Games for broke people, government shutdown edition (1/6/19)

It’s been a while since I posted one of these – in fact, it’s been two and a half years.  But what better time to download a couple of free games from Steam and see whether they provide enough entertainment to be worth a download?  Especially now that hundreds of thousands of U.S. federal employees are stuck at home without a paycheck.  I’ll do my part during this national crisis and take a look at two free games that even the brokest of the broke can play, assuming they can still at least meet the electric and internet bills.

Rolling Bird

 

Released last week by a man (or woman, or company – not sure which) named Hijong Park, Rolling Bird is supposed to be a takeoff on Rolling Thunder, an arcade game from 1986.  It sure as hell looks like an old 8-bit title.  It’s pretty decent for a free game, though.  You play as cyan man, who has to defeat enemies in each stage that include yellow man and pink man (pictured right, after they killed the player character.)  You have the ability to crouch and jump onto high platforms, you start with a pistol, and better guns are available to you as you progress, but Rolling Bird is merciless if your reflexes fail – you can only take a few hits before you’re dead, and the game revels in dumping enemies onto you who will punch, shoot, and throw grenades at you until you expire.  I suck at games like this, so I didn’t get very far.  If you enjoy this sort of challenge, though, Rolling Bird is worth a try.

Hijong Park’s grasp of English apparently isn’t that great, but the game is straightforward enough that it doesn’t matter.  I should mention that the soundtrack is composed of a bunch of synth farts, though.  Might be a good idea to mute the game and put on some Motorhead instead.

Gamma Bros.

Another game inspired by the 80s, but this time it’s a twin-stick shooter made by the prolific PixelJam.  I’m also bad at these kinds of games.  But any frustration I had with Gamma Bros. was entirely my fault, because it’s a well-made game featuring several different kinds of enemies and powerups.  Naturally I can’t prevent my own stupid ass from running into enemy ships and taking damage, but at least the game provides you with two brothers to control in case one is put out of commission.  I do have an issue with the game’s premise, though – according to Gamma Bros., the player characters work on a space station around Jupiter but go home to Earth at the end of the day.  Holy hell is that a ridiculous commute.  This game should take a few years to play one round, shouldn’t it?  Maybe they’re moving at light speed.  Anyway, it makes me feel better about my own commute, which is shitty but at least doesn’t involve fighting alien ships.

Apparently Gamma Bros. is over ten years old and used to be a web browser game.  Somehow I never came across it – not until now.  It’s fun, so try it out.  And it features three difficulty modes including easy mode, a real plus for people like me who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

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Disgaea revisited: A review of Disgaea 1 Complete

Well shit. I should write at least one review of a game I played this year before it ends. So here you go: Disgaea 1 Complete for the PS4.

Yes, Disgaea is back on the PS4 (and the Switch, which I don’t own yet much to my chagrin.) I wrote about the 2003 original a few years back, and being a big Disgaea fan I had to check out this remake. The first Disgaea game lacks all the frills and bells and whistles of its sequels, but it still has the best cast and the best story out of all of them. It introduces the Netherworld, an underworld ruled until recently by the late King Krichevskoy, and now under the (sort-of) control of his young son, the demon prince Laharl. Laharl spends the game trying to consolidate his control with the help of his vassal the backstabby, mischievous demon girl Etna and her squad of press-ganged Prinnies, penguin-like creatures who are inhabited by the souls of sinful deceased humans. Meanwhile, Laharl has to dodge assassination attempts by would-be usurpers (and by the innocent angel girl/assassin Flonne, the third main character in the cast.)

If you’ve played Disgaea, you already know more or less what this game is like: isometric tactical RPG action, a plot with a lot of weird humor and references to sci-fi series like Buck Rogers and Super Sentai (or Power Rangers if you’re a westerner.) And a lot of power-grinding. You don’t really have to grind to beat the game proper and get one of the several endings, but everyone who’s played any of the Disgaea games knows that the real meat is in the post-game – the Item World and the unlockable extra bosses that require stupid amounts of grinding. I no longer have time to perform stupid amounts of grinding, working in the field I do, but thankfully there are ways to efficiently power-grind if you want to beat all the optional post-game bosses.  If I want to beat level 4,000 Tyrant Overlord Baal, it’s still going to be a month or two.  I might pass on it this time.

