Author Archives: Halsdoll

About Halsdoll

I love fishing for metaphors and appreciate all forms of media.

cover of after the rain; a young girl running

After the Rain (Anime) Review: Chase Your Dream

When I first skimmed over the description for this anime, I giggled to myself– it’s about a 17-year-old girl infatuated with a 45-year-old man who is a manager at a family restaurant called Garden. What is the likeness of that happening? We know that Japanese men are notorious for enjoying the company of high school girls, but to make a show out of it, it’s kind of comical, but I was wrong. To my surprise, this is a very wholesome anime with a good feel to it. It’s more than just emotions and admiration for one another.

Akira Tachibana quit the track team due to her injury. She starts developing feelings for her manager where she works at a restaurant as a waitress. Masami Kondo, the manager is clumsy, but nice and clearly not the best-looking guy. However, there’s something captivating about him which causes Akira to chase after him throughout the show, until it is revealed what sort of person he really is (I purposely tried to pique your interest so you can go and watch the show).

This anime has a simple plot, but it’s filled with depth when it comes to dealing with human emotions and self-discovery. On the surface, it may appear as if it is a love story but it’s more than that. Actually it’s really not a love story. It’s about not giving up one’s dreams. Akira, a 17-year-old girl still have a lot of time to reach and fulfill her dream as a track runner. Settling down as a waitress and replacing her passion by reverting and replacing her attention to the middle age restaurant manager would be a grave mistake. Not to say, Masami is not a worthy romance prospect (it’s not my place to judge someone’s love affair, however the age gap can make the average person cringed), but most likely she would grow to resent herself for not chasing after her dream in her youth. Likewise, the manager learns a lot from Akira. He realizes that he has given up on his dream when he knows he is a talented writer. Through Akira, he realizes that maybe it’s time for him to finish that half written novel that he gave up a long time ago.

The sad truth is, there’s a lot of people like Masami. There’s a lot of talented people who tuck their dreams away in the closet and just let it dies over time. Are they truly content and happy with their choice? Most people feel alive when they do something they genuinely love. This is what makes this anime so wholesomely good: It shows two different people in different stages of their lives. Both are passionate about their dreams, but both fell off track. Their admiration and attraction for one another oddly give them both the courage to chase after their unfulfilled promises. So, yes it’s not really a love story.

For my final thoughts, the proper use of colors does something to the senses so the animation is very soothing and attractive to look at. Overall, it’s an enjoyable anime if you want something light and full of colors with a positive message about not giving up in one’s dream no matter where we are in our lives. Aren’t we all born to do what we love? I think that is what matter most in life is to remain true to one’s essence. You don’t have to put a period or a stop at what you truly enjoy. I mean… what is there to lose other than gaining personal enrichment? Both literally and figuratively speaking, running toward the finish line is good for mental and physical health even if no one recognizes our efforts. Do it for yourself because the only person who is responsible for your happiness is actually you.

Note: Originally posted in 2020; revised and edited Aug.10,2022.

Cover of D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die

D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die Review: Just Let Go of the Past

If someone came up to me and ask me what D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is about, I would say it’s about letting go of the past, eating and relationships. These are the three themes I noticed quite frequently in the game and the three main ingredients that keep a person functional in the society. This game is about a broken man named David Young who is on a metaphorical journey from death to life.

David Young in D4:Dark Dreams Don't Die falling into the tub

Young lost his wife and we the players become the detective by diving into his dreamlike universe. One moment, we see Young falling into the bathroom, and then we see him reading a magazine on the bed casually, drinking coffee, crushing fortune cookies, changing music records, turning on the T.V, changing clothes, pushing little squirrel off the window etc. Everything seems calm and normal. Until Amanda, his cat, enters the scene. Then I realize, Mister Young is not okay. We are witnessing a man who is undergoing some severe trauma in the head!

Amanda posing in D4:Dark Dreams Don't Die game

And so, Forrest Kaysen (please see the picture below), an important supporting role in the game, is there to guide Young back to life, back to reality, the present moment. If you have played the game, you would notice once Young solved a particular mystery of his past, the memento lose its special power. This is a way for the game to tell the player–mystery solved. Now you can move forward into the present moment. Have you folks ever experienced that? When you are bothered by the past, but there is nothing you can do to change it, but live in regret? Leave it in the past, my friends, leave it in the past.

