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After finally putting Persona 5 in the ground, I was in the mood for something a little more mechanical and a little less multiple-hundred-hours-y, and I’d heard good things about Chained Echoes comparing it favorably to Final Fantasy VI, if not at such an elevation.
And while in retrospect I can’t say that was anywhere RESEMBLING true except in the broadest aesthetic sense (if anything, it tastes more like Chrono Trigger) this game still rules, AND I WILL BE HAPPY TO ILLUSTRATE. Story-wise it doesn’t seem to be anything EXCEPTIONALLY special so far, dealing with some soldiers in a Magitek-war, a Secret Princess escaped from her palace, a Femme Fatale Thief, just a great big grab-bag of stock tropes that still go crunch just fine. But as little as the story might stand out (so far), the mechanics are where the game really shines.
From a character-management standpoint it implements some interesting anti-grinding measures by still having classical character levels BUT only raising them after boss fights, not unlike Chrono Cross or I thiiiiiink Legend of Dragoon? So you don’t have to worry about being under-leveled for an area, because if you’ve reached that area, you can’t be. In addition to raising stats, every level-up also gives every character a single skill point, which can be spent to unlock new active and passive abilities and specific stat-boosts. Unlike the characters themselves, these skills DO receive experience points with every battle and level up through three tiers, so you can definitely still wander around fighting monsters all day—-if, for example, you’re at work and just playing this mindlessly off to the side while you focus on other things—-and still have something to show for it.
But maybe the most interesting mechanic Chained Echoes brings to the table is the Overdrive system (see below), wherein every offensive action taken in battle (i.e., except healing and defending) ticks the white marker a little (or not so little, depending on the action) further down the meter toward the green and red. Once it hits the green you enter Overdrive, described in-game as being when the team is warmed up and working in synchronized, wherein you deal 25% more damage, take 15% less from enemy attacks, and all skills cost half MP; but let hit the red bit—-‘Overheat’—-and you’ve overdone it, exhausting yourselves and taking 25% extra damage from enemy attacks. but direct your attention to the wee symbol and number at the far-left of the meter:
You may notice that the same symbol appears on the skill-screen above: not a coincidence! Those denote different types of skills (magic, physical, etc.), and while a given symbol is displayed in battle, using skills tagged with that symbol will lower the Overdrive meter by a pretty significant chunk.
The whole thing lends a really active, rhythmic, and strategic feel to battle; the turn-order is plainly visible on-screen, so you can know that in two turns, a character will come up who has an ability you want to use, but which would put you into Overheat, so before that, you can have the preceding character cool the meter down, and the symbol changes every few turns, indicated by the number to the up-left, meaning that your Overdrive-management strategies have to be extremely flexible and you can’t get stuck in a loop for long. It makes every fight something you really have to pay attention to instead of just pressing A until you win, and that level of moment-to-moment engagement is rare for the genre; I don’t know that it’s enough to carry the entire game, but I also know there’s plenty I haven’t seen yet, such as job-classes and GIANT MAGIMECH FIGHTS, and so I live in hope.
GOD I love a squares-and-job-classes tactical RPG, always have, always will. That said, I actually initially bounced hard off of this because unlike its predecessor Three Houses, which was relatively grounded and character-based, this is 1,000% Full-Power Instant Anime Bullshit from the jump, and is not prepared to apologize for it.
That said, after I got past my initial “What is this ‘Heir to the Divine Dragon’ bullshit? Why was I in an amnesia-coma? Why does my head look like a district map drawn by a Republican who knew he’d lose if two black peoples got to vote in the same city? Why is EVERYTHING about summoning heroes from OTHER FIRE EMBLEM GAMES.”, I found a game that is much more interested in its mechanical experience than its narrative presentation, and I think very much to its benefit.
Just as an example, everyone’s least-favorite mechanic in every game it appears in, weapon-degradation, has been removed, and the classic Fire Emblem Weapon-Triangle (Swords beat Axes, Axes beat Lances, Lances beat Swords) returns after its absence in Three Houses, encouraging—-or, depending on how you look at it, requiring—-much more thoughtful and strategic gameplay decisions. But Engage also gives you a lot more flexibility in terms of the units themselves; for instance, the first Healer-class character you get, who in past titles have been useless if they aren’t healing you and a liability if they’re anywhere near the action, is also a martial monk, who may not be as effective in battle as a full warrior-type character but at least won’t spend most of the battle safely in the back, not doing anyone any good or earning any experience points so they stay squishy and useless. And that, to me, is the primary takeaway from the few hours I’ve spent with it: FE Engage wants to make sure that you can do SOMETHING interesting with almost every character on almost every turn; it’s a clear effort to respect the player’s time in a way that’s rare for the genre, and I very much appreciate it.
