Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled (DS, T)

Black Sigil is very much a tribute to 16-bit RPGs, namely Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI with a battle system remniscent of a slightly more successful Legend of Heroes. It doesn't take full advantage of the open field battle system, but it certainly brightens up the battles, and there's some impressive looking bosses and a decent soundtrack to go with it. The cast is well rounded and colorful, delivering such awesome lines as "Kid, you don't wake a grown man by dropping a waterfall on him!" For the most part, anyway. Most of Aurora's lines are about what a great and powerful sorceress she is, and anytime she opened her mouth and wasn't immediately smacked back down by Kairu or Nephi, I was filled with a burning rage to do it myself, repeatedly and with a cast iron frying pan. It doesn't help that halfway through the game she becomes totally worthless in battle as well.

But the game's biggest tripup is that the encounter rate falls somewhere between excessive and fucking ludicrous. Yes, you can run from any non-boss fight, but if I'm trying to navigate a maze and solve puzzles with light beams, I don't need to be interrupted every few seconds. Seriously, I considered it a miracle if the music had a chance to even get started before I ran into the next battle, and several times I just had to close the DS and go do something else for a while before I hurled the system across the room. But I suppose if you go in mentally prepared for that, it's more bearable.

It also seems a bit unfinished at times. The game froze on me twice, and the plot left me feeling like half of it was contained in optional side quests I kept missing, but it's more likely it was forgotten altogether. When Kairu and Aurora get teleported out of Bel Lenora, everything that happened in the first hour or two is forgotten and you're left wondering why nobody says anything about the Sammarkand Empire's high general having the same name as the guy who got kicked out of Bel Lenora for being a jerk. Nobody ever says anything about the status ailments Kairu starts getting randomly afflicted with in battles either, leading to a moment where I couldn't tell if a mysterious character having the same problem was an ingenious way of foreshadowing or complete incompetence on the part of the developers. And when you finally uncurse Kairu and return to Bel Lenora at the end, spoiler warning, nobody acknowledges he can suddenly use magic now or what a bunch of dicks they were to him before. But the biggest question I was left with was (highlight for massive spoilers):

What really happened twenty years before this game takes place? The game starts with the backstory that a man with no magic named Vai rallied up a bunch of evil magicians called the Curse Bringers, and waged war on Bel Lenora. Finally Vai was defeated and banished by Duke Averay, and peace was restored to Bel Lenora.

But you meet Vai during the course of the game, and find he's... actually a decent guy. Okay, he's a bit of a hardass, but there's a big difference between being evil and just having a stick in your bum. In fact, Vai is one of the two optional characters you can recruit, after a side mission to save him Kairu totally volunteers for. Then if you go talk to Averay as him, the two start chatting like old friends, with Averay apologizing for banishing him and Vai telling him not to dwell on it because if Averay hadn't banished him the king would have had him executed, and he never would have had a wife and daughter. And you can also find Vai's old, plundered mansion, and somebody hanging around the place looking for something left to steal mentions how nobody ever found anything connecting Vai to the Curse Bringers. And for crying out loud, when his curse is broken he uses Holy magic.

My guess is Vai really had nothing to do with the Curse Bringers, and was only blamed for the destruction they caused because of his lack of magic, which I also speculate was caused by a spell the Curse Bringers put on him in their plans to release the Forbidden. Averay banished him to save his life and the truth got twisted in the next twenty years, with only Averay knowing the truth about Vai, which also led to his adopting Kairu. I'd also say the fact you can barge into Bel Lenora as Vai, and instead of the shitstorm I was expecting nobody really cared as evidence that nobody really knew who he was, but that was probably an oversight in game design.

I was also a bit put off by the endgame which was one of the most underwhelmingly stupid things I've seen in a long time. The final boss is a massive disappointment and the ending is rushed. Also, if you go to the town of Pelpo Pelo as soon as you get the airship, everyone will be talking about an event that hasn't actually happened yet. And for whatever it's worth, this game has the worst manual I have ever seen. The images are blurry and look like they were taken from a badly compressed .mpg file, and the text is all in one long list written in a generic font with no sense of layout or organization (I actually had to go to GameFAQs to figure out how to run from a fight. Hold B). It's so bad that when I opened the game up I seriously thought Amazon sent me a pirated copy.

I mean, I enjoyed my time with it, especially as a fan of 16-bit JRPGs, but I wouldn't say everyone should drop what they're doing and get a copy.


