I have a new place.

It took almost a year after formally leaving Tumblr, but I finally set up a new blog:


I'm currently chronicling my first playthrough of the original Final Fantasy VII. It's nice to have a new place to write, free of platform complications. Thanks for reading here, and maybe I'll catch you over there!

"Don't forget about the Area 51 raid tomorrow!"

So advised a random middle-schooler on her way home from school I passed by this afternoon. As I replied, I don't think I'll be able to make it, but I pass her fervent message on to you. "Save the aliens!"

(I used to live in a town whose local Air Force base was in charge of maintaining Montana's healthy population of ICBMs. Someone in my family knew a career Air Force guy whose duties included driving a missile transport. On one occasion, some protestors had gathered outside the gates, standing in the road to stop the transport from moving forward, and he asked for instructions on negotiating his vehicle around them. He was instructed that missile transports do not stop for anything. You should probably not go to the Area 51 raid.)

(no subject)

Pursuant my previous posts, I put up a review of Bloodstained. 3600 words! I ultimately enjoyed the game, and it has numerous strengths, but there are some just utterly boneheaded puzzles in the late going and a bit too much internet glibness throughout.

(Yes, the character above is even more of a sledgehammer in the game.)

In other news: Angelique is being revived - again - but with a brand-new cast and brand-new art team. For the Switch, coming in early 2020. I understand why they're doing this: Angelique was way too much of a license to print money in its heyday for Koei ever to retire, but the franchise's pink-lace-and-ribbons attitude seems way old-fashioned; the sheer age of the series is a handicap in a genre dedicated to youthful romance; the voice actors for the main series are all getting up in years yet are too heavily-identified in their roles to replace; and the huge cast of characters is a big barrier to entry. (Retour was, as I recall, successful but not a breakout success.) I have next to no interest in Neo Neo Angelique, but I'm not supposed to; Koei's aiming for a wholly new audience. I just hope that they leave the old characters alone instead of having a new team that's invested in breaking ties and proving they're Not Your Mom's Angelique write a likely completely-inappropriate coda to their stories. Sic transit gloria mundi.

(This news was brought by a kind person who posted on the angemedia community, of which I ended up moderator in its twilight years. It was once one of the prime sites for neoromance info, but, of course, activity dwindled with LiveJournal's decline, among other factors. One of them possibly being me: I kept on posting news on developments in the Angelique franchise because, well, no one else was doing it, and analytics showed that, despite the slowdown in posting, the site still drew a healthy number of daily visitors, so there was an audience for this info. Appearances, however, in time earned me a reputation of "oh, wow, that weirdo" from being eventually almost the lone poster on the comm. I also posted a good deal of fan content during the site's heyday - translations, polls, discussions, humor pieces - which I thought contributed to the community, but I suppose...came on too strongly? In some communities, like inspires like (and there was plenty of like from other terrific folks!), but in others, this sort of engagement is interpreted as being too...forceful, I suppose. Ahh - I was never good at group dynamics. I still get a good number of hits for my Angelique translation stuff from Angemedia, and its post archive remains one of the foremost English-language Angelique resources, of which I'm glad.)

I have made no progress in finding a new blogging home. I have a number of posts I want to pull together - hey, I made a list and everything! - but time for writing is so scarce between work and the gym and translation projects that I'm wondering if I would make enough use of a dedicated site to justify the hosting costs. I've been reconsidering free sites, but nothing seems appealing:

Blogger: I really don't want to get involved in the Google ecosystem.

Wordpress: Posting images is a nightmare, their support and user community are atrocious, and I don't agree with some of the moderation policies the .com site has enacted.

Tumblr: I've been over my reasons for leaving, but subsequent visits have only entrenched my decision. There really is a crabs-in-the-bucket mentality toward mental wellness that permeates the community. There are people and content I miss, but leaving was definitely the healthy decision. A pity: the site design was damn convenient.

Wix: What's going on with this? I thought this was a website builder, not an independent blogging platform. Recent articles suggest it now might be otherwise but then go on to confuse the two functions. Wix's homepage talks all about website building yet mentions hosting at the very, very bottom, so maybe? Maybe?

