Seven years on

It’s been seven years since I started this blog. When I first created it in 2013, I didn’t have any plans beyond writing about games I liked and a few places I’d been to and complaining about everything else I hated. As I’ve written before, it was a way for me to manage things while returning to school and a rigorous and stressful program of study.

Sometimes I think, if I had millions of dollars and didn’t have to work or stress over other issues, I’d play games, watch anime, listen to music, and write all day. But I wonder if I’d even bother writing under those circumstances. I probably would, just because that’s something I like doing. But it wouldn’t be the same, because beyond just being a hobbyist sort of thing, this site is also a way for me to cope with bitter reality. It’s part of the escape I need from life — that’s the reason for the site’s tagline.

For its first five years, though, I didn’t make much of an effort to connect with fellow writers here on WordPress. I didn’t even really know about the loose-knit communities of video game and anime fans here. It was only after leaving a lousy job and improving my situation that I had a little more time to sit around and explore the platform relatively free of worries. I’m grateful for that opportunity, because finding and connecting with other writers and fans has given this project new life. To everyone who follows my site, leaves comments, or even just reads what I write on occasion, I want to say thanks. It may not seem like much, but all that continues to make a big difference in my life, and all for the better.

And always remember Flonne’s words: friendship power beats anything. Even shark dragon monsters.

So what’s next for the site? I haven’t made an update post in a while, but nothing much is changing here. I plan to continue writing reviews, commentaries, opinion pieces, the usual stuff. I will probably be putting more of an emphasis on anime and visual novels for the rest of the year, since those are more of what I’ve been taking in lately, but I won’t be abandoning traditional video and PC games.

In fact, I was planning to make another “here’s my backlog” post, but it seems like every time I make such a post I curse myself never to actually finish the games I list. If you’re really curious, following me on Twitter is a good way of finding out some of what I might be playing and watching, because I’ll post about it sometimes (without spoilers, of course, so don’t worry — I’m not that kind of jerk.)

In the meantime, best of luck and health to everyone, and I’ll write again very soon.

Two new artbook reviews (and an announcement)

I went to an anime con recently and came back weighed down with a few new artbooks. These are my only real vice as far as buying things I don’t technically need to live. However, I would argue that having these increases the quality of my life in a real way — reading through them and seeing the art inside, alongside a cup of coffee or strong tea, makes me feel better and helps calm me down after a stressful day at work. I used to use whiskey for that instead. I’d say making that change was worth dropping some money on.

So I thought why not briefly review these books for the benefit of the interested reader? You might see something you like here. If you’ve been following my site for a while, the books I chose to buy will come as absolutely no surprise to you.  I do want to apologize for the shitty, awful-looking glare in a few of these photos though; I don’t have anything like a professional setup here, but I hope these give you an idea of what’s in the books anyway.

Finally, I’ve got a massively important (well, to me anyway) announcement to make that you can skip down to right away if you don’t care about the artbook stuff.

Shigenori Soejima Art Works 2004-2010

I’ve been looking for an affordable copy of this artbook for years now, and I finally have it. The Japanese version was originally published several years ago, but it must have gone out of print for a while because I never could track down a copy under 80 dollars or so, shipping included. Even after I managed to get Shigenori Soejima’s second artbook, 2010-2017, on Amazon for a deal, this one eluded me. Thankfully, both this and 2010-2017 have gotten full translations and are now being sold at cons and on Amazon and eBay for prices that won’t give you a stomachache thinking about how you’ll pay the electric bill this month. This book is full of great artwork by Soejima, character designer and chief artist of the modern Persona games. Most of the pieces here are of Persona 3 and Persona 4 characters — if you want Persona 5 or Catherine art, you’ll naturally have to spring for 2010-2017.  There’s also an interesting interview with Soejima in the back of the book dealing with his history, his general approach to art, and the unusually detailed cover art of Aigis. I wish more artbooks had interviews like this one.

