A review of Everywhere at the End of Time (Stages 1 – 6)

Disclaimer: this post deals with dementia. If you know anything about the work I’m taking on in this post, this will come as no surprise, but fair warning: please skip if you don’t feel like reading about such a depressing subject. My next post will be a lot lighter in tone. It’s hard to imagine how it could be any heavier than what’s coming up, anyway.

Today’s subject might seem like it’s pretty far outside the scope of what I usually write about here. But listening to the six-album project Everywhere at the End of Time raised some points that I found interesting and that connect back to some I’ve written about here. Since getting so popular online, it’s also come a “big internet thing” or whatever you’d call it (though that didn’t seem to be the intention of the artist at all) and I have an interest in those as well. Finally, writing about this work is also a way for me to try to “unstick” the experience I had with it a bit, because it has stuck with me, and that’s not entirely a pleasant thing.

The cover of Stage 1

But it might sound like I’m being unnecessarily dramatic here, so I’ll explain. Some months back, I started seeing a thumbnail on YouTube in my recommended list of videos come up again and again: a painting of something that looks like a rolled-up newspaper without any print standing on its side. The attached video was also six and a half hours long. After seeing it so many times, I finally gave in to my curiosity and clicked the link and heard track A1: It’s just a burning memory, and then thought “okay it’s some kind of reverbed old-timey ballroom music; that’s fine, but I don’t need to listen to that for six damn hours.”

Of course, I was wrong: that’s how this project starts, but that’s not nearly all it is. After reading more about it recently, I got interested and decided to try to listen to the whole thing. Everywhere at the End of Time is a set of six albums by British artist Leyland Kirby, going by the name “The Caretaker” for the purpose of this project. This series of albums, ordered in stages from 1 to 6 and released from 2016 to 2019, is meant to depict the slow mental and emotional decline experienced by a dementia/Alzheimer’s patient.

Not exactly a light listen, not something you can just throw on while making dinner or cleaning the house, and despite its length it’s definitely not something to listen to on a road trip. This album series is an ordeal to get through and maybe not something you’d want to subject yourself to in one sitting assuming you had the time to do it. You might not even want to subject yourself to it at all.

Stage 1 might trick a listener going in without prior knowledge like it did me, because it’s deceptively easy listening, without much of a hint as to what’s coming next — it really is just a set of old ballroom music with some reverb and crackling as if it’s being played on a gramophone. But that seems to be by design, because Stage 1 is about the aged subject of the album remembering their young days and not yet realizing that they’re entering the early stages of dementia. Stage 2 sees an increase in the crackling and reverb, and the songs themselves start to become distorted, stretching out, slowing down, and suddenly cutting off or flowing into the next track without warning. At this point, the subject of the work seems to realize what’s going on and is trying to hold onto their memories, but when Stage 3 hits, it’s obvious that those memories are fading and becoming more confused. The music is still recognizable, but it’s starting to distort badly and get buried under noise.

Stage 4 represents a shift into the “post-awareness” stages of consciousness, and the music reflects that — the protagonist is now completely confused and can’t recall much of anything clearly. The last three stages take up most of the play time of this project, lasting about an hour and a half each, and they consist of a lot of noise, droning sounds with recognizable music occasionally fighting its way to the forefront but quickly getting drowned out again and disappearing. It feels in parts of the fourth and fifth stages like the catchy big band songs and ballads from Stage 1 have been stretched and distorted until they’re just a mess of random horn, string, and piano notes, as if they’re still in the patient’s mind somewhere but can’t be recalled in a coherent way anymore.

Thankfully, there’s a resolution to all this. The final stage is more peaceful — not exactly pleasant, but it’s a nice break from the nightmarish mess of the preceding two stages. And then there’s the ending, which I won’t give away except to say that it does put a cap on the whole thing in a satisfying way.

The cover of Stage 5. I see a lady in a fancy old-fashioned dress on a flight of stairs, but who knows what this might be.

So why would I listen to this thing all the way through? That’s something I asked myself before and even after I did it. There were a few things about Everywhere at the End of Time that really interested me. One was the artwork attached to each of the albums. All the covers are paintings by artist Ivan Seal, who worked closely with Kirby on the project. I’m not the hugest fan of abstract painting in general, but I really like Seal’s work. He depicts a lot of strange-looking objects that almost look like things that might exist in the real world but are unidentifiable, and I enjoy that kind of mind-trick stuff, especially when it’s not trying to just get by on shock value. Each of his covers also feels like it suits the mood of the corresponding album well.

And then there’s the effect this music has apparently had on a lot of listeners. Despite being a six-hour-plus piece of experimental music, something you’d think wouldn’t be all that popular, Everywhere at the End of Time blew up online — the artist himself posted the whole thing on YouTube, and it has over six million views as of this writing. Before diving in, I read accounts from people who claimed this album made them break down crying, that it followed them into their dreams, and that it even changed their outlook on life as a whole, making them appreciate it more, or driving them into existential despair and depression.

I tend to be pretty skeptical about claims like this. I don’t doubt that art can make people feel strong emotions, but “life-changing” is a tall order. It was enough to get me to listen, though, just to see how much there was to this thing. The worst that could happen would be that I wouldn’t care for it, and as for the depression — I’m already depressed! What more can this to do me?

Reviewing something like this is a bit difficult, but I’ll just give my opinion here: Everywhere at the End of Time didn’t change my life, but it was interesting. First, it’s obvious that a lot of work was put into it. It’s easy to be dismissive of abstract art, especially when it feels too abstract to really grab onto and get any feeling out of. These albums, however, were understandable — Kirby himself wrote the descriptions for each stage along with what he intended to express in them, all of which can be read in the text under the video, and his ideas are expressed very clearly in his music with its gradual degradation and decline from music into pure noise.

However, even though he’s very straightforward about what this work is meant to represent, he’s still able to express his ideas in subtle ways. To me the most interesting parts of the work are the first three stages, before the subject has totally lost himself to dementia and still has some memory. Kirby uses a few specific themes that come up a few times throughout these stages, but in successively degraded states. The most obvious and memorable of these themes is the opening “It’s just a burning memory”, based on the 1930s big band love song Heartaches. This song gets reprised a few times up until it’s nearly unrecognizable at the end of Stage 3, where it’s heavily distorted and stopping and starting again, as if the subject is trying desperately to remember their old favorite song but failing.

The decline isn’t a constant slope down, either; there are a few ups as on “Last moments of pure recall” on Stage 2, which as the title suggests is a return to the relative clarity of Stage 1. But things quickly take a turn for the worse after that track. Even on the fairly normal Stage 1, there are signs that all isn’t well — the fifth track “Slightly bewildered” is a kind of muffled, unassuming piano loop that passed me by at first, but looking back, it seems to suggest some early confusion both in the title and the music itself.

The final three stages are interesting in a conceptual way, but they make for very rough listening, especially Stage 4 and 5, which make up three hours and nearly half the length of the entire project. The musical ideas from the first three stages are still there in bits and pieces, but they’re very brief and disjointed when they do appear, suggesting that they’re still floating around but that the patient has perhaps stopped trying to remember them at all. These two albums are supposed to depict the confusion and fear experienced by the dementia patient after losing their coherent memories, with 20 minute-long tracks bearing titles like “Post-Awareness Confusions” and “Advanced plaque entanglements”. I guess they’re effective at that, because both albums were extremely unpleasant and even disturbing in parts. Stage 6 is a welcome change to more of a peaceful sound, even if the traditional music is still almost entirely gone, but that seems to represent the patient’s slip into their final period of life towards death.

The cover to Stage 6. You can probably elicit some emotion from a few people just by showing them this image based on what I’ve seen.

Reading comments under the full project on YouTube, some people have said that they connect strongly with these albums, especially those who have family members and friends suffering from dementia. Even dementia-sufferers have commented that Everywhere at the End of Time is an accurate depiction of what it’s like to have the disease — stretch each stage out from a number of hours to a number of years. It makes a lot of sense to me that some listeners might have broken down while listening for this reason. It’s a reminder of what can happen to the brain, taking away the personality and everything that makes it and leaving a shell of a person behind.

It might also explain why I didn’t break down or have my attitude towards life changed by these albums. Because I can’t connect with it on such a personal level: the closest I’ve experienced to this was near the death of my grandmother, who thankfully only had some mental confusion very shortly before she went, and then she only seemed to be living back in the past, mistaking me for one of her long-gone brothers and my mother for one of her aunts, things like that. I think a lot of people have such stories. If you have a much more personal and bitter experience with dementia, though, this work might really shake you.

If you don’t want to listen to Everywhere at the End of Time, I totally understand that. It’s very interesting, a piece of abstract art that comes off as thoughtful and well-made. It’s also a hard listen. After finishing it, I thought back to a post I wrote last year taking on arguments being made by some critics that a game that’s not fun to play and puts the player through an intentionally miserable time (specifically The Last of Us Part II) can make for a more meaningful experience somehow than a game that is fun. I stand by everything I wrote then, but I do think Everywhere at the End of Time is the kind of depressing, hard-going artistic work that gets it right. It’s thoughtfully produced, subtle, and has proper respect for its subject matter.

Here on the site, I’ve written about games that I feel also successfully take that approach. Saya no Uta, like Everywhere, is intentionally ugly in parts and can be hard to get through for that reason, but it also uses those elements to address ideas about mental health by getting into the mindset of someone suffering from severe delusions. You can make the same case for the early Silent Hill games. These are rightly regarded as classics, even though they’re not entirely fun experiences.

And as with those games, I can’t give a massive, “everyone should hear this” sort of recommendation to Everywhere at the End of Time. You might argue that you can just as easily get down the experience of feeling pain by slamming your hand in a car door or something, and why the hell would you do that — and I wouldn’t blame you for feeling that way. Listening to Stage 5 does feel like the aural equivalent of doing that for 90 minutes. But it’s probably not possible to express the idea of dementia through music without this kind of pain, so if you don’t want to hear it, better just avoid it.

As for me… I was very impressed by this work, it did make me feel something (even if I didn’t break down and cry at it), and I’m probably never going to listen to it again. That shouldn’t be taken as a negative judgment, of course — it probably speaks more to just how effective it was at achieving what it set out to do.

