Tag: Reviews

Cheap DVD's: Earthworm Jim

I was perusing Amazon the other day and, under my recommendations, I noticed that it listed Earthworm Jim: The Complete Series (affiliate link). As EWJ is easily one of my two favorite 1990's animated video game adaptations to feature Kath Soucie as a redheaded princess and Jim Cummings as the bad guy, I went ahead and ordered it.

Initial Impressions

The Good:

  • Good animation
  • Great cast
  • Still funny
  • All 23 episodes for only eleven bucks
  • Way better quality than that torrent you grabbed a few years ago that somebody made from old VHS tapes

The Bad:

  • Totally barebones; no special features or even scene selection.
  • If you buy this, part of that money probably goes to Doug TenNapel.

Edna

There's no new Simpsons tonight, so, in honor of the late, great Marcia Wallace, might I recommend breaking out your DVD collection and watching one of these classic Edna Krabappel episodes:

Bart the Lover, Season 3

If there's a better Mrs. K episode, I can't think of one. This shows Edna at her most complex and human -- and Bart too, for that matter. Wallace won an Emmy for this one.

Bart Gets an F, Season 2

And speaking of emotions we don't often see from Bart, the climax of this one -- where he breaks down in tears on finding that he failed his test despite really trying his hardest this time -- shows us a seldom-seen side of both characters, without giving in too much to sentimentality. I love Mrs. K's attempt to comfort Bart -- "I would have thought you'd be used to it by now!" could so easily have come across as sarcastic, but Wallace chooses to read it as a gentle, tender statement. Now that's comedy.

The PTA Disbands, Season 6

So many classic moments in this episode purple monkey dishwasher. It's Simpsons at its satirical finest, highlighting the conflict between teachers and administration, the public's simultaneous desire for better schools and lower taxes, and the terrifying reality that if you pick up some random person off the street, they'll be a worse teacher than Miss Hoover or Mrs. Krabappel. And the resolution is so ludicrous that it can only serve to hang a lampshade on how intractable these issues really are.

Grade School Confidential, Season 8

Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and the baby looked at me.

The Ned-Liest Catch, Season 22

Say what you will about modern-era Simpsons, pairing off Ned with Edna was a rare and legitimately pleasant surprise. It's not the sort of thing I would ever have seen coming, but it makes its own unexpected kind of sense -- two characters who have seemingly nothing in common but their loneliness, but who complement each other so thoroughly and who can each stand to learn so much from the other. This episode highlights how difficult those differences can be, and they almost don't make it as a couple -- but, thanks to an Internet vote, they stay together.

The Propaganda Schlock of Starship Troopers

The last time I saw Starship Troopers was on VHS. I'd have been about 15, so you can forgive me if what I remember most about it is Denise Richards's titties. Which should give you some idea of just how well I remember it, because Denise Richards's titties are not actually in the movie. (Denise Richards's titties are actually important to the theme of the movie. I will be getting back to them in a moment.)

I also remember the film getting pretty mixed reviews on release -- it's quite clearly a big dumb action movie, with extra big and extra dumb, but there was also a vocal contingent of critics lauding it as a brilliantly subersive piece of satire of wartime propaganda. In the years since, it's become a cult hit among people who enjoy it for both -- because it manages a pretty interesting tightrope walk of playing itself totally straight while also being a wicked piece of satire.

More specifically, Starship Troopers the movie is a parody of Starship Troopers the book.

Well, maybe "parody" is a little strong -- again, it plays itself far too seriously to be considered a comedy per se. But it's certainly a movie about crazy, over-the-top wartime propaganda -- and the novel is crazy wartime propaganda (or, almost -- it was too late for Korea and too early for Vietnam).

Heinlein's an interesting dude, and Starship Troopers fills an interesting place in his oeuvre. For a guy who's typically identified as a libertarian, he sure has some weird ideas about only allowing soldiers to vote, and how public floggings are the best tool for disciplining them. With an extra bonus chapter where he really goes off the rails with that public flogging thing and rants about how anyone who doesn't spank their children is stupid.