Side-by-side comparison of the first volume English and second volume Japanese Soejima books.

The only real complaint I have about this book is that it lacks both the dust jacket and the additional protective clear cover that the Japanese version has. Above you can see the difference between the English version of the first volume and the Japanese version of the second, which is modeled after the first. Not sure why we get short-changed like this, but maybe such cost-cutting measures are necessary to sell these books in the West at a profit. At least I can read the interview in the English version, which is nice, but if you can read Japanese I’d consider buying that version unless there’s a big price difference between the two.

DISGAEArt!!! Disgaea Official Illustration Collection

I’ve seen this book around for a long time, but until finding it at the con and reading through it, I avoided it out of a fear that it would be duplicative of the two Takehito Harada Art Works volumes I already own. While there is some overlap — probably unavoidable considering how much material is in those books — there’s also work in this volume you won’t find in those. As the name suggests, DISGAEArt is full of promotional and character art from the series, covering Disgaea 1 through Disgaea 4. There is a separate artbook dedicated to Disgaea 5 that I want to get, but it will have to wait for a while.

A Mage being a real asshole to some Prinnies. What’s her problem, anyway?

This book is a bit smaller than most other artbooks, more the size of a typical doujin work, but it’s also priced a bit lower than those oversized artbooks — I got mine for less than 30 dollars. Not a bad deal for an import. And no, there’s no English version of DISGAEArt as far as I can tell, but there’s so little text in it that it doesn’t make much of a difference unless you really need to be able to read the index in the back listing the source of every illustration.

If you’re a fan of Harada or Disgaea in general, this is a good book to look out for.  I do still like the two separate, larger Harada Art Works books better, especially Vol. 1, which got an English translation a while back.  However, they’re long out of print, and even the newer English version of Vol. 1 is selling in very good/like new condition for around 75-85 dollars as of this writing, whereas you can get DISGAEArt for less than half that price.  An easy choice to make if you’re concerned with money, which most of us are.

***

That’s it for the artbooks.  But I did promise an announcement, didn’t I?  It’s one of those good news/bad news deals.  I don’t know whether anyone will actually care enough about any of this to be that emotionally affected by it, but I’ll start with the bad news anyway: I’m dropping the Seasonal Anime Draft stuff I was working on.  I just don’t have the time to keep up with running series that may or may not turn out to be any good.  Sorry about that.  But if you want to follow bloggers who write great beat-by-beat reviews of currently airing shows and/or weekly review posts, check out Irina at I drink and watch anime, Cactus Matt at Anime QandA, Scott at Mechanical Anime Reviews, and Jiraiyan at Otaku Orbit.

Now for the good news.  I’ve said for years that I need to learn Japanese, this language that’s in so much of the media I consume in some form or another.  Well, I’m doing it.  I recently learned that I can make a lot more in my current field if I qualify as fluent in Japanese, in part because so few American attorneys (or Americans in general, I guess) know the language.  And of course, if I learn to read Japanese fluently, I can play Japanese games without having to wait forever for ports or worry that we won’t even get a port.  I’ll also be able to read the text in all these god damn artbooks I own that aren’t translated.  I can be a king among weebs, most of whom don’t seem to know Japanese probably because it’s so damn different from English or their own native languages.

I might also be doing it to understand all those kanji-based jokes I’ve seen

Yeah, learning Japanese is a big project.  Thankfully, I already have some basic knowledge: I know my hiragana and katakana, about a hundred kanji, and some very basic vocabulary and grammar.  It will still take a hell of a long time, but I think of it this way: if I’d started studying Japanese the day I started this blog, I probably would have been fluent three years ago. Even the difference from English seems like more of an advantage than a disadvantage to me.  Over the years I’ve taken Spanish and German, and while I’ve kept bits of those languages, for all the classes I took in school I’m nowhere near fluent or even conversational.  I think part of the reason I had issues with those was that my brain didn’t easily separate them from English — after all, English is a Germanic language with Romance elements in it, and so it has some basic similarities with Spanish and a whole lot with German.  Japanese, however, is such an entirely different language system that my brain says “hey, this is different!” making it easier to set aside in its own compartment if that makes any sense.

