Lunar: The Silver Star (Sega CD, MA-13)

While I was playing this game and posting my progress at Flying Omelette's forum, another member described Lunar as Game Arts trying to combine Final Fantasy IV and Ys Book 1 & 2 without understanding what made either of them great. Even before he said that, I was noticing a lot of similarities to Ys. There's a floating city, a blue-haired goddess reincarnated as a blue-haired girl who likes music, and the synth rock soundtrack down to one of the cave songs sounding an awful lot of Palace only with a mechanical grinding instead of dripping water, and Ghaleon is basically Dark Fact with costume horns instead of real ones, right down to the red-headed hero needing to gather a full set of magic equipment to hurt him (although the "originally a good guy, but went mad when somebody close to him died in their service to their goddess" connection only applies if we count the anime version of Dark Fact). I would say what went wrong was a generous helping of Lufia somehow got thrown into the mix, except Lufia came a little bit after Lunar, but shut up.

So what I'm saying here is Lunar a bunch of cliches simmering in a pool of mediocrity. Almost all the dungeons are either caves or towers, only one boss early in the game took any kind of strategy beyond tank-and-spank, and the final boss was the most retarded thing in the game. His first form was much harder than his second, but that says more about how laughably pathetic his second form is thanks to your healer's ability to negate all his attacks. I also didn't care for how the game bumps a spell to the top of the list when you cast it. Maybe it was done to make it easier to cast over and over, but by the end of the game the spells were so mixed up I could barely remember which ones were stronger than others (particularly on Nash's list)

The soundtrack gets praised for sounding like a symphony or something, but while aside from that completely wretched Weird Woods music the soundtrack isn't bad, it didn't impress me even half as much as Ys. For one thing I can barely remember anything from it, except that the major boss theme sounds like whoever composed it thought all you needed for epic music was lots of bells and percussion, things like an act structure or a memorable melody be damned.

And how's this for storytelling: The manual and case mention some Magic Emperor who's threatening the world of Lunar. But the first time the Magic Emperor is even mentioned in the actual game is several hours in, and about twenty minutes before the big reveal that it's Ghaleon. And after that twist the story takes another hike, and the only evidence of what a jerk Ghaleon is and the nasty things he's doing and how he's going to destroy the world is people telling me so. But between the first big reveal and the end of the game, all I'd actually seen him do was kill a dragon, which is admittedly a huge step up from two goat men but come on. In fact, most of what little shit that does go down between then and the Grindery is Xenobia's dirty work.

And to put the cherry on top of it all, I know some people find the Working Designs style of writing cheeky and hilarious, but it just makes me want to kick out the TV screen. I'll admit I chuckled at that villager complaining that Ghaleon ran over his jar of sun tea with the Grindery, but every other attempt at giving the dialogue personality just made me foam at the mouth, be it characters calling each other piles of mule poop, that town of rednecks where the text is so heavily accented it's almost illegible, or all the damn pop culture references. My "favorite" was the one about the bandits at the Nanza Barrier using a pile of Barney tapes for target practice, with the remark about Ghaleon try to sing an ABBA song coming in a close second. And I thought the comment about the fax modem in Curse of Monkey Island was dated.

On the other hand, while working on this quickie in early July I played through Silver Star Story Complete on the PSX, which made my look back on this version more charitably. I'll save my moaning on all the bullshit they added for that quickie, but for now I'll say it made me appreciate how much more to the point the original game was, and that as cliche as it was at least it didn't have any pretensions of being more than it was. That was enough to get me to award this game an extra half Skitty. (Revision from CK 1/20/14: And finishing Pier Solar convinced me to award it another half Skitty)

Also, I'll admit it isn't fair to pick on Lunar for this since it came first, but the side story about a black dragon of earth going insane and tearing apart the world he was appointed by the gods to protect reminded me of Deathwing from World of Warcraft.


