Silent Princess, A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there lived a pretty little princess in a small castle in the middle of a silent forest.

The princess had everything she could ever want in her castle, except for a friend to talk to.

Every day the pretty little princess looked out of her bedroom window, seeing past the forest to a road. And every day, the pretty little princess saw many people walk up and down this road.

But no matter how many people she saw, the pretty little princess was sad that no one ever came to visit her. She had never heard someone knock on her door.

One day, a stranger noticed the castle in the forest from the road. Curious, the stranger approached the castle door and knocked.

However, no one answered. Confused, the stranger left. From her bedroom window, the pretty little princess watched the stranger go.

The next day, the stranger returned. Again the stranger knocked on the door, but again no one answered. Confused, but still curious, the stranger once again left. And again the pretty little princess watched the stranger go.

On the third day, the stranger approached the castle for the last time. The stranger knocked on the door, but again no one answered.

Wanting to know who lived in the castle, the stranger forced open the door, which had been locked from the outside all this time.

“Hello?” The stranger called out. “Is there anyone here?”

But no one answered the stranger’s call.

Still curious, the stranger explored the rest of the small castle. The stranger found a messy kitchen, an untidy dining hall, and a cluttered hallway. Eventually, the stranger found a closed bedroom door.

“Hello?” The stranger called out. “Is there anyone here?”

But no one answered the stranger’s call.

Without hesitation, the stranger opened the bedroom door. Inside, he found the messy room of the pretty little princess. Surprised at the sudden company, the pretty little princess approached the stranger.

“Excuse me,” the stranger said. “I was knocking on your door, but you never answered.”

The pretty little princess said nothing. She had seen the stranger before from her bedroom window.

“Are you okay?” The stranger asked. “Why are you living all alone in this castle?”

The pretty little princess said nothing. She could tell the stranger was saying something, but could not hear what it was.

Finally, the stranger asked, “What’s your name?”

The pretty little princess recognized the phrase. Not from the sound, but from the movement of the stranger’s lips. The pretty little princess at last answered: she put her hands to her ears and began to cry.

The stranger finally understood what was wrong.

“You don’t have to be alone anymore,” the stranger said. “You can come with me.”

The pretty little princess did not hear what the stranger said. But when she saw the stranger’s hand, she understood as well. She took the stranger’s hand, and together they walked out of the castle.

The pretty little princess was no longer alone, and no longer afraid of what she couldn’t hear.

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Silent Princess, A Fairy Tale

Time Spent =/= Challenge

One of the latest crazes to hit the mobile market is Magikarp Jump, a perfect example of the thought put into your typical game for smart phones.

In Magikarp Jump, you’re tasked with feeding one of the titular Pokemon with berries or training it with equally repetitive tasks as to raise its JP stat until it reaches the maximum level. You then bear witness to automated “league challenges” which require no real input from the player and require no skill whatsoever. If your Magikarp has a higher JP total than the opponent, you win. If you don’t, you keep feeding the fish, training it, or if it’s already maxed out you get a new one and start the whole process over again.

And all this is achieved with a single input: tap the screen.

You tap it to feed the fish. You tap it to have the fish flop against a punching bag or tree. You tap the dialogue prompts to move the “plot” along.

There is nothing to this game. Hell, I hesitate to even call it a game. There’s no fail state to speak of, either. While it’s possible to “lose” a league challenge, it means nothing. In fact, the “game” is designed in such a way that losing is a necessity to be done with your current Magikarp so that you can get a new one at the starting level and stuff it full of food and tree bark to reach the level of the previous fish.

It’s also possible for your Magikarp to be killed. By wandering bird Pokemon. By rogue Voltorb that explode and kill the fish. These instances are perhaps some of the funniest, darkest moments ever seen in Pokemon. Being a kids’ series of games and media, the mere mention of death is almost taboo; the earliest games touched upon it with locales such as Lavender Town’s Pokemon Tower, which was later converted to a radio tower. But having your Pokemon die and permanently removed from the team? Never.

Shame that here in Magikarp Jump it means nothing. The potential dozens of fish you choose to feed and throw against hard surfaces renders any attachment you have to a single fish moot. You’ll probably have a fondness for the first fish, or some random one you give a funny or meaningful nickname to. But once that one has either been devoured by a wild Pidgeotto or retired after reaching its highest attainable level, you’ll never get to interact with it again. At most it’ll be seen swimming in the background of the main screen.

Which brings me to the point I wanted to touch on: time as a substitute for challenge.

Mobile games I feel draw much of their inspiration from arcade cabinets of old: their job is to suck a few minutes of your time along with a few dollars from your pocket. In the olden days, the dollars were guaranteed, the time was not. After all, you could drop some coins into a cabinet, and not 20 seconds later you’d be slapped with a GAME OVER screen because these games were designed to be ridiculously hard for that very reason.

Nowadays, it’s been reversed. It’s the invested time that’s guaranteed, while dollars are a gamble at best. The mobile market’s one (arguably) positive feature is the public’s predisposition to cheap gaming. If your game costs anything more than free, you’d be hard-pressed to sell copies. So instead, microtransactions were born. The core game is free to play, but everything is slowed to a glacial pace, with cash incentive to speed the process up. And for most people I imagine, time is money is so hardwired into their heads that it becomes easy to loose some spare bucks just to push this “game” along.

And don’t even get me started on this cancerous “gacha” aspect that has infested most Japanese mobile games. Recent examples include Fire Emblem Heroes, but I’ll write a Browny Blog on THAT some other day. I’ll just say now that if you have ever spent even a single dollar on that game or anything like it, I not only pity you, I think less of you as a person.

But this is a bit of a tangent I feel. Obviously I have issue with microtransactions and the general seediness of mobile games designed solely to suck cash from weak-willed individuals. What I have most issue with however is the growing tendency to make these games so easy that it stops being a game.

