Saturday, 29 December 2018

15 Best Movie Posters of 2018



If you've ready any of my movie reviews, you might have noticed that I always have a whole blurb at the start of the review critiquing the design of the film's poster. I really love a good movie poster, it's a piece of art unto itself. Films that treat their poster as more than just a piece of marketing deserve special recognition, so what better way to do that than a year-end countdown?

Also... man, it's hard to believe that the last time I did a movie posters best-of was 5 freaking years ago! I've always wanted to turn it into an annual thing, but it has never actually happened for whatever reason. Hell, I even had a folder with notable movie posters saved in 2015 or 2017, but the countdown just never materialized. So, with any luck, this will be commencement of the first annual IC2S Best Movie Poster countdown!

(Images come courtesy of the film poster database Internet Movie Poster Awards.)

Honourable Mention: The Predator
This poster deserves special mention just because of how weird it is. This is one of a series of stylized posters featuring the Predator living a "cool" lifestyle of playing basketball, skateboarding and break-dancing. It's such a bonkers design, made even weirder by the tongue-in-cheek "ALIEN" brand on their computer and basketball jersey. The neon graffiti aesthetic is also so at odds with Predator that this whole thing becomes really interesting. I mean, it's more respectful to the franchise than The Predator was at the very least.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Ranking the Albums I Listened to in 2018

Hey, it's that time of year again! That's right, the time of year when I look back on the random-ass music I've listened to, most of which no one has heard of or cares about! If you're curious about last year's picks, you can read the list here. I decided to change up the title of these lists going forward because, while "Favourite Albums" is less wordy, by no means do I want people seeing some of the low-ranked crap on this list and thinking it was one of my favourite albums of the year.

Also, in February I had the pleasure of seeing In This Moment and P.O.D. in Detroit, along with opening acts New Year's Day and Ded! It was a fantastic time and I'm so glad that I got to see two of my favourite bands live. Was also a great experience to share with with my fiance, along with my longtime friend and fellow blogger at The M.


Alright, let's get to the rankings...!

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Love/Hate - Nioh

I'm going to do something slightly different here - normally I'd just be looking at the Dark Souls trilogy itself when doing a love/hate series, but I'm actually going to change it up slightly and include other games in this subgenre that I have played and which I feel could make for a strong comparison. As a result, I'm bringing you the Souls-like samurai game from Team Ninja, Nioh! Having gotten into Bloodborne and Dark Souls from my itching for a new Ninja Gaiden game, could Nioh live up to Team Ninja's reputation for rich and satisfying combat? Read on to find my thoughts...


Love
  • Amazing Combat System - I'll just come out and say that Nioh has the best combat system in any Souls-like game. Team Ninja really hits it out of the park, nailing a really precise combat system while the game's speed somewhere between Bloodborne and Ninja Gaiden. The result is a very fast-paced game that is deep, skillful and incredibly satisfying to master. There are also a couple of big innovations which help make Nioh's combat stand out so much:
    • Ki Pulse takes the stamina regeneration of Souls games and adds in an active-reload system which will allow you to replenish your stamina instantly if you do it correctly. This creates a balancing act where you can risk running out of stamina but get it back quickly in order to keep your attacks going longer. It takes a bit of practice, but once you get the timing down it becomes second-nature and allows you to be incredibly aggressive.
    • Weapon stances are also a huge addition in this game. All weapons can be held in high, mid, or low stance, which significantly changes the way the weapon performs. Each stance changes your combat and dodge speeds, and some enemies are best fought in different stances (for example, Yoki are susceptible to high stance sword strikes which will hit them in the head and stun them when they break their horns). While you might be tempted just to stick with one stance, learning to master stance chances makes a huge difference in combat and just further deepens the experience.
    • You can see your opponents' ki meters, meaning that stunning them becomes a reliable strategy should you choose to go for it. I liked using a heavy axe as my secondary weapon for this very reason, with only a single strong high-stance attack I could destroy most enemies' ki bars.
  • Addictive Loot System - Nioh features a Diablo-like loot system. Unlike Dark Souls where each piece of equipment has fixed properties (until you upgrade it anyway), all equipment in Nioh has randomized perks. You can spend ages in the blacksmith just reforging your armour and weapons to get the perfect perks which complement your build and playstyle. It can be addictive just collecting all the loot drops and looking for that one piece of armour or weapon that is better than the one you have already.
  • Spirit Guardians Are Cool - Even if it was just aesthetic, the idea of picking the spirit guardian that accompanies you on your journey is awesome (I went with the Paired Raiken, because having two lightning puppies with me is amazing). However, each guardian provides unique bonuses while they are with you which can further optimize your build, while also being able to help in a pinch. However, the trade-off is that when you die, your guardian spirit stays to protect your lost Amrita (this game's souls-equivalent) and no longer provides you with any bonuses unless you choose to sacrifice your lost Amrita. It makes for a pretty interesting trade-off and makes death just that much more tense.
  • Fun Side Content - Nioh's mission-based structure allows for the inclusion of various side content for players to enjoy. These are all pretty fun and provide you with more loot, from bite-sized side missions, to challenging duels, to the challenging-but-rewarding twilight missions. This side content allows you to get your equipment and levels upgraded without having to do repetitive level grinding and farming like other Souls-like games tend to.
  • Meaty DLC - Team Ninja did a good job with the DLC packs for Nioh, providing players with three expansions with plenty of new missions, weapons and challenging bosses to sink your teeth into. This extends the length of the base game by several hours per pack while also providing an epilogue to the main game's story. The bosses are also all consistently fun and challenging.
  • Builds on the Souls Formula - Nioh definitely cribs many elements from the formula of Dark Souls - stamina-based fighting system, clever level design emphasizing traps and exploration, shrines are this game's bonfires, etc. However, Nioh also adds plenty of its own elements and twists to the formula, which allows it to stand out on its own and not feel like a ripoff (unlike, say, Lords of the Fallen). Even something simple like the bloodspots in Souls games have been given cool twists - in Nioh, blood spots can be used to spawn revenants, which have the equipment of the player who was killed and which can provide you with amazing loot drops if you risk spawning them into your game.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Love/Hate - Dark Souls 3


Love
  • Refined Game Engine - As groundbreaking as the Souls games are, they have always been incredibly janky and take some time to get used to how clunky they can be (not to mention the extremely poor performance that the first two games had across multiple platforms). Dark Souls 3 is built off of the Bloodborne engine and thankfully no longer has these issues. The game looks gorgeous and runs at a pretty stable 30fps on consoles. While 60fps would probably be ideal for a fast-paced action game, 30fps would have been a pipe dream for earlier games in the series, so I'll take what I can get at least.
  • Increased Combat and Game Speed - Dark Souls 3 takes some pages from Bloodborne in its design, one of which is the noticeably increased speed of the combat and enemy aggression. Your reflexes are certainly put to the test more often and it also helps that the game's animations have been made are far more fluid and responsive. As a result, simply playing Dark Souls 3 feels better than it has in previous entries in the series.
  • The Bosses Are Better Than Ever - I would go out on a limb and say that Dark Souls 3 has the best-designed bosses in the entire franchise. This is because basically every boss now has multiple stages when their health bars reach a certain point, meaning that you are no longer stuck repeating the same patterns to defeat a boss throughout the entire fight. Naturally, this makes the bosses harder, but I find them so much funner and satisfying, and it really makes the bosses in the previous games feel less challenging as a result. Particular highlights include The Abyss WatchersDancer of the Boreal Valleythe Twin Princes of LothricThe Nameless KingThe Demon in Pain and the Demon From Below (funnest gank fight since Ornstein & Smough in my opinion) and especially Slave Knight Gael (the funnest, most epic fight in all of Souls, hands-down).
  • The Game World is Hauntingly Gorgeous - Dark Souls 3's story is one of a world that is dying because the flame can no longer be sustained and the age of dark must finally come to pass. The game world really conveys this well, with some really well designed areas and imagery, such as the scores of dead pilgrims who collapsed from exhaustion outside the high wall of Lothric, the familiar characters you find long dead on our journey (the giant blacksmith was bad enough, but no, how could you kill The Fair Lady too?!), to the evocative image of the dark sun in the game's final areas.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Love/Hate - Bloodborne