Starship Troopers the movie gets how ridiculous the book is, ratchets its ridiculousness up to 11, and plays it completely straight.

And while the homages to WWII-vintage propaganda films are great, what it gets most about the nature of wartime propaganda is the dehumanization. Not only Heinlein's choice to very literally dehumanize the enemy by making them giant bugs, but the heroes are dehumanized, too -- and here's where I get back to Denise Richards's titties.

Because the coed shower scene is disquieting.

It goes beyond the obvious ideas of discipline and respect in a coed military and straight on into having a bunch of men fail to even notice Denise Richards as female. And when the Main Guy finally does go for a perfunctory roll in the hay with her, it's all just rote, mechanical "this is happening because it's a movie and the leads have to hook up" stuff.

All in all? Well, to make another Spinal Tap reference, there's a fine line between stupid and clever, and Starship Troopers walks it. It's a winking, biting homage to the source material, that looks and feels like it's a dumb movie made by people who just don't get it. (And it could be both -- there are a whole lot of people involved in making a movie.)

Its cult status is well-deserved -- and even if its comedy is intentional, it seems unintentional enough that it's perfect fodder for Rifftrax.

Which is what I'm headed to see right now, as I write this, though by the time you read it I should already be home. Maybe I'll share more tomorrow!

Formula

I watched Life of Pi tonight.

At one point, I turned to my wife and said, "In the formula, that's what's know as the All Is Lost Moment. Guess that means we're in Act 3 now."

I read an article recently called Save the Movie!, by Peter Suderman of Slate. It's about Save the Cat!, the 2005 screenwriting book by Blake Snyder which defined the formula that seemingly every successful American film since has followed, on down to explaining why Joker and Khan both have such a penchant for gloating at their captors from jail cells.

I really enjoyed Life of Pi. I think it's a great film. But it came with plenty of déjà vu. Hell, it wasn't even the only 2013 film that featured an orphan, a storm, lifeboats, a confrontation with terrifying beasts, and magical realism, and received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay.

But formula's not bad, not inherently. Particularly in a story like Life of Pi which is itself about storytelling.

I don't have any problem with Joseph Campbell, either. Well, I mean, his writing gets pretty didactic, but he was a man who loved stories and loved taking them apart and seeing what made them tick and what the great ones had in common.

I do hate the extent to which his work was taken as an instruction manual instead of simple academic deconstruction, though. Which is pretty much how I feel about Watchmen (and how, not for nothin', Alan Moore himself feels about Watchmen) -- a perfectly good, interesting, insightful work that far too many people decided was a mathematical formula.

Which I suppose leads into some sort of irritating movie reviewer's wordplay about Pi. Fill that in for yourself, I guess.

Hank is Dr. Venture's Greatest Triumph.

Spoilers for the Venture Bros. season finale follow.

I read the Zack Handlen's review of The Devil's Grip at AV Club, and these bits stuck out to me:

[...I]f part of this season has been seeing how Dean deals with the fall-out of learning his super science origins, just as important has been realizing that Hank’s goofy enthusiasm actually puts him far ahead of nearly everyone else on the show. In many ways, Dean’s mopiness and stress are easier to relate to, as they seem like the only sane response to the Venture-verse. [...] But sinking into despair, and dwelling on the inconvenience and humiliation, isn’t going to change things.

[...W]hile the Ventures and friends are holding a funeral for Dr. Entmann at the Venture compound, Dean finally breaks down and tells Hank that they’re both clones. To Dean, this knowledge is painful, confirming his deepest, darkest fears about his own validity and place in the world. To Hank: “That is awesome.” While it’s not always possible to find the bright side of things, Hank’s optimism is a healthy, even enlightened way to approach the world. For a long time, Hank Venture looked like the dumb part of the Venture equation, a nice kid whose failure to fully grasp what was happening around him kept him in a perpetual state of Pollyanna-ish bliss. But the truth is, he knows what’s going down, and while sometimes it upsets him, he’s still doing his best to have the time of his life.

