Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Miami Heat: LeBron Era S04E81



To quote/paraphrase various Star Wars characters, "I have a bad feeling about this." The Miami Heat, in the penultimate game of the 2013-14 regular season, were blown out by the Washington Wizards 114-93. This loss wasn't as bad as the one they suffered to the Wizards on January 15, because the Heat rested LeBron and Chris Bosh (and gave limited minutes to other key players), but it was indicative of the inconsistent year the team has had in terms of play; not to mention that, however improbable*, a win against the Wizards could have helped toward the Heat securing the East's top seed and home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

I suppose I understand the logic, even while not agreeing with it: It's not worth risking an injury to your star players** this late in the season. But if the ECFs do indeed come down to a Game 7 in Indiana (a big if for me), that caution is going to be rued, especially if the Pacers lose on Wednesday.

Lately, I've been thinking about each of the Heat's four seasons with LeBron as its star in terms of television series' seasons, and this year I've found my expectations lower than they've ever been. Malaise is the word I would use to best describe how I feel about this team, this season. Again, I have a bad feeling about this.

I'd compare Season 1 of the Lebron Era Heat to Season 1 of AMC's The Killing***: lowered expectations followed by heightened interest and intrigue, then, ultimately, profound disappointment. When the Heat signed LeBron and Bosh and re-signed Dwyane Wade, I didn't expect them to win a title in their first year together. Basketball, from my experience, doesn't tend to work like that. But then the playoffs began, and the Heat steamrolled their two biggest Eastern Conference rivals -- Boston and Chicago -- on their way to a berth in the Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. I actually believed then that they would stick the landing. We know how that turned out, both for the 2010-11 Heat and The Killing's finale.

Season 2 might be compared to Buffy the Vampire Slayer's second season. After a shaky first year, both the Heat and Buffy came into their own. They both had the necessary pieces from the start; it just took a little time for them to find their grooves and flourish****.

By Season 3, the Heat knew their identity and at times could do no wrong (27 straight wins!), but nothing is ever assured, and they had to claw their way to the Finals against the upstart Pacers before, in the the penultimate game of the season, shocking the world with one of the biggest twists in sports history and going on to win their second straight title in the finale. The obvious analogue here is Game of Thrones' third season, with Ray Allen's Game 6 3-pointer representing the Red Wedding in "The Rains of Castamere*****."

Season 4, man? I don't know. What I do know is that this is a show I have been faithful to, of which I watch every episode, and this year the quality has been wildly inconsistent, like the coaching staff is just making it up as they go along. Much of that has to do with Dwyane Wade receiving a "Guest Starring" credit on the season, as well as the loss of an underappreciated key role player (Mike Miller), the addition of players who haven't received enough scenes to fully realize their roles (Michael Beasley, Greg Oden, Toney Allen), and the confusing lack of scenes for veteran guys who know theirs (Rashard Lewis, Shane Battier).

Shit, now I have it. Season 4 of the LeBron Era is Season 4 of LOST.

LOST of course wasn't canceled after its fourth season, and I hope Wade/LeBron/Bosh sign on for Season 5, but neither did LOST regain its prior greatness. What was once such a captivating show slowly devolved into a mess of plotholes and unanswered questions, and that's what this Heat season feels like.

I'll still watch how this season unfolds (and so will you), but unless the showrunners have a big surprise planned, I don't expect many Miami Heat 2013-2014 NBA Champions DVDs or Blu-rays getting stocked.

Word to Radiohead, I might be wrong. I hope I am. But based upon my keen observations of this season, I expect, and am fully prepared for, a let down.

E O I N


* They would have had to beat the Sixers on Wednesday, and Indiana would have had to lose to Orlando in its final game of the season. Improbable, but not impossible.

** Why even play Wade, then?

*** a show I didn't watch. These analogies concern two shows (The Killing, Buffy) I haven't seen yet have read a lot about in terms of general consensus and/or plot details. In the case that I have some facts/posits wrong, please forgive my ersatz comparisons.

****  I was hoping that I could find a player on the Heat whose Bacon Number of 1 is on par with Sarah Michelle Gellar's, but the closest I got was 2 for LeBron, Wade, and Riley, 3 for Chris Bosh and Shane Battier, and 0 for Ronny Turiaf.

***** Picture Roose Bolton shouting, "Get those motherfucking Starks out of here!" as Robb lies dead and just before Catelyn starts screaming.



Sunday, April 13, 2014

Then Darkness Again and a Silence



Since spring has finally arrived on the peninsula*, we've taken Flash (AKA Little Maker) to the Spartan dog park in Jeongja these past two Sundays**. While the "park" itself -- an enclosure is a more apt description -- is subjectively crummy, it's a good way for Flashy to socialize with others of his kind: sniff butts, and have his butt sniffed. Sometimes it takes on an ouroboros quality.