Magikarp Jump is a prime example of this: there is no way to win or lose. You just keep tapping away mindlessly at it until you grow bored. There’s no takeaway from the experience, no sense of satisfaction from achieving anything. Because nothing is ever achieved. You getting your fish to Level 25 means nothing; it’s just digital proof that you have not only the patience but willingness to spend X amount of time tapping on your phone screen.

Would a game that is borderline unfair to play due to cheap difficulty be better than something like Magikarp Jump? I don’t know– probably not. But I feel that at the very least it would engage the player more on some level.

And at the same time, I just know that such a game would be universally hated by the ignorant masses who just want to turn their brains off for 100 seconds at a stretch as they wait for a bus, stop at a red light, or casually ignore friends and family at social gatherings.

And boy is that not a grim takeaway from all this.

Time Spent =/= Challenge

Metroid on Nintendo Switch

I like Metroid. I mean, if you read my Top 5 Games blog, you know that Metroid Prime holds an honorable mention there, if not a spot on the Top 5 (the why of this is a different matter entirely). The thing is, Metroid has fallen from grace in the eyes of Nintendo it seems. Following the lackluster Other M on Wii, Nintendo hasn’t really done anything with the series, outside slapping the name onto a crappy 3DS title that had little to do with Metroid at all.

But this isn’t a rant post about the mishandling of Metroid and how I’d do it better.

This is a post about a dream Metroid game I’ve been cooking up for the past month since I finished playing the spectacular Breath of the Wild. Bear with me readers; we’re about to dive headfirst into a fan’s pure fantasy.

Metroid on Switch would begin eerily similar to Metroid Prime, so much so that you’d almost be forgiven if you thought this was a remake of the GameCube classic. Our heroine Samus Aran responds to a distress signal and arrives at a seemingly derelict space station orbiting a planet we’d later learn to be Zebes. However, rather than this game being a first person adventure, it would be a wholly 3D action adventure, more in line with the recent Breath of the Wild.

This space station would be our Great Plateau: an expansive tutorial region where the player can get used to the feel of the game. Your ultimate goal on the station is to find the cause of the distress signal; just like in BOTW, you could finish this area in about an hour if you know where you’re headed. Otherwise, the labyrinthine station would allow players to dump several hours here just to toy around with the many tools in Samus’ arsenal.

This is probably where Metroid and BOTW would be a bit more different. From the start, Samus would have access to most of her arsenal, gear from previous Metroid games adapted to this new adventure. The path leading up to your goal on the station would introduce all of these tools in turn, but exploring beyond this path would reward players with just plain fun and lore. Unlike Zelda, there’s no need for stuff like money or food.

From the outset, Samus would have access to these items:

  • Scan Visor: With the tap of a button the view of the world changes to a blurry one, and a cursor in the middle of the screen that is moved with either analog sticks or gyro can lock onto aspects of the world to immediately bring up a wealth of info on them. This function is virtually identical to the one found in Metroid Prime, without the need to hold the scan for a couple seconds. A logbook feature would be present, but ultimately immaterial to the greater game, similar to the picture sidequest in Zelda.
  • Power Suit: Samus’ default armor. The option is available for show at first, but completing the adventure in full would grant the option to disable the suit entirely, leaving Samus in her famous Zero Suit. An option for expert players to provide themselves with additional post-game challenge?
  • Varia Functionality: An upgrade to the Power Suit, granting immunity to extreme temperatures and a boost to overall defense. While in past games this armor would change Samus’ appearance slightly, giving her larger shoulders for example, in this game turning the armor function on would simply change her suit’s color scheme from a yellow-orange mix to a red-orange mix. Mainly to show the player that the Varia Suit is functional.
  • Gravity Functionality: An upgrade to the Power Suit, granting you free range of movement while submerged in water or other liquid environments, as well as a boost to overall defense. In previous games this suit would color Samus purple, but this game would instead follow the Other M route by making Samus glow slightly in a purple hue while it is active. Easily visible in the dark.
  • Power Beam: The default weapon option, the Power Beam is the weakest of Samus’ offensive arsenal. Its energy based projectiles would be effective against nearly all kinds of foes, however.
  • Wave Beam: An electrically based beam weapon. Similar to Metroid Prime, it has a lower rate of fire than the Power Beam but can stun foes if charged. Limited by a regenerating energy pool.
  • Ice Beam: A freezing beam weapon. Similar to Metroid Prime, it has a lower rate of fire than the Power Beam but can freeze foes solid. Effective against Metroids. Limited by a regenerating energy pool.
  • Plasma Beam: A fire based beam weapon. Similar to Metroid Prime, it has a lower rate of fire than the Power Beam but is capable of instantly killing weaker foes if charged. Limited by a regenerating energy pool.
  • Missile Launcher: Samus’ stronger sub weapon, capable of concussive damage against foes. Missiles would be limited to an available supply similar to the other beam weapons, but these regenerate much slower over time.
  • Morph Ball: Samus’ iconic transformation ability. In Morph Ball mode, her speed is a bit higher and her size radically smaller, allowing for exploration of tiny nooks and crannies.
  • Spider Ball: A returning feature now faster than ever. Spider Ball would be the primary way of climbing around the many walls, cliffs and mountains found in the game world. Where Link would climb rather slowly, Samus would speed up and down using the Spider Ball function. Like Link’s ability to scale anything, it would be limited by a “Stamina meter”.
  • Morph Ball Bomb: Your primary means of offensive in Morph Ball mode, bombs inflict concussive damage to small areas. Not ideal as an offensive measure, it is great for exploring narrow passages.
  • Power Bomb: The strongest weapon in Samus’ initial arsenal, Power Bombs require a five second charge before use, exploding in a wide radius and heavily damaging anything caught in the blast with potent “nuclear” energy. Unfortunately, abuse of the Power Bomb isn’t possible, as it requires an extensive cooldown before another can be used.

These would be the tools available to the player right from the start of the game, introduced one by one as you explore the tutorial space station, but available as soon as the game begins without the need for introduction for more adventurous players.