While it isn't actually a part of the Souls series, Bloodborne is in a similar mold with some very key differences. In fact, FromSoftware would take inspiration from Bloodborne and carry it forward to the Souls-series proper. As a result, it's clearly worth lumping this game into this love/hate series and see how it relates with the main franchise.


Love
  • Fantastic Style and Aesthetic - Bloodborne's biggest asset is definitely its aesthetic. Whereas Dark Souls is somewhat stifled by its fairly generic western fantasy style, Bloodborne has a much more stylish aesthetic, mixing steampunk, Gothic architecture and eldritch horror elements together to create a stunning world which is just incredibly cool to inhabit. This also extends to the game's fantastic soundtrack, which further helps to sell the setting. Werewolves, religious fanatics and Lovecraftian horror in one package? Sign me the hell up!
  • Combat System is Really Fun - Despite appearing very similar on the surface to Dark Souls, Bloodborne's combat system is one of the main things that sets it apart:
    • Whereas Dark Souls emphasizes patience and defence, Bloodborne encourages aggression and speed. The speed of combat has been increased significantly through increased character fluidity, more aggressive enemies and the game's lack of viable shields, meaning that you have to dodge constantly.
    • Contributing to the aggressiveness of this game is the Rally system, which allows you a couple seconds after taking a hit to regain lost health by damaging the foe. This can be the difference between life and death in a tight situation and can save you having to use a blood vial to heal if you're quick enough.
    • Also contributing to the fun combat system is that every weapon has a secondary function which changes their moveset in interesting ways. For example, the hunter's axe is a short-ranged slashing weapon, but can be extended to give it increased range and sweeping attacks, whereas Ludwig's Holy Blade is a longsword that can be sheathed into a slow and heavy greatsword. These are just a couple examples, but it's a really cool system that makes all of the weapons far more interesting and fun to use. Plus these trick weapons actually make a noticeable difference in combat, some being more viable in certain situations.
  • Exploration is Very Rewarding - Bloodborne is arguably the Soulsborne game closest to recapturing the sense of exploration and interconnectedness of the first Dark Souls. It is considerably more linear in comparison, but the game's world is more interconnected than Dark Souls' sequels. Also, perhaps most importantly, it rewards exploration with some fantastic and meaty hidden areas. Discovering the pathway to the haunted castle of Cainhurst was one of the moments that made me fall in love with this game in the first place.
  • Memorable Characters - I would argue that the cast of Bloodborne are at least as iconic and memorable, if not moreso, than the cast of Dark Souls. Eileen the Crow and Lady Maria in particular are unforgettable and have stuck with me to this day (to the point that I have posters of each of them). The game also has such interesting and complex characters as the Plain Doll, Gehrman or the imposter Iosefka, not to mention even the minor characters such as the Odeon Chapel Dweller and Arianna are quite memorable in their own right.
  • Streamlined Mechanics - While Bloodborne uses a lot of the framework of Dark Souls, many of the more complex elements have been streamlined or removed. Some people feel like this makes Bloodborne a lesser experience, but I feel like it's just trimming the fat and focusing on pure enjoyment rather than busy work. For example, equipment load has been eliminated entirely (halle-freaking-lujah), meaning that you can focus your stats entirely on your actual preferred weapon loadout, rather than struggling to wear any kind of armour. Also, weapon upgrades are significantly easier, requiring only larger chunks of blood shards to increase your weapon's damage and slots that you can put various damage-altering runes into.
  • Some Fantastic Bosses - Bloodborne has an array of fun bosses, nearly all of which are top notch. Father Gascoigne, the Bloodstarved Beast, Martyr Logarius, Vicar Amelia, and Rom the Vacuous Spider are all great fights in the main game. The DLC also knocks it out of the park with some unforgettable and difficult fights. Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower in particular is the boss which made me fall in love with the sweet, sweet satisfaction of trying and retrying a boss until you have learned their patterns. Ludwig, Laurence and the Orphan of Kos are also extremely difficult bosses, providing some of the ultimate challenges for veterans and newbies of Souls games alike.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Love/Hate - Dark Souls 2


Love
  • Some Memorable Characters - Somewhat surprisingly, Dark Souls 2 has a lot of characters which hold up as well (or maybe even better) than the colourful cast from the original Dark Souls. Nearly all of the characters in Majula have their own memorable personalities, particularly The Emerald Herald (best waifu in the Dark Souls series, in my opinion). The NPCs you meet in the world are also pretty memorable, especially the very tragic Lucatiel of Mirrah. Even the bosses and their stories can be pretty interesting, especially King Vendrick's tragic fall from grace which forms the backbone of the game's narrative (and that's not even mentioning the very compelling stories told in each of the DLCs). While many of the characters aren't as important to the story as, say, Solaire of Astora or Lautrec, even minor NPCs such as Rosabeth of Melfia, Gavlan or the freaking ladder salesman have their own interesting quirks that help you remember them long afterwards.
  • Best DLCs in the Franchise - The Three Crowns saga is straight-up the best, most generous package of DLC in the entire franchise. These three DLCs are by far the best content in Dark Souls 2, with some really fun areas to fight through and great boss fights (few fights in this series match the cinematic splendour of jumping into hell to fight the Burnt Ivory King). That said, each of these DLCs have at least one boss which is incredibly underwhelming and areas which are amongst the worst in the game, but thankfully these parts are totally optional.
  • UI and Mechanics are Refined and/or Simplified - Dark Souls 2 features a number of gameplay changes from Dark Souls, some of which are better than others:
    • Having all of the blacksmiths and shops in one central hub area is a great improvement in my opinion, having to scour the world to find smiths would definitely have been a pain in the ass if I had to do it two games in a row. Plus weapon upgrades have been significantly streamlined, so it's no longer such a pain in the ass to try to get your weapon to the maximum level.
    • Online PVP is much more viable than in Dark Souls because the servers have been significantly improved and there are more dedicated PVP/PVE areas. I don't tend to play much PVP, but the general consensus seems to be that Dark Souls 2 has the best PVP in the franchise in part because of this.
    • Dual-wielding has been significantly improved. It was technically possible in Dark Souls, but Dark Souls 2 makes it a much more viable and unique playstyle.
    • Lots of small, but amazing changes, such as equipment load percentages being viewable on the equipment screen, the level up UI being more informative, being able to move while using estus, more ring slots hell yes, etc).
  • Humanity System Makes More Sense - I really hated the humanity system in Dark Souls 2 when I first played, but now that I can see what FromSoftware were going for it makes way more sense to me. In Dark Souls 2, each time you die your HP max drops until you reach a 50% decrease. This is reversed by using a Human Effigy to restore humanity, plus you can find a ring pretty early on which makes the maximum health drop cap at 75% rather than 50%. The result of this is that players are actually encouraged to stay human more often now, which encourages more co-op, invasions and other online interactions which you could just ignore in the first game because of how difficult it could be to remain human. Of course, you can still just play hollowed all the time (like me...), but the system does encourage interaction with the game's online component far more effectively than you would expect.
  • Bonfire Aesthetics - One of the cool additions to this game is the bonfire aesthetic item, which respawns enemies and bosses in an area, but at a higher difficult. Have an area which you liked but don't want to replay the whole game to get back to it? Use a bonfire aesthetic! It's a great change which (spoiler alert) I really wish had carried on into future games.
  • New Game+ Changes - NG+ has received some much-needed changes which make it more enticing. First of all, Dark Souls 2 also doesn't force you into NG+ as soon as the final boss is beaten, rather you get to choose when to go into it. In addition to tougher enemies and keeping your equipment, NG+ also features new enemy placements, making replays more interesting, surprising and challenging than simply replaying the same game.
  • Some Truly Top-Tier Bosses - Dark Souls 2 features the most bosses in the entire franchise, and some of them are simply amazing (particularly the DLC bosses). The aforementioned Burnt Ivory King is one of the most visually spectacular bosses in the entire series, while Fume Knight is widely considered one of the best bosses in the entire series. Other really notable bosses in this game include Sir Alonne, Flexile SentrySmelter DemonVelstadtSinh, the Slumbering Dragon and Aava, the King's Pet. Considering how many of these bosses are from the DLC, it really shows you how high the quality was in those.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Love/Hate - Dark Souls