So fuck it — I’m going for it.  I suppose this is what I’m doing now instead of watching currently airing anime, but I’m willing to make that change to learn the language.  However, I’ll still be posting here on a regular basis, so don’t worry about that.  The deep reads posts and the occasional reviews will still be coming along with whatever angry rants and caffeine-fueled late night legal analysis I happen to think up.  In fact, I might try to find a way to incorporate my Japanese-learning odyssey into the blog, especially if anyone’s interested in taking the plunge and learning along with me.

Deep reads #0: Preface

Yes, it’s yet another new feature here on the site. This time, though, the idea behind it is very broad — it’s just going to be me writing about certain themes and concepts present in games and anime series and other forms of entertainment I like.  This gives me the opportunity to cover both works that I’ve written about before in greater detail and sharper focus and works that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.  I’ll be lumping most of these posts into sub-series sorted by theme that might run anywhere from 2 to 4 or 5 posts.  I hope this whole series/sub-series setup doesn’t get too tangled up or confusing.

Hell, the title I’ve chosen for the feature is already confusing enough.  I went with “deep reads” because I’m covering these works in greater depth than I normally would in a basic review and because every other title I thought of was too clunky, but the “reads” part doesn’t make much sense because I probably won’t be covering any books.  I do a mind-numbing amount of reading at work anyway.  Someone else can write theses about profound works of literature; I’m sticking to weeb-centric and weeb-adjacent games and shows just like I always have.  And western stuff as well.  Anything that grabs my interest, really, but the point is it will be the same sort of stuff I’ve written about for the last few years here.

I admit I’d play video games for 3 days straight if I could get away with it, but I wouldn’t do those second and third things just to be clear

Since these posts are going to be more analyses than reviews, they’ll all be full of spoilers.  If you’re curious about my opinions of these works but you don’t want to read a particular post because you’re avoiding spoilers, here’s a blanket statement that you can rely on: I recommend checking out every single work I’ll be writing about in this series, because I more or less like all of them.  They might not all be for you, of course, which is why I say I recommend checking them out instead of buying them right away.  Though if you trust my judgment and taste enough to do that, I’d be very flattered.

You can look forward to the first post in this series soon (or soon-ish, at least.)  In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Twitter even though I hardly ever post there.

The Labor Day update: making adjustments

It’s Labor Day today here in the US, so happy day off of work if you have it. Since I’m sitting at home and not doing much else, it seems like a good time to write a post about the future of the site. I’m not planning to quit or even to slow down my pace here. As I’ve said before, writing here, and writing in general, is one of the few things I do that keeps me sane and connected to reality. I intend to keep writing until the day I die, assuming God is merciful enough to let me go before I go senile. However, my situation is about to change a bit. I’ve been working at a contract job that allows me some flexibility and plenty of time off whenever I need it. The problem is I’m uninsured and have no real opportunity to make much more than I’m making right now at this job, so I’m looking for a regular salaried position again. That most likely means falling back into the endless hell that is litigation.

Or maybe I’m just being my usual pessimistic self, I don’t know

I’ve complained enough about the practice of law already, so I won’t get into much depth about it here. The part of this that’s relevant to the blog is that I won’t have nearly as much time to play games as I’ve had over the last several months. I’ll probably have to start working regular weekends again. And I’ll probably also have to start dealing with clients, which is a special kind of hell in itself considering the fact that the 25% or so of people who are fucking crazy in the world make up 90% of the trouble you end up running into in practice. (I’m including manipulative asshole lawyers in that 25%, by the way.)