Seven things that remind me of my childhood

What is it about nostalgia that’s so popular? It seems like it’s always been a thing to look back fondly on certain aspects of the past. You can probably go back to ancient Sumeria, assuming you have the means, and find people talking about how great the 2230s BC were and how kids these days just can’t appreciate the songs from back then. Nostalgia is also part of why I write on this site — not the entire reason or even close to it, but sometimes I do dig back into my own past to get some ideas about what next to watch/read/play/listen to, though, and on occasion a new game or anime series will even make me remember some long-forgotten piece of that past.

Just as a break from the usual, and because I don’t have my next posts prepared anyway, I’ll write about some things that give me those nostalgic feelings. Starting with…

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

That’s how old I am now, yeah. I don’t hate the 3D games or newer games in general like some people do, but to me the Genesis/Megadrive Sonic titles will always be the best (and Sonic Mania is up there as well, though a lot of that might have to do with how much of the spirit of those games it captures.) In particular, Sonic 2 brings me back to my days as a babby gamer — one of my first game-related memories is playing as the invincible 2-player mode Tails running behind my older cousin, who always insisted on playing as Sonic, and helping him beat Dr. Robotnik.

I guess that’s not the Floating Island in the background, is it? Just some other island. This used to confuse me as a kid, since Sonic 3 & Knuckles also had an island setting.

The music also has a lot to do with those feelings. I think this is really the first game BGM that was burned into my brain. I’ve written about a bit of musician and composer Masato Nakamura’s work on the first two Sonic games here before, but it’s worth revisiting for how damn catchy and good it all is. I also love the soundtracks to the following Sonic CD, Sonic 3, and Sonic & Knuckles, but I think Sonic 2 will always be the standout for me in terms of music, even if I have to give the best game award to the combined S3&K (my favorite platformer period, even more of a favorite than any of the Mario games from the same period, though I love those as well.)

OutRun

This wasn’t by design, but it seems now like a lot of the games I write about fall under the Sega umbrella. That became especially true after Index Corporation dissolved, causing a bit of a freakout among fans until Sega bought Atlus, creating a new subsidiary also called Index Corporation that also became the parent corporation of Atlus and then was renamed Atlus itself and merged into that company (or something like that.) So now all my MegaTen stuff on the site is technically Sega-related as well.

OutRun is another Sega game I remember playing in my faraway distant childhood. This racing game originally came to arcades in 1986, but it had a very long life and was still popular by the time I came around and got coordinated enough to understand and play a game like this. I was lousy at it and I still am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have nice memories of it that take me back to the early/mid-90s. Once again, the music is a big part of this nostalgia trip — the original BGM is very short, consisting of just three main racing themes and a short high score screen theme that you can’t hear all the way through during normal play because of the 30-second “insert your initials” timer. But I’m not alone apparently, because for a while there’s been a whole subgenre of music called “Outrun” that seems to take a lot from 80s electronic, creating a kind of retro-futuristic sound. A bit like future funk, which I really like.

Playing OutRun in Yakuza 0 has only reminded me how fucking bad I am at it.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

It’s been a long time since I actually watched Evangelion, but I still have fond memories of it as the first anime series I ever watched in a serious way. This might be hard to believe, but before this show, I really wasn’t into anime at all. Admittedly, I was way too young back in 1998, when I watched Eva through 100% totally perfectly legal means and not in Winamp in 360p, to get all the themes Hideaki Anno probably meant me to get. Back then I really just liked the style, the massive robot fights, and the weird religious symbolism. Eva also introduced me to my first fictional sort-of crush in Captain Misato Katsuragi, years before “waifu” became an English-to-Japanese-back-to-English loanword.

Classic waifu. I miss that 90s anime look sometimes too.

Winamp

Yeah, speaking of Winamp, that reminds me of my childhood too. It’s still the best Windows media player program in my opinion, even if it has been dead for several years now. Remember all those skins?

The Beatles Past Masters Vol. 1

Now all right, I’m not so old that the Beatles are from my childhood. But I did grow up hearing a lot of them as a kid in the 90s, because they did come from my mother’s childhood, and she played the hell out of the above compilation. Later on I got into the Beatles’ more artsy out there stuff starting from the 1965 album Rubber Soul on, but as a kid I knew them from their early poppy stuff, which is exactly what Past Masters Vol. 1 contained. And the songs are still really good, even if they don’t have that weird edge. Nothing wrong with some good pop music like A Hard Day’s Night, even if I’ve heard it so many times I never need to hear it again in my life.

Unfortunately, it didn’t contain any of that later stuff, not even the 1965 ones before they really went artsy like Paperback Writer (a great song with a very dumb nonsensical story in the lyrics, but still fun) or Drive My Car (also the theme to the local news morning traffic report, specifically the “beep beep, beep beep, yeah” part. I don’t even know why I remember that. More nostalgia at work I guess.) Still really good, though.

Churros

Moving into the realm of food now, something I almost never write about here, but taste after all figures a lot into nostalgia and childhood memories, at least from what I understand. Churros originated in Spain and from there went off to Latin America and then up here to the States. As a kid, though, I didn’t know this history — I only knew them as those fried dough sticks with sugar on them that we got at the state fair I went to every year. Along with corn dogs, churros are one of my old, very unhealthy childhood favorites for just that reason. They are excellent, and I regret that I haven’t had one in years now.

Source: Licensed under CC BY 2.0, by Jude Adamson, a guy who took a photo of this churro in something called Catalan cream alongside a dessert wine. Not how I consumed it as a kid, but it does look good.

Open fields/plains

Here’s a strange one. I grew up in the suburbs, but on the very edge of them — outside the development I lived in, there was a whole lot of nothing stretching for miles, so far you could see mountains on the horizon. Since leaving that place as a kid, I’ve almost always lived in large cities, so maybe seeing an open plain like that just reminds me of the stark difference between that part of my childhood and becoming a teenager and ultimately an adult. But it might also have to do with this liminal space concept I found out about a while back, in which depictions of places you’ve never even been are supposed to remind you of distant memories or something. Obviously I don’t understand it very well, but it seems interesting. This YouTube guy made a comprehensive video about the concept. (His video on the bizarre complications of creating a real-life anime girl is also quite something, though I do disagree with him about what he sees as the more negative aspects of escapism through future technology. Still interesting, though!)

I don’t look back too often to my childhood in general — it was fine, I can’t complain about any of it; it’s just something that happened, and while being an adult has its own challenges, I can’t say I’d want to go back and relive the 90s or anything. But it’s still nice to reminisce sometimes. Now that I have it out of my system, though, I’ll go back to trying to make high-effort posts instead that take actual planning and work. Unless you want a line-by-line breakdown about why the story to “Paperback Writer” makes no sense at all, and nobody wants that. So what are you nostalgic for? Please leave a comment and join in if you feel like it.

A review of Blue Reflection (PS4)

Here’s a post that’s been a long time coming. From the very back of my backlog, or at least the backlog I’m actively keeping track of, comes Blue Reflection, a JRPG developed by Gust and released in 2017. Gust is principally known for the extremely long-running Atelier series (see Rorona and Meruru and a bunch of others) but Blue Reflection was something very different — instead of the fantasy Renaissance European cities and towns we’re used to from that series, we get a modern Japanese high school setting, and instead of an alchemist for our protagonist, we get a magical girl. This game was created under the supervision of Mel Kishida, the character designer and artist who also worked on Gust’s Atelier Arland games, and apparently he really wanted to make a magical girl game.

And that’s just what Blue Reflection is. If you’re looking for a game that fulfills the requirements “turn-based JRPG” and “has magical girls” this is probably the title that will come up first. You likely won’t be disappointed with the result either, at least as long as you’re in that very specific demographic. Blue Reflection does feel like it has niche appeal, which might partly explain the mixed reviews and generally cold reception it seems to have gotten here in the US outside of the hardcore Gust fan circle; I don’t even see it brought up much among JRPG fans in general. Which is really too bad — it does have flaws, but I found Blue Reflection a unique and interesting game. At the very least, you can’t say it’s like any other game out there (barring some possible Japan-only games I’ve never gotten to play before.)

I’ll get into all that in depth below, however. And all without getting into plot/character spoilers beyond the basic story setup, so don’t worry about those this time around.

Japanese high school is no joke

This is our protagonist, Hinako Shirai. Before starting high school, Hinako had a promising future as a ballerina, but a leg injury has forced her to put those dreams on hold. Blue Reflection begins during her first year at the prestigious Hoshinomiya High School, a small all-girls school divided into special classes for those pursuing careers in the arts and sports and regular classes for everyone else. Now stuck in the regular class thanks to her injury, Hinako is understandably depressed about her situation.

Then she meets an unusual pair in her class, the twins Yuzuki and Raimu Shijou, or simply Yuzu and Lime. These two quickly befriend Hinako, and after hearing her story they decide to offer her a special gift: the power of the Reflector. Reflectors have the ability to enter the Common, a weird metaphysical mindscape full of demons that represent and are empowered by human emotions. When these emotions get out of control, the demons start to act up, and Hoshinomiya just happens to be on some kind of emotional fault line that’s causing its students to become especially distraught and wild. As a Reflector, Hinako will have the responsibility along with Yuzu and Lime to fight and subdue these demons, and by doing so they can help resolve their classmates’ emotional distress.

Hinako, Yuzu, and Lime in the only nice-looking section of the Common; the rest are pretty fucked up

And yeah, Reflectors are magical girls, complete with those transformation sequences you’ll know if you’ve watched any magical girl show ever made. Blue Reflection also features massive, monstrous bosses to battle in the form of the Sephira, who are trying to use all this emotional chaos to take over the world. So just like a proper magical girl, Hinako is now basically going to be tasked with saving humanity along with her new friends, assuming of course that she accepts the twins’ offer.

Hinako does accept, partly because Yuzu and Lime tell her by defeating the Sephira she’ll be able to gain a wish. For Hinako, this wish is obvious — in her current state, there’s no guarantee that she’ll ever be able to dance again, so she reasons that this is a sure way to heal her leg and get back on stage.

Hinako at home reflecting on her situation (get it?! …yeah, sorry.)