Leading ladies Flonne and Etna. The character portraits in D1 Complete were mostly preserved from the original game, and they look good in HD.

Is there anything special about Disgaea 1 Complete, aside from its being in HD? Sure – if you haven’t played the PSP or DS versions of the game, at least. Extras from the PSP’s Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness and Disgaea DS are included in this remake, meaning you can play the game with Etna as the protagonist instead of Laharl in Etna mode, recruit Pleinair, the ultra-powerful demon girl who hangs around as a silent NPC in every Disgaea game, and fight new extra bosses like Adell and Rozalin, the hero and heroine of Disgaea 2. Also notable are the new designs of certain classes to line up with their counterparts in newer Disgaea games. The original Disgaea: Hour of Darkness featured some character designs that had already been completely redone by Disgaea 2, and as a result the Mage, Skull, and Archer units have received an update. The most extreme change in the cosmetic category is the Clergy, a male healer unit – he was already androgynous in his original form, but now he’s gone full trap, pigtails and all. I guess NIS is trying to appeal to a certain demographic who’s into that sort of thing.

Aside from extras and cosmetic differences, though, there doesn’t seem to be anything new in Disgaea 1 Complete.  The Item World (a randomized dungeon that lets you level up items and equipment) is still its old bare-bones self, lacking all the new features that would be added in later titles.  No new classes, either, apparently.  There’s nothing wrong with that – it just means that if you’ve played the original and at least one of the handheld ports, D1C doesn’t add much aside from a new coat of paint, and that’s something to consider if you can only buy one game this month/season.

The D1C Item World. Occasionally you get a ridiculously easy level like this one, just like in the original Disgaea.

If you’re a big NIS/Disgaea fanatic like I am, Disgaea 1 Complete is probably worth getting, if only to relive a true classic 15 years later.  If you’ve never played the PS2 Disgaea or either of its handheld ports, however, D1C gets an unconditional recommendation.  This really is the definitive version of Disgaea, and it’s still a great game 15 years on, even after the release of Disgaea 5 a few years ago.  It might lack all those bells and whistles, but it’s worth the time you’ll put into it.  Unless you decide to go after Tyrant Overlord Baal.  That’s on you.

Rating: 7 if this is your first go-around in Disgaea 1, 5 if it isn’t.

Oh yeah, Merry Christmas.  I hope nobody got too drunk and went on a political rant at your Christmas office party or dinner.  That’s why I always limit my drinking around family and work colleagues.

(My) top five most nostalgic video game tracks

For those of you who were wondering, I’m still alive (I know one of my recent posts might have put that into question.) Since I quit my last job, I’ve been working as a contractor, which a lot of people don’t realize is something a lawyer can do. I’ve been told this work will be a black mark on my resume, but I don’t care. I’m not that suicidally depressed anymore, and I’m making just as much money as I was making before. What the hell is wrong with that?

Since I’ve been driving around a lot, that time mostly spent sitting in big city rush hour traffic, I’ve also had time to listen to a lot of new music. And since I attended a con last month and bought a stack of imported albums, this arrangement has worked out nicely for me. I’ll be writing some posts about the albums I picked up and why you might or might not want to check them out yourself, but first I’d like to share a list of video game BGM tracks that hold a lot of nostalgic power for me. These aren’t my favorite game tracks ever, but rather those that take me back to a simpler time when I was still pretty miserable, but in a different way than I am now.