So where does that leave my blog? And where does it leave me? As I said, I’m going to keep writing here on a regular basis. However, I’ll have to make a few changes to cope with the new reality I’ll be back in soon.  Here’s my plan:

A greater focus on indie games

I already like playing and reviewing games that are independently developed and funded, made by a small studio or a guy in his basement.  I find them a lot more interesting than some of the big AAA games on the market.  I hope I’m not sounding too much like a video game hipster here (shit, I probably am one already if that’s a thing.)  I just like how unpredictable these games are.  The big developers and publishers usually have to play it safe, whereas the indie guys don’t — in fact, taking risks is a way for them to get noticed.

Games like Strange Telephone, a bizarre Yume Nikki-ish exploration game I’ve been playing

It also helps that these games tend to be a lot shorter to play.  I have to face the fact that I won’t have time to play 50+ hour RPGs anymore.  Though I’ll be making an exception for Persona 5 Royal, and also for Shin Megami Tensei V whenever the hell that comes out.

More anime/music-related posts

Since I have to change the way I get my entertainment, I’ll have to change the focus of the site slightly.  This was always first and foremost a game blog, but since I’m probably about to lose most of the time I had to commit to games, I’ve been getting more back into other media.  I’m going to keep my Seasonal Anime Draft series of posts going into next season and the seasons after that.  I’ve also been listening to a lot more music while at work and stuck in my car and on the train to and from work, and some of it is the kind of game/weeb-related stuff you’d expect, stuff I’d be able to write about here in a hopefully meaningful way.  I’ll never stop writing about games, but it will probably be more of a mix of games/anime/music going forward.

Even more complaining

Yes, even more.  I’m still ready to pull out my soapbox at any time, so if I read about a development in the game industry or a related field that sets me off, I might go into brain-dump mode and post something here that I end up regretting but that I’ll never take down.  Even if alcohol is involved.

I know I’ve used this screenshot from Welcome to the NHK! before but it really fits this time

So that’s the plan.  I hope you’re not too put off by it.  If I win the lottery tomorrow, I’ll quit working as a lawyer and dedicate myself to games and writing and whatever the hell else I feel like doing full time, but as long as I’m living in the real world, I have to accept real world responsibilities, as much as I’d rather not.  Since I don’t find life to be much fun, though, I’ll keep escaping from it as much as I can, and writing here is part of that escape for me.

2019 mid-year review

I’m going to do something I’ve never done before: post an update reviewing what I’ve done so far this year regarding the site and what my general plans are for the rest of the year.  I know there are bloggers in the community who do this weekly or monthly, and good on them.  I don’t post nearly as often as they do, so I can only really justify this kind of post about twice a year.  I’ll also be going all the way back to December, because why not.  I think that was when I truly revived the site again, so it makes more sense than an arbitrary Jan. 1 cutoff date.

Game reviews

Since I started posting on a regular basis again, I’ve written several full game reviews, some of which have been reviews of free games because fuck my current financial situation.  But not all of them were free.  And a few of the free games are among the best I’ve played this year, so it’s not like that’s been a bad thing.

 

Disgaea 1 Complete – A PS4 remaster of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, the very first game in the series.  A lot of fans were clamoring for this one, partly for the reason that it has the most beloved cast of all the games.  There’s a reason Laharl, Etna, and Flonne keep popping up in NIS games 15 years after their debut.  I liked Disgaea 1 Complete, though it’s definitely a better deal for players new to the series than for old veterans, because it really doesn’t add much to the original experience.  The game is still a classic, though, and it’s the definitive version of the first Disgaea, so I do recommend it.

Doki Doki Literature Club!! – This is a popular free-to-play western-developed visual novel – perhaps the only game in the world right now to fit all those descriptors.  DDLC fully lived up to the hype in my opinion.  I already knew going in that the game wasn’t quite the lighthearted dating sim it claimed to be on the tin, but it still managed to surprise me.  If you’re the type who gets anti-hyped over games that get tons of attention from popular Youtube LPers and Twitch streamers (something I totally understand, by the way) you should do yourself a favor and try to get over that, because DDLC is really worth playing.  And it’s free.  Did I mention it’s free?  The above-linked review is packed with spoilers, though, so just be warned if you haven’t played it yet.