The game proceeds along this path, with Hinako spending her days at school studying, making new friends, and fighting shadow monsters using her magical girl powers. The story is broken into chapters, each of which starts out with some major event usually leading to a big boss fight, and then to a block the game calls “Free Time” in which you’re free to run around school talking to fellow students, solving their issues by fighting demons in the Common alongside Yuzu and Lime. Most of these chapters are also broken up by side character stories resulting in a new classmate for Hinako and co. to befriend.

This social element is only part of the game, however. Blue Reflection is still a turn-based JRPG and features plenty of fighting, mostly in the dreamlike world of the Common. Thankfully, this isn’t the plainest turn-based combat system around: Blue Reflection relies heavily on timing and using skills to slow down and knock back enemies. Hinako, Yuzu, and Lime also draw power from a common pool of “Ether” that they can charge up while fighting. Collecting enough Ether unlocks the massively powerful Overdrive ability, which allows the use of multiple skills in a single turn at reduced MP use rates.

The frilly dress is cool and all, but I wish I didn’t have to fight these weird deer monsters

Luckily for Hinako, the power of friendship isn’t just a metaphor for the happiness and fulfillment she gains from the confidants she makes throughout the game. It is that, sure, but it also adds to the magical girl trio’s actual strength in battle by manifesting as “Fragments” formed from said emotions that give various bonuses when equipped to skills. To that end, and also because it’s a good way to break up all the fighting, the player will spend most of the time they’re not fighting with their schoolmates, having lunch, playing sports, and going out to various spots in town to raise Hinako’s affection points.

Some of her friends are pretty damn weird, but they mean well. And despite the implications of the term “affection points”, no, there’s no dating in this game. Sorry if you’re a yuri fan; you’ll have to look elsewhere for that.

Now I might guess what some readers are thinking — isn’t this familiar? Isn’t there another series of games that are turn-based JRPG dungeon crawler/social sim hybrids and that use the protagonist’s links with their friends to support them in battle? Yeah, this game drew a lot of comparisons to the Persona series when it was released from what I remember. That it came out only months after the big hit Persona 5, which was still very much talked about at the time, probably contributed to those comparisons.

The Persona comparisons might have also led to some disappointment, because aside from their superficial similarities, Blue Reflection doesn’t feel at all like a Persona game. To its credit, it also doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be a pale imitation of Persona but rather to do its own thing entirely. Unlike Persona, which builds fairly realistic worlds full of people both in and outside the school setting to interact with, Blue Reflection concerns itself exclusively with Hinako and her classmates, ignoring almost everything else around them. Hoshinomiya High School is all filled out with students hanging around in classrooms, club rooms, the library, sports field, and courtyards, but the only points outside of school featured are the various hangout spots Hinako can visit with her friends and Hinako’s own room, where she prepares for her next day of school and goes to sleep. Though it’s implied that they are around, we never see any adults — not even a single teacher is seen at school, where almost every scene takes place after classes are out.

Hinako helping one of her generic non-story classmates through her existential crisis on the school roof. As you can see, there’s this whole town down there, but you never get to interact with anyone in it.

Moreover, unlike the calendars that the modern Persona games strictly follow, Blue Reflection doesn’t keep track of how many days you spend in free time hanging out with friends, going home, and returning to school. Unless it’s a lunch or school activity event, every one of these sends Hinako home when they’re finished, but the game doesn’t seem to mind if you spend a month or two during a chapter of free time (though I don’t think I ever got that far myself, just projecting based on what I did with Hinako’s schedule.) Eventually you’ll run out of events to watch in a given period anyway and will probably want to move on at that point by reporting your progress to Yuzu and Lime, but this quality gives Blue Reflection almost a strange Groundhog Day sort of feel even if that’s not what’s actually going on.

Another field in the Common, with enemies stalking around in the background.

However, it seems to me like that’s what the creators were going for. This might be a stretch, since I have no idea what their intentions actually were, but Blue Reflection has a dreamlike feel to me — everything from the weirdly sparse real world outside of the school to the surreal areas of the Common you have to visit to fight demons adds to that feel. Whether or not that was how they intended players to feel, Blue Reflection is clearly not trying to be a sort of budget Persona or anything like that. It’s too different in tone for me to get that impression.

The art and music in the game both contribute to that dreamlike feel as well. Mel Kishida seems to have had a huge influence on Blue Reflection as the supervisor, and a lot of the game feels like a showcase for his character and monster designs and his settings, which contrast strongly with each other in a way that I think works. The soundtrack by Hayato Asano, full of relaxing piano-based pieces and driving battle themes, is also excellent and enhances this feel. Even if you have no interest in this sort of game, I recommend at least checking out the OST.

If Yuzu and Lime’s constant social life management wears you out, at least you have nice music to listen to while you try to meet their demands before the story can progress.

I did bring up flaws at the top of this post, though, because Blue Reflection has some pretty glaring ones. The biggest issue I had with the game was its pacing, especially with a couple of seemingly major story beats that came up near the end and then resolved themselves so quickly they may as well not have happened. It’s strange to say, given how lenient the game is about letting Hinako take time out to hang around with her friends in between giant otherworldly monster attacks, but the story seemed very compressed by the end for this reason. These left me with a few gaps in characters’ judgments and reasonings, specifically in Hinako’s, that I think weren’t explained very well.

The game is also pretty damn easy. HP and MP are replenished after each encounter, so there’s no reason not to go all out in every fight you get into in the Common. After unlocking more advanced offensive skills, I was able to clean up most fights in the game with one massive all-enemy attack from Yuzu. And once you master the use of knockback skills, Ether collection, and Overdrive in battle, even end-game bosses become complete jokes. Hinako’s magical sword is the most powerful weapon in the world apparently. If she got to use it in the real world or while not fighting Sephira, she could probably take over the world herself (not that she’d really want to, though there is one character she’d definitely have to hide it from. If you’ve played Blue Reflection, you might know who I’m talking about.)

Hinako about to destroy another giant horrific world-eating monster

Finally, it generally feels like there was some untapped potential to expand the story and explore some of its characters and themes more deeply. Maybe there were budget or timeline issues in the game’s development. The translation is a bit sloppy with some typos left in the script, but that’s a localization problem, and Blue Reflection came out in North America six months after its Japanese release, so that doesn’t seem like it would indicate anything about the game being rushed out. So maybe there were no development issues and this game turned out exactly as the creators intended, though in that case I wish they’d added a bit more to the story and character interactions.

Even with these flaws, however, I liked Blue Reflection. The dreamlike, unreal nature of the whole experience was a positive in my mind. I thought it suited the story the game was telling, and it also set it apart from the other modern real-world setting JRPGs I’ve played. I haven’t seen much magical girl stuff really, so I don’t know if the story of Blue Reflection would be played out to someone who’s deep into that genre, but I also liked that the story dealt with themes of friendship that weren’t trite but actually dealt with loss of identity and sacrifice in a way that more or less worked.

Hey, I can read some of this finally. Not all, though. Thanks for reminding me I need to get back to my kanji studies, blackboard.

I get the feeling this is a highly personal sort of work. If you can’t get enveloped in the world and the atmosphere the game creates, or you’re just not into the style or look of it, you might just be bored and frustrated by it. I can understand why many players would feel that way about it, but I’m happy that I finally got around to playing Blue Reflection. There have been rumors of a sequel around for a few years now, and I hope if that happens that we get something even better, more polished and fully fleshed out.

The Second Annual EIBFY Game Awards!

Yeah, I said I’d do it again, didn’t it? Screw those “official” Game Awards. I’ve got something better: a collection of my own awards based on total nonsense categories and accompanied by no physical trophies and no prestige whatsoever. Who wouldn’t want that instead?

As before, I’ll be considering games I played this year, not games that were released this year, because that would be a very small pool of games. And I don’t keep up with the times anyway, so it wouldn’t be right for me to even try something like that. Enough talk now; let’s start the show.

***

Best free game (that also comes with a harem)

Winner: Helltaker

I’m pretty cheap usually, unless I’m out eating with friends and don’t want to look like a stingy asshole. What with COVID, that hasn’t happened since last March, though, so I’ve been holding onto my money — but it’s still nice to find a good game that doesn’t cost anything to play. Helltaker is just that: a pretty simple block-moving puzzle game that wouldn’t be all that remarkable but for its cast of cute demon girls plus one angel who somehow managed to wander into Hell. All these ladies join up with the protagonist, who’s breaking into the underworld specifically for the purpose of building a harem of supernaturally powerful women all of whom can easily kill him if they really want to. That’s an interesting choice, and I have to respect it.

Sure it’s depicted as a set of cute triplets in Helltaker, but remember, Cerberus is still the guard of the gate of Hades. Not one to be trifled with.

Helltaker itself is fairly short and simple, but I think there’s a lot of potential in these kinds of characters with something like a visual novel if creator Łukasz Piskorz were inclined to make one. I also love the game’s unique art style. Here’s hoping we see more!

***

Best nightlife

Winner: Yakuza 0

A while back, I decided to settle down in my personal habits and my life in general, quitting all that boozing and street fighting I was doing. You know how it is — fast living catches up with you. But I still feel nostalgic for those days sometimes, so I’m happy that I have a chance to relive them by playing Yakuza 0. This is a game I’ve barely scratched the surface of as of this writing, but I did start it in 2020, so I say it counts. Especially for the purposes of this category, since no other game in my list comes close to recreating anything like Tokyo’s Kamurocho or Osaka’s Sotenbori, commercial and red light districts that are based on real-life neighborhoods in those cities. This is my first Yakuza game, and also the first that allows me to get in a fight instigated by hooligans who don’t know any better, beat money out of them, and spend that money on a meal to replenish any health I lost.

Pretty sure this guy is advertising okonomiyaki. I could go for that right now.

Honorable mention goes to Persona 5 Royal, which I also haven’t finished somehow, but that has already provided a pretty nice experience of life in Tokyo, recreating several of the city’s districts. However, the nightlife just isn’t the same. You play as a high school student in that game instead of an adult, so there’s a limit to what the game lets you do. No drunken street-fighting in that one. But it still provides a nice tour of a few prominent wards of Tokyo.

For the purposes of any other possible awards I dream up, though, I’ll reserve final judgment of Persona 5 Royal for next year’s ceremony. I’m not even to the game’s third semester yet. Lazy, I know.

