Friday, November 7, 2014

Nowhere Island Report: Chapters 4-6

Coming off of Chapter 3's interlinking of the stories and clear setup for the rest of the game, I was excited to dive right into Chapter 4. Now taking the role of Flint's son, Lucas, three full years after the events of Chapters 1-3, we are now in a Tazmily Village that is running more like a city, or at the very least, a modern town. Fassad has introduced money, trains, modern technology, and other various things to the once small village in such a short span of time. Nearly every home in Tazmily have something called a "Happy Box." It is unclear at the moment whether the people are being controlled by these boxes, or are simply intrigued way too much by them. But there are still some people who refuse to have a Happy Box on their home (Lucas being one of them) and some people who complain that the Village has lost its warmth and charm over the past 3 years. Fassad even has the elderly captured and placed in a run down "Retirement Home." This entire setup is introduced before you really even begin any missions as Lucas and it does a great job of making you feel the emotions that Lucas is likely feeling himself.

Throughout Chapter 4, you visit a number of different locales that all have their own unique flare. In my experiences, games that do this so quickly typically have a tough time linking everything together so that it melds well as part of the same coherent story. But Mother 3 has absolutely no trouble doing this. Perhaps it is because, as I've noted before, the game does not take itself too seriously. Maybe the already sporadic nature of the game makes quick setting and tone changes just seem like par for the course.

As I began my journey to investigate a potential sighting of Duster, (Who has been missing for the past 3 years) I was treated to a number of fun new villains as I made my way through the railway. But the real fun began when I got to live the dream of every young boy...A PART TIME JOB AT A FACTORY THAT MAKES CLAY MONSTERS!!! OK, despite that sarcasm in that last statement, it was actually quite a deal of fun. In order to gain access to the Night Club that Duster was supposedly seen in, Lucas has to work a part-time job. What was interesting about this was the unique nature of my task. Rather than a turn-based battle or a simple scavenger hunt, I had to not only find and return 3 broken down clay monsters, but also push them to where they needed to go. Sounds easy enough, but given the design of the factory, it was easy to get the clay monsters accidentally stuck in corners and crevices. It was really an entertaining little break after coming off a large number of consecutive battles.

Once access to the Night Club is gained, the player is treated to a reunion with Kumatora. At first I was very off-put to see the once tomboy Kumatora sporting a very feminine look. Luckily it's revealed later that it was merely a disguise. But what was probably the highlight for most longtime fans of the franchise was the clear reference to the Runaway Five from Mother 2.

During this Chapter's Boss Battle, I was very happy to see the return of a fun and charming boss. Fighting a living musical instrument and his fellow instrument cohorts proved a lot more fun than the tank from Chapter 3. After that, we are reunited with Duster, only to find out that he has lost his memory. I wasn't a big fan of this because there wasn't much of an explanation given as to what happened to him. Additionally, the "bond" between Duster and his fellow band members felt very forced. Hopefully the lack of clarification regarding Duster will be cleared up in the end as he still is suffering from memory loss at the end of this Chapter.

As one final thought towards Chapter 4, I can't help but sense a hidden message regarding the entire Happy Box thing. To me, the entire concept of the Happy Box isn't just a mind control element like it appears to be. I feel Itoi was also attempting to place a metaphor in the game. Perhaps that progress just for the sake of progress isn't always a good thing. Or maybe it could even be an anti-technology metaphor. Although the latter would be fairly ironic coming from a video game.

Moving on to Chapter 5, you disguise yourselves as the "Chief" and a few pig soldier in order to infiltrate the Tower that Fassad and the Pigmen are running. Much of this Chapter is a lot of running through the motions and some quirky humor as few of the Pigmen seem to realize that a child is parading around pretending to be their Chief. It was all very cute and funny, but it did grow tiresome as the Chapter progressed.