This recalls last season, when Hank, hurt that his father was ignoring him to groom Dean as his successor, staged a phony kidnapping to ask him why.

Rusty, in a moment of candor, responded that Hank is too much like him -- he doesn't want the pressure of living in his father's shadow, isn't cut out for the lofty expectations everyone's set for him. Rusty has chosen to give Dean his burden -- and to spare Hank from it.

And we've seen that dynamic playing out. Dean has spent this season wracked with existential dread at finding out that he's literally not the person he thought he was. Hank, on the other hand, knows exactly who he is -- and so he's a clone besides? Well, how cool is that? As far as he's concerned, that makes him more unique, not less.

And Dean smiles.

Like Hatred's disarmingly perfect advice, earlier in the season, that he's the best Dean there is, only moreso, this was exactly what Dean needed to hear. And I'd like to think this is going to be the beginning of him coming out of his funk and becoming -- well, not the same old Dean we knew before, because that would be boring and that's not what this show is about. But to grow and change and maybe even someday become a well-adjusted adult.

Hank's already well on his way there. And he'll be there to help his brother along, because that's what brothers do.

The Venture Bros. is a show about failure. And Dr. Venture, more than anyone else, is a failure. His greatest joys come from willful ignorance and self-delusion.

But amid everything that's gone wrong in his life, he's raised a son who's turned out pretty well, and who's on his way to helping the other son turn out pretty well too.

Course, the fact that his greatest contribution to Hank's success was leaving him the fuck alone to figure out his own way carries its own little ironic sting. But even that took a kind of melancholy self-awareness that Doc shows only at his most vulnerable, a level of empathy he's never shown anyone else before or since, and, for once in Doc's life, was exactly the right choice.

The Sublime Symmetry of FF6's First Act

Well, Terra's turned pink and flown off toward Zozo, leaving me to consider the first five or so hours of FF6. In an era where episodic games are now common, it's striking that the game's first act would have made an excellent Episode 1. It doesn't just tell a satisfying story with a beginning, middle, and (cliffhanger) ending, it doesn't just introduce the premise and most of the major cast while still leaving the biggest stuff for later -- it also plays significantly differently from the rest of the game, and its plot and play beats form a brilliant mirror where the end of the act recalls its beginning.

The Empire invades Narshe, with Terra as a puppet. Terra encounters the frozen Esper, with explosive results. Terra regains consciousness and the ability to think for herself. Locke has to protect her in a battle with a tower defense element to it, with three parties defending from oncoming nonrandom monsters. Terra and Locke flee the Empire, gaining comrades along the way -- and then the party is abruptly separated. For the first time, you see events unfold through characters other than Terra -- and then everyone makes their way back to Narshe. The Empire invades, with Terra and friends defending the city; they have to defend Bannon in a battle with a tower defense element to it, with three parties defending from oncoming nonrandom monsters. Terra encounters the frozen Esper, with explosive results -- and even as she comes closer than ever to discovering who and what she really is, she loses her willpower again and becomes an unthinking beast.

Aside from that, there's the gameplay -- and, notably, a couple of things happen during this portion that don't happen again later.

First, there are the two tower defense-style battles. They're the only two in the game, which is just the right amount. The first one is easy and lets you get the hang of it; the second one's a more legitimate challenge.

There's also the "Choose a scenario" portion. While there are other parts of the game where the party is split up, there are no other occasions where you experience story developments from multiple perspectives.