I recently began replaying Dark Souls, this time on PS4 with the remastered edition. Having played a ton of Soulsborne and Souls-like games in the past few years, it's fascinating going back to the game which really popularized the modern action game formula. I'm definitely enjoying myself, but that got me thinking about all the things I love and hate about this franchise and the subgenre it spawned... and wouldn't you know it, I have a series on this blog which is about just that! So without further ado, here's what I love and hate about the original Dark Souls!


Love
  • Amazing World Design - This is arguably the best part of Dark Souls, where it really shines and is still unmatched, even by its successors. I'm going to split this into a couple parts to cover it more thoroughly:
    • Dark Souls' world is designed sort of like layer cake. Each new area is connected to the others in an organic way, and it isn't uncommon to be exploring and to catch glimpses of other areas that you will soon be exploring or to discover a surprising shortcut to an area you previously visited (which is extra important because fast travel is unavailable for most of the game, and even then only in a limited capacity). Furthermore, the areas all stack on top of each other vertically, a very unique approach to an open world which is rarely attempted. The unique design with the shortcuts littered throughout give the entire world map a memorable interconnectedness that sticks with you long after your journey is complete.
    • The game is designed in a very non-linear fashion. There is an intended path for newer players which is evidenced by the difficulty of the enemies in each area, but there is technically nothing stopping players from risking going off this intended path into much more challenging areas for their level. In fact, the loot that you can acquire for doing so might make the challenge worthwhile, especially for veteran players. Furthermore, the game also has an optional starting item, the Master Key, for experienced players which makes the early game even more non-linear as it allows you to explore these higher-level challenges much sooner. To make this even better, the game actually has some special rewards for breaking the intended path, such as (SPOILER ALERT):
      • If you kill the sunlight maggots early enough, you will save Solaire of Astora from a tragic fate and allow him to be summoned for the final boss battle.
      • If you beat the Artorias of the Abyss DLC (end-game content in terms of difficulty, so that's no light feat) before fighting Sif, she will actually remember the player but fight to defend her master's honour anyway, giving the fight an even more melancholy air to it.
    • The vertical open world design even has thematic significance, as the homes of the (questionably moral) gods of light are found as you ascend the layer cake. In contrast, the darkest places are found as you descend, all the way down to the lowest point of the world in Ash Lake, where humanity itself and the Dark Soul was found. Considering that environmental storytelling is a crucial method in which the game's narrative is conveyed, this thematic significance is particularly brilliant.
  • Unique Character Designs - In addition to the amazing world design, FromSoftware also really nailed the art designs for the different characters and bosses in this game. This includes the NPCs, such as the instantly iconic designs of Solaire of Astora and Siegmeyer of Catarina. The bosses are also incredibly creative and have elements meant to symbolize their characters. Rather than just having a dragon, instead we get the Gaping Dragon, which has turned itself into a huge maw in order to consume more. Or what about Gravelord Nito, a being made up of piles of bones and whispy darkness. Hell, even extremely underwhelming bosses, such as Pinwheel, have incredibly well-thought out designs - in his case, he wears three masks because he's trying to resurrect his dead wife and child. FromSoftware just always puts this really creative spin on their creatures and it's part of the fun of discovering what sort of twisted abomination they're going to throw at you next.
  • Build Freedom is Insane - Perhaps the coolest thing about the Souls series in general is just how much freedom the player gets in determining their character build. You get two slots per hand, plus two magic rings and a handful of item slots to use however you see fit. You can run all manner of swords (short, long, greatswords, freaking ultra greatswords), axes, spears, bows, shields and various other exotic weapons, not to mention three varieties of magic with their own lengthy spell lists. Oh and did I mention that all of these weapons can be upgraded with elemental properties which wildly change their damage output? Hell, if you're insane, you can even choose to run around punching everything to death. And that's just the weapon options, you've also got tons of armour sets (from light, medium and heavy) and your stat distributions which can complement any playstyle, from clerics, to tanks, to melee fighters. Basically, if you can think it, it can be done and you can probably make it work. I like to play the melee glass cannon - minimal HP investment, but very high stamina and strength, running around with a claymore for heavy damage output. The way I see it, if I'm getting hit by more than a couple enemy attacks, I deserve to be killed.
  • Surprisingly Rich Story Told in an Unconventional Way - The Souls games are very unique for the manner in which they tell their stories. Rather than conveying narrative directly to the player, the story is told through the environment and item descriptions, which encourages the player to piece the story together themselves. While it is possible to entirely miss the point of everything that happens in the game because of this, it actually makes the game significantly more engaging and rewarding. Even then, the base mythology of the game is also very interesting and makes for a compellingly, strikingly bleak world.
  • Resource Management - I know that Demon's Souls was the basis for this idea, but Dark Souls really popularized the notion of strategic stamina regeneration and healing in modern action games. FromSoftware struck a perfect balance between the game's speed and the stamina regeneration, making it feel like an essential part of the game rather than a burden on the player.
  • Some Absolutely Amazing Bosses - The Souls games are renowned for their bosses, and Dark Souls has some of the biggest standouts in the whole series. So with that in mind, I'm going to shoutout some of the bosses which deserve special praise:
    • Artorias the Abysswalker is probably the funnest boss in the game. The funnest bosses in Souls games are often built off of Artorias' foundation - a large, single warrior duelling you with relentless, heavy attacks, leaving just enough openings to sneak in a hit if you're skilled. Every game in this franchise features at least one boss which is built in the mould of Artorias, and considering that they're almost always top-tier bosses, it should really show you just how good Artorias is. The nice thing about these kinds of duels is that they don't rely on gimmicks exclusive to the boss battle, rather you're testing your skill with the game's combat system.
    • Black Dragon Kalameet is one of the funnest dragon battles in the whole series, posing an exceptional challenge to the player while remaining totally fair. A lot of bosses this early into the Souls series feel less refined than later entries, but Kalameet is still a standout boss to this day.
    • Ornstein and Smough are probably the most iconic boss duo in the entire franchise; I was aware of their reputation years before I even faced them for the first time. The fight itself is exceptionally difficult, but manageable if you focus them down skilfully. They're also probably the best gank fight in the series, with their differing speeds and attack patterns not feeling like utter bullshit to fight. That feeling when you finally defeat Ornstein and Smough is one of the most satisfying moments in the entire franchise.
    • I also want to give some smaller shoutouts to Great Grey Wolf Sif, Chaos Witch Quelaag, the Bell Gargoyles and the Sanctuary Guardian.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Five Finger Death Punch and the Machismo of Submission