During this tutorial phase, two other important things occur. The player will discover an Energy Tank, which increases Samus’ overall health reserves by 50 points, and acquire a new item for their arsenal: the Charge Beam. The discovery of these two will teach the player that expansions to their health can be found through exploration, as well as the potential to further expand your arsenal. Further exploration of the station can yield more Energy Tanks, and those not found prior to exiting the tutorial phase will be available to find elsewhere in the main game world.

The end of the tutorial space station comes when you face off against Ridley, the series antagonist. The fight would be similar to the true fight against Ridley later on, but missing a number of his attacks to make the fight slightly easier this time around. The end of the fight results in Ridley severely damaging Samus’ suit, followed by the traditional timed escape sequence.

While many players would expect to lose their arsenal, in fact what happens is that from this point on they will need to manage what aspects of the suit are active at any given time. Some of the gear will be always on, while others would require certain amounts of energy to remain active. Activating these tools would subtract the required energy from Samus’ overall total, lowering her effective health in the process. A risk-reward system, it would encourage players to seek out the elusive Energy Tanks to not only expand her available health reserves, but also equip more of her arsenal at once, returning her to her full strength.

Following the destruction of the space station, Ridley will flee to the surface of the nearby planet Zebes. Samus will follow, and touch down on the surface of the first major zone of the game world. This is where the game begins proper.

Zebes will be as expansive as Hyrule in BOTW, only divided into various zones connected by elevators similar to previous Metroid games. While it would be possible to find entrances to these zones outside the elevators, the elevators would serve as the primary means to ascend to higher levels. The transition down or up to different regions would serve to load the game if necessary, but also give a few seconds to scope out the land from a birds-eye view.

Taking cues from Super Metroid, the planet Zebes would contain the following regions:

  • Crateria, divided into two major zones. The first would be the opening segments of the game world, the second would be the crash site of the space station from the tutorial segment. The boss of the region would be Phantoon.
  • Brinstar, divided into a vegetative green zone and a partially subterranean red zone. The boss of the region would be Kraid.
  • Maridia, divided into the submerged ocean zone and the Space Pirate research facility zone. The boss of the region would be Draygon.
  • Norfair, divided into the superheated cavern zone and the Lower Norfair zone, modeled after the forgotten Chozo civilization. The boss of the region is Ridley.
  • Tourian, the final region of the main game accessed from Brinstar. Once located, players would be able to descend into the region freely to combat Mother Brain and her Metroid sentries.

But that’s not all. The defeat of any of the four major bosses (Phantoon, Kraid, Draygon or Ridley) would give the player access to second world altogether: Planet SR388. After learning of the Space Pirates’ intention to use Metroids as weapons, Samus would be able to return to her spaceship in Crateria and fly to the nearby Planet SR388, where the player can explore yet another world for the game’s primary subquest: hunting Metroids.

For SR388, inspiration would come from both the original Metroid 2, as well as the fan remake AM2R. The planet would include regions, though smaller in scale than those found in Zebes:

  • Golden Temple, remnants of the ancient Chozo civilization populated by Alpha Metroids.
  • Hydro Station, an abandoned facility for irrigation connected to a series of dark, moist tunnels populated by Alpha and Gamma Metroids.
  • Industrial Complex, a newly fashioned work zone created by Space Pirates to power their machinations throughout the planet. Populated by Gamma Metroids.
  • Distribution Center, an underground series of tunnels partially submerged where captured Metroid specimens are transferred back to the surface. Populated by Gamma and Zeta Metroids.
  • Experimentation Tower, a closed zone for testing various Metroid mutations. First instance of Phazon radiation is seen here. Populated by Zeta Metroids.
  • Acidic Depths, a series of labyrinthine tunnels flooded with vile acid and traces of Phazon. Populated by Zeta and Omega Metroids.
  • Genetics Laboratory, the center of Metroid research by the Space Pirates, fashioned from an ancient Chozo laboratory. The only thing here are dangerous Omega Metroids and classic sentry Metroids. Successful exploration will lead the player to the Queen’s Nest, where they face the Queen Metroid, the optional superboss of the game.

SR388 is entirely optional, and therefore the only unique item found while exploring the almost linear, stage-by-stage approach is the Phazon Suit. Energy Tanks can be found in these regions as well.

Other optional suit enhancements include:

  • X-Ray Visor: Easily discover hidden passages and secrets while in Scan Mode.
  • Phazon Suit: Grant resistance to Phazon radiation found in SR388, as well as a boost to defense.
  • Charge Beam: Found in the tutorial space station, it allows all beam weapons to be charged for greater damage.
  • Grapple Beam: Latch onto distant points to traverse large gaps. Also usable as a melee weapon.
  • Spazer Beam: Expands beam weapons, increasing their damage output.
  • Diffusion Beam: Grants an explosive radius to charged beam attacks, inflicting minor damage to surrounding targets.
  • Hyper Beam: A powerful beam weapon capable of the same damage type as Power Bombs.
  • Super Missiles: Enhanced missiles capable of triple the damage of regular missiles.
  • Speed Booster: Run at supersonic speeds, damaging foes as you run along.
  • Space Jump: Perform a second jump in mid-air.
  • Screw Attack: Capable of the same damage as Power Bombs, charges Samus’ jumps to become deadly to the touch.

Some of these enhancements would be guarded by the bosses of the regions, others would simply be hidden away somewhere in the expansive world map.

And that’s it, really. That’s the kind of Metroid game I imagine when I think of what’s possible on the Switch. A return to form for the Metroid series, a chance to become a series worthy of commercial success.

But sadly, this may never come to pass. And I guess that’s why I’ll always have my own imagination. I can dream, after all.

Metroid on Nintendo Switch

Persona 5 – Refined to Near Perfection

The wait for Persona 5 was long. I still remember asking myself how the sequel to Persona 4 would turn out, and whether it would arrive in the next two or three years following that game. Turns out I’d have to wait nearly a decade, and the wait was well worth it.

This isn’t a traditional review. I’m no good at writing those. This is merely one gamer’s blog on why I liked Persona 5, what I didn’t like about the game, and how overall it hopes to stand against my existing Top 5 Games of All Time.

