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.

2019 First Annual EiBfY Game Awards (and a brief site forecast for 2020)

Yes, in yet another first, I’m starting my own very prestigious annual game awards ceremony!  Hell, I have as much right to do that as Geoff Keighley and his stupid Game Awards.  Do I really have any less legitimacy than they do?  (Please don’t answer that question.)

Anyway, here are the awards.  These aren’t based on what came out in 2019 but rather what I played or otherwise experienced in 2019, and also in December of 2018 because that’s really when I revived the site again, so why not.  Congratulations to the winners, who can hopefully take some comfort (or discomfort as the case may be) in their achievements.

Best free game that should be converted into a mobile game if it hasn’t been already

Winner: Cappuchino Spoontforce VI: Girl of the Boiling Fury

In this bizarrely titled game, you have to attend to one Sajiko, a miniature woman taking a bath in a cappuccino by adding coffee to keep the temperature up.  You can add milk and sugar cubes to the coffee to gain points, but they lower its temperature, and if you hit the bathing girl in the face with any of them she’ll get pissed off.  The object of the game is to get as many points as possible before she gets so upset that she leaves the bath (again, she is wearing a towel, so this isn’t 18+ or anything.)

This is a strange concept for a game, but it’s a fun diversion for a few minutes.  Fellow blogger the Otaku Judge suggested down in the comments that this would make for a good mobile game, in fact, and I quite agree.  Never mind that most games will probably devolve into the player giving up on keeping the coffee hot and seeing how many times he can smack Sajiko in the face with sugar cubes/douse her with milk. At least that was my experience with it.  Now that I think of it, maybe this game actually is 18+.  All depends on how you approach it, I guess.

Best game of the year that I already played 15 years ago

Winner: Disgaea 1 Complete

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is an eternal classic, but it was really asking for a remaster, and 15 years after its release it got one.  I was very happy for the chance to play through Disgaea 1 again, complete with all the additions made in its mobile versions on the DS and PSP.  However, it’s hard to deny that aside from the extras and cosmetic upgrades, Disgaea 1 Complete is at its core the same game it was in 2003, which is why it gets this award.  I still highly recommend it to anyone who’s never played the original.  And hell, you can probably find it pretty cheap now, so even if you played the original you may as well get this one as well.  It probably is worth it just to have those extras, especially Etna Mode.

Most effective fourth-wall-breaking

Winner: OneShot

Yeah I was late to the party on this one, I know.  But out of the two fourth-wall-breaking games I played this year, OneShot made the more effective use of the mechanic by making me feel connected to a fictional character in a way few other works ever have.  I think this partly has to do with the game not keeping its central premise a secret.  You know almost from the beginning that Niko, the cat kid protagonist, knows you exist in a different world and that you have some degree of control over his actions and the world around him.  It also really helps that the writer managed to create a child character in Niko who is actually likable and not overly precocious and irritating on one hand or dumb on the other.  I still highly recommend this game to pretty much everyone.

The other fourth-wall-breaking game I played this year was good as well, so it gets an honorable mention, but the title is left out for those who don’t want to be spoiled on its central premise.  Even if everyone already knows its central premise, and they do.  You probably know what game I’m talking about anyway.  Never mind.  On to the next award:

Best game soundtrack that still has some really bad songs on it

Winner: Passion & Pride: Sonic the Hedgehog: Anthems with Attitude from the Sonic Adventure Era

This might be the most “back-handed compliment” award ever made.  Or maybe it’s just a plain insult.  I have pretty fond memories of playing Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 way back in the day on my Dreamcast.  I know they’re not perfect games, but I still like them.

However, the music is a different story.  Some of it’s actually pretty damn good, especially the smooth jazz/pop Rouge and Amy themes that I couldn’t appreciate when I was younger because they were too “girly”.  And a part of me really likes Shadow’s theme, the part that’s still an angsty 13 year-old boy.  (In fact, I think SA2’s angsty as hell song “Supporting Me” is a great boss theme, though it’s not on this album.)  But some of this music is rough to listen to.  I hate Tails’ theme, and Knuckles’ bad rap and Sonic’s bad hair metal throwback music annoy me too.  And the lyrics, even in the songs I like, are generally pretty fucking terrible.  If I didn’t understand English, I think I’d like this album a lot better than I do.