***

Best-looking food

Winner: Atelier Meruru DX

One of the big draws of the Atelier series is the level of detail the games get into about the various items your alchemist protagonist can craft. This isn’t just any old crafting system, either: it’s a central gameplay mechanic, and one that I always find fun to master.

Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland is no different from the other games in the series in that regard. Also like the other Atelier games, and particularly in the Arland sub-series, Meruru has a ton of beautifully illustrated food items to craft. These do have practical uses in restoring health and mana to your characters in battle, but the characters also talk a lot about both crafting and eating food in the game’s many dialogue breaks and cutscenes. Just as in real life, being good at cooking and baking are great ways to make friends, and the same goes for making food magically through alchemy. Serious credit goes to artist Mel Kishida, who I believe was responsible for this artwork along with the game’s character designs and backgrounds.

Mont Blanc is the best dessert right alongside cannoli. The Italians and French know their sweets. If I lived in either of those countries I’d definitely be in lousy shape right now.

This year’s 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim comes in a close second in this category and therefore gets an honorable mention for also containing a lot of talk about food and nicely illustrated food items that made me hungry while playing. However, 13 Sentinels didn’t feature any Mont Blancs. Crêpes are good too, but Meruru wins for having the better dessert.

***

Best physics

Winner: Wolf Girl With You

I didn’t play a Senran Kagura game this year, so this 2016 h-game gets the coveted Best Physics award instead. I don’t know how much Wolf Girl With You really counts as a game, though. It’s more a series of 3D animations strung together with some short sets of dialogue. But really, that’s close enough in my opinion. It’s just a game about having some private time with your cute werewolf girlfriend, so I don’t think it needed more than that anyway.

Hey, this one also has food in it. And so does Yakuza 0. If I end up gaining weight again anytime soon I’ll have to blame it on all these games.

In any case, creator Seismic deserves all the credit for the physics displayed by his 3D model of Liru from the anime Magical Pokaan. I was already a fan of this wolf girl, but the bounce added a lot to the experience. Though Magical Pokaan itself featured some of that too from what I remember. That outfit Liru’s wearing is her regular one from the show, after all, so you can’t blame the creator of this game for that bikini/shorts look if you don’t like it. (No complaints here, however.)

***

Least amount of time played before eyestrain

Winner: Radical Solitaire

Seriously Vector Hat, change your fucking color scheme. The colors above do change, but they still clash and glare in my eyes in horrible ways. I still like this one, though. Radical Solitaire is an interesting game I found in a huge itch.io bundle last summer that combines Klondike Solitaire (also known as Patience, I think in the UK?) with Breakout. Check it out if you can bear all the neon and the weirdly contrasting dark layout in the main game sections.

***

Best educational game

Winner: The Expression: Amrilato

Every year, I’ll probably give out an award that only one game I played even comes close to qualifying for, and this time it’s best educational game. Arguably the only educational game I played this year was The Expression: Amrilato, a visual novel that centers on a yuri romance plot but also teaches the player the basics of Esperanto. If that sounds like a strange mix, then yeah, it is, but I found it worked pretty well, with the game managing to weave its lesson sections in naturally with the plot as you learn the Esperanto-inspired in-game language Juliamo along with the protagonist Rin. The girl-girl romance stuff is also nice if you’re into yuri — I’m not a dedicated fan of it, but I also have no problem with it and find it a nice break from the usual thing sometimes. (Back in the day we called it “shoujo-ai” over here. Is that different from yuri? I don’t even know. Feel free to educate me in the comments if you do.)

***

Jury Prize

Winner: 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

I wanted to continue the tradition of not giving a game of the year award that I started last year. However, I found a loophole that still lets me sort of give one without actually giving one: the Jury Prize. The Cannes Film Festival gives these to movies that “embody the spirit of inquiry” according to Wikipedia. I’m not totally sure what that’s supposed to mean, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?

So I decided steal the idea of this award from the Cannes people. I convened a jury consisting of myself, held a closed door session by myself in my walk-in closet, and came out with the winner: 13 Sentinels. If any game I played this year embodies the spirit of inquiry or whatever, it’s this one. I posted a review gushing over it a few weeks ago, but here’s the short version: 13 Sentinels is an RTS tower defense/adventure game hybrid with a weird science fiction story and a lot of interesting character developments and plot twists. It was different and it worked, and that’s my favorite kind of game (or favorite kind of artistic work in general really.)

The beautiful art almost goes without saying for a Vanillaware game, but there’s a lot more to 13 Sentinels as well.

I don’t want to spoil anything else here, so I’ll just say this game deserves a lot more recognition than it’s gotten, which I’ve heard is largely the fault of Atlus not marketing the game very well here in the West. Considering their other bungles, that’s entirely believable.

***

Best girl

Winner: Esty Erhard (Atelier Arland series)

Okay, so best “girl” might not be appropriate. Best woman, maybe? Though I know a lot of people will disagree, I feel like the “girl/boy” cutoff is somewhere around one’s early 20s, maybe at 25. And we first meet Esty Erhard at 26 in Atelier Rorona, while working in her role as a knight for the Kingdom of Arland. Esty is a hardworking and capable bureaucrat who helps the protagonist Rorona out in her efforts to keep her alchemy atelier open against the efforts of the government’s chief minister to close it. Even though Esty is part of the government, she and her grim-looking subordinate Sterkenburg Cranach give as much support as they can to Rorona, joining her in the field to beat the shit out of monsters while she collects vital ingredients.

Esty is one of my favorite characters in the Atelier Arland series; she has an admirable no-nonsense attitude but also has a sense of humor. The main reason she gets this award, however, is because she’s one of those characters who’s maligned pretty unfairly. Not by fans, at least as far as I know, but more in-game. Esty is chronically unlucky in love throughout the series. When she returns with Sterk 14 years later in Atelier Meruru, she’s still unmarried despite her efforts to find a match, and she has to deal with some ribbing (mainly from her younger sister Filly) over it. She even became the butt of a rather inelegant joke by the localizers at NIS America who decided to change her last name to “Dee” (yeah really.)

Meruru seen here caught in a tense conversation between sisters.

I haven’t played the newly released fourth Arland game Atelier Lulua, so I don’t know if Esty’s been granted the happy ending she was looking for, but she deserves it. I don’t see why she shouldn’t have it. Maybe the guys in the world of the Arland games are all afraid of a woman who can beat them up. Well, I’m here to say that much like the guy in Helltaker, I have no such fear. I’m all about Esty, and that’s ultimately why she’s getting this award.

***

Congratulations to all the winners! To close this ceremony out, just like last time, I was going to detail some of my plans for the coming year, but I really don’t have much to say about it after my last post aside from “expect more of the same.” Maybe that’s not so exciting, but I hope you’ve liked the posts I’ve put up since reviving the site two years ago, in which case that should be good news.

Either way, I don’t want to post a list of games or anime series I plan to write about here, because I always seem cursed never to actually finish them if I do. So I’ll maintain an air of mystery here. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll probably be able to guess some of what’s coming up anyway.

Listening/reading log #15 (December 2020)

We’re at the end of the year, finally — now for 2021. Not that changing the year by one number makes that much of a difference in reality, since it’s just another bit of distance of the Earth revolving around the Sun, but maybe there’s a real psychological effect in changing years. We humans made up the calendar, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. So let’s hope for better things this year as we collectively give a middle finger to the last one.

And let’s also do the usual end-of-month thing: talk about some good music and good writing. This month, I’m returning to two bands that I’ve already covered twice before. But these are both really good albums, so it’s excusable I think. The holidays are all about being comfortable anyway, and I’m totally in my comfort zone today. On to the business:

Discipline (King Crimson, 1981)

Highlights: Discipline, Matte Kudasai, Thela Hun Ginjeet

When I wrote about King Crimson’s album Red a while back, I mentioned that the band broke up shortly after it was released and wouldn’t reform for seven years. Discipline is what they came back with, “they” being constant Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, returning jazz/prog drummer Bill Bruford, and two new guys in bassist Tony Levin and guitarist/singer Adrian Belew.

80s Crimson is completely different from 70s Crimson in sound. Instead of the heavy rock, Discipline and the following two studio albums are done in a New Wave style that gets compared to Talking Heads a lot but is more technical and weird in a different way. Adrian Belew is a bit of a neurotic goofball like David Byrne, but I like his brand of strangeness too, and he’s also an excellent guitarist with an interesting experimental edge just like Fripp. Discipline mixes things up with the fierce fast-paced “Thela Hun Ginjeet” and a nice love song in “Matte Kudasai” (aside from love songs never being much of a King Crimson thing in the 60s and 70s, check out the title — “please wait” in Japanese. Were these guys also weebs before it was cool?) “Discipline” is also an insanely precise instrumental that shows off all their talents, with Fripp and Belew’s guitars going off into different key signatures and meeting up again.

I still think Red is the best album Crimson put out, but I also like that the band has changed things up so much throughout their run (well, they’ve changed their lineup a lot too, aside from the mainstay Fripp) and the 80s version of the band made a lot of good music. I also recommend the excellent live album Absent Lovers, which includes some great songs from Discipline and the following albums Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair along with a few old 70s standards like “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part II” and “Red”.

Fragile (Yes, 1972)

Highlights: Roundabout, South Side of the Sky, Heart of the Sunrise

When I said I was in my comfort zone this post I wasn’t kidding. I’ve already written about The Yes Album immediately preceding this and Close to the Edge immediately following it, so I had to write about Fragile too; I couldn’t leave that gap in there. Also, like those albums and Discipline above, Fragile features Bill Bruford on drums, making this his sixth appearance in these short reviews up until now. He really is a great drummer, so he’s deserving of that great honor.

Fragile is also just a really entertaining album. Everyone reading this probably already knows the opener “Roundabout”, either because it’s an old rock radio standard in its shorter edited form or because it was the ending theme to the first season of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and was featured in seventy million of those “to be continued” meme videos. But there are other great epic-length songs on Fragile, including the multi-part ultra-complicated super-proggy piece “Heart of the Sunrise” and my personal favorite “South Side of the Sky”, a driving heavy song about people desperately trying to cross a snowy mountain range with a really nice piano solo in the middle from Rick Wakeman. Unique among these albums, Fragile also features shorter solo-focused pieces for each band member to show off in, which are pretty fun as well.