Things picked up again once you fight the Boss Battle in Mr. Generator. This was the most difficult Boss Battle thus far in the game as it took me numerous tries to figure out the best strategy to defeat him. It's rather ironic that a boss that looks like a broken down bucket of bolts would present the toughest challenge in the game to that point. But the real shock is when you and Fassad finally come face to face. Despite the foreshadowing that he might be behind the houses in Tazmily Village getting struck by lightning, to learn that he's been using this tower to actually do that deed and then have him fall to his apparent death was a bit much to swallow...

Why was Fassad striking those homes with lightning? What are the Happy Boxes? What is/was Fassad's ultimate goal? There are too many unanswered questions to believe that Fassad is truly dead. Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but I feel like we haven't seen the last of Fassad. It's just too anticlimactic to have the mastermind die with so many unanswered questions.

Finally, "Chapter" 6...I really fail to see the point in calling this a "Chapter" when all it is is an incredibly dragged out narrative where you simply run to the side for a good number of minutes chasing the ghost of Lucas' mother. The entire bit turned out to be what appears to be a dream that Lucas has while falling off the exploded tower...Or was it? It turns out that Lucas' grandfather had a dream of his deceased daughter telling him to place hay right where Lucas and Boney would fall. Although this was a cute little bit that brought the questions of afterlife into the game, I feel that it would have been better served as a pure cut-scene or a much shorter event.

Overall, through Chapters 4, 5, and 6, I am thoroughly enjoying the game as I push closer towards the finale. More and more I continue to want to know what the ultimate goal of Fassad and the Pigmen are. But only time will tell...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nowhere Island Report: Chapter 3

In the beginning of Chapter 3, I was confused as to not only what the creators of this game intended the audience to feel, but also as to what I actually felt. Watching the opening story where Fassad is capturing Salsa's (A monkey) girlfriend and threatening to never let him see her again if he does not obey him was both sad and comical at the same time. On one hand we have a couple being torn apart and an animal being forced into slavery. But on the other hand, the facial expressions are comical and the entire process of Fassad showing Salsa how he wants him to dance for him is hilarious.

This set up prepared me for what I thought was going to be a dramatic plot regarding Salsa and I was a little let down that this was not really the case. A good portion of the Chapter was spent running through the desert and collecting "dung" while listening to some mildly irritating music. I was very relieved when Salsa and Fassad arrived in Tazmily Village as this is where the Chapter began to get interesting. Watching as Fassad slowly started to manipulate the villagers was intriguing enough, but what really caught my attention was when it was revealed that Fassad is the leader of the men in the Pig Masks. To know that the events of the game up to this point were all being orchestrated by this character really started to give me a sense of continuity within the game and has begun to rope me into the larger picture.

The highlight of the Chapter for me is what many people will likely feel is a very odd choice and I'd have to agree with them. After Fassad gets a room at the Yado Inn and proceeds to sneak out in the middle of the night, Salsa follows him. It is at this moment that I am controlling Salsa and there is absolutely no background music playing, no NPCs are around, and there are even very little sound effects. This was quite possibly one of the most unintentionally eerie video game moments that I have ever encountered. The game up to this point has been full of life, primarily bright colors, and memorable music. Having all of that ripped away in an instance really had thinking that something crazy was going to happen with every step that I took.

However, with every ying, there is a yang. Unfortunately for Chapter 3, the yang was the boss battle. I thought the whole setup of Kumatora and Wess rescuing Salsa and taking him in was a nice development. I also felt that their run through the forest was exciting. However, once I approached the actual boss, I was let down to see that it was only a tank. Coming off of a Mecha Drago and Mr. Passion, throwing punches and magic at an armored tank just doesn't have the same boom to it.

Overall, Chapter 3 was a step down from the prior two. But the interlinking of the stories and intrigue of wondering what Fassad's true goal is really set up for a great future in the game. Plus, the quick glimpse of Tazmily Village that I got at the beginning of Chapter 4 really reinforces that thought.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Nowhere Island Report: Chapter 2

Coming off of the dark and emotional plot in Chapter 1 which I held in such high regard, Chapter 2 was a little shocking due to its quick switch of tone. Throwing the prime focus of this second Chapter to Duster and subsequently Wess as well really made the story feel like a different game entirely. The much lighter and goofier humor made the game feel more like Mother 2 as opposed to the prior Chapter that I had just played. This by no means was a negative thing, although I initially thought of it as one.