I still like it more than I don’t, though, so congrats to all the composers and musicians, even on the lousy songs.

Best game about telephones

Winner: Strange Telephone

Okay, so this game didn’t have any competition in its category.  However, it still deserves an award for its unique and interesting gameplay and for the creepy, oppressive atmosphere it created.  Not that it’s really a horror game at all — it’s more of a psychological exploration puzzle game.  Strange Telephone barely gives you any hints and throws you into the deep end to let you figure out how to get Jill and her magical flying telephone back to her world, and that’s just the sort of thing I like.  Congratulations to the developer yuuta for making something different that worked.

Best physics

Winner: Senran Kagura Estival Versus

There was only one game I played in 2019 that truly qualified for this prize, and so it won: Senran Kagura Estival Versus is a masterpiece of physics. Lots of bounce in this game, even in the above screen if I could have posted it animated. I suppose I could have made a gif, but that’s too much effort. Just play the game yourself and you can make Yumi and her friends and rivals bounce as much as you want. Unless you’re playing as Mirai, of course. But Mirai brings that “short angry pettanko” appeal that every series needs; see also Cordelia from the Atelier Arland games.

And speaking of angry pettankos, here’s the most important award of all:

Best girl

Winner: Asano Hayase (Our World Is Ended.)

Asano is the most bullied character in a game I played last year or possibly any year.  Not that she’s alone in getting that kind of treatment — most every character in the apocalypse summer sex comedy visual novel Our World Is Ended is made fun of, both by the other characters and by the game itself.  But Asano really gets it bad.  She’s a terrible cook, a tone-deaf musician who thinks everyone loves her singing, and a lousy drunk who responds to the slightest provocation with violence.  She has an almost flat chest, a fact that she can’t help but that she gets made fun of for anyway.  And she has some extremely socially unacceptable interests, to put it politely.  She’s a complete wreck.  She could also be the mascot of this site, because I’m a complete wreck too.  So she gets her deserved recognition today.

(None of that’s counting her many good qualities, which you can discover if you play Our World Is Ended.  I’ll also give honors to Asano’s voice actress Eri Kitamura, a professional singer who had to force herself to sing incredibly badly and also record a bunch of lines spoken in drunk.  I don’t know much of anything about voice acting, but I thought Kitamura did an excellent job, so congrats to her as well.)

***

And that does it for the First Annual Everything is Bad for You Awards.  Will there be a Second Annual next year?  That depends on whether I get a minute away from work to play any games this year.  I certainly hope I do.

And now that we’re done with the big retrospective, we can look forward to 2020.  I never like to make solid plans, but I do have a few projects I’m working on, including two sets of posts about two of my favorite game series, one of which I wrote about above (points if you can guess which one, though I suppose it won’t come as a big surprise when I start it.)  I’m finding I like doing these kinds of deep-dive commentaries, even if they take a god damn eternity to write.  But I do have a few of these epic-length analysis articles mostly written up already in very rough forms, and a few more outlines for others that I think would be interesting.  If you liked my treatment of Kaiji back in November I hope you’ll like these posts as well, because they’re panning out to be just as obsessive as that one was.

Aside from continuing that deep reads series of posts along with maybe a few basic game retrospectives, I don’t have any particular plans, which is my usual approach.  If I get an idea, I’ll try to make a post out of it and hope it’s entertaining, or at least not irredeemably stupid.  Until next time, I hope your return to work from the holidays isn’t too painful (or if you also worked through the holidays, well, I hope you can take a vacation soon.)

Listening/reading log #3 (December 2019)

I know I said I’d be off for the rest of the year, but there’s still one piece of old business for 2019 left to address. So let’s get right to it:

Magic (T-Square, 1981)

Highlights: It’s Magic, Sunshine Sunshine

Quite an album cover, isn’t it?  Pretty magical in my opinion too, at least as far as the subject matter goes.  Magic is an album recorded by Japanese fusion band T-Square, which has existed in various forms from the late 70s up until today.  These guys along with Casiopea were apparently a big part of 80s fusion.