1) Phantasy Star Online – Image of Hero

Anyone who played the Dreamcast MMORPG Phantasy Star Online has this song permanently stored in his head like I do. It’s one of my favorite character creation menu themes ever (or at least one of the few I remember, which says a lot in itself.) The soundtrack to PSO is an all-around great one, especially for the level of pure atmosphere it adds to the game’s environments.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: The first character I made while hearing this song for the first time was a FOnewearl (basically PSO-speak for a female elf mage) because I thought she was cute. Turns out she was perhaps one of the hardest characters to figure out how to use, so I switched over to the boring default HUmar. The FOnewearl is still cute, though. Especially in PSO2, which I can’t fucking play because it’s all in Japanese and you have to run it through a Japanese proxy and I can’t figure that shit out.

hella cute

2) OutRun – Magical Sound Shower

I’ve written about the OutRun BGM before, but this particular piece packs the biggest nostalgic punch for me, maybe because it’s the default track that plays when you start a race. The other two racing tracks on the BGM are just as good, though. There’s something about the Genesis sound chip that gives the best music made with it this classic 90s feel. There’s also plenty of really godawful shitty Genesis songs that are trying to be funk and failing miserably for some reason.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: A vocal version of “Magical Sound Shower” was included in the PS4 rhythm game Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone sung by Miku herself. SEGA owns both properties, so they presumably didn’t have to pay for the rights. Here’s to saving money on licensing fees.

3) Final Fantasy VII – Still More Fighting

Final Fantasy VII is not my favorite game ever. It’s not even in my top ten or top twenty. It’s a good game, but it’s not the best FF title, and it’s definitely overrated. But I still listen to FF7’s soundtrack. Uematsu is a damn genius, and watching my older cousin play this game on Christmas 1997 was the first I heard his work. I have a special love for this track, basically the game’s midboss theme. Sounds extremely early 70s proggy, somewhat like Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I’d say that Final Fantasy music even played a part in getting me into 70s prog and fusion in high school. Yeah, I was a pretty popular kid.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: Cloud’s Buster Sword is stupid and impractical but it’s still cool.

4) Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Chemical Plant Zone

I’ve written about this song in particular before, but I’m doing it again. The classic Genesis Sonic games (1, 2, 3&K – Sonic Spinball is a mediocre mess with a bad-to-middling soundtrack) will always hold a special place in my heart.* These are some of the first video games I ever really played in a meaningful way, exploring levels and finding ways to exploit the mechanics. Each game also has fantastic background music. The BGM for Sonic 1 and 2 was written by Masato Nakamura, songwriter for Dreams Come True, a Japanese pop/rock band, and he clearly put a lot of work into projects that might have been otherwise dismissed as music for some dumb kid’s games. “Chemical Plant Zone” is maybe the piece of his that’s most ingrained in my mind.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: Michael Jackson did not write this song, in case you didn’t read the above paragraph. Mike is rumored to have written some of the Sonic 3 soundtrack, though.

EXTRA BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: The background to Chemical Plant Zone is used in the intro of Red Letter Media’s parodic “Nerd Crew” Youtube videos. It also makes for a good wallpaper, courtesy of this guy on Reddit:

Is this vaporwave? I can’t tell anymore

5) Grandia II – A Deus

This last entry is a little different from the rest in that it’s a vocal piece. The limited technology of the late 80s/early 90s consoles wouldn’t have allowed for this kind of track in a game, but the Dreamcast did. This piece is very closely tied to the plot and characters of Grandia II, a god damn classic that I reviewed here – it’s a hymn sung by Elena, one of the game’s central cast. In fact, it’s player character Ryudo’s first introduction to Elena, which turns out to be a real “jaded sarcastic bounty hunter meets bright-eyed innocent girl” kind of situation. The lyrics of “A Deus” are in Portuguese, which from what I understand is mangled pretty badly by the Japanese singer. But she still has a beautiful voice, and it’s still a beautiful song.

Later on in the game, this happens. I don’t remember the context.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: I miss my Dreamcast.

* Specifically the left ventricle.

