioning the character. While I’m not surprised that I was in the minority in the choices I made at the end, I think it was some smart writing to really test what’s important to Bruce: his family or being Batman. Some stories seek to reconcile the two, but I liked how The Enemy Within showed it as a fracture.

If you’re tired with the same old Batman stories, I highly recommend checking out what Telltale did with the character.

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020 videogames No Comments

Why I’m Voting for Biden

A few weeks ago, I wrote about “The Case for Bernie”, but a lot has changed since then, especially Sanders inability to grow his coalition.

Before I get any further, I want to say that I’m really trying to back off the politics talk since A) there’s already enough punditry in the world; and B) I doubt anyone cares. But if you’re like me and your preferred candidate (in my case, Elizabeth Warren) dropped out and now you’re stuck deciding between two 78-year-old white guys who are both flawed candidates, then maybe I can offer a bit of guidance.

To start, I think Sanders’ agenda is more in line with what I want in terms of big reforms, although I doubt his ability to work the executive branch to achieve such reforms (they’ll never get through congress because they’ll die in the Senate). I also think he knows how to stay on message whereas Biden clearly has trouble putting a sentence together these days. Furthermore, Biden needs to quickly come out with some kind of positive message, whether it’s expanding Medicare or something that makes people excited to vote for him rather than just being anti-Trump because I worry that won’t be enough. The Burisma fake-scandal doesn’t concern me because some BS scandal was going to be used against whomever was the Democratic nominee and the media’s going to go along with it because they need the candidates to appear equally bad because that means “objectivity” somehow.

So why Biden? To be clear, we’re not exactly sure how Biden will govern. We don’t know what the makeup of congress will be, and it’s possible he’s ineffective or in the pocket of big banks. He’s not the revolutionary that Sanders is, but here’s the thing: we’ve been through Super Tuesday now and Democratic voters are saying they don’t want Sanders’ plan. Chalk it up however you like, but at some point you need to listen to voters who will be voting in the general and if they’re not turning out for Sanders now, there’s a danger of them staying home in November.

My issue with Sanders now that I didn’t have a few weeks ago is that his coalition hasn’t materialized. Sanders knew he was going to run again in four years. He’s been actively running for over a year now. And in all that time, he made no inroads with black voters and his promise of increased turnout and the youth vote hasn’t materialized. It doesn’t matter how many obnoxious fans you have on Twitter; tweets aren’t enough (if anyone knows this, it’s me, someone who tweets about politics way too much). We’ve become too accustomed to thinking that governance is the “big ideas” and while enthusiasm matters, so does the unglamorous work of coalition building.

If your political identity is liberal, you owe it to yourself to be a good ally and hear what black voters are telling you. Black voters are the backbone of the Democratic Party. Even when they’re in states that will go red in November (the South is bad, what do you want from me), they’re the ones doing the hard work of campaigning, fundraising, working the phones, and making the apparatus run. You literally cannot win a Presidential election without them. If they weren’t important, Republicans wouldn’t go to great lengths to disenfranchise them at every turn. And black voters are telling us that they want Biden. They see Biden as the best chance to stop the danger of Trump, and we should listen to them. If you have beef with Biden, I guarantee you it will keep until after he’s elected. If he gets elected President, you can criticize him all damn day. I’ll probably even join you.

But for now, the spine of the party is telling you that they want Biden, and we owe it to them to listen and to follow their lead.

Friday, March 6th, 2020 politics No Comments

Batman: The Telltale Series

I’m awfully mixed on Telltale games. On the one hand, it feels like other game developers should steal their schtick and give more dialogue and player choice in story-driven games (to the credit of BioWare folks, Mass Effect was doing this before Telltale came on the scene). On the other hand, I’ve had mixed feelings about the games I’ve played from them. The Walking Dead: Season 1 was very well done, but suffered from being in the nihilistic universe of The Walking Dead. Game of Thrones, like the show, started out strong before being pretty awful by the end. And while people raved about Tales from the Borderlands, I couldn’t even bring myself to finish it. But since Batman: The Telltale Series was a free Xbox Gold download, I decided to finally give it a shot, and I’m glad I did.

