Xenogears (PSX, T)
If anything is to be learned from Xenogears, it's that ambition needs to go hand-in-hand with reality. While working on this quickie I couldn't really think of anything to say about the battle system and combat other than it works, except that whoever came up with that Opiomorph boss needs to be slapped. This is mostly a narrative driven game. One that, when you're finished with it you can happily reminisce on, but while you're actually playing the game it can be a bit of a drag.
There are some effective character moments, like when Fei finally gets his shit sorted out (even if I felt the Hulk did that kind of scene better), or when Billy realizes he still cared about his father (although I wish they'd followed through with this scene instead of wimping out at the last second). Some things were a little too convenient like the relationship between Bart and Sigurd, but I guess it wasn't as absurd as half the stuff Phoenix Wright asks you to accept. And Rico's story doesn't seem to get any closure. But the main story is a total mess. This is one of those games where the most of the game doesn't have a story so much as suggestions that there will eventually be a story. Hell, as I was nearing the end of the first disc, the game was still throwing new characters and terminology at me. And the kicker? By the end of the game, I couldn't tell you how much of it mattered anymore. Also, was there anybody on the planet who seriously didn't figure out who Id really was the first time he appeared? And one plot point got completely buggered because somebody mistranslated "Ouroboros".
The second disc is pretty polarizing, but I actually didn't think it was that bad. I can totally see how it'd be a big WTF moment when this game was initially released, but if you go in knowing what to expect it's easy to mentally prepare for. Hell, I thought it was kind of hilarious, like an excited kid on a sugar rush had suddenly taken over the narrative and was just belching the story at you.
And if nothing else, the soundtrack courtesy of Chrono Trigger composer Yasunori Mitsuda is incredible.
And yes, I know he's actually thrusing the sword between his arm and body, but I still say Citan's Rumble Earth has him attack by committing seppuku. Also, great words to live by, Rico.
Bruce Coville's Book of Monsters (Edited by Bruce Coville)
The strongest stories were the ones written by Coville himself, even if the one about the parallel worlds didn't feel like it ended properly. And the one with the fairy and the Ba-Grumpus starts off sounding like it's going to be one of those "Predators are evil" pieces of shit, but ends in a delightful "Ha ha, fuck you!" moment. As for the other authors, the one about the Grooglemen was the most interesting. On my first reading I was all "What the fuck is this shit?" but after the twist ending, I had to reread it to figure out what was really going on. I'm not sure I'd call it a spectacular story, but I thought the way it plays with written text was neat.
Several of them are just forgettable, "The Beast With a Thousand Teeth" is like a less insulting version of the Aesop Fable "The Lion in Love", and the one story that was straight-up horror, "Blood Mary", was the worst of the bunch. The Native American folk story about Kokolimalayas, the Bone Man... I don't know how to judge it. I know traditional mythology has always taken huge liberties with biology, logic, and well, everything, but even by the standards of Zeus giving birth to a full-grown Athena by eating her mother and having his head cracked open it's fucked up. Like, the only two people left alive are a boy and his grandmother because Kokolimalayas ate everyone else and drank all the water, then went into a food coma. When the boy does a stupid while gathering berries (that can somehow still grow when there's no water?) and wakes him up, the grandmother tells the boy the Bone Man's heart isn't located in his rib cage but his little finger. Now, ignoring how many ways none of that makes any sense, she doesn't even specify which little finger.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Grace Lin)
This isn't actually a story; it's a bunch of Chinese folk tales thrown into a smoothie maker. Most of the time it's upfront about it, heading character's back stories with something like "The Tale of the Dragon's Pearl" or "The Story of the Man Who Lost the TV Remote and Got His Head Stuck in the Sofa". But then there's shit like this one scene that has nothing to do with anything, where Minli buys a peach for a beggar, and after he eats it he buries the pit and it instantly grows into a fruit-bearing tree that he invites everyone to eat from. Then when the merchant who initially told the beggar to go fuck himself turns back to his stand, all his peaches are gone, having been magically eaten off the tree. Oh, but then it turns out the beggar was actually the king in disguise! ...Wait, why the fuck did he steal the merchant's peaches? Just to be a dick? Did the peach salesman not pay his taxes? No, the only reason this scene exists is because it's a traditional Chinese fairy tale. Okay, that link has it as a pear tree, but the story's the same and it pisses me off every time I hear it. Also, if you go up to the one titled "Stealing Peaches", the bit about a piece of string that extends into the sky also happens in this book. I wonder if Grace Lin knows the saying "A good artist steals, a bad artist borrows".
