Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tamagotchi: Not just for murdering anymore

I had intended to review Vinland Saga today, and Fallout 3 later in the week, but I've encountered some difficulties in my plans. In one case, I found Vinland Saga to be so fantastic that adequately reviewing it could take days. In the other, more frustrating case, I am more or less unable to review Fallout 3 because I'm at my parents' house, where 'my' computer is a pile of parts cobbled together and running Windows 98. Of course, my brother has it installed on his machine, but has more or less set up camp on top of it. So, for lack of anything else to do, I will blog about my Tamagotchi, and virtual pets in general.

When virtual pets were just coming into vogue in the mid 1990s, there emerged two different camps of pets and users: Pets you nurture selflessly out of love, and pets you train to fight. The best known pets were/are Tamagotchi and Digimon, respectively. I personally preferred Digimon, because I felt that you actually received something resembling a payoff for all your hard work.As far as I knew from experience, the greatest payoff you got from a Tamagotchi was its eventual death. You got some measure of pride from keeping it alive for a long time, but the novelty disappeared quickly. Many people I knew started holding competitions to see how quickly they could kill them at various stages of life. Even more people killed the little bastards out of spite for ruining another night of sleep.

Well, twelve years after I killed my last Tama, I've acquired another. I asked for it for Christmas, after my mother hounded me for weeks to know exactly what I wanted. The true answer was 'nothing', which she would not accept. I selected the Tamagotchi for three reasons: price, desperation, and morbid curiosity. Would I be able to love the Tamagotchi now that I had matured into a less bloodthirsty person?

Well, yes and no. Tamagotchi are now much more manageable and entertaining than I remember them being, but this is due more in part to upgrades to the toy itself than to my personal growth. For instance, one can now connect to other pets and exchange items or become friends, or use special codes to go online for further entertainment.

So, my personal experience with my newest Tamagotchi. After several failed attempts to name it and set the time, I finally wound up with a little dude named Chiko. I had thought it was female, which almost excuses the name. Chiko, if you're in cyberspace reading this: I'm sorry.

After a few days, I've managed to raise Chiko up to teenager status, and I guess he's a peacock or something now. I'm trying to raise him up to be something less lame, but I don't foresee that happening. Still, the little bugger is actually fun to play with this time around. Judicious use of the pause feature can save you several hours of sleep, and prevent ejections from algebra class if you're actually young enough to conceivably have a Tamagotchi.

You can even earn money to buy your little friend toys and food. That adds some level of reward to actually spending time on the little bastard. The only problem is that, usually, you have to play the mini games in order to make any money. This would be fine if the games took a little less time to play, or were slightly more intuitive. Even with the official instructions splayed out before me, I have trouble discerning exactly what the fuck I'm supposed to do in more than half of the games. Either I'm thick, or the buttons are less responsive than I'd thought.

I have so far felt no urge to murder Chiko, and I'm looking forward to keeping him alive for as long as possible. Chiko updates may become regular features on the blog.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Song Summoner: I'm feeling like nobody loves me/Funky and I'm a microphone junkie

Well, Christmas has come and gone, and Boxing Day is upon us. I made quite the nerdy haul, including a Tamagotchi (wat) and several pounds of sweets. I also received an iTunes gift card from my younger brother, which has proven to be the most well-loved gift of them all.

Now, I very seldom use iTunes for the sole reason that I have better things to do than drain my bank account on the one (besides caffeine) thing I can be considered an absolute addict to: data. Suffice to say, it's fortunate that the size of my PC's hard disk exceeds my wants. Barely. However, with the gift card, I can just spend $50 and be done with it, never to resort to anything but borrowing and ripping friends' CDs ever again.

I figured I might as well get something besides music and Afro Samurai episodes, so I checked out the games section. Up until now, I had assumed from the paltry offering of games included with my iPod that the only games released for the little rectangular lovely were puzzle games (AKA Games for Your Mum) and clones of Windows Games titles from the 1990s. While I was correct in most cases (Chinese Checkers? Colored Googaw Match 47? Sign my ass up!) I noticed, of all the fucking things, a Squeenix title in the mix. Intrigued, I dropped $4.99 of my play money and waited patiently.
The basic premise of Song Summoner, and supposedly its greatest draw, is that you create military units from songs on your iPod and use your army of Tune Troopers (shit you not) to rescue your cute little brother from evil robots. That is, hand to God, the game in a nutshell. Compared to other Squeenix titles, it's almost childishly simple, which is far from a bad thing.

You play as Ziggy (the fellow with the sword, no relation to Mr. Bowie), and must rescue your brother Zero (lower right; seeing him caused me to yelp for reasons I'd rather not explain) using skills taught to you by the Soulmaster, who is a whole other tub of awesomeness himself.

The game plays a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics without the ripping your short hairs out in rage because the enemy mages have unlimited potions and you can't reach them on yonder rocky outcropping. Naturally, you're controlling everything with the click wheel, which lends itself better than one would imagine to SRPGs. I think that this is accomplished so neatly because the game was created with the iPod in mind, rather than being a port of a previously popular time killer like Windows Solitaire.