And it's mostly great! Terra's scenario is pretty bland, but at least it's short. Locke's scenario is another unique piece of game; it's a puzzle that plays to his strengths as a th -- treasure hunter, and it's funny besides. Sabin's scenario is the longest and broadest of the bunch, introduces three new playable characters with tragic origin stories, and takes you through a tour of the game's various locations -- the Imperial Camp, Doma, the Haunted Forest, the Phantom Train, Barren Falls, the Veldt, and the Serpent Trench. Some of it feels half-baked -- the Forest is over in minutes, and the Serpent Trench is just a showcase for then-impressive Mode 7 animation where very little actually happens (and then you have to come back later if you want to get Mog's water dance) -- but a lot of it, like the camp sequence and the Phantom Train, is excellent.

And then there's the character balance -- this is a game that's famous for not having very much of that, but it's hard to tell in the opening act.

Each character has a unique ability -- at least, up until you get Celes and then you've got two magic-users and Terra hasn't learned Morph yet. And most of them are pretty well-thought-out.

Terra and Celes both play like Red Mages in previous FF games -- they can equip the best weapons and armor and cast both black and white magic spells, but they're not very strong as attackers yet at this point in the game, their offensive spells are middling, and their low max MP means they don't get much use out of them at any rate. Celes's Runic is pretty damned useful early in the game when she's the only magic-user in the party and it effectively nullifies bosses' magic; it's not until later in the game that it becomes basically worthless.

Edgar gets decent, but not crazy-high, damage against all enemies with the Autocrossbow. It's a pity the Bioblaster and Noiseblaster aren't much use.

Shadow gets solid-to-high damage depending on equipment, and occasionally will counter with Interceptor, which is the most damaging attack you've got at this point in the game but happens rarely enough that it's not spammy. And Shadow is squishy and dies easily. (And may randomly ditch out on you and make you restore from a save so he doesn't take that Genji Glove you put on him when he goes. That part I'm not so crazy about, but the unpredictable mercenary angle is a neat idea in theory, at least.)

Cyan is nominally a samurai but plays more like the previous games' Knight class: he does solid damage but excels at defense. Early on he's kinda like Edgar in that he's got one very good special attack and two others that aren't really much use most of the time.

Gau has immediate access to more powerful attacks and spells than anyone else in the party, but you can't control him and even if you pick a Rage like Templar that drastically boosts his defense and evade (in versions where the evade stat actually works), he's still pretty squishy.

And then there's Sabin and Locke. Who I guess, if nothing else, at least balance each other, since one is ridiculously overpowered and the other is, at this point in the game, not that damn good.

Sabin is the most overpowered character in the game. You can see where they were trying to make him something of a glass cannon like the Monks in the previous games -- he's got the high attack, high HP, can't equip good armor thing going on -- but even with weak armor he still does a pretty good job of soaking up damage, and he dishes it out like crazy. Aura Cannon is one of very few Holy-elemental attacks you get access to in the game, and it deals high damage to most enemies. And while, like Edgar and Cyan, his other two specials are inferior, they're still fairly useful -- Pummel/Raging Fist ignores defense, and he can suplex a fucking train.

Locke, by contrast -- well, he's decent enough later in the game, but early on he deals low damage, has low defense and HP, and his Steal command isn't worth using. It seems to fail about 75% of the time and, when it succeds, it's usually just a damn Potion that won't even heal the damage the party took while Locke was trying to steal from the monsters instead of killing them.

His scenario's fun as hell -- right up until the part where you start actually having to fight dudes, at which point it turns into Locke mostly being a liability while Celes does all the work.

But, Locke and Sabin aside, the characters' balance is really well-thought-out in the early going.

Course, by the time you leave Zozo you've got Espers and a chainsaw -- but that's a story for another day...

The Last Story: Flawed but Satisfying

So I finally got around to finishing The Last Story the other day. On the whole, I liked it.

It's certainly got a lot of the same old themes from Final Fantasy, as you'd expect from a game produced by Hironobu Sakaguchi where he appears to have literally just typed "Final Fantasy" into a thesaurus. There's a corrupt empire, an ancient threat from outer space, plants withering and the earth beginning to rot, a pair of starcrossed lovers from opposite sides of the tracks, and a focus on providing story explanations for game mechanics.