The problem is I don’t seem to like 80s fusion very much, not even the later Casiopea stuff I’ve listened to.  70s fusion, sure, I’m into it.  But 80s fusion might just use way too many cheesy, ridiculous synth tones for my taste.  Some of those are on Magic too, and that might also be part of why I’m not a fan of the instrumentals here.  Half the songs on this album are vocal pieces, however, and I like those.  These feature lyrics in English sung by famous Filipina vocalist Marlene (yeah, just the one name) who I only learned about last week.  Her singing is unbearably cute and uplifting and makes the album opener “It’s Magic” as well as “Sunshine Sunshine”, a song you may be shocked to hear that I really like.  I’m not crazy about the message (which is essentially “don’t mope around, just be happy” — yeah, if only it were that easy) but when I listen to the song, it’s impossible not to imagine Marlene bouncing around a stage while singing the lines “SUNSHINE SUNSHINE IT’S A SUNNY DAY SUNSHINE SUNSHINE LOVE IS HERE TO STAY!” and that does actually make me happy.  So maybe this stupid shit works.  Anyway, Magic is mostly pretty good, and maybe you’ll like it more than I do if you’re not allergic to cheesy 80s synths.

H to He, Who Am the Only One (Van der Graaf Generator, 1970)

Highlights: Killer, House With No Door, Lost

Hey, was I being positive there for a few minutes?  Fuck that!  I know just the cure: some Van der Graaf Generator.  This was an English prog rock band that started back before prog was even really a thing, fronted by excellent singer/crazy lyricist Peter Hammill.  VdGG was pretty uneven in my opinion, but when they were good they were great, and H to He (referring to the solar fusion process — no idea what the rest of the title means) is one of their best albums.  This is dark, bitter, sad artsy rock featuring Hammill singing what sound like a lot of very personal words over a saxophone/organ-dominated background.

Which you might not think you’d be especially into depending on your tastes, but the songs here are really good.  “Killer” is energetic and catchy and has a monster riff that I love, and “House With No Door” is a ballad sung by Hammill sounding like he just had his heart torn out.  My favorite is “Lost”, though.  It meanders like crazy through its 11 minute run time and bizarre time/key signature changes, all classic prog-style, but it works because the whole song is about a guy who’s lost his love and is wandering in the same fashion.  Nothing pretentious here, it’s really just a love song.  Check it out!

So it’s only two albums I’m putting up for your consideration this time, but I hope the contrast between them is enough to cover pretty much everyone’s tastes.  If it isn’t, try out some of the following excellent pieces by my fellow blog writers.

Shadows of Mass Destruction.  The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 2-Gameplay — Aether dives deep into Persona 3 in his continuing retrospective series on the game.  If you like the Megami Tensei content I post here (what’s that, about two-thirds of my site?) you should follow Lost to the Aether as well for some great in-depth analysis.

Humanity Has Declined: Nameless Adventures With Incalculable Entities — Scott of Mechanical Anime Reviews writes about the uniquely weird anime series Humanity Has Declined and why it’s worth watching.  I liked the show a whole lot, and Scott captures the essence of it very well.

Editorial: Supporting the Little Guys — Professional and semi-pro game journalism sites are largely copy-and-paste clickbait outrage factories, and Pete Davison of MoeGamer takes on some of the problems this causes in this piece.

[GAME REVIEW] Mega Man 2 — Red Metal of Extra Life reviews one of the best NES games in such a thorough way that I don’t think there’s anything else to say about it.

Chapter 754: Hachinohe Station Giant Lanterns and History Museum — If you have any interest in traveling to Japan, or traveling anywhere for that matter, be sure to follow The Flying Tofu, now on part 754 of her travels through Japan and other lands.  I can’t go anywhere at the moment or anytime in the near future, so I like to read a few travel blogs instead, and this is one of them.

And that’s it once again.  A preemptive happy new year to everyone — doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a great year coming up in general, but we’ll see.  The last few years have turned me into a real fatalist, both as far as my personal life and public/world events have gone. But what the hell.  There’s not much ordinary people like us can do (assuming you’re ordinary too, dear reader — if you’re extraordinary, can you please do something about all this shit?)