For the past couple months I've been working on a follow-up to my album rankings of 2017 and one of the bands that is going to feature on that list is (spoiler alert) Five Finger Death Punch. I have really disliked Five Finger Death Punch since I first checked them out - they tend to have a few good songs per album but most of their music is utter trash. The main issue is their lyrics, which are usually toxically masculine, raging at the whole world, threatening to beat everyone up, swearing constantly, and which throw in casual misogyny and homophobia for good measure. For a band that is clearly aiming to be badass, their incessant whining makes them look like a bunch of children and this has turned me off of all but a handful of their songs.

For this year's album rankings though I decided to look into Five Finger Death Punch a little bit closer though to see if my impression of the band was accurate. For the most part, yes I was pretty spot on. Most distressingly, the band's nasty, misogynistic lyrics spill over into real life; lead singer Ivan Moody (seriously, that's his actual last name) has been in legal trouble on at least two occasions for assault against women, in part due to alcoholism which he has apparently been trying to get a handle on. One thing you kind of have to give the band some credit on though is their unequivocal support of the military and police. The level to which this support goes might be questionable, but the respect that they show to the actual individuals is admirable and has likely contributed to the growth in their popularity.


Most of the band doesn't seem to be openly political, with the major exception being guitarist Zoltan Bathory who has, err, opinions on Donald Trump, gun control and communism. He seems like a really odd character all on his own. In addition to Five Finger Death Punch, he claims to be a civilian combat instructor for the US military, although I feel like I need to add that I've seen comments from multiple soldiers while researching him who said that they had never heard of him and that they were skeptical of his claims. Considering that the article cited on his Wikipedia page which is meant to back up this claim also has Bathory claiming that the band has been shot at while performing for the troops in Iraq and Kuwait, I'm also somewhat skeptical (I certainly don't doubt that he's a skilled martial artist, but "one of the few civilians certified by the US Army as an L1 Modern Army Combatives Instructor – Close Quarter Combat"? Sorry Zoltan, I need a bit more proof than your word).

Zoltan also apparently writes for a magazine called Skillset. Skillset's website states quite boldly that it's all about "redefining the alpha lifestyle", with features that "[spotlight] men and women with undeniable talents and abilities. We are VETERAN OWNED AND OPERATED and changing the face of 'men's interest' magazines on newsstands." The magazine boasts that it does so through articles on "rock stars, athletes, car builders and gun culture" and is plastered with ridiculously over-the-top images of men pointing guns at the camera. Basically it's a douchey, redneck version of Playboy. Not all that surprising that a member of Five Finger Death Punch would be drawn to such a publication, although it sounds less like they're "redefining" the alpha lifestyle than they are simply reinforcing traditional American machismo, although perhaps with some consideration that women can be badass too.

Finding out that Zoltan writes for Skillset really helped to crystalize my disparate feelings about Five Finger Death Punch, because I feel like it really is a great, unintentional illustration of the band's philosophy. One could say that Skillset is all about people who are apparently better than the rest of us because they take control, the ways they present themselves, etc. Similarly, Five Finger Death Punch's music is all about aggressive posturing, the constant threats about kicking peoples' asses are meant to make them seem like badasses even though they end up making them seem like whiny, overcompensating pansies. This is just so obvious on songs like "Burn MF" where they unironically claim that the weight of the world is on their shoulders and then in the next verse rage that people fake that the world is on their shoulders. I'm not the only one who notices this either; in a review of their most recent album Michael Hann writes that Ivan Moody "reflects on his troubled past couple of years [...] with a level of self-pity that wouldn’t disgrace a child who’d been bought Pro Evo instead of Fifa for Christmas: 'Everybody seems like they’re waiting for me to die / Talk shit behind my back, can’t look me in the eye.' When, on 'It Doesn’t Matter', he hollers 'You’re so self-righteous, and you’re never going to change,' you want to inquire if Mr Pot and Mr Kettle have made each other’s acquaintance." It's like they see the world in a hierarchical way, where their troubles are more legitimate than those of the people beneath them, in a manner not dissimilar to incels with their self-perception of being "inferior" beta males who are literally unloveable and worthless.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Quick Fix: Mandatory Voting

Hey everyone, I am pleased to announce that I became a father on the 29th of October! This is super exciting, but if my writing schedule becomes more inconsistent, that's my excuse. I've actually got a lot of content underway, some of which will definitely be done by the end of the year, but I'm just a bit crunched for time as you can probably understand.

Anyway, with the midterm elections now on the books and the Democrats thankfully winning Congress, hopefully the signs are pointing towards this global fascist nightmare finally losing momentum. All of the voting talk was making me think about my many articles about voting and how I kind of wish that people had to earn the right to vote (if there was a way to make that notion not totally evil). Upon some reflection after seeing the midterm campaigns unfold, I occurs to me that this idea doesn't really fit into the modern American democratic process very well (let alone the Canadian one). Part of the problem is the pervasiveness of fake news and propaganda on hyper-partisan media. If the truth wasn't being actively obscured by malicious agents that would be one thing, but when we have one side skewing the truth so much that its adherents are basically living in an entirely different world, that makes them have a false sense of confidence that they know what the issues really are that they're voting for. Plus, these malicious influencers are driving people to vote through outrage, meaning that the parties are incentivized to be political scum in order to have a chance to win. It's just a race to the bottom due to the way that the system is set up.

But... what if it didn't have to be that way? I saw the following Tweet while browsing voting threads and I found its argument extremely interesting:

Friday, 28 September 2018

Retrospective: God's Not Dead - A Light in Darkness (2018)

Welcome back to the God's Not Dead retrospective! In today's entry we're covering the latest, and possibly last, entry in the franchise, God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness. After the garbage fire that was the previous film, could it be possible for this series to get even more insulting? Read on to find out...


The poster carries on the same design aesthetic as the previous films in the franchise. I like it a lot more than the previous one - visually, it's a far more interesting design.

God's Not Dead 2 released on April 1st, 2016 and was (unfortunately) only an April Fool's joke if you paid to see it. That said, it landed in the year that evangelicals would help to put Donald Trump into office as the 45th President of the United States, a result which has been... contentious to put it lightly and which has shed a light on how brutishly tribal, steadfastly political and stunningly hypocritical the evangelical church is in America. I do not think it an exaggeration to suggest that the God's Not Dead franchise helped to bring about these turn of events in their own small way. These films were just reflections of things that evangelicals already believed, but (as per Sean Paul Murphy) Pure Flix was drawn to creating inflammatory content to generate more ticket sales, which fanned the flames and drove evangelicals to act.


