The Summer of Adventure

I just completed the adventure game Memoria, which I’d bought during GOG’s summer sale. It’s rather old school in its point-and-click control scheme. Were it not for the graphics and for the far lower number of game-crashing bugs (damn you, Quest for Glory IV) I might have thought I was playing something Sierra Entertainment made in the 90s.

But one glimpse of the visuals will let you know this game is from the 21st century. I mean, just look at this game:

A waterfall, a princess, a bound thief, and two Amazons

That’s too detailed to be anything but hand-painted. And this is a screenshot from the game itself. Something from the classic era of adventure gaming would be full of visible pixels. Even a lot of modern adventure games like Gemini Rue still use that older style of giant pixels. I suppose it’s both out of nostalgia and out of consideration for the development budget.

Memoria is about a princess trying to stop a demonic invasion and about a birdcatcher five hundred years later learning about her story in his own quest to solve a magic curse on his beloved. The latter protagonist is somewhat run-of-the-mill, but the princess is more savage and ruthless than the typical bland do-gooder you might get in this sort of game. It’s rather refreshing.

Daedelic Entertainment definitely went all in on this game. Even the voice actors are uniformly good. And as an adventure game it’s satisfying enough. The puzzles tend not to delve too much into that odd adventure game inventory puzzle logic, such as that infamously convoluted Gabriel Knight solution (number four on that list) which involves using cat hair to make a mustache to match the picture on a passport stolen from a man with no facial hair. No, I think experienced adventure gamers should be able to finish this without having to resort to a walkthrough.

However, while the game is fun, it isn’t very long. I only got it last week and have already finished it, after all. I remember taking a lot longer to finish an old Sierra game. This game is actually fairly linear, so you’re not wandering around a lot of different locations wondering which doohickey should be used at which place and in which combination. It’s pleasant to look at some pretty pictures with no real sense of urgency, but it’s hard to justify paying full price for something this ephemeral. It’s not like this game has a lot of replayability in it.

Overall? I say buy it if you’re into adventure games, but wait until there’s a sale on.

Two great tastes

You know, I like Orphan Black and I like Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I don’t really see why both series should be featured in the same fanfic. Also, good holy crap but there are already thirty-one pages of Orphan Black fanfics on Archive of Our Own when the show is only a bit over a year old. I’ve forgotten what it was like to be in an active fandom.

Familiarity breeds addiction

I’m addicted to mediocre storytelling. Well, not always, but it seems to be a thing with me lately.

Recently I got caught up to the latest issue of Nisekoi, a middling manga full of clichés and lazy stereotypes. It’s got decent art but the story itself has nary an original twist to it.

However, that’s exactly the point. The series is your basic high school romance-comedy full of misunderstandings and secret crushes and ridiculous coincidences. Trust me, series like this one are a dime a dozen.

Because it’s predictable, though, it’s also comfortable to read. There’s not much that needs to be done besides turning the page. Theme? Symbolism? Emotional truth? This is just a story about a boy and a girl pretending to date so that their rival gangster families won’t go to war but which quickly turns into a story about the couple hanging out with their high school friends. Nothing to see here, just move along. And don’t think the too-familiar plot can carry the series on its own, either.

It’s not just this manga, either. I’ve already mentioned that I’m a sucker for flashy yet empty giant robot anime, but I’m also reading Magician’s End, the final book in Raymond Feist’s progressively crappier fantasy book series. Mostly I’m finishing the books out of a weird sense of duty to my younger self.

Meanwhile, the critically acclaimed, though somewhat heavy TV series Orange is the New Black and Les Revenants are waiting for me to finally get back to watching them. But wait, I still haven’t caught up to the latest episode of that TV show where the Headless Horseman runs around killing people with a machine gun.

I’m reminded of what this scientific study claims, that human brains like novel music as long as it’s mostly predictable.

So don’t blame me for my tastes, I’m only a human being.

And in case you were wondering, that Headless Horseman show is called Sleepy Hollow.

Free at last

Gawyn. You died just like you lived. Stupidly.

I have finally finished the last book in The Wheel of Time series. The series was bloated and Jabba-like in its wordiness; I curse myself for getting stuck in its sunken cost fallacy. The last book was actually somewhat satisfying. However, for as long as I live I will never read the series again.