I enjoy these short excursions because I get to see a variety of dog breeds. Today there were, among other gods***, a Border Collie, a Golden Retriever, and a Beagle. My wife often says that Beagles and Dachshunds make up two parts of the crazy dog quartet****, the other two being the Jack Russell Terrier and the Corgi, but you wouldn't have known it from how Flash and the female Beagle were acting.

The enclosure sort of feels like a school dance at times, not only because of how some of the dogs behave, but also because of how some of their owners do. No one strikes up a conversation, myself included. And while a lot of dogs mixed and mingled, Flash and the Beagle were playing the wall, though together, perhaps deciding that this dance was lame, man.

Maybe, under different circumstances, their mutual attraction could have flourished. Alas.

I suppose it's to be expected for living beings to act differently when they're inside an unfamiliar, closed space. But I've never been to prison, so I can't say for sure. Neither have I been castrated.

I still have a lot to learn.


* The sun is out; birds are singing; bees are trying to have sex with them, as is my understanding.

** If you're planning assassinating me, that's where I might be a week from today. I hope you miss me!

*** .esoprup no saw tahT

**** As a Beatles analogy, Flash would be George Harrison.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Cedar Rapidian Sorceress Just Says Yes to Lipton


Travis - J. Smith


     It's been eighteen months and nine days since you began working the graveyard shift at the Texaco just off the interstate across from Wendy's. The position is part-time, usually weekends, specifically Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights; it supplements your day job -though not monetarily- as a freelance editor and columnist, mostly pop culture analogies for riveting tales of international realpolitik. While the microwavable burritos and seemingly endless supply of carbonated beverages are a nice touch, the time involved is the biggest draw, as the position better enables one to stay away from local drinking establishments such as the Red Lion, located just two short blocks from this Texaco station. What's more, the time spent stocking shelves, signing early morning delivery manifests, and smoking cigarettes merely for the sake of taking smoke breaks is time spent away from the wife - the woman who, incidentally, was the driving force behind the asinine intervention which led to you taking this job in the first place. Long story short, you prefer to think of this as Eoin time.
     Another draw is the people. Working the graveyard shift provides a person with the opportunity to observe the zaniest of individuals at their absolute wackiest, fellow employees included. On Friday nights, you're joined by Denny Hughes, a guy so consistently strung out that he puts the clientele to shame, and when he isn't on the phone with one of his transient girlfriends, he's busy chatting up whichever girlfriend sees fit to stop by, sometimes both at once. On Saturday nights, Tom is your copilot, and though he's never divulged his surname, which is somewhat odd, you've witnessed him put a rowdy drunk dressed up as Santa Claus into a debilitating choke hold, so you're content with not asking.
     This is Thursday, however, and all things considered, Thursdays are relatively hassle free, so you work alone. Last week, sure, you had to call the cops when a Ted Nugent lookalike began duking it out with an Asian-American version of Sigourney Weaver over the last hot dog, but alerting the police had more to do with the combatants refusing your conciliatory offer of a corn dog on discount than genuine concern for the poor man's Ted Nugent, who ended up getting his ass handed to him before the police arrived on the scene. Pretty tame compared to the weekend, and you'll take what you can get.
     Even so, you can't help but feel as if you're about due for a head-scratcher. For starters, it began to rain roughly fifteen minutes ago, which is odd because the KCRG TV-9 forecast called for clear skies throughout the weekend. This is nothing to complain about since fewer people patronize the establishment during such weather, but still, it's pretty weird, made all the more peculiar by the onset of rain coinciding with you having pressed play on the CD player. The Bends, Radiohead's second studio album, arguably the band's finest release. Fake Plastic Trees, fourth track, probably the best song of the album. Someone approaches, walking in the rain without an umbrella; someone you've met before; a walking, talking head-scratcher if there ever was one.
     The first time you encountered Megan Erickson, shortly after you began working here, you threw up one of those wonderful microwavable burritos, but you hadn't realized it was her because she was several shades of messed up. The only thing you perceived at the time was a woman wearing nothing but a translucent poncho, which was perplexing enough, though itself not vomit-inducing - having seen more than a few naked ladies in your day, a flash of flesh scarcely puts you in a state of unease. No, it had more to do with the fact that a good portion of her skull was cracked and partially caved in, while one of her goddamn eyeballs drooped from its socket, to say nothing of the bones protruding from several parts of her body. She offered no words that night; simply limped to the beverage cooler, removed two bottles of Budweiser from a six pack, and staggered out, back to whichever nightmare whence she emerged, leaving nothing but a streak of blood as proof that you hadn't imagined the whole thing.
     The second time she came in, a Friday night, she received a complimentary fountain drink, mostly because she looked as though she'd been hit in the jaw and throat by a heaping helping of buckshot, which isn't something that you were prepared to view, let alone discuss, and neither was Denny. Subsequent visits have been less disconcerting, and you've even seen her outside of work, usually at parties, but that doesn't make it any less bizarre.
     She looks relatively normal tonight, albeit drenched by the downpour. Sopping wet and decked out in an urban camouflage print tank top, charcoal cargo pants, and to state the painfully obvious, hair dyed blue, white, and red like some kind of screwed-up Bomb Pop granted life, she waltzes into your favorite Texaco station with a smirk etched upon her face; surrounding said smile, somewhat washed away by the rain, is a smear of maroon that runs down her chin. Not knowing what to say, you ask Erickson if she's been blowing the Kool-Aid Man.
     "Pretty much," she responds, not stopping as she makes her way toward the beverage section. "And I'd say that Fake Plastic Trees is an overrated Radiohead song, but then you'd opine that the same could be said for Let Down, and I'd hate for this to get ugly, Eoin."
     You inform her that while you're willing to acknowledge the greatness of Let Down so long as it's part of the Holy Trinity that is Exit Music (For a Film), Let Down, and Karma Police, Fake Plastic Trees remains the end-all, be-all of Radiohead singles.
     "Yeah, yeah. Say, do you guys carry any drinks that are, like, all natural and shit?"
     Off the top of your head, you report that Texaco carries Lipton Iced Tea, 100% natural, in a variety of flavors, your personal favorite being the green tea, because it's your job to know these things. She returns shortly thereafter, places two bottles on the counter, hands you a credit card, requests a carton of Marlboro Menthols, full-flavored, shorts, and begins gulping down some tea. You glance at the card.
     "Is one carton going to be enough, Rodger McCormick?"
     She laughs that grotesque, almost hyenic chuckle of hers. "Good point. Give me two. No, wait. Fuck, give me four," she says before finishing the first bottle of tea.
     "You do know that this store has surveillance cameras, right?"
     "I'm counting on it, actually," is all she offers up before downing the second bottle of tea. With tax, the total comes to $243.35 and she signs for it gleefully. "So the thing about all-natural products is that, well, they don't agree with my digestive system."
     Not quite sure how to respond, you set upon the task of bagging the cigarettes appropriately, deliberately ignoring the retching noises coming from Erickson's direction.
     And then she pukes all over the floor. You feel as if you should've seen that coming, and if you hadn't become so desensitized to her antics over the past few years, you'd be inclined to take it personally. "Really, Megan?" She wipes her mouth, takes the bag from your hands, and walks out the door with the same smirk she came in with. You sigh, shrug, and grab the mop.
     Like most dachshunds, some people just want to watch the world burn; if anything, such people are at once somewhat predictable and utterly mundane, for being an asshole is nothing new, and this job is a constant reminder of that sad truth. As you begin mopping up Megan's mess, however, you find yourself reminded, albeit uncomfortably, that the Cedar Rapidian Sorceress, as you've taken to calling her, appears entirely disinterested in watching the world go up in flames. In contrast, she seems to enjoy performing magic tricks that people will never forget, and what reminds you of this is the detached head and mangled shaft of a penis within the puddle she left behind, to which you add this evening's microwavable burrito.