Many of Uematsu's themes, of the musical variety, return as well -- I heard hints of Terra, Edgar and Sabin, Gau, and Setzer in the ending alone, one of the final boss themes is a dead ringer for the FF7 boss theme, and the main theme recalls bits of Locke, Celes, and Aeris.

It's good stuff, though, and not too derivative; I'm probably primed to pick up all those little FF6 threads from all that listening to Balance and Ruin.

It's pretty standard High Fantasy genre stuff -- lots of horns and strings and timpani. It doesn't have the breadth or variety of Uematsu's 16- and 32-bit compositions, but that's a function of this game being a lot more tonally consistent than those were. I've talked in the past about how FF7 has more mood swings than a bipolar teenager. Last Story is much more steady -- there's plenty of levity to be had, but little or nothing in the way of racing giant birds or attending an opera.

For all that's familiar, it's a very different kind of game. It feels smaller in scale -- sure, there's still a cosmic threat that endangers all life on the planet, but the scope feels smaller. The game is centered around a single city -- the kind of thing that just wasn't done in JRPG's back in the '80's and '90's but which has become increasingly commonplace. More than that, the plot is intimately focused -- it's less about the events going on in the world than how they personally affect the handful of main characters.

Final Fantasy tends to focus on small ragtag parties who travel all over expansive worlds and eventually save the world. Suikoden focuses on small ragtag parties who participate in small regional conflicts and eventually gather large armies to overthrow dictators (and save the world). Last Story combines the intimacy of a Suikoden game's regional conflict with the intimacy of a Final Fantasy game's small, closely-knit party of player characters -- in a setting that's smaller than either. It's like what you'd get if a Suikoden game took place entirely inside the castle and its surrounding environs, or if Final Fantasy 7 had taken place entirely in Midgar.

And -- like a Suikoden game and unlike Sakaguchi-era Final Fantasy games -- it also creates the impression that there are more stories to tell in this world. The heroes save the world, the current threat is dealt with, but the Empire is still out there and who knows what else is going on in the world. This is the kind of game where there could be sequels set in this same world -- which is great, because that's still a rarity in JRPG's (except, recently, for Final Fantasy games that really, really don't need them, no matter how much I may have enjoyed Crisis Core), and both the main Suikoden series and the Ivalice series sadly seem to have stalled at this point.

At any rate, maybe I'll get into specific plot details another time, but for now I'm going to take a minute to talk about mechanics.


As for the gameplay, it's really quite enjoyable, but it has some warts, particularly in the boss fights.

The complexity of the combat is a good idea in theory. It's clearly designed to give a more satisfying experience than Fight-Fire-Cure.

In practice, boss fights tend to go pretty much like this:

  1. Wait for a party member to explain what the boss's weakness is.
    • They will either explain this only once, in which case you will probably miss it, or they will explain it over and over again constantly forever until you go into the menu and turn the fucking voices off.
    • Also, occasionally, the game will fuck with you by introducing a simple concept in a completely counterintuitive manner. Like explaining elemental weaknesses in a battle with an ice-elemental monster at a point where the only offensive spell your party has is an ice spell.
  2. Try to hit "A" at exactly the right moment to perform the action that you need to perform to make the boss vulnerable; hope and pray that you are facing the object you're supposed to be interacting with dead-on and the "A" button performs the action it's supposed to instead of just rolling you out of range.
  3. Repeat step 2 until the boss becomes vulnerable to normal attacks. (In my experience this usually takes about 3 successful presses of the "A" button at exactly the right moment and about 50 unsuccessful presses of the "A" button that make you roll out of range and have to try again.)
  4. And then the rest of the fight is just Fight-Fire-Cure.
  5. Unless by this point you've been whittled down so badly that Syrenne is dead and Zael is on his last life. In which case you'll need to play defensively.
    1. Run around the boss in circles like it's a turn-of-the-century shooter, except without any shooting.
    2. Whittle the boss's health down, agonizingly slowly, with your remaining mages.
    3. If you do get hit, lunge for the nearest heal circle.
    4. Hope the boss doesn't just straight up fucking one-hit kill you.