Soul Music (Terry Pratchett)

I could only read about twenty pages at a time before I'd lose focus and have to put the book down, and it was only when I finished the book that I finally realized what the problem was. There's at least five stories going on here: Susan, Death, the band, the wizards, and the Musicians Guild. And that's conservative, as you've also got characters like the Death of Rats, the crow, and Albert diverging from Susan and Death's stories to do their own thing for a while. The book constantly shifts position and those stories are constantly meeting up, splitting off, and branching more, and that got mentally exhausting to keep track of. And honestly, I didn't even realize who was in the first carriage accident until Susan asked Death about it at the end of the book. I thought she'd gone into the future somehow and was looking at the second carriage accident if she hadn't saved the occupants. I also thought some of the music industry references fell flat, if only because they were too much like the names Archie comics come up with to avoid lawsuits (i.e. "Stairway to Heaven" becomes "Staircase to Paradise" or "U2" becomes "&U").


The Angry Beavers Seasons 1 and 2 (DVD)

Angry Beavers was a cartoon I remembered enjoying as a kid, though going into this DVD I could really only remember two things pertaining to the actual show; an episode that totally ripped off Maniac Mansion, and playing though Psychonauts and wondering why Raz sounded so familiar only to later discover he had the same voice actor as Dagget. So was this was going to be a fuzzy trip down memory lane, or my childhood come back to humiliate me?

Well, it could certainly could have held up worse. The show can be quite appealingly fucked up at times, and it was great of them to throw in stuff only adults would get, like the nod to Ray Harryhausen in ancient Rome episode, or Dagget freeing all the animals in a zoo while dressed up as Braveheart and yelling "FREEDOM!" a lot. But the line between hilariously absurd and just dumb is very fine, and Angry Beavers keeps weaving back and forth over that line, depending on when the show is allowed to do its own thing and when the network suits take the wheel and inject their own ideas of what kids like. I mean, can somebody tell me what the hell was going on in that football episode early in the first season, where the giant football blimp pops into a thousand normal sized footballs that all count for a touchdown? Hell, it's not just the episode list. One episode started with something like "Hey Dagget, look at this! Richard Horvitz just had a little baby boy!" "Great! Who's Richard Horvitz?" "Nobody." that was worth more than the entire rest of the episode, though I admit I probably found that way funnier than I really should have. And the tortured ways the brothers pronounce a lot of words could get kinda grating.

The Day the World Got Really Screwed Up is freaking genius, and I wish more of the show could have been on that level. Plus, it's like they used up all their remaining integrity on that episode, finishing the season with some of the worst episodes on the set. Well, maybe that episode with the sheep singing and dancing about how great nudity is was more unsettling than terrible. And the bowling episode where Dagget keeps telling Norbet that it's okay to stink at something as long as you enjoy stinking might have been more unintentionally funny than inspiring. But man, fuck that episode with the little sisters.


Darksiders (360, M)

So basically it's the hyperviolence and hacky slashy combat of God of War meets the dungeon crawling and puzzle solving of Zelda, as everyone else on the Internet is quick to point out. Actually, the game seemed to rip off a fair number of other games. One of the tools is a ripoff of the Portal Gun that's a lot more cumbersome to use because you only have one button, and the boss fight with the Stygian reminded me uncomfortably of the sand snake in Shadow of the Colossus, but at least the autotarget didn't keep pulling the cursor away from its weak spot.

But you know, I actually liked this more than God of War (and certainly more than Shadow of the Colossus). At least the combat forced me to get involved instead of letting me sit around, holding block until everyone was done attacking, then launching them into the air. But even then, I preferred to be working the puzzles, and when the doors suddenly sealed off and a horde of enemies warped in, I could only sigh and deal with it. And the visuals are nice, though I have a hard time complaining about any modern game that has color and no bloom.

By the way, there's this demon thing that hangs around War called The Watcher, and he sounded really familiar to me. I eventually "realized" it was Frank Welker using his Dr. Viper voice. I say "realized" because imagine my surprise when I beat the game and found out he was Mark fucking Hamill. But what surprised me even more was finding out the demon merchant was Phil LaMarr, aka Hermes Conrad from Futurama.


Journey to the Center of the Earth (PG)

I really didn't expect much from this movie, as it sounded like yet another unecessary adaptation with an actor who would overpower it. And the boring first half hour or so wasn't exactly easing those doubts. But once they finish the endless spelunking and actually get to the center of the earth, the movie becomes a lot more entertaining. Note the difference between "entertaining" and "good", though. This was the sort of entertaining that left me waiting for the three silhouettes to come and start mocking it, with ridiculous, over-the-top set pieces and some of the most laughable CGI I've seen since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. But at least shit finally starts happening and the kid stops acting like a twat.