Passion Pit - It's Not My Fault, I'm Happy
     

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Cool Story, Bro



It's hard to believe, even for myself, but eight six years have passed since Kmork the Unruly and Eoin the Erudite Idiot caroused unhindered by grief or burden in the chaotic confines of what was known as -- and today still is known as -- Hongdae. Our revelment was epic, our conquests considerable. And while I do a disservice to the enormity of our merriment by capsulizing it in an episodic tale, rest assured, dear reader, that many more stories of this nature were had; battles were won and lost (usually won), and a fight for Mario Kart supremacy was waged.

Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!

---

One night at Shooters and Cocks (I believe it was a Saturday), Messrs Highly and Forbes were in deep conversation about something, I can't recall what -- maybe about how to best prepare for war with the frost giants -- when two gentlemen approached our table and asked if they might sit. Our strategy to annihilate

Nibelheim

was at that point not fully formulated, but I endeavored to postpone our plan so that we might hear and possibly acquire knowledge from our ostensibly cheerful solicitors.

That was a mistake. Well in their cups, the pair offered up no intel on our enemies and positively bored us with the most mundane of questions (Where are you from? Where do you work? Are you married? Why aren't you married?). This was going nowhere fast, and our designs to take

Nibelheim

 were fading by the radiation of your planet's red sun. So I decided to throw an audible. This is what you call it, yes? I ignore the instructions of my General and make stuff up as I go, like your Saturday Night Live performance people?

A waitress came by and asked us if we would like another round. I ordered a beer.