Even before November 2016 rolled around, a third God's Not Dead film had been confirmed, although the premise was not set. David A. R. White stated that "We’ve just been in a lot of prayer and trying to figure out exactly what God wants number 3 to be. Because you know we don't just want to just do what we want to do, we really want to follow where God is leading on these movies." Now, details on what exactly happened are hard to come by, but Harold Cronk (who directed the previous 2 films), Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon (the writers of the previous 2 films) were not brought back to work on the new film. Instead, an unknown writer/director by the name of "Michael Mason" was brought on to spearhead the third entry in the franchise, signalling a new direction for the franchise.


David A. R. White returns as Pastor Dave, this time taking on the film's leading role. Benjamin Onyango would return as Pastor Jude and Shane Harper would also return as Josh Wheaton, but they both appear in relatively small roles and none of the other major characters from the series (such as Amy, Martin or Ayisha... sigh, so much for my Josh/Ayisha shipping) make any appearance. The new major roles are filled out by John Corbett as Dave's estranged brother, Ted McGinley as the university chancellor and Jennifer Taylor as Dave's love interest. The filmmakers also made a big deal about securing Academy Award winning actress Tatum O'Neal in a role, but it ends up being a very minor as one of the board members at the university.

Owing to how hard it is to find information about this film's production, I actually found some intriguing little tidbits. On the minor end of things, I found confirmation that this film was at one point given the subtitle of "A Light in the Darkness", but that the "the" was subsequently dropped, presumably because they would have thought it was too long a title. This just gives me a bit more insight into Pure Flix's marketing ideas and why I was probably on the right track when I was thinking about why they didn't just call this series God is Not Dead, as they clearly should have. Perhaps more intriguing is the identity of "Michael Mason", as I found some conflicting stories which suggest that this is a pseudonym for an unidentified director. The candidate which had been suggested was Jon Gunn, director of My Date with Drew, Do You Believe? and The Case for Christ and it was postulated that he used the "Michael Mason" pseudonym because it would have been his 3rd Christian film in a row and might have pigeonholed him as a "Christian director". Whether this is true or not is debatable, but it's also worth pointing out that a November 2017 interview with Shane Harper had the film's director listed as "Jonathan Michael". Perhaps this an early, half-masked psuedonym before Michael Mason was settled on? Regardless, it's really interesting to speculate on.

Also, one last thing to note before we move onto the story of the film: this movie bombed at the box office. While the first film had made around $60 million domestically and the second had made around $20 million, A Light in Darkness brought in just over $7 million - less than both of the previous films had made in their opening weekends. Ouch. I feel like by this entry the series' reputation was already tanked, so there was less interest, not to mention that it was yet another unnecessary sequel. Perhaps most importantly though, the Christian film industry had really kicked into full gear since the release of God's Not Dead, and as a result A Light in Darkness was beaten out at the box office by fellow faith-based films I Can Only Imagine and Paul, Apostle of Christ, all of which released in a 3 week span around the Easter season (which I commented on at the time). It's also probably worth mentioning that Black Panther was still tearing up the box office at the time as well.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Retrospective: God's Not Dead 2 (2016)

Welcome back to the God's Not Dead retrospective! In today's entry, we're going to be looking at the second film in the franchise, the succinctly-titled God's Not Dead 2 (although I think we all know that it should have been called God's Still Not Dead, c'mon guys!). After the commercial success of the first film, a sequel was basically guaranteed. However, would the filmmakers be able to overcome their insulting depictions of Christians and non-Christians this time? Read on to find out...

...eh, I don't really like this poster much. I mean, it's fine, it gets across the point of the film, but I preferred the more minimalist design of the original.

Considering that God's Not Dead put Pure Flix on the map and raked in more than thirty times its budget in theaters alone, a sequel was a virtual certainty and was quickly announced by the studio. After the success of the first film, the studio was able to tap some higher-profile actors to fill the main parts, most-notably Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina the Teenage Witch) as the film's leading lady. Also filling out the main cast were Jesse Metcalfe, Ernie Hudson, Pat Boone and Ray Wise as the mustache-twirling antagonist, in addition to a few returning cast members from the first film (most notably, producer David A. R. White as Pastor Dave). The first film's success also meant that Pure Flix was able to get some Christian public figures to appear as well, including Lee Strobel (who had been name-dropped in the first film), J. Warner Wallace and Mike Huckabee.

As for the making of God's Not Dead 2, I've been having trouble finding really interesting information about the making of the film and I don't want to speculate too much, so take the next part with a bit of salt. Unlike the first film, there isn't as much information about what actually inspired God's Not Dead 2. However, considering the content of this movie, I would not be surprised if Pure Flix's association with the Alliance Defending Freedom played a major role in the creation of this film, which is further evidenced by ads for the ADF in the end credits and on the movie's website. As Sean Paul Murphy had said previously, Pure Flix's audience were growing more interested in films with political agendas rather than simply "Christian" films.

It's also worth noting that the filmmakers were clearly very aware of the backlash that the first film had inspired from atheists. Responding to claims that the God's Not Dead films misrepresent Christian persecution, David A. R. White told The Blaze "It’s an interesting thing, because, if it wasn’t real, why do they get so offended by it? [...] I don’t think it would annoy people if it wasn’t true." I... what?


David... you know that people get annoyed by lies too... right? Are you so deep into the evangelical bubble that you can't see anything else? Sigh... I think I'm starting to understand why the "logical" arguments in these films are so unconvincing.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Retrospective: God's Not Dead (2014)

It has been quite a while since my last Retrospectives series. Don't get me wrong, I've had plenty of ideas for write-ups during the past several months (some more conventional than others), but I kept getting drawn back to the same series: the God's Not Dead franchise. Hoo boy... Considering that this is a series rooted inextricably in ideological arguments, hopefully you can understand why it took me so long to get around to this one. To be upfront, I've heard a lot of commentary on this film, but I tried to not let it colour my opinions on the film too much going in - I wanted to see if there was any merit to all the vitriol this film has inspired. So strap in, we're going to start this at the beginning, with 2014's God's Not Dead.

The film's poster is decent, I have to admit. I could do without the crowd at the bottom, but there's a certain evocative element to this design which I can't deny (even symbolically, down to the black/white contrast), plus it makes sense for the film's story... Good job, I guess.

God's Not Dead was produced by Pure Flix, an evangelical movie studio and distribution company which had been creating Christian films for about 10 years before God's Not Dead. According to Russell Wolfe, co-founder of Pure Flix, the concept for film came about when the studio was looking for ideas and were suggested to make a film about apologetics. Around the same time, the Alliance Defending Freedom (a conservative, evangelical lobbying group which has been labelled as a hate organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center) were telling the producers stories about apparent Christian persecution, which inspired the campus setting of the film.

That's the official story at least. I can't be the only one who has heard of the urban legend of the "atheist professor" while growing up in the church. God's Not Dead cribs liberally from this myth, even down to some of its arguments which, as one writer puts it, makes this the first film based on a chain email. Kelly Kullberg has also argued that the producers of God's Not Dead stole her own life story, which caused her to sue them for $100 million. This lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, with the judge claiming that the film and her own script weren't similar enough to constitute copyright infringement. Whether this is because Kelly Kullberg was also ripping off the atheist professor story or not is unclear.