Kaysen chowing down food in the dinner scenes

Looking closely at Kaysen, he is like a philosopher and sometimes like a twisted version of Little Peggy, the protagonist’s wife. Speaking with him, opens up a dialogue about eating. It is important to nourish the body with food. How can any person function without food? Obviously, the game attempted to point out that people who are consumed by the past do not feed their bodies. Why would they? They are dead inside. So, it’s no surprise to me, when Kaysen confronted Young for not finishing his meal. Kaysen knows that Young has been drinking excessively to drown his misery. He is concerned for his friend’s physical and mental health, but he also wants some acknowledgement for his cooking ability. Did you know it is very rude to ask for a to go box in Japan if you can’t finish your meal in one sitting? Not only do we see Young playing with his food in the dinner scenes as if food is not a valuable source, but he also makes a point about how America is the land of the free. You are not obligated to finish a meal because you have a choice unlike Japan where the behavior is frown upon because it’s a sign of disrespect not only to the Cook but to life itself. This part of the game really highlights the differences between Japanese and American culture on food and the way human interact in a social setting in a twisted way. The game is after all directed by a quirky Japanese game director named Hidetaka Suehiro who is also known as Swery.

I know I mentioned a lot about the plot because I am assuming if you are reading this review then you’re the type of gamer who appreciate a good story. The plot and the colorful characters are definitely stronger than the gameplay; however, don’t be alarmed, the gameplay is creative and entertaining unlike some other cinematic games out there where gameplay is monotonously boring. The stunts with Amanda and the courier are quite funny. But my all-time favorite side game is taking Philip Cheney’s quizzes. His dialogue is interesting and his villain-like approach to the quizzes made me laugh hard. I am not surprised he is the fourth “D.”

Cheney on the plane

And yes, the game ends with a cliffhanger and is too short, but I didn’t mind it at all. The game is jam packed with timeless human drama that made me think even after I am done playing it. It made me think about human relationships as being the most important aspect of human civilization. We are like civilized social animals, resembling cats. According to a scrapbook article I found in the game, cats sacrifice the lone life to move in large group. Doing so will make them achieve social status. Hmm…we are like cats!

Lastly, the game made me think about relationship between lovers as the strongest bond between humans. Some of us argued that we don’t need it, but I think we do. Life seems more enjoyable despite the arguments that come with a relationship. Losing a relationship will drive us crazy as we see it with the Marshal who chases after the courier to avenge his wife’s death. He too, like the protagonist, is living in the past. But perhaps, Little Peggy is right: Things in the past need to stay in the past or else a person cannot move on and live a happy life. The only thing we can do is acknowledge our mistakes and practice for tomorrow as Young once said. Overall, the game gave me a good feeling. Most of the time, I was laughing with the game despite its dark plot.

I am still curious–who killed Little Peggy? I’m hoping for season 2. Let me know what your thoughts are on D4 if you have played it, and thank you for reading! Until next time, take care!

Note: Originally posted on March 4, 2017; revised and edited on August 4, 2022

A picture of Halsdoll thinking

My Thoughts on Art, Creativity and Blogging

Have you ever wonder why some people who identify themselves as an artist or a creative person tend to be on the gloomy side? I often wonder why myself. If you put all the colors together what will you get? The answer is black! I have yet to find a non creative person who has never dressed like they are going to the funeral (oh no I’m not talking about tech bros here). It’s so avant-garde to be on the blue side of life. Well, it’s hard not to if you are literally a starving artist! Living a life of uncertainty is not healthy.

I played around with water color pencils. I’m feeling the artist’s hunger to improve. It’s a terrible drawing. Please Note: Artist’s hunger is not the same thing as having low-self esteem.

When I was a teenager, I used to doodle a lot. I used to draw fast sketches of made up belief people. I even once drew a picture of one of my favorite singers from the band Angelfish and gave it to my art teacher in high school (I’m also a big time music fan). She loved it. Giving away artwork was my way of compensating her for her time to write me a recommendation letter for scholarships. To be quite frank, it was really part of an English class assignment. It was a way for my English teacher to push kids to go to college. I really had no interest in going to art school or becoming an artist despite the fact I did pretty well in all of the art courses and classes I’ve taken throughout my school life. I remember very well how my art instructor’s eyes lit up when she skimmed through my art journal. She told me to keep a journal because she can tell I am a creative person based on the sporadic font size of my handwriting which never stayed horizontally straight and contained many doodles of random things. She is probably right. She is a professional artist and a scholar after all. Till this day, I took her words to heart. Keeping a creative journal allows you tap into your conscience and give it form. Well, at least that is why I do what I do or attempt to do with this blog as I gather my thoughts and information through writing reviews and sharing it with the public. I want a digital space to house my thoughts, but I often dream of doing something more creative with it.

