Doctor Strange (PG-13)

Boy, Marvel sure loves retelling Iron Man. Just instead of the suit of power armor like Ant Man, Doctor Strange takes the arrogant genius getting crippled in an accident. I will give it credit though, when the film plays the "hero beats the big baddie with something that was a bad idea earlier in the film" card*, the way Doctor Strange goes about it is badass.

* Maybe I should start calling this trope "crossing the streams."

Some scenes take place in a magic dimension where the world is constantly scrambling itself, if you can imagine a cross between the inside of a clock tower and a kaleidescope. While some people might hold these scenes as shining examples of computer graphics enhancing artistry, they just caused me to space out. They didn't make me sick or lightheaded or anything like that, just blank. It's like these scenes were such a visual overload that my brain took off for lunch until the nonsense was done.


Spyro: Ripto's Rage (PSX, E10+)

Well, I sure cursed at this game a lot more than the first. Instead of exploring levels for imprisoned dragons you have to play various minigames in exchange for orbs, and some of the things just plain sucked; race tracks where the camera zooms right up to Spyro's ass so you can only see ten feet in front of you, collecting gears strewn around a train track where the game assumes you failed because you don't understand the controls instead of, say, misjudging the distance of a block when switching lanes, or that ice rink where you're constantly sliding around have to knock bombs into, I think, a bull that I couldn't be arsed to actually complete. Then you have the boss fights, which all take place in a circular arena where the camera points towards the middle and spins around the perimeter. An ally will drop weapons you need to damage the boss, but the bosses can also claim the powerups and use them against you, and because of the funky camera I kept running past the powerups while the bosses could beeline right to them.

The platforming is alright, if harder than it should be at times because the low camera makes it hard to judge distance and I'd either jump too soon and miss the second platform, or jump too late and fall off the first platform. They also made it so pressing triangle in a glide makes Spyro do a hop instead of dropping like in the first game, which leads to some fiddly moments and not just because I managed to get to a jump that took this little hop to clear before the NPC who told me about it.

By the way, I'm glad I wasn't drinking anything when I found out that whiny cheetah character has the same voice actor as Jecht from Final Fantasy X - you know, Tidus' alcoholic father who got fused with a planet-ravaging leviathan - otherwise I would have utterly drenched my monitor and keyboard. Speaking of which...


Final Fantasy X-2 (PS2, T)

"Wait, weren't you planning to play Final Fantasy Tactics first?" I was, then I figured it'd be wiser to apply the salve after I burned myself.

I was curious about Final Fantasy X-2, but also wary of it because (A) it's a cash grab that only exists because Square was desperate for money after Spirits Within put them $98 million in the hole, and (B) the best thing about Final Fantasy X isn't in it aside from a minor role in the final boss fight. Although after seeing how they ran X's surviving cast through the dirt, leaving him out of it wound up being a point in its favor.

While most Final Fantasies have a main story that opens up towards the end into sidequests you can do to power yourself up for the final dungeon, X-2 is a load of fluff you do just so you can do more fluff later in the game and, oh yeah, there's something about a giant planet-destroying canon and Yuna being possessed by a long-dead pop singer? And while good Final Fantasy sidequests are about killing monsters to get tools that help you kill more monsters, FFX-2's sidequests have you scalping tickets for a concert, organizing the entertainment for said concert, dressing up like a moogle and giving balloons to children, managing a Blitzball team, helping Wakka figure out what to name his baby, and other nonsense nobody cares about. There's one part where you chase a chocobo up and down a long, winding road, and I legit don't remember if that was part of the main story or a sidequest. And you need a fucking strategy guide for these sidequests; I lost the Tamer job because I answered a question wrong earlier in the game, and you'd have to be psychic to figure out how to revive Tidus on your own by going to an earlier area you'd have no reason to go back to halfway through the game and pressing buttons at the right moments during two cutscenes.

The only positive thing I can say about the game is the combat system might have been fun if the game had actually done something with it. It sort of plays like a hybrid of Final Fantasy V and X, in that you have a preset character roster that can freely change jobs and learn skills as they use them, but can also make the switch in-battle. But then they waste it on battles amount to using Attack over and over, if only because it's real time and you're given barely enough time to plan your moves. And the second chapter is spent fighting the same pair of dipshits every fifteen minutes. Sort of like when Chrono Cross made you fight Solt and Peppor over and over, but without even the pretense of tutorializing game mechanics.

Getting the Alchemist was a bit of a pain because you have to win a series of battles against enemies that spam instant death spells, but once I got it the rest of the game was a cakewalk. Even the bosses in the final dungeon got their shit ruined by Dark Knights and Alchemists spamming Dark Wave and Stash-Megapotion.

The rest of the game is just bad design choice after bad design choice. First of all, who decided what a 3D Final Fantasy really needed to go with its elaborate backdrops and cinematic camera angles was platforming mechanics? And instead of letting you freely jump or just using button prompts, it's done through this awkward thing where you run towards the ledge and press the button *just* before reaching it and if you get the timing wrong you'll instead have to watch Yuna fumble on the edge, so for every successful jump I had to watch Yuna stutter eight times. So imagine the first impression the game makes when it opens up with you having to race some NPCs up a confusingly designed dungeon, struggling with this jumping mechanic and getting into fights every five steps.

In the final dungeon I got into a fight with a dragon boss that just wouldn't die, and after several attempts at it I finally went to GameFAQs to find out it's an optional superboss somebody put smack in the path through the final dungeon. Yeah, Final Fantasy V put Omega out in the open of the final dungeon, but since he has his own overworld sprite you know he's something special even before you find and read that book telling you to leave him and Shinryu the hell alone. And you could clearly walk around Omega, while in X-2 you're supposed to jump up to an easily missed platform and hit a switch to move the superboss' spawn portal further down the path (shit, the first time I ran into it, I didn't even know where it came from). Then the dungeon ends in a game of Simon where the lights are spread around several screens and reached through - wait for it - jumping puzzles and floating platforms.

If I didn't know this thing was an official game with a full boxed release and had downloaded the ISO from the Internet, I would have sworn it was a bad romhack. Specifically one by teenage boys who were more interested in stripping Yuna and Rikku to their underwear than actual level design. You're not exploring a new world with secrets and mysteries, you're just retreading the same areas as the first game in a different order and with a few traffic barriers thrown around. Also, the music is shit and is it just me, or are the colors duller than the first game?

I guess I should mention that I did not fulfill the criteria for that infamous hot spring scene, not that I feel like my life will forever be incomplete without it.

I would also like to credit X-2 for introducing the worst character in all of Final Fantasy. If I wanted to shove Vaan off a cliff, I wanted to shove Shinra off a cliff and into a pit full of rusty razor blades and dog poo.

It's not the worst JRPG I've ever played; that game took that award, ran away with it, and fell down an abandoned well in the woods, so it's unlikely I'm ever going to redistribute it. But it's definitely the worst Final Fantasy I've ever played, and it's seriously left me wondering if I was too hard on VIII and IX.