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23 August 2016 @ 04:55 pm
Up here. I have more to say about this later, but I think this is more than enough for now.
01 August 2016 @ 10:41 pm
It's no secret I've been slacking off in posting here, so I've decided to co-op a productivity trick from an acquaintance and list a number of medium-term goals for the month. Maybe posting a to-do list in will spur me to make some progress.

1. Finish my synopsis of Vol. 2 of the 999 novel. I'm over halfway done; I had hoped to have had this finished by the end of July, but personal issues intervened. Shouldn't be long, though.

2. Post at least a couple more Retour play reports. The delay here was my camera getting busted, prohibiting me from taking those blurry screenshots that are so integral to the posts! I've cobbled together a fix, though, so there's nothing prohibiting me from resuming activities. Do you know that my posts are apparently one of the top sources on English-language Retour info in Google's search results? Good Lord.

3. Post the next entry in my Mystic Ark: Maboroshi Gekijou playthrough. It might very well be the last entry in that series, as the game hung up, and I can't progress - at least not via the emulator. The next step is to start from the beginning with the other character to see if I can work around the impasse that way. If that doesn't work, I have to start hitting up message boards and trying other emulators to try to resolve the problem. Not looking forward to that, as PS emulation is a briar patch, with tons of settings & add-ons with which to tinker. So you can see why I've been reluctant to go back to this game. I've actually had this post mostly done for a while, but I haven't yet dragged myself to put the finishing touches on it.

4. ...Uh... I actually had a #4 in mind, and I've forgotten what it was. This bodes well.
Oh, yeah, that's it: Finish either my NightCry review or Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia play report. Both are lengthy, and both are stuck at a bottleneck, preventing me from getting on to other games.

Here's hoping for progress!
04 July 2016 @ 07:42 pm
Good News: After finishing Vol. 1 of 999 Alterna yesterday, I decided to take a peek at spoilers for the story for Zero Time Dilemma, and...it's ridiculous. And I didn't expect any better, but this particular ridiculousness is so far up its own ass that it's incapable of really affecting anything: a bunch of dead-end time paradoxes that run in place and have no long-term significance for anyone. And I understand that [Spoiler (click to open)]Snake & Clover (& Lotus & Seven) aren't even mentioned. (Even the nightmare scenario of Virtue's Last Reward that features Clover is brushed off as a weird "tangent" universe that doesn't really happen kinda, rendering the second game a pointless diversion.) Which is incredibly negligent from a franchise perspective, but there's a bullet dodged. Plus, there seems to be a bit of dissatisfaction with how the sequel storyline panned out among some fans, so perhaps Zero Time Dilemma will help shuffle itself and Virtue's Last Reward off to irrelevance.

Bad News: Given Zero Time Dilemma's debut on the platform, Aksys announced plans today to release 999 on Steam in a "remastered" format, complete with voice acting. VA work on an established project is always a dicey prospect, of course, since the new voices may not match up what the characters sound like in your head - and I hope the word "remaster" doesn't mean that they're gonna use the sloppy art from the iOS port of the game. My real concern here, though, is that Aksys might feel compelled to redo 999's story & presentation to come in line with its Saw-inspired sequels (and, man, the bloodthirst in Zero Time Dilemma far surpasses even that of VLR - if you needed a close-up of someone bludgeoning a human being seventeen times with a fire extinguisher, then here you go). I'm sure we'll be getting EXTREME CLOSE-UPS of the Ninth Man's death, which was only described in game - and who needs deft, potently creepy prose when an on-screen bloodbath is so much more gratifying?
Plus, there's the prospect of the requisite "clumsy, shoehorned foreshadowing promoting inferior sequels" that's added to modern rereleases of classic titles with disappointing progeny (see: FF4 with After Years, Chrono Trigger with Cross). All told, I can't look forward to the Steam version of 999 becoming the "definitive" edition of the game - as it likely will, since it'll be the most accessible version going forward.