So the positive thing about this blog is that it serves me well. It does fulfill that void and lack of creativity in my life. As we all know, creativity is hard to monetize. So just because my blog has been quiet, it doesn’t mean I have abandoned it. Actually, I have have been considering moving over to WordPress.org in the near future for my creative needs. I have tried other blogging platforms such as Blogger and Medium because they are more straightforward, but I didn’t like it much. Blogger feels outdated and you wouldn’t be able to find a community like WordPress. As much as I like to blog, I also like to read other blogs as well. Medium on the other hand, felt like I was joining the rat race. I didn’t enjoy being exposed to articles on how to become a successful entrepreneur and often wonder if that was the type of community it attracts. Blogging about video game would most likely be shunned in that type of environment or ignored. Plus, it never occurred to me that I was trying to be a successful entrepreneur when I started this blog even though I put a lot of effort into writing and editing my blog posts compared to the average blogger. Perhaps, I just fancy myself becoming an exceptional writer one day simply because I enjoy writing. I want to live a peaceful life and write and not join the rat race and die from a heart attack!

Whenever I look back at my blog, I get a warm fuzzy feeling. It has evolved from talking to my plants to turning into something I am very proud of. But I know this blog has been quiet.

picture of a black and white cactus
My cactus is blooming stars (Picture taken by me in 2016).

I just need a little small break to collect my thoughts. Sometimes there are days where I don’t think of anything or consumed anything but just listen to white noise. And when I do feel mentally recharged, I find myself replaying White Knight Chronicles II, re-watching Glask Mask the anime and reading Lord of the Flies. There’s no particular reason why I chose these particular items. They are just relaxing to me. So I will be sure to share my thoughts in the near future so I don’t turn this blog into a GHOST TOWN as if it hasn’t already been years, but at least it gives me a safe place to express my true self. What more can I ask?

Well, that’s it for today’s little blog update. With cheer and happiness, see you. 🧸

White Knight Chronicles International Ed. Cover

White Knight Chronicles (PS3) Review

I still remember back in 2010, I know nothing about this game. I was at the gaming department of the store and I thought the cover looked cool and I am going to have a fun with it. So, I bought the game on a whim. Subconsciously, I already know that it’s a high-quality game. After all, if you are fan of Rogue Galaxy developed by Level-5 and Japan Studio, it has that same adventurous charm. I didn’t play the game as soon as I bought it. At the time, I was a college student who was overwhelmed with intense writing courses (whoever said writing is easy should really think twice). I waited until summer break to the play game. As I mentioned before in my previous blog post: Fashionable JRPG Video Games (PS3), the game has a high learning curve, and I didn’t feel like sitting hours learning the gaming mechanics when my time was occupied with school work. This is definitely not the game you can play with a breeze if you want to enjoy the game to its max, especially for someone as thorough as me. It really is a hit or miss game to some folks.

Initially, I thought the story to this game is generic. To some extent, yes, but I didn’t mind it so much playing the second time around. The male protagonist, Leonard is a shiny white-knight armor who has come to rescue a princess named Cisna who happens to be a reincarnation of a queen from an ancient civilization. He later learns that he is one of the 5 knights who was chosen during infant for the purpose of an ancient war that never did got resolved. I think I said more than I should about the plot but the game only takes about 30 hours to complete if you just focus on the story. It’s not so long for a JRPG and this is where it might turn off some JRPG fans who emphasize on story. Keep in mind though, there are three parts to this series: White Knight Chronicles II and White Knight Chronicles Origins (available only on the PSP). However, unlike Tales of Arise, which I thought has a mediocre story, the game has so much to offer in terms of gameplay and stage designs, which often go unnoticed by video game reviewers because most people review games from a player and not from a creative perspective. Some of the stages reminded me of going through a maze. It’s pretty massive for those who love to explore. It’s a puzzle in itself. It’s biggest selling point, however, is the ability to create your own hometown and upload its online server for other players to visit, join and create quests. For someone who doesn’t play MMORPG, it was actually exciting. I get to meet other random players.

I have never played Monster Hunter, but it is sort of similar to that. You grind to get rare drops to enhance your armor or weapon, and oh boy when you do finally get the rare drop from so many attempts, you get that adrenaline rush. I wonder is that the same feeling that gamblers experienced? Anyway, you can see how addictive the game is. Sometimes not for the better. I had to say NO to online games because of this game, which apparently, I didn’t play many of them beforehand, but it only takes one to let me know if it’s the type of game I want to invest my time in. Also, the social part of the game can be quite entertaining because we all know that players are more unpredictable than playing with an AI. The downside is that time is precious and I got other games to complete, which is why I tend to stick with single-player games.

