Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Top Five: Video Games of 2022

  • 2022 was an interesting year for video games. I found myself with less time and less drive to play games. But also found that Xbox Cloud Gaming works really well, so I played more than I expected. Here are the five games that ended up occupying my time and headspace the most in 2022.

  • Elden Ring - An understandable game of the year. It really deserves all of the rewards it received. That said, I mostly ended up playing this for my daughter. If I were writing this from a 2023 perspective, I'd have pulled it from the running because I'm kinda exhausted with it. (Look forward to my forthcoming post on why I need to stop hatefucking Fromsoft games.) As it stands in 2022, I can't deny that this game started out fun and gave me something to do with my daughter.

  • Conan Exiles - One of the themes of my gaming this year was finding world live in rather than conquer. Conan Exiles, for all of its hardcore tendencies, is also a game that you can just nest in. I made a nice little house, outgrew it and started a bigger house, made some "friends", and generally had a good time. I eventually drifted away, but there was a lot to just enjoy about being in a world that was only as savage as you wanted it to be.

  • Arcade Paradise - I love a good "out of nowhere" game, the kind that blindsides you and reminds you that you don't need follow every marketing post for a year just to enjoy a game. Arcade Paradise's tale of a teenage parental disappointment who slowly transforms a laundromat into an '80s arcade is both sad and heartwarming. But under the story is just a fun collection of throwback arcade games and the compulsion to just put in one more quarter. Not every machine is a hit, much like at any arcade. But I was a lot of fun to play and work and see the arcade slowly grow.

  • Disney Dreamlight Valley - Heh, this is like Disney's Anti-Conan. In many ways, this game scratched the same itch as Conan Exiles. There is the same exploration, playing dress up, and homemaking, but with a lot (A LOT) less bloodshed. If you have a fondness for Disney characters and just want to hang out with them, this is a fun way to do it.

  • Cyberpunk 2077 - The launch of Patch 1.5 did a lot to revitalize interest in Cyberpunk, with many taking the opportunity to finally venture into Night City, myself included. The game, well, is still the game. Many of the roughest edges have been filed down, and there is great fun to be had. In many ways, it feels like a much prettier Borderlands to me. But I'm not sure if I'll ever finish the game. And that's okay. I had a good run with it.

  • One game that I wish I could have placed on this list is Tunic. Tunic's entire Zelda-like, meta-examination of the joys of discovering a new game hit me right in the nostalgia center of the brain. But then the all-to-frequent difficuly spikes pushed me further and further from that joy until I could not bring myself to even try to headbash my way through the next brick wall in front of me. /sigh
  • What's this? We're halfway through 2023 already? I can't wait to see what ends up on this year's list. (Or when I'll actually post it.)

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Watched Lately: Skeleton Knight in Another World

  • I didn't mean for this to become the anime blog, but I guess we play with the hand we're dealt. And my hand includes the most aggressively mediocre show that I have watched in I do not know how long.

  • Like, I don't even know why I did it. I bounced off of Aharen-san wa Hakarenai after just one interminable episode. I gave up on The Executioner and Her Way of Life and Trapped in a Dating Sim after just a few episodes each, once I realized I didn't actually care what happened to the characters. But for some reason, I just kept watching Skeleton Knight in Another World even though it's not a very good show. It's barely a passable show, but I kept watching.

  • Skeleton Knight stars your standard overpowered isekai protagonist, Arc, who wakes up one day as his character in his favorite MMO. Only, his character was using a transmog to appear as a skeleton, which has carried over to this new world! Of course, none of that matters outside of a few gags. If you removed the skeleton conceit, it would have no effect on the story.

  • Not that the plot is any better. Arc quickly discovers that slavery is common in this new world and finds himself helping those in need of protection. He ends up assisting an elf warrior and a beast girl ninja in freeing various captives and striking down their captors, not out of any sense of justice, but because it's the cool thing to do. As I type this, I come to realize that this my largest issue with the series. It presents this world as full of injustice, but the protagonist could not care less. His companions may provide direction, but he's just a tool, in every sense of the word.

  • Don't be a tool. Don't watch this anime.

  • Rating: 1 1/2 stars

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Random Shots: My Predictions for Season 2 of My Dress-Up Darling

  • SPOILER WARNING! This post is for a very small subset of people who have both watched the first season of My Dress-Up Darling as well as (somehow, mysteriously) caught up with the current chapters of the manga, Sono Bisque Doll wa Koi wo Suru (referred to as such because none of this is officially available in English yet). Which means I'm pretty much just writing this for me and several people who will never find this post anyway. Enjoy!