"What kind?" she asked.

"Draft," I said. "On the rocks."

I discovered a very important lesson then: no one ever really listens to what you're saying as long as what you're saying is dull and repetitive. As long as what you're saying is dull and repetitive. As long as what you're Satan is full and declarative.

---

I started to tell a story to our guests about how Kmork and I were half-brothers, that our father had traversed North America as a businessman in the '70s and had cheated on my mother in Ontario while away, impregnating Kmork's mother in Iowa, and that we grew up unaware of our father's infidelity until we serendipitously met many years later and half a world away in Korea. They ate up every word.

I lied so well that, years later, I have to remind myself of my own deception.

We still have to kill Laufey, Kmork. We still have work to do.

It's time to initiate the Initiation Initiative.


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Bright Blue Neon Lights with a Purple Outline



Tonight I had a hypothetical baby-naming conversation with my wife, one of those chats that are the marriage spitballing equivalent of trying to create an empire team building. She asked me what I would name our child if he were a boy, and I drew a blank. I've thought of some boy names over the years, but I couldn't recall any*.

I have a bunch of girl names in my memory Rolodex, though. Leon found this weird because she is absolutely sure that, when we eventually have a child, he'll be a boy. She should play roulette in Vegas.

Anyway, my girl names:

- Imogen. Leon hates that name; I love it. "Genie" is a good diminutive form, too.

- Siobhan. It's a great name, and fun to say if you know the pronunciation, but the only diminutive that comes naturally to me is "Vonny." Actually, that's not too bad.

- Sadie. My maternal grandmother's name. It just sounds pretty to me. Plus, it already sounds like a diminutive, which means "Sades" can work as a shortened name. I'm big on "Sades." I might even pronounce it 'shar-days' on occasion. Only 80's kids get this.

- Relm. This is only because I recently finished Final Fantasy VI; there is no way in Hell that my wife would ever agree to that name. I like how it rolls off the tongue, but for a non-native English speaker it's a sonuvabitch to say. It'd be like naming a German kid "Squirrel."

- Danielle. This is currently my top pick. The diminutive, "Dani," sounds great -- if I'm going to have to say a name over and over again, it has to have mileage -- and it would mean that I will have named my second child after another character from the original New Mutants. And I'm all for continuity.


* "Blastmaster" might have been one. "Yogurt" might have been another, possibly because I was eating yogurt at the time.

Monday, April 07, 2014

WPC Me ASAP (aka Crowded Rooms and Culinary Kryptonite)



"Greetings from the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center!"


     ...Which is what I would have said, were I still at the White Privilege Conference, and while it's been more than a week since the conclusion of the WPC, the spirit of reflectively reflective reflection lives on.

     Have I mentioned that it was pretty cold upon our arrival in Madison? Because it most certainly was frigid, to say nothing of the breeze; not of arctic temperatures, mind you, but cool enough, as demonstrated by the lake remaining frozen during the entirety of our stay. Unfortunately, man was the warmest place to hide, and with roughly 2400 hundred souls in attendance...


This is pure nonsense!

     ...Yeah, alright, okay, let's get back on track.* For those unfamiliar with the logistics involved in a conference of this size, a typical day is broken up as follows:

7:00-8:30am      Check-in and on-site registration
8:30-10:30am    Opening and keynote
10:45-12:15pm  Concurrent workshop #1
12:15-1:00pm    Lunch
1:00-2:30pm      Concurrent workshop #2
2:45-4:15pm      Concurrent workshop #3
4:30-6:00pm      Caucuses
6:00-7:00pm      Meeting speakers and book singing (or dinner, for the majority of us)
7:00-8:00pm      Poetry slam
8:00-9:30pm      Film screenings/previews

     Before anyone gets his or her proverbial panties in a bunch, rest assured that an individual was obligated to attend only as many of the events as desired. I opted to eat dinner at the stroke of six, for example, and this turned into quite the protracted affair, mostly because that's how folks from Iowa roll.** Thus, I arrived back at the conference just before eight o'clock.
     Regarding the three concurrent workshop sections, attendees were asked to choose one from a menu of twenty for each section, including such topics as Social Justice Part One: Healing from Historical Harm through Stories and Analysis (Ballroom D), Perceptions of Middle School Students on Systems of Power and Privilege (Meeting Room Q), Decoding Modern Racial Discourse: A Discussion Opportunity for Advanced Learners (Hall of Ideas H), Hair Me Out! (Ballroom B), etc.

Ballroom? Meeting Room? Hall of Ideas? What the hell is all this? 