Weird News: When I first saw the Mira character, I noted her marked resemblance to Cynthia Velasquez: confident brunette Latina woman in control of her own sexuality sporting a raspberry top designed to showcase dark underwear. And then I learned that she's...[Spoiler (click to open)]a serial killer who removes her victims' hearts due to mommy issues. Y'know, if you're gonna crib so blatantly from Silent Hill 4, you could at least use your superior components to craft a better story.

ETA What in Blazes News: In looking up a few videos, I have to say: this game looks just awful visually. (Warning: kid, or kid robot, getting shotgunned in the head there.) The character model work is utterly atrocious. Nightcry gets slammed for poor graphics, but it's leaps & bounds beyond this.
03 July 2016 @ 11:47 pm
Please see the start of Pt. 1 below for warnings.

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03 July 2016 @ 11:46 pm
Everyone's busy with Zero Time Dilemma, so no one cares about 999 right now! Which makes it the perfect time to go on about the novelization of the 999...er, visual novel, 999 Alterna. (The first volume, anyway.) I see bits from the novel have already made it into the wiki, so someone's probably hit most or all of this, but for what it's worth, here're my reactions, as well as stuff I found notable.

NOTE: This document contains omega spoilers throughout for the 999 game, obviously. It also contains a Virtue's Last Reward spoiler in the entry for pg. 207, if anyone cares. (Note: No one should care about this.)

Also: This document has an extended mention of self-harm in it. It's at the pg. 183 entry.

The Vol. 1 synopsis is split into two parts on LJ due to the platform's space constraints. It should be all in one entry on my Tumblr.

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Zero Time Dilemma, the second sequel to 999, releases tomorrow. I've taken only the most cursory of glances at the promo material, but here's a guess about the plot: [Spoiler (click to open)]There are a couple players that look physically like they could be Ace's son, and given that he ran a pharmaceutical company, and Zero is dressed like a plague doctor, he'd be a good suspect for letting the Radical-6 Happening virus out.

But I don't really care about that. The direction with which the creators chose to go with 999's unnecessary sequel, Virtue's Last Reward, left me very cold: a story that threw in fully with a Saw aesthetic & worldview, that reveled in sadism and a nasty reality-TV glee in seeing how its unlikeable, bloodthirsty cast could be induced to betray and murder each other, even when it was stupidly counter to their own self-interest. Add to that Virtue's brain-dead plot twists - every one gives "my bionic arm is powered by my dead wife's brain" a run for its money - plus its completely misplaced pretentions to moral significance and its deification of a character from the original game who, in this dark future, has become a homicidal ghoul, and the enterprise represented an insult to its precedessor's smaller, more heartfelt story. 999 included just enough horror to maintain an air of tension; it instead rode on a sense of mystery and the player's investment in its characters, a bunch of strangers forced to work together to figure out the riddle of their own abduction. When one member of the group, out of freaked-out desperation, suggests treachery, the act is treated with appropriate weight, as huge and horrible - group survival, not eating each other alive, was the objective. The game treated its characters as people to get to know, not fleshbags to dismember.

But Virtue's Last Reward had a golden-child publisher and a voluminous script, and it's easy in the video game world to mistake lots of writing for good writing, so the title was heaped with praise upon release and even got on some year's-end best-of lists. The latest and supposedly final sequel, Zero Time Dilemma, follows fully in Virtue's footsteps, this time largely abandoning VLR's "death games" premise in favor of baldly instructing the characters to murder one other in order to escape their prison. It's almost comical, in fact, how the game dispenses with any more elaborate mechanism for encouraging the characters to kill each other in its hunger for carnage: "just have 'em take a gun and fuckin' shoot each other; I dunno."