  • With the end of the first season of My Dress-Up Darling, we look ahead to what I'm sure everyone hopes will be a Season 2. Considering how closely the anime hewed to the manga, it's a safe bet that they will do the same with a new season. The first season covered Chapters 1 through 39. With the manga up to Chapter 74, let's break down how the next season could look.

  • These first three episodes seem pretty straightforward.
    • Episode 1 - Chapters 40 through 43 - The first episode will likely cover Amane's introduction to the series. He is one of my favorite new characters and I'm excited to see him show up. Though I suspect they will have to compress the chapters a little to fit it all in one episode.

    • Episode 2 - Chapters 44 through 46 - The next episode would then cover Bunny Suit Arisa. It's a tight three chapter arc that would be perfect for the next episode.

    • Episode 3 - Chapters 47 through 49 - Then we get to Halloween, another three chapter arc that fits perfectly with how season one was plotted.

  • Here is where it gets a little harder to guess. The School Festival runs for thirteen chapters. In addition, Chapter 50 kind of stands alone, so you could push it into the end of episode 3. If not, you have fourteen chapters to deal with. I can't see forcing the arc into three episodes or stretching to five, though the pros could figure it out. Considering how important this arc is to opening Gojo and Kitagawa's passion for cosplay to their classmates, it deserves quite a lot of time. If I was doing it, the Rei episodes would be:
    • Episode 4 - Chapters 50 through 53 - Rei (part I) would start with Shizuku's birthday party precredits, then cover the choice of festival entries, Gojo's introduction to Council Host, and the reassurance that he needs to dedicate himself to making the costume.

    • Episode 5 - Chapters 54 through 56 - Rei (part II) would cover making the costume, the wig, and trying to make Kitagawa look like a man.

    • Episode 6 - Chapters 57 through 59 - Rei (part III) would cover costume try on (watch out for fan service!), manliness lessons, and making the rainbow rose.

    • Episode 7 - Chapters 60 through 63 - Rei (part IV) finishes with the makeup demonstration, the festival itself, and the karaoke party.

  • This next one is a gimme, no matter how the Rei arc is paced.
    • Episode 8 - Chapters 64 through 67 - This episode covers the "Marin got Fat" chapter as well as trying out her new camera. Poor Kitagawa. The girl doesn't deserve to be body shamed, but it's unfortunately something real teens have to deal with.

  • And now, my confidence in the exercise comes completely off the rails since there are just not enough chapters to fill out the season.
    • Episode 9 - Chapters 68 through 71 - This episode will introduce Akira and lead into the afterparty. If I were breaking this season for real, I'd absolutely want to end an episode on Juju picking up the phone.

    • Episode 10 - Chapters 72 through 74? - Here we have the ending of the afterparty with Akira's declaration about Marin and leading into the sleepover, because...

    • Episode 11 & 12 - Chapters 75? through ?? - ... because now we've run out of chapters.

  • By my count, that leaves the creator, Shinichi Fukuda, very little room to tie up the sleepover and the Coffin event or whatever else they want to do. Maybe I'm wrong and the studio will speedrun the School Festival or maybe cut something. Or maybe the show will get a 13 episode order and enough room for everything to breathe. All I can say is that I'm glad I can armchair theorize the breakdown because I would be sweating if I was in their shoes.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Watched Lately: My Dress-Up Darling

  • Have you ever felt that you had to hide something that you're passionate about out of fear that other people would not understand you? For me it was comics books, anime, manga, role-playing games, video games, miniatures.... I've certainly had my fair share of hobbies that I didn't feel confident discussing with others until I could find like-minded people to share with. And lucky for me that I did. Not everyone is. That's where we find our protagonists at the start of My Dress-Up Darling.

  • Wakana Gojo is a high school student with a true passion for traditional Japanese hina dolls. Ever since he was young, he's been enamoured with the porcelin beauties. But he has also carried the memory of his young friend berating him for showing interest something girly things. And up until high school, he has kept mainly to himself, bemoaning his loneliness, but afraid that someone might discover his secret.

  • Marin Kitagawa is, in many ways, Gojo's opposite. Outgoing and confident, Kitagawa is an otaku through and through. And she completely owns her passions, unafraid to stand up to anyone who might belittle the things she loves. The only thing she can't do is make her own cosplay, try as she might.

  • When the two finally meet and reveal their passions to one another, it is like two complimentary pieces coming together. Marin, instead of ridiculing him for his fascination with hina dolls, identifies with his passion. Wakana finds himself lowering his defenses, promising to use his talent for making doll clothing to help her achieve her cosplay dream.

  • Over the course of the series, the pair contend with the challenges of making cosplay and coming to terms with their emotions. Wakana barely believes that this girl could even have the time of day for him, much less enjoy his company. Marin, for her part, finds that her unexpected emotions have built to a point that she has trouble keeping her cool around him. But they face their challenges as we explore the world of fandom together.