And the fate of Magistrate Tiger was as anticlimactic as a kitten taking a nap. Like, he's the villain in just about every tale of the book; he fucks with the Man in the Moon, he commissioned Dragon to be painted, he nearly ruined a city with his greed, and when he finally dies his anger reincarnates him as an actual tiger with poisonous claws that manages to make one of the two main characters sick... and then he's tricked into throwing himself down a well by two tertiary characters who had just shown up and hadn't even been named yet. I kept thinking he was going to come back, but nope, that's the end of him. That doesn't even deserve a slow clap.
The Guy From Harlem w/ RiffTrax Audio
A soon as the titular Guy From Harlem ordered a New York Strip Steak "well done" and I thought "Boy, that's a waste of a perfectly good steak" only to have the RiffTrak guys say basically the same thing and then turn it into a running gag, I knew I was in love. Okay, the first half with the African princess is a bit slow, but when that yelling businessman shows up things get a lot more interesting. And then the Riffers snuck in an Earthworm Jim joke, just to put the cherry on it. That said, I'm not sure why they never picked up on how the Guy From Harlem pronounces "security" like he has a stick in his ass, but I guess it's hardly the most awkward delivery.
The Sword and the Sorcerer w/ RiffTrax Audio
You want to know what the hardest quickies for me to write are? MST3K sets and RiffTrax features. Especially when they're generic bad fantasy movies like this instead of glorious gems like Super Mario Bros. On one level they're badly-written, boring, terrible movies, but then you've got the jokes that make me laugh hysterically for ninety minutes. Then I sit down to write the quickie and can't remember a single joke, only the badly-written, boring, terrible movie.
And sometimes I get antsy when the Riffers appear to miss something big. Talon is the lost prince of the kingdom that Whatshisface took over, and there's these other two heirs, a prince and princess who are organizing a rebellion to take back the throne. Talon appears as a stranger who saves the princess from a rape gang, then promises to help in exchange for a night with the her. Aside from that hypocrisy, did I misunderstand something or did Talon bone his sister?
Cool As Ice w/ RiffTrax Audio
If you want to see the RiffTrax crew skewer a terrible movie documenting all the worst aspects of the 90s, I'd recommend Super Mario Bros. over this. While I laughed my ass off on the first viewing, I tried to rewatch it to write this quickie and could only make it halfway through. That's because the base movie is Vanilla Ice jacking off for ninety minutes, and I was not looking forward to sitting through the dad jumping to conculsions about Vanilla Ice's character and being unable to decide whether the dad's irrationality or the "How dare he doubt Vanilla Ice!" subtext was grosser, even with the support of the RiffTrax crew.
Also, it is weird as hell to hear Crow T. Robot reference Akira.
The Familiars: Secrets of the Crown (Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson, Kindle eBook)
The first Familiars book was a decent magic adventure book for kids, albeit one with an ending that sort of undermined its own message. This one just frustrated me.
At the end of the the last book, the work of the evil queen turned out to be the work of her hare familiar gone bad, Paksahara. Paksahara now controls the Shifting Fortress, a nexus of magic that constantly teleports around the continent. Now she's used it to rob humans of their magic abilities and is raising an army of zombie animals because fuck you. Well, there's this undercurrent to the story where animals ruled Vastia until humans came and screwed them over, and whether two wrongs make a right, but nobody cares about that. Hell, when some woodpeckers explain how humans dicked the animals over, our three protagonists don't give it much thought. Paksahara's bad and needs to be stopped, okay?
Fortunatley, our heroes aren't completely up shit creek. As luck would have it, a lullaby passed down by the animals is in fact a riddle the First Phylum of animal mages created to lead anyone who solves it to the Crown of the Snow Leopard, a relic that summons and controls the Shifting Fortress, because there's totally no way such a song could get butchered over the generations. And that's just the beginning of a long line of "are you shitting me?" moments. There's a chasm the heroes cross with, and I swear this is how the book puts it, "an incredibly powerful illusion, one whose manifestation is so convincing that it can even fool gravity and the laws of nature themselves", a river that's distorted in time and space which even the book admits you shouldn't think too much about, and a betrayal that only occurs because somebody had to do it.