Once you set aside the poor production values of these games (for all the artistry in the character models and gameplay, the graphics are glitchy as hell; this game came out in 2016 and since that time no one thought to patch it so that textures aren’t blurry or that the smoke from Gordon’s cigarettes looks right), the storytelling conceit of letting your dialogue options and actions guide the story works because Telltale forces you into difficult conundrums. It was incredibly smart to make the biggest conflict of a Batman story not external, but internal–what you do as Bruce Wayne matters just as much (if not more so) than what you do as Batman.

I also really like the big narrative swings this game makes. I won’t spoil anything, but Telltale was willing to throw out a lot of canon and predictable beats to really force Bruce/Batman into some difficult positions. This is trickier than their other games where they’re creating a character from scratch. A Batman fan knows how Batman is supposed to behave, but Telltale managed to work that into their thinking so that you’re not simply going “What Would Batman Do” (WWBD) with every choice. You have to decide what kind of Batman you’re going to be: the symbol that inspires hope or the symbol that inspires fear. It makes for a great storytelling device and helps separate this Telltale take from the Batman comics, movies, TV shows, and previous video games.

I’m now very excited to fire up Batman: The Enemy Within and I’ll be sure to let you know how that goes.

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020 videogames No Comments

LEGO Harry Potter Collection

So here’s the thing about LEGO video games: they’re all the same. Traveler’s Tales slaps a different licensing coat of paint on, maybe adds one unique gameplay element, and that’s it. I can’t imagine buying every iteration of the games they make. But that all being said, these games can be very relaxing in that they’re not very demanding. They’re very cute (especially the ones before they added voice acting so the characters just make faces and noises), silly, and comforting.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been playing LEGO Harry Potter Collection on Xbox One, and it was exactly what I wanted. There were loads of collectibles to pick up (I’m a 100% addict as long as no skill is involved in getting to 100%; I’ll find your collectibles all damn day if it doesn’t mean I have to complete a time trial or make some show of dexterity), I was going through the Harry Potter story that I enjoy, and it was just a good way to unwind. It’s not a game to make me mad or where I’m competing with other people. There’s no rush to get through it. I simply pick it up, play some levels, find the collectibles, and complete the achievements.

I’ve now got a little over a month before Final Fantasy VII Remake hits, so I can probably squeeze in one more game before then. It’s just a matter of deciding which one because the backlog is out of control.

Monday, February 24th, 2020 videogames No Comments

The Case for Bernie

As I write this, New Hampshire has just been called for Bernie Sanders. As a Warren supporter, I’m obviously a bit dismayed at her distant 3rd and 4th place finishes in the first two states. I think there’s a lot of baked-in misogyny in our country, but there’s also a lot of fear. I can see the casual voter who looks at Elizabeth Warren, sees Hillary Clinton 2.0, and sees Donald Trump getting reelected.

Naysayers will say that Bernie didn’t increase his turnout from 2016. I’d counter that the electorate is far more fractured when you’re running against four people (plus a few people that never really had a chance) than when you’re running against one person. Bernie was never going to repeat his 22-point New Hampshire victory from 2016; there’s not enough vote to go around. Naysayers will say that because Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Biden split the moderate vote, there are more moderates than Bernie supporters. I’d counter that’s not how elections work, and if that’s the math you want to do, then all it takes is for Kasich, Rubio, Cruz, and Bush to beat Trump in the 2016 Republican primary. The win is the win, so what you need to concern yourself with is whether or not those people who voted for other candidates other than Bernie in the primary will come out for Bernie in a general election.

Looking out at the field, I think Bernie is a strong contender for several reasons:

There’s the theory that each election is a “remedy” to the previous election. Granted, if things are going well, you get a reelection, but Trump makes that difficult because he’s an unpopular President with a popular economy. But I think that people are, by and large, tired by Trump. Even if you don’t follow the news closely, you know there’s this idiot blowhard around who needs to make everything about him. He is, simply put, exhausting.

Sanders looks appealing by virtue of being, frankly, uninterested in anything that deals with his personality. That may seem like an odd trait in someone who is looking to win a popularity contest, but Sanders has his brand–no-nonsense progressive who fights against the wealthy–and that brand is popular. If you’re a swing voter who voted for Trump because you wanted “change” and then Trump just continues on in a general direction of constant corruption while getting into trade wars with China, then you’re still angry and still looking for change. Bernie is your change candidate who gives you what you want (“a new system”) minus the constant need for adoration.