I recommend Fragile highly together with The Yes Album and Close to the Edge, especially if you have any interest at all in that classic early 70s progressive rock period. Yes made a lot of other good music, especially in the 70s and on the 80s pop standard album 90125, but to me this run of albums contains their best work.

Now that I’m done with my fanboy nonsense, reviewing albums I’ve listened to since I was in high school like a lazy asshole instead of expanding my horizons, let’s move on to the featured articles from around WordPress:

In Memoriam: Adobe Flash (Nepiki Gaming) — Flash has been a big part of many of our lives, especially for anyone who grew up on the internet in the late 90s and through the 2000s and even the 2010s, which I have to imagine covers almost everyone reading this. Nepiki gives a eulogy for the now discontinued program.

The Romance of Space as an Ocean (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Scott examines how certain science fiction works treat space like a massive ocean and the romantic aspects of that theme. I love space operas as well (watch Legend of the Galactic Heroes, it’s great!) and I can relate to the feelings he expresses here.

Beginner’s guide to indie (2020): part one (Later Levels) — Kim at Later Levels has posted a series on indie games, which as you know I’m all about. There are some interesting-looking titles she brings up I haven’t played either. In the same vein, her review of the indie sort of-visual novel VA-11 Hall-A is worth reading. I loved that game. Still waiting for that “coming soon” semi-sequel though. Maybe we’ll get it this year.

The Traditional Catholic Weeb Speaks: Nichijou Revisited (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — A review of Nichijou, a weird comedy anime series that I vaguely remember from years ago. Traditional Catholic Weeb’s detailed and comprehensive post got me interested in it again, and I might finally get around to watching it now.

Lightning Warrior Raidy (PC/FMTowns/PC-98): A Surprisingly Solid Dungeon Crawler (Detailed Review) (NSFW) (Guardian Acorn) — Annie Gallagher takes on Lightning Warrior Raidy, an old and famous (or maybe infamous?) h-game. Not safe for work as the title suggests, but if you’re not at work and otherwise okay with it, I suggest checking this review out.

My 5 favourite games I watched other people play in 2020 (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — Ever since the invention of the Let’s Play way back in 2007 or around then, people have been watching other people play video games online. This might seem strange, but some games can be interesting to watch in the context of someone else’s playthrough if their commentary and personality add to the experience (and given how many VTuber game streams I’ve watched in parts lately I certainly can’t say otherwise without being a huge hypocrite.) Wooderon here addresses some of his favorite games to watch others play paired with a few particular streamers.

Looking Back: 2020 Post Mortem (Frostilyte Writes) — This was a shitass year all things considered. I don’t even really have to say that. But thankfully, some of us have been able to do something productive with the crap 2020 gave us. Frostilyte here looks back on his own year and what he got done blogging and gaming-wise. I should also thank him for being one of the people who finally convinced me to start on the Yakuza series, which I recently started at 0, so I’ll do that here. Thanks!

Early Impressions on Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Lost to the Aether) — Speaking of Yakuza, here are Aether’s first impressions of the recently released Yakuza: Like a Dragon, a game that takes the Yakuza setting and feel and combines it with a turn-based RPG mechanic. An interesting combination, but does it work? Aether takes that question on in the above-linked post.

Evangelion Sword Exhibition at Toei Kyoto Studio Park (Resurface to Reality) — I love the idea of an Evangelion-themed exhibit like the one described here at Toei Studio Park in Kyoto. As usual, I regret not being able to visit it myself, but reading about it is interesting.

Who I Want for Roommates or Neighbours in Quarantine (Anime Edition) (A Geeky Gal) — Meg at A Geeky Gal considers the following: which anime characters would you have as roommates during quarantine? A question to be carefully considered since you’ll have been stuck with them for nine months as of this writing.

December 2020 in Summary: Hindsight Is 2020 (Extra Life) — Red Metal’s overview of his last month of blogging. I don’t usually feature end-of-month recaps on other sites like the one I’m writing here right now because that feels a bit weird to me, featuring that kind of post in a similar one like this. But this one contains Red Metal’s takes on some excellent movies like Ben-Hur, The Twilight Samurai, All The President’s Men and others that should be read.

Some of my favourite openings! (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — And Yomu takes the time to write about some openings he likes. I’m a fan of #6 on the list myself.

And that’s it for the year. I’ll get more into my own plans for this year in an upcoming post, but the extra-short version is that I have a ton of games I’m either working through or have lined up in the backlog, so there should be no lack of game-related material in 2021. The same is true for anime, which I’ll keep writing about as well, along with music and the occasional pissed off set of complaints that you’ve come to expect from me. The same goes for my deep reads posts, though the latest one I’ve been working on has been giving me hell. I hope to have it out sometime this month, though.

Until next time, I wish you extreme prosperity, maximum happiness, and whatever else your heart desires this year.

A review of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (PS4)

Where to start with this game? It’s hard to say, because there’s a lot to talk about here. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was announced all the way back at the Tokyo Game Show in 2015, but it came out late in 2019 in Japan and late in 2020, only a few months ago, in North America. While it wasn’t released to a lot of fanfare over here, anticipation seems to have been very high among fans of developer Vanillaware, known for their unique art style and great attention to detail with earlier titles like Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown.

The big question in these cases is whether the game was worth the long wait. I can’t claim I was one of those fans waiting for five years on the edge of my seat. But after playing through it, I can say that if I had waited that long or even longer, I think 13 Sentinels would have been more than worth it to me. It’s not going to appeal to everyone (just like most of the games I write about here, that’s nothing new) but I liked its mix of gameplay styles and especially its characters and story.

Of course, I’ll be getting into all that in more depth here. Before that, there’s one more thing I have to bring up: this is going to be a no-spoilers review. I’m still putting a disclaimer up even in this case, though, because 13 Sentinels is one of those games that it’s best to go into completely blind if possible. If you trust me enough to just take my word on faith (which I don’t expect at all) then here it is: I greatly enjoyed 13 Sentinels and highly recommend it. But not everyone is going to agree with that assessment, and in any case you probably need more than just me saying “hey it’s great the end”, so I’ll get into why I liked this game so much below without dropping any major plot points or character details, because you should discover those for yourself.

I also promise I won’t make any “get in the robot Shinji” references. They don’t exactly fit here anyway.

On the surface, 13 Sentinels is a game about high school students who have to fight city-destroying mechanical kaiju-style monsters by piloting giant mechs called Sentinels. A lot of the gameplay and plot revolve around these battles and the enormous strain they put on their young pilots, both physically and mentally. As with a lot of other “teenagers in giant robots fight to save the world” stories, though, there’s more going on under that surface.

From the very beginning, 13 Sentinels is split between three different gameplay modes: Remembrance, Destruction, and Analysis. Remembrance is the one you’ll likely be in most of the time. It’s the one that looks like the typical Vanillaware game, only there’s no combat in this mode — it’s sort of in the style of an older adventure game, consisting almost entirely of exploration and character interaction. This is where we really get to know our characters and where almost all of the plot unfolds.

One of the 13 protagonists, Juro Kurabe, at school. The colored bars in the upper right indicate topics or actions that your protagonist has yet to consider or carry out in a scene, some of which are prerequisites to moving their story along.

Each of the 13 protagonists in the game has their own story to play through in the Remembrance mode. In the beginning, the game only gives you a couple of characters to start with, but as you advance their stories, the game unlocks other characters that you can switch between as you see fit. At that point, the initially hidden connections between these characters reveal themselves. These connections are not at all obvious at first in some cases, especially considering the fact that our protagonists are scattered throughout time, with a few from the past of wartime Japan and a few from the far future.

For some reason, everyone ends up meeting in the Japan of 1985, where both the battles against the kaiju and the bulk of the story occur. Figuring out how and why they’ve all converged on this point in time and this place is part of the mystery the game presents. Remembrance involves a lot of tracking down and talking to or otherwise interacting with other characters in the course of this story, but we also get directly into the heads of our player characters. The Thought Cloud is an integral part of this exploration section of 13 Sentinels — it lets the player scroll through the protagonist’s various thoughts, which are updated as they make new discoveries.

Ass-kicking delinquent girl Yuki Takamiya takes a break on the roof in the middle of her various thoughts, one of which is “maybe I should drink this juice box.” Getting your vitamins is important.

But you can’t just make progress through exploration and talking to people: you have to actually fight those big kaiju battles by directing your 13 protagonists in their mechs. This is where the Destruction mode comes in. Destruction is a real-time tower defense game, starkly different from the adventure game style of Remembrance both in its looks and style. Taking place during what the game calls the final battle against the invading kaiju, a horde of giant mechanical monsters, Destruction requires the player to direct a strike team of up to six characters in the defense of a giant terminal that itself acts as a defensive mechanism against the kaiju. Defeating all the kaiju on the map typically leads to victory, though a couple of the game’s 31 maps (not counting the first seven tutorials) require the player to destroy a specific powerful target.

The heat of battle. These screens can get a bit confusing with all the enemies, missiles, and lasers shooting off and flying around, but it’s not hard to get the rhythm of combat down.

A lot of your success in battle comes from preparation. Each of the protagonist’s Sentinels can be upgraded using “Meta-chips” you earn both from advancing the story in Remembrance mode and fighting battles in Destruction mode. Around the middle of the game you’ll be able to unlock some extremely powerful weapons to use against the kaiju, both short- and long-range, allowing you to play defensively by turtling around the terminal and using long-range attacks or offensively by taking the fight directly to the kaiju and punching them in the face. There are four types of Sentinel to choose from as well, each types with its own strengths and weaknesses, so you can mix things up depending upon your preferred play style with a combination of defensive and offensive tactics.

Natsuno’s Missile Rain is stupidly powerful, and I relied on it a lot. Thanks Natsuno, and also Tomi and Keitaro who have the same ability — you saved the team more than a few times. Also god damn, those Sentry Guns.

Finally, there’s the third mode, Analysis, which isn’t so much a gameplay mode as it is a giant cache of information that grows as you progress through the game. Analysis includes a library of previously played scenes that you can return to watch as many times as you like as well as a set of “mystery files” that are unlocked and added to as the game progresses. These files contains information on just about everything in the game, from the characters and their backgrounds, stories, and relationships down to various foods and drinks your characters consume during their adventures. It might seem weird to have entries for such trivial information, but in this game, sometimes the most seemingly trivial bits of information can be important in strange ways down the line.