Politics, video games, and “nerd culture”

A while ago, I read an article published by Vice. This article titled “I Watched ‘The Simpsons’ for the First Time Ever and I Couldn’t Stand It” was written by one Nicole Clark, a self-proclaimed millennial who takes great offense at several classic Simpsons episodes produced over 20 years ago for not being sufficiently politically correct.

This character is meant to be taken seriously as a role model and a hero, not as a satirical criticism of middle class American society

I won’t get into how badly Miss Clark misses the point of The Simpsons, or how many times she comes off like an alien who doesn’t understand the concept of satire or of humor in general. Others picked apart her arguments well enough already months ago; there’s no need for me to pile on. What I want to address is rather her use of shaming as a technique to make you, the reader, feel bad for enjoying something she does not. At the end of the article, as though she were anticipating this, Clark writes “[i]f you love The Simpsons and the show is special to you, that’s great,” but this statement is overshadowed by the subtitle of the article and by the priggish tone of it in general. “How did you people put up with Homer’s nastiness for so long?” She asks. How could you? Get on my level of wokeness.

Criticism is well and good, but this is a step beyond mere criticism of the work – it is an attack on the fans of the work.  Such attacks are becoming more and more common in pieces about video games written by contributors to big-name sites like Polygon and Kotaku, especially with regard to the writer’s perception of the game’s treatment of female characters. (Let’s not even mention Cracked, which you can visit to learn, on a nearly daily basis, 5 Reasons Why [fill in title of popular video game/movie/TV show] is Sexist and Why You’re a Sexist for Enjoying It.) And the weapon used by the writer to attack the fan is shame. It is absolutely shameful that such a game would be released here.  Shameful that you would enjoy such a disgusting, awful work.  It’s a bad game, and by extension, you’re a bad person for enjoying it. I’m a millennial just like Miss Clark, and I find this sort of church lady attitude being expressed by a lot of people in my generation.

This September is All Gifs Month here on the site

Friends, family, and readers alike know that I am absolutely not a fan of President Donald Trump. The guy is an incompetent shithead if his performance over the last 20 months is any indication, and as an American citizen living in the US and being directly affected by his bullshit I am not happy about it. After Mr. Trump won the election, I looked into getting involved in active political opposition, but two things stopped me. The first was the fact that I had a government job at the time that prevented me from taking a partisan stance in public. The second was some of the batshit insanity being spewed forth from the American left. While I agree with many of the left’s policy goals*, I just can’t bring myself to join them as a card-carrying member because I hate their insistence upon total political and cultural orthodoxy. And because I do not believe that artists should be shamed into silence or self-censorship just because their creations might hurt some people’s feelings, or because it’s controversial in the “wrong way.”

It greatly concerns me to see left-wing priggishness and self-righteousness seeping into what was once a safe haven for misfits like me. This transformation might even be having an effect on games and media imported from Japan, where this movement doesn’t seem to exist at all – games end up arriving Stateside with objectionable content censored or cut out entirely. This is nothing new, but conservative religious and parents’ groups used to be the driving force behind the censorship. Now the politically opposite social justice warriors can join the censorship party. The result is a modern “nerd culture” with all the sharp edges sanded down, all the rough bits smoothed out. It’s pleasant and inoffensive and doesn’t require a lot of critical thought. It’s walls of Funko Pop figures and old episodes of The Big Bang Theory. In the end, it can’t be called anything other than corporate. Any art, any expression too weird, too dangerous, has to be buried – that sort of stuff isn’t good for business, because it makes that lucrative “nerd culture” look too bizarre to be marketable.

