The Shining (1980) review and analysis

Rated: 4.5 / 5

“I’m sorry to differ with you sir. But *you* are the Caretaker. You have *always* been the Caretaker. I should know sir, I have *always* been here.”

A lot of people tend to think of this film as a horror movie, or at the very least a thriller.  About a family composed of a mother, father, and son, where the father goes completely off the deep end thanks in-part to the hauntings of the hotel they stay at, and the son carries an abnormal element himself.  Where it becomes clear the mother must escape with her son before she loses her son to either the father/hotel, before the father/hotel kills them, repeating the events that happened 10 years ago.

While this is without a doubt a horror movie, I tend to look at it more as a commentary on history.  Not necessarily on historical events themselves (though it does have symbolism to make statements on that), but on an aspect of history as a topic.  How history affects people past, present, and future.  And this is something that one may not pick up on clearly until the very last moment of the film.

The characters are intentionally left unexplained in many ways.  Normally, I’d consider this a bad thing, having undeveloped characters.  Don’t get me wrong, we do know some things about them.  About how Jack, the father, had a drinking problem in the past, which caused him to hurt his son by accident, which damaged the entire family relationship.  Even though he quite drinking and tried to be a better person, they were never quite the same.  And we see that the mother, Wendy, is doing her best to cope with that, to move past it, trying to keep the family together, and to keep her relationship with her husband together.  After all, they both still have a relationship.  There are indications they are still trying to keep it together.  But it’s not a crack that has fully healed; which seems particularly evident with the mother’s smoking habit (stressful).  And the son, Danny.  Well, considering his youth, it’s forgivable for him to not have much background, aside from preferring to stay isolated from the other children, and having an “invisible friend” named Tony that he talks to off and on.

On the other hand, we don’t know for certain how “accidental” it was for Jack to have hurt Danny.  If it was just a momentary lapse of judgement of physical strength as he claims at the bar, or if it was an indication as to just how crazy he would become.  Though it is heavily implied he was already a bit off his rocker during the first scene we see him in (he does seem a bit off in that interview; especially with those eyebrows).  There are also subtle clues indicating that Jack has been getting more and more frustrated with his life not only because of his career failures, but also because of the indication that his family is starting to get on his nerves (subtle clues to this can be seen when they are driving towards the hotel, one of the very few scenes where they are together as a family; how he is visibly restraining himself from expressing too much annoyance and what his wife and child are saying to him, and lets off steam with some attempt at shock and sarcasm).  He wants to isolate himself from society just as much as he wants to isolate himself from his family, even though he consciously feels he still loves them, and up until the hotel had consciously tried to maintain that love.  It begs the question as to just how much the haunted hotel accelerated his descent into madness, or if he was already going mad prior to going to the hotel.  Yet the character is aware of the audience judging him, as those with a sharp eye may notice an instance when he breaks the fourth wall during his first scene at the bar with Lloyd, how he glances at the camera before going on a rant at how accidental it was that he caused harm to his son.  Like he’s saying, “Who are you to judge me, especially you looking in beyond the veil?”

Stop judging me or I’ll kill the cameraman!

“Here’s to 5 miserable months on the wagon, and all the irreparable harm that it has caused me.”

About Danny and his internal “friend.”  It is indicated that Jack was the one who set that off, set off Danny having his “invisible friend,” because the day he harmed his son was the day his son got in touch with Tony.  Thus implying (as this concept is explained later) that both Danny and Jack have the “shine” to a varying degree.  Because of Jack, Danny became more aware of it.  But Jack remains unaware of his ability, or at least what this ability of his entails despite what he is able to see (including in his dreams).  But we aren’t aware as to whether Tony is an actual real apparition that resides within Danny, or if Danny had developed a split personality disorder in order to cope with his newfound Shining gift.  After all, the other individual in the film, Dick Hallorann the cook, who is aware of “the shine” seems a bit baffled at the existence of Tony.

“She’s a confirmed ghost story and horror film addict.”

About Wendy.  We know she’s a loving mother who is trying to maintain the happiness of herself and her family, while dealing with the stress of the effort via a cigarette habit.  It’s as if she’s uncomfortable with the current state of things, but is desperately trying to ignore that and keep things together.  Just as she seems to be the only one really keeping the hotel together, as she’s the only one we ever see working the boilers and other stuff, even though Jack proclaims himself to be the one tasked with doing that very job (fanatically at times).  An indication that she is the only one making an effort at keeping their relationship together while Jack makes no effort at all?  On the other hand, she does tend to just make statements in the hopes of just making a conversation happen between her and her husband (something that can be understandably irritating in some cases, especially if this is primarily how they interact with one another).  For example, when she first interrupts him when he’s typing, and she says it in the most annoyingly likeable 50s sitcom tone (even her name is that of a traditional 50s sitcom lady):

Wendy: “Hey, the weather said it’s going to snow tonight.”

Jack: “What do you want me to do about it?”

The awkwardness of this conversation is further highlighted in a manner that even those without a sharp eye will probably notice on a subliminal level.  For those who do have a sharp eye, you may notice how in the take prior to Wendy making that statement, there is a chair and a small table up against the wall behind Jack.  But in the shot where Jack has that long pause before asking the question, the chair and table are gone.  When a couple more takes happen, the chair and table are back where they were in the earlier take.  A fluke?  Or intentional?  I’m more willing to believe the latter, since this is a Stanley Kubrick film we’re talking about here.  A Stanley Kubrick film about a haunted hotel no less.  He knows what he’s doing.

Hey… don’t be so grouchy.

All the surface ingredients are there to indicate this is a horror film about the deterioration of the family unit.  In the current film era, it is very common to see films where the father of the family tends to be unreliable and vilified (or at least have the family unit primarily run by a single mother who is indicated to be more reliable than the husband ever was), which is something I would normally despise in a film because of its propaganda (that it’s primarily women who can succeed in raising a family, they can do it alone without need of a husband because “independent woman” power).  However, keep in mind this was not a trend back then.  It was more common for the father figure to be the most inspirational, reliable, leading member of the family, while working with the wife off and on in a cohesive manner (teamwork, but his role as the team leader was established and not challenged because it was natural and not controversial).  Which is why this worked more effectively in the horror aspect back then, because we witness the downward spiral of the father figure who is commonly looked upon as the reliable one, the leader of the family unit, the primary one who worked to keep the family going (financially, and protectively).  When a figure like that loses his mind and becomes corrupted and turns against the rest of the family, that only heightens the sense of danger.  What was once a unique factor in a film like this has now become the norm in films of today.  And that is a topic I will return to later.

One of the very very few scenes the family is seen together.

So, like I was saying, on the surface this film is about the deterioration of the family unit, and how the ghosts within the hotel accelerate that deterioration.  And make no mistake, the ghosts are real.  At first one could believe they are just visions that can’t interact with the real world, that both Danny and Jack are the only ones who can really see them because of their gift (for Danny, it’s a hereditary gift).  And at first, one could believe that Danny had been strangled not by the ghost woman in room 237, but possibly by Jack, or even Danny managing to strangle himself (there are theories about the ghosts not existing, but rather them being projections from the psyche of those who have the shining).  But the moment Jack is set free from the storage room, with a ghost unlocking the door from the outside, that’s the moment we know for sure the ghosts are real, and can most definitely interact in the physical realm.  Say what you will about the shining ability, but at no point is it mentioned or demonstrated to have telekinetic capabilities; unless we’re to believe these characters can move the furniture around (or turns certain lights on and off) between takes.  What’s more, even Wendy starts to see the ghosts and images during the film’s finale.

How is it she’s able to see these ghosts and visions during the finale if she doesn’t have the ability to shine?  One could argue she had the ability all along but didn’t realize it, similar to Jack’s situation except he was able to interact with the visions in the shining without knowing this was some strange ability.  You know, like how some argue that Holdo also has Jedi powers in The Last Jedi (some ol’ bullshit).  But the better argument is that the hotel was hungry for blood, hungry for a sacrifice.  Which is why it drives certain inhabitants such as Jack and Grady into insanity to kill their family to satiate the hotel’s thirst.  So once Jack kills Hallorann (which causes Danny to scream in the darkness, utilizing that same image that was flashed to during the first act of the film when we first see Danny use the shining), the hotel is satisfied it has a blood sacrifice made.  Which is why we now hear disturbing vocals/chants/ghostly talks amidst the music.  Blood sacrifices power the hotel, and make its haunting more apparent, hence why Wendy is now able to see these images.

If the ghosts being real is any indication, there is more beneath the surface of this film than just a simple family deterioration horror story.  The final shot of the film is practically spelling this out as well.  Though many may not be entirely sure what this even means, seeing Jack in an old party photo at the hotel dated back to July 4, 1921 (fun fact: 1921 was the year the silent film The Phantom Carriage was released, which has a sequence in it you will find has striking similarity to another sequence in The Shining).  Independence Day, nearly 60 years prior to the present (in terms of when this film took place, or was released).  Plus there’s also heavy indication that something is off with the opening scene.  How the camera POV is flying across a lake, flying across a street and just going past a yellow car that it follows from a distance, and we hear haunting vocals.  Like some distant tortured scream.  And it winds up at the same destination as the car, the hotel, where the first scene of the film takes place with Jack walking into the lobby (where people check in).  As if a spirit entered the room at the same time as Jack, as if there is a connection between Jack and this unseen floating spirit that we, as the viewer, see through.  And it’s uncomfortable at times.  It was there from the beginning of the film (not just the ending), that Jack may not be a normal part of this world.  He just flies in, traveling within a time period those at the hotel admit is fast.

And there are theories about Jack.  One of them is that he is a reincarnation of Charles Grady.  This is opposed to Delbert Grady who he meets in the Gold Room (and later talks to in the restroom).  There are two Gradys (unless I’m wrong, and Charles Grady was also known as Delbert Grady), though Jack states that he “recognizes” Delbert Grady from the newspaper photos.  Some strange case of identity, that there are multiple Gradys, just as there have been multiple caretakers.  That a new Grady will be reincarnated just as there will be a reincarnated caretaker (who may be one and the same in this case).  Which is why Jack looks stunned and convinced when Delbert Grady tells Jack that he (Jack) has always been the caretaker.  Because, in a reincarnation sense, he is.

But then there’s the theory that the evil hotel simply absorbed Jack into its history.  That this photo didn’t used to have Jack in it, but by the end of the film it did.  Because Jack “sold his soul” (for a drink) to the hotel, and became somewhat possessed, or overly influenced into doing its bidding.  Or the hotel fed his evil side to take over and make him crazy enough to want to kill his family, just as Grady did in the past.  So either when he sold his soul, or when he died, he became a permanent part of the hotel’s history.  Either way, now he is trapped there, forever.  And the other people in the photo are either those from the same time period, or those are other people who have had their souls trapped in the hotel just as Jack has.  Because the Hotel “wants” damaged people like Jack capable of doing terrible deeds.

One of the ways we could’ve confirmed which of the theories is more plausible than the other is by seeing a photo of Charles Grady (the man who chopped up his family with an axe in 1970).  But we never do see a photo of this Charles Grady, to confirm whether or not the person Jack sees in the restroom has a resemblance to that Grady, just as Jack has a resemblance to the man in the 1921 photo.  Is he mis-remembering those details?  He does seem to be recalling them.  You may notice in the discussion in the restroom, Jack is making this “typing in the air” motion with his hand, a method used to recall memory.  A method also used in an anime series titled Monster (which came out well-after this film).  He seems convinced, despite the change in the first name.  Then again, he is going insane, and arguably having a difficult time distinguishing reality from… well, not so sure this can be called fantasy considering it is able to affect reality.

My son Alex needed a good ‘talking to.’

Personally, I’m more willing to believe the reincarnation theory, for a few reasons.  For one thing, Jack having that extreme sense of Deja Vu when at the hotel.  For another, the more in-depth themes of the film.  Because it’s about history repeating itself, just as reincarnations have people from past lives having a repeat life.  Consider how the photograph at the end calls back to the line, “You have always been the caretaker.”  That this outcome was bound to happen, because it was predetermined, because it was fate, maybe even because history is destined to repeat itself.

First, you may have noticed the presence of the American flag at several points throughout the film.  Jack’s initial interview at the beginning of the film in the office, a small American flag on the desk, which currently belongs to Stuart Ullman, who has a passing resemblance to John F. Kennedy.  Then there’s other places where the American flag can be seen, such as the main room where Jack does most of his typing, to the station where authorities maintain radio contact with the hotel.

There are also several mentions about how the hotel was built upon an indian burial ground, and the builders had to repel some indian attacks during this building between 1907 (when they started building the hotel) to 1909 (when construction was complete).  Indian imagery can be found throughout the hotel, as if they are haunting the hotel as well in their own way.  From the imagery above the fireplace, to the carpet in the hallways, to the rugs, and various ornaments, even some food or coffee cans.

Note how the indian imagery on the right has them shaped like rockets, with a fire lit beneath them, indicating blastoff.

The imagery became particularly noticeable (and somewhat eerie and creepy in its own way) when Danny is playing with car toys in the hallway, with them driving along the artistic lines just as they are constantly walked on and over by feet.  As if their history and memory is designed to be disrespected in this hotel, despite the homage it gives them in other areas.  An indication that this hotel was destined to be haunted by indian spirits, something Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper would be more blunt with in the later film Poltergeist.