Engage has also, in a tacit admission of a flaw in its philosophy, realized that if it wants players to choose Classic mode (which utilizes permadeath, wherein named, story-important characters die forever if they die in battle) they kinda need to give us enough units to be able to keep playing the game if the worst should happen, and as a result you are simply flooded with characters from the get-go, so there’s really no reason not to, at least for a first playthrough.
I’m still only a couple of hours in and already rolling my eyes at how I’m clearly supposed to lose my goddamn mind over being able to summon the hero from Genealogy of the Holy War, but the actual gameplay has me tying a comical napkin around my neck and eyeing the battlefield-squares like a big ol’ slice of Battenberg.
A very fun little show that serves nicely as a spiritual successor to Modern Family while improving on its formula in some meaningful ways!
The elevator pitch is the story of three siblings and their families, one ‘main character in Rent’ poor, one comfortable but veering toward struggle, and one who needs to be personally worried about all of this ‘eat the rich’ talk. The narrative thrust of the first season is the comfortable sibling (Topher Grace) secretly writing his next novel about his siblings and knowing they’ll disown/actually murder him if they find out, but once that conflict resolves (pretty early on, too) the show is about the business of this larger family-group, one gay, two racially blended, one divorced, and all relying heavily on each other. It’s just a nice, funny, sweet show with terrible parents and old sibling grudges and the rich brother slowly coming to terms with the fact that he’s the bad guy and trying to figure out how to change that; there’re episodes about struggling to maintain your heritage while still finding your place in society, how to figure out who you are after a divorce, how to reconcile your belief that public schools deserve better funding with the opportunity to send your child to an objectively better school, and how to desperately attempt to hide one actress’s pregnancy until the storyline about her and her wife doing IVF can catch up.
One of the main (and fair) criticisms of Modern Family focused on how difficult it is for the average viewer to relate to a larger family-system whose least successful household was still flying to Turks And Caicos and replacing cars after accidents with zero financial hardship, and while I don’t think it’s a flaw that undoes the value of the show, I will say that addressing income inequality, disparity in standards of living and how rich people straight up do not occupy the same world as everyone else is built into the bones of Home Economics and it’s a better show, and a better show for a modern audience, for it. For example, as I mentioned, one of the families decides to do IFV—-expensive!—-and is shown struggling to save for it across an entire season instead of just going to do it in a single episode like a Dunphy or Pritchett family would’ve, y’know, just like a real family would have to.
Also, in the scary-poor family, both wives call each other Lulu and that makes me very happy, as does the explanation we get in the third season.
Hoboy, is this a wrigglin’ kettle of fish. So, in 1972, the Vietnam War was in full swing and Americans wanted a way to cope and process it through art (though not in the way which would come later), but it was too hot to touch or address directly; looking straight at it would invite destruction from all sides no matter what you were trying to say. So instead they picked a war Americans generally know very little about, if they know it happened at all: the Korean Police Action of 1950-53, and used it as an allegory for many of the issues brought up by the Vietnam war because, as the Man told us, war never changes.
It helps that many of the surface factors were similar: neither were ever formally declared a ‘war’ by the U.S., both took place in East Asian countries that were experiencing internal conflict between Soviet-and-Chinese-backed “““Communist””” regimes and democratic populations, both were on-the-ground shooting-wars but also served as a proxy battlefield for the United States and the Soviet Union, in both cases many Americans both at home and on-site felt that we had no business being there and were making things worse to further our own agenda, and in both cases it was the local civilian populations and enlisted Americans that ended up paying the price and enduring long-term consequences. And that’s where M*A*S*H* comes in, as arguably the first true dramedy, set in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital just south of the 38th Parallel, the border between North and South Korea at the beginning of the war. Almost every character is either a doctor or a nurse, medicine and surgery feature prominently in every episode, and the overwhelming majority of characters were conscripted and do not want to be there or think that their presence is helping.