God's Not Dead ended up being a surprise hit at the box office in its limited theatrical release, bringing in around $65 million on a $2 million budget, despite having no real mainstream star power or marketing associated with it. As I have written about in the past, this success came about from the free viral marketing that churches offer these kinds of projects - the pastor tells their congregation to go see this movie because it will affirm their faith, and so the film has a built-in audience that it doesn't even need to dedicate a marketing budget towards to reach.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

The "Other" Cinematic Universes

When it comes to cinematic universes, we all know the story: Marvel's only getting better as they go, DC has struggled to get any sort of consistent quality going, etc. However, with as much attention as these franchises get, it's easy to forget that they're not the only ones making their mark on the cinematic universe trend. There are actually quite a few current cinematic universes out there now, some several films deep, that have continued to grow without the attention and scrutiny that Marvel and DC seem to inspire. There are also many more on the way (keep an eye out for Hasbro, they seem to be pushing the hardest), but even after 10 years of Marvel dominance, most have failed to actually get underway. With that in mind, let's look at the less-appreciated landscape of cinematic universes.

Note: I'm only going to be looking at franchises which are still ongoing. To determine if it constitutes a cinematic universe, I'm only looking at major releases (for all I know, The Asylum has a Mega Shark cinematic universe, but I'm sure as hell not going to go digging for turds like that). I'm also looking for franchises which aren't just following a normal, linear progression from film to film. Spin-offs don't necessarily constitute a cinematic universe either, although if there are multiple spin-off films in a franchise then it could apply. Oh, and goofy cameos and tongue-in-cheek jokes don't count either (so no, Transformers and Friday the 13th aren't in the same universe). Ultimately, it's all down to my discretion. Got it? Great, let's buckle in.

Honourable Mentions:
Star Wars (image source): Again, this is down to my discretion, but I don't feel like Star Wars is quite at "cinematic universe" level yet, at least in the way that that label gets applied anyway. For the most part, Star Wars in the cinematic landscape consists of films which follow on from one another (whether as prequels or sequels). Even the spin-offs we've had in Rogue One and Solo were just prequels to the events of the main stories and given less prominence, so I'm struggling to really count these on the same level as, say, your average Marvel or DC solo film in their respective universes. Now, with the groundwork laid by The Last Jedi and Disney's desire to milk this franchise forever (...those are mutually exclusive ideas, I swear), we might actually be getting to a point in the next couple of years when Star Wars is an interconnected universe of various divergent characters and storylines, but until then I have a hard time viewing it as more than a very epic saga.

Alien vs Predator (...vs Blade Runner???) - I'm only not counting this one because there has been basically no official word on whether these franchises still are, or ever were, truly linked in the first place. Basically every Alien and Predator film since has ignored the continuity established by the AVP movies, although they have never completely separated. To make matters even more confusing, the Alien prequels went and made it official that Blade Runner takes place in this universe as well. Considering that all of these separate franchises take place nearly 100 years apart from one another, it makes the continuity pliable, but it would be awesome if we could give AVP another shot at greatness.

The Tarantinoverse(s) - Yes, these films all technically take place in the same universe (click the image on the side to see the entire, complicated breakdown as to how), whether as actual events (Inglourious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, etc) or as films within that universe (Kill Bill, From Dusk Till Dawn, Death Proof, etc). There are also a number of characters who are related (most notably, Vic Vega aka Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs and Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction). Here's the thing though: none of these connections really matter. I mean, is Vincent affected in Pulp Fiction by Vic's death? No, it's just an easter egg for fans, and that's what everything in the Tarantinoverse is - there's no actual crossover or overarching plot (especially when you can just say "eh, it's a movie in that universe!"), so I'm not counting it. Like I said, my discretion.

And so, let's move onto the actual cinematic universes, shall we?

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Conservatives and Pedophile Virtue Signalling

A few months ago I touched lightly upon the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, a historical mass hysteria which I find absolutely fascinating. The panic started from a single claim by a mother who insisted that her child was molested at a daycare facility, but quickly snowballed into hundreds of accusations across the world. As it turns out parents were so disturbed by the initial accusation that they worked themselves into a frenzy and coerced their children into saying that their daycare facilities were being run by pedophile satanists who had been secretly committing ritual murders and sexual assault for years. Of course, there wasn't a shred of physical evidence to corroborate any of this, but lives, reputations and careers were destroyed without cause as a result of the twisted beliefs of the parents spreading the hysteria.

Now, let's bring this back to the present. In the last month we've not only seen the unfolding of the James Gunn smear campaign by alt-right activists, but also the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy (followers of which believe that a high-ranking government official is leaking information about mass pedophile rings run by evil globalists) has reached the mainstream media. Indeed, if the last few weeks in news have brought anything to light, it's that conservatives are obsessed with pedophilia. It's not like this is a new thing either - everyone has those conservative friends and relatives who use their Facebook profiles to gleefully declare their desire to kill, castrate or prison-rape pedophiles. Furthermore, in the last few years we've had quite a few high profile examples of conservative activism which used the prevention of pedophilia as their primary justification:
  • Pizzagate was a loony conspiracy theory which claimed that Hillary Clinton was behind a (obviously non-existent) pedophile ring run out of a pizzeria. That theory would have been just a total joke to most of the world, until it began a harassment campaign against the pizzaria and its employees which climaxed when some utter moron burst into the pizzeria with an assault rifle, fired shots and demanded that the staff release all of the captive children. Bloody hell.
  • When the Ontario government updated the province's sex education program, one of the main opposition points for social conservatives was that a man convicted for child pornography had been involved in drafting the curriculum. This, of course, led to some people claiming that he had designed the curriculum to enable easier grooming of future victims or that the references to masturbation or learning about proper terms for genitals were part of his sick jollies. Of course, social conservatives didn't want those parts in the curriculum at all, but it made for a convenient scapegoat considering that they're well aware that their own beliefs can't be forced on society without some sort of flimsy excuse.
  • When trans rights were gaining more recognition within society just prior to the 2016 election, the big battleground for social conservatives involved which bathrooms that trans people would be allowed into. After all, they claimed, a pedophile can just claim that he identifies as a woman and then follow my daughter into the bathroom and stare at/or molest her! This is, of course, the sort of claim which has been levied at all groups gaining civil liberty, from blacks to homosexuals. It should hardly be surprising that it's been dragged out again, along with violent transphobia.
  • And, on the funnier and smaller-scale side of things, concerned parents accused Pokemon Go of being a means for child predators to lure in victims, because at the time the news cycle was linking in everything with the game, so why not trot out their old favourite hysteria to go along with it?
Sigh... is anyone surprised that this was posted on a Facebook group called "Liberal Logic 101 aka Libtard Insanity V 2.0"?

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Oh Look, Another Manufactured Dead or Alive Controversy

When last we checked in with the Dead or Alive franchise, anti-SJW types were stirring up a controversy about how Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 wasn't being released outside of Japan and this was all feminists' faults (despite no one actually giving a shit about Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, the fact that this was 100% Tecmo-Koei's decision, and that PlayAsia was clearly co-opting their outrage in order to make money). Fast-forward almost 3 years and now there's a new controversy brewing about Dead or Alive 6. Sigh, what now? Are those special snowflake, easily #triggered SJWs complaining about the series' trademark objectification of women and gratuitous jiggle physics?