So, this then becomes about how desecrating an indian site is bad, and shame on America for doing so.  After all, the hotel is supposed to represent America, and it is called the Overlook Hotel, implying history should be overlooked (just as casual viewers will overlook the finer details to be found in this film), just as the horrible events that happened in the hotel (let alone during its construction) should be overlooked.

So it’s subliminally a shame story for America right?

Wrong.

It’s not that simple.  That’s just one of several layers this film has when it comes to the topic of history.  There are also references to Ancient Greece with the hedge maze (and how Jack becomes a personification of the Minotaur within the maze, with his voice becoming less human and discernible, and becoming more monstrous), Jack mentioning “White Man’s Burden” with a drink he orders, and the other drink he orders called “Hair of the Dog that Bit Me.”  With the former drink, it’s a reference to European colonizers.  With the latter, a reference to not just having a drink to cure a hangover (a method that doesn’t work), but also to healing a wound (in medieval times it was thought that taking the hair from the dog that bit you, and putting it into the wound it gave, would help cure the wound).  The history being covered is not limited to just indian tribes.  They just so happen to be the most obvious one that is verbally pointed out on a few occasions.  We would be “overlooking” the others if we were to only focus on the indians.

And children’s tales.

Now, at this point, I’m probably going to read more into this than what the film intended.  The civilizations/societies/cultures that the colonizers took over aren’t exactly all that innocent either.  Certain indian tribes (and the Mayans) practices ritual sacrifice.  Ancient Greeks having strange excessive sexual habits.  The occupants of colonies Europeans colonized weren’t exactly innocent of their own murders and shocking events.  By colonizing them and taking up their own history in the colonizer’s own way, their misdeeds and bad habits carry on in their own way into the Overlook Hotel.

On that note, there’s another key aspect of history that this film most definitely covers.  It’s something that is easier to pick up on if you know what Stanley Kubrick’s last major film, Eyes Wide Shut, is really about.  There’s a hint of it in The Gold Room.  Another hint that this hotel was based in a location that is away from civilization, out in the wilderness, has beautiful scenery, and is isolated from the rest of the world, especially at during certain times of the year.  The other hint is with the black and white photos that hang throughout the mansion of upper class people who used to congregate there.  One more hint: the hauntings themselves during the film’s finale.  How is it that the apparitions and visions during the finale differ so much from the previous visions?  Up until then, they were primarily viewed by Danny, and he saw images of victims and blood.  Jack primarily viewed the happier high-life of the upper class of the past.  But once the blood sacrifice is made, Wendy is able to see how the horrors of the past are more affecting the present (after all, she doesn’t have the gift, she isn’t able to see the past or future, but she is able to see the present state of the hauntings since the hotel itself will shine these visions towards her).  And she sees a man dressed in a bear/bulldog costume giving a man in a fancy suit a blowjob.  She sees a man with deep gash at the top of his head saying, “Great party isn’t it?” while toasting a glass towards her.  She sees the dead skeletons in a room that hasn’t been cleaned for decades.  She sees blood gushing out of an elevator.

The color red is all about how much fun one is having.  The Hotel loves Overlooking how much bloodshed is in it, just as the elitist love overlooking the bloodshed in the country.  It wants its sacrifice, it wants its fun.  Note how often the characters in the film are having fun when they are wearing red, or around red.

All of this hints at the stuff the upper class, the “1%,” the big boys club that lives a different lifestyle under a different set of rules than the commoners, who have their own private getaways and their own private parties where they are able to indulge in illegal/forbidden/taboo acts (sound similar to something that was uncovered more recently?).  Another indication is the timing of the past events in this film.  It is stated the construction of the hotel started in 1907.  Historically, in 1907, that was when speculative banking on Wall Street caused an economic crash, which caused banks to panic and call for people like J.P. Morgan to avert an economic disaster.  Which was when an alteration to the monetary system was suggested, amidst high controversy.  At this point, money was on the Gold standard (hence The Gold Room), which is also why the bartender Lloyd tells Jack that “his credit is good” and that “your money is no good here.”  Paper money printed by the Federal Reserve is meaningless and has no value in a society whose currency is backed by Gold rather than the Federal Reserve.  And the Federal Reserve became legally signed into law years later by then-president Woodrow Wilson.  And the significance of 1921?  That’s when Woodrow Wilson’s presidential term ended.  The party was about to change, and it was about to get more strange.

This is why I view this movie as a commentary on history and its effects on society and the present.  All the clues are there to indicate the film can be interpreted as such.  Which brings forth another meaning as to what shining is.  To shine is to see history, to look at events of the past, present, and future.  See into the past, to see how it affects the present, and what can be done in the present to get an intended future.  Thus those who can shine are an allegory for historians.  There are three people who are historians in this.  Danny, Dick, and Jack.  Danny is a boy who is being exposed to history at an early age, primarily the horrific aspects of it, which is having an affect on his psyche.  Dick Hallorann is a black cook who is well experienced with history, has a respect for it, and attempts to ease Danny into it by having him avoid the more terrible aspects by telling him to stay out of Room 237 (telling him there is nothing there, which is a lie); he also tells him that the images are not real, implying they won’t cause any physical harm (which ends up not being the case).  Plus he is someone who grew up with his own history of prejudice, whether amidst the racial tensions of the 1960s (and earlier), or with the hotel itself (the length of his involvement with it is unknown, but it is long enough to know about the history of some of the rooms, maybe even all of them).

And then there’s Jack himself.  Someone who isn’t consciously aware of what the shining is (even though he passed it on genetically to Danny, and even unintentionally awakened Danny’s ability to shine).  But because he is unaware of what it is, he is more easily influenced by it, especially once he gets to the hotel.  Because to be aware of history, to be aware of what you are seeing, what it is, what it means, is to be on guard with it’s influence (such as knowing it’s in the past rather than the present).  But Jack treats everything as if it’s in the here and now, unable to distinguish the past from the present.  You could say he’s being subliminally messaged, subliminally influenced by what he sees during his own shining moments.  This also includes a resurrection of racial prejudices from the past, which can be noted from Grady telling Jack about the “nigger.”  The way Jack repeats the word back to him, like he’s never said it before, maybe not even heard it before; rather confused about the term and it’s usage.  One of the many things these ghosts and elitists are influencing him on.  And who knows how long it has been an influence on him even before he reaches the hotel.  It may have been a contributing factor to him acting somewhat cooky during the first scene of the movie.  Either way, it’s definitely causing him to fly further off the deep end at an accelerated rate (they only stayed at the hotel for a little over a month before we see his spiral become obvious, and he goes completely insane one week later).

History can horrify, history can influence, history can teach.  The images they see, that we see, can do all of that.  They can bring out the best in us (Dick trying to help others with the information he gains through shining), they can bring out the worst in us (Jack), or they could be too much for some to handle (Danny, though in all fairness he does eventually start to handle it in his own way; he does break from his Tony takeover during the finale).  And the film can be taken as an allegory for those who don’t teach history properly, learn history properly, guard themselves from the temptations of the depraved that are found in history, etc.  And the family came into the hotel with their own baggage of bad events, which they haven’t completely moved past.  Or if they had, it was brought back to the forefront to split them apart.  The thing is, Jack already seemed interested in getting away from his family, of being in isolation, so I doubt they completely addressed, resolved, and moved past everything.  The signs are there that they are still affected negatively by their own past.  But there are signs that the historians (those that shine) who are able to see the past and the future (allegory for learning from the past to predict the future) can go about saving others from a dreaded fate. Danny has the means to do the same at some future point in time (he tried to do so in his own way by trying to communicate that there would be a murder in the bathroom where his mother ended up locking herself into), but currently isn’t mature enough to get a solid handle on his powers and potential.  Dick, who is more experienced with such things, comes to the hotel to help the family from some plight after getting a vision about the room 237 ordeal, which ends up giving the mother and son the means to escape in the end (at a sad cost).

The most interesting thing, if one looks into this hard enough (and in all fairness, I learned about this detail from outside sources), Jack can be shown to be subliminally influenced by the hotel during the beginning of the film, outside of any shining activities.  When he can be seen reading a magazine.  And at this point, I’m going to be getting into a very disturbing theory some intelligent folks have come up with when they studied this film in-depth.

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The second headline beneath the title says INCEST: Why Parents Sleep With Their Children.

There is a magazine nearby for Jack to read while he waits at the hotel.  A magazine called PLAYGIRL, which I imagine is the equivalent of Playboy for women.  Strange that he should be reading that.  Then again, we’re not exactly shown what the options are, what other magazines are lying around for hotel guests to read.  But what is particularly strange is that one of the chapters in the magazine is about parents sleeping with their children.  One film analyst named Rob Ager analyzes the idea that Jack was an abusive father who sexually molested Danny, and uses this magazine reference as evidence (one of many alleged pieces of evidence) to indicate this.

Currently, I’m hesitant to completely agree (though I will get into this in some amount of detail compared to Ager’s study).  Ager is only focused on one aspect of this magazine (though Supermarket Sex Fantasy is highlighted in the bottom right), the Incest part.  He doesn’t seem to consider the other details.  For instance, the cursive writing of “Party!” on the upper right side, referencing the party the ghosts want to have with a sacrifice in blood, the color red.  There’s also “The Selling of […] David Soul,” foreshadowing Jack selling his soul for alcohol (and thus selling himself to the hotel).  The “New 7-Day Wonder Diet,” referring to most of the runtime taking place during a 7-day week, when Jack goes on a diet of a kind alright, some kind of “wonder” kind of diet (consuming shining and haunting influences provided courteously by the ghost guests of the hotel).  “Communicate in Bed,” he has a difficult time sleeping due to the shining, and when he does manage to sleep he seems to get nightmares (his howling causes Wendy to rush to his aid and wake him up).  “Tax Dollars Give New Identities To Convicted Criminals,” how the criminals who committed foul deeds in the hotel get reincarnated as new people who will do the process all over again, such as Jack killing his family with an axe all over again (subliminally, this hints at our tax dollars funding government officials who participate in things that happens at hotels like these).  Celebrity’s favorite television commercials, encouraging consumers to buy products advertised by these big corporations who also have parties at places like the hotel (perhaps referencing Jack purchasing booze).  “How To Avoid A Dead-End Affair,” (I’m assuming that last word is “affair”), Jack having a momentary affair with that ghost lady, who is dead.  Just about every headline on that magazine is incorporated into this film in one form or another, all of which involves Jack to an extent.

Now, since that all involves Jack to an extent, that would indicate he did molest his son at one point right?  Ager suggests Jack did this at some point between when he told Danny he loves him and that he would never do anything to hurt him, and the point when Jack is having that nightmare (Saturday to Monday, a two day time period), which he would say was about him chopping up his family.  He also suggests that the scene with Danny entering Room 237 was a dream, and is the same case when Jack enters the room.  In reality, either during the scene where Danny is on Jack’s lap, or just prior to Jack having a bad dream (which Ager suggests was really Jack having a dream about him molesting Danny), that was when Jack forced Danny to give him fellatio.  I’m more likely to believe the latter, considering it’s doubtful he’d be wandering around with a torn shirt and a bruised neck without his mother noticing.  The most convincing evidence I’ve seen to support this theory is Jack’s reaction to seeing Danny come into the room in this state, and Wendy accusing him of doing this to Danny.

It is a baffling reaction unless taken in that context.  Plus Danny is wearing a shirt that suggests his mouth was forcefully penetrated with a phallic object.  The Apollo 11 shirt, which may also be a reference to the Greek God Apollo, who had a homosexual relationship with the son of a king.  Ah, but right there is an indication that this might not be a sign of Jack molesting Danny.  Because in that sense, Apollo would be a metaphor for the ghosts (Gods who don’t belong in the human realm, though they are certainly capable of interacting with it).  In this case, a ghost wanting to interact with Danny on a sexual level (I told you these Greeks got sexually depraved).  The other indicator is early on in the film, after Danny has his vision of the hotel, and wakes up to the child psychiatrist.  And he has his pants removed with his legs bare.  Why is he like this exactly?  Did they find him this way, or were they removed at the behest of the mother or the psychiatrist?  Maybe Danny pissed/shit himself and that’s why they had to remove the clothing?  Either way, it seems to support the idea of the ghosts wanting their way with Danny (if only on a visual thematic level), because there was no indication of Jack being involved in that whole ordeal early on in the film.

Blast off into your mouth, with the indians celebrating.