For some JRPG fans, this is a terrible game, but for a few of us–this game is really fun. It’s a hybrid game: half single-player game and half-multiplayer game. It’s an interesting concept for the Playstation3 that offers a seamless, relaxing game experience. The combos and moves are pretty fun to execute. It also has an excellent soundtrack. On top of that the cutscenes are far more charming and impressive than Tales of Arise. I hope someday, this franchise would return. It has a lot of potential and it’s definitely a work of art.

resonance of fate cover, white knight chronicles cover, and Dragon's Dogma Cover

3 Fashionable JRPG Video Games (PS3)

I have been feeling nostalgic about the Playstation3, the console that started to show a decline of good games and started to behave like a social platform (PC). Whatever little hope I have left, I did try to scout out those hidden gems. Today, I would like to share three fashionable JRPG video games that I really enjoyed on the PS3 and I just realized that I platinum all 3 of them!

Not only do these games are fun to play but they are fashionably cool to look at. I like to dress up my characters quite often which is why I enjoyed Code Vein (2019) a lot for being a Dark Souls (2011) knock off. They took all the good things and sort of make it into their own, and oddly, it’s not as generic as you might think to take ideas from a great game. Great things inspired after all. As the saying goes, “imitation is a form of compliment.” Style do really matter if you want to attract the ladies.

Anyway, back to the main topic! Here are 3 fashionable JRPGs for the PS3.

Resonance of Fate (also known as End of Eternity in Japan), NA released date 2010

Why did I pick Resonance of Fate? Well because I like gun and clothes. Okay, that didn’t sound right. I only like guns in video games. This game really did make me grind for clothes. The Boutique serves no additional incentive. It’s all just aesthetic, which is perfectly fine by me. The world is much prettier when everyone dresses nicely. I enjoyed shopping for Leanne the most since there are a few nice wardrobes you can dress her in. However, there was one skirt that shows her underwear when she does her flip in the air during battle. Go figure. Nice shot for the male gaze. Despite that, I still thought it was a neat idea. If I am going to grind in a game, I am going to want to look at something pretty. I suppose that was the logic of the game design. Trust me, this game can get repetitive at certain point. Battle-system wise is not bad. Just time consuming, but hey I can brag to other gamers that I (a girl) 100%the game and I deserve a cookie. Actually, I did bake myself a batch of cookies. The only person I did impressed was me.

White Knight Chronicle’s International Ed, NA release date (2010)

Like many people, I find wide-eye cartoons very cute and attractive. The characters and monsters in this game is nothing but cute. Players are prompted to create an avatar which you could use to play online (Geonet) to complete quests and farm materials. Unfortunately, the server is down. And yet, here in 2022, I still find it an enjoyable game. Combine cuteness with fun gameplay you get an addiction. I spent so much hours on this game grinding for better equipment than I didn’t realized how great the gameplay and stage design are. Sometimes we enjoy things without knowing why; just think of a puppet who is unaware that he or she is being manipulated by its master. Great game design is seamless. In fact, I would say this game has a high learning curve that would look pretty impressive on your work resume. For your money’s worth (I spent about 1000 hours), it’s a high-quality game that teaches you to learn a gaming system, which shows off your mental agility and willingness to learn. It offers fun adventure, attractive cutscenes, and addictive gameplay which it’s no mere hack and slash. Quite frankly, I sort of like turned based games that reward players on their skills in memorizing monsters’ weaknesses and strengths. Some people have argued that the playstyle is a bit too slow. I suppose it’s a matter of preference, but I like to think and strategize my kills and not pray on luck. Isn’t that the point of a game? You can play as LS (Long Sword), SW (Short Sword), Mage (support or offense), Bow, Spear, and Axe. It is so fun to try different classes. You can check out the trailer to the combat system: For a trophy hunter, this game is super addicting and fun.

Dragon’s Dogma, released date 2012 and Dragon’s Dogma Arisen, released date 2013

If you are wondering what’s the difference between the two, well second one to the right (Dragon’s Dogma Arisen) has additional content. That means more monsters and more dungeons. I platinum the first one which wasn’t so difficult. Just annoying that I traveled so long in the game to reach from point A to point B. I don’t recall that there’s a teleport ability. On the positive side, gameplay wise, it respects player’s time. In this game, you create a pawn (avatar) and your pawn can be used by other players as well. I thought it was an interesting game design. If you don’t have a group of gaming buddies to play with like me, it’s hard to find a decent person to play with online. Dragon’s Dogma solve that problem. I could enjoy that multi-player experience at any time of the day–without having to wait on real time player to help me complete a quest. On top of that, what I really enjoyed about the game is the classes and its customization (skill sets or skill branches). The character’s appearance customization was also attractive. It makes the whole gaming experience personal and well worth the money. Glad this game is finally getting the recognition in the gaming community as a hidden gem.