The show is often thought of as a comedy, and that’s not entirely unfair; the main characters are extremely talented surgeons who brew gin in their tent, pursue the nurse population with vigor, crack wise and wage prank warfare on their peers and superiors and generally goof around until it’s time to try to save lives, and that’s fun! Those parts are fun. But it is made crystal-clear, both in and out of fiction, that while they may be naturally inclined toward rascalism anyway, their behavior is explicitly a way to cope not just with the strain of being trauma surgeons but with the soul-destroying horrors of war, and that part isn’t so fun.
Slight tangent: this show has a WEIRD history with its laugh-track, which was included at network insistence against the wishes of the creator, but was toned down considerably a few seasons in and eventually dropped altogether, and the DVD versions give you the option to watch with or without it. But from the very beginning, the tomfoolery and double entendres and general disreputability would continue in all the surgery scenes but in dead silence, to illustrate that these were survival mechanisms, without which they might start screaming and never stop; the few times per season that the jokes don’t work anymore and they reach their limits are some of the most profoundly affecting television I’ve ever seen.
And now the awkward part! Okay, so Deliberate Values Dissonance is a thing, right? And in the 70’s, when this was made, norms had certainly progressed away from those of the 50’s, when it was set, and they saw that chance and took it: Hawkeye and Trapper, the main characters, are openly disgusted by the racism many of their fellow soldiers (and some superior officers) display against the Koreans they’re there to help, and on several occasions are accused of “offering aid and comfort to the enemy” by abiding their Hippocratic oaths and treating all wounded who come their way no matter what uniform they wear. The entire camp is one big horndog factory, and the dames give as good as they get without being judged (any more than the men are, anyway), the Horndog In Chief, Hawkeye Pierce, is heavily implied to be bisexual (or at least not picky considering the circumstances) and a…complicated character, a straight man who crossdresses in hopes of being sent home for mental illness, nevertheless openly wears feminine clothes and discusses brassieres and fashion tips with the all-female nurses and men alike, who all unironically tell him when his outfit is on point that day. All of that’s great, it was a shockingly, belligerently progressive show for its time and deserves credit for that.
The PROBLEM is that we, and many of our morals, are now more than twice as far from the 70’s than the 70’s were from the 50’s, and as a result it can be hard to tell when one era’s bullshit ends and another begins because as they get farther away from the present they start to merge. At one point, Hawkeye and Trapper stop Frank Burns from blowing the whistle when they help some Korean kids out…by forcibly sedating him and leaving him in a drug-haze for a full day, or literally steal his human blood when he refuses to submit for a hepatitis screening. In another, a racist piece of shit soldier tells them to make sure he gets “the right color blood” in his transfusion; this is pilloried as it deserves, but then Trapper and Hawkeye decide to “teach him a lesson” by staining his skin with tincture of iodine in his sleep to make him think he’s turning black, therefore attempting to rebuke a racist…by putting him in blackface and making him think he’s right about how “blood purity” works for most of the episode. And the less said about limbering up the nurses with alcohol, the better. Those can be rough! But I’m a thousand percent sure this phenomenon is perpetual; values will always march on, and the program doesn’t take itself too seriously in its attempt to say “Hey this was fucked up and we’re still dealing with a lot of it.”, but still takes the message seriously.
Overall, the refreshing, belligerent progressivism at the heart of the program is more than worth it, because it remains some of the most human storytelling and sharpest humor ever put on television. It’s weird that people were funny in the past, right? Like that’s not just me?
EVERYTHING YOU HAVE HEARD IS TRUE: THE DANCING TIKTOK MURDER-FEMBOT KICKS ASS. I bought it sight unseen and regret NOTHING, this is going to be a fairly regular rewatch like Orphan and will pay for itself in no time by the price-to-use ratio.
I will say that while it is most definitely a horror movie, it’s mostly a sci-fi drama for the first half or so and deals pretty maturely with some pretty heavy questions about consciousness, responsibility for our creations, how to process trauma, and why you should really fix the hole in your fence and clean out and put away your power-washer after using it.