So yeah. Combat makes some interesting decisions that are really nice in theory, but really fucking tedious in actual execution. It's the sort of thing that I think really could be improved in a sequel.

And while the game uses save points (boooooo), for the most part they're employed competently; they're spaced pretty close together and the game also has checkpoint saves that are even more frequent.

In fact, this works out pretty well right up until the last boss gauntlet.

The last boss gauntlet is fucking bullshit.

It relies on hoary old JRPG artificial difficulty tropes like spacing save points too far apart. In one case, there's a series of three consecutive battles with no save points or checkpoints in-between. Die in the third one and you'll have to replay the first two. But if you give up and quit, then the next time you restore from a save you'll not only have to replay those first two battles, but the boss fight right before them, because there's no save point after the boss. There's a save point before the boss, but you can't backtrack to it after you beat him.

And the last boss gauntlet is long. From the Point of No Return where you can no longer backtrack or buy equipment (which is distinct from the previous Point of No Return, where you could no longer backtrack but could still occasionally buy equipment), it goes something like boss, save point, boss, cutscene, checkpoint save, gauntlet of tougher-than-average regular enemies, checkpoint save, cutscene, boss, boss, cutscene, save point, cutscene, boss, checkpoint save, boss's second form, save point, cutscene, checkpoint save, another cutscene that you can fast forward through but can't actually skip, boss with three forms.

And, in addition to the complaints above, the difficulty of the fights is adjusted upward by things like repeatedly splitting up your party for no real good reason, and adjusted downward by sticking those last two save points in rooms where you can indefinitely spawn monsters that are laughably easy and yield ridiculously high experience.

In short, it feels like the frequent Sakaguchi problem of a climax going out of its way to keep ratcheting things up and reminding you that this really is the climax, with actual gameplay seeming to be an afterthought.

And then the game still doesn't end. I think it's actually nice that there's something to do postgame (not just a New Game+ but an opportunity to go back to town and do sidequests or what-have-you), but by the end there really was a feeling of "Jesus Christ, when is this thing going to end?"

There is seriously another numbered chapter after the Epilogue. That is not how fucking epilogues work!


You know, I was going to do a bit here about what I liked about the plot, themes, characters, and so forth, but instead I think I'm going to go eat my leftover beer bread, watch Daily Show, and then play FF6. Suffice it to say, I like how almost nobody's pure good or pure evil. Maybe I'll come back to this later.

Guess I kinda did leave this on a gripefest. But that's misleading -- check the title! I thought the game was pretty good.

Quantum and Woody and Complex Feelings

Quantum and Woody was something I loved when I was a teenager -- and then it went away. 13 years later it shows back up, but under less than ideal circumstances. It's not the book I remember, and I don't know if I should be happy it's back or pissed about it being something less than what I expected and hoped for.

Even if you've never read a Quantum and Woody comic before, I'm guessing that the previous paragraph was suitably unsubtle that you realized it was a metaphor for the plot of the comic.

I posted about the status of Quantum and Woody previously. The gist: the original comic was published by Acclaim, and the creators, Christopher Priest and Mark Bright, had a reversion clause in their contract that should have allowed them to buy out the copyrights to the comic after it went out of print. But Acclaim went bankrupt and the rights were sold at auction instead. They were eventually bought by a new company, Valiant (which takes its name from the Valiant Comics that Acclaim bought out in the first place, but is not the same company), which has opted to start a new series written by James Asmus and drawn by Tom Fowler.

Priest has said nothing about the new series, and Bright has said little -- but he did say that their relationship with Valiant is "amicable", and that was good enough for me to go ahead and pick up issue #1 of the new series.