Oh wait. No, it's the anti-SJWs who are complaining again. And this time, it might be even more stupid situation than the last non-troversy was.


So, what could get people so riled up about Dead or Alive 6? Well, it all boils down to one simple statement that game director Yohei Shimbori made when the game was announced: female sexualization was going to be toned down and breast physics would be more realistic. Predictably, fanboys are threatening to boycott the game now just based on this statement alone. For example, One Angry Gamer is livid about the sheer mention of toning down and that the game is using a different engine than DOA5 and Xtreme 3Meanwhile over on Sankaku Complex, a Japanese hentai and porn news site (link is NSFW, obviously), there has been plenty of butthurt whining that SJWs have "ruined" the game before we've even gotten a chance to really see it in full. Perhaps even more predictably, some players are claiming that they're going to buy Soulcalibur VI instead because it is leaning harder than ever into the fan service (for what it's worth, I was planning on buying SC6 because I really enjoy the the gameplay of that series, until I saw how embarrassing the fan service was this time around). The reaction to this one little change really shows you how much value these "fans" put into the actual mechanics of their favourite fighting games.

Some of the funnier/stupid comments on Sankaku Complex.

Beyond that though, there's more to why this is such a clear non-troversy. For example, read the following statement made by Yosuke Hayashi:
"We've always had the sex factor in the game; in the past, the female characters had to have big breasts, they had to have scanty dress. [...] We're trying to focus on the real women that surround us; the voice of a female, the mannerisms. We are being realistic about it. We want to show something that's more high class, that adult males of our generation could look at a woman [character] and be impressed with her as a woman, not just as a pin-up. That's what we wanted to tell our fans." 
That sounds like the sort of thing which would really rile up the anti-SJW types... except that this was said 6 years ago about Dead or Alive 5, and in terms of the sheer volume of swimsuits and new fetish-bait characters, that game ended up being the most sexualized game in the franchise (outside of the Xtreme spin-offs). Compared to this, everything said about Dead or Alive 6 has been pretty tame thus far.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 7


Generation 7 (Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, Ultra Moon)
Love
  • Much-Needed Gameplay Refinements and Improved Accessibility - I'm going to break this down into two parts:
    • On the refinement end of things, HMs are finally dead!!! Thank freaking God, now whenever you would need to use an HM move, a Pokemon will appear which does it for you. This system is just so much better in every possible way. Gen 7 also brought in an improved battle screen which now gives you more information: the number of boosts or debuffs on a Pokemon, turns remaining for some special conditions and even whether your moves will be super effective or not. Some veterans might feel like that last refinement especially is "casualizing" the game, but I personally like it and feel like it doesn't really hurt the game in any way - veterans already know the type matchups, so it's good for teaching them to newer players. You can also remove status conditions after battle without having to use an item, which can be handy. On the other end of things, gyms have been replaced with island challenges and totem Pokemon, which I'm not so keen on, but the HM refinement was so good that it makes up for anything else.
    • On the accessibility end of things, getting into the competitive side of Pokemon has been made even easier than ever, to the point where Nintendo actively encourages it on the Pokemon website. Gen 7 sees the introduction of hyper training (which lets you max out your Pokemon's IVs!), the ability to see your Pokemon's IVs and EVs, passive EV training on Pokepelago, etc. The barrier to entry to get into the competitive scene has dropped significantly in the past 2 generations.
  • Z-Moves - Some people will complain that Z-Moves aren't as "flashy" or "game-changing" as mega evolution was and I was initially unconvinced that they weren't going to be more than another power creep gimmick. However, I feel like Z-Moves are a fantastic addition which has really improved battling. For one thing, they increase the viability and versatility of every Pokemon, not just a handful of special Pokemon like mega evolution did. Plus, every move gets some sort of special Z-Move effect, from increased attack power to special effects for some status moves which make them significantly more viable (eg, formerly useless moves such as Splash and Celebrate now give a +3 Attack boost and +1 to all stats, respectively, making many of outclassed moves actually worth using if you're creative enough. You also have to strategize a lot more about who to give the Z-crystal to, which move to use it one, when to use it, etc.
  • Really Strong Story - Except for maybe Gen 5, Gen 7 has one of the best stories in the whole series, which is mainly down to some very memorable characters. I feel like Sun and Moon's story is a definitely more satisfying and coherent compared to the changes which were introduced in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, but they're both definitely in a completely different league than nearly every other Pokemon game.
  • Alola Formes - These were such a fantastic idea which needs to be revisited in future releases. Basically, the Alola region has some Gen 1 Pokemon who have major type and design differences, similar to real-life animals which change in different habitats. These aren't just small changes either, some have wildly different typings which fundamentally change how they are played. Plus the redesigns were (for the most part) great, especially the exquisite Alolan Ninetails. This feature has to be maintained going forward!
  • Alola Region Is Incredibly Distinct - There have been a number of interesting Pokemon regions throughout the years, but Alola has to take the cake for having the most personality to it. Clearly based heavily on Hawaii and its culture, the entire region, characters and its Pokemon revolve around this theme. Compared to, say, the Kalos region a generation prior, this really makes this generation stand out.
  • New Pokemon Are Design for Battling - Every single one of the new Pokemon have really unique gameplay design, which makes them all very interesting and worth trying out. Like, I'm not kidding when I say every single one, even this generation's early-game Rattata, Caterpie and Pidgey equivalents, Yungoos, Grubbin and Pikipek respectively, have unique abilities, stats and evolutions which help them to stand out amongst an increasingly crowded roster of Pokemon.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 6


Generation 6 (X, Y, Omega Ruby, Alpha Sapphire)
Love
  • New Graphics Engine Shines - The pseudo-3D sprites in Gen 5 were impressive, but Gen 6's fully 3D models were definitely the direction that the series needed to head into going forward. It looks much cleaner and refined, and is so good that they've basically just gone and reused all of the models in Gen 7 and (I think) Pokemon Go as well. Oh and the new 3D models meant that shines could be made significantly more creative, with Gen 6 and 7's shiny Pokemon being universally regarded as the best in the series. The engine itself is also much faster than the DS games were, with saves being basically instantaneous, and Kalos itself is quite beautifully and distinctly designed.
  • Player Search System - The PSS is probably the smoothest and cleanest online integration in any Pokemon game, making trading and battling with friends and strangers an absolute snap. This also introduced the Wonder Trade feature, which is always a fun little roulette wheel to spin.
  • Fairy Type - Similarly to the introduction of Dark and Steel Types in Gen 2, Gen 6 introduced the Fairy Type in order to make up for some of the typing imbalances that Gen 5 had created, while also giving an offensive boost to the Steel type and giving the underpowered Poison type a huge boost. This has gotten the balance of the typings back into a good place, although some might feel that the Fairy type itself is maybe a little too good.
  • Player Customization - This was a feature I never really expected to get, but when we got the ability to customize our avatar's look, this was basically the only thing I started spending my money on in these games.
  • Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire's Gimmicks - The Gen 3 remakes brought in a few new features to the Gen 6 engine which are basically just small gimmicks, but they are so cool that they're worth mentioning. The first is the 2 different bikes, which allow you to perform tricks and reach otherwise inaccessible areas (or just straight-up go faster). The second is the Eon Flute, which lets you freaking fly a Latios/Latias in real-time around Hoenn!!! This feature is just plain amazing and has the secondary benefit of making Fly no longer a basically-mandatory HM to navigate with.
  • Friend Safari - I personally really liked this addition, which looks at your friend list and assigns them 3 Pokemon which can be caught in the friend safari (although they need to be online for you to get all 3 of them). It's nowhere near as fleshed out as the old safari zones, but it was really cool adding friends to try to get ahold of these exclusive and Hidden Ability Pokemon.
  • Mini-Games Are Actually Fun and Useful - The mini-games introduced in Gen 6 are actually quite fun. Pokemon Amie is like Nintendogs for Pokemon, and it's adorable and amazing, while giving some boosts in battle if you want them. Meanwhile, Super Training makes EV training easier and more accessible than ever. Oh, but the returning Contests from the Gen 3 remakes still suck of course.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 5