So what did these games have in common and what did I learn about myself? If game is visually attractive with addictive gameplay, I would spend hours playing. Don’t underestimate style and aesthetic in games! You have to give credits to those who design these games (Level-5, Sega, Capcom). You can tell there is a lot of thought and craft put into the making of these games, which make them masterpieces to me, and for that, they are my treasures that deserve more recognition.

A Little Rant about Games and Food

I have been going through my video games backlog. I finally beat Nova-111 , developed and published by Funktronic Labs. It was a fun addicted little sci-fi puzzle game. I still have yet to collect all the scientists! The game was originally released on 2015 and I bought it a few years ago. I played it on Steam which it’s currently on sale for $2.49 until July 7, 2022! Woah what a deal. For that price, it’s better than going to the theme park and/or it is a good substitution for anti-depressant pills. It’s a feel good game that gives you that lighthearted solitary escape. Then again, this game appeal to me because I’m an introvert who don’t do well in crowds and no, that doesn’t mean I suffer from social anxiety. It is also available on Switch, PS4, Xbox One (I just read this paragraph again and laughed. I wish I was advertising but I am not. I can only sell what I genuinely like).

I thought I would do a little review for it, but I didn’t have much to say about it other than it’s great if you are looking for a turn-based game that progressively gets harder. The end boss took me about an hour before I finally learned the moves and strategy. I became so good at it that when I played the stage again, it only took me 5 minutes or so to beat. It’s just show that practice makes perfect. No one is born good. Anyone can get better if they keep practicing. I am only saying this because I realized that as a kid, I used to be very harsh on myself. Everything had to be perfect. Isn’t it a silly mindset? If you always feel inadequate, you will never find happiness or contentment. This realization makes me a lot more happier.

I still feel that I could go back and replay the game, but I decided to move on because I don’t really care about improving my scores/grades and getting all the trophies like I used to. Actually, I don’t care about ranking up in leaderboard. I am just glad that I am reducing the size of my gaming backlog, but more importantly playing games thoroughly until I am satisfied.

Ending for Nova 111
Noval-111. I appreciate when devs say thank you to the player; after all there is a human behind the screen

The sad truth is that when you become an adult it means your life priority changes. The little things I used to take for granted– my parent’s cooking. I have not came across a restaurant that serves pine mushroom soup. Let alone, my mom’s recipes. I am missing it a lot. I do struggle finding a good meal that I noticed my attention lately have been leaning toward researching recipes and prepping meals rather than researching on how to defeat a difficult boss. I learn tons and feels accomplished when I do find a decent meal, but so far none hit the spot like my parents’ food. I don’t know why, but eating well has been my top concern. There’s something about fruits and vegetables and lean meat that I gravitate towards (I am not a vegan or vegetarian as some people might mistake. I do enjoy seafood), I learned that Western diet, particularly American is not the most healthiest (my body can only take so much diary products). So, my attention these days has been focused on food and not games-which means I don’t have much to write about. Unless you want to read up on my cooking progress? I definitely no expert when it comes to cooking/baking, but at least I am trying.

Attempted baking on 2018. . Even though cookies weren’t pretty, it was still good with a glass of milk.🥛 I still have yet to find a good cookie recipe that won’t clog my arteries.

Speaking of games, I went back to playing Dark Souls DLC and Drakengard 3 and plan to focus on my unbeaten games for Playstation3. Finally, I might be able to write something about Yoko Taro games in greater details. They are thought provoking and weird. You can find my notes here. However, a part of me feels like I have outgrown all that “deep thinking” stuff. Not to say, I have the answers to life’s mystery (woah such a bold statement. I feel like I know nothing at all), but the older I get, the more pragmatic I become and I am okay with that. It keeps me curious. It keeps me entertained because I get bored easily. Did I just contradict myself? I am only human. Why do we have to be so complex?

That is it for this week’s rant. Thanks for listening to my shenanigan. It’s not much. Normally I post on Monday, but it really depends on my mood now. Until next time, see ya!

Code Vein Avatar in Photo shoot
Halsdoll in Code Vein
Cover for JDRAMA Love and Fortune

Love and Fortune Review

Have you ever eaten anything that tasted sweet and then the more you bit into it, it became bitter and tangy? I just described my emotions for Love and Fortune. Love and marriage are a happy ending for most women. But some are just unlucky–meeting the wrong guy at the right time, and meeting the right guy at the wrong time. The maternal clock is always ticking. Women have one shot at finding “happiness” and sadly some may never achieve it at all. Oh, the pain of having a period in life! Sometimes, it hurts so much that we need to take pain-killers.