Both its predecessors suffered from the same issues at the onset of the journey: long periods of build-up before we are allowed to dive headfirst into the combat of the game. P3 was especially bad about this, while P4 made an effort to hasten the process. P5 starts with the aftermath of a casino heist, letting you taste the movement, combat and stealth mechanics a bit before going back to the usual build-up. At first I thought I’d be in for a few days of regular school life before being allowed to get back into the combat, but P5 throws you right into the meat of the game from your very first day of school.

And that’s what I think P5’s greatest strength is. The story moves along at a brisk pace, rarely slowing down so much that you question “when will I get back to the Metaverse?”

That’s not to say the game doesn’t have periods of complete inactivity. Every single story milestone is buffered with a week or so of story cutscenes that severely limit your daily activity. At first this really upset me, as I felt that time was slipping away which I could be using to talk to my social links or beef up my character’s persona stats. But as the game progressed, I realized that there would be enough time to do everything in a single run if I so desired, even if I chose not to in favor of a New Game Plus run.

So by the end of the first palace you fall into a routine. A week or so of build-up that leads to the discovery of the next palace, about three weeks to tackle that palace and enjoy your school life, a few days to watch the efforts of your spelunking pay out, and repeat. Written out in this fashion, it’s easy to label the game as repetitive and dismiss it.

Persona 4 did something just like this, held together by its cast of characters who were just happy to hang around each other. Persona 5’s cast is just as tight-knit, this time bound by a shared distrust or outright hatred of the injustices they witness on a daily basis. It’s a bit on the nose how they blame “adults” for all the problems, rather than people in general, but it could just be me being one of the very same adults these high school kids distrust. I can’t exactly fault the story for viewing the world through the eyes of teenagers.

What I am at odds with is the framing of the plot. It begins with the aftermath of a casino heist that results in the capture of the main character (hereafter referred to as Akira Kurusu, the name I borrowed from the official manga adaptation). The story plays out in flashback as he’s interrogated by public prosecutor Sae Niijima, and it cuts back to this interrogation after every major plot development. Not a bad approach, but the fact that Niijima lays out the target for we the audience before every flashback  dulls the impact a bit. We the audience know ahead of time who the party will be targeting next, rendering a lot of the build-up to the heist superfluous if not outright frustrating. A better approach would have been to cut back to the interrogation after we unlock the palace, so that Niijima could reveal the folder with the target’s picture.

This is ultimately a minor issue, as the only time this approach makes the story feel contrived is with the second palace. The lead in to each new palace feels natural overall, just a group of kids that shift from one target to the next with no real semblance of design outside chance. This ultimately pays off with the fifth and sixth palaces, which turn out to be traps for the party that tie into the interrogation we’ve been viewing since the outset of the game.

Which takes us into the palaces and combat of the game proper.

Gone are the series “staples” of randomly generated dungeon fare. Except for Mementos, but we’ll discuss that later. Now, each palace is designed with forward progression in mind, feeling more robust and worthwhile as a result. The downside here is that each dungeon also feels much shorter than those found in P4, but one could easily make the argument that P4’s dungeons weren’t long so much as they were just padded and tedious. Hand crafted palaces are also a necessity given the stealth approach to exploration P5 has donned. The party act as thieves in the night, so sneaking around demands something other than randomly generated dungeons. It’s also quite thrilling to sneak up on shadows, and the animation of Akira ripping the shadow’s mask off to reveal the demons within never gets old.

Mementos, which acts a lot like Tartarus from P3, shows just how poor the randomly generated approach feels compared to palaces. Its place in P5 is central to an endgame story development, but also acts as the player’s means to grind for EXP or cash as revisiting palaces becomes impossible after completing them.

The streamlined combat is also a welcome change from previous games, assigning actions to specific buttons as to save the player a press or two here and there. Over time this equates to tens of thousands of button presses so its quite a welcome feature. The far more powerful hardware also allows the combat to look far more stylish than its predecessors, and Atlus poured lots of time and effort into the little details. From transitions to loading screens, everything oozes style and production value, to the point that it’ll be hard to ever go back to P3 or P4 and feel impressed ever again.

Unfortunately, this is where the game starts to slip up for me. While the return of demons as foes is welcome, as is the negotiation aspect from P1, P2 and the main series Shin Megami Tensei, the game overall feels considerably easier than its predecessors. P4 was notorious for its first main boss being a brick wall many inexperienced players ran into head first, so I was honestly expecting that with P5. While the first palace (a castle) is oddly similar to P4, it was much harder than P4 at first. But the boss turned out to be a pushover, and after that point the game never quite reached that same level of challenge again. Part of it stems from lack of options and resources which nags at you throughout the first palace, but becomes a non-issue after that. With the exception of the second palace’s boss, the challenge remains low until you reach the (faux) final palace towards the end of the game. And this was on Hard Mode.

At this point I’ll be discussing the end of the game. There will be spoilers, lots of them, so DO NOT READ PAST THIS POINT if you haven’t seen the true end. You have been warned.

Long story short: great game, best of the bunch, but it had a few hiccups toward the end.

STORY SPOILERS INBOUND DO NOT READ PAST THIS POINT

That’s not the only places where the game starts to falter towards the end. The story ramps up well throughout the game, but by the time you’re about to enter the true final dungeon, the plot is derailed as you seek to do battle with a surprise antagonist that is responsible for everything. This isn’t unlike P4’s final moments, which reveal that the mysterious gas station attendant was responsible for giving the protagonist and antagonist their Persona powers. The reveal of Igor as the god Yaldabaoth, who set up the whole game as an experiment of sorts for his own amusement, has punch. While I’ve heard it said that it was obvious given the drastic change in voice, I never once questioned Igor on the simple premise that his voice was changed due to the passing of the original Japanese voice actor. I figured changing the voice even in English to match the new Japanese one was a sign of respect. That they’d use it for a plot critical reason was brilliant, to say the least.