Law and the Multiverse

I’ve just discovered Law and the Multiverse, a blog devoted to exploring the legal ramifications of life in a superhero universe. For example, one post discusses human rights in the context of non-human intelligences (i.e., aliens), while another covers Superman’s immigration status and whether he counts as an American. Like its subject matter, the blog deals mostly with the American context, but sometimes it deals with issues with a greater scope, such as whether supervillain lairs in outer space are protected by the Outer Space Treaty forbidding the militarization of space. It’s fascinating, though the American focus means I end up reading only half of the posts (what do I care about US traffic laws?).

Guardian of the Sacred Spirit

Discovering an exceptional but lesser-known work of fiction for oneself is one of life’s smaller pleasures, one made no less enjoyable for being such an ordinary experience. The story of Seirei no Moribito (Guardian of the Sacred Spirit) itself feels rather small and ordinary; instead of covering an epic struggle between good and evil, at its heart it’s about the depths of maternal love and how far a person can go to protect a loved one. The melancholy nature of the song in the video captures well the feeling of the show, much better than the opening song, in fact, which I found rather insipid in an inoffensive pop song way.

Seirei no Moribito is based on the first book of a Japanese fantasy series and it covers the story of Balsa, a female bodyguard, who is tasked with protecting a prince from his father’s own assassins. There are many things to like about the series, not least of which are the lush backgrounds as can be seen in the video. Generally speaking, it’s a lot more realistic than other anime that deals with swords and the supernatural. You won’t find arcs of blood stylishly spraying into the air or fighters shouting out the names of their attacks; rather, all of the fighting is firmly rooted in real-world martial arts.

Unusually for the genre, the anime does not deal with the samurai-and-ninjas feudal era which first springs to mind when one mentions “Japan” and “swords”. Instead, the series is set in a fantasy world based on Heian-era Japan, which is to say, Japan before the samurai. Japan was governed more like Imperial China, with the Japanese emperors wielding direct political power as the sons of Heaven. This is the opposite situation of the later feudal era, where the emperor was largely a figurehead.

It’s interesting to note that the hydraulic theory of state formation posits that states formed in early China because a centralized power was needed to organize the necessary resources that allowed complex irrigation systems to nourish rice paddies. Ancient Japan, of course, consciously modeled itself on China, and the fact that both countries relied on rice as the central staple food in their diets certainly helped keep their systems of government in sync for a while. Certainly a bunch of squabbling feudal lords couldn’t have organized things half so well.

Of course, one must then ask why feudalism arose in Japan if central organization was so necessary to keep a country of rice eaters alive. There are of course the political and historically-contingent reasons for why the strong Japanese state broke down (short story: a combination of screw-ups and bad luck for several Japanese emperors). Improvements in military technology and the resulting change in recruitment practices also gave greater power to regional leaders, and I suspect developments in agriculture also helped. A separate military class rose to challenge the power of the imperial government, a civil war happened, and slowly but surely the samurai were the new rulers of Japan.

Admittedly, all this is going rather far afield from the original topic of the anime series. What can I say, I have a certain fascination for states and state formation. Anyway, to return to Seirei no Moribito: I liked it. If you like serious anime, please try it out. Not that I hate the funny (Ranma 1/2 remains one of my favourite shows, period), but Moribito definitely deserves a larger audience, which I hope this blog post might in some small way help to provide.

Doppelgangered

I’m currently having a marathon of Legend of the Legendary Heroes while roasting a pork shoulder in the oven (and yes, the title of the anime sounds dumb). In the course of my viewing I spied a certain Miran Froaude:

The resemblance to Mai is uncanny

What an uncanny resemblance to Mai from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Mai from Avatar

Two differences:

  1. Miran doesn’t have the odango pigtail buns hairstyle and,
  2. Has a penis.

I’m just guessing on the last part, it’s not like ze whips out the block and tackle for the audience to have a gander. But damn, “Miran Froaude”? The name sounds stupid, just like a lot of made-up Japanese names from sci-fi and fantasy. Then again, I’ve come up against some pretty dumb names in English fiction as well.