Some are worried that Bernie will turn off suburban women because he’s too “radical.” But this theory reminds me of 2016 when Trump couldn’t win with white women because not only was Clinton too popular with that demographic, but the Access Hollywood tape wiped out any gains Trump may have made with that group. Trump ended up winning with white women 57% to 37%. I’m not disputing the argument that you need women to win; my argument is you have no idea how women are going to vote in 2020.

I also think Bernie has the intangibles to win this race. I think he has a simple message that he never deviates from. I think he’s endearing in a curmudgeonly fashion. I think what people don’t like about him are tired arguments that no longer resonate (“Socialism!”) The worst thing about him are his followers, and if that’s your hang-up, Trump’s followers and some of his employees are white nationalists. I’m not saying Bernie Bros. are great (they can be quite toxic on social media), but I also don’t think Bernie follows their lead or needs to call them “very fine people.”

Will Bernie get hammered with opposition research? Of course. There’s no candidate that will avoid it. If you aren’t expecting Trump and the media establishment to fight back against Sanders tooth-and-nail, you haven’t been paying attention. But it’s not like they’re going to roll out the red carpet for Pete Buttigieg or Joe Biden or Amy Klobuchar. There is no path of least resistance here.

Honestly, I’m not all that worried about Trump because everyone knows who he is and what he’ll do. The reason his approval hovers at 42% is because he’s a polarizing figure. Your opinion on him doesn’t really change. He’s going to lie and cheat and use all the levers of government to stop the Democratic nominee, but Trump needs the media as a willing handmaiden. His whole Ukraine scam was to open an investigation on Biden because he needed dirt that the media could run with. He knew that once any cloud of controversy surrounded Biden, it would be the new “e-mails” and the media, in their dopey need to be “objective”, would pounce and “raise questions.”

The media is my concern. The media needs this election (and every election) to be a horserace. They need it to be sports. If it’s not a competition and Bernie is a normal candidate who is not corrupt and Donald Trump is clearly corrupt, then that’s not a good conflict and that’s bad for ratings. But if Bernie is corrupt and Donald Trump is corrupt then wHaT wiLL vOTeRs dO? It’s all a game to people like Chuck Todd and Chris Cillizza because politics doesn’t affect them. They cover it, but the outcomes can’t touch rich, white men.

I’m not pollyanna about a Sanders win. If we should have learned anything in 2016 it’s not to take a single election for granted, especially when the GOP has made it clear that they will use every trick in the book to ensure their rule for as long as possible. But I think Sanders is a strong candidate who’s easy to understand, hard to knock off message, and doesn’t mince words. I don’t know how he’ll be as a President (my preference for Warren is that I think she’d be a stronger executive), but I think he gives Democrats a stronger case than any “moderate” who has the approval of the punditry but not the people. The pundits said Biden was the Electability candidate; he got clobbered in the first two states. The pundits said Sanders was too radical; he’s got the best path to the nomination right now.

Tuesday, February 11th, 2020 politics No Comments

2020 Oscar Predictions

Best Picture

Should Win: Parasite

Will Win: Parasite

Best Director

Should Win: Bong Joon-ho, Parasite

Will Win: Sam Mendes, 1917

Best Actor

Should Win: Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Best Actress

Should Win: Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Will Win: Renee Zellweger, Judy

Best Supporting Actor

Should Win: Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Will Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress

Should Win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Will Win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Best Adapted Screenplay

Should Win: Little Women

Will Win: Jojo Rabbit

Best Original Screenplay

Should Win: Parasite

Will Win: Parasite

Best Animated Film

Should Win: I Lost My Body

Will Win: Klaus

Best Cinematography

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Best Costume Design

Will Win: Little Women

Should Win: Little Women

Best Documentary

Will Win: American Factory

Best Documentary Short

Will Win: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)

Best Film Editing

Will Win: Parasite

Should Win: Parasite

Best International Feature Film

Will Win: Parasite

Should Win: Parasite

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Will Win: Bombshell

Should Win: Bombshell

Best Original Score

Will Win: Joker

Should Win: 1917

Best Original Song

Will Win: Rocketman

Should Win: Rocketman

Best Production Design

Will Win: Parasite

Should Win: Parasite

Best Animated Short

Will Win: Hair Love

Best Live-Action Short

Will Win: The Neighbors’ Window

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Friday, February 7th, 2020 Uncategorized No Comments