If this show sounds all doom and gloom, far from it. It’s a sweet little show that made me laugh more than cry. All thanks to the great cinematography shots, my eyes were glued to the screen. It’s a show about a woman in her 30s who is conflicted with societal expectations (i.e., getting married, having children, being successful) and who happens to fall in love with a 15-year-old boy. Yes, I said it, a 15-year-old boy. Now, I know what you are thinking–she is pedophile. She is gross, but let’s look at her situation with a magnifying glass–the detail.

Wako Taira, the protagonist, is aware of her age. Like any normal woman, she wants to get married, but her relationship with her boyfriend of three years is in limbo. The romance is not there. He looks down on her, constantly nagging her to quit her part-time job at the cinema and find a real job. She does all the housework. He comes home late drunk wanting to have sex–but never returning the favor when she wants it. So, what happens to a neglected woman? She finds love and hope elsewhere, and that’s where Yumeaki Iko (the high-school boy) comes into the picture.  She strikes gold when she learns that he shares the same love for cinema as her. Finally, she found someone who understood her and her passion! But unfortunately, he is literally half her age! This series really do question patriarchal society and gender inequality with seriousness and humor. If men can fall in love with younger women, why can’t women fall in love with younger men?

Don’t be fooled though by my light approach to this review, even though it may seem as if I’m endorsing the female protagonist behavior as female empowering, I don’t think the relationship between a high school boy and a woman twice his age would work out (the same can be said vice versa). For one, there’s no equality in that sort of relationship. The woman becomes someone like a mom to her young lover, and that’s not fair and romantic at all! I’m speaking from a feminist standpoint here. Despite my beliefs, I appreciate how this series prompted me to ask those big societal questions: Why is it more acceptable for a high school girl to fall in love with a man twice her age and not the other way around? Why do women have to sacrifice their creative pursuit because her maternity clock is ticking? Why is a woman’s worth measured by her childbearing capability and not her talents? And the most important question, which coincide with age, why is a woman’s worth determined by her beauty? If she doesn’t reach all of her dreams within her prime, she becomes less valuable in the society. Think about why the terms old hags, old maids, old witches are so offensive. Well, that’s because most likely they can’t conceive and therefore, they are “bad apples”.

Love and Fortune is an interesting show if you are looking for something intelligent, well-crafted and horrifyingly comical but very real to the problems that some women have to go through. The show makes me wonder, why is life so bittersweet? If you ask me, I kind of like biting into bad apples. They sure make a good story.

Note: Originally posted July 31, 2020; Revised and edited June 13, 2022.

Pausing to read a book when playing game?

Gameplay Is Just as Important as Story

If you click on this post thinking it’s about Dark Souls II because of the featured image, I apologize. I couldn’t find a good featured image for today’s little rant.

Long time ago, my brother and I were playing Xenosaga for the Ps2. I remember I would watch him play. It’s a cinematic JRPG with long cutscenes and I liked the story a lot! But when it was my turn to play the game for myself, I skipped all the cutscenes. He gave me a nasty stare and said, “Oh, you are one those people.” I shot back at him and said, “Why go through all the cutscenes again when I have already watched you play?” Then he responded, “You have to pay attention to the story to know why you are fighting. It’s part of the game.” With respect, he has a valid point. Having a story can make a game interesting. In fact some people only play for the story. I don’t think less of those who enjoy video game for story because my brother is one of those folks who is good at games but mainly play for story.

However, these past few years, dipping my feet into the indie game world. I noticed a lot of story driven games that don’t emphasize on gameplay, and there is a group of folks who defend such games. I am not all that bothered by it, however, it feels like a slap in the face when someone I come across on WordPress, calling folks like me unsophisticated muscle-heads who think with their fist because we don’t stress about the story.

Avatar inside of a cave in Dark Souls II

I suppose story driven games help people think and make them more socially aware, more socially sophisticated and civilized as it opens up a dialogue among people. I am not entirely against it. Humanity has came a long way from monkey brain through years of exchanging ideas, although I don’t think having a monkey brain is such an insult because there are some people out there who are so rational that they start to remind me of a machine (PC) with arms and legs. And if you ask me, I don’t know if they are any better than monkeys because if they are so smart, why are they trying to outsmart each other through debate to the point they destroy the planet altogether with their sophisticated killing toys? I digress.

2b and 9s with Robot in Nier Automata

Anyway my point being is, video game can be a great place where you don’t have to think and at the same time, think. It’s such a paradox but that’s why I love the medium. Solving problems and strategizing are considered thinking. The point I am trying to make is that gameplay is just as important as story. For me it’s a stress reliever. Take gameplay out of the equation, you get nothing more than just an interactive story with some pretty visuals. I have no qualms about it, but just don’t go around hating those who do want a little challenge, a little strategy, a little conquest. Gaming requires a lot of patience. Trials and errors my friend, that’s how we get better.