     Good question. The ballrooms were slightly bigger than the halls, and the halls were bigger than the meeting rooms, which happened to be quite small; so small, in fact, that for some of the workshops held in the meeting rooms, people found themselves sitting on the floor, in the aisles, against the walls, and in front of the doors. This wasn't a good thing or a bad thing, per se; rather, simply the nature of the beast, because it's tough to really guess what nearly 2400 people will do in any given situation.
     As to the quality of the workshops, I can only speak to my own experience, and to that, I would say it was a mixed bag, though for the most part, altogether enriching. As to which workshops were attended and my opinion of them, nothing more need be said, for this is another discussion for another day.***

What's the deal with the caucuses?

     Another valid inquiry. See the third asterisk.

Oh, come on! At least say something about the culinary kryptonite.

     Oh, that. The title pertains to lunch. Here's the deal: attendees were offered a choice of either a traditional or vegetarian lunch box. As one may imagine, the lines set up for dispensing traditional lunches were considerably longer than the vegetarian ones, so I opted for the latter. The thing is, under normal circumstances, I have no problem with vegetarian meals - actually, I tend to prefer them.**** The reason I had been in the traditional line originally was due to being misled by an otherwise trustworthy source to believe that a person could only acquire vegetarian meals if explicitly requested prior to the conference. Completely false, by the way, but let's not point any fingers.
     Anyway, the point being, on the day in question, unbeknownst to yours truly, the main course of the boxed lunch was some kind of fucked-up avocado tortilla wrap, and anyone who is even the slightest bit familiar with my palate -or lack thereof- will tell you that avocado (and its infernal offspring, guacamole) is more or less toxic to my delicate frame, resulting in cognitive convulsions the likes of which could scarcely be imagined. I won't lie when I say biting into that atrocity essentially incapacitated me for the first five minutes of the second workshop. No horseshit, Jack.***** Now, avocado isn't like cilantro, which is more like the tar-based kryptonite from Superman III regarding the effect upon me, but enough with all my jibber-jabber about terrible food, already.

     Next time, things heat up. In all likelihood, metaphorically speaking.******







* All kidding aside, I thought you'd feel that way, Eoin. You were the only one who could have got to that blood. We'll do you last. 
** It was quasi-Japanese fare that evening, in case you're wondering.
*** Knowing me, to be posted several days from now, but you should have seen that one coming, really.
**** On the flip side, I don't mind partaking in flesh every once in a while. The evening preceding the first day of the conference, for instance, I enjoyed a gyro, because, honestly, I couldn't remember the last time I had a gyro and opted to enjoy the hell out of that sloppy monstrosity.
***** That's right, I just referenced two John Carpenter films in a single evening. You'll thank me later.
****** But seriously, more than one functional flamethrower would have been nice. 

Saturday, April 05, 2014

The Unstoppable Force Meets the Immovable Object




As the story goes (and which I've probably recounted here at least a few times), in 2008 the illustrious and praiseworthy Kmork suggested that I play the newly released port of Chrono Trigger for the Nintendo DS. I was reluctant at first because, growing up playing video games, I had never had a good -- or even a somewhat pleasant -- experience with RPG. Some of my friends and I half-assed our way through D&D paper-and-pencil role playing games in elementary school*, and when RPG video games started to take off in the late-80s, I wasn't inclined to play them; or the ones that I did -- I'm looking at you, Double Dungeons for the TurboGrafx-16 -- were so dull that they deadened any enthusiasm I might have had for the genre had I played some of the better ones. But after doing some Internet research and learning that Chrono Trigger was considered one of the best video games of all time full stop, I decided to give it a whirl.

I'm glad I did, and I'm thankful that Kmork suggested the game to me. As someone who was by far no way an RPG guy, I still consider Chrono Trigger to be one of the best video game experiences I've ever had. Odd, then, that I didn't seek to delve further into the genre.

Flash forward to late last year. I work in localization of all kinds, but roughly 60-70% of my work involves video games. Since localization can also entail week-long stretches of little to do, my project manager asked me to play games on my PC or phone in my downtime, and I was given carte blanche to decide which games to play (within a reasonable spectrum of genres; there's not much to grok professionally from playing eight hours of Pac-Man a day).

He didn't have to tell me twice. "You mean I'm getting paid to play games at work and I get to pick the games I play?" I wanted to travel back in time and say to12-year-old me, "You're never going to fucking believe this, dude, but..."

Since we localize a lot of RPG, I started looking into which games -- which good games --were ported to iPhone. After doing some research and consulting with Kmork, I decided on Final Fantasy IV, which was released on the App Store in late 2012 and is a port of the 2008 Nintendo DS 3D remake of the original game, released in 1991.

I loved it. While not as great in my estimation as Chrono Trigger, it rekindled the same excitement I experienced almost six years prior with that worthy, and it prompted me to seek out another highly acclaimed RPG posthaste. Fortuitously, news soon hit afterward that Square Enix was going to release an iOS port of Final Fantasy VI, considered by many to be the zenith of video game RPGs.