There are other holes in this theory.  For one thing, with that Playgirls magazine, the “Communicate in Bed” article isn’t exactly something that pertains to Jack directly (unless we’re to ask what his sex life is like with Wendy; but honestly, I can’t picture them doing that at all, they have no romantic chemistry in this film, and not once is any element of eroticism suggested between the two).  It’s something that pertains more to the ghosts invading Jack’s mind, assaulting his mind while he sleeps.  Plus I also don’t buy the whole dream sequence theory.  I don’t buy dream sequences in this movie period.  It is already established that there is shining, and shining is something that would happen in place of any dream sequence.  And shining would explain Jack’s experience in room 237 better than him just dreaming about going into the room.  Plus that also brings up this problem: If Danny didn’t go into room 237, and if Jack didn’t go into room 237, then why bother showing anything within it at all?  Seems like an awful lot of buildup for nothing, especially when Dick seems to have concerns about what is in that room.  The other problem is that this takes away from the presence of the ghosts themselves, and how they are capable of interacting with the physical realm.  It’s already been established that they unlocked the pantry room Wendy locked Jack in, so is it too much too ask that they would also unlock room 237 for Danny (and Jack) to enter?  And there’s the whole issue of Danny having a seizure with his shining experience that is so strong even Dick can feel it (I’m starting to think that first name of his was intentional for the sake of having conversations like these).  Which means Danny is either having that shining experience because of a dream his father is having, or because of a room his father his visiting where he is having his own shining experience.  I’m more willing to believe the latter, because this indicates that a shining experience can be shared between multiple people who have that gift.  Because if it’s not the latter, then it’s the former, which implies Danny can see into Jack’s dreams, which opens up another can of worms with another theory about the movie that Danny is the one responsible for making these visions happen, and is thus the cause of Jack’s shining experiences (a theory I don’t fully buy into either).  And I’m not going to get into that here, other than to mention that the scene with the bear-dog man giving fellatio to an elitist could be interpreted as Danny projecting to his mother an image of the traumatizing experience he had with his father (as opposed to my interpretation that this represents one of the taboo sex acts these elitists do with animals, just as some ancient Greeks did in their time).

Ager also suggests that the “Choking” poster refers to Danny choking on Jack’s… you know.  But that could just as easily refer to the ghost lady strangling Danny (they do express to Jack that they have it in for him).

And this begs the question.  If Jack didn’t molest Danny, then what about all that symbolism, those awkward reactions, that magazine, and all that stuff?  The answer is rather simple (I hope).  The Playgirls magazine references stuff that not only subliminally influences Jack (in the past, present, and future), but also stuff that subliminally influences everyone.  And by everyone, that doesn’t just include Wendy, that also includes us, the viewers.  Why else do you think Jack breaks the fourth wall on several occasions and looks at us viewers through the camera?  Because we are being given subliminal messages through this movie as well, including the idea that Jack is a child molester, when the evidence for it is circumstantial and not clear cut.  Granted, Jack is likely being subliminally messaged to do this to his son, but that doesn’t take away from the theory that this idea is being planted into our heads so that we can think even lesser of him than we did before (which I’m sure not many thought was possible on a first time viewing of this film).  That magazine represents the corporate elite brainwashing the mainstream, so why not implement a bit of that brainwashing on the mainstream viewership in another way?  We know Jack is an irresponsible selfish crazed lunatic, but we don’t know for sure what led him to fully fall into that state.  How much of it was the ghosts subliminally getting to him?  How much of it was his own fault?  How much of it was corporations like those who made the Playgirls magazine?  How much of it was booze?  How much of it was his family (and if it was his family, in what ways)?  It’s not as if he started out this way, otherwise why would Wendy be with him in the first place?  You see what I mean about how it’s not a bad thing to leave details to these characters unexplained so that we don’t know for sure as to the actual state of them?  Yet some judge anyway, because that is safer than pondering the ultimate terror: the unknown.

The Shining - The Carpet Trick
Source

On the other hand, there are many holes and contradictions in this film that tend to make any of these types of theories stand on somewhat shaky ground.  My theory (or theories) as to the state of things in the film, and the messages within it, likely have their own flaws as well.  Just as the hotel has its flaws.  I’m not talking about the past misdeeds that haunt the hotel, I’m talking about structural design and inconsistencies.  This hotel is not physically capable of existing in its current design.  People have tried recreating it by mapping it out based on what is shown in the movie, and they came up with contradictions and impossibilities.  Objects are subtly moved around between takes.  Sometimes doors don’t open and close the way they should.  Even the damn characters seem to somehow move around between certain takes.  There are deliberate contradictions intended to fuck with the most analytical of viewers, and subliminally unsettle the rest.  It is layered enough to where even those who analyze it heavily will have differing opinions about to, and will never come to an agreement over its meaning.

After all, (((they))) can’t have us working together and agreeing on things now can (((they)))?

Great party isn’t it?  I love is so much, my head can’t contain the red blood that wants to burst out of it.

It’s no wonder then that there is an underlying dark sense of humor to this film.  Like Dick having those pictures of naked ladies in his room (so unexpected, considering his nice guy demeanor).  Or the fact the Jack Nicholson plays a character named Jack who orders a Jack Daniels from the bartender.  Or how silly Jack’s facial expressions are, and how some of us can just sit back and laugh at how he acts towards Wendy during that scene where she has the bat and is backing away from him.  Because it’s a world gone crazy, with crazy brainwashed people like Jack being schoolteachers (like Jack was, after he tried to move on from being a failed writer).  Brainwashed people who claim to have responsibilities when they act irresponsibly while others (like Wendy) carry the weight to try and keep things running.  A crazy place like America with elitists running the show just as the ghosts are running the hotel.  And each country has their own ghosts, their own skeletons in the closet, their own depraved history.  Then again, there’s also the globalists who helped establish such institutions as the EU, UN, and Federal Reserve (each country has their own linked version of it), to drive things and influence people into doing things.  To corrupt people, just as the hotel (and others) corrupted the father, and thus the family unit.  Corrupting how others will look at the father figure until they’ve determined that this is normal, that fathers aren’t ever to be trusted.  And there is nothing to do but try to run and escape from this maze, which grows larger by the day.  Soon the whole world will become this labyrinth of which no one can escape, where we will be stuck in here with the crazies, while the crazies in control get to look down on us wandering it and smile their demented smiles.  After all, how do we know for certain that Wendy and Danny actually escaped and got to a safe place?  All we see is them leaving the hotel on a snow mobile, which Wendy likely doesn’t have much experience with, and we see them go into the dark unknown.

 

It’s a world gone mad, and all we can do is sit back and laugh at it like Jack does.

 

 

 

PS: For those who are interested, all that I’ve covered here is only scratching the surface of this film.  If you don’t believe me, may I direct you to the Shone Report:

Phantasy Star I-IV (1988-1995) review

A couple months ago I felt this urge to go back to retro gaming.  I don’t mean retro PC, I don’t mean downloading an emulated game on the PC.  I mean actual old-school console gaming.  But I found myself in a predicament.  I used to own a Sega Genesis, and a decent game collection for it.  But it was taking up so much space.  So I gave the whole thing away a few years ago, as a gift to some podcast guys I no longer listen to.  A part of me was tempted to purchase one of those “system and controllers plus collection of games” on eBay, but I knew that wouldn’t be the right thing to do, at least not currently.  That would just put me back in the same situation as before, and I need to be more efficient with my space.  So I opted for the next best thing, one of those classic retro gaming systems that had a bunch of games built into it, the the NES Classic, the SNES classic, or the recently released Genesis Classic.  I would’ve to go for the SNES classic, if it had the games I wanted.  But they didn’t, not all of them.  Then I found out it could be modded.  So I had two choices.  Either purchase the console mini and work on putting emulations on a USB drive and go through this somewhat complex process of adding more games to the console myself.  Or I could purchase this version I saw on eBay where the console was already modded with 7000+ games; this included not just every SNES game ever made, but also every NES and Genesis game ever made, plus a large selection of Arcade, Famicom, Sega Master System, and Atari games.  For about $200.  I decided just to purchase it.  I wasn’t sure myself if I could find good emulations of all the titles that this thing included, so I figured it was worth it to go for it.  Several sellers on eBay currently do this.  While there were some versions that had more or less the 7000 number, I opted to stick with that version for one reason only.  I wanted the entire NES, SNES, and Genesis collection.  Everything else was just a bonus.

So far, despite a couple minor nitpicks here and there (mainly due to cropping of the screen on some titles), it was worth the investment.  And aside from revisiting some games I played during my childhood, I went for the ones I hadn’t experienced.  One of the main ones being the competitor to the Final Fantasy series, Phantasy Star.

 

 

Phantasy Star

Rated: 3.5 / 5 *

* This score depends on whether it’s played modded or unmodded.  See mod note below.

So this game wasn’t technically released on the Sega Genesis.  It was released for the Sega Master System, the system Sega utilized (outside of their arcades) before the Genesis came out a year later.  And this is arguably the best-looking game on that console.  Hell, it’s better-looking than some of the games on the Genesis system.  Because they packed in a lot of memory space into the cartridge, to the extent where it became a selling point.  At a price above the average Sega title.  And it shows.  The animations of the characters when you’re wandering the world screen, the monster animations on the battle screen, and then the infamous dungeons themselves.  They all push the limits of what the Master System (in all its 8-bit glory) could handle.

And it’s the dungeons themselves that give this game the biggest entertainment factor.  And there are 3 ways to go about it.  One way is to use graph paper to track the layout of the dungeon.  Yes, this does mean purchasing a stack of graph paper, and marking out the squares to indicate how long a hallway is, space by space, knowing when the turns are coming up, tracking pitfalls, stairways (and marking where they lead, up or down, and using another graph paper for that level).  This will no doubt put off some people, and I have to admit I didn’t do this for the most part.  But I eventually decided I should try it for at least one of the dungeons, and I found it more immersive that way.  These games carry an extra weight of immersiveness when you utilize objects in the real physical non-digital realm to track your progress in a digital game.  That, and I also used a notebook to track important conversations with NPCs so that I would could reference what I should do and where I should be going (it also helps with the immersiveness if you do that rather than rely on an in-game journal, which old-school games like this don’t have).  These dungeons are a very fun maze when approached in this manner.  It helps to make you feel like you’re really in one.

The second way is to get a hold of the maps (which can be easily found online) to assist you.  This is what I did for most of the game.  If I ever replay this, I’m going pencil-and-paper.  But for those who don’t wish to do that, this is an option.

The third way can be used if you have a Nintendo Switch (which I don’t, and even if I did it feels wrong playing a Sega game on a Nintendo system, even though I did that anyway on an modded SNES emulator).  Which contains the Sega Ages mode.  They did a respectable job with their semi-updated game version, where they track your progress of the dungeon, and automatically map it for you the further you progress.

Whichever version you choose, you’ll also experience the iconic dungeon music.  And there are two versions of this track.  First there’s the regular version, which was the only one gamers in America could get a hold of.

And then there’s the FM enhanced version, which certain Sega Master systems contained in Japan, but nowhere in the U.S.A.  We got a bit screwed over, but it’s still a great track no matter which version you listen to.

All that aside, the story is minimal in this game.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a story there, and it opens up with one.  Plus I highly recommend the game manual to further enhance it, as it tells you more about the world you inhabit, plus the solar system itself.  ‘Cause you’ll be traveling to a few planets in this game.  You don’t just stay one one planet.  That is also an ambitious feature.  Plus the manual gives mandatory descriptions of the spells and items in the game; which is must-have information considering the game doesn’t exactly explain what they are or what they do.

Back to the story.  Once you get past the intro, and you get the other 3 members added to your party, things stay largely minimal for the most part.  You have an established goal and character motivation, and you do learn more when you talk to the NPCs (something you have to do to gain an understanding of things, and learn what to do next, unless you’re using a walkthrough).  That’s right, talking to NPCs isn’t optional just for thematic fluff so they can tell you their life story and how the world is mistreating them or something like that.  They give you a grasp of the situation of the town you’re in, and the world, and give you need-to-know information required to take the right actions to progress through the game.  And there’s no map guide to tell you where to guy, you have to figure it out yourself until you get familiar with the environment.  The way a game should be, not holding your hand, and trusting you to find the information yourself.

But there are a couple instances where it definitely doesn’t tell you enough about what to do.  The first major instance is on the ice planet (Dezo for short) where you need to purchase an Icebreaker mobile to break the ice around some frozen mountain ranges so you can get to a dungeon.  The problem is, the machine doesn’t break just any ice wall, only a specific area.  And no one tells you where the fuck that area is.  That is when I had to utilize a guide to help me out.  The second time was with the very last dungeon, where I kept going in circles until I found out I had to turn to face a wall at this one spot, where a door will be.  And there’s no indication a door will be there until you turn to face that particular section.  We’re not talking optional hidden areas that are in some dungeons (where you have to walk through a wall to know they are there), this is a spot that you have to find in order to progress through the game.  Some rubbish!

As for the monotonous combat typical of J-RPGs like these.  I have to admit, one of the reasons I went for this game was because I part of me felt like going back to these simplistic repetitive combat systems.  I’m not 100% sure why.  Because I felt like re-experiencing these systems to see if I hate them as much as I did in hindsight (prior to playing this)?  Or some nostalgia factor for this style of gameplay calling me back in, despite how much I proclaim to despise these types of J-RPG turn-based battle systems?  Or because one game in the series was brought up in my Nostalgia for the 90s retrotrip series?  Or because I was this desperate to experience a quality RPG in a franchise I have never played out of spite for the quality of games in the current industry?  Who knows?  But in any case, the system in this game is a bit different than what I’m used to in turn-based battles.  Rather than having a character select an attack/spell type and who to target it with, you just select the attack/spell type, and they attack a random enemy on screen.  Now, there will only ever be one enemy sprite on the screen, but in the upper right corner it will specify how many enemies of that type there are, and your character randomly attacks one of them (unless it’s an attack that hits all of them).  I actually rather enjoyed this quaint little feature.  Gave my mind less to think about in these turn-based systems I already found a bit mindless.