Anyway, if all else fails, just remember this: no matter how much things might suck, nothing is forever.  That’s what I tell myself, anyway.  Until next time!

Plans for the new year

I don’t usually make these kinds of posts, but I wanted to wish my readers a happy new year and to put forward a few of my plans and intentions for 2019.  Not massively vague resolutions that will be dropped within two weeks, but actual, viable plans.

1) Get through the stack of music I was planning to review.  The new year means a return to work, and a return to horrible downtown commutes, and an opportunity to listen to all the new albums I’ve got (and some old ones I’ve had lying around unlistened to.)

2) Post on a more regular basis.  Not every day or necessarily even every week, but no two-to-three-month hiatuses anymore.  I won’t pull a Spoony on you (in fact, I couldn’t, because Spoony skipped out on patrons who were giving him $5,000 a month to produce content and I don’t make a god damn penny off of this site.  Which is fine with me – it’s not my day job or even my night job.  But I won’t leave it behind, all the same.)

3) Try to shift from a constantly negative attitude to a cautiously positive one.  My disposition was never anywhere close to cheery and it never will be, but I’m tired of feeling miserable all the time.  Depression feeds itself, and its appetite grows by what it feeds on.  I’m determined to get out of my hole somehow.  Maybe a little less drinking is in order.

4) Try to affect some kind of positive change in society this year.  That’s something we can all do.  My tendency is to shut myself off, to reject and deny other people.  But that approach clearly hasn’t served me at all.  It’s not like I really want to be that way, but it’s hard to avoid sometimes.  This goal goes hand in hand with #3.

However, I promise not to compromise on my sincerely held beliefs.

In the meantime, all my best wishes for a good new year.  I can only speak for how it is in the United States, but people here seem to be optimistic despite everything that’s happened last year – and despite the sorry state of our leadership.  The only thing to do is push forward.  Let’s all do our part, no matter where we are.

New year’s resolution: Finish Disgaea D2 before the year ends

I’m five years behind everyone else. After the PS4 was released, I decided it was finally time to get a PS3. I don’t have a whole lot of money to spend on games – the greatest part of it has to go to my education, food, rent, etc. Whatever games I buy I buy with a part of the writing income I make. Which isn’t all that much.

But I decided I had to have a PS3. One of the reasons for this decision was Disgaea D2, the direct sequel to 2003’s Disgaea: Hour of Darkness.

Disgaea-D2-1

I’ve played about 10 hours of D2 so far. Since I’m on vacation right now, I finally have some time away to play games, read books (that I want to read – i.e. not cases and treatises) and play music. This isn’t a review because I haven’t actually gotten anywhere near finishing D2 yet, but I can say that I haven’t regretted using my scant downtime to play this thing. Part of it is the great cast – Laharl, Etna and Flonne return with all their wacky antics etc. There are some new characters as well, most notably Laharl’s little sister, who may or may not be lying about the fact that she’s his little sister. She wants to take his place as Overlord, you see.

It sure is, Flonne.

It sure is, Flonne.

Notice the new HD sprites – D2 looks great, especially when compared to Disgaea 3, released just a few years ago on the same system.

The gameplay seems to be the same as always – grind-based SRPG action, crazy special abilities, a massively addictive Item World to play in and so on. Everything is here. I’d say it’s more of the same – the Polygon review gives D2 a low rating for this very reason (along with the fact that it has “over-the-top characters” and “eye-rolling jokes” – yeah, this is a Disgaea game; of course it’s got those. What did you expect, dear Polygon reviewer?)

But I heartily disagree with the Polygon review so far. Maybe I just enjoy more of the same. Maybe I enjoy it as long as it’s NIS producing the same high-quality, high-entertainment work they always have. Or maybe I’m just a fanboy (this is probably the truest statement in this post.) If you’re also an NIS fanboy too (or fangirl – I know at least a few of you exist) you probably already have this game, so I don’t actually need to do any convincing here, do I? Anyway, this is a new year’s resolution that I might really keep.