Yo I am late to the robots-with-swords party and for once I have nobody to blame but myself, because the first couple of times I tried to play this game–which was recommended to me at the top of enough very different voices to convince me it wasn’t a coincidence–I hit a wall of crushing depression as soon as I got like an hour in, when you land in the ruins of Earth-that-was. Game’s a fucking drag! Pointless forever-war! Existential angst! Questions of mind and identity and not in a fun way! All in all, a free ticket on the Bummerville Express.
Now, if you’ve played the game, you know what I did wrong: If I had played for maybe ten more minutes, I would’ve hit the point where it gets hilarious and, as far as I can tell, stays that way. 9S and 2B really embrace the Bender B. Rodriguez school of robotic selfhood, i.e.:
Every robut you meet is simply overflowing with personality, yet constantly lamenting that being a robut means being doomed to the emotional life of a calculator; it’s a clear goof on humans, and Lord don’t we have it coming.
Gameplay-wise I’d call it Pretty Damn Good; the action is fast and stylish, and the RPG elements aren’t quite as RPG as I’d like but I must admit they match the ethos and perspective of the game, which excels at using the frame as part of the painting. If you haven’t played it I would recommend you do so, if only because I absolutely promise it’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen, and that kind of experience is always worth having.
Ooooooh this one’s upsetting and great.
Steve Carell plays a psychiatrist who wakes up one morning shackled to a bed, because he has been kidnapped by one of his patients, a young man who desperately wants to stop murdering people but doesn’t know how.
Naturally, there’s more than that to it—much, for example, is very effectively made of Carell’s falling out with his son after the latter’s embrace of an extreme branch of Orthodox Judaism, and also there’s a SHOCKING amount of really great sounding and diverse food—but it’s a short, self-contained miniseries, and we chomped the whole thing down in one (admittedly chunky) sitting on New Year’s Eve because OUR FUCKING NEIGHBORS STARTED DROPPING GODDAMNED TSAR BOMBA AT 7PM FOR GOD’S SAKE, so naturally, a quiet, paced drama was the perfect thing to choose. We are very smart.
I work from home, in a job that allows me to at least passively play games a good chunk of the day, especially turn-based or tactical stuff, and every day for five fucking days I have booted this bastard up and thought, with increasing desperation, “Surely today I’ll reach the end”; I cracked 200 hours yesterday and have killed God–OR SO I THOUGHT–several times, AND YET, HERE I AM.
[Update: turns out that after killing God several times, you have about an hour and a half of cutscenes and hang-outs with your pals, and THEN you are finally done.]
Okay listen, just go watch the trailer; the movie is exactly that, but longer, in the VERY best way. I am genuinely baffled that this is getting bad reviews, it is BONKERS and we sincerely loved it; PERHAPS that makes us basic bitches, to which I ask only the chance to rebut:
I HAD AVOIDED Disco for years because I’d heard it was bad; true, I found the new Klingon design very intriguing, and the suggestion of a more mature tone similar to Deep Space Nine‘s coupled with a setting similar to the ship-lost-at-sea vibe of Voyager, and also the fact that it took place prior to The Original Series but somehow looked futuristic even for Star Trek. ALSO, and if I am honest this is the main thing, I did not know where to find it. But now Paramount has seen fit to gather every Star Trek title in one place, and that place is the single worst streaming-service app known to mankind, apestyle, and cameltype; they wanna make sure you want it.
I’m just about to finish the first season and I legitimately have no idea what the hell there is not to like about this show; one (non-sarcastic) smart guy on Twitter said:
And I think that’s just about right; it’s a very different kind of storytelling for Trek and I think it generally works marvelously. Do I love everything about it? No, hell no, that thing I just linked to is…not inherently bad and stupid, but I hate everything about the hamhanded way it was handled and how poorly it was explained even in-world, but like, what’s a Star Trek without something to hate about it, the flaw that makes the masterpiece? Every series needs something that clunks, whether it’s the weird, forced Chakotay-Janeway romance, or the complete character assassination of Worf, despite the fact that he is my best favorite, or most of Picard.
Anyway I recommend Disco without reservation if you love Trek—or just great sci-fi!—and are looking for something a little more of a challenge regarding theme and tone. The performances are amazing, the production value is top-notch, and if it sweetens the pot any it features the first canon, on-screen same-sex romantic relationship in Trek, and possibly more importantly they are 100% just two dudes who are boyfriends; believe it or not, they have more important things to worry about, what with the war being brought to their door by the zealots of a Klingon messiah.
