Shadows of the Damned (360, M)

Imagine a version of Resident Evil 4 where the guy with the bad Spanish accent was the main character and every other line of dialogue was a dick joke, and you pretty much have Shadows of the Damned. But unlike Resident Evil 4 which was a smorgasboard of challenging set pieces, the deluge of sex jokes is really the only remarkable thing about this game. The visuals are too messy, the monsters look like Todd MacFarlane rejects, and it's easy. While I died quite a few times, the vast majority of those were instant deaths like when your crazed girlfriend is chasing you and the, um, Big Boner section, and getting trapped in darkness while trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. But other than that, the only part of the game that gave me any trouble was the controls which are way too fiddly for a precision shooter, and that boss fight with the witch who spawned clones because of this.

It also didn't help that I was being driven bugfuck by the screaming baby doors and the soundtrack. Shadows of the Damned isn't the worst soundtrack I've ever heard, but holy hell is it the worst I've heard in a while. Yeah, okay, I guess the flamenco flavored songs are alright, but most of the game's music sounds like garbage smashing around and literally screams at you. I really hope the music to the Silent Hill games is better than that.


The 7th Saga (SNES)

My first crack at this game was when I originally bought it... way back when Gamestop still sold SNES games. My, that has been a while, hasn't it? That game came to an end pretty early on, at the Red Pison boss, who kept one-shotting both of my characters. Then I got the impression that you had to beat all the other apprentices at given points in the game (rather than just two), and after hearing about how nasty they got I was scared off even harder.

So 7th Saga was developed by the same people as Brain Lord, but Produce knew how to put together an RPG better than an adventure game. Now, 7th Saga gets a lot of criticism for taking endless hours of level griding to get through, but the truth is the battle system demands you do more than attack and heal - I beat the game at level 47, and while I also evaded the enemies in the final dungeon, the people complaining that the game is too hard even at the level 80 cap need to get a clue. And you know what makes the "Wah, how dare this game challenge me!" outcries when you get your magic locked even dumber? The game then goes easy on you by pitting you against enemies from the second area. I also found the game's leveling a bit Ys-ish, in that just a couple levels make the difference between which side gets their ass kicked in battle.

Where 7th Saga kind of lets itself down is in variety. It's as if, to make sure it could be completed with all seven characters they had to homogenize the game a bit. The only two types of dungeons are caves and castles, and there's only two dozen or so monsters with a ton of palette swaps each. The enemies kept using the same attack and status spells from the midpoint on, and the final boss used the same dark cave background and music as all the other bosses. Plus, once I figured out the Petrify/Buff/Defend/Attack combo, it worked on pretty much every enemy from then on. And there's another tactic that works on most of the bosses including the final one, and while I won't spoil that one if you'll probably wind up using it on accident anyway.

And it might seem dumb to criticize part of 7th Saga's story when for most people "it doesn't have much of one - go find the magic MacGuffins about sums it up" is criticism enough, but I think it would have made a lot more sense to have the traitor business come up after you chose a partner. It seems weird that you can choose from any of the other six after one of them is revealed to be a traitor, and I have to rely on suspension of disbelief to accept that I just happened to not pick them, especially if whoever the game chose as the traitor wanted to team up earlier.


I'm a Stranger Here, Myself (Bill Bryson)

This is a collection of articles the author wrote for a magazine column while getting reaquainted with America after living in Britain for 20 years, and when I first read it back in 2004 I thought it was the funniest thing ever. Rereading it now, it's not quite as hilarious, but it still has its moments, like the chapter on the obscure presidents, his disasterous visit to a drive-in theater, and the unsolved plane disappearances.

But other parts just haven't held up well. The early articles are a bit dodgy as he was still trying to get into the swing of things, and others might have been more relevant when they were written back in 1996 like the one on setting up a computer, which nearly twenty years later reads like any other "computers are complicated" rant by a technologically illiterate old man. But I think the biggest problem I have is the conclusions. Now, I know figuring out how to wrap up your thoughts is hard. But I think Bryson could have done better than ending half the articles with "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go [reference to something from earlier in the article]"