For the less savvy, I figure the only tip off Igor wasn’t the real Igor is that he calls the Velvet Room his, which the original Igor never does.

This is the good part of the ending, mind you. The bad part is that we never get a true resolution to the Metaverse abusers. Following the change of heart in Shido, who’s treated as the big bad, we hear that his conspirators know of a way to use the Metaverse to sway public opinion. This is never followed up on, and we jump right into the conflict with Yaldabaoth as the party decide– rather hastily– to erase the Metaverse completely. I get the reasoning behind this choice, but given the small timeframe of events here, it feels rushed. Mere days after the change of heart in Shido, you’re thrown into Mementos, expected to finish the dungeon, and without a chance to breathe or replenish supplies expected to tackle the final dungeon. All in the span of a single day. Considering the wealth of time you’re given to prepare for every other dungeon, this screams rushed and is quite a shame. P3 was given until January 31 to finish its plot, and P5 demands it be completed before Christmas.

That’s not to say you won’t have time to finish everything, but considering how robust the rest of the story was, this is quite a letdown. Even if the surprise revelation is well-delivered.

All in all, Persona 5 was fantastic. I played through it twice essentially, and loved every minute of my 160 hour romp. I’ll gladly go back for a third run, and soon. If I could stomach P3 nine times, and P4 five times, surely this considerably greater journey could hold up for three.

And that was a rushed end to this discussion. Sucks, doesn’t it?

Persona 5 – Refined to Near Perfection

Accepting Critical Truth

Sit around, friends. And let me tell you a tale.

A tale of Browny– yours truly, and a young woman whom I contacted for a commission.

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The story began back in November, when I contacted an artist who goes by MochaMofu on Twitter. Because of the incoming holidays, she informed me that any requests would have to wait for the new year (2017). Accepting this, I approached her again nearly three months later on February 11. Four days later, she responded, accepting my inquiry for a commission.

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Later that same day, I provided Mocha with a link to a Google Drive folder containing a document with my request, as well as reference materials she’d need for the task. What I wanted were six icons of various characters, my only special request being that she ease up on the visual flourishes she favored in her shared work.

As you can see here, she agreed to the request without issue, giving me the price she deemed fair without my need to haggle. So confident was I in her ability to deliver, I chose to pay the entire commission up front.

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Mocha hadn’t even delivered the current commission and already I was eager to hire her again. It was at this point she gave me her estimate on the delivery of the icons I’d just commissioned: 1-2 weeks on account of other ongoing commissions.

Sounded fair to me; my icons were small, relatively easy items to do, but given an unknown workload on her end I was perfectly fine with the timeframe. In fact, I was happy, since it was much sooner than I originally anticipated.

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I also took the time to ask her policy on sharing the images I’d commissioned, namely if it was okay for me to keep some of them private.

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Nearly two weeks later, Mocha updated me. Technically, she only had a couple days after this to deliver the completed product, but I ignored this and was happy with the rough drafts she supplied in a Google Drive link. After giving her the OK to wrap the commission up, there was silence.

For three weeks.

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Having finally tired of the silence, and on top of the fact she was now three weeks overdue, I sent the response seen above. Naturally I was rather upset, she had failed to even inform me of the delay, and I did not resist the temptation to let her know I was no longer confident in her ability to deliver on her promises.

The update she claims here was hardly substantial, mind you. At this point in time, the images had hardly changed since the March 1 link; not a single one was colored in, so what this “progress” was I could not say. I sadly do not have proof of this, as I never expected to be making this very post you’re reading now.

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Immediately following her response, I sent these three messages. I felt the need to apologize, as I may have stepped out of line in my anger. She never responded to this.

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Two days later, that is to say today, March 22, I finally received the finished product. It took her 35 days to complete the commission. A commission she said would take 1-2 weeks.

Delays happen. I understand this. But the fact she took three weeks longer than planned and did not inform me was unprofessional. But you know what? Who cares? I got the icons, they’re fabulous work, and I’m happy.

So happy was I, I was in the process of sending Mocha another private message to ask once again about the sharing of the images, and to let her know I was about to tag her in a tweet showing some of the icons. That’s when Twitter let me know that I would be unable to send that private message.

Because this happened:

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Confused, I wondered if my earlier messages had in some way offended Mocha. I figured the apologies I gave sufficient, but in any case I wasn’t about to stress this.

Until a friend of mine shared something else.

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So… let’s break this down individually, shall we?

You admit fault in not contacting me sooner. That’s good, it was your mistake, especially with a commission that was already more than double the initially estimated time overdue. And yes, I did say I wasn’t confident about hiring you a second time. That wasn’t a threat, and I’m sorry a plain statement like that offended your delicate sensibilities so much you perceived it as a threat.

The nasty customer bit? Yeah, I said that. Why? Because I wasn’t so upset as to cause a stink. I did want to point out however that she was in the wrong by failing to update me. Nevertheless, I apologized for my outburst, because I admitted I was in the wrong and meant no ill will by it.

Next: the money was not important to me. I paid you what you asked for, and I did so entirely up front as a show of my faith in your ability.

March 24 EDIT:

I made a mistake here, Mocha did quote me a price in November prior to taking on the commission. I honestly forgot this exchange, which I will provide here:

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In light of this information, I will apologize for the statement (which follows this paragraph in bold italics). However, I maintain that if your prices went up, you should have told me up front. Keeping it to yourself and then using it against me as though you did me a favor wins you no points. You gave me a price, and I paid it.

And no, you did not quote low before. You only ever gave ONE quote, that was on February 15 when you finally saw what it is I wanted drawn. You never gave me a quote before that, so this fantasy you’re spinning about low-balling me and then feeling bad about raising the price on me? Not gonna fly.

Never mind the fact that once you give a price and that price is paid in full, asking for more looks bad on your part without valid explanation. And considering you were already running late?

The last bit shows my friend Ashley tossing some truth at Mocha after I shared the story with her. Mocha’s response? Ashley was softblocked as well. Seems the truth is toxic to the girl.

