Toki Tori (PC, E)

Toki Tori is a lot like a cross between Lemmings and Lost Vikings, which meant the game pretty much netted an instant pass with me. You guide Toki Tori around a level, trapping, destroying, and avoiding enemies, and usuing items and tools to collect all his half-hatched bretheren (which culminates in one of the most (unintentionally?) screwed up video game endings I've ever seen). Unlike Lemmings and Lost Vikings you can also rewind time to adjust your timing and planning. The puzzles are generally delicious noodle-scratchers, although their difficulty could be a little incongruous with easier levels following harder ones, and some of the Hard levels were easier than some Normal levels. Also, while I've seen uglier, the sewer area's graphics sap all the joy out of the puzzles.

Regarding the screenshot, I just took a section of a full image instead of resizing it, because I couldn't change a full image to a reasonable size without turning the picture into a jumbled mess.


Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. 18 (TV DVD)

Well at least it didn't have a Season One episode for once! Unfortunately, Shout Factory still found a way to half-ass this set. We got not one, but two movie so damn boring even Joel and the bots couldn't keep me awake (Lost Continent and Beast of Yucca Flats, the latter from the same director as Red Zone Cuba. Go figure) and I don't remember one damn joke from Crash of the Moons. Jack Frost is okay, though, and given the trend of the last few sets, Shout should ease up on the number of sets they release, focus on fewer sets with better episodes, and maybe start putting some heart into the packaging.


Pluto (Manga, Naoki Urasawa)

So Astro Boy joins the ranks of Ninja Turtles and others in getting a gritty reboot, although strangely enough Atom (Astro Boy) isn't really the star of the show. Something is killing the seven great robots of the world one-by-one, and Inspector Gesicht, one of the great robots himself, is on the case. The series gets off to a slow start because one of them, Mont Blanc, literally dies before the audience has learns anything about him and we're only introduced to him in flashbacks and stories from his fans. North No. 2 fares better, i.e. we actually get to know him firsthand, but he's killed off shortly after and is barely mentioned in the remaining books.

Things get rolling in the second book, as we start to meet the other great robots whose ultimate fate is to be ripped to shreds and other characters ranging from mangled, insane robots to robotics professors with bad haircuts to a member of an anti-Robot KKK. You've got all these little stories, and you're wondering how it's all going to come together...

... except it doesn't. The appeal of this series is almost entirely lost on volume 8 being completely fucking retarded. Frankly I was a bit on edge with this series after the end of Volume 6, but Gesicht handing Pluto his ass then getting shot by a broken flower peddler has nothing on what goes on here. It's like Urasawa couldn't figure out what to do with one more book after all the World's Greatest Robots were dead, other than arbitrarily revive one and set the world up to explode at the hands of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, a crisis resolved even more abruptly than it came up. Also, at one point Dr. Tenma lays down two big reveals and a Scooby Doo Unmasking in a single sentence. The side-stories with the Robot-KKK dude and that parastic tulip were never resolved, and they never bothered to explain who that guy who puked cockroaches or the talking teddy bear were. Just looking at books 1 through 7, I might be willing to give the series an extra Skitty, but what good is it when it doesn't culminate to anything?


Ral-Grad Vol. 1 (Manga, Tsuneo Takano and Takeshi Obata)

This was like the manga version of a Piers Anthony book. So there's these creatures called Shadows that infect creatures of light and manifest throught their shadows (surprise, surprise!), and a newborn baby (Ral) gets infected by a Shadow dragon (Grad) and is locked away for fifteen years, when he and his dragon are released to battle other, nastier Shadows. An interesting premise, but most of the book is spent on Ral talking about fondling boobies and groping his teacher, and I swear the words "tits" is used as many times as "Shadow". I'm not sure if I'm going to bother with the other books in the series or not - it's only four volumes long and I'd like to see the end of the Shadow side of the story, but not if it means wading through gratuitous panty shots and floppy DDD cleavage and all the other horny teenager fan service.