In fact, the lengths to which the game goes to remind the palyer that it's an iPod game is one of the most amazing parts of the game. It revels in its platform, and that makes it even more lovable. The most obvious feature is, of course, the ability to go to the Hip-o-Drome and create your soldiers from songs on your iPod. Sometimes you'll even get hints as to what kind of song will make a good Trooper at that point in time. The end result looks something like the lovely lady off to the left here. To my surprise, the incorporation did not end at the unit creation. You actually earn points to give your Troopers an extra boost in battle by listening to songs you've used to create them. The game can fucking tell what you're listening to, which song created which unit, and how many times you've listened to a particular song since your last play.

Graphically speaking, it's a pretty little game. It looks like it plays: a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics for the PSX. The character art is consistent and appealing, the maps are simple and polished, and the system graphics are crisp and easy to understand. I actually have no complaints about the graphics.

The music is appropriately grand. For me to compliment a video game's music is rare, since my relationship with game music usually swings between 'mute-button-jabbing rage' and 'grudging acceptance'.

What about the story? Well, let me tell you a secret: It doesn't fucking matter.The premise is simple, as is about everything else. What does matter is the fact that it has taken me two hours to write this sodding review because this game's siren call keeps distracting me from the keyboard. The game is an absolute fucking bloodsucker. I laid myself down with it last night and put two hours in without even realizing what I'd done until it was too late. I think one reason it's so addictive is because it's just so fucking accessible. If you're a misanthrope like me, the iPod is just one of those things you always leave the house with, because you never know when you might have to ignore someone. Pulling it out of your pocket for a quickie is hopelessly easy, and I've caught myself doing jsut that on several occasions just today. Another factor is the fact that it relies on the same principle that the Monster Rancher games did, more or less. Put a CD in, get a creature in return. The only problem with this is that I have, in effect, 773 files with which I can create monsters. It's like having Mosnter Rancher 2 and being told that you can just go hog wild in the Alternative section of the local record shop. Just One More Syndrome sets in immediately, and those little quickies turn into fullblown gaming sessions mighty fast. When this happens in the supermarket, it can culminate in you running your face right into a pole.

Of course, an hour later I realize that I did not end this article. I had intended to end with a bang.

But I didn't.

Because I picked this fucking game up again.

Get it. If you like music, you'll love it. If you don't fuck off. Actually, if you don't love music, why in the fuck do you have an iPod?


Friday, December 5, 2008

I Review Princess Tutu: The Shamening

I think it's been sufficiently long since my last anime review that I may comfortably subject my three readers to a second one. This will be somewhat unlike my last review, mainly because I intend to put some thought into it and pretend like I have some kind of standard of quality. Hint: I do not.

It's only fair that, since I've already reviewed a series that I can unabashedly enjoy, I should now review one that fills me with deep, painful nerd shame. Allow me to explain, first, how I came to watch and enjoy this girly, fluffy, sparkly, poofy horror of a series.

Our story begins in a cramped, poorly stocked and laid out dealer's room at Vermont's only anime convention, Bakuretsucon, whose Cheeto-scented halls we shall never darken again. Our anime club had traveled over two hours to reach the cramped event that amounted to a hallway, a staircase, and a few personal rooms transformed into viewing rooms. Following our arrival in this dismal place, we spent a total of five hours within those inoffensively beige walls. I was bored after the first hour, hungry by the third, and homicidal toward the end when we lost two of the younger club members and had to send out two separate search parties.

When I was far past fed up with the activities (or lack thereof) outside the dealer's room, I sequestered myself there for a time, and came upon a nice booth with blind boxes for sale. On top of this, the booth also held the only article of Japanese-language printed material in the entire dealer's room. Was it manga? No, it was something even more lovely - it was doujinshi. Unfortunately for my desperate ass, it was for a series I had never watched, featuring characters whose relationship I had no prior knowledge of. As I mentioned, I was somewhat desperate for something of interest to show from this awful trip. So, negotiations began immediately. I asked how much it was, and was both amused and bewildered when he insisted on checking the UPC on the back for the yen price. Not only did he have the only doujin in the house, but he was under the impression that it was official merch. To my delight (and equal horror) I was dealing with someone who knew absolutely nothing about the most interesting item he was selling. Thus, the haggling commenced. I eventually acquired it for the princely sum of seven dollars, fifty cents, and a sizable chunk of my dignity.

To help me understand the book (and to have the boxset in her mitts) the club's vice president/treasurer/puppetmaster (who is also my good buddy) purchased the Princess Tutu boxset for the club library. I tactfully avoided watching it for some time after its arrival, then proceeded to watch the entire fucking thing in the span of one week. The shame was palpable, but god damn it, it was a good series.

I am as serious as a stab in the kidneys. The title is humiliatingly bad, the premise is sappy, and the classical music and fairy tale motif is utterly beyond my ken. But I devoured it like Roger De Bris devoured Springtime for Hitler. However, unlike Mr. De Bris, I feel shame for having enjoyed it. I wanted it to be terrible. I wanted to hate it so badly, but I just couldn't. I want to believe that I've reached the stage of geekiness where I don't have to pass judgment against myself for enjoying things outside my usual realm of interest. I'd like to have that kind of nerdy zen, but I don't yet. As such, I am still incredibly ashamed. Maybe I should be. But, enough about me. Let me try to explain what the series is, and why I *HURP* like it. I will most likely be antagonistic and accidentally spoil some parts of the series.