SNW, on the other hand, I would recommend for largely self-contained, episodic storytelling that elevates the aesthetic and ethos of The Original Series and recaptures the spirits of exploration and wonder that the franchise has always championed but sometimes struggles to articulate. The beauty of this kind of storytelling (as with TOS) is that yeah, not every episode is going to work for every viewer–I, for my part, did not care for the one where Pike and Spock go down to Lightning-Storm-Worm Planet–but one can rest assured that the next episode will be something completely different, albeit with some seasonal-arc connective tissue in there.
More than anything I’ve ever seen the franchise do, SNW is a clear–and clearly successful–attempt to recreate the feeling audiences had watching TOS in its heyday, with the benefit of modern filmmaking and storytelling techniques, experience with what ideas have (or haven’t) worked in the past and how they might be rehabilitated, and not putting people in blackface. It’s chockablock with truly weird sci-fi bullshit in the very best way (SPOILER the ship’s doctor is keeping his terminal daughter suspended in the transporter pattern-buffer! Come on, that’s amazing! END SPOILER) and is a perfect companion piece to Disco‘s relatively grounded, serious, long-form stories. I give it 5/5 pompadour that could only work in a reduced-gravity environment.
THIS MOVIE CANNOT EXIST, IT CANNOT BE THAT A PICTURE THIS KICK-ASS AND IMPOSSIBLY WEIRD EXISTS. God, it–okay. Okay, so: there IS a Santa Claus, and he is David Harbour, and he has grown weary and cynical because the kids only want like Xbox Live subscription cards and drones. He decides that this will be his final Christmas; he’s not the first Claus and he won’t be the last, although the specifics of how either of those happens are a mystery to him, so it’s not like a Santa Clause situation, and in the course of visiting one of the last homes he’ll ever reverse-burgle, and as if you hadn’t guessed yet: he walks into a shockingly, well, uh, violent I guess, home invasion/hostage situation led by a scenery-chomping John Leguizamo. It’s amazing.
I truly can’t overemphasize how strange the energy of this movie is; the only thing I can think to compare it to is Lake Placid, not because it’s actually similar in any way but because Lake Placid is the fucking meanest movie I have ever seen in a way that’s impossible to express if you haven’t seen it, every frame of that movie is suffused with the most hostile energy I have ever seen on film, and Violent Night bounces back and forth between something like that and its opposite number, a kind of belligerent hope smeared in chunks of mercenary.
VN is, as advertised, one of the most incredibly violent pictures I’ve ever seen in a way that is frequently difficult to watch, but it’s still filled with love and joy and so much blood, it’s a beautiful study in the shambled chaos of human emotion.
I came late to the original Wonder Years, having been put off by its wholesome Americana as a child before I could see the darker patterns woven very intentionally throughout it; this series fully embraces those from the beginning, being about a black family in 1960’s, newly-integrated Alabama.
I’m a white-style man, for my sins, and know that no amount of horizon-broadening will ever let me really understand what being black is like, especially because modern racism is still just as virulent and ingrained in the system as ever, but is often a lot subtler about its poisonous business; 60’s-style racism is all the same whispering and silent understandings and smug white smiles we have today, but also “these people are visibly resentful of the National Guard forcing them to let us go to school” and “throwing pennies on the hallway floor in front of the Jewish kid and asking if he’s gonna pick it up”. It’s fuckin’ gross, but the show manages to be incredibly fun and touching while never shying away from the more shameful things about the United States, then and now.
Like the original (to which this is canonically related in-world in a way I won’t spoil because it’s a beautiful gut-punch when it happens), TWY deals with the daily life of a young boy and everything that entails: parents (as is their claim to fame) just not understanding, the complexities of friendship and love when they collide, the Vietnam war, grandparents getting older and having to accept that their role in the family is changing, the truly eternal stuff that will always be relevant no matter the time and place.
It’s only got the one season so far, but it’s extremely strong, and I recommend it. That’s why I’m writing about it. That’d be wild, can you imagine, “I don’t have any particular feelings about this but I’m gonna write a whole thing on it”.
So that’s a bunch of stuff! Mostly my month was taken up by Bloganuary. Have you also enjoyed any of it? Do you hate Disco as much as I love it? Lemme know!
I have to go to bed now. End of post.