Cthulhu Saves Christmas (PC)
Cthulhu Saves Christmas is a direct prequel to Cthulhu Saves the World, and even ends with the opening of Saves the World. But while that was a cute indie JRPG romp*, this somehow manages to feel like both a rushed out Christmas special, and an overdesigned clusterfuck.
* I hope, this left me with the urge to replay Saves the World if only to make sure it's held up well.
If you've played Chrono Cross, remember how spells were tied to equippable items that could only be used once a battle? Cthulhu Saves Christmas does something like that. Each character has up to eight abilities at a time, nearly all of which can only be used once. Four slots you get to set on the equipment screen, three slots randomly pull from unequipped abilities and a few that can't be equipped at all, and the last slot is a Defend ability that also recharges the four set slots and rerolls the three random slots. Also, every so many turns a character goes Super Saiyan and any ability they use on that turn is powered up so you'll want a good move ready, which typically means defending on the turn before. I get wanting to shake up the traditional JRPG formula, but there's "shaking things up" and "slowing things down" and Cthulhu Saves Christmas faceplants into the latter. And on Normal difficulty common enemies are so fucking tanky that random battles just become a chore. You can change difficulty at any time outside of battle, so I wound up going through the dungeons on Easy, then kicking it up to Normal for boss battles.
This RNG on top of RNG makes exploiting elemental weakness spotty and status ailments unreliable - you have to have an ability with the element or ailment available, then you have to be in a fight with an enemy susceptible to it. You can put those spells in your set ability slots, but then they'll just be cluttering up your menu in battles against enemies that aren't vulnerable to them. And of course, if you do manage to have the right ability at the right time, you can only use it once. So battles amount to going through your abilities one by one until they're spent then defending to get them back, and if you're lucky you'll get to disable an enemy for a turn.
This appears to be the battle system Cosmic Star Heroine uses, and that's a full-length game. That concerns me.
One character has an extra meter, "chicken," and some abilities cause her to charge "chicken" energy which is then consumed by other attacks. None of the other three have special mechanics, so it's just... weird. Granted, her Rotten Egg ability was the only ailment-inflicting ability I consistently used because one, most enemies and even some bosses were to be vulnerable to poison; two, poison lasts more than one turn; and three, the poison does more damage per turn the higher her chicken energy was when Rotten Egg was cast, so it was the only thing worth building up chicken energy for. Side note, I initially thought "Baba Yaga" was a clumsy Baby Yoda reference, but the Baba Yaga is actually a thing. At least this game taught me a new folklore nugget, along with Belsnickel and the Mari Lwyd.
World exploration is nonexistent. Instead of an open world and towns for you to explore, there's one home town and between dungeons you get a list of locations you can visit, like the post office or the park. You pick one, get a slideshow of Cthulhu causing trouble there, and receive a piece of equipment afterward. You do this a few times, then the game teleports you to the next dungeon. Other than what you get by basically throwing darts at a map, the only equipment is what you find in chests around dungeons. There isn't even any money in the game, with your HP being refilled after each fight and items being one-use abilities.
I also had to keep a low-level piece of armor on Crystal for the last half of the game because it allowed repeated use of one of her healing spells.
And as somebody who still regularly listens to Cthulhu Saves the World's soundtrack, Cthulhu Saves Christmas' is a huge step down. It's fine and the main battle theme slaps, but jeez, the final boss theme is total dogshit compared to "Existence Collapses." And the final dungeon doesn't even have its own track.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox (PG)
I read the original Fantastic Mr. Fox book years ago, and didn't really get what the point was (because yes, I'm a thicky dumb-dumb who can't figure out the subtext of a children's book). Getting shit done versus obsessing over somebody who wronged you in the past and has since moved on with their life? The movie tweaks it into the story of a guy whose desire to be remembered leads to him screwing the pooch, which is oddly relevant these days with people causing forest fires and fucking earthquakes at gender reveal parties over their needs for attention on social media.
It's a pretty movie, and just about any still wouldn't look out of place in a children's storybook. But the narrative loop of Fox antagonizes, farmers retaliate, Fox antagonizes, farmers retaliate, Fox antagonizes etc. gives it the pacing of water circling a drain. I know that's how the book went, but the movie adds at least one more round of antagonize-retaliate to keep it going even longer.