It was released on February 6th, and I downloaded it that very day without a second thought given to the game's relatively high and much bemoaned -- for iPhone games -- price ($16.99). On Friday morning, I beat it like you better run you better do what you can, and since then I've been pondering whether Final Fantasy VI or Chrono Trigger if the best RPG that I've played. It's a close call.

So, because I have nothing better to do, I thought I'd try to break it down and try to find an answer using my admittedly limited experience in the genre. My criteria are Story, Characters, Villains and Enemies, Gameplay, Music, and Miscellaneous. As a relative neophyte, I expect and encourage comments telling me I'm wrong and that you have had carnal relations with my mother.

---

Story: Chrono Trigger and FF VI are both epic in storytelling ambition. The former involves time traveling back and forth through millennia in an attempt to save the world pre- and post an apocalypse, and the latter involves trying to, futilely, prevent an apocalypse and then trying to salvage the world after it occurs. It's a close call for me which one is more involving**, but I have to stump for Chrono Trigger in this case. It has time traveling; and, while I like the relatively more mature, "darker" nature of FF VI (Celes tries to commit suicide! Cyan's wife and young son are murdered!), CT offers a more thematically balanced and diverse scope.

Slight Edge: Chrono Trigger

Characters: Another very tough call. Chrono Trigger's protagonists are so memorable: Crono, Lucca, Marle, Frog/Glenn, Robo, Ayla, Magus...Then again, FF VI offers up 14(!) playable characters (not including cameos from Banon and General Leo). But while FF VI has twice as many characters with which to play as, a lot of them get short shrift in terms of development. Mog, Umaro, and Gogo have basic to no characterization whatsoever***, and characters like Gau, Setzer, Relm, and Strago, while having much more background development, are underwritten or come into the game's plot so late that it's hard to develop as much affection for them as that of the characters who were introduced prior.

So while Chrono Trigger has half the playable characters that FF VI does, every one of its characters are thoroughly fleshed out. The same thing can't be said of FF VI. Quality, not quantity. So I'm going to use an A-B-C rubric of my own perhaps/probably flawed making to judge this one. Three points for A, 2 for B, and 1 for C. -2 points for a failing grade, and -0.5 points for extra characters over CT's seven.

Chrono Trigger

A: Marle, Lucca, Frog/Glenn, Robo, Magus
B: Ayla
C: Crono (He's the player's surrogate, sure, but that doesn't mean he's not a vacuum of characterization)

 Final Fantasy VI

A: Terra, Locke, Celes, Edgar, Cyan, Sabin
B: Relm, Strago, Shadow, Setzer, Gau
F: Mog, Umaro, Gogo

Hopefully my math isn't fuzzy, but that works out to 18 points for Chrono Trigger and 18.5 points for Final Fantasy VI. I kind of want to argue with myself for choosing that rubric, but who am I to argue with math?

Slight Edge: Final Fantasy VI

Villains and Enemies

Yes, Kefka is a great villain, but he's also a very easy one to create. Like The Joker, he just wants to see the world burn. People complain about cardboard do-gooder heroes (Superman, Mr. Rogers, Jesus H. Christ), but the nihilistic antagonist who just wants to wipe out everything***** is as easy to create as a grilled cheese sandwich. Now, Kefka is a grilled cheese sandwich made with sourdough bread, Swiss, Monterey Jack, and Colby cheese, but he's still a grilled cheese sandwich. He's full dark, no stars. Black holes are scary because of our inability to understand them, but that also makes them pretty uninteresting as evil incarnate.

As for the rest of FF VI's main villains, there's not much to be said. Emperor Gestahl is a double-crossing sonuvabitch (which makes him at least somewhat relatable to living human beings), and Ultros is the video-game analogue of Don Rickles.

The enemies in the game range from expertly designed and awesome to hilariously out of place and awful. As great-looking as the King Behemoth or Ultima Weapon are, you also have Leaf Bunnies and Onion Knights and whatever random shit the animators and graphics teams came up with while possibly working on no sleep for two days straight.

And while this game vs. game criticism is between Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, I feel the need to point out that Final Fantasy IV has a plethora of memorable bad guys, each one carefully and independently conceptualized. Again, I get that the developers wanted to focus on Kefka as the be-all-end-all enemy, but it makes the rest of the game's bosses feel insignificant.

I didn't have that problem with Chrono Trigger. All of the enemies are well integrated into the game without the WTH? factor, and when you're fighting a boss, you, as a player, want to beat them more because they're more realized and are actually included in the game's main story.