The leveling and grinding.  At the start of the game, you will be doing a fairly good amount of grinding.  Because you’re character starts out as an absolute wimp.  You have to pick and choose your battles (ie knowing when to run away, when to fight, and when to realize you’re going to die so you better hope you saved the game prior to the battle starting).  Each time you level up will feel like a major accomplishment.  Eventually you will get tough enough to not need to go back to town and rest at a home after just one battle.  Then after just two battles.  Then three.  Eventually you will get tough enough to where you can make a trek to another town.  And once I got through the first major dungeon, I didn’t need to do anymore grinding for the rest of the game.  So leveling and grinding wasn’t much of an issue.  In fact, you become capped at level 25, a level you’ll most likely reach before you even hit the final dungeon, let alone the final boss.

Aside from going into areas with enemies much stronger than you (ie, you likely went there too soon, or forgot to acquire superior weapons and armor), the fights really aren’t all that difficult.  For the most part, you’ll just be doing basic attacks, with the only spells being cast after combat to heal your party before you continue on.  That all changes when you get to the last two bosses, especially the very last one.  They will definitely give you a run for your money, and will force you to put more thought into your battle strategy (of which you likely had none beforehand).

All in all, I rather enjoyed the pacing of this game.  You start on a quest for vengeance, get some allies along the way to fight a tyrannical leader, get some legendary destiny weapons and armor prior to the final battle, and bring peace not just to the world, but to the star system.  But it does have that extra added element to it about an evil force that corrupted the mind(s) of the ruler(s) to do its bidding, which is a theme I appreciated (as subtle as it was handled).

It was a worthwhile playthough, in spite of those two progress-halting problems.

 

Mods

However, it is worth noting that there is a modded version of the game that comes recommended, especially if you plan on playing the sequels.  The translation of the game was a bit on the problematic side when it came to names (let alone the dry dialogue delivery).  For instance, a character named Noah in the English version is referenced as Lutz in all the sequels.  So a fan-translation was made that is more faithful to the Japanese version, and more consistent with the names of some characters in the sequels, especially 2 and 4.  And having played just the first minute of this English translation patch (not to mention having the Japanese version downloaded as an .sms file includes the FM music, which grants superior sound quality all around), I can already state that this is the definitive way to play the game, and absolutely the way I would play it if doing so again.  I wouldn’t revisit the official English version after experiencing it this way.

First you’ll need a Sega emulator.  I prefer Fusion:

https://wowroms.com/en/emulators-software/181/Kega%2BFusion.html

Then you’ll need the Japanese version of the game:

https://wowroms.com/en/roms/sega-master-system/phantasy-star-japan/57928.html

Then you’ll need the English translation patch:

https://www.romhacking.net/translations/1069/

Then you’ll need the Lunar IPS patcher:

http://www.romhacking.net/utilities/240

After unzipping all those files, make a copy of the game .sms file, and the english patch .ips file, and put them in the same folder as the Lunar patcher, though it’s recommended just to have it all on the desktop (always keep a backup of the original sms and ips files in case something goes wrong).  Run the patcher, clicl the “Run IPS Patch” button, select the sms file, then the ips file, and it will patch the sms file just like that.  Place the .sms file in whatever folder is convenient for you (somewhere near the Fusion emulator folder), and run the game.  If it runs and it’s in English, you did it correctly.

Since this version won’t come with any fancy Nintendo Switch mapping, you’ll be forced to play the dungeons either as pencil and graph paper style, or downloading images of the dungeon maps and using them as a reference style.  Either way, this is the most immersive way to play.  Having great quality dialogue (not to mention superior quality music) will help A LOT.

 

 

 

Phantasy Star II

Rated: 2.5 / 5 *

* This score could go up a notch with the right mod.  See below.

So this game makes up for the first one in the storytelling department, in that more plot developments occur as the game goes on (plus more cutscenes).  And there are some major colossal events that happen in this game that even took me by surprise once they unfolded.  Though I do take issue with this one aspect of the ending, more on that later (I will give a spoiler warning, indicating when I’m about to spoil, and when I’m done spoiling).  But it’s not only an overall improvement in terms of storytelling from the first game, but also contains themes much more relevant to today, if not altogether more necessary to hear.  It’s about how the planets on the Algo system are run by an artificial intelligence known as Mother Brain.  And how those on your home planet of Motavia have become lazy and overly reliant on this AI technology that runs things for everyone.  Life doesn’t seem to have much meaning, especially since death has no meaning, thanks to clone labs which can revive anyone after they get killed, for a fee.  And space travel is now banned (it’s deemed unnecessary and dangerous; much like certain books banned from Amazon).  And once incidents begin to occur (starting with monsters appearing and killing people), it’s up to you to do something about because you’re one of the very few people motivated enough to actually do something (plus you’re an agent).  That’s about all I’ll say about it, but you could imagine where the relevance can go from there.

There’s also level design that accompanies this theme.  How the overworld itself is relatively easy to navigate, how each section of the planet with a town is divided too neatly, because Mother Brain designed it this way.  It’s efficient, but uninteresting (which is the point).  But once you go to another planet, then things open up considerably.  You’re now in a world not run by Mother Brain, without reliance on an AI system, and you have to navigate on your own without much ease of reference.  Highlighting the pros and cons of independence vs. lack thereof.  You’re independent, but life is more difficult, vs. your dependent for the sake of an easygoing life, but you’re at the mercy of those who rule over you or any unexpected catastrophes.

That would seem great and all, except for one very fucking annoying thing that practically ruins this game for me.  The goddamn dungeons.  It’s not that they no longer have that first person view of the first game that bothers me (none of the other Phantasy Star games even tried to replicate that; shame).  Oh no.  It’s how insanely complex these goddamn levels are.  And it mostly has to do with the fucking teleporters.  It’s so fucking annoying going into dead ends and getting lost, it’s no wonder the game came with a fucking player guide to help you through these things.  And you’ll need it.

Cover
“Your adventure would be very difficult without this guide.”  No fucking shit!

Those dungeons are so insanely complex, it tends to defeat the purpose of an easygoing world.  On the other hand, maybe they are supposed to be that way as a metaphor for how complex a computer mind works.  Either way, I don’t care; playing through them is a pain in the fucking ass without the guide.  And no mod I know of has dealt with that.  Whatever.  Fuck dungeons with teleporters.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, though this would likely explain why the dungeons are designed this way, the amount of grinding you have to do in this game is ungodly.  If you’ll recall my description of the amount of grinding you had to do in Phantasy Star I, and how that was mostly limited to just the beginning of the game, this game is like that, except the entire way through.  However, I did know about this ahead of time (I had a little experience playing this years ago), so I said, “Fuck this,” to that, and used an easy mode mod (more on that later).  It helped with the problem, considerably (I don’t have THAT much patience for monotonous J-RPG turn-based battles).  So yeah, compared to the first game, the leveling and grinding is fucking atrocious here, without an easy mod!  At least the battle music is decent.

So, dungeons aren’t that fun, the standard game grinding is horrible for those who aren’t into that sort of thing (you fucks who are into that will grow up into BDSM fanatics who pierce your tits with cacti and shove spoons up each others’ asses).  The other downgrade this game suffers compared to the first is also in the battle screen.  In that there is only one background, in total, in the entire game, without ever changing.  Some digital square thing like you entered Tron world or something.  With no fucks given about even trying to hide the fact that combat is monotonous.  The designers were probably thinking, “Oh, you spoiled rotten prick bitches thought combat was monotonous before?  Well then we won’t give a fuck about the background images.  See how you blue-balled virgins enjoy it now!”  Now, that’s not the real reason the battle system is like this.  The developers were pressed for time, so they had to make concessions (this wasn’t the only one, but it is the one that hurts the game the most).  This game is like the polar opposite of its predecessor, where there was such a thing as too much grinding, the dungeons were fun, and the battle screens had actual backgrounds.

But I will say this.  The monster animations on the battle screen are certainly improved compared to those of the first game.  And there is more detail to the characters, both in battle and outside of battle.  And now there can be up to four different enemies on the screen at the same time.  On top of that, combat can now go into full auto mode once you select FGHT (ie Fight).  You don’t need to hit any other buttons as you watch your characters fight.  You could interrupt at certain points though by hitting the B button (if using a Genesis controller), at which point you can customize the attacks/spells/items used in a round of combat.  Otherwise, you’ll be targeting the left-most enemy group first before going after the other enemies.

On top of that, this game is deliberately trying to piss me off.  In the previous game, you could save anytime anywhere outside of battles.  In this game, you can only save at save points in the city.  At first.  But if you get a certain character, level her up enough, and then take her to a certain place to steal a certain item, you’ll then be able to save anywhere outside of battles and dungeons.  That’s cock-teasing bullshit!  And on top of that, someone had the bright idea of having each character hold items separate from the party.  So when you acquire an item, it doesn’t go into a general item supply, it goes to the character who picked it up (or to the next in line if they reached a limit).  So now you have to micromanage who’s holding one, especially when you have to switch out party members.  And the process by which you do this is fucking painful (open menu, select item menu, select item, select “Give,” select party member to give that one item to, rinse and repeat).

Plus the instruction manual (separate from the hint book) for this game sucks compared to the first game’s manual (not enough descriptions of the spells/items).  This is an unfortunate problem that is maintained through the rest of the games, including IV.  You’ll need an online guide for the spell descriptions in those.

So, with that out of the way, the ending.

SPOILERS START

So it ends with you first encountering the Dark Force from the first game (implying it was influencing someone, or something, for an evil purpose; possibly Mother Brain itself or those who programmed it), and then take on Mother Brain herself.  Afterwards, you encounter a bunch of people in another room.  It is learned that they are a race of humans from a distant planet in another galaxy, known as Earth, and that they are responsible for coming to this system, creating Mother Brain, and using her as a means to take over each planet in the Algo system, making the occupants subservient, and then planned to colonize the planets for their own deeds.  Why do this?  Because they ruined Earth with their pollution and scavenging of all minerals/food/greenery/etc.  The main problem that I have with this is that these people are from Earth.  By trying to make this plot hit that close to home, it made me disconnect with the story a bit.  Plus it negates the appearance of Dark Force a bit.  Sure, we can assume Dark Force influenced the Earthers to destroy the Algo system, but it seems like they intended to do that from the start.  It just seemed forced, this message of warning us about creating our own destruction, when the same thing could’ve been accomplished by having people from one of the Algo planets create Mother Brain for similar reasons because Dark Force influenced them to do so.  In fact, one of the mods for the game did precisely that (see below).

SPOILERS END

So overall, despite the more ambitious and better told story (despite my caveats with the ending), ultimately I found this inferior to the first game simply due to the grinding (a problem non-existent with a mod or two), the dungeons, and the lack of a background in the battle screen.  With that out of the way:

 

Mods

Numan Revolution: Changes up the script a bit, and some revelations near the ending.  Plus it also makes the battles and leveling easier.  I haven’t tried this mod yet, but if I ever feel like giving this game another go (it will be a while before that ever happens), I’ll likely give this mod a spin.

Easy Mode: I played my runthrough with this mod.  You get more EXP and Meseta (game currency) with each battle, leveling you up faster and gaining money quicker so you can get the necessary weapon upgrades sooner.  If nothing else, I wouldn’t play without a mod that did something like this.

More can be found here: https://www.romhacking.net/games/66/

 

 

 

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom

Rated: 2.5 / 5 *

* Even with mods I’m not so sure the rating could be higher than this.

This one is notorious for being the black sheep in the series.  And it shows.  On the positives, it brought back backgrounds for the battle screens (thanks Christ), some improved movement where characters will automatically move around sharp corners (it’s subtle but welcomed), much more reasonable dungeons compared to the 2nd game, allows 5 party members at a time, had an insane ambition of multiple choices for multiple paths to take in the game and allow for up to 4 alternate endings, and a fairly good music track for the opening prologue.  Plus it has the usual Dark Force making a return to influence people to do evil again (a tradition in these games).  And that opening prologue music track, it’s pretty damn great (see video above).

The overall quality of the game suffers from rushed production (let alone a different team working on it).  The character and overworld quality looks a tad worse, the towns are very monotonous, many empty rooms where there should be NPCs, terrible monster animations (I’m not kidding, the attack animation for one monster is literally him flexing his pecs, another just flicking his wrist), irritating sound effects, battle music that causes some gamers’ ears to bleed, and poor presentation of the story, especially during the final arc.  For instance, after you collect the final legendary/destiny/prophetic weapons and armor (a tradition in these games), and take it to these priest guys to get enchanted or something, all that happens is you talk to a priest, he says something like, “Go forth and kill so-and-so,” and that’s the only indication you get that the weapons have been enchanted.  There’s no sound effect, no special effect, nothing.  I had to check my inventory to see if something changed, and that’s when I saw that it did.

And on top of that, it still has that “each character holds a bag of items” annoyance from the last game.

Weak.

It’s like this game took one step forward, two steps back.