I’m not kidding; there’s even an entry for strawberry crêpes. Though I have to give credit: the artist made all this food look amazing. I got hungry playing 13 Sentinels a few times for foods I can’t even obtain where I live. Thanks a lot for that, Vanillaware.

It might seem a bit strange at first to put so much information about the game’s major plot points and characters into a library like this. But it doesn’t feel at all like a lazy shortcut to make telling the story easier. On the contrary, I think this Analysis mode is necessary, because the story and its characters’ relationships get so complicated that it’s sometimes helpful to go back and check on a few already established points. Naturally I can’t give any examples without spoiling things (I even went to the trouble of redacting the above image in five seconds in Paint; a lot of work, I know.) It’s enough to say that this mode is very useful in a game like this in which each character’s story has its own flowchart practically.

That takes me back to the story itself. I think the greatest strength of 13 Sentinels by far is in its writing, in the plot and its massive tangled web of characters and relationships. The story is ambitious, but unlike some other works that try this sort of thing and get lost in technobabble and confusion and end up a mess, 13 Sentinels keeps it all together. Part of this might have to do with the organization of the information you receive in Analysis mode and in the character timelines that let you track your progress and jump around from point to point to a limited extent.

For example, should you get crêpes or ice cream after school? This really is one of those branching path decision points.

However, I think more of it has to do with the strength of the game’s characters. Each of the protagonists along with several important side characters are given enough screen time to establish their personalities and motivations. Through their story paths in Remembrance mode, we come to understand how and why they end up in these giant mechs fighting kaiju. These aren’t a bunch of cardboard cutouts either. Each character feels pretty well fleshed out and realistic, allowing the game to build believable rivalries, friendships, and romances. And there are romance subplots in 13 Sentinels, and even though I’m about as unromantic as it’s possible for a human to be, they worked for me — they’re not just shoehorned in for the hell of it but actually play their parts in the larger plot.

That’s love, man, who knows

Then there’s the other half of 13 Sentinels, speaking in terms of gameplay at least: the RTS tower defense section. This one seems a bit controversial. I’ve barely played any tower defense games before, so I really have nothing to compare the tower defense element in 13 Sentinels to, but I found it to be pretty fun for what it was. It was definitely the lesser of the two sections for me, though. Combat in this game, with the exception of maybe two or three boss battles, presented no challenge at all — once you figure out how to play defensively and get the skills to beat the shit out of kaiju without them getting anywhere near you, you’ll be all right for the most part. The second-to-last fight did give me some trouble, but I still beat it on my first try, and I’m not even very good at this sort of thing.

I’m not sure if this game will satisfy hardcore RTS/tower defense fans because I’m not one of them, but playing on hard mode is a good idea if you’re looking for more of a challenge. It’s probably also important to note that, as you can see in the battle screenshots I posted, the combat takes place in top-down view, as if the player is controlling everything from a command center. If you were hoping for the combat sections to be all drawn and animated in that Vanillaware style like they were in Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown, you won’t get that in this game. But I didn’t mind too much — the real draw of 13 Sentinels for me was in the story and its interesting character relationships and conflicts.

I wish I lived in Shu’s apartment, what a view. This is my ideal living space.

There’s plenty of style in this game as well. The art is very impressive, much of it handpainted and animated in the typical Vanillaware fashion. That’s one of the reasons I used so many screenshots here, probably more than I normally would in a review like this: the beautiful art adds a lot to an already great experience. The soundtrack is also excellent, from mood-setting pieces in the Remembrance sections to tense battle themes in Destruction mode. And as an added bonus for western players, the NA release features both Japanese and English dubs, so you can choose whichever one you like. Kids these days really have it easy — I remember when we didn’t have that option.

I have more I can say about 13 Sentinels, but not without getting into spoilers, so I’ll leave it there. It’s obvious by this point that I really liked this game and that I’d highly recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of other weird sci-fi material like the Zero Escape series and Steins;Gate. I’ll only add the caveat that it might not be much of a tower defense game if that’s really what you’re looking for. But again, since I’m no expert in the tower defense genre, I can’t say much about that. Again, it’s really all about the story for me in this case, and I was happy with what I got out of 13 Sentinels in that respect. Now I just have to track down some yakisoba pan to see if it’s really as good as the game claims it is, and it will get a perfect 10 out of 10.

Miscellaneous game reviews from that huge itch.io bundle (pt. 1 of ?)

Remember that summer cleaning series I ran months ago? I still have a ton of games from the huge itch.io bundle I downloaded back then. There are well over a thousand games in that bundle, including a few long titles that I’m currently stalled out in — partly because of my own laziness, and partly because playing one of them is like listening to someone scrape their nails on a damn chalkboard.

Anyway, here are a few games I had planned to write about, but that I felt I didn’t have quite enough to say about to give their own dedicated posts. I meant to write about them sooner, but you know how it is with the aforementioned laziness and all. So let’s finally fix that:

Sonar Smash

If you’ve ever thought to yourself: I want to play a shmup about a dolphin killing its fellow sea life, then there’s a game made just for you. Sonar Smash stars a cute dolphin who has the ability to shoot sonar bullets (?) at its enemies. Using this ability, you’ll need to fight your way through waves of enemies who show up to harass you from the top of the screen classic shmup style. It’s easy to mess up and take hits, but luckily there are also shops you run into between waves that offer upgrades and health refills.

And that’s the whole game — you’re just getting as far as you can using your dodging and aiming skills. There’s not much more to Sonar Smash in terms of gameplay. It has some style on top of that, though, with nice retro-looking graphics and a surprisingly good BGM, sort of an electrofunk thing that I really like. The game is probably worth checking out for the music alone, honestly. The sea life killing is fun too, though.

Cityglitch

Cityglitch is a straightforward sort of puzzle game set on a series of 95 5×5 boards. On each of these boards, your goal is to use your main character, an unnamed being that I think looks like a levitating red-haired girl, to activate every red symbol. Your character can move all the way across the board if not blocked by an object, but only in a straight or diagonal line. There’s no time or move limit to complete a board, but there are enemies who move according to set rules that can either block the red symbols or run into your character and remove her from the board, requiring you to start over. The game doesn’t give too much background about why you’re doing this aside from its main page on itch.io, which states “touch runes to illuminate them / light them all to complete the ritual / release the glitch” but for a game like this I don’t guess you need more explanation than that.

You might wonder how much someone can do with a game board as small as five by five squares, but Cityglitch gets quite creative with the setup. The different enemy types and maze layouts can require the player to use some fancy tricks to maneuver the obstacles and clear the board. If an enemy moves across one of the activated symbols, it will also deactivate it, so you have to factor that in when making your own moves.

The green snot-looking things are stationary, the blue dots appear when you move your mouse around to see your range of movement, and the blue guy in the lower left corner is an asshole trying to stop you from completing your task.

And yeah, I liked this game too. I was surprised how quickly it hooked me, in fact — it’s impressive how much developer mindfungus was able to do with these small puzzles. I also like the blocky style of the graphics. For some reason they remind me of those old games people used to program for those TI-83 graphing calculators we used to have in high school, except those were all in black and white. Did anyone else waste time in class with those games? I can’t be the only one who played Caterpillar during trigonometry lessons. Maybe that’s why I never got onto the STEM path…

I should also mention the ambient synth background music, which fits the mood of the game very well. Again, a little style like this can go a long way towards making a simple game a lot more memorable — see also Helltaker, even though in terms of their looks they are very different (and Helltaker is more interesting, but then it also featured a cute demon girl harem, and how do you really compete with that?)

Siberia

I didn’t grow up in the age of those old-fashioned text adventures, but I think that’s the kind of game Siberia is taking after. The scenario it presents is pretty rough: you’re in a plane flying over Siberia that has engine trouble and is about to crash, so you have to parachute out and try to find help without dying.

As you play, the game presents you with branching decision points that you have to resolve before moving on Choose Your Own Adventure style, and as you might imagine, a lot of these decisions will end up getting you killed.

Siberia really has no mercy — there are a lot of ways to die in this game. Fortunately, if you make the wrong decision, it will either kill you instantly or after only a few more screens. This is a very small game, and each playthrough takes five minutes at most. None of the statistics at the bottom of the screen seem to matter that much, because from what I found while playing, I never actually reached 0 in any of them; I’d either be rescued or dead well before that point.

These guys were definitely going for that old 80s aesthetic here. Playing Siberia on a visible old CRT monitor felt a bit weird, but I liked the simple ASCII art the game used for illustrations. Again, this stuff is a bit before my time, but I do remember making and sharing crude text drawings online as a kid in the 90s. Those really were better times, at least for me.

So maybe the nostalgia angle really did work for me here. Siberia is very short — I didn’t get more than 30 minutes out of it, far less than most typical text adventures have to offer. However, it only costs one British pound, which I think is something like $1.25. Not such a bad price for what this is, though the monotonous background music might also drive you crazy. Considering all that, I can’t give it a definite recommendation, but it’s something to check out if you’re into this sort of throwback game.

And that’s it for the moment. Will I return to this bundle to review more of its games long after the bundle was on sale? Maybe. That ? in the title of this post might be a 1, or it might be a larger number than that. I might also get around to reviewing a few of the longer, more involved games in the bundle if I ever finish them. Even the nails-on-a-chalkboard bullshit one, though I might not have terribly nice things to say about it. If I do, I’ll do my best to be fair as always, though.

Live-action film retrospective (2020)

What?! AK watches live-action films? Yeah, on occasion I do. I don’t watch too many of them anymore because I have such massive game and anime backlogs, both of which would take up several lifetimes to get through. However, I don’t have anything against live-action movies, despite what you might have thought from the total lack of anything about them on the site up until now.

So I thought, why not write an almost-end-of-year post looking back at that stuff? I just want to highlight the films I’ve watched this year that I liked or didn’t like. Each end of the spectrum from love to hate, both of which I felt strongly. As with my upcoming end-of-year game post, I’m not counting what films were released this year but rather what I saw this year. All three of them. But I found all three very memorable (though not always for good reasons; keep reading for more on that.)