Big Edge: Chrono Trigger
 
Gameplay: Caveat: I've only played Chrono Trigger on the Nintendo DS Lite and Final Fantasy VI on the iPhone 5, so if you're an old-school day-and-date-release gamer your experience is probably greatly different from mine. I cannot fathom having to cycle through menus with the SNES's gamepad, and maybe that's a big reason I've taken to video game RPGs in recent years. Touch menus are to RPG gaming as wings are to flight. So I apologize for missing out on the controller-throwing frustration of not being nimble enough with the D-pad-and-button-play of the games' original releases.

"Gameplay" is an umbrella term, and this post is already longer than it deserves to be, but my criteria is thus: fun factor, difficulty-to-fun ratio, and sustained interest on the player's part.

There's no doubt that Chrono Trigger is an easier game, but that doesn't make it comparatively better or worse; it all depends on what you're looking for in a gaming experience. I like hard games (Contra IV, holla!), and I like simple games (I've been playing the shit out of Super Stickman Golf 2), and I like games that aren't by many definitions even considered games at all (Device 6, Picross). But what I won't abide is intentional vagueness disguised as art or innovation for difficulty's sake****.

Final Fantasy VI is more challenging than Chrono Trigger, but, while most of the game is linear in its intuitiveness, the record skips in the World of Ruin. I'm all for open-world exploring and blah blah Doom Gaze blah, but I had to take an almost 3-week break from the game after trying, fruitlessly, to find Locke. You shouldn't need a decoder ring to read a book, nor should you need to land on a random island to accomplish an important part of the game. I'll remember FF VI as one of the best gaming experiences of my life, but the asterisk "Trying to find Locke was bullshit" will circle above my memory like a cursed halo.

Edge: Chrono Trigger

Music: Hoo, boy! To me this comes down to which soundtrack has more hit singles versus the complete album, and FF VI wins out in pure longevity. This is the one criterion that I am 100% sure I'm judging without blinders, because I've been listening to the Chrono Trigger OST regularly since 2009, and only in the past two months have I been listening to the FF VI OST. Chrono Trigger's OST hits its high notes higher, and it's shinier, but the FF VI score is consistently better.

Slight Edge: Final Fantasy VI

Miscellaneous:

Chrono Trigger:  Only being able to have a maximum of 3 members in the party during battles is limiting, but the dynamic works 60% of the time every time. Team combos are fun to mess around with. Chrono is

Final Fantasy VI

The Gold Dragon is a brontosaurus. I never was able to figure out what Gau's father meant about fixing his door.

Verdict:




* Every single campaign started off in a tavern. Every single one!

** I used the root word "involve" three times in that paragraph, with 2 definitions, and I regret nothing. Nothing!

*** Even their economically short names feel like wheel-churning creative spitballing compared to names like the hilarious and obviously overthought Edgar Roni Figaro.

**** It's also why I hate James Joyce novels.

***** It could be argued that Kefka wins the entire game. He wants everything to end, and after he dies, how would he know it doesn't?

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

WPC Me ASAP (aka How, Why, and Absent Guys)


How
     If I told you that a dramatic event occurred which miraculously altered my perception of flexing one's love muscle, would you believe me? Probably not, and you'd be correct. As much as I'd love to say that an epiphany seized me by the throat and choked the love from my veins, the reality is far less romantic. Given that existence is an wondrously kaleidoscopic affair, I simply employed my professional self (without pay, of course) and envisioned a genuine concern for the collective. From this, a jubilant empathy of sorts was distilled, refined, and consumed ravenously. Love? No, but close enough, and while I suppose it could be likened to ingesting an illicit substance of some kind, I haven't the foggiest idea about such nefarious pursuits, so purge the very thought from your brain.

Why
     Ah, yes, the $64,000 question. Put another way, anyone who has spent more than a few hours in my presence will attest to the fact that I tend to do things with nary a consideration for rhyme, reason, or consequence. A pervasive theme of this conference, however, was the capacity to effect change in the self as well as society at large; a lofty goal, perhaps, yet an admirable aspiration nonetheless. One should also keep in mind that both my accommodations and transportation had been covered by an outside party; furthermore, it must be stressed that a good number of people put in a great deal of effort to make that happen, period. All things considered, it would have been childish to allow the curveball that is the flexing of one's love muscle* (or lack thereof) to take me out of the game so early on. In other words, a convergence of variables and such.
     If that explanation fails to satisfy you, try this instead:



Absent Guys
     Given that my personality deficits adorable idiosyncrasies have been sufficiently covered, and lest you think this post is entirely about me, let's address matters of attendance at the 2014 White Privilege Conference. Approximately 2400 people made the trek to Madison last week, and while this may come as a shock, none of them stopped to view the existential struggle raging within me. Believe it or not, 2400 people came to Madison, Wisconsin to discuss the topic of white privilege - at a conference no less! To state the obvious, it was a smorgasbord of diversity: black, white, Asian, lesbian, gay, transgendered, people of mixed heritage, people of mixed heritage identifying as LGBTQ, professors, plumbers, engineers, doctors, students, dancing robots, talking cats, the Swedish Chef - you name it, and it was probably there, and in case you're wondering, the answer is yes, like a smorgasbord, diversity is delicious. Actually, I take that back, there were a few whose absence was noticed.
     I didn't see Paul Allen** there, for starters.