Seriously, don’t those red things on the lower right look like a bunch of dicks?

The only reason this is worth recommending is because of its ambition.  You play as one protagonist for a while, then you’ll eventually have to choose one of two women to marry.  Not much is really said about either of them, so I didn’t really know what traits either of them had to make me attached to either of them.  They have no character.  I blame the rushed production on this, and the lack of insight into any of these characters.  But anyway, you pick one, then you continue the game later on as the son of that couple.  Rinse and repeat one more time, then you play through the rest of the game as a 3rd generation.  So yeah, this was quite ambitious and commendable, but the presentation of it is so poor it becomes difficult to appreciate.  At least you can save anytime again (and there’s no jerking you around like the 2nd game where you have to acquire a mcguffin first in order to do that).  And you won’t need to grind too much either (just at the beginning, like the previous games).

But the absolute worst thing about this game, almost as bad as the dungeons in the second game, is the goddamn backtracking.  Which is exacerbated by the fact that you no longer have those spells from the last game that can teleport you to the nearest town (no items that do that either, best you’ll get is something to teleport you out of a dungeon), which is a dick move.  You will backtrack through this cocksucking world a lot.  And I’m not just talking going back and forth between the same areas in one generation.  No.  All 3 generations travel the same paths, except the next generation explores a couple more areas each time.  This was a fucking chore.  At least the battles are overall easier than in all the other games.  Seriously, even the final boss is easy to beat.  First game got pretty damn hard, the 2nd game’s Dark Force Boss was very very hard, and this one is easy compared to both.

And honestly, that’s all I really have to say about this.  It could’ve been one of the best, if not the best, in the series if they had more time to work on it, or maybe had a better writing/animation team.  But they didn’t.  And it ends up being one of the worst.  Disappointing.  But playing through it, at times, you can really see that potential.  It’s there, it really is.  It just wasn’t tapped into.  On top of that, this doesn’t contribute to the main overall storyline of the series as much as I, II and IV do.  That being said, IV makes some references to it, so it could still be worthwhile.  And there is that opening prologue music…

 

 

Mods

Well, having not tried any of them, some look like they could address some of those presentation problems.  Only other thing that would be great is if they could improve the music and the speed of movement.

Nial Edition: Dialogue has been improved (yay!), but equipment is weaker (boo!), but the amount of EXP and Mesenta gained from battle is doubled (yay!), but I’ve heard you can’t marry one of the women, thus cutting down the potential paths and endings by half (boo!).  A mixed bag, but it’s known among the modding community for those who play this game.

General Improvement: Improved/expanded dialogue, more NPCs to give them so that the towns are less empty, and overall makes the plot, characters, and development more clear.  Doesn’t mess with the gameplay at all.

More Accurate Translation: Basically like the mod for Phantasy Star I, in that you need a Japanese version of the ROM, and this patch, and a patcher.  Worth noting because the General Improvement mode states that it never bothered to look at the original Japanese translation, and doesn’t care.  But hey, if you enjoy the game enough, maybe you’ll feel like playing it through once with one version, and again with the other version.  Assuming having 4 paths to take leading to 4 endings isn’t good enough, for a game of this quality.

 

 

 

Phantasy Star IV: End of the Millennium

Rated: 4 / 5

Oh man.  This game made playing through the others feel worthwhile.  If you enter this game coming off the heels of the previous three, the upsurge in overall quality is going to hit you fast and hard like a bag of bricks to the face.  It all led up to this, which provides an ending to the franchise, and ending to the Dark Force arc, and all the while references characters and events from all the other games (though only minor mentions to the 3rd game, but it is brought up enough in this one side quest that made plowing through it feel worth it).  And it’s considered not just the best in the series (though some people who are fucked in the head would argue the 2nd one is better), but one of the best J-RPGs of all time.  And after having played it, I’d have to agree.  This is easily the best Phantasy Star game, by a mile.  The presentation blows the others out of the water, the leveling is perfect, the difficulty in combat is perfect, the callbacks to the other games are great (and are only really impactful if you’ve played through the others; you could get away with skipping the 3rd game though), it nails the pacing…

… gotta stop with the praising if I want to review this properly.

The graphic style has returned to the form of the 2nd game.  The monster animations in combat are better than ever, and it’s got loads of different backgrounds.  And there aren’t only cutscenes of people walking around, stopping, then having a dialogue box pop up.  Oh no.  This has cutscenes of images popping up ala comic book style.  The amount of detail, and the quantity of detail, going into those alone is insane for a 16-bit game.  This game was expensive (and a bit difficult to find) when it first came out, and you can see why when you play this.  You wouldn’t think a Sega Genesis game could look and feel this great.

Plus the characters walk considerably faster in this game compared to the others.  Some have argued that they move too slow in II and III (especially III, with all the backtracking).  You will not have that problem here.  Some might say they move too fast.  Though I do see a potential consequence of this.  Sometimes, when you try to talk with an NPC, you move into this position where you end up talking to a blank space, and your lead character will say something like, “There’s nothing here.”  One of the lead characters will even berate you for doing that.  Other times you’ll do that auto-move around sharp corners thing, when you really want to just press up against some object to get more details on it.  Minor inconveniences like that.  But honestly, I’ll take those irritations over moving too slow.

The combat system has some changes to it (aside from removing the whole, “each character holds a bag of items” shtick from the last two games; it’s back to a general supply bag, thank Christ).  It’s more traditional, in that now you select an attack/spell/item from your character, and select a target for them to hit with it.  But it also brings in something else to combat more unique to this game (though others have sort of copied the essence of this idea).  There’s a system where you can program which type of attack a character will make, in which order.  It’s possible to form some technique/spell combos when doing this, though you’ll likely be discovering them by accident.  It’s possible to play through the game without ever utilizing this system to that effect, but it allows for a nice system of discovery and exploitation.

As for the story themes, honestly, despite my praise for the presentation and the pacing, even though the plot is very solid, there’s a lack of that tradition of Dark Force influencing people to do evil.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s there.  But it goes away before the game is even halfway over.  It becomes a more typical good vs. evil type of game, without really playing into the faults of humanity and giving in to temptations and the lust for power.  On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure the game should be faulted for that.  After all, the previous three games go over all that, and the only way to really raise the stakes is to elevate the significant of Dark Force itself rather than the people it influences, and put the fate of the galaxy in your hands amidst the conflict.  I think it’s because I just wanted epic perfection to go along with this presentation (which is the best presentation anyone could’ve asked for from this series).  A little more of the human struggle.  But that’s just me.  The story is still solid, and it adds considerably to the lore that was setup in the first game.  Come to think of it, aside from the development and evolution of the population of the Algo star system, nothing much is really developed about Dark Force in II or III, other than it returns every 1000 years (sort of like The Fifth Element).

Unlike the other games, there are some legit side quests here.  With the other games, anything given the appearance of a side quest is more of a mandatory quest in the end.  Here, there are some honest-to-God sidequests that are completely optional to winning the game.  Some of them are meh (specifically some of the Hunters Guild quests), but overall a nice addition.

The music is also some of the best this series has ever gotten.  It has an amazing remix of the dungeon theme from the first game, a decent remix of the battle music from the second game, and has plenty of its own great tracks.  The dungeon music in this (for the cave dungeons anyway) is hypnotic.  Almost as hypnotic as the look of the game’s final dungeon (try not to get hypnotized with that).  Seriously, you’ve gotta give those dungeon tracks a listen.

And lastly, the difficulty of the combat.  There are about 4 boss fights (well, 3 boss fights and 1 side-quest boss) that are definitely challenging.  The first 3 will really make you work for it.  They are worthy in their difficulty.  The last one, well, that one is more of an endurance test than anything else (so long as you have the means to heal certain members of your party and keep doing damage at a consistent rate, you’ll be fine).  And the regular enemies seem to stay at just the right amount of difficulty the whole way through.  A bit difficulty at the beginning (need to do a small amount of grinding), average stuff through most of the game, then they start to get a little more difficult during the final act(s).  This game nails the difficulty and leveling better than the others.  If the first game had you level too fast (in that you reach the cap too soon), and the second game had you level too much (plenty of grinding required), and the 3rd game it didn’t matter because the final boss wasn’t that tough, then this one is nearly perfect in its execution.

All in all, it’s worth going through the others just to get to this game (though 3 is a bit on the optional side, especially if you find it insufferable).  This one comes recommended.  But you’ll only feel the emotional impact if you’ve also experienced the other games.  This is the game that proves the Phantasy Star series should’ve been on equal footing with the Final Fantasy series.  In fact, I’d argue that I and IV were better than the Final Fantasy games put out during those time periods.  As for II, well, having not played any of the older Final Fantasy games outside of IV and VI (Or was it III and IV?  Or III and VI?  Fuck if I know, North America really pisses me off sometimes with how they mess with foreign games), I wouldn’t know for sure how it stacks up with Final Fantasy II in terms of story and dungeon crawling (I’d imagine it’s on-par when it comes to grinding).  Either way, the Phantasy Star franchise is worth experiencing.

 

Mods

They exist, but I don’t find myself ever using any of them.  So for those who are curious:

http://www.pscave.com/dow/hacks/

Alita: Battle Angle (2019) review

Rated: 2.5 / 5

So when this first came out, there were some mixed reactions to it. Then Captain Marvel came out, and a lot of people were like, “See Alita instead, it’s way better.” Then it went from that to, “Alita is the best female action movie of the year!” Like Captain Marvel was driving these people to proclaim Alita as the holy angel of movies this year due in-part out of spite. So I decided to check it out when I saw it available at my local library.

It took me a while to get used to her CG face…

… ok, that’s a lie. I never got entirely used to it. Or any of the CG robo faces. They’re just so fucking weird. It’s like having CG mouths to get animals to talk in those kid flicks, except worse. But I eventually got around to tolerating it.

And then there’s this one aspect I just fucking knew was going to be in this film because Hollywood makes this a requirement in every movie now. The doctor’s black nurse assistant. She’s just fucking there, and doesn’t do shit except make reaction faces. They could’ve scrapped her entirely from the film and not one goddamn thing would’ve changed. It’s one of the purest examples of forcing that diversity quota, and I find it irritating.

Well Look At You Alita Movie GIF - WellLookAtYou LookAtYou Look GIFs

“But wasn’t she in the manga?”

No, the cunt wasn’t in the manga either. I’ve read a bit of the manga, I would know. She looks nothing at all like the assistant in the manga. Mr. GrumpyGramps Bolthead or whatever you want to call him (yep, they changed both the race and the gender, let alone the age and the top of the head).

But I’m not one to harp on the changes made compared to the manga too much, especially since I haven’t read the entire series and thus am not qualified to determine if the changes made are ultimately better or worse in the long run (assuming a sequel gets made, which Disney is trying not to have happen) as I don’t have the knowledge of things to come. But I will say for a film that is meant as an introduction to the character and the world, it bit off more than it could chew. Especially with a sort of cliffhanger ending.

As for the positives, I have to admit, once I got past the first 20-30 minutes where everything is getting introduced (and I got adjusted to the damn face), I actually started to get into this thing. In fact, the first major action scene that happens, they managed to do something that isn’t done enough in CG action films (not by a long shot). There was weight to the movement. The swinging of weapons, and the hopping around, it wasn’t just some lightning fast speed, they had to put some effort into lugging around the weight of that axe/drill/rocket thing, and the cyborgs with their body parts. They couldn’t dodge each swing because they aren’t capable of moving that fast. Same thing with the swinging of the weapons. This was a nice refreshing change of pace compared to what I’m used to in films like this. Now if only it could just keep doing tha–

And of course they say “Fuck that” to the weight system the moment that fight sequence ends. From that moment on, every action scene after that is the typical weightless CG fighting schlock. Not to mention the protagonist being ungodly capable of dodging just about everything thrown at her. I mean, I get it, I understand she’s the product of a bygone era (yeah right, like they still wouldn’t have androids like her kept hidden somewhere) and has fighting techniques that no one else uses because they didn’t have knowledge of this stuff, let alone the means to train with that style. And as tough as she is already, they just couldn’t resist giving her a power-up that pretty much makes her invincible for the rest of the film. Talk about a lack of tension (Mary Sues are boring, and so Superman).

And despite all that, they run with this line of dialogue on a few occasions, including with the protagonist herself, that she’s an, and I quote, “insignificant girl.” FUCK YOU! You wiped the floor with virtually all the antagonists in this film, let alone the ED-209s and the bounty hunters. And you have the ovaries to state you’re insignificant? Blow it out your shiny metal ass!

“You’re more human than anyone I know.”

Oh fuck off. Try sticking your dick into her and see what happens. What’s that? There’s no hole for penetration? Well that sucks for you Mr. Headless who never got any head, doesn’t it?

*takes a breath*

Anyway, despite the negatives, I remained invested enough in the film up until the chapel scene. “Let’s meet at the Chapel. There you can save me, like the Angel you are.” Man does the film go downhill from there. In hilarious fashion. Well, ok, it already indicated it was going to go downhill when she literally offered her heart to her boyfriend. Seriously, that’s a top contender for biggest cringe moment of the entire movie; it really seemed out of character for her, and it was just stupid. But then it got even more stupid from there once the chapel scene happens. If I was drunk and watching this, I would be laughing my ass off. But I’m not, so I just rolled my eyes instead. And it was all fucking pointless (almost as pointless as the black nurse), because the dipshit gets killed anyway. Spoiler by the way.