Parasite (Bong Joon-Ho, 2019)

Here’s an opinion that won’t be surprising at all: I liked Parasite. This film depicts two families living in Seoul: the rich and very detached Parks and the impoverished Kims. The Kim family is extremely talented at conning others, though, and each of them, father, mother, son, and daughter, manages to lie and scheme their way into the service of the Park family as tutors and household servants.

The first half of the film plays out like a dark comedy, but the second half takes a turn that I won’t get into here — just watch the movie, because this is a solid recommendation. I know Best Picture winners at the Oscars are sometimes actually boring bullshit films, much like all those horribly dull novels you had to read in elementary school with the golden seals on the front (does anyone else know what I’m talking about here? Is this just an American thing?) But sometimes the Academy gets it right, and Parasite was one of those times. It’s also an example of social commentary in a movie that doesn’t feel way too basic, hamfisted, or preachy. Good stuff.

The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci, 2017)

I love history, and I love dark comedies when they’re done well, so I thought I’d like The Death of Stalin. And I did. This is a dramatized and sort of fictionalized account of the events following the death of the Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin. In the immediate aftermath of Stalin’s death by stroke in 1953, his lieutenants began jockeying for power, most notably the feared chief of secret police Lavrenti Beria — but if you know your history, you know who ended up on top.

Not that The Death of Stalin tells it straight. It condenses the real-life series of events that played out over several months into a matter of days, and obviously all the secret, scheming conversations between all these guys could only be guessed at. But this isn’t a documentary, and this kind of condensing/fictionalizing really works for a dark comedy like this.

The Death of Stalin is also all in English, which you could have guessed if you recognize the people on the poster, a set of British actors and Steve Buscemi. They’re all excellent, especially Buscemi, who takes one of the lead roles as Nikita Khrushchev. Another big recommendation.

Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014)

If you’ve read my extremely long-winded post on the visual novel Planetarian, you already know how I feel about this film. I watched Ex Machina because it had been on my list for a long time anyway, and I thought it might make an interesting contrast with Planetarian since they’re both speculative sci-fi dealing with human-AI relations. Red Metal’s review of the film wasn’t able to warn me off of it either (if you’re not following his site by the way, go do that: he goes into insane depth and insight in his film and game reviews.)

I should have listened to him, though, because Ex Machina sucked out loud, with one of the worst endings I’ve ever seen in a work of fiction. The premise is interesting, with a weird reclusive genius inviting one of his employees to his house in the wilderness to communicate with his newly developed advanced AI robot girl for testing purposes. The actors are also good, and the movie certainly looks nice with a lot of interesting settings and shots and all that (I’m no expert anyway, but it looked pretty good to me.)

However, the most important part of a film like this is the writing, and the writing was hot shit, with all its flaws exposed in the ending that I think was meant to be clever and thought-provoking but simply came off as bizarre and disconnected. I get into a lot more depth in the part of my linked piece where I contrast it with Planetarian, and of course Red Metal goes into far more depth in his review, so if you don’t mind being spoiled or have already seen Ex Machina and want to read these perspectives, feel free to check them out. I found the movie itself a waste of time, though. Most of the professional film press loved it, but they’re wrong. I know, opinions and everything, but my opinion is that this movie doesn’t deserve its accolades.

And that’s the whole list. Barely enough for a proper end-of-year retrospective. But again, I’m not a movie guy. There are plenty of great film reviewers and analysts around the community though, and I post their stuff sometimes in my monthly recaps, so I recommend looking up their excellent work. Next post, you can expect a return to the usual, whatever that means.

It may take a while, though, because I’m doing my absolute best to power through a couple of games before the year is out. So just know that if I’m away for a while, that’s what I’m doing (or else I’m being crushed by work, but what’s new.) Until then, happy Christmas or holidays or whatever, and all the best.

The shark says a: Exploring the appeal of VTubers

VTubers. These 2D streamers have been all over the place the last few months. If you don’t know what any of this is about that you’ve been seeing on Twitter and in your recommended YouTube videos, you were exactly where I was in the middle of this year. Back then, I wondered a bit about the whole VTuber thing — I was familiar with the original self-proclaimed “virtual YouTuber” Kizuna Ai, a peppy sort of virtual idol who started making short scripted comedy videos a few years back using what looked like a MikuMikuDance model. But 2017 may as well be ancient history as far as the internet is concerned, and I didn’t know a thing about this new VTuber movement that seemed to have exploded from 2019 on.

And look at me now: still falling down that infamous rabbit hole. People joke about it, but it’s a real thing: I peered into this hole out of curiosity back around July, thinking I’d just make a study of it. And it fucking pulled me in.

And it was the rabbit herself who was most responsible.

But what is the appeal of VTubers, exactly? I get why someone wouldn’t understand it. When popular Japanese VTuber agency Hololive’s English-language branch debuted on YouTube back in September, I saw some very confused people on Twitter asking why these streams and video clips featuring anime girl puppets were suddenly being recommended to them, and wondering who this shark girl was people wouldn’t shut up about.

Firstly, what is a VTuber? To put it very briefly, it’s a person controlling and speaking through an animated model. These models take all sorts of forms — they’re usually cute anime girls of some variety, though there are male VTubers out there as well. It’s apparently not really that difficult to become a VTuber yourself; just rig up a model however that works (I admit I have no idea about the technical side of this, except that Live2D seems to be a popular program to use) and stream with it, and hot damn now you’re a VTuber, congratulations.

However, there does seem to be more to it than that. I was never very big on following streamers myself aside from a few people I know personally, but VTubers seem to have a particular appeal. But what could that appeal be? Instead of trying to describe it first in a general sense, I want to take a look at a few of my favorite VTubers and see what sets them apart. Starting with the primary culprit:

Usada Pekora

Pekora goes first because she was the one who got me into this whole mess. A 111 year-old rabbit from a country called Pekoland, Pekora decided to emigrate to Japan to become a streamer. At first, she presented the figure of a cute, demure girl, but that soon gave way to the Pekora people know today:

Pekora says she’s an idol, but most of her fans insist she’s a “comedian” to her great distress. It’s not hard to see why they think of her that way, though. Pekora is fast-talking and very smug but a bit of a buffoon; she’ll often be bragging about how great she is just before getting killed in a game or defeated by one of her VTuber friends. This leads to a weird sort of streamer-chat relationship in which chat members laugh at her many misfortunes. This clip from one of Pekora’s talk streams shows some of that relationship, in which Pekora tries to act like a proper cutesy idol much to the dismay of her fans.

But it’s all in good fun, and Pekora is a highly entertaining streamer. Even though I can’t understand most of what she says since it’s almost all in Japanese. Bless those clippers and translators. (I do love when she speaks English, though.)

Kiryu Coco

If any VTuber was responsible for getting a ton of English-speaking viewers into the whole VTuber thing before Hololive EN came about, it was Kiryu Coco. This Yakuza-loving dragon girl (apparently she took part of her name from Kiryu Kazuma) is fluent in both Japanese and English and for a long time acted as a sort of bridge between Japanese and overseas fans because of it. She also has an understanding of American culture in particular that a lot of her colleagues don’t, making for some interesting videos like her “Reddit meme reviews” where she reviews overseas fans’ many shitposts with her friends.

Coco, more than most of her Hololive colleagues, just doesn’t seem to give a damn and will push the boundaries sometimes, which in itself has become a bit of a joke. But that’s part of why fans love her as well. I suspect that’s also part of her appeal to western fans, since many of us don’t get a lot of idol culture standards that somewhat restrict what idols (and even these streamers) can talk about. Here, for example, is Coco delivering some wisdom to a fan who wrote in. Or maybe this is Coco corrupting the youth. Maybe it’s both?

I find Coco’s approach refreshing and a lot of fun to watch. And she speaks English sometimes in her streams as well, so if you don’t know any Japanese you might still be able to follow occasionally.

Amano Pikamee

Hololive contains many of the best-known and most popular VTubers, but they’re not the only game in town. There are other agencies like Nijisanji and the newly created US-based VShojo. There are also plenty of independent VTubers out there doing their thing, and Pikamee is one of them. A VTuber connected to the independent project VOMS, Pikamee describes herself as a five trillion and one year-old electric-type monster. This might make her sound like a terrifying entity, but she’s really just a nice girl who likes playing games on stream and talking to fans. Her streams are also supposedly “family-friendly”, though that standard doesn’t always get maintained:

Like Coco, Pikamee is fluent in both Japanese and English, but she uses both languages almost equally in her streams, switching between them fluidly and basically translating herself for her audience most of the time. This also makes for some interesting situations with her colleagues Hikasa and Monoe, who aren’t quite as fluent in English:

Pikamee is pretty much a ray of sunshine, that’s all. And her tea kettle laugh is infectious.

Gawr Gura

Well shit, yeah of course Gura. This shark girl is currently the most subscribed among the VTubers, at least as far as I understand. But that’s not why I’m talking about her — it’s because her streams are pretty damn entertaining.

Even before her debut back in September as part of the Hololive EN English-language crew, Gura was attracting attention. During her first livestream (which yes I was watching, I was there live I admit) viewers were piling in, and when she announced that she was going to close out with a song, a lot of people were expecting her to sing that irritating “Baby Shark” meme song, Gura herself being a small shark and all. But instead she busted out with this Tatsuro Yamashita surprising everyone with both that pick and with her voice. I’ll also submit her jazz lounge take on Renai Circulation, along with this performance of “Plastic Love”:

Good stuff. Gura is also just pretty fun in general; she has an easygoing and comfortable style in her streams that I like. She seems to have a special understanding of internet culture as well. I don’t know if Gura’s first tweet, simply the letter “a”, was an accident or intentional, but she instantly turned it into one of her signatures. I don’t know how the hell something like that catches on, but it worked for her.

I could go on talking about the tomboy duck Subaru, best dog Korone, rapping grim reaper and fellow Persona fan Calliope, dirty-minded pirate captain and fellow Touhou fan Marine, or the complete mystery that is Haachama. But I think I might be able to make a case based on what we have here, at least from an American perspective. More than anything, I think this VTuber movement resembles a massive, constantly ongoing variety show. These used to be very popular in the US, with series like The Carol Burnett Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and The Muppet Show running comedy skits and musical acts. Today, the only TV shows I know of here that do anything like that are Saturday Night Live and the various late night shows, which don’t hold much appeal for younger audiences (or they downright suck for the most part, as with SNL from what I’ve seen of it the last several years.)