Redshirts (John Scalzi)
Meta, self-aware games have been a thing since at least Earthbound and have been getting more and more common since Undertale, but how about a meta, self-aware book?
Redshirts is the story of a new recruit for the Universal Union's flagship the Intrepid, which is always involved in dangerous missions with bizarrely high casualty rates. So yes, the basis is how ridiculous the actions and behavior of the Star Trek crew would be in real life. But the book can't *just* be 300 pages of pointing and laughing at Star Trek logic, so after a plot revelation and the cast taking matters into their own hands in a way I really don't want to spoil it starts playing with the idea of how "real" a fictional story is to the observer. Sort of like the Imagination Land episodes of South Park with a gutpunch, or OneShot with less sniffing on its own farts.
By the way, I'm not a Hugo award-winning author, but Scalzi? I know what the book is riffing. Why was it necessary to have a character make a direct reference to Star Trek. Maybe you were trying to establish the story taking place in the real world where Star Trek exists, but it came across as "HA HA, THE SETTING IS A PROXY FOR STAR TREK, DO YOU GET IT!"
The last section of the book is three short stories featuring characters from the second half of the main story. The first one is somewhat silly and even contains some advice for aspiring writers. The second is a wake-up call for people pissing around with their lives, and the last is a bit heartbreaking.
Mega Man X4 (Playstation 2 via Mega Man X Collection)
I went into this hoping I'd be more generous with it after that game lowered my standards. I came away still thinking it's overrated.
Sidenote, I played this on the PS2 collection because I have no idea where my copy of the Playstation version is. I'm pretty sure it's the same code and the controller is the same, but I'm tossing out this disclaimer just in case the X Collection has emulation problems or something.
X4's big feature is finally letting you truly play as Zero, and it feels like he was the intended character with X as the side option. Zero's version of the story feels more complete with the dropping of a major lore reveal and the Iris character, a love interest who goes nuts when he kills her brother. Meanwhile, X gets some fatty nobody cares about.
I've always blown through this game in a trance, but couldn't put my finger on on why the levels were always so forgettable compared to X1-3. Then I saw maps of the levels and realized how many of them are straight line "run from left to right and hop over holes" railroads with little verticality to their layout. And most of them are the same thing all the way through. Slash Beast? A linear train with some crates. Magma Dragoon? A linear hallway of rock and magma. Compare that to, say, Magna Centipede's stage which kept changing with the spotlights, the fight with the wireframe sword, the blocks that fuse to the floor, and the mantis miniboss that downloads data from you. I guess Frost Walrus at least has the icy slopes, and Split Mushroom the staircases and elevator. But I swear, across all three stages of the Final Weapon there's one room that has anything going on in it. It's like they watered the shit out of the levels to make sure they're completable with two characters with completely different playstyles.
And one level takes place entirely on a speeder bike, which for some reason nobody called bullshit on until X5 made you ride one for the first minute of Volt Kraken's stage. But I suppose Jet Stingray's level at least lets the "READY" disappear before it starts trying to kill you.
And if X4's soundtrack isn't the weakest of the entire X series (besides Command Mission, I mean holy shit that "PARTS" song is the worst sound to ever come out of an X game. At least Flame Hyenard is kind of funny), it's definitely the weakest of the Playstation trilogy. The only two songs I've really noticed are Magma Dragoon's level and Sigma's final form, and the latter is really not something I'd listen to outside the game. Or maybe the music is just getting drowned out by X and Zero's constant TAKE THIS UWAA TAKE THIS TAKE THIS UWAA TIME TO GET SERIOUS UWAA TAKE THIS TAKE THIS UWAA HOOHAHOH HOOHAHHOH GYAA YEAH YEAH YEAH HOOHAHOH GYAA YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH IT'S NOT OVER YET GYAA YEAH YEAH YEAH OH MY GOD, SHUT THE FUCK UP.
I get wanted to spread your arms in the space a CD gives you over a cartridge, but not like this.
My first thought when finishing a movie should not be "You could have done so much more here." There was a story here about the balance between life and death, and how death is a part of life. Then the movie chickens out and settles into being a bland hybrid of Ferngully and every "keep the macguffin away from the baddies" story ever.
And after I finished the movie and turned my player off, I realized I had no idea what the young male hero's name was. I'm sure it was said at one point, and I know the old mentor was named Ronin, but jeez, did he even do anything important?