Granted, the book is less about overcoming Paksahara and the Shifting Fortress, and more about Aldwyn's past. The three heroes spend most of the book following the trail of Aldwyn's father, Baxley, who went in search of the Crown three years prior. All the while Aldwyn is disgusted with his father for abandoning him and his mother to hunt for the Crown of the Snow Leopard because, according to his uncle, he was a greedy treasure hunter... except the totem that had given Baxley the magnetic orb needed to locate the Crown said it would only give it to somebody with the blood of destiny, which should have thrown up a red flag.
And then we get to the penultimate chapter, and a plot twist that renders the book pointless and Baxley's fate that much more infuriating. Highlight for spoilers: As it turns out, the Crown of the Snow Leopard isn't a literal crown belonging to a literal snow leopard, but an altar built among a field of black and white flowers. Within it are seven magic stones that hold the names of the animal species that made up the First Phylum, whose descendents are what the heroes actually need to summon the Shifting Fortress. So why the fuck wasn't the song about the species of the First Phylum to begin with.
The Incredible Hulk: What Savage Beast (Peter David)
I really didn't know what I to expect from a novel about the Hulk, but since it takes place during the Merged Hulk era I thought it'd be worth a look, at least. Something went horribly wrong here. Maybe it was trying to cram too much of the Hulk mythos into one space. Maybe Peter David's writing works better with Dale Keown or Gary Frank's artwork backing it up. Although there was one delightfully meta line, about how "Bruce" isn't masculine enough a name and men on TV have be called something like "David". If you don't know what that means, look up the 70s Incredible Hulk TV show.
In the beginning, Bruce gets enraged into his Savage Banner form by the army and a robot Hulk clone whose origin is never explained, and winds up getting Betty pregnant. What follows is a mix of melodrama, legitimate fear of Betty birthing a monster that tears out of her Alien Chestburster style, and godawful shit like Betty telling Bruce "I don't hate you, I hate myself for falling in love with you!" when she sees what she's given birth to. But after a Dead Father Ex Machina Betty gets her shit together, and now the two are back together and have themselves a gray baby named Brett.
Then the Maestro shows up.
Look, I understand the intent of the Maestro, that he's the embodiment of Bruce's greatest fear of turning into his own father, but I cannot for the life of me take him seriously. Among other reasons, he's so cartoonishly evil that Skeletor would tell him to wind it back a bit. Even worse, the Maestro is joined by an army of Hulks he recruited from other timelines, and the scene where Bruce tries to convince Brett that he, not the Maestro, is his father made me want to tear my hair out. Then all hell breaks out between Bruce and all the parallel universe Hulks until the book finally ends on a mess of cliches.
And that's just the unintentional stupidity. A scene where Bruce surveys a village that got flattened when the Maestro learned they'd given Bruce some provisions is followed up by him referencing Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (I am not making that up). And then there was that bit that made it sound like Brett "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex"ed a slave girl, only the next paragraph reveals she'd survied the ravaging and just slit her wrists afterward, and I wasn't sure if I was misreading something or the "Ha ha, fooled you!" was intentional.
And then there's that fucking William Talbot character. As obnoxious as the character is, what irritated me most about his whiny attitude is that David repeatedly uses his presence to reference Inspector Javert from Les Miserables, a character who shot himself in the head because he couldn't comprehend the idea that the world isn't black and white, while Talbot himself is written as a strawman.
Wings of Fire: The Brightest Night (Tui T. Sutherland, Kindle eBook)
And so the war of the Sandwing Ascension ends not on a bang or even a wimper, but on a WTF? I'd say the whole thing felt like Sutherland was getting sick of the series and just wanted to wrap it up, but she's got plans for at least five more books after this one, plus a series of short stories. Most of the book is focused on Sunny having the only acceptable reunion with her estranged family of the five dragonets, leaving only a small portion at the very end of the book to cram in an unrealistic meeting of the Sandwing princesses and a conculsion so half-assed I've already lost interest in writing this quickie.
By the way, we've already established that I am a horrible person, but you have got to the see the Wings of Fire Wiki. That site is hilarious.