A-set looking through her social media

For the record, this post is not directed toward anyone in particular. It’s just the information I have gathered over the years observing vocal gamers through WordPress community attacking things I like. I often ask myself many times as well, why I love horror and challenging games. I don’t know, but it sure doesn’t make me a monster.

Picture Credits: Dark Souls II: Scholar of the first Sin; Nier Automata; and AI_TheSomniumFiles.

Last of Us cover for PS4

Last of Us Remastered Review (PS4): A Good Father and Daughter Relationship Video Game

Sometimes when a game is overly hyped, I can fall into the trap of dismissing a game entirely due to its popularity.   Back in 2013, there was this huge hype about The Last of Us. At that time, I was too busy playing Dark Souls II to drop the game to see what the hype is all about. Thanks to my purchase of the PS4 back in 2015 (the main reason I bought the console was for Bloodborne), it came with a digital copy of The Last of Us.  I decided to give the game a whirl because I want to challenge my preconceived notion about the game. Is it really a masterpiece?

To my surprise, I must admit, I did enjoy the game to some extent.  The biggest strength about the game is progressively watching the father and daughter like relationship grow.  I find the bonding between the main protagonist Joel and Ellie more believable than the father and daughter relationship in Resident Evil Revelations 2The Evil Within 2 and even Nier Gestalt (another topic I will go into detail at a later time).  As the saying goes, “show but don’t tell” is a popular saying when crafting a good story. Obviously, the same rule applies to video games.  The presentation in Last of Us is cinematically engaging. Throughout the game, Ellie is seen side by side with Joel most of the time, allowing the audience to feel close to the characters overtime. Even in combat, Ellie is not useless like Sheva in Resident Evil 5.  Throughout the game, teamwork is heavily emphasized in order for the two characters to survive. The most memorable part in the game to me is when player has to switch from Joel to Ellie. At that point in the game, a scene takes the player into the future without giving much details of what has happened from the previous dramatic scene where it appears as if Joel has been shot (my memory is getting fuzzy here, I played this game back in 2018). I couldn’t tell if she is all alone, until later, she is seen nursing Joel back to his health. That section of the game gave me a sense of relief. I didn’t realized I was becoming emotionally invested in the two characters’ relationship. I wanted to see them succeed.  I wanted to see them survive.

Ellie with a cross bow in Last of Us

Another section of the game that is memorable is where Ellie has to drive out the bad guys away from harming the injured Joel. I know I would do the same for my dad without a doubt. There is that urgency to protect. When the role is switched to Joel, likewise, I feel the very same urgency to protect Ellie. That part of the game really did strengthen their bond and implies how much they need each other to survive, but more importantly, how much they trust each other.

Joel and Ellie petting a Giraffe

As Joel and Ellie relationship deepens in the game, it’s not hard to empathize with the characters. Toward the end of the game, I suppose the game has already turned me into a monster. The only option given to me is to shoot the doctor if I want to save Ellie. Similarly to Joel, Ellie is no saint either when she hesitantly accepts Joel’s answer about the fireflies. For one, Joel is all she has in the world. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing him as we see in a scene in the game where she throws a little tantrum and runs off with the horse.  But at the same time, she feels tremendously guilty for not being able to save human lives as she mentions her best friend is the first to go, and of course there is Tess, an important character who has died in vain along the way for the sake of humanity.

Joel and Ellie bonding

Presentation and story wise, this game gets a decent grade. The story flows well, however it has been told several times. What it excels at is speaking to humans on a primitive survival level, drawing out what matters most to the heart. Every day, humans make sacrifices and tough decisions. With a stern face, Joel already made the decision to carve his own fate.  Any normal human being who underwent a traumatic event of losing a loved one will never be the same.  He never recovered from the tragedy of losing his daughter but at least he has someone like Ellie to fight for.  It makes perfect sense why the title is called The Last of Us.  The game is about two people who lost everything–and they are not willing to give up on each other even at the expense of saving humanity. And as  f*cked up as it sounds, the argument made in this game is pretty valid to me. Is a strong family man such a bad thing in society? I rather have that than a narcissistic, ambitious father who treats his children like second class citizens. 