Momodora II – Another free game.  Yeah, my bank account was suffering the last few months, so I had to make some cuts to the game budget.  Things are better now, thanks in part to all the work I’ve gotten lately.  But if I hadn’t gone through a difficult period earlier on, I might not have sought out Momodora II, a free action-platformer by independent developer rdein.  Momodora II is not as polished as its successors, but for a free game it’s excellent.  Another recommendation.

OneShot – Like DDLC, OneShot is an ultracreative indie game that really threw me for a loop with its twists.  The obvious comparison to be made here is with Undertale – they’re visually similar and share some themes – but OneShot really is its own game, different from any other game I’ve played before.  I’ve never played a game that made me care about a protagonist as much as OneShot does, and the best part is that the game achieves this without a lot of cheap heart-string-pulling.  That’s not to say there isn’t any sentimentality in OneShot, but that sentimentality is totally earned.  I highly recommend the polished and expanded OneShot for sale on Steam, because it’s more than worth what you’ll pay for it.

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight – These Persona 3 and Persona 5 dancing game spinoffs were disappointments.  They were too expensive, they didn’t have enough tracks, and both felt like the result of an Atlus board meeting about how best to milk these Persona games while they worked on Persona Q 2 and whatever other Persona spinoff they have in mind next (a cooking game?  I’ll put my money on that.)  Also consider the fact that these two games are essentially the same game with different casts of characters who don’t even interact with each other like they do in PQ2, and you’ll end up asking yourself why the hell these were each priced as full games. If you’re dying for a Persona rhythm game, Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a much better choice.

Even so, I couldn’t give P3D and P5D failing grades.  They’re functional, the music is still good despite some unimpressive remixes clogging up the tracklists, and I can’t hate any game that features my battle android waifu dancing to “A Way of Life”.  Just keep in mind that these are fan-only affairs.  If you’re not addicted to the Persona series, I can’t recommend them at all unless you find them for a real bargain.

Saya no Uta This isn’t exactly a review of Saya no Uta, but rather an analysis of the game as a horror/romance.  It’s full of spoilers as well.  Suffice it to say that Saya is a really good game that you should play unless Lovecraftian body- and mind-horror is a turnoff for you, in which case you should stay as far as possible from it.

Sonic CD – A lot of fans consider Sonic CD a sort of lost classic.  It was first released in 1993 on the failed Sega CD, then brought back a decade later on the Gamecube-exclusive Sonic Gems Collection.  And now we finally have the definitive version of the game on Steam remastered by the man himself, Christian Whitehead.

I can’t call Sonic CD a classic on par with the Genesis games.  There are too many problems with the game’s level design, and all the bosses are pushovers – Dr. Robotnik was really phoning it in this time.  Still, Sonic CD is pretty fun, and I’d say it’s well worth buying the Steam version, especially if you’re a fan of 2D Sonic.

Yume Nikki – I finally got around to replaying Yume Nikki, a seminal RPG Maker game that’s now available free to play on Steam.  YN is a cult classic that’s influenced a lot of other indie titles and is a must-play for anyone who’s into surreal or unconventional games.  This one’s more of a retrospective than a review, if there’s any difference between those at all.

Features

Best of Windows Entertainment Pack (Parts 1, 2, 3) – Around the end of January I got nostalgic for the old days of Windows 95, so I loaded it up on a virtual machine and played every game in the Windows Entertainment Packs on it.  That’s 29 games in total, each of which got a short one- to two-paragraph review.  Some of them are really good games worth checking out, while some of them are… well, not.  If you’re curious about which of these 90s equivalents of mobile games are worth playing today, check out the above links.