It'd all be much easier to ignore if there weren't incarnations of characters about whom I care wrapped up in this garbage. I've been reading 999 Alterna, the novelization of the...er...visual novel, and it's hit me that Clover & Snake's doting brother-sister relationship is perhaps the element of the story in which I'm most deeply invested. Clover was indeed a participant in the Virtue's Last Reward fiasco, but her appearance there was so far removed from the Clover of 999 - the refreshingly genuine & kiddish but sharp, steely, & loving teenager of the original title vs. the two-dimensional ditzy secret agent who dressed like Pebbles Flintstone into whom Virtue claimed she developed over the course of a single year - that it was easy to separate the two mentally. The absence in Virtue of her defining relationship with her brother greatly helped in that regard. Now, it's been promised (or, rather, threatened) that we'll learn what supposedly happened to Snake in the dystopian future of the sequels - and pulling him in would make the sequels seem more "real" for the characters, so to speak.

Due to their strong relationship, Clover & Snake are frequently taken as a unit, and since Snake is absent from Virtue, nearly everything you see of Clover (and, of course, Snake) is grounded in 999. Now that both will have appeared in the sequels (and considering what they did to Clover, I'm really not looking forward to the hack job in store for her brother), their depictions there will probably take over their popular images. It's the Final Fantasy IV: The After Years problem: everything that will henceforth be produced featuring these characters is going to be touched by their representation in a far inferior product.

It'd be another thing if the sequels were popularly panned and dismissed, but everyone else has gone all-in on their direction being incontrovertibly brilliant - which means, in a way, that both Clover and Snake are going to be replaced soon by these weird copies that don't act like the originals. I'll perhaps be called nuts for saying this, but it makes me feel weirdly sad and, to exacerbate matters, kinda alone in my sadness - like I'll be losing a couple old friends in a couple days. Yeah, I know it's melodramatic, but...well, you do get attached to some of the folks you meet in these games, what can I say.

At least Seven and Lotus are safe. The director doesn't care about them.
07 May 2016 @ 12:27 am
I've been quiet lately, because I've been trying to sort out how I feel about NightCry to write a review. I've gotten myself so mixed up on the title that I have no idea what to say. Nothing's obliging me to write a review, of course, but I feel the need to put a capper on the experience. I need closure.

In brief: the game's all right in its first two chapters, providing decent classic Clock Tower action in the first and mixing it up a bit gameplaywise and hinting at deeper plot developments in the second, but it smacks itself up in the third, the last and by far the largest section. This is thanks in no small part to one moment that's just toxically bad in a Bionic Commando remake sense - it's so wrong that renders everything that comes after it invalid & moot, because the game is already definitively wrecked. To set this up for the curious: [Spoiler (click to open)]heroine Rooney has just climbed through a ventilation system in an attempt to find her way to a new section of her besieged cruise ship and possibly locate her missing father figure, bespectacled professor and Chapter 2 protagonist Leonard. Her trip winds her up in an infirmary, whereupon she peeks behind one of the curtains, and, well, this happens.

And that's representative of too much of the rest of the game's approach to its horror, albeit not on such a forehead-slappingly boneheaded scale: it's goofy - in a tone-deaf way, not in a vending machine self-aware way - when it's trying to be scary. NightCry actually builds a gallery of the showpiece "horrors" you encounter throughout gameplay, and one of them - I am not making this up - is "a bathroom hand dryer turns on unexpectedly." (Nothing else happens - the dryer doesn't eat you or anything. The dryer just turns on, and that's it.)

There's a heck of a lot else to talk about, such as illogical event triggers and janky 3D controls and the cast's totally bizarre approach to the depression suffered by one of the characters, which they find more shockingly incomprehensible, offensive, and worthy of single-minded fixation than the current outbreak of dismemberment aboard the ship. But the comprehensive airing of the grievances must be saved for a longer post. As it is, my gut wants to peg NightCry below even Shattered Memories, but my head protests that that can't be right, not when the game is at least decent in so many ways that are true to the classic franchise. But then I look at that linked video. And my mind reels.
09 April 2016 @ 10:39 am
There's this sword-swinging college-age budding archaeologist in blue & black clothing with short, windswept brown hair and indistinct tribal accoutrements studying an ancient petroglyph in some abandoned ruins with his skeptical, sassy, diminutive tagalong buddy, all the while enthusing that he knew the ancient legends about the old heroes were true, even though no one else believes them. They travel further into the ruins; they stumble upon a secret chamber; and inside, they are confronted, to their shock, with an entity of myth, who has taken the form of a teenage girl...