In terms of gameplay, the gameplay is cheap and unoriginal, which makes the entire game feels like a book, but plays like a movie.  There’s nothing really exciting about the gameplay. Typically, I am not much of a stickler for story in video games.  Most of the time, if the gameplay is fun, I will keep playing. After all, I bought games to play.  The gameplay in The Last of Us is very stale and tedious. There were only two instances I thought were exciting.  One part is when Joel is separated from Ellie for a brief moment, forcing him to dive into the water and navigate in the dark enclosed area to find a keycard. In the area, there are clickers.  At first, I experience a little nervousness because nobody likes dark places filled with lurking monsters! But then, I realize I have many different types of weapons so my nervousness instantly goes away as there aren’t many obstacles to overcome in order to reunite with Ellie. I blast the enemies away with my shotgun.  Once I obtain the key, I bypass all of them and quickly get to a safe place.  Not much of a challenge there.  The other part is when Joel is hanging upside down shooting the infected. That part reminds me of a section in Resident Evil Revelation, where Chris Redfield fell from the cliff and is pinned down to the ground, having to defend himself from the approaching wolves while waiting for Jessica to make her way down to help him. The only difference between the two games, is that Last of Us gameplay is forgiving. The game autosaves frequently.   So, if you die constantly, it puts you in a decent spot in the game to try again. If you get stuck in the game, push L3 button when it appears. This will give you a hint.  The game is very generous, but that consideration actually kills any challenges the game has to offer, and what is even worse, it makes the gameplay becomes dull quickly as gameplay becomes predictable.  I think I would be just content watching a movie version of the Last of Us than go through all those unnecessary troubles. On the positive side, there were some breathtaking, beautiful wild scenic landscapes.  I am not complaining much.  It’s a nice little escape from the noisy city life I was once used to.

Joel and Ellie riding horses

Overall, the game feels genuine as it amplifies the American identity–a free and rugged individual who has a choice.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing? That’s for you to decide.   The more I think about it, the game is just a political statement going against big pharmaceutical companies.   I was entertained while the game last, but not entertained enough to demand for a sequel.

Note: Originally posted
July 1, 2018; revised and edited May 30, 2022

 

Alphen and Shionne standing side by side

Tales of Arise Review: A Pretty Mediocre Game

I was watching Bambi, the Disney cartoon, and I am reminded, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say at all.” But I sort of disagree with that statement. Agreeing for the sake of keeping good company is a bad thing for mental health even if your opinion goes against the consensus. After all, the game did preach to the audience that we shouldn’t be slave to someone’s ideas (critics). I wouldn’t be creating this blog if I didn’t somehow feel like it’s the only safe place where I can voice my opinions. I do this out of my own terms as a gaming enthusiast. All of my posts, I have been very civil about my dislikes and likes. And sometimes, I do feel bad for not liking a certain aspect of a game, film or book because I know that it’s easier to critique than to create. However, I still stand by what I believe: Tales Arise is just a pretty mediocre game.

First off, I won’t into go into lengthy details and point out all the things I didn’t like about the game because anything that is considered unpleasant means work to me, and I don’t want to do that unless I get paid to critique. Instead, I will talk about the positives. Where Tales of Arise shines is its powerful political statement: It stands for friendship, warmth, love, freedom and all the good things people seek in life. On top of that, it has an epically beautiful open world. What more can you ask for in a JRPG? Well, this is where it becomes a matter of taste and preference: If video game is art then I didn’t feel a connection with this artwork. I prefer the works done by the folks on Tales of Xillia and Vesperia more.

While playing the game, I had to remind myself that it was the franchise’s 25th anniversary and there is something to celebrate. The entire game is just epically flashy from the dialogues, cutscenes, battles, music to the overall atmosphere. It’s undeniably a well-polished game that went as far as giving out an epic speech about liberty and freedom and challenging the very existence of one’s being in the universe. And yet underneath it all, Tale Arise is really nothing new in the JRPG department. It’s just a really pretty game to look at with a polished gameplay (if button mashing is your thing, that is). But it made me wonder, if it was directed by a different game director, would I have enjoyed this game more?

Would I recommend this game to those who have not played Tales games? Yes and no. No, if I were a 14 year old girl and this was my first JRPG, I probably would not have liked it. It feels as if I was sitting in Sunday’s School class being lectured on morality, but yes, if you want to play a high quality JRPG. It’s really a pretty game and I can see the huge effort put into it. However, it’s definitely not the game for those who want to escape into solitary away from society; or who is looking for some good humor to laugh at life itself; or who want superb storytelling; and/or most importantly to a gaming enthusiast like myself, a fun innovative gameplay.

Since I like to leave on a positive note, one thing I like about this game is the message that you don’t have to walk alone all the time. Needing one another is not a form of weakness, it’s a form of strength. Life is so much better when we are in pairs. Don’t be the lonely villain who is full of hatred.