Generation 5 (Black, White, Black 2, White 2)
Love
  • Insane Refinement and Ambition - Gen 5 was the first generation of Pokemon since Gen 2 to have a second game release on the same system, meaning that the team at Game Freak could build on their existing engine and spend more time on the finer details which would otherwise get overlooked for time reasons. Such things include:
    • On the smaller end of things, there are the quality of life improvements such as no longer taking damage from poison outside of battle and that Pokemon Centers and Pokemarts are now combined into one handy location! HMs have also been reduced in both number and importance, and TMs can now be used infinitely.
    • On the bigger end of things, the ambition of Game Freak in this generation was insane - 156 new Pokemon, tons of new moves and abilities (including new Hidden Abilities for nearly every existing Pokemon), dynamic camera angles in the overworld and in battle, and the music is also context-based. I mean, just read this description of the music from the Gen 5 article on Bulbapedia to get an idea of how insane the design was on this game: "The overworld music also changes in certain circumstances. Almost all the routes now have instruments that differ between the seasons, and layers that activate and deactivate when the player walks or stops, respectively; while music that plays in some towns and cities have layers that can be added by talking to citizens. These people can be seen playing different musical instruments like piano, guitar, etc."
  • Animated Sprites - All battle sprites are now animated, change based on battle conditions (eg, low health or status conditions) and the camera can pan and zoom around them. This is just an insane amount of ambition because, by this time, there are now 649 Pokemon that have to be individually animated. You can certainly understand why it wasn't done earlier (and why they dropped sprites after this game), because the amount of work that this must have required is mind-boggling.
  • Best Story in the Franchise - If there's one thing that Pokemon Black and White are known for, it's their really strong emphasis on story. At times, the emphasis on story makes the Gen 5 games feel closer to a traditional RPG than any other Pokemon game. Previous entries in the franchise had made some attempts at a story, but Gen 5 makes their attempts look completely half-hearted. Team Plasma are probably my favourite villainous team in the franchise, with a plan which is actually somewhat morally grey, as they want to free Pokemon from being caught and trained (there's more to it of course, and their ultimate leader Ghetsis is a truly sinister bastard). The biggest highlight of the game's story though is your character's foil, N. He's your antagonist, but he is not an evil person by any means. He is legitimately fascinating in his conviction and in how willing he is to change if you can prove that your convictions are stronger. Also worth noting is that all the gym leaders and major characters you meet are given personalities and, by the end of the story, they will have come back (including one epic showdown with all of the gym leaders coming to your side).
  • Major Version Differences - Each of the games in this generation have some pretty big thematic and aesthetic differences which go beyond the character and palette swaps that Gen 3 experimented with. Gen 5 goes so far as to include wildly-different version exclusive areas and Pokemon, with White's region appearing more rural and "traditional", while Black's region is more urban and even futuristic. It can feel like you're missing out if you don't have both versions, but at least it makes it feel like you're not just playing the exact same game if you do get both.
  • Alternate Formes - Pokemon that can change their "forme" have been around since at least Gen 3 with Castform and Deoxys (or even Gen 2 if you count Unown), but Gen 5 really cranked this feature up a notch. Nearly every legendary and mythical Pokemon gets some sort of alternate forme that they can activate, which change up their designs, stats and options in interesting ways. It's a creative way to fill out the roster without having to rely on new Pokemon or evolutions.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 4


Generation 4 (DiamondPearlPlatinumHeartGoldSoulSilver)
Love
  • Physical/Special Split Totally Changed the Game - As I've said before, in the first 3 generations, moves were classed as special or physical, depending on their typing (eg, all Water attacks were special, all Normal attacks were physical, etc). Gen 4 brought the long-overdue physical/special split, which made it so that attacks physical or special classing was based on the move rather than the type. This revolutionized battling, build variety and build viability in so many ways. For example, Pokemon whose attacking stats didn't line up with their typing (eg, Flareon and Sneasel had high attack, but Fire and Dark-type moves were all special) could now take advantage of moves which matched their stats. This also made the multiple Water-type HMs a bit less of an issue, since Surf was now special and Waterfall was physical. In my opinion, this is straight-up the biggest and most important change to the core gameplay that the series has ever seen.
  • Challenging Difficulty - Having played nearly every generation of Pokemon games, I can say without a doubt that Gen 4 is by far the hardest in the franchise. The difficulty in these games can be truly savage at times, but it makes battling much more satisfying as a result. Some people might get frustrated by the difficulty, but as a series veteran, I can still remember some of the most intense, down-to-the-wire battles I had where I was 20 levels lower than my opponent and managed to eke out a win through superior strategy and just a bit of luck. This generation also brought in powerful battle items such as the Life Orb and Choice items, which are key items in competitive battling and which are very helpful to overcoming the challenge in these games. The intensity of this generation's battling is unparalleled, making it straight-up the best generation for those who love Pokemon battles, in my opinion.
  • Touch Screen is Well-Utilized - As the first Pokemon game on the DS, the new hardware afforded the series a touch screen to work with, which is used in this game to house a number of handy apps which can be selected by the player. Some of these are basically useless (Coin Toss, Calendar, Roulette), but most are incredibly handy and save you having to constantly menu-dive for information.
  • First Truly Evil Antagonists - Previous criminal organizations in these games tended to be underwhelming. Team Rocket, while classic, are just incompetent thugs who cause mischief because it's fun. Meanwhile, Team Aqua and Team Magma may have some pretty sinister plans (either flooding the world, or increasing the landmass), but they suffer because their goal made absolutely no sense and there's no real motivation for it. Team Galactic, while somewhat bland, are at least straight-up evil, which makes facing off against them much more satisfying. I mean, these guys set off bombs, kill Pokemon and want to reshape the entire universe to suit their needs. Giovanni is always going to have a place in our hearts, but Cyrus of Team Galactic makes him look like a punk.
  • Gen 2 Remakes - While FireRed and LeafGreen are considered good remakes of Gen 1, HeartGold and SoulSilver are popularly considered the best Pokemon games ever released, full-stop. Combo the already-great core of the Gen 2 games with Gen 4's battling improvements, add some new story beats and cool features (most notably, the first Pokemon in your party will follow you around like in Pokemon Yellow!) and you have an absolute beast of a Pokemon game.
  • Online Connectivity - Gen 3 had actually had some online functionality, but it wasn't until Gen 4 that this was a widely-used and well-integrated feature. While being able to trade with strangers across the globe did make "catching them all" significantly easier than it was in previous generations, it was definitely a great new feature and necessary way to take advantage of new technology.
  • Item Storage - Finally, finally, item storage in the bag is now unlimited!