Mocha’s work is quality stuff. I would never say otherwise. I’m happy with it.

But if this is how she responds to fair criticism? To being told she was late in delivering a product she promised? A time table she set herself? Well, it speaks volumes.

A little “friendly” advice: in the real world, if you’re late with the job, you get called out. Throwing a fit and painting me the villain might have made you feel better, but you got a long way to go before I’d ever consider you a true professional.

Learn from these mistakes. And next time, don’t immediately run to your followers looking to shit talk the very person who was trying to thank you for the work you’d just completed.

Oh, and insults are unnecessary. That’s just juvenile.

Article Edit: Ashley was softblocked, not blocked. Correction was made.

Accepting Critical Truth

Browny’s Top 5 Video Games (+Honorable Mentions)

If there’s one thing I do more than anything else, it would be play video games.

A hobby passed to me from my father, nothing has ever captured my attention as much as this eternal time sink. Growing up, I would read a lot, dabble in writing, but all of it came back to games. I would read because a game inspired me to read about stuff relating to it. I would write because a game would inspire me to try and retell it in a novel (with varying levels of success). Basically, it was all about those stupid games.

Friends? TV? School even? All second fiddle to games. Be they Super Nintendo, PS2 or DS and 3DS, upon my return from school or later on jobs, it would be games. I am a nerd.

I have played over 500 games in my lifetime. Not all of them to completion, but always enough to know if the game is to my liking. Some day I’ll write articles on bad games. But today, it’s for happier things.

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5. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

I’ve often found it difficult to explain to people unaware of Persona just what the games are like or about. Especially people who don’t play games. That frustration is compounded when I try to describe Persona Q, a game that is essentially a different series in disguise that would offer nothing to non-fans of Persona 3 and Persona 4. And even then fans of both might find Persona Q difficult to sit through.

Persona Q is actually an Etrian Odyssey title. It plays like one, it acts like one, and dressing it up in cute Persona visuals does little to detract from the radically different game that it is from Persona 3 and Persona 4. This isn’t a bad thing in my case, since Etrian Odyssey is one of my two favorite series in existence (you can tell because anywhere I go I describe myself as a “DQ & SQ Fanatic”, where SQ refers to the Japanese name of Etrian Odyssey, Sekaiju no Meikyuu).

Persona Q follows the cast of both Persona 3 and Persona 4, ripped from their own games to partake in a new adventure featuring a pair of new characters in a strange warped version of Yasogami High. The whole game maintains this sense of mystery yet whimsy, as the cast doesn’t seem all that fazed by what put them in the situation in the first place. Which works to the narrative’s benefit, as the entire thing feels like almost like a fan project that got substantial funding. This isn’t a bad thing, either; the plot might take its sweet time to build steam, but once it gets going, it hits all the high notes Persona is known for.

It might be hard for players to crawl through the labyrinths separating fun story bits, but the reward of yet another fully voiced cutscene always makes the hassle worthwhile. The game allows you tackle the story from either perspective (that of Persona 3‘s cast or Persona 4‘s), giving you subtly different plots as you go along. Persona 4‘s side is more light-hearted, while Persona 3‘s takes advantage of the additional game time to flesh out its own cast a lot more than they ever were in their original game.

Persona Q is very much a fan love letter. The choice of Etrian Odyssey as the base game is odd and may detract from the experience for some, but it’s different enough to give even diehard fans a new experience that isn’t just another dungeon crawler. Persona Q earns its spot on my Top 5 because I consider it to be not only the best Persona game, but also the best Etrian Odyssey game. Quite an achievement for what amounts to a fun little side-project. But I guess that’s why these fun diversions exist in the first place.

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HONORABLE MENTION. Metroid Prime

If you expected this to be my Number 4, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Though easily Metroid Prime could have topped my list if I simply let the other games step aside.

Metroid Prime exemplifies quality game design. It’s atmospheric, intuitive, just the right length, and to this day hasn’t been topped. I routinely replay it to bask in its perfection, and easily recommend it to anyone, gamer or not.

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4. Xenoblade Chronicles

Back in 2012, a little game called Xenoblade Chronicles was released for the aging Wii hardware.

I’d had a terrible experience with both its predecessors, and was honestly not looking forward to this game. At the time, it was one of three RPGs in localization limbo, and of the three was the one I had the least interest in. But it was also the first one released, and feeling a need to show my support for a movement to have them brought to the West, I bought the game at launch.

I was blown away.

Where Xenogears and Xenosaga failed to capture me even after dozens of hours of play, Xenoblade Chronicles had me invested within the first hour. The combat was fast and fresh, the characters charming thanks in large part to a dub track from the UK, and the impetus for setting off on this journey delivered with just the right amount of drama to hook me, line and sinker. Even as the adventure went on for more than 60 hours, I never once felt bored by the experience.

Xenoblade Chronicles was the breath of life RPGs on consoles needed at the time. While so many were beginning to stagnate as they focused on better and better visual fidelity, Xenoblade Chronicles sacrificed high end graphics to give us a sprawling open world filled with secrets to uncover and monsters to overcome. The cast grew at a steady clip, each one bringing with them more charming interactions and actual worth to the gameplay. So easy is it for RPGs to have characters that you just don’t want to use because they suck. Xenoblade Chronicles doesn’t have that; every character is useful in almost every scenario and with virtually any party combination. Your biggest concern will be why you aren’t allowed to use all seven of them at once.

The characters themselves don’t break new ground for the medium. They stick to tried and true tropes for the most part, but its how they play off each other that keeps the game from devolving into pandering nonsense. Fan-service is completely absent here; the characters win you over with their personality, not because we have the all-too-typical scene from Japanese media (hot springs or sleep overs, that kind of thing).

And really that feels like Xenoblade‘s greatest strength. It takes itself seriously, and keeps that seriousness in mind from start to finish. However, it never dips into brooding territory, and is never too serious to indulge in humor now and again. But at the end of the day there’s a quest to finish, so even after you spend a dozen hours combing through yet another massive world map for every secret you can find, you can always count on the game pushing forward.