Futurama Volume 6 (DVD)

If Volume 5 tended to play out like South Park wearing a Futurama disguise, this is Family Guy wearing a Futurama disguise. And if I wanted to watch Family Guy (which I don't) I'd watch Family Guy. Hey, what's creepier than watching Bender get a sex change? How about the entire Planet Express crew and a handful of minor characters all get sex changes! And let's top it off with some cheesecake shots of female Farnsworth with her saggy boobs flopping around in an air current! And did we really need another sex wars episode from this show? That aspect totally killed Wild Green Yonder for me. You are not going to top Amazon Women in the Mood, guys, and you're definitely not going to top it by turning all the male characters into chauvinistic pigs. Seriously, knock it off.

But the gender swapping wasn't even the episode that bugged me the most. No, that would be one with Fry reintroducing the common cold to the future. It's like they wanted to recreate Luck of the Fryrish (after completely ruining it with Bender's Big Score) with Fry's dad, only they didn't understand what made the original episode work.

It would also be nice if the new writers would research the old episodes better. I complained in the last set that the stuff about Bender's backup was made nonsense by the first episode, but here we have people time traveling by drinking the fluid from the head jars even though that didn't happen when people drank it before (such as the episode where Leela takes up major league Blurnsball), and Leela's obsession with killing a space whale seemed really out of character. And I almost wonder if they lost the animation guides from previous seasons, because of how wonky Zoidberg's face is on this set.

While most of the episodes were still able to include one or two good jokes each, the only halfway decent episode overall was the one with the egg (though it had a predictable ending). I guess Law and Oracle wasn't bad, but it also didn't impress me. Anime Futurama just creeped me out.


Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (360, T)

Why does it always seems like the biggest hurdle I have in modern action games isn't figuring out how to get past the challenges the developers have so carefully planned out, but getting the camera and controls to work? Or maybe in this game it's not so much the controls as the damn lockon. Not being able to effectively use my Force powers left me clearing most of the game by Force Throwing everybody into walls, and electrocuting everything that resisted. In boss fights, a cinematic camera angle takes priority over letting the player know what the hell they're doing, so those are also needlessly frustrating. But the nadir of the game was that awful bit where you crash the Star Destroyer, a set piece the game was so proud of it advertised it on the back of the box, only the actual in-game event is spent slooooowly rotating the thing and sloooowly pulling it down. As if having to go through the steps four or five times to finally crash it wasn't bad enough, the button prompts are completely screwed up, something that took me several botched attempts and a web search to finally solve.

I'm also not sure what's going on with the Starkiller character. At the beginning of the game he alternates between ruthless killer and laid-back joker, and then halfway through he suddenly decides to become a Jedi and is nearly driven to tears over a mutilated Sarlaac. I guess they were trying to portray him as a good guy who genuinely thought he was doing the right thing until Vader's betrayal impaled some sense into him, but he just comes across as schizophrenic, like he was written by two people who had different views of what he should be.

Also, it's basically an eight-hour backstory on the origin of the Rebel Alliance logo.


Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (360, T)

So, if Force Unleashed was an overly elaborate explanation of the Rebel logo, what's this then? Money milking I'd say, considering the ending of Force Unleashed didn't exactly leave room for another game with Starkiller. And it seems they dedicated so much time and space on the disc to making the game look better than the first one that they left nothing for actual content, so the four hours it takes to finish the game are mostly spent quick time eventing your way through the same three or four giant robots and AT-STs in copy pasted rooms, ad nauseum. And I still blew through most of it by mashing the Force Throw and Grapple buttons.


Back to the Future (PG)

Another one of those classics like Ghostbusters that I seem to catch more of every time I watch it. Granted, the last time I watched this movie was years ago so maybe I just didn't remember things like Twin Pines Mall turning into Lone Pine Mall (or make the connection between that and Marty running over one of the farmer's trees. Actually, I never knew what the farmer was yelling about before, I always thought Marty hit a fence), young George telling Marty the exact same thing about dealing with rejection that Marty told Jennifer at the beginning of the film, or the cover of George's sci fi novel, and I completely forgot that the "Do we turn into assholes" line from the TellTale adventure game was from the end of this movie. But I never knew that when Doc comments on Marty cutting off his brother's hair in the photograph that you could actually rewind the video and see what he was talking about.

As for the actual movie, it's Back to the Future, what do you want me to say about it? Well, maybe that the tension from all the disasters leading up to the lightning chase seems a bit forced, but that's a minor complaint against a solid, time-proven film.