Mary Poppins (G)

This movie left me really conflicted. I mean, I don't want to really tear into it because there's some good music and dance choreography and it has Dick Van Dyke and all, but some of the goofing around went on way too long, like the penguins. The ending felt like things had only been temporarily resolved, as the father only started caring about his children once he'd been freed from the prison of his job, but once he was reemployed it seemed like only a matter of time before his soul died again. I also felt like a terrible person for waiting for the Step In Time skit to be interrupted by somebody bursting out one of the windows, yelling at the chimney sweeps that they were trying to sleep.

I also spent the entire movie wanting to drop kick the boy, but I don't feel so bad about that.


Fable III (360, M)

I still like the first one best, but I think this was at least an improvement over Fable II. There isn't anything as enraging as escorting a giant fat woman who won't shut the fuck up through a cave, as memory crushing as Wraithmarsh, or as insulting as a final boss fight against an old man with a bad haircut who literally stands there waiting for you to shoot him (yeah, this game's final boss was still lame, but at least he fights back and takes more than one hit to beat). And Fable II didn't have anything as awesome as a bunch of nerds shrinking you down and sending you through their Dungeons and Dragons game.

But while I was surprised to find out your character actually talks in this one, it felt really dumbed down from the last two games. You've got regenerating health, the world map feels really small, you level up just by using your weapons instead of buying upgrades with experience, outfits don't have any stat effects and are for appearance only, and the game seemed even shorter than Fable II. Also, I swear Lionhead studios only made one set of animations for your character and NPCs, be they male or female. Yeah, I'm sure your character grabbing a mercenary's neck with their shins and snapping it with a twist of their hips looked impressive when done by the princess, but it just looks gay when the prince does it. Which is nothing to say of whatever he's doing when you charge the meter for petting your dog.

Also, in previous games when you were escorting somebody they just followed you. Here, you have to take their hand and guide them around like Ico and Yorda. I suppose it was kinda cute at the beginning of the game when you're escorting a little girl back to her mother, but it's just weird to do it with the merchants I'm escorting through mercenary-infested woods, and even moreso with the criminals I'm hauling back to jail.

Knowing what was going to happen at the end of the game, I was able to finish with both a full treasury and full karma, so I guess I didn't get soured on the ending like most people. But there's something I want to let future players in on: if you're going for paragon of virtue, you can probably get away with making a few neutral choices as king, and I would strongly recommend keeping the alcohol laws the same unless you want everyone vomiting everywhere you go. Also, don't buy any property in Bowerstone Old Quarter until after you become king.


Robin Hood (R)

This wasn't so much a Robin Hood movie as it it was a generic, medieval Russel Crowe action movie that took the names of the characters from the Robin Hood legend, and might as well have been called The Adventures of Grizzled McScowlyknight. And when you finally get used to that fact, they pull out the twist ending that this is a prequel to the Robin Hood legend we all know, if you can ignore that Maid Marion isn't a princess, and King Richard is dead. But even if you go in understanding all this, I didn't care too much for this movie. I mean, it's not aggressively bad or anything, just kind of unflavored. It probably doesn't help they're trying to tell a story where there was none - it's like, we all know King Richard went on some crusades, and Prince John stayed home to be a dick to everyone, then Robin Hood arised as a vigilante. Who felt we needed a two-hour movie to tell us that?


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, with RiffTrax Audio (PG-13)

I watched the original version of this back when it was first released on DVD, but since then my memories dribbled away until the strongest ones were Indy stuffing himself into a fridge, and the aliens that had as much business in an Indiana Jones film as a ghost did in Blaster Master. And look, I know teaming Indiana Jones up with anyone else after Sean Connery is a downgrade, but you could at least do better than Shia "NonononoNO" LeBeouf. But at least it made for a goldmine down the road when RiffTrax came around. Okay, it could have used fewer "Harrison Ford is old" jokes, but at least those didn't bother me as much as the "Hogwarts worships Satan" jokes in some of the Harry Potter films. And because I can be so juvenile sometimes, I couldn't stop laughing at the line about the guy whose role in the movie was to hold a push broom and scrub Harrison Ford's wang.

One thing my dad pointed out while watching this is the gang is a bit chatty. I guess I never really noticed before. I supposed the jokes being fired off after just about every movie line might diminish their value a bit, but it also might be necessary since you don't have the characters in the corner reminding you which version of the movie you're watching and don't get caught off guard when some mystery voice suddenly chimes in.