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HONORABLE MENTION. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Zelda games and I don’t usually get along. For the most part they’re fun diversions, and I can easily enjoy the experience from start to finish. But never do they stick so much that I’d deign to call them a favorite game of all time.

Link’s Awakening is another such example. If it weren’t for the multitude of other outstanding games, it might eke its way into my Number 5 spot. Part of this is when I played the game the first time, as a young school kid who was hungrily reading tons of books where ever he could. Link’s Awakening told a fun little tale of a boy trapped on an island, and eventually of how he could escape. And how in so doing, he’d have to sacrifice the very existence of a girl he liked.

This isn’t exactly canon, mind you. Link and Marin might be my first ever ship, and that’s why Link’s Awakening resonates so strongly with me. I imagined myself as Link, and a girl I was crushing on at the time to be my Marin. And I wished so desperately that the game mirrored real life. Well, without the sacrificial bit. Point is it opened my young mind to young love, and it will forevermore hold a special place in my heart because of it.

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3. Chrono Cross

Have you ever played a game that, despite so many flaws, just felt like a masterpiece to you? Somehow close to perfection despite your rational brain telling you the game couldn’t possibly hope to be perfect?

Chrono Cross is that game for me. A game that since I first played it, has remained steadfast in my Top 5 games where so many others have come and gone.

Chrono Cross is the story of Serge, a young man who finds himself sucked into an alternate reality where everything is slightly off. And everything is slightly off because in this reality, the core difference is that he himself died ten years prior. What follows is a journey to solve the riddle of his demise in this world and how he can get back to his peaceful life in his Home World.

RPGs offering freedom of choice in how to tackle the story are few and far between. This is because unlike the organic storytelling present in a pen and paper experience, video games need a set beginning and a set end on account of technical and budget restraints. But Chrono Cross dared to offer players a taste of that freedom, with multiple branching story paths as you went along. While these paths always ended back on the predetermined path, it can be argued that it was all justified because the core antagonist of the tale is Fate itself. Chrono Cross asks the question: Can you truly defy Fate?

Hearing it from me might have you thinking this is a true pinnacle of gaming and storytelling. But it isn’t. As I said before, the game has a multitude of flaws, right down to the very story it’s telling. In fact, most of what I’ve said can only really be gleaned after multiple playthroughs, or at the very least reading a digest on the plot and themes of the narrative. Chrono Cross can easily be described as obtuse, but never really unintuitive as a video game.

While its predecessor might always be more fondly remembered as a titan of the RPG genre, for me, Chrono Cross will be that titan. The game that dared me to question just how much of my very existence is predetermined, and how much of it is my own doing.

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HONORABLE MENTION. Okami

The debate about whether video games are art, or can ever be art, is one I don’t give two shits about.

But I look at a game like Okami and cannot help but be left speechless as video game developers use the medium to make a canvas come to life before my very eyes.

Okami is a Zelda-like game through and through. Only replacing an elf boy with a wolf and drawing heavily from Japanese myths, folklore and fables. But the entire thing looks like a moving piece of art that words cannot describe with any real impact. It has to be seen to be believed. The game was jaw-dropping back on PS2, but its transition to PS3 with HD visuals took the whole thing to the next level.

If you’ve never played Okami, do so. If you can’t, watch HD footage of someone playing it. You’re in for a real treat.

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2. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

Next to Mario, Dragon Quest has been the one series to remain steadfast at my side throughout my life. From the first ever game which my dad owned a copy of and I played nonstop as a toddler. I didn’t even truly grasp what I was doing in that game, but I wanted to play it. I wanted to hunt Slimes.

And hunt Slimes I did. And keep hunting Slimes, playing Dragon Quest on and off most of my life. It was also the only Dragon Quest game I owned until my teenage years, when Dragon Quest VIII came along for PS2.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it was love at first sight. That I knew this would be a game changer for me. No, Dragon Quest VIII and I got off to a rocky start. In fact, I hated the game at first. And it took half a decade for me to get over that hatred and give Dragon Quest VIII the fair chance it deserved. The chance I neglected it during a period in my life when Final Fantasy could do no wrong in my eyes.

But Final Fantasy fell from grace, and Dragon Quest was there to remind me that no matter how many years pass, they will stay just as good.

Dragon Quest VIII for me is RPG distilled to its purest, most enjoyable form. It’s simple to pick up, challenging enough to entice, and forgiving enough that you don’t let the game kicking your butt get to you. In fact, this applies to virtually all Dragon Quest games. But it was VIII that I fell in love with the most. It wasn’t the one I played the most (that honor goes to IX), but no matter the day I can go back to the adventures of the Trodain guardsman out to rid his king of a foul curse.

For King and Country!

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HONORABLE MENTION. Illusion of Gaia

Illusion of Gaia was my gateway drug to the world of RPGs.

I may have played Dragon Quest first, but it was Illusion of Gaia that convinced my young self to learn to read so that I could follow the story of Will and his friends as he explored a warped world where real life locations acted as video game dungeons. It wasn’t a great game by any means, but it taught me about (mostly) real world locations that I immediately asked my teachers about in school. It kindled in me a love for history and myth that remains to this day. In a way, it may even have birthed my love of writing as well.

This was my first ever favorite game of all time. It has since dropped from my Top 5. But it will forevermore be an important game to my very existence.

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1. Final Fantasy IX

Final Fantasy IX is not really a GOOD game.

It’s slow-paced. Its combat is overly simple and mindless. The plot isn’t really gripping. And overall, the adventure feels just too short to have been a follow-up to then big-hitters VII and VIII.

And yet, for all these flaws, it does the most important things right.

The characters are rich and complex, dealing with internal struggles amidst an otherwise bland narrative. The world around them is fantastical and varied, from locations to monster designs. Each character gets just enough time in the spotlight to make them memorable. And while the game felt short, the characters’ journeys felt full.