I'm just going to have to pony up the cash for an independent site and set aside time to write, aren't I?

I'm turnin' around!


Last time on LiveJournal in the Year of Our Lord 2019, I was complaining copiously about the first hour of Bloodstained, in which the game threw a whole bunch of ill-considered systems at me. I played a few more hours yesterday, during which it threw out several more systems. Despite this, I think I'm coming around on the game. It's getting out of its own way.

The problems with the controls, I have mostly sorted. After that first "tutorial" level, the incessant "look at our newfangled, Not Castlevania button combinations!" instructions abate a bit, thankfully. As mentioned, the game still is tossing a bunch of new material your way, but it starts being rooted in menus instead of button combos (albeit perhaps only because they ran out of buttons). This gave me a chance to catch up and acclimate to some of the new controls - I can pull off that strange right stick + right trigger (not bumper) subweapon attack reliably now and am actually finding it quite useful in certain situations. To an extent, though, you do have to consign yourself to the fact that you're going to have to look some stuff up on the internet because the game made some weird choices that it either doesn't explain or explains only in files that are stuffed in sections of the game's extraordinarily voluminous and compartmentalized compendium where you'd never think to look ("Notes" or "Characters" instead of the "Controls" section). Right now, the controls are, for the most part, no longer getting in my way.

The other big problem I had was with the blatant knockoff feel, how the game was trying to be Castlevania but was aping a kind of second-hand idea of the mannerisms of that series in a hokey, stagey way that only called attention to the fact that it wasn't Castlevania. The storytelling gets a bit more natural once the game stops trying to establish itself as a legitimate successor and starts just trying to tell its own story. Several new characters have shown up, and the game is too busy juggling them to concern itself with its previous adolescent posturing. It's all still very obviously off-brand Ecclesia 2, but at least now it's making an earnest effort to tell a story, knockoff or not, instead of posing and worrying about how it's going to be perceived and trying to copy an inaccurate image of its predecessor.

(There was actually a character bit that I found downright endearing, when the group is exchanging intel on a monster attack with a contact they found at the scene. The contact has found a little girl, who eventually pipes up in fear after the grownups talk about violence at length; everyone takes the time to apologize to her earnestly - "we didn't mean to ignore you!" - and ask her her name, reassure her, and guide her to safety. It's unusual for a game to make the time for this sort of consideration for a civilian character, much less in a wholly non-ironic manner.)

On to somewhat new stuff. I mentioned that this session introduced a variety of systems:

- Crafting: There is a WHOLE bunch of equipment you can craft - upwards of 50 items right off the bat. Again, ignoring the game's excess will work to your advantage: I just crafted the highest-damage weapon available of a type I found manageable, plus a few accessories.
- You can also craft ingredients and food, like the dishes Alucard can eat in Symphony. The first time you eat a food, you get a permanent stat bonus, which is neat.
- A bunch of standard "kill x enemies"/get me x item" quest lines, again partially borrowed from Ecclesia. (The villagers are survivors of an attack from this game's castle of evil; I wonder if this would have been in store for Wygol Village in the Ecclesia sequel.)
- A farming system, which is a "get me x item" quest line variant, except your rewards (cooking ingredients) are on a timer.
- The special attacks from Symphony that you trigger via fighting-game commands, except here tied to the type of weapon you're wielding. I couldn't pull these off in Symphony and I couldn't here, despite the game telling me I was doing it correctly.

There's also a haircut- and costume-change system, brought to you by a rogue demonic barber, and the first alternate hairdo you get is just straight-up Shanoa's. There are a couple stray braids added as a paper-thin cover, but it's clearly her, particularly given Miriam's black hair and navy dress.

I do love that the sprites reflect your armor choices. My Miriam was rocking a pirate hat for a good amount of time.