Like I said, the premise is soul-suckingly lame upon first glance. Anime News Network's summary made me want to kill myself when I read it in an attempt to learn something about the series I was about to watch.

13-year-old ballet student Ahiru is clumsy, good-hearted and sweet... and has a big secret. The mysterious Drosselmayer morphed a young duck into a girl to give her a mission: help a Prince to get the parts of his heart back. With that in mind, she morphs into Princess Tutu, whose magical dances ease the pain and purifies the bad feelings.
That is the single most embarrassing summary I have ever read. More so than the summary for Onani Master Kurosawa, which is about being caught jerking it. It manages to give a greater sense of vicarious humiliation than reading about a character being caught waxing his wizard's staff. However, the people of 4chan put it in a far more appealing light in the now defunct thread on the series:

It drops that formula and becomes a tale of fighting fate from a guy who cuts his hands off and writes all the main character's fates down with blood from his stumps.

Another Anonymous accused the poster of lying. He was not, and that is why the series succeeds in my eyes. It doesn't go so far as to become a deconstruction of magical girl shows, but rather it rides a comfortable mid-line between playing it straight and tearing it down. It falls into fewer pits than it majestically vaults over, but it did manage to frustrate me at times. Now that you know the story (kind of) I'll tell you about the characters. I can actually sum up everything that delights and infuriates me about the series through doing this, as it's largely character driven.

This is Ahiru. She is, arguably, the most important character in the show. She's either the youngest or shortest of the central players; it's never explicitly stated. She has a magical googaw which allows her to turn into a magical girl who must collect other magical googaws to restore the soul of her red herring love interest. Yes, I just spoiled that. No, I don't care. It was spoiled for me, and I didn't care then. Anyway. Like every other goddamned magical girl who has ever existed, she's a bumbling klutz with a reputation for being late for school and having the deductive skills of a wet hat. Unlike every other magical girl ever to exist, she doesn't inspire the urge to snap her little head off like a bored and spiteful child snaps the heads off of his mother's daisies. Yes, she is occasionally exasperating because she will do things during situation in which all signs point to 'no.' Still, she manages to be one of the few female anime characters that I like beyond grudging acceptance.

Here's the prince we mentioned earlier. Yes, he's naked. Yes, you should get used to that. Yes, you will become more or less numb to it as the series wears on. His name is Mytho, and he has no emotions. Shame is an emotion, so... this happens. I don't know if it's symbolic or not. As much as I like the little bugger, there isn't a lot to be said about him. He's a designated victim, more or less. He exists to be kidnapped andto jump half-dressed out of windows. So, really, he fills a valuable role that the token female character would fill in a shounen series. Badump tish.

This angry young man is Fakir, whose name I initially thought was the kind of gibberish name that anime often gives to foreign characters. Chibodee? Not a name. Anyway. Fakir plays the role of the knight, and plays it as well as he can when the villains mock him for it and the tragedy-bent universe he's been written into dumps liquid crap on him most of the time. He's such a serial failure that it's become a running joke among club members who have seen the series. As the knight, his sole purpose is to protect the little nudist prince until the bad guy inevitably kills him for his efforts. He is so dedicated to his charge that I spent much of the series waiting for the love dodecahedron to go rogue and collapse in on itself following a love confession from him. The subtext actually transcended the level of fanservice and became vaguely uncomfortable at times, because it was never played for laughs.

The lovely young lady to the left is Rue, who was my absolute favorite female anime character for approximately 14 episodes. In a 26 episode series, this means that she lasted for over half the entire series in a much coveted position. What knocked her off the pedestal? She stopped being nasty. Yes, I spoiled that too. However, you would have expected it anyway if you're jaded and didn't expect the series to be a direct deconstruction. Unfortunately, I allowed myself to enjoy her stint as the show's antagonist, and was sorely disappointed when she got a heartbreaking (I guess?) backstory and was turned from a grey character to a pearly white one with a dirty sheet draped over her head. I love female antagonists, and I think you can blame Batman for that. How can you not love this exchange (paraphrased) between her and Fakir:

"Get the Hell out of here, you crazy evil bitch!"
"Crazy? Evil? Damn right, I am. Now you get out, pissant."

It was glorious. But, alas, girls can't be nasty unless they have absolutely no reason to be so. There are countless male characters who have been allowed to remain the hateful, manipulative, slaughtering bastards they are under far worse conditions. Whole family slaughtered, forcing you to live alone on filthy streets crawling with human predators from an age when most kids are being weened? Suck it up. Driven to cannibalism and banditry by the ravages of war? No problem! Manipulative adoptive dad who's molded you into a minion? Live with it, yo- What, you're a girl? Get Out of Dark Side Free card! Yes, I spoiled that too. It's for your own damned good.

So, in sum, it's a fine series that needs a better title and to gain a reputation as a deconstruction so I can admit that I like it.