"Look, I came here for the cilantro crawfish gumbo, alright?"
     I didn't see Patrick Bateman, either.

"Do you like Huey Lewis and the News? I think their undisputed masterpiece is Hip to be Square, a song so catchy, most people probably don't listen to the lyrics, but they should, because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity and the importance of trends. It's also a personal statement about the band itself."
     Before going any further, it should also be noted that I didn't see actors Jared Leto and Christian Bale at the conference, obviously; more to the point, neither Jared Leto as Paul Allen nor Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman were in attendance, and quite frankly, there literally isn't enough space available on the Internet to adequately describe how ridiculously hilarious that would have been, but this is a digression, admittedly, because the conference wasn't about hilarity, though you can see where I'm going with this line of thought.
     Anyway, you know who else failed to make an appearance? Paris Hilton.

"I, like, have something to say."
      Lastly, I didn't see Robert H. Richards IV*** at the White Privilege Conference, oddly enough.

"Trust fund kids, rejoice!"
     That last one may have thrown you off, and fair enough. Here's a link to assist you. Long story short, that piece of shit is a primary example of the type of person who, somewhat paradoxically, should and yet should not attend conferences of this nature, as I remain convinced that residents of society's upper crust are so wealthy and so utterly removed from common reality that it's difficult to imagine cultural progression without their participation, willing or not. One dilemma, obviously, lies in getting said people to the relevant conferences. I don't have a solution to this conundrum, unfortunately, though I imagine that it might count as community service or something like that.

More later. Well, you know, probably.


* Reminder: I'm talking about a conference, not a porno.
** Paul Owen, if you prefer the novel.
*** Seriously, what the fuck is this, a Rocky movie?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

WPC Me ASAP (aka Flex Your Love Muscle)


      I tell him I have to go to the restroom. Evan says sure. I go to the phone instead and call Trent, who got back from Palm Springs and ask him if he saw Julian there. He tells me no and that the coke he got from Sandy sucks and that he has too much of it and can't sell it. I tell Trent that I can't find Julian and that I'm strung out and tired. He asks me where I am. 
     "In a McDonald's on Sherman Oaks," I tell him.
     "That's why," Trent says.
     I don't understand and hang up. 
                                        - Bret Easton Ellis, Less than Zero



     This past week, the twenty-sixth through the twenty-ninth to be precise, I attended the White Privilege Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, and before anyone gets all "But Kmork, who needs a white privilege conference?" on me, rest assured that I know you would never say such a silly thing. Then again, maybe you would, or maybe you'd say, "But Kmork, everyone knows humanity isn't your thing, so what's the deal?" yet that inquiry would be of some merit, at least, although you'd still be a dick for asking.*
     There's plenty of time to discuss the conference, of course, mostly because this is my blog and I'll do what I damn well please! but also because I don't have much of a personal and/or social life to distract me; thus, consider this the first in a series of magically delicious posts pertaining to this year's WPC. That being said, let's discuss something which had thrown me off; you know, one of those What the hell have I gotten myself into? moments. The thing is, the keynote speaker instructed us to, more or less, flex our love muscle (or muscles**) throughout the conference. Those in the know will understand the dilemma encountered.
     For those unaware, I have 7,297 songs in my iTunes collection. Of this number, 306 have 'love' somewhere in the title, and approximately 6,000 more discuss the topic of love. Here's an excellent example, in more ways than one:



     Great song, great video, right? Right! Beyond academic terms, however, I wouldn't say I actually get the point of this or any of the other 6,306 songs mentioned previously, so when some dude up on the stage directed me to let love be our guide for the rest of the conference, you can easily imagine the resultant confusion. I mean, if the guy had ordered us to flex our amorality muscle, I would have leapt from the chair and started partying 45 Grave style.



   Awesome song, awesome scenario, right? Right! But no, the guy had to go with love. Always with the love. At that point, it became a multiple choice scenario of sorts, as I could have elected to A) slide into a homicidal frenzy; B) head to the bar way, way early; C) go back to the hotel, take a nap, and hit the gym; or D) work around the love. Surprisingly, I opted to work around the love; how and why are another topic for another day, suffice it to say that it was worth the effort.

That, and there wasn't any flexing involved. 




* You might have a point, too, but let's not get caught up in such tangents.
** I'm no biologist, mind you, but the anatomy of love looks pretty fucked up when dissected.