I think Hololive and other networks, along with independent VTubers, offer something like that, only far fresher than today’s stale TV fare. One reason for this might be the sheer variety of streams on offer: there are the expected game streams, but also art streams, singing and music streams, talk streams, ASMR streams (which I still don’t really get, but a lot of people seem to like them) and even a morning show (Coco’s “Asacoco”, which includes comedy skits and parody advertisements.) The variety of character types available is also an important aspect; there are all kinds of VTubers out there to suit just about anyone’s tastes.

However, I think the biggest draw to the whole VTuber phenomenon, what really sets it apart, is the interaction with the audience. Chat moves at light speed in the more popular streams, but even there a weird sort of culture seems to develop in each VTuber channel, and there’s quite a lot of streamer-chat interaction that sometimes makes for comedy in itself. And maybe even for more than that. It’s understood that most VTubers play a character. We obviously know Gura isn’t really an ancient shark girl from Atlantis, and we never actually see the real-life three-dimensional streamer behind that character, but that’s all an accepted part of the act. Even so, sometimes the VTuber breaks character and talks pretty openly about themselves. Some VTubers even start out with a character that seems to slowly turn into something more natural, probably much more closely resembling their real selves, leading to some interesting and surprisingly intimate moments.

After all that, though, maybe you still don’t see the appeal of VTubers. Or maybe you have a more cynical take on the whole setup than I do: that these are just some cute anime girl models with cute personalities and voices designed to eat up superchat money, and that I’ve become a brainwashed shill. I understand why someone would feel that way. I also acknowledge that this business isn’t all fun and games — the agency-based VTubers’ connection with idol culture in Japan seems to have brought along some of the strange hang-ups some idol fans carry around with them (though again, I can’t talk too much about the idol thing. I haven’t even played an Idolmaster game so what do I know.)

But I still see much more of a positive than a negative effect here. It goes without saying that this year has been rough for just about everyone on Earth and that a distraction was sorely needed, and it’s possible that the rise in VTuber popularity this year had something to do with that (and also the whole being stuck at home thing.) But after seeing both the size and sheer dedication of these fanbases and the actual quality of the talents and their programs, I don’t believe this is just a passing fad. I would put money on it: the craze will probably die down a bit, especially after life gets back to something like normal, but VTubers are here to stay. And there’s always room in the rabbit hole for one more. 𒀭

Listening/reading log #14 (November 2020)

Well look, it’s December already and cold as fuck suddenly. I like winter better than summer, but that still doesn’t mean I like below freezing temperatures. I’m not that much of a masochist.

But what better time than to listen to some nice unplugged music, maybe around a fire with coffee spiked with at least 1 part whiskey out of 4? No, not even Irish cream, I mean whiskey. This month I’ve picked a few albums that I think fit that setting, along with the usual great, insightful posts from around the community here.

Please to See the King (Steeleye Span, 1971)

Highlights: The Lark in the Morning, Female Drummer, Cold, Haily, Windy Night

Last month, I started my post by recommending Steely Dan, and this month I’m recommending Steeleye Span. The names are remarkably similar, but these guys have absolutely no resemblance otherwise, because Steeleye Span was an English band playing originals and adaptations of old English/Scottish/Irish/Welsh/etc. folk songs.

Please to See the King mainly features singing and a bunch of acoustic instruments (but no drums, weirdly enough — even though “Female Drummer” is a song on this album.) Most of the songs are pretty catchy and memorable, with plenty of energy behind them. And they seem to deal with common problems from the old days, such as being a young woman disguising yourself as a man so you can join the military (“Female Drummer”), getting knocked up by a knight who runs away from his fatherly duties (“Cold, Haily, Windy Night”), and meeting the Devil (“The False Knight On the Road”.) And there’s even a nice innocent-sounding song about a bird that’s actually about something else entirely (“The Lark in the Morning”.)

I really don’t know anything about the folk music of Britain and Ireland — all I’m familiar with are these songs and Thin Lizzy’s version of “Whiskey in the Jar”, so I’m a total novice in this area. But I know I like this album. It’s good music, that’s all. A few good songs to drink and sing along to as well if that’s your thing.

Greatest Hits (Simon & Garfunkel, 1972)

Highlights: I Am A Rock, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Scarborough Fair, and most of the rest of it

Does recommending a greatest hits album fuck up all my credibility and kick me out of the serious music critic club? I guess it probably does, but hey I don’t care, because I was never in it and wouldn’t want to be anyway. And Greatest Hits is the only Simon & Garfunkel album I ever owned, and I’ve owned it for a very long time now, so I’m putting it up here. If you don’t know them, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were an American folk-rock duo who put out some great music back in the late 60s/early 70s. Simon was the music guy and Garfunkel the vocals guy, but they both sang in a lot of their songs and captured a sound that nobody else could imitate.

The songs are mostly really good as well, with some absolute classics you’ve probably heard like “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “Scarborough Fair” (the “parsley sage rosemary and thyme” one), “Mrs. Robinson”, and “Sound of Silence”. “I Am A Rock” is a great one too — I can really connect to the protagonist of that song, what a surprise. A couple of the songs here don’t do anything for me, but I like most of them, and I think these guys are well worth checking out.

I do have to single out one song with a terrible message, though: Cecilia. Your girlfriend cheats on you and you beg her to come home and then rejoice when she does? Personally, I’d change the locks and tell her to go to hell — and I’d expect to receive exactly the same treatment if I did that to her. You’re just asking for trouble otherwise, aren’t you? Maybe I’m the weird one in this case, I don’t know. I did mention I’m not a fan of NTR recently, so it’s no wonder I don’t like this song. (edit: I just found the other interpretation of “Cecilia” and I like that one a lot better. I had no idea about it until now, but then I wasn’t raised Catholic — if you were, maybe it would have occurred naturally to you. Okay, this is enough about one song, on to the next album.)

Das Lied von der Erde (Gustav Mahler, 1909)

Highlights: It’s all good

Okay, so maybe this one doesn’t fit the theme so much. Really, I’m just posting Das Lied von der Erde (or The Song of the Earth) here because I’m tired of some people dumping on late 19th/early 20th century Austrian composer Gustav Mahler.

Well fuck that. Just listen to this work of his, apparently produced at a depressive period of his life (which really comes through in the lyrics.) The song itself is supposed to be based on some old Chinese poetry that was translated into German and adapted to be set to Mahler’s orchestral compositions. The various parts hits all kinds of tones, starting with “The Drinking Song of the Earth’s Sorrow” which sure sounds like a depressed drunk dude yelling about the sorrows of the Earth, and then moves on to quieter, more contemplative sections, and then back to the sweeping material.

The performances in the modern recordings we have are usually great and the whole thing feels like a ride, even if I still don’t have much of an idea about what the point of it is. I guess to lament about how life sucks and we’ll eventually die anyway? If that’s the message, then I can completely understand it, but as with Magma’s Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh, there’s probably something deeper going on here that I’m not getting. Anyway, this is one work to use if you want to show someone that classical music isn’t all stodgy, boring stuff. Maybe it still won’t work, but that is a misconception I’d like to blow up completely.

Now on to the featured posts:

Revisiting my view on Anime Gatekeeping (I drink and watch anime) — Irina again examines the issue of gatekeeping in the anime fandom(s). It’s a complicated problem, and one that I have my own opinions about (more on the game side, but some of the problems there are similar.) Whether you agree with her approach, Irina takes on the issue with a lot of care and insight, so be sure to check it out.

#Controversed: Don’t Attack Actors and Voice Actors, Be a Force of Positivity (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Apparently some people have attacked voice actors online because they don’t like certain characters they voice, which is completely insane. Scott addresses this problem and calls for civility and positivity in this post.

Autumn Adventures in Kyoto (Part 1) (Resurface to Reality) — A tour of some beautiful parts of Kyoto in the autumn from browsercrasher. Again, I wish I were there. And it’s more than just the virus keeping me from traveling. But maybe one day. At least great travel posts like these can let me go there in my mind.

Why I love autumn (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — Continuing the theme, Wooderon expresses his love for autumn. It’s my favorite season as well, but sadly it’s finished where I live because we’re below freezing here now. At least we actually had an autumn this year — it’s not a given where I live that it will last more than one week from blazing hot to freezing cold. I hate this place.

Watch Out, They Move, They Diss You Loud! The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(c)-Characters: Akihiko and Mitsuru (Lost to the Aether) — Aether continues his ongoing Persona 3 analysis series with this look at two of my favorite characters from that game, Akihiko and Mitsuru. If you only know Akihiko from his appearances in the Persona Q and Persona 4 Arena, read Aether’s analysis to discover how much deeper of a character he is than the cardboard cutouts those games present.

I Love Meta-Gaming (in Hades) (Frostilyte Writes) — Frostilyte uses Hades and Monster Hunter World to illustrate how meta-gaming can add a lot of value to your gaming experience. It’s the kind of thing you might not actively think about too much, but it makes a difference!

Knives Out (Rian Johnson, 2019) (Extra Life) — Is the newest Rian Johnson film better than The Last Jedi? Red Metal gives his answer to that question in this thorough, indepth review of Knives Out.

The Anime Encyclopedia – A review (Reasons to anime) — If you were wondering whether The Anime Encyclopedia is worth buying, read Casper’s review. Really, any reference book that craps on anything Disgaea-related without even bothering to know who the characters are is fit only for $1 bargain bin hell, or better still a garbage dump.

Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland – Meruru, Warrior Princess (MoeGamer) — And finally, if my review of Atelier Meruru DX didn’t convince you to buy that game right away, check out Pete’s feature on it. Anyone who thinks video games are lacking in strong but realistically flawed female characters needs to play an Atelier game, because the series is full of them, and Meruru is one such protagonist. (Now I just need to find the time to play Atelier Totori…)

And now for the final month of this cursed year. I have a few more post ideas to work on, and I’d like to finish 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim before the year is up — but no guarantees, since it seems like a very long game with a lot of twists and turns. It’s great so far, though. I also have a few VNs I’m still working through, including a certain newly released kinetic novel about catgirls working in a bakery. What could I possibly be talking about? Maybe you’ll find out soon. Until then!