So what’s to be done? Most big publishers are going to play it safe by succumbing to loud-mouthed interest groups on the left and right and keeping anything too controversial out of their games. We can only rely upon those publishers willing to take chances, as well as the still sort-of-underground independent game development community, which is all about taking chances. There are quite a few games I’m looking forward to from indie developers like Yuppie Psycho and YIIK. The left- and right-wing self-appointed content police will always exist, and they’ll always be trying to ruin other people’s fun to make themselves feel superior, but I’m optimistic about the future of video and PC games because I know that true creativity can never be stifled – not completely. 𒀭

* I’ve never gone into much depth about my political views here, but now that my country is standing on the precipice of utter fucking insanity this seems as good a time as any. I believe in closing corporate tax loopholes, increasing spending on healthcare and public education, maintaining and improving environmental regulation, and maintaining the wall of separation between church and state. All of these are center-left to left domestic policy platforms in the US. The left wing of the Democratic Party that intersects with the fringe Democratic Socialist party is also the only political wing in the US that expresses any support at all for the Palestinian cause, which is something I care about deeply. I just have a problem with the attitudes that many leftists in the US express about art and expression and with their holier-than-thou attitude in general. They value art for its political and social value – hell, I do too – but they also view art for art’s sake as suspicious, as self-indulgent. If you’re not using your art to make a positive political or social statement, it’s implied, you’re part of the problem. In a broader sense, they see any sort of compromise as a betrayal, and they seem to always be looking for something to be offended by – as if our current president doesn’t give them enough material. These sorts of attitudes are part of what separates liberals from socialists – and what separates democrats from authoritarians, both on the left and the right.

Everything is bad for you

It’s mid-August, which means it’s time for my quarterly post. I was originally going to write about the new artbook I bought – Shigenori Soejima & P-Studio Art Unit: Art Works 2010-2017, featuring the art of Persona character designer Shigenori Soejima. I was going to tell you about how it’s filled with beautiful pieces of art and sketches of characters from Persona 3Persona 4Persona 5, from their various spinoffs, and from other Atlus titles like Catherine. About how it features interviews with Soejima and other members of the P-Studio art team that I can barely read because they’re all in Japanese, and about how I’ll probably buy the English version if this book is ever translated and have a redundant copy on my shelf.  And about how even though I love the book’s cover, I thought the decision to print its title in silver was pretty stupid, because the color blends in with Futaba’s white and silver shirt.  (Fortunately, the text is printed not on the cover itself but rather on the dust jacket, which is transparent.  Still looks weird.)

Somewhere along the way, I ran off course. I started thinking about the purpose of this site. I started Everything is bad for you (a name I probably came up with while I was either drunk or sleep-deprived, because I can’t explain the reasoning behind it at all now) five years ago, just before entering law school. I had no real direction in my life – I was attending law school because I managed to get into a pretty good school, and to attend it fairly cheaply, and because it seemed like a thing to do. Two years into the profession at this point, I’m just about where I began. I still have no direction. There’s nothing I really want that I can realistically get from either my personal or professional lives, and when you’re working hard in a life that you don’t care about it becomes difficult to even get out of bed in the morning. I don’t have a family to support yet, but soon enough, I’ll have my relatives trying to fix me up with someone, since my relatives are undoubtedly already wondering about me (imagine whatever you’d like about what they’re wondering, but it’s not hard to guess.) Of course, I could tell them all to fuck off, but then I’d become completely isolated from almost all of my family. Something in me won’t allow that. So I get to go on living a life that I don’t enjoy – and not only do I have to keep living it, but I have to look like I’m enjoying it. It’s not easy to put on that act every day.

Those of you who are still reading this mess of complaints might have no idea what I’m talking about. Or you might think I’m just whining about “first-world problems” and feel that I’m simply ungrateful for what I have. So much the better for you if you don’t understand what I’m saying. To be very honest, I’m not writing for you and I never will. I’m writing for the other kind of person – the kind who feels like an outsider, the way I always have. I’m writing for the kind of person who looks at the prospects of living a conventional life and feels sick, but who has no other choice.

So why this site? It’s an escape. Just like playing video games, or reading novels, or buying artbooks, or drinking whiskey or gin after dinner, probably to excess. Each of these are ways for me to escape not only from the present but also from the future, and I probably don’t need to tell you how futile that is.  Since I’m already being honest, I will admit that I’ve had suicidal thoughts throughout my adult life – thoughts I’ve thankfully never acted on, and at this point that I most likely never will act on.  These thoughts are usually not at the front of my mind, but every so often they emerge.