Christ, the more I think about what went down in the last 20 minutes the more irritable I get. The movie was decent for the most part up to that point (even if it got ridiculous with her fending off that one macho cyborg with only one arm).

You don’t need 2 hands to eat a chocolate bar.  Use just the tip of one finger you pansy!

I mean, if nothing else, it is better than Captain Marvel (a film which likely passed the billion dollar mark because Disney cooked the books, never mind bought the tickets to their own damn movie). But overall, it’s just meh. It was entertaining for a while, but not long enough to overcome the faults in it. I’ll stick to the manga on this one (try to get the original translation; the revised version kinda loses some of its character).

 

The Time Machine (1960 vs. 2002) review and comparison

“Be careful what you wish for.”?  What the fuck does that have to do with this movie?  This isn’t fucking Wishmaster!

1960 rated: 3.5 / 5

2002 rated: 2.5 / 5

So having rewatched this film and the 2002 remake, I figured now would be a good time to compare the two (ie state why this film is better than the remake).

So first of all, right from the get-go, the protagonists have completely different motivations for going through time. In fact, both films have a different concept of time travel altogether. Regarding the former point, the protagonist in the 60s film (I’ll call him George) wants to see the future mainly for curiosity’s sake, for science. But he does have an implied personal reason. A feeling of being born in the wrong time period. Wanting to see how he would be in other periods of the future where there would be more like-minded scientists like himself. Hence a feeling of wanting to belong. Yet the ironic part is that he winds up in a place where he ends up in the same position. A time period where he isn’t surrounded by any like-minded individuals, though their reasonings for having not much interest in what he does and what he proposes are different from those from his time period (near the turn of the millennium, to 1900).

The 2012 protagonist (I’ll just call him Alexander), on the other hand, builds up this whole endeavor primarily just to get his girlfriend back, and is willing to ditch the machine (which is very impressive looking, I must say, especially compared to George’s machine) once he has accomplished that, in spite of all the potential that machine can carry, in spite of all it could do, what wonders it could show. It seems pretty fucking petty compared to its reason for existence in the 1960 film. And even going wit this, lame-ass Alexander only makes an attempt to alter the past to save his girlfriend’s life once, and only once, before throwing his hands up in the air (“Whyyyyyyyy!!!????”) and deciding that it’s impossible to change the past, so he must find out why it’s impossible by getting the answer from some intelligent mind in the future, when minds are supposed to be more advanced and intelligent. For fuck’s sake, he’s a fucking scientist! His experiments are supposed to be all about trial and error, making mistakes, analyzing what the mistake is, and retrying the experiment again while avoiding those mistakes. Haven’t these fuckers ever seen Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure?

“Don’t worry, I’ll hook up with a brown chick after you die.”

And this isn’t even bringing up the time paradox factor, which we’ve been told ever since Metal Gear Solid 3 that we’ve got to be careful of (I don’t give a fuck if that was released a few years after the 2002 movie, it’s still a valid point, even if I have to utilize another fucking time paradox to make it!). Alexander goes back in time. So where the fuck is his double? Is no one going to make a big deal about the big fucking time machine device that just spontaneously appeared in his laboratory, in his house, with his maid?

Which brings me to the latter point I mentioned in the second paragraph, the concept of time travel. George expresses no interest in going back to the past outside of simply returning to his own time after visiting the future, and even then making sure it’s at a time after when he initially left. Even near the end of the film (or the very beginning, depending on how you want to look at it), he doesn’t say anything in the hopes of trying to change the future in a way directly affecting those in the present (thus allowing the film to avoid paradoxes altogether, without even needing a reason to bring them up). Allow me to clarify.  Alexander goes back for the sole purpose of taking action to save the life of his girlfriend, and goes about trying to do it. George, on the other hand, knowing that his best friend is going to get killed in World War I doesn’t make any attempt to make this statement to his friend, encouraging him to avoid the war. Why is this?

To answer that, you’d have to go to the middle act of the 1960 film, where George becomes outraged at the state of society, how they show no interest in the past in the hopes of improving the future. They have no ambition, no sense of duty to their fellow man. And George states at the end of all this that he would rather be back in his own time to die alongside his fellow countrymen, who would at least be able to die with honor alongside one another, at least trying to protect one another, even if the effort would be in vain. Because he recognizes that valuable trait that is also a shared bond between soldiers in the army. They fight more for each other than anything else. Creating a strong bond. And that bond isn’t just broken in that futuristic time period, it is completely non-existent. Why try to take that away from his friend, even knowing what fate will befall him? Or worse yet, what are the odds of that somehow making the future worse?

None of that is in Alexander’s world. Rather his ideals are more selfish and personal. Everything else be damned, he wants to spend the rest of his time with the love of his life. As if his entire existence revolves around her and only her, even though just the opening act of the film indicates his own hypocrisy (too busy doodling on the chalkboard to prioritize thinking about his fiance-to-be). And there is no self-awareness of this hypocrisy present in the entire movie. The speech by Morlock Jeremy Irons during the last act doesn’t directly address this issue either, that covers a different aspect entirely.

Both films have a similar yet different take on the future. In regards to the near-future it’s either the Cold War, or science going too far and nearly destroying us all. Either way, the message is the same, that mankind will create the tools of its own destruction. In the 1960 film, it’s because we destroy each other. In the 2002 film, it’s because we overestimate ourselves with using technology responsibly. … Thinking about it, I guess it’s still not much different, just the context.

But they also have something to highlight about society’s evolution. Naturally, the 2002 film has an advantage over the 1960 film in this regard.  George notes the changing of clothing styles, yet for the most part they don’t change all that much. Alexander notes something more relevant and accurate. How women’s clothing became more and more revealing, with dresses that once went down to the ankles, now are up above the knees. How modesty fades away. Of course, that could change if muslims take over, then that’s going to bring modesty back with vengeance overkill. We’ll see if a 3rd major Time Machine movie has something to say about that (considering Hollywood’s lack of ambition and churning out of uninspired remakes, I’d say that’s as inevitable as the Home Alone reboot).

Clothing aside, George’s observance of the future is considerably more subtle (likely for budget constraints). Only in the background, if you squint to look, do you see structures that look somewhat futuristic (at least by 1960 standards).  Alexander has the privilege of seeing credit swipe bicycles (either that or the card acts as a key; cool either way). And then there’s the library. There are some physical books, but it all seems mostly digital. With a black AI librarian who has a slightly pompous attitude, even going so far as to roll its eyes at the white time traveler for asking reasonable questions that it deems ridiculous (someone programmed this AI to be this way). And no access to any data from any scientists, not even ones who would’ve made public records/articles, of even the theory and concept of time travel, not even on a quantum physics level, even though some of those concepts exist today (not that they can be applied in a working-fashion in the way these films allege mind-you, but they’re there). Seems like this digital library is holding some information back, or is intentionally deprived of this sort of information, which may have been available in physical form at one point in time. Actually seems like a fairly accurate depiction of 2030 to me. Rather funny to see how many films at and before 2002 had a more ambitious future in mind for mankind’s progress, only to miscalculate that we would focus our progress more in the digital realm rather than in the physical realm.

Then we get to the future itself, after all the destruction caused from either nuclear war or the shattering of the moon (the latter of which I sure would’ve resulted in Earth being obliterated, especially after about 800,000 years; but whatever).  George observes an all-white society has managed to survive. Alexander observes an all-brown society. Homogeneous either way. But the society Alexander witnesses has also accomplished setting up homes attached to the side of cliffs, accompanied by some uplifting tribal music sung by a choir of kids or something. Because it has to be blunt about this society being grand and great, without any downsides whatsoever aside from independent forces external to this society.

Here is another instance where both films try to tell something similar in a different way, yet the 2002 flick shoots itself in the foot as a result. The society in George’s timeline is so passive and uncaring and unambitious because they were bred that way. The Morlocks breed and raise the very society they will eventually consume; rinse and repeat. So the society is raised to be like this, to allow history and knowledge of the past to wither away to nothing, to have the achievements made by those in the past come to nothing. And to respond to certain sounds automatically as if they were hypnotized/brainwashed into doing so. Thus they were not only bred to be incapable of fighting back against their oppressors, but to not even comprehend that they are even being oppressed. After all, their oppressors provide them what they need, food and a shelter (and I presume clothing).

The society in Alexander’s timeline, on the other hand, is more independent and yet more stupid at the same time. They’re not bred and raised by the Morlocks, they can do that on their own. They can build on their own, acquire food on their own (though we never actually see what they eat; not that this is a fault in the film, I’m just curious about what the 2002 film would show a society like this eating as opposed to oversized pears in the 1960 film). There’s no air-raid sound (or anything like that) to lead any of them to their doom. Nope. The Morlocks just raid them whenever these people go off and, uh, spend time at a place dedicated to their ancestors (as opposed to scavenging for food in gardens or something). And they don’t fight back, they just flee, not even fighting back as a last resort. Why? Because they say they take the ones who fight back first. That’s just dumb.

Both films have the protagonist fighting back against the Morlocks, and thus inspiring the people to also fight back by following his example. But it’s carried out far better in the 1960 film because there’s a more logical reason as to why they needed George to inspire them to fight. Just the concept of fighting never occurred to them, no more than the concept of “stealing” seems to occur to these perfectly peaceful cabbages in the 2002 film. In the 2002 film, they know what fighting is, they just choose not to do it, until some schmuk shows up to remind them that it’s more logical to do so. Stupid.

Honestly, the only interesting thing about the 2002 film is when Alexander meets Jeremy Irons. The speech Irons makes, the philosophical points being stated, about the harshness of how a species evolves in relation to the environment, about the nature of existence and non-existence in relation to events of the past. It was the most investing part of the entire movie. But then the movie reminded everyone that it’s designed to be a dumb B action movie for dumb B audiences, and then a fight ensues along with a chase and an explosion, and then it lost any goodwill it gained from Jeremy Irons, which faded away about as quickly as he did.

Lastly, how each film ends. The 2002 film ends with Alexander’s BFF tossing his hat into the air, making a callback to the line of Alexander stating he wants a generation of students to go against the norm and offer some diversity of style and thought in a plain mundane society. This seems to go against his BFF’s attitude and character, what little there was, setup during the first act of the film, not to mention goes against the fact that there were a ton of great scientific minds during that time period who would end up changing society at one point or another with their inventions (they mention that hack Albert Einstein, don’t mention Nikola Tesla). Yet this doesn’t leave the viewer to ponder anything, to even encourage them to act independently against the norm for progress.

The 1960 film on the other hand, has George go back to the future (heheh), to that age where society has regressed in terms of knowledge, to where it has practically reset without any of the knowledge to be had from their distant ancestors. But he doesn’t go back with nothing. He takes a few books with him to help society grow. Which books did he take? The film doesn’t say. We are left to ponder with this question:

“Which three books would you have taken?”

It encourages the audience to ask themselves the question as to what limited sources of information would they utilize to make the best society they could? What should we be teaching our children in the hopes that they too will make society better for them, and their children, and their children’s children? When was the last time a film was made that posed an open-ended question like that which makes the viewer think critically?

At least the 1960 film poses a question that could be utilized somewhere along the lines of, “What would you do if you had a time machine?” The 2002 film, all it says is, “It’s just a machine.” As if technology should be tossed aside for a more simplified way of living, ala some shitty episode or film of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The 2002 film exists only as a statement at best. The 1960 film exists as both a statement, and as a question to the viewer as how to take that statement (ie the statement is made for the sake of leading up to the big question at the end).

So despite the superior looking time machine, and the impressive-looking Morlocks the 2002 film provides, the 1960 film is ultimately superior with its themes and ideas, and even warning of the future, which are still relevant today.

 

PS: Oh, right. And the 2002 film ends by showing the next generation in this future society being taught the the AI librarian. That’s taking the easy way out, and not even addressing the set of problems even that could bring (that hard drives could last that long, that data wouldn’t be corrupted, that a power source could last that long, it’s information that is selected by a corporation that deems it worthy of the public to access, etc). Besides, that doesn’t include those bitchin’ spinning ring devices from the 1960 film. Seriously, what other movie did something as awesome as that? Seems like a great concept that no one else has ripped off yet, even if it is a bit impractical.

PPS: The Morlocks were built up far better in the original than in the remake. Always just a brief glimpse of them through some bushes, or out of the corner of your eye, dashing from one corner to the other, through the light back into the shadow, building the suspense until they are finally encountered. In the remake, they are named once, and then they just show up.

Cowboy Bebop series (1998) and movie (2001) review

The bounty hunters, who are gathering in the spaceship “BEBOP”, will play freely without fear of risky things. They must create new dreams and films by breaking traditional styles. The work, which becomes a new genre itself, will be called… COWBOY BEBOP

Series Rating: 5 / 5
Film Rating: 3.5 / 5

 

Cowboy Bebop. Probably the first major anime I introduced myself to when I was younger, outside of Dragon Ball Z and Yu-Yu Hakusho anyway (didn’t see much of the latter). One of those series I found myself coming back to on a couple of occasions, including recently. I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered. Well, it wasn’t. It was better.