Forgive the mundane small talk in the image for this post, by the way. One of the biggest frustrations is how the game won't take screenshots, Steam Overlay or not. Even Ctrl + Print Screen doesn't work reliably. Some things I missed screenshotting:

- The Good Albus analogue interrupting the Not Vampire hunting proceedings to give PSAs about "proper nutrition" in introducing the meal system
- I entered one room, glimpsed part of a huge set of devil horns at the edge of the screen, and girded myself for a big battle; it turned out to be a giant screen-high photorealistic demon cat that hissed when summoning pillars of hellfire
- That goddamn guy with the red hair in glasses who keeps getting his image into Kickstarter games like Nightcry, Cosmic Star Heroine, and Mighty No. 9 as a backer bonus. Oh, wait, I did get a picture of him:


Areas are OK. I've traveled on a ship to the traditional castle entrance, and then to a garden (of which I explored only like half) and then a chapel. Presentation is largely fine though rather subdued (the "garden," for example, could do with a bit more than greenery growing out of the walls). I hope it gets more original soon; a Getsufuumaden-style Japonesque area has been promised, and since that was one of the strongest in the promo game Curse of the Moon, I hope it delivers here. Some of the more vibrant color from that game would also not go amiss. Go on; capitalize on that freedom no longer being tied to the Castlevania aesthetic or its Eastern European milieu permits you.

Speaking of Curse of the Moon, the protagonist of that game, Zangetsu, showed up. I had a boss battle with him. Despite remembering to bring an actual sword to the castle this time instead of the stubby butter knife he had in his starring title, he proved a big pushover, stubbornly continuing to charge at me as I ran back and forth across the arena and blithely sailed over his head after striking. Never once did a change in strategy enter his mind. Oh, Zangetsu. You're a big dork no matter who game you're in, and I love you for it.

(The other boss I fought was a big stained glass hand. That was kind of dumb-looking. It actually moved in a neat manner that crossed up arachnid and manual movements, but the concept of a grasping tool made out of a notoriously fragile substance is distractiingly nonworkable.)

The translation mystery continues as more isolated nonnative mistakes keep appearing in an otherwise fluid translation. Yesterday's weird word choice was an insistence on using "casted" as the past tense of "cast."

Not Dracula's Castle is called the Hellhold. I'm trying to figure out whether that's a good name or not. Top-tier list of names for final video game levels: the Grindery, Black Omen, Nowhere.

The Van Helsing to Castlevania


I played Bloodstained for about an hour last night, up to the first boss. I'm not enthused so far. Granted, despite being a backer, I kind of soured on this project along the way - not due to the delays, which are endemic to every Kickstarter title, but due to decisions like withholding the preview demo from "rabble" backers and making it a upper-tier exclusive, plus the narrative forming in the gaming press way before release that this would be the redemption story for the Kickstarter platform, an all-time classic, before anyone had played even a screen of the final product. After all the to-do and fanfare, the game seems...OK. Just OK. But with problems. Actually, it's predominantly problems.

The story is very much Not Shanoa and Not Albus going after Not Alucard (or Not Albus's bad side), and it mainly makes me wish I were playing an Order of Ecclesia prequel. I never got around to writing about it, but I really liked that game, with its effective blend of level-based Castlevania difficulty with Metroid exploration and its surprisingly effective shattered-family story. Igarashi himself was fond of it and wanted to make a sequel, from which this project very apparently sprung. Presentationwise, though, it's the hokey Hugh Jackman movie Van Helsing to OG Castlevania. Cutscenes consist of everyone adopting very self-conscious poses and enunciating stagey Olde Tyme-flavored pronouncements in British accents - everyone's pretending to be someone, but they're quite evidently Not That Thing. Everything seems fakey and understudied, and while it's early, and while I feel a twinge of sympathy for the exploited antagonist Gebel, I don't like these characters like I did Shanoa, Barlowe, the villagers, and even Albus. I want to see where the story goes, but I don't wholly buy into what's going on.

The high point is that the game doesn't look bad like I feared it would. I understand that pixel art is time-consuming and not appealing to certain audiences, but the common compromise of using blocky, largely-untextured figures in a 2.5D plane used by some modern faux-retro titles like Mega Man 11 looks cheap and bad. Bloodstained adopts this style but compensates for it with these almost cel-shaded textures for characters that actually look quite nice - giving parts of the game a "drawn" look despite being in 3D. The artists also gave a bit more care to the backgrounds than is usually lavished on these enterprises. It's not the Baroque opulence of Symphony, but it's not a disgrace.