Essays on the Megami Tensei series (#1, #2) – Here’s a real surprise coming from me – two pieces I wrote about themes in the Megami Tensei series that I found interesting.  I might write more of these kinds of posts in the future about other series.  I basically got both of my degrees in bullshitting, so I’m good at this sort of thing.

Games for broke people – I revived this series that I briefly started and then dropped all the way back in 2016.  Not sure why I quit writing these, because I like reviewing free games by amateur developers.  There are some real gems to be found on sites like itch.io (perhaps on Steam as well, though the well of decent-looking free games that aren’t MMOs seems to have dried up there recently.)  While there is admittedly a lot of unplayable garbage among these games, there’s also some stuff that no professional publisher would ever dare to put out because they’re too afraid to take risks.

Music reviews and related posts – I won’t go through them one by one, but I’ve recently written a few reviews of mostly game OSTs along with a few posts about music in general.  Music has always been a secondary theme on this site, and I’ll keep posting music-related content (especially when I don’t have the time to play a new game, like for example when I have to work through the damn weekend.)

Upcoming content (backlog reviews, new reviews, etc.)

My backlog never seems to decrease, especially since I keep buying new games on sale on itch.io and Steam.  Here are some games I’ve got on deck to review once I finish them:

Our World Is Ended. – This is an all-ages (well, sort of, but more on that later) visual novel set in modern-day Tokyo with a science fiction flavor and an eccentric cast.  If you’re thinking that sounds a lot like Steins;Gate, you’re not wrong.  I’m only three or four hours in right now, but Our World Is Ended is already pushing all the right buttons.  Aside from a less-than-stellar translation job – some lines are awkward, and I’ve seen at least half a dozen glaring typos so far.  Was the publisher really so stingy that they couldn’t bring themselves to hire a proofreader?  For fuck’s sake.  The game’s also starting to run a couple of jokes into the ground, mostly at Asano’s expense.

The game seems to think Asano is unappealing, but it’s doing a real bad job convincing me of that so far.

Just one more note about the game before the review proper: I’m playing the PC version on Steam.  Physical copies are also available for PS4 and Switch.  Normally I’d spring for a physical copy, but I don’t have a Switch, and given Sony’s current track record when it comes to demanding the removal of certain elements in localization, I didn’t want to get the PS4 version lest it came to the States all hacked up.  Also, a digital copy of the game is $20 cheaper than the physical package being sold on Amazon and in stores, and I’m still doing my best to economize.

Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight – I’ve had this game in my Steam library forever, so I feel like I really have to take it on now.  Momodora II was a lot of fun, so I expect Momodora IV will be even better.  It looks a lot more polished, anyway.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles – I bought this old classic during a Sega Steam sale last month, and so far it lives up to the original (except for the hideous “SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics” shell that surrounds it, with the virtual bedroom and Genesis and shelf full of games – I get what they’re going for with the nostalgic look, but the actual game is all the nostalgia I need, thanks.)

Senran Kagura Estival Versus – I bought this PS4 game a while back, but somehow I haven’t touched it until now.  It’s a fun beat-em-up that makes for an excellent escape from reality.  If I have anything to say about it, I’ll write a review at some point.

Rakuen – I bought this RPG Maker game during a Steam sale a few weeks ago.  It always gets mentioned in the same breath as Undertale and OneShot, so it must be good.  I’ll play through it once I feel up for another experience like that, which shouldn’t be too long from now.

That’s about it for now.  I’m not planning to slow down my pace this year, and in addition to the above reviews, I’ll keep writing free game and music-related posts.  If I’m productive enough, maybe I’ll even start writing these update posts on a quarterly basis.  Just like the Form 10-Q that corporations have to file with the SEC.  In conclusion, be sure to visit the sites in the sidebar as well – they’re all excellent bloggers who post way more often than I do.

 

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.