  • According to her creator, Shinichi Fukuda, Marin is meant to be an ideal girl for fans to fall for. At the same time, she has some faults that test Wakana in ways he is not prepared for. One of which is her predilication to providing copious fan service for Gojo and the audience. There is a whole other blog post coming about that, but I have to temper my high praise for the show to set proper expectations.

  • And my praise for the show is high, indeed. My Dress-Up Darling is one of the best anime I have seen in years. From the lovingly rendered characters, to the perfectly cast voice actors, to the highs and lows of the story, and more. I didn't fall in love with Marin, as her mangaka hoped. I fell for this cute couple helping each other learn and grow together. And they reminded me that I could be fearless about my passions as well.

  • Also, I'm this close to asking my mother-in-law to teach me how to use a sewing machine, because how cool would that be?

  • Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Top Five: Video Games of 2021

  • Thought I would get this out in January. It's like I don't even know me. Anyway, here are my top five games of 2021, in roughly the order I encountered them. They're all even video games this time!

  • Tokimeki Memorial - Is it weird to name a game that I have never played as a top five game of the year? Absolutely yes, but it is the right choice. On January 1st, Tim Rogers released his review of Tokimeki Memorial, the game the jump started the dating sim genre in Japan, and then streamed the game to fans eager to see more of the game. To say that I've become enamored by the game might be an understatement, considering I went out of the way to import a copy for my collection. Tokimeki Memorial is simply a game about attending high school, juggling the attention of multiple girl, and, hopefully, finding the love of your life. It's not just a visual novel with a few routes to persue. Instead, Tokimeki Memorial is positively stuffed with possibilities. I've never followed through on my plan to learn Japanese to watch anime or read manga untranslated, but discovering this game got me closer than ever before.

  • Yakuza: Like A Dragon - Anyone who has read more than one of these Top Five lists must have noticed a pattern by now: there is going to be a Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios game on it. As long as they keep putting out games this good, I'll be happy to reserve the space for them. Yakuza: Like A Dragon is a departure for the series, leaving behind the traditional brawler combat for an RPG system. In all other ways, this is every bit the Yakuza game, if not even better than before. Moving from a solo brawler to a party-based RPG also has story ramifications, ensuring there is a reason to have friends around wherever you go. That, I think, is what make this game so special. Instead of playing as a lone hero against the world, Like A Dragon puts you in a community and makes you care for it. When the game was over, I was excited for the future of the series. Not because I wanted to see what the next fight or next challenge would be, but because I am looking forward to hanging out with my friends again.

  • Control - I've never spent much time with Remedy's games. A couple hours in Alan Wake aside, I just haven't been interested. That was at least until the folks at Giant Bomb got me very interested in trying it out. Control's Oldest House is a fascinating environment to explore, though it was easy to get confused as to how everything fit together. I suspect some of that is by design, but confusion is a wily target to hit. I did eventually fall off the game, but I had enjoyed my time with it quite a bit.

  • Lost Judgment - After playing Judgment, easily a top three Ryu Ga Gotoku Extended Universe game, my anticipation for a sequel shot through the roof. Lost Judgment did not disappoint. As with the earlier game, Lost Judgment tackles an important issue, this time the horrors of childhood bullying. This main story was a great driver for the game, with newer and greater stakes appearing over time. Some of the leaps felt a little disjointed, as though there was some uncertainty as to how to mess the escalating mysteries together. What save the overall game, though, is the School Stories. This massive overarching mystery encompasses nearly all of the sidestories and new minigames in a wonderfully satisfying second plot to follow throughout the game. All this might be for naught if the gameplay did not hold up, but Lost Judgment's brawler combat is the pinnacle of their Dragon Engine games. Where in prior games I avoided combat once if because too tedious, here I sought out street fights just to test my fighting prowess. Once again, this side series faces an uncertain future, but I'm am eager to follow Yagami and his companions on their further adventures.

  • Cyberpunk 2077 - I waited nearly a year after launch to finally try Cyberpunk 2077, a game that I received as a Christmas gift in 2020. Patch 1.31 seemed like a significant enough number to dive in, and I'm glad I waited. Cyberpunk protrays a fascinating world to explore, its Night City a bleak projection of unrestrained capitalism and structural inequality writ large on the alluring and offputting sites of the future. Combat-wise, the game reminded me of Borderlands shoot-and-loot style. (I actually like that game, so the comparison is positive.) Unfortunately, I got distracted and moved on to other games, but I absolutely will be back to try again.

  • And that was my 2021. There are already a couple games that are sure to make my 2022 list, so I'm better get that started.