I'm just wondering when Leo's gonna roll up in the Destiny and start asking about a Destroyer.

(I'm thinking here more of the manga intro than the game, but still.)

I didn't get very far in Tales of Zestiria - to test the waters, I started a new game with the English voices, and while the Hiro hero Sorey's voice was just fine, his friend Mikleo sounded a bit much like...well, "a snotty boy band member" sounds dismissive in an ugly way, but it's not an inaccurate description. And it's not an entirely out-of-place choice, maybe - I mean, they are going for that type of appeal with the character, to the same target demographic - but I like my game characters to fall more on the romanticized side rather than the prosaic. I was going to start over & check out the Japanese voices (you can't switch midgame), but then my hard drive not-problem occurred. From what I did play of Zestiria, though, I was struck by how the RPG gameplay seems to boil down to...clicking really fast during your turn in battle. Granted, there seem to be further nuances, but the game apparently throws all of them at you at once in the huge multi-screen text infodumps that serve as Zestiria's tutorial, and I wasn't really in the mood to commit the entire battle engine to memory in five minutes. The primary gameplay, though, appears to be shockingly simple, which really disappointed me. I requested a Steam refund, but I'll probably be back eventually - just not when the title is still $50. I think that my original plan of going back to the original Super Famicom Tales of Phantasia as my first real experience with the series is perhaps the best idea.
07 April 2016 @ 11:59 pm
I recently bought a new laptop. My primary machine was frequently refusing to turn on, a problem that Googling chalked up to a "hard to diagnose" and probably unrepairable electrical problem. I'd been using the computer for several years, and it'd developed numerous little issues over time - the graphics card had died; one of the arrow keys no longer worked; the backlight connection was unstable, so the screen appeared lit only in certain positions - and my backup laptop (the machine from which I'm writing this, for reasons that will become apparent) is a decade-old device with a whopping 100 GB hard drive. Now, I'm a translator, and I use my machine heavily for work, so normally, I'd just get a standard $400 office laptop. There were, however, several PC gaming experiences that I'd been wanting to try - D4, finally; Tales of Zestiria; and I definitely needed something for NightCry. So I toyed, for the first time, with the idea of spending a few hundred more and buying a basic gaming laptop. This was a not-insignificant expense, but, hey, how often do new Clock Tower games come out?

Using the minimum specs for D4 as my guide, I plunged into the market only to discover that shopping for a computer is much harder than it was the last time I'd done this. 1) Specs are utterly indecipherable now. It's no longer "whichever number is bigger." Overclocking with processors is now a feature instead of a warranty violation, so a processor's documented top speed is frequently not its actual top speed. Graphics cards are utterly incomprehensible - every manufacturer offers several lines with similar numbering that are nevertheless completely incomparable. Power doesn't even always go up in a series as the model number does. But worse is 2): laptop manufacturers put together some utterly incongruous assortments of hardware, making computers out of components from several different generations that don't support each other at all. This isn't an exception; this is standard practice. I was going by the minimum specifications of D4 as my guide, and there seemed to be no way to purchase a machine that gave me just enough power; I'd have to go way overboard in several specs just to meet the minimum in one.

I finally had the good fortune (so I thought) to come upon a Slickdeals promo for a Presidents' Day sale at the Dell store, featuring a laptop that seemed to meet all my requirements for $150 off. I pulled the trigger, got the shipment...and then was hit by my current tax debacle, which led me to drop everything - including testing out the new machine - to concentrate on scrounging together some cash. Perhaps I should have considered simply returning the laptop during the grace period right then, but, dammit, I splurge on myself so infrequently and it seemed so petty to be denied one of the few extravagances I allow myself that I decided to keep the thing out of spite.