Tonight is the beginning of Eid Al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice.  The closest western parallel I can think of to this holiday is Thanksgiving with a religious dimension – this Eid mainly involves having a feast with family and giving charity.  It’s a day to be grateful for what you have.  So why can’t I feel that way?

Two pages from Soejima Art Works 2010-2017. Miku is technically a Persona character because she was featured in DLC for Persona 4: Dancing All Night, which is a pretty good game for a fanservice-filled spinoff.

I never wanted to make a personal post on this site, but it seems that in the end I couldn’t avoid it.  I don’t know how I’ll face a future that I don’t really want.  The only thing I know for sure is that I’ll keep writing.  I thought about quitting this site entirely, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  As long as my writing connects with someone, it will be worth the effort, and it will keep me going through this vale of tears that we call life.  I might even try some fiction soon, though it will probably turn out to be lousy hackwork.

Sorry for being so dramatic.  Shigenori Soejima & P-Studio Art Unit: Art Works 2010-2017 is a good artbook, and you should buy it.  Still pretty cheap on Amazon and weeb-centric marketplaces like Tokyo Otaku Mode.  Feel free to leave your thoughts below if you decide to go for it.  God willing, I’ll stick around and keep writing here and on my other site that I’ve been neglecting.  I’ll try not to make it another two-month break.  In the meantime, no matter what your religious beliefs are or whether you have any, I wish you a happy Eid and hope the rest of the year goes your way.

Edit (8/26/18): Thought about taking this post down, but I decided I won’t.  Even if it is self-indulgent or looks like it’s fishing for sympathy.  I know there are other people out there, espcially people in our hobby/subculture/whatever, who carry around a lot of bitterness or just plain apathy about the world and their place in it and who have a hard time finding meaning in living a life that feels predetermined.  Sorry for bringing the mood down with this one, but I was in an especially bad place mentally when I wrote it.  I’ll be my usual cheery self next post.

 

First impressions of Strange Journey Redux (and minor spoilers)

Apologies again for the long break. My life as a lawyer is so thoroughly soul-draining that it is hard to find the motivation to make an effort at anything else. Thanks to Atlus, I can at least find an escape into an apocalyptic hellscape with the recently released 3DS game Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux, a remake of the infamously difficult 2010 DS title Strange Journey. Three dungeons in, I can say that I’m enjoying it so far – for the most part. Strange Journey Redux is a mainline Shin Megami Tensei game that plays as you would expect. You fight and recruit demons while trying to either save humanity, follow God/YHVH and create a world of light, or join Lucifer and plunge the world into chaos. (This is not a spoiler – it’s the plot of every SMT game.) Strange Journey and Redux both differ from other SMT games in that they take place in Antarctica with a cast of space marines rather than in Tokyo with a cast of students (or knights/samurai in SMT4.) SJ is also much more of a dungeon crawler than the other SMTs – the lower screen of the DS/3DS is dedicated to the map, which is filled in as you explore.

Redux features a new coat of paint and a bunch of extras – voice acting, improved graphics, new demons to fight and fuse, a few anime cutscenes, some DLC that isn’t worth buying. All that stuff (aside from the DLC) is great. What isn’t so great, at least so far, is the new character Alex, a young woman in a red coat who drops in on your player character and murders him. She is pretty aggravating. Not very interesting either, if she’s supposed to be what I think, which is a Sarah Connor type-“I have to kill these people to save the future” girl. Bleh.

The main character is revived in the Womb of Grief, a Labyrinth of Amala-style optional (I think) dungeon, by Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest and fertility. Why they decided to design a fertility goddess as a little kid is beyond me.  Someone should ask new character designer Masayuki Doi.

Anyway, Strange Journey Redux is good so far.  I hope I’ll survive my job long enough to finish it.