It's...well, it's good, but it's not as good as the original.

First of all: it's not very funny.

I mean, I laughed a few times. But the biggest laugh was at a running gag from the old series. Technically it still counts as a joke -- they're invoking a running gag, not merely doing a Family Guy-style "Hey, remember that thing from that other thing?" -- but it's not Asmus and Fowler's joke, it's Priest and Bright's.

And the whole thing feels a little like that, really. The book doesn't just borrow the premise of the original, it borrows Priest's specific storytelling techniques -- it's got chapter titles with white text against a black background, and it jumps around and tells the story out-of-sequence. Yes, that's one of the things the original Q&W was known for -- but it wasn't a Q&W thing, it was a Priest thing. He used the same technique in Black Panther and Deadpool. For my tastes, this strays a little too far from the notion of a loving homage to the original series and too close to stealing another guy's bit. It's uncomfortable.

And it's also absurd, given that Valiant chose not to ask Priest and Bright to do the new series themselves, ostensibly because they wanted to do something different, that the new book hews so close to the old one stylistically.

And yet, for all that, page 2 passes up a perfect opportunity to use "noogie". What the F-word? I just don't understand how Asmus can crib so shamelessly from the original series (and Priest's general comics vocabulary) and yet draw the line at noogie, of all places.

...okay, that got a little inside baseball. Point is, the book, at its worst, feels like a cover tune that's uncomfortably close to the original without ever hitting the same notes quite right.

But at its best?

It's got heart, man.

Asmus may not have a good grip on Priest's gift for satire -- and couldn't get away with his brand of pointed commentary on race in America even if he did -- but what he does get is the relationship between the leads. It's real and it's raw -- these are two guys who really do love each other (but they're not a couple) but are so fucking furious at each other over something that happened a long time ago that it takes a near-death experience to even acknowledge it -- almost.

Asmus gets that. And it just so happens to be the emotional core of the book. More important than the jokes, and certainly more important than "Hey look you guys we put the goat on the cover!" -- it's the heart.

Aside from that, the plot actually hews pretty close to the original, despite an important change in apostrophe placement -- now, Eric and Woody are reunited after their father's murder, not fathers'.

That's been the change fans of the old series have been most nervous about -- well, the story change that fans of the old series have been most nervous about. But it works.

Ultimately, Eric and Woody's fathers weren't important to the original story; they were the McGuffin that got everything started, but we knew less about them than we knew about Uncle Ben (and only slightly more than we knew about Thomas and Martha Wayne in the original version of Batman's origin). Woody's father is only important because he's what got him to come back to town -- it's his mother who we see is mostly responsible for what shaped him as a child, for better or worse.

And all that would seem to be intact -- in this version, Eric's father took Woody in as a troubled foster child. And, while the circumstances of Woody's departure from the family are left as a mystery for now, I wouldn't be surprised if they were similar to what happened in the original series: he went to live with his mom, things went south fast, and he wound up living on the streets.

All of which is still entirely possible if Mr. Henderson was his adoptive father. Mr. Van Chelton is completely unnecessary to the story.

Through all this chatter, I guess I've focused on Asmus's writing over Fowler's art. Fowler's art is like Asmus's writing, I suppose -- it's solid but it hasn't blown me away, and unfortunately a whole lot of it seems to be just recreations of scenes from the original series (like the opening of Q&W falling out a window while the news media mock them).

Still -- it's good. It's not what I'd hoped for, but it's not bad.

It's good enough that I'll pick up #2. And hope that this generates enough interest that maybe someday we'll see something new from Priest and Bright. New Quantum and Woody, the release of the completed-but-unpublished issues of the original series, or something else entirely -- it doesn't matter, I'd be happy to see anything by them that I haven't seen before.

Because that's the real point, here -- yeah, I like Quantum and Woody. But not nearly as much as I like Christopher Priest and Mark Bright.