There are cracks around the edges. Controller support is dodgy; I've used my PS4 controller for other Steam titles without incident, but here, it took tinkering with settings in Big Picture mode, of all things, to get it to work, and it still sporadically disconnects. Text is in a stock Mincho-ass font that looks cheap. The translation is largely competent but opts for some strange, out-of-place word choices, like the lone archaic words studded throughout otherwise fairly modern, readable text - like someone whose first language was not English was paging through an outdated thesaurus and didn't know that some entries weren't in common parlance. (Hint: "Recondite" means "arcane"; I had to look it up, too. Also of note: how the characters' galleon in the opening is described as "lancing" toward their destination.)

The big problem, other than the game's knockoff feel, is the controls. At points, they're outright atrocious. Part of it is the game trying to do just too damn much. You can look through bookshelves in the background, search areas, all sorts of new stuff - and while that's neat and all, the designers thought that each of their nifty new ideas required the showcase of a unique button combination instead of context-sensitive controls. Part of it, though, is a misguided effort to be different from Castlevania for the sake of being different. For example, instead of the traditional up + attack or a simple standard button press, some subweapons are activated by...holding the right bumper and fooling with the right stick? Sometimes - I still can't get those attacks to trigger reliably. Other old standbys like sliding and dropping down through platforms are still activatable through familiar button combinations in practice, but the game will encourage you to use new combinations and won't list the defaults. For certain actions, even the newfangled combinations aren't listed - they'll appear only in a one-time help window that will appear suddenly during gameplay and is easy to dismiss accidentally. At least twice in my hour with the game, I had to look up YouTube videos so I could read instructions I'd missed on weird, unlisted controls for actions that were necessary to progress in the game.

This all results in an unintuitive and overwhelming mess. Maybe this all sorts itself out eventually, but for now, it's just making me not want to play the game.

Bloodstained has a crafting system shoehorned in, evidently. So far, on my way through the first level, I've gotten cut-off tentacles (OK for the milieu), cotton (???), and potato seeds (?!?!????). It's disappointing in that your enemy drops are not cool toys that might not be useful but with which you can have fun fooling around, but random junk that might become a maybe cool toy one day, who knows. There's also a not-so-secret area of the map (a upper platform to a new room you can't reach with your standard jump range) in the second room of the game that I can't figure out how to reach. The internet says you're supposed to damage-boost up there, but like too much in this game, I can't get it to work, and the mechanism isn't explained. Puts a damper on exploration if I'm shut out from 100% (or 200.6%) right off the bat.

One more complaint for the road: acquiring a new ability results in a fetishy, protracted scream from the heroine straight out of The Missing. They did tone down the water boob monster from the preview build, thank God. I also like how save rooms are handled: sitting rooms where the protag goes to have a breather. I don't know why the monsters avoid these rooms like they do the sacred save statues in the Metroidvanias. Maybe they're unionized and understand the sanctity of break time.

Here we go again

I'm posting to notify that I'm coming back here for a bit, on a temporary basis, until I get a blog of my own set up. I'll be posting a bit more on my Tumblr about it, but it's basically that, as someone firmly on the left, I don't like how certain strains of the left-leaning discourse on Tumblr are going in a misogynistic direction. I blog mostly about video games, mentioning politics only very occasionally, but it's getting uncomfortable to browse my regular blogs and see posts demonizing lesbians as "vagina fetishists" or expounding on how women (and only women) need to be physically assaulted if they, say, are speaking out against sex trafficking (which was perhaps the big red flag that signaled I needed to get out). I enjoy checking out content from various creators on Tumblr, and there are folks on the platform I'll miss, but it feels like I'm supporting poisonous ideas if I stay. I don't understand why it's become so widely, unblinkingly acceptable in left-leaning circles to commit -isms in the name of taking down other -isms, yet here we are.