Despite its episodic structure, in the sense that each episode is sort of stand-alone, there is an overarching theme to the whole thing. It’s all about the weight of the past, and the ways it affects the present. Every episode has that aspect of it to some extent. Whether it’s a character’s past mistake or broken relationship, a misdeed done by a government or corporate agency, old vs. new technology, or even a callback to a past cultural influence such as the western cowboys, Japanese samurai, or the Jazz/Blues music of the 70s exploitation era. It all affects one or more of the major characters in each episode in some way.

Each episode tackles this central theme in a different way, while also building upon the central protagonists who are in (almost) every episode themselves, or the galaxy they inhabit. This is a setting where mankind has acquired the technology to colonize a few planets in the solar system, thanks to jump gate technology (which itself had at least one catastrophic event with its development, which has affected individuals in certain episodes), and the development of various forms of spacecraft, small and large (including one ship design giving it the look of a tommy gun), capable of entering and exiting planet atmospheres and flying in space. And aside from ship technology, it is also possible to change one’s identity if one has enough cash (woolongs). Some episodes show a man going from skinny to fat, from a white guy to a black guy, a man to a woman, etc. Primarily with the intention to evade authorities and bounty hunters (the latter of which exist because there isn’t enough of a police presence on a solar system scale to track down all criminals).

Just as the criminals can’t outrun apprehension from the hunters or the authorities forever, neither can the protagonists, or anyone for that matter, outrun their past forever. The past only serves to chain us down until it is confronted and resolved. Yet one may find themselves in a position where resolving the past is impossible, or so one could think. There are multiple ways to resolve the weight of the past, each way leading to a different outcome. After all, the criminal could always just turn themselves in, an option that was presented in at least one of the episodes (though they never seem to take that option). It’s more about figuring out a way to let oneself be reconciled with their own past. Otherwise, being so hooked up on the past, you’ll be unable to appreciate what you have in the present. And if you stay hooked up on the past long enough, the stuff in the present you could’ve appreciated may be gone, just like the past.

And incredibly enough, this is a mature series. And by mature, I don’t mean in regards to the violent content or the sexual content or the nudity (the latter of which is only present very briefly in one episode). I mean mature in the themes themselves. Past weight and consequences aside, have you noticed a trend in most anime films that are out there? The same kind of trend that occurs in most films over the past few decades? This series is not one about “the coming of age,” or, “realizing/fulfilling one’s destiny,” or, “overcoming impossible odds through comradery and personal discovery,” the latter of which is something I tire of seeing, because it’s fucking everywhere, in virtually everything that is classified as an action/fantasy/adventure film. It’s about adults, who are likely past their prime, trying to rediscover a meaning in their life, to try and make a living in their self-employed conditions and harsh lifestyle. Adults who have no more life-lessons to be learned. Because normally, a situation like that acts as the motivation for the protagonist to do any of the previous traditional film/series arcs. We need more series and films with mature content like this, without any quest or destiny to be fulfilled. We need films and shows that teach us to be mature in their own way.

But anyway, funnily enough, the first episode I ever saw of this series is the same episode a few people I’ve become acquainted with coincidentally first saw. Heavy Metal Queen. And yes, it’s still one of my favorites, with this space trucker chick who blasts heavy metal music, plus that awesome sequence where Spike Spiegal is attempting to hop from one ship to another, by ejecting himself into space without a suit. My other favorites include Mushroom Samba (the “Edward” episode that’s also all about 70s blacksploitation, and a bit of Django), Gateway Shuffle, and Wild Horses. That being said, all the episodes are great.

As for the characters, the major characters are all solid. Spike and his Bruce-Lee inspired martial arts and philosophy, Jet being his stubborn hard-ass self, Fey being dangerous seductive manipulative and somewhat self-destructive, Ein just for being there, and Edward. Edward completely steals the show from everyone else, for two reasons. One, she is so wacky and unique and fun. Two, the English voice actress for her is unbelievably great. We’re talking greatest dub for one of the greatest animated characters of all time great. On-par with Mark Hamill’s dub of the Joker.

There’s a reason this is considered not only one of the best gateway anime series to watch, but also one of the greatest of all time. Accessible and deep, and ages like fine wine.  Some episodes are hilarious, others great solid action/drama/noir/thriller entertainment, others pack an emotional gut-punch.  It doesn’t answer every question raised or hinted at, and that’s perfectly fine, because it’s good to leave people wondering about some of these things, to have some mystery about the past, and how some characters will turn out in the end. And unlike most anime, it’s also refreshing to see one that has a definitive end.  With it’s mismatch of different genres and episode structures, and managed to pull things together in such a perfect concoction, it’s a true lightning in a bottle series.

 

 

 

And then there’s the movie Knocking on Heaven’s Door.

It does a bit of development on Spike’s character, but it’s not really anything any true fan didn’t already pick up on from the series. But it does have those bitchin’ insta-noodles, and the callback to the battle on Titan (and no, this has nothing to do with that series Attack on Titan, though I’ll eventually get around to watching the latest season of that), with another dimension to it. Another example of how fucked up things were in that war. The show and the movie never does enough to show/tell all with what happened there, and that’s a good thing. All you need to know was that it was hell, and there were some weird biological/chemical/nano experiments utilized on some of the soldiers in some of the battles. It’s more of a background thing among a bunch of other background elements in both the movie and the series. It has enough subtle world-building moments to compare to the series.

I want to like the movie more than I currently do. It’s a decent enough stand-alone (fitting in with the episodic nature of the series). Not the best entry, maybe not the worst (though the worst is better than most anime can approach). But it is a real slow burn at times, especially during the first half. The filmmakers really wanted to indulge in having that extra time they wished they had to pad things out, going from a 25 minute episode, to a 90 minute movie. It’s just that you can really feel the slow crawl at times.

Thankfully, the film kicks into high gear at two separate points, from Fey chasing the hacker arcade guy, and leading to the fight on the subway; then the breaking out of jail all the way to the finale. It made getting through the slow portions worth it. That’s not to say the slow portions were entirely bad, they had some decent moments too. Like Edward and Ein going trick or treating (this movie should be watched annually for Halloween!).

There are two aspects of this film that make it truly memorable. First, the fights between Spike and Vincent, especially during the finale. It’s some of the best martial arts sequences ever put to animation, and I challenge anyone to find grounded fight sequences in any animated film that does it better than this (CG does not count, and fuck anyone who tries to pull that shit; you won’t find any grounded fights that use CG anyway; sorry if that’s coming off as harsh, I’m boozed up for this review [not while I was watching the movie]).

Second, the sequence where Spike is flying his ship and dodging the military aircraft. Holy God. That whole bit is a masterpiece in animation. You can feel the weight, you can feel the change in gravity and momentum. They put so much effort into making these aircraft seem real that it’s insane. This sequence doesn’t get anywhere near enough of the appreciation it deserves, especially for a non-CG animation sequence. I’m sure there are other anime films/shows that have reached the level of this sequence, if not surpassed it. But it’s more than a pleasant surprise to see something like that in this movie. I also appreciate that it doesn’t dumb down the military aircraft/pilots just to have the protagonist have a chance. They use some intelligent maneuvering, and it’s never anything really over-the-top.

And that’s one of the things I appreciate about this anime flick. Just because it’s an anime (let alone an animation) doesn’t mean they have to go full bonkers with it by doing stuff that defies the laws of physics and couldn’t possible be done in a live-action film. They keep it grounded, which makes it all the more investing for someone like me. Plus there aren’t enough solid R rated animated flicks out there, especially ones that don’t do R-rated stuff just for the sake of having an R-rating, or for the sake of being exploitative, and really cartoonish. That’s not to say I don’t get enjoyment out of animated flicks that do just that (Dead Leaves, Heavy Metal, Golgo 13: The Professional, Redline), it’s just refreshing to see one that makes an extra effort to stay in grounded territory when it comes to the action.

So I’d say that extra half star is partly for appreciation of what the film contains compared to other animated flicks out there, and also partly just for being a Cowboy Bebop flick, with the same director, and same voice actors. The film didn’t do a disservice to the show, but I can’t say it’s outstanding in it’s own right. It’s just there, as a stand-alone extended episode. And that’s perfectly fine.

I do have to admit though. Considering this was originally released in Japan September 1, 2001, 10 days prior to 9/11, and it has a Middle Easter character responsible for developing a bio-weapon (and the vaccine for it), terrorist bombing killing hundreds of civilians, plus brief imagery of the twin towers, it got a bit eerie. It makes some of the more subtle themes and background stories somewhat relevant, though you have to pay attention to catch it.

 

 

 

PS: Just to get ahead of the curve, fuck you Netflix for fucking this up.

 

Amazons (1986) drunk review

I guess I’m not done doing these types of reviews.  Not yet.  Maybe not ever, unless my liver gets fucked up somehow.

I’m in the mood for some 80s sword and sorcery flicks.  But not the ones that are in the top 5 that hold the highest standard for the rest.  Those would be Conan: The Barbarian, The Beastmaster, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Deathstalker, and Red Sonja (I honestly haven’t seen that last one; I tried once, but couldn’t get into it).  No, not those ones.  I’m talking about the more lower tier flicks, that look like they have a backyard budget and are always shot on location, in a forest.  And the only thing they really have going for them aside from the genre are the hot chicks willing to show their skin.

I have seen a couple of these that actually aren’t half bad.  But most of them are pretty fucking terrible.  Let’s see where this one falls.

If nothing else, the 80s sure knew how to make some great posters that were too good for the films they represented.  I miss those.

 

Not sure how I feel about the soundtrack so far.  Sounded bad at first, then it got a bit better the longer it went.  Foreshadowing of this film being a mixed bag?

Executive producer Roger Corman.  Whoah boy, we’re in for it now.

I swear, I didn’t mess with the editing at all.

Weird editing choices with the women warriors practicing their staff swinging.  “Huh!  Hyah!  He!  Hye!”  I swear, some of the shouting gets cut-off mid-shout.  Almost sounds like what you would hear playing a 16-bit videogame.  They should’ve made a sword and sorcery side-scroll beat-em-up done in thee same vane as Streets of Rage.  Oh wait, they did, Golden Axe.  Well, I want an all-female scantily clad version damnit!

golden-axe-880-1-880x880

There’s an evil king named King Kaloomba?  What the fuck?  Well in that case, I wanna know where King Koopa is!  I mean, I could be mishearing this, maybe it’s King Kalunga or something, not that it doesn’t sound any less ridiculous.

The lighting hand effects.  I gotta make a meme-gif out of that.

Phahah!  The sounds they make during this battle scene!  I swear, some guys are yelling, “Get out of here!” to the enemy.

I love how these women try to act badass, yet some falling rocks make them react like an elephant seeing a mouse.  It’s actually kind of adorable.

The soldiers talking to their king after they got beaten up by the Amazons, “[The Amazon women] fought like demons!”  Heheh.

And yeah yeah yeah, the typical, “There is no mercy for failure” speech.

Ok, as much as I like some of the cheesiness, I’m not really getting into this movie.  I don’t give a shit about the plot, I’m not spending enough time with any of the characters to give a shit about any of them.

Are those guys who look like women, or are they women without tits?  They’re hot either way.

Hah!  How they are so casual with how they practice with their spears (or whatever you call those weapons).  As in not putting much effort into it.

Oh yeah, and just like that they know where to look for this long lost sword no one’s been able to find.  Because of some vague vision that doesn’t give any details.  Whatever.

Maybe his name is Kolungo.  I don’t know, their pronunciation of his fucking name seems to change every time they say it.  Goddamnit, now I’m too curious about the name.  What the fuck does IMDB say about its spelling?

According to IMDB, it’s spelled Kalungo.  I don’t know if it’s the booze or that most people in this film don’t know how to pronounce the fucking name.  Then again, it’s not like they knew how to be consistent with pronunciation during that time period.  It’s not like they had dictionaries, or the Internet, let alone books.  Well ok, maybe the did have books, but fuck if they knew how to read them.

Hah!  A white female James Earl Jones!

white female james earl jones

They stare at each other like they’re about to have an arm wrestling competition.  “You want me to do what?”  “Kill her!”  Fuck that!  I wanna see these chicks arm wrestle each other!

Ohhh, I see.  This one blonde chick (amongst all the other blonde chicks who look so similar I have a hard time telling them apart; and that’s probably the first time I’ve ever said that about a group of people who were white) has a fake metal hand, or something.  Apparently they were so advanced about replacing sliced off hands back then, that they could muster some finger movement while they were worn.

“I raised you as a tool Tashi.  An instrument of vengeance.  I never loved your father.  And I never meant to love you.  But I do.  Are you my daughter or aren’t you?”

Well, that’s a nice inspiring family speech.  18 minutes in and we finally get some character development and some protagonists (kind of) to get attached to.  Plus some motives about wanting to kill a woman who is a part of their tribe for vengeance.  Not sure why she didn’t try this at an earlier time, especially considering it sounds like this mother has been holding this grudge since before her daughter was born (it makes less sense the more I think about it)… You know what, fuck it.  I’m supposed to be drunk enough to not think about this shit.  Hang on, I need to chug a few more shots.