Final Fantasy IX is this odd little contradiction into itself for me. It’s easy for me to forgive all its faults and love it unequivocally. And yet it’s just as easy for me to dismiss it for the very same faults and never think about it again. Or as is usually the case, just trash it online for the sake of discussion.

But no matter what side I take, I cannot deny that Final Fantasy IX happened to me in very important part of my life. That it taught me that no matter the person, everyone has stuff they’re constantly struggling with beneath the surface. It also taught me a valuable lesson in writing multiple characters, something that had always been a challenge for me.

It’s possible that some day, Final Fantasy IX will be topped as my favorite game of all time. Maybe even by Dragon Quest VIII. But for now, as it has been for more than a decade, it remains my favorite game of all time.

Browny’s Top 5 Video Games (+Honorable Mentions)

Disney Animated Canon Ranking, Top 5

I like Disney. I grew up with the company, and watched every one of their feature films. From canon to direct-to-video, I have seen it all. But the most important ones are the Animated Canon, 55 films that began with Snow White and ends with Zootopia (until Moana releases as film 56).

These are my Top 5 films from Disney Canon.

5. Pocahontas (Canon #33)

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In sixteen hundred seven, we sail the open sea~!

For glory, God, and gold, and the Virginia Company~!

So back in the mid-90s the Disney Renaissance was in full swing. Disney could seemingly do no wrong, and the sixth film was Pocahontas, Disney’s take on the establishment of the Jamestown colony in America. And apparently people didn’t take too kindly to this film. For reasons… I will not touch upon. I am not a historian, I am not interested in how the Disney company changed history to tell their story. I am here to be entertained, and entertained was I.

Pocahontas is one of the more mellow pictures Disney has released. Sure, there are stakes, and people die, and even a rather tense musical number leading up to what you think might be a great battle between the natives and the settlers. But it ultimately ends in a stand off, and everything is resolved at the end by one person’s “heroic” sacrifice. If you can even call it that?

But why do I love this film? Colors of the Wind. Mine, Mine, Mine. Savages. The soundtrack to this movie is why I love it as much as I do. When I think Disney music, these are the songs that come to mind. I have the fondest of memories for these songs, and Colors of the Wind is my favorite track in all Disneydom. Followed perhaps by Zip-a-dee-do-dah but that’s a discussion for another time.

Is Pocahontas a perfect film? No way. But I can look past the (many) faults each time. That’s what it means to love something. Or something. Point is I love Pocahontas. And it sits nice and comfortably at #5.

4. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (#34)

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Morning in Paris, the city awakes to the bells of Notre Dame~

So despite the weaker outing before it, Disney did not slow down. This time they were tackling a literary classic by Victor Hugo, and what we got was one of the darker Disney films ever produced. Even if they took liberties with the source material (everyone does) and softened the tone a bit (or a lot depending on your point of view).

The music is a major part of why I like this film, but unlike Pocahontas before it, it’s not the primary reason. The music is all great, of course: Out There, Hellfire, Heaven’s Light, The Bells of Notre Dame; all of it’s fantastic. But what I love most about this film is undoubtedly the villain.

On the surface, Frollo is the villain of the film. But in the story he’s actually a judge, and his goal (while morally wrong by our standards) was actually par for the course in the time depicted in the film. His corruption is human flaw, which anyone can have. I’m not trying to defend what he did in the movie, of course. But it’s not like he did it with actual ill intent. Sort of?

Okay I’m digging myself a grave here. This movie is awesome. It’s visually stunning, it defies Disney conventions, and the music just elevates it to an experience I don’t think any other Disney film achieves. #4 for me.

3. The Fox and the Hound (#24)

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“Forever is a long, long time. And time has a way of changing things.”

So when people think of the Disney Dark Age, they think of the worst things they put out during those 20-some-odd years. But people forget that it was during this time period they released one of their best films ever. The Fox and the Hound is a look at what happens when society dictates what your life will be like, regardless of the damage it does to people you knew in your childhood. With dogs and a fox.

Todd the fox is raised by an elderly woman living in the countryside who becomes friend with a hound pup owned by the elderly woman’s next door neighbor. They develop a friendship that would melt anyone’s heart, only for them to be separated when Copper the hound is taken on a series of hunting trips to teach him how to be the best hunting dog he could be. Upon returning, both he and Todd realize the friendship they had as children is no longer viable in the eyes of the world around them, and are essentially forced to be enemies.

Every time I see this movie I get emotional to the point of tears. I’m not ashamed to admit it. It kills me to see how Todd and Copper fight to the point of nearly killing one another, making me wonder if that could happen to any of us. If I had to pick the saddest part, it would be just before the film ends. There’s a moment where Todd is at the mercy of the hunter who owns Copper, and it’s at that critical moment that Copper stands up for his old friend. He stands between the hunter and the injured Todd, intent on protecting his old friend despite everything that has happened.

That scene gets me. Every single time. It deserves its spot at #3.

2. Beauty and the Beast (#30)

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Tale as old as time.

So a few years back I did something similar to this series of blog posts where I shared thoughts on all the Disney films. And when it came time to talk about Beauty and the Beast, I couldn’t really say anything about it. Not positively, not negatively. It’s the one Disney film I think is as close to flawless as the company has ever come.

So I’ll say what I always do: the music is great (of course), the visuals are great (as usual), and it’s a classic (like many). However, for as great as I think the film is, I have a soft spot for another Disney film. Beauty and the Beast is #2. And a well earned #2.

1. The Little Mermaid (#28)

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Click here and let the music play as you read.

I can’t say with any real certainty why I routinely pick The Little Mermaid as my favorite Disney film. I’ve found faults with it in the past. I love the soundtrack, but I also love the music from other films in Disney canon.

But I can never turn down a chance to see this. I love this film more than you can possibly imagine. And it might always be my favorite Disney movie of all time. Call it nostalgia. I don’t rightly care. Excuse me, I’ve got a Disney film to pop in and watch right about now.

Disney Animated Canon Ranking, Top 5