OK, so I eventually got into D4, and everything seemed fine. During the game's QTEs, though, I noticed that the on-screen cursor was a little slow to react to my mouse movements - not prohibitively, like a half-second behind, but it was enough to impair my gameplay performance slightly. I got a little annoyed, and I investigated, turning off the VSYNC and fiddling with the settings as suggested to no avail. And then I made a discovery.

Like I said, before the purchase, I assiduously researched the mainstay specs that were mismatched in every laptop I'd looked at before the Dell machine. I made absolutely certain that it was more than adequate in terms of hard drive space, of CPU, of the graphics card, of resolution...

Reader, I did not know about VRAM. I was not even aware this was a concept. Apparently, VRAM is RAM set aside especially for the graphics operations, which makes no sense to me - what the hell is the computer doing with the rest of the RAM? Aren't the graphics the big horsepower expense here? Whatever the case, nonsensical comp builds are at fault again: for the amount of RAM in my machine, I should have 1 gig of VRAM, and I instead have half that. It is my lack of VRAM, I gather, that is causing the lag. VRAM issues also cause frame skipping, which I aggravatingly began noticing after becoming informed of this fact.

I was irritated at this, that my expensive new computer was not the complete gaming solution that I had hoped it to be - and though I thought I'd discovered this issue within the 30-day grace period for no-questions returns, I found out that the 30 days conveniently started from the day I was billed for the computer, not from the day I received it, so I was therefore out of luck. But the machine was still able to play the games on their highest settings, I did need a new laptop, and NightCry was just around the corner, so I ultimately, albeit begrudgingly, decided not to press the issue. In the meantime, I poked around the internet for possible solutions to my VRAM issues, and after discovering, then dismissing, a way to reallocate RAM to VRAM through the BIOS (disabled on my laptop; did you have to ask?), I contacted Dell on a whim. And I actually received a possible patch for the VRAM issue - but I have yet to put it into action.

See, about halfway through NightCry, I ran into a "hard drive not installed" error message when I attempted to boot up my machine. Thinking it a fluke, I manually shut down & restarted, only to get the same error. I checked the BIOS, ran Dell's built-in diagnostics, and - sure enough, no hard drive detected in either case. A search of the Dell boards mentioned that this might be due to the hard drive needing to be reseated, but the connections seem OK. I contacted Dell, and after a bit of waiting and a few misdirections, I was informed that either the drive itself or the motherboard had probably gone bad and would need to be replaced, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence in my new machine.

Now, the computer was so new that the only stuff I had on it was saves for D4 and NightCry. D4 is safe, through the wonderful magic of which I recently learned known as Steam cloud saves. NightCry isn't cloud-enabled, though, so, thanks to having to wait around to get the machine back from repair, not only am I going not to be able to play & discuss the game right when it's brand-new, I'm going to have to start all the way from the beginning when my comp finally comes home. The trouble is that I've been through the first chapter repeatedly due to a misunderstanding of the save system (which is not explained in-game; in the year of our Lord 2016, you have to read the manual to get the low-down), so I'm afraid yet another replay is going to make myself sick of long stretches of the game through overfamiliarity. Plus, I apparently, completely through my own initiative, had gotten myself on, and stayed on, the rather obtuse "good ending" path (NightCry comes with a surprisingly branchy Virtue's Last Reward-esque flowchart), which I considered a bit of an accomplishment. Sure, it's not a big deal simply to duplicate what I did I my first run-through when the laptop comes back, but...it's not the same, somehow. And it's 5.4 hours down the drain.

Yeah, it's a minor hassle in the grand scheme of things, but this wasn't an inexpensive purchase, and I'd put a lot of time into weighing the options before pulling the trigger on this particular machine. So, the lesson you should take from my experience is never to spend money on yourself ever.

ETA: As a last-ditch effort before shipping the laptop off, I tried reseating the hard drive myself (as opposed to just checking connections), and it actually did the job, and the computer works now. So I guess the real lesson you should take from my experience is that spending several paragraphs complaining about a problem will ensure that said problem, as well as the time and effort your spent complaining about it, will be promptly rendered moot.