Speaking of which: this site isn't a long-term solution, due to its nominal (and compulsory, given the owners' location) compliance with homophobic Russian law. It's supported in name only and not backed by the (very small remaining) community, whereas on Tumblr, the troubling ideologies are very much supported in force. I feel hypocritical as I type those words, though, so this is a stopgap until I reach better pastures and set up a blog on a URL of its own. In the meantime - well, this is the only remaining social media site where people know where to find me.

Posts here made until I get the new place set up will be tagged as "interim posts".

Where I've been

A quick programming note: I've been away for a while due to job-related issues. I've been experiencing a problem with one of the major translation agencies with which I work: one of the quality reviewers started harassing me and posting joke reviews of my translations, marking me down for ridiculous, "funny" reasons. To give an example: I translated a short biography from a martial artist who mentioned he had begun his training in 幼少, a word which can mean anything from "infancy" to "early childhood." I opted, naturally, for "early childhood" in my translating, but this was marked as a major error; I was told that I should have said he started training in his crib. In another job, I was docked for translating the word 合宿 as "training camp," despite translator resource Weblio listing over 50 examples of that very translation and the text outright stating that this was a camp to which employees were going for training. The scoring itself was also wrong; whereas two points (out of 10) are supposed to be deducted for "major errors," this reviewer has taken off as much as 9+ points for each "problem."

This started after I got hired by the agency last spring to tackle difficult, long-standing jobs on a part-time salaried basis (as opposed to independent contracting on a job-by-job basis, which is how translation usually goes), so I imagine this reviewer is perhaps unhappy that I and not his or her own preferred candidate received this promotion. (The reviews are consistently antagonistic and provocative in tone, so there is an apparent personal grudge at work here. I've since learned from employee interviews on Glass Door etc. that reviewers at this company will go after translators who are taking jobs they want.) Furthermore, this person at the same time suddenly made himself or herself practically the only reviewer scoring my work - they've done nine of my last 10 job reviews - so after almost four years of solid review scores in the high 8s to 10, I'm now clinging to the 7s or so.

My scores affect what jobs I can take, and the recent reviews have cut me off from the well-paying technical documents and scientific papers I used to tackle for the agency. (There aren't many translators who can do this work, as translators usually come from a liberal arts background and don't cross over into the STEM fields much.) I approached my supervisor about the situation, and she directed me to a form where I could request re-reviews. Apparently, though, in a flaw in the system, the initial reviewers are the ones who determine whether they screwed up enough to merit a second look at their scoring by another party. Thus, all my requests were summarily rejected, with the fields on the forms where the reviewer is supposed to justify his or her decision left blank.

I then contacted HR, giving a few brief examples of how the reviews were demonstrably wrong and violated company policy, and I requested that other reviewers score my word. The department, however, was extremely defensive and made it clear that it stood by my harasser annd would allow his or her behavior to continue. The HP rep refused to address any of the joke translation errors and claimed the whole scenario was my fault, because...well, because. I can't countenance that, so I left the position. My immediate supervisor was upset, because I was apparently doing a good job handling the tougher translations and keeping the queue in a problematic language pair moving, but there's nothing she can do about this situation.

The problem is that my work with this firm composed a good portion of my income, so I have to do a bit of work to reallocate my job workload. This involves building profiles, getting references (trickier than it sounds, as lots of agency translation work is handled under weird NDAs), editing sample translations to omit any info that could personally identify clients, etc. I'm secure financially for a good while, and I have other sources of work, so this is more a lengthy inconvenience than a huge blow. But it angers me that this reviewer was allowed to harass me for doing a good job, to play a practical joke with impunity and get away with clownishly incompetent reviews that wouldn't pass muster in a second-year Japanese class. Hopefully, though, this'll spur me to find more work with better-paying employers.

Anyhow, that's why I've been away.

Mystic Ark: Maboroshi Gekijou LP index

Since the Maboroshi Gekijou playthrough has reached a temporary stopping point, here's a handy index of the installments thus far:



Pt. 2: Dishwashing & card games.

Pt. 3: Shaking off the black dog

Pt. 4: Chasing dead ends

Pt. 5: Dr. Monstrorum's nightmare emporium

Pt. 6: I don't think you want to die just yet.