Playing the role of the thief, Duster, I found his story of breaking into Osohe Castle to be a neat little mission. This is because it showcased a very classic and child-friendly version of horror, similar to what you might find in a "scary story" aimed towards a 5 year old. Full of silly looking Zombies, burping ghosts, and ghosts just looking to enjoy a fancy dinner party, Chapter 2 was filled with hilariously charming enemies. I truly believe that this is one of the reasons that the "Mother" franchise still has such a strong cult following even after nearly 8 full years without a new game. The fact that it's not afraid to be silly even when presenting a serious story makes it very appealing to someone who is sick of the "same old-same old" from RPGs.

The boss battle against Mr. Passion was much more challenging than Chapter 1's boss battle against the Drago. This was the first instance that I required some real level-grinding, but it wasn't too difficult. Thankfully the developers put a few enemies that give a decent amount of EXP very close by and easy to fight continually by walking in and out of rooms. The great thing about this boss battle was that like all of the other enemies in this area, Mr. Passion was also hilariously charming. A ghost with no real goal other than making you appreciate his music for no apparent reason, Mr. Passion's boss battle was accompanied by "Beethoven's 5th Symphony" as background music, which only made the battle even more charming.

Continuing onward to the second half of Chapter 2, Duster and Wess team up after Duster failed to recover the true item that he was sent there to find. This portion of the Chapter was a bit of a step down from the earlier portion. This is because, rather than being filled with witty and charming dialogue like earlier, the story focuses on Wess simply berating Duster for comedic effect. I just wasn't buying into it as the dialogue was very cliche and boring. Meanwhile, the introduction of the character, Kumatora, seems like it will prove to be an important turn in the story. However, although Kumatora seems like she could turn into a very likable and witty character, right now she just seems like a side-note.

Overall, despite the dip during the second half of the Chapter, I'd still say that Chapter 2 was on par with Chapter 1. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and am looking forward to seeing where it will go and how these characters will interlink in the grand scheme of the game.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Nowhere Island Report: Chapter 1

Among both my wife and my friends, I am very well known for starting RPGs and never finishing them. As a matter of fact, the only RPGs that I have ever finished have been various Pokemon games and DragonBall Z: Attack of the Saiyans. However, for a little over a year now the Mother/EarthBound franchise has been very intriguing to me. Due greatly to a combination of its quirky storytelling, fascinating localization history, and the fact that Old Man Gilbert has talked up the franchise since the day I met him. I finally got the chance to play Mother 2 (aka: EarthBound in North America) when it came to the Wii U's Virtual Console last summer. But just like the many RPGs before it, I gave up midway through despite its fun brand of storytelling.

Just recently, Clyde Mandelin did a number of video streams while testing his recently updated Fan Translation Patch of Mother 3. This got me re-interested in the "Mother" franchise, and as a result I have begun to play through Mother 3. As a partial attempt to give myself incentive to actually finish the darn game, I'm going to write these Chapter-by-Chapter blogs regarding my feelings while playing through the game.

Anyway, upon starting Mother 3, one of the earliest things that I noticed was that this game was quite a deal darker than Mother 2. Opening up with showing us Flint's sweet and happy life only to have it quickly torn away not only made me feel for the character, but root for him as well. I'm typically someone who prefers lighthearted and happy-go-lucky video games. So the fact that the game opens up with something relatively dark and still maintained my interest really speaks volumes to the unique storytelling style. Despite these dark tones, the game manages to not take itself too seriously and still incorporate both quirkiness and some dark-humor as well.

One scene that comes to mind is when Flint is informed that his wife has been killed. To paraphrase, the person who tells him essentially says that "The good news is that he found a Drago fang that could be made into a weapon. The bad news is that the fang is what killed his wife." It's lines like that, despite their massive insensitivity, that make Mother 3 stand apart from your traditional RPG stories.