Ok, back to the movie.  Horses.

“It’s time to ride, not talk.”

Oh how I would love that to be a line used in a sexual way.  “Stop talking, start riding me!”  Or, “Stop talking and let me mount and ride you!  Maybe not in that order!”

Huh.  Interesting plot twist that I might care more about if I knew this character (or her daughter) better.  The mother being in league with the evil King Doodoopudu or whatever the fuck his name is.

Whoah!  What the fuck was with the lion montage?  And with lion masks that looked fucking weird on these people?  That came out of the blue.

Oh wait, no it didn’t.  It was supposed to show the lion in his room turning into a human female.  Who is naked.  Alright!  Our first nude scene of the Sword & Sorcery flick!  How long until there’s more?

Jesus Christ!  Apparently the two lead actresses were so jealous of lion lady’s good looks that they decide to not only bare their breasts and asses int he next scene, but to swim in the water too.  Phahahah!  Are they condensing the mandatory female nudity requirement at this point in the movie?  It’s shameless enough to seem so.

And they fight the pervs who were looking in on them and trying to pierce them with their swords.  Oh shit, but the men best them, and strip them, and try to rape them.  And then lion lady saves them, in lion form.  On top of that, we get what will probably be the best moment in the movie when a topless chick kicks the shit out of a perv and kills him (I think, based on that hilarious groan sound he makes).

Why the fuck are these villains so keen on having these protagonists get the sword that can kill them?  Am I the only one who thinks this is fucking ridiculous?  Ah whatever, titties.

Hah!  Ok, this has gotta be it.  The most hilarious part of the movie.  When she’s wrestling with this snake, and overacting in how it’s strangling her.  Pretending that this isn’t a friendly domesticated snake.

Whoop, more tits to show.  And it seems more pointless than last time, and that shouldn’t be possible.

What the fuck!?  What the hell is up with this movie?  Every time some girl flashes her tits there’s pervs in the bushes waiting to ambush them, and then do exactly that?  You’re not supposed to be representing people like me who are watching this movie, let alone showing them getting their asses kicked!

“I will only let someone stand by my side who is strong.  Like you.  And who will let me fondle her tits.”

I made that last sentence up, but seriously, that’s exactly what he does when he says that.  You know, I seriously misjudged this movie.  For the first 20 minutes, I thought the women were going to dress only slightly scantily, and remain that way throughout the rest of the film.  I only thought that because I’ve seen films like that.  I don’t know, maybe I’m too used to seeing modern shit films that frown upon this sort of thing.  Glad to have misjudged this.

Speaking of which, now we get a sex scene.  And not just any kind of sex scene, oh no.  This has got to be the most unique sex scene in the history of film-making.  The main villain antagonists are the ones who have sex with each other.  And we see it in all its softcore porn glory.  Seriously, when the fuck has that ever happened?  When have we ever gotten a movie where we see the villains go at it.  Never!  You know why?  Because it makes me want to root for the antagonists!  You know what that means?  If the protagonists get into a hardcore lesbian sex scene where they scissor each other and moan.  Then again, Roger Corman may have a thing against lesbians.  I doubt it though, considering that weird shower/sparkle/massage scene in Forbidden World (1982).

Alright, after seeing this slave prison cell caravan thing with a topless chick in it, I’m convinced this film is going overboard with the nudity.  Yes, it took me this long to realize this.

Ok, how far am I into this 76 minute movie?  Only 38 minutes?!  Fuck me, I need to ease up on the comments.

Forbidden World

Alright, now I’m getting bored with the tits.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this movie needs to ease up.

Fuck these guys!  I don’t care who they are, or what their reasons.  When they indiscriminately start sacrificing hot topless chicks by knifing them, they become permanent villains in my eyes.  Someone kill these fuckers!

Whoop de doo, a rescue from people who sacrifice hot chicks to a tree.

“With the sword I can conquer even the Where-Ways.”  Yeah, you can conquer wherever.

Hey, 3 minutes have passed without nudity being show.  Guess things are getting interesting again.

If this horse turns into a man, I swear to God, I’m going to start watching spaghetti western flicks again.

The sword of Azandaddy.  Who’s you’re daddy?  Azan is your daddy.

“Three will enter, one will leave.”

Fuck you, and your Mad Max wannabe rip-off dialogue!

I’m bored.  Can we get a lesbian sex scene yet?  Preferably one that involved more than just kissing?

These two women are so desperate to find a sword.  I take it back, we don’t need a lesbian sex scene.  We need one or two guys capable of pleasuring both these women.

“Hell?  Hell will be my greatest conquest.  Then I’ll be in Heaven.”

Ok, I have to admit, that’s a badass line.

You know, a crossing across the rope over a cliff scene isn’t all that tense when you keep showing the river below them.  Because, you know, in 80s flicks like these, water seems to break their fall just fine regardless of height.  You want to give us tension, make it a pit full of spikes or snakes or rapists or something.

The third who will enter is a literal lioness.  At this point, I’d be up for that kind of beastiality.

Friendship.  Didn’t see that coming.  Give me a hug.

What the flying fuck!?  This lioness chick can throw a knife to kill a bitch and then instantly transfer back into a lion before the body hits the floor?  And start a woman vs. lioness wrestling match?

I’m convinced the lioness should’ve kicked this chick’s ass.

No tits being shown over a span of 10 minutes.  It’s like there’s a bell curve with this flick in terms of nudity.  Appropriate.

Morons.  They should’ve been charging the palace/fortress/set/whatever the fuck it’s supposed to be during the first sorcerer lighting bit.

Where-ways again. Or We’re-Ways.  “It’s the only way.”  Balgor, folklore, butt-whore, whatever.

Flashing white light.  We gonna get a dance floor scene?  No?  Then fuck off with that shit.

Hah!   Ghost attack!

I fucking hate getting the fucking hiccups when I’m fucking drunk!  Or at anytime regardless of my state!  Fuck hiccups!

Did she just fucking kill that guy by hitting him with the hilt of her sword while he was behind her on horseback?  That’s stupid.

“You cannot defeat me!  I have the power!” 

Fuck you.  He-Man has the power!

She shouts, “Where are you!?”, and then a horse sticks its ass into the frame.  There’s a joke in there somewhere.

This final fight between the Amazon chick and the evil King Koopahka is kinda lame. Until they resort to this very weird edit trick that’s beyond words of describing.  I would’ve preferred they just sped up everything, but whatever.

I swear, I didn’t mess with the editing at all, again.

And the protagonist decided to try overacting.

I’d like to know about the guy with the mustache.

“Someone is killing my tree!”

Can’t say I’ve heard that line before.

Ok, this final final fight scene is also kinda lame.

What the fuck!?  PHAHAHAHAHAH!  Oh my God!  That’s got to be one of the most hilarious death scenes in my life.  The bitch villain accidentally kills herself by chopping down a tree which then falls onto her.  You can’t make this shit up.

WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!!????????????!?!!?!!?????????????!!!!!!!!!!?????

This bitch that died in the cave came back to life?  Alright, fuck this movie and the assholes who decided to give it a happy ending.  Especially when they did that without having the decency to give us a lesbian sex scene.  You know what?  Just because of that shit, I’ve decided how I’m going to score this movie.

Rated: 1 / 5

Fuck this movie and it’s contrived happy ending.  I don’t care how much tit service it decided to give, among all the other so-bad-it’s-good shit.  That ending pissed me off!

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Shadow Tactics: Blade of the Shogun (2016) review

shadow tactics

Rated: 3.5 / 5

I question how much I actually enjoy stealth games.  Aside from Thief I and II, I don’t normally go out of my way to play these sorts of games.  On the other hand, certain RPGs like Deus Ex, while not primarily a stealth game yet can be played as one, do end up causing me to take the stealth-tactic route.  Mainly because it seemed more logical to me to not try and be a one-man army, since games like those try to have a sense of realism.  Plus they subtly encourage you to try more pacifist tactics, lest you risk causing hostages to be butchered or something.  I don’t know, maybe it’s because of some subliminal shit that causes me to take the stealth approach in those games.  Or because I’m not that great of a shot (at least compared to online players), so I just play like a pussy.  But since this game was getting rave reviews, I thought I’d try it out.  And overall, it’s not too bad.

There are 13 missions in the game, each one getting progressively longer, complex, and challenging.  First mission is a great intro to the game system, the 2nd mission is a decent progression.  But from the 3rd mission and onwards, it doesn’t pull any punches with the difficulty.  You have to learn the capabilities of the characters inside and out, just as you’ll need to learn to utilize the controls for quick maneuvers to get the timing right, plus to utilize the ability to see the line of sight of specific soldiers/samurai/civilians.  Shadow mode for simultaneous character actions, each of their special abilities, knowing when to move by quickly, or crouch and move; when you should kill someone, when you should just try to avoid them, etc.

In other words, I strongly recommend using a controller for this one, rather than a mouse and keyboard.  This game seems more designed for control pads.

If it wasn’t obvious, this takes place in medieval Japan, during a time when the way of the samurai was ending.  So of course there’s going to be some challenge to their traditional ways, especially with the questions asked to or about the Mugen character (one of the five party members you’ll have through much of the game).  And, of course, they have to throw in a bit of women power (mainly with this one character who can disguise herself to blend in with the enemy), but they thankfully don’t go overboard with it.  It’s the same kind of thing you get with the film The Last Samurai, except the war-mongering samurai are given a more antagonistic light this time around.  Two significant events happen in the game to thematically represent this way of life coming to an end, signified by two major characters having their lives ended.

Theme aside, the game controls fine for the most part.  I found myself frustrated at points for not being able to pull off these plans I had in mind to get through a section, but that’s mostly on me.  Overestimating the capabilities of my characters, underestimating the number of enemies and their patrol routes (I needed to learn more patience, even if the whole thing seems like trial and error), and just getting angry knowing that, in hindsight, there was a better way to go about completing a portion of a level (if not the entire thing).  However, there were a few times where the NPC movement seemed glitched, with one or two guys being stuck together or to some object on the map and being unable to move.  This was rare, and I think it only happened at 3 points throughout the entire game, but it was noticeable when it did.  Nothing game-breaking, thankfully.

There are some caveats though, which I noticed during the last 3 missions.  Sometimes there’s a portion of the map that juts out just enough to stop you in your tracks unless you go around.  I’m not talking about a section of a cart or something, I’m talking about one or two fucking pebbles that your character should be able to just fucking walk/run across, but can’t, so you have to learn to go around these things and not hug the walls too much or else you’ll get stuck and then get caught by the asshole NPC you thought you were about to avoid until that shit happened.  So, you know, little frustrations like that, which again aren’t game-breaking, just irritating.

After the first 2 levels, I’d say each stage took me roughly 2 hours each to beat (on Hardcore difficulty mind you, I’m not that much of a pussy to settle for normal mode, especially when it felt like the game was pulling it’s punches, let alone beginner mode).  Which gives this game a playing time of roughly 25 hours.  A solid enough length for a game of this type.

And even after you finish a level, you can replay it again to complete challenges (of which there are 9 per level).  If you beat a level on hardcore mode, there’s a chance you will have completed at least 2 of the 9 challenges on a first try.  For the first level, I completed 8 of the 9 challenges (including a speed-run of beating the level in under 11 minutes).  I enjoyed them, at first.  But then I came to realize some of these challenges are just downright stupid.  For instance, one of the challenges in the first level is not to kill anyone.  You can knock them out, but they’ll come-to after about 40-60 seconds (I never timed it).  And it seems impossible to get through a level only by knocking people out.  But then I figured out the trick.  Knock someone out, dump their body in a well (I think there’s only 2, at most, in this level), rinse and repeat for everyone else in the way.  But this gets really fucking tedious when you realize there’s only 1 well that you can use for this purpose for a good portion of the level, so you’ll be knocking guys out, carrying their fatasses for up to a minute at a time trying to get back to this cocksucking well, dumping them, and doing it again and again, having to travel further and further distances while doing this.  When a challenge gets that tedious, I tend to stop giving a shit about them.  Seriously, don’t worry about the challenges, at all, during your first playthrough.  Don’t go back to those missions and repeat them just to do those challenges until you’ve completed the game.  These challenges have the potential to increase the amount of times it takes to complete a mission exponentially, sometimes for ridiculous reasons.

Or so I thought.  But then it turns out there was a way to do this quickly without needing to KO all that many people.  This hot shit Korean gamer (you fuckers and your god-mode Starcraft skills) makes me look bad:

So it’s watching this video that made me realize I’m nowhere near close to being a master at these types of games.  I may be capable of beating them, but I’m not capable of being great at them, at least not on my own without looking up how someone else “did it.”  This is one of those games that every stealth game ultimately ends being in a glorified sense: a puzzle game.  It’s not just about figuring out a way to progress though a stage, it’s also about figuring out the best most efficient way to do it.  And I will admit, I am not the best at figuring out that stuff on my own.  It infuriates me, but that’s on me, the game isn’t to be faulted for that.  You hearing me you asshole game journalists who bitched about the difficulty in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice!?

But anyway, if stealth games like these seem right up your alley, I say go for it.  It seems like one of the better ones released in recent years that I’ve learned about.

 

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