Final Fantasy VIII (PSX, T)

And here's where about half of my May went, on a game I didn't even like that much. So, Final Fantasy 8 tried to revamp the Final Fantasy formula and throw in something like FF7's Materia with the GFs, and all it really did was create tedium.

First, you don't buy weapons, armor, and accessories in the game, you have to junction spells into your stats and refine your weapons from items. Spell junctioning starts with you equipping GFs that allow you junction spells into those stats. Then you have to spend ten minutes in a single battle Drawing the hell out of a monster to stock enough of those spells to do anything. It also means you can't cast spells without lowering your stats, but that's not too that big a deal, because the healing spells and Meltdown are the only spells worth casting. Maybe Triple if you didn't give the GF Command to whoever has Cerberus, and Haste in a couple boss fights. And heck, if you went through the tedious process of getting him, don't mind sitting through the drawn out summoning animation, and aren't at risk of getting him killed by the enemy before he appears, you can just summon Doomtrain for the same effect as Meltdown.

The weapon refining is even more absurd, and seems geared more toward forcing the player to buy the strategy guide than for innovation's sake. First you have to (go to GameFAQs to) find the magazine that tells you which items make what weapons, or buy them from an item shop late in the game. Then you can either play a shit-ton of cards to get some of them, or (go to GameFAQs to) find the monster from which you can win or steal the item or another item you can use a GF Ability to refine into those items. Oh yeah, and some items like Dragon Skin can't be obtained through any GF refinement ability, so you have to fight monsters for it.

Confused? It makes a little more sense in-game. A little.

Monsters also level up with you, which actually makes the game more boring. First, it means the designers could be lazy with monsters, so the final damn dungeon still has you fighting monsters from the beginning of the game, and they're not even palette swaps. It also means they give more experience when you kill them - this is the first Final Fantasy I ever maxed out my main party members' levels in, and I wasn't even trying to, it was just a by-product of trying to get three characters' best weapons and the Eden GF (gained my last ten fucking levels in that trip, and probably would have gained even more if I started at a lower level). Not only did it mean I wiped the floor with the final boss, it also had the pleasant side effect of all my guys being vulnerable to Lv. 5 Death (because it caps at 100, not 99) and since I couldn't alter my level I had to waste an ST-Def slot on Death.

Then there's the story - it's a total mess. The main party characters are best forgettable (Quitis, Irvine) and at worst blithering assclowns (Squall, Rinoa), and the characters are all pretty one dimensional (Squall is angsty, Seifer is arrogant, Zell is hyper, Irvine wants to bone every female he crosses paths with). The game also completely forgot to explain how Squall survived an icicle spear through the throat or how the missle base party surviving that place blowing up, and the ending, while visually impressive, was utterly incoherent. Also, several times during some dialogue the characters stopped moving for several seconds and I thought the game had frozen (and a couple times I was actually in control, but standing around like a doofus because I didn't know it was my turn).

And because I'm feeling extra grouchy, I just want to mention that the pale spot on the seat of Zell's pants bugged me. Was that a PSX-era fad or something?

Do I have anything good to say about it? Well, I might generously say spell junctions and item refinement were just a (horribly) failed experiment caused by ignorance rather than spite. When I wasn't having to leech spells of a monster for half an hour or run around the world map item hunting and could actually fight, it was alright. The Laguna sections are okay, I guess, although I hated the way the game would take the GFs off everyone but Squall when I hit one (was that a glitch? It seems like you were supposed to transfer two character's GFs and spells to Kiros and Ward, but they'd take them off before the damn switch screen and you'd get into a battle not realizing Kiros and Ward weren't properly equipped). The GFs are fun to toy around with. The soundtrack's good, the game generally looks nice (that's right, I actually like how grainy the main game looks) and the pre-rendered cinemas aged a hell of a lot better than Blasting Again's did. And I probably enjoyed watching Gilgamesh kick Seifer's ass way too much.