I'm the darkness, you're the starlight, and I'm burnin' up in here

So here's what I've been listening to:

That's Balance and Ruin, a 5-disc collection of Final Fantasy 6 cover songs from OCRemix.

Now, I think it's still fair to say that Final Fantasy 6 is one of my two favorite games, though I suppose it probably needs an asterisk at this point.

Digression: While FF6 is a great game, it hasn't aged as well as some of its 16-bit contemporaries. Super Mario World, Mega Man X, and Super Metroid, for example, still stand as the pinnacles of their respective series and respective niches of the side-scrolling platformer genre; they're as close to perfection as a game's ever gotten, and, as years of remakes, sequels, and knockoffs have shown, are pretty damn difficult to improve on and shockingly easy to fuck up. In the Square family, I've always preferred FF6 to Chrono Trigger, but I think it's undeniable that CT's graphics and gameplay hold up better even if it's a shorter game with less-developed characters. And as for A Link to the Past -- well, that would be the other of my two favorite games, and it needs no asterisk.

The other thing that needs no asterisk? Final Fantasy 6 has my favorite video game soundtrack. Its depth and breadth are stunning; it's Uematsu at the top of his chiptune game. It's the only video game soundtrack I've ever bought, and if you name any of the 12 primary playable characters, Kefka or Gestahl, either of the airships, or for that matter most of the locations in the game, I could hum the tune off the top of my head. (And I could probably get either Gogo or Umaro, too, but I admit I might not be able to come up with both of them right away.)

Now, I love what OCRemix is but the truth is that in the past I've found their work hit-or-miss-but-mostly-miss for my tastes. The artists there, understandably, lean toward the techno/electronica style, and that's not my cuppa -- which I guess may be ironic coming from somebody who's checking out cover tunes of old video game songs in the first place.

Anyway, there's a good bit of that stuff on Balance and Ruin, but there's a whole lot else, too. There are plenty of orchestral arrangements here, and the soundtrack runs the gamut from faithful homage -- A Fistful of Nickels, by zircon, XPRTNovice, Jillian Aversa, and Jeff Ball, takes Shadow's Ennio Morricone influence to its logical conclusion with whistling, vocals, harmonica, violin, guitar, trumpet, and Jew's harp -- to riotous reinvention -- The Impresario, by Jake Kaufman and Tommy Pedrini, reimagines the Opera scene by way of Bohemian Rhapsody with a quick stop at West Side Story on the way -- to impressively effective minimalism -- Shnabubula and Gabe Terracciano cover the entire Ending Suite with nothing but a piano and violin.

At any rate, it's delightful, and the whole thing's a free download. Go to ff6.ocremix.org and you can grab a nice legal free torrent of the entire album in FLAC -- or MP3, if all this talk about SNES games has left you nostalgic for inferior 1990's technology.

You know what it makes me wanna do? Replay FF6. Random encounters and all.

But which version? The new Woolsey Uncensored Edition looks promising. On the other hand, I liked Slattery's translation quite a bit too; maybe I'll give FF6 Advance another shot. With the music patch, of course.

I should probably finish Last Story first. You know, the soundtrack's no FF6, but Uematsu's still got it.

Ditko Package

Got this in the mail on Saturday:

Steve Ditko Package

It's what I bought in the Ditko Kickstarter back in April -- The Ditko Public Service Package #2, plus various other goodies, some Ditko and some non-Ditko, from publisher Robin Snyder's collection.

I've barely scratched the surface of this delightful haul, and I think it's far too early for me to do a writeup that would do it any kind of justice. Suffice it to say it's just what I'd hoped for -- brilliant and raw and undiluted and baffling and infuriating and contradictory and didactic and oblique and funny and heartbreaking and ingenious and so very, very pretty to look at, in turns and sometimes all at once.

So yeah, I'm pretty happy with it.

Bring on the next Ditko Kickstarter.

But I'll need some time to finish reading all my stuff from this one.