As far as the fighting style of the game goes, the reason that I've always quit on so many RPGs in the past is that the fighting tends to always get boring to be due to the repetition, especially when I need to level-grind. However, Mother 3 does a good job of trying to break the traditional mold a little bit, while still being a traditional RPG. Namely through the ability to land extra hits on an enemy by hitting the A button in conjunction with a beat. Additionally, Flint's variety of Special Moves were very good and useful for a character that doesn't have magical abilities of any sort. Even better is the fact that that Flint's Special Moves don't cost any PP to use. So there's no need worry about eyeing that gauge and/or looking for items that replenish it.

Many RPGs have trouble getting started and the first 2 or so hours of gameplay can tend to be very dull. But that was not the case with Mother 3. It had absolutely no problem jumping right into an intriguing and fun story. I look forward to writing down my thoughts on Chapter 2. Until then.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Star Trek V: The Underrated Frontier

As my first entry in my new format for this Blog, I want to let everyone know that I will be treating this site as an actual blog now. Meaning that my posts will not be formatted like long and formal reviews, but rather a smorgasbord of my thoughts collected in one place. With that said, let's continue.

In recent months, I have begun to heavily get into Star Trek thanks to its availability on Netflix. I've always liked Star Trek, but it was always one of those series that I'd just watch on occasion when I'd happen to catch it. But now, actually watching "The Original Series" consistently and in order really has gotten both myself and my wife heavily invested in the stories and the characters. The next step we took was purchasing the Blu-ray set of the 6 "Original Series" Movies. One thing that a good friend and a plethora of internet archives prepared us for was what they all interpreted as a poorly done movie in, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, citing Shatner's directing and a poor plot as the biggest downfalls of the flick. But I seem to have a far different interpretation and feeling as to what I saw.

One of the themes in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was aging, namely in conjuncture with Captain Kirk. By the end of that film, Kirk learns to accept his age and realizes that his age should not hold him back from "feeling young." With Star Trek V, I feel that many of those elements are revisited and we now see how Kirk and his closest friends (But mostly Kirk) deal with age in a much better fashion than in the first two films. What the movie opens up with is Captain Kirk climbing a mountain. Despite William Shatner's explanation for this scene being famously poked fun at due to some of the ridiculous things he says, the core of what Shatner is attempting to say really rings true as an extension of the ending to Star Trek II. Kirk has no concept of age to hold him back and continues to seek new challenges in his life. The ending of that scene even touches upon mortality and how Kirk doesn't really fear death and trusts his friends so much that he knows he can never die when they're around. This is a huge step forward and great character development from the way the character was interpreted for the majority of the first two movies.

Additionally, the camping scenes in the beginning and the end of the film are probably some of the best scenes that show the bond between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. The way that the three of them act together in what is such a normal setting comparing to the typical Star Trek situations is really a breath of fresh air. Just watching these three guys being..."guys," all the meanwhile Spock still being Spock. Not only are these scenes funnier than many of the gags in Star Trek IV, but they are genuinely touching.

Finally, and probably most importantly, I find the plot in this film to be heavily underrated. What I felt when watching Star Trek V was not a poorly directed story, but rather a very classic Star Trek tale. It really felt like a Feature Length version of a TV Series episode, which is something that I don't think any of the prior 4 Movies accomplished (At least not as well as "The Final Frontier"). The concept of a "god" or what at first appears to be a "god" is something that the Original Series visited a few times. But on this grander scale, it really has a lot more boom to it than something like Season 2's episode, "Who Mourns for Adonais?" But despite that added "boom," there's still this sense of mystery and wonderment as to what exactly is going on and who exactly this "god" is. Even in the end, we never truly know what it was that Kirk and co. fought. It's left up to pure speculation and I think that it was done brilliantly. The ending to the film is somewhat open-book in that sense without being an obnoxious and pretentious open-book ending. Was that another alien playing god? Or did Captain Kirk really kill god? Is there a god or is there no god? Who knows?

In closing, I honestly think that Star Trek V is one of the better "Trek" films and far superior to the beloved Star Trek IV simply due to "Trek IV" having what I believe to be a lame and heavy-handed plot. But that's a discussion for another time.