Tag Archives: videogame

Sword Art Online Alicization: Episode 5

Karen:

Since this episode focuses on Asuna, this seems like a good time to take a step back and look at what a cool character she’s become. During the Aincrad arc, she was an immature kid– which was totally understandable, since she was a sheltered teenager drawn into something huge that she couldn’t have anticipated. Nevertheless, she did seem a little whiny and self-centered to begin with. But she’s grown to the point where, by the time of Mother’s Rosario, she not only felt like an adult, but she essentially became co-protagonists with Kirito. That set-up pays dividends here, where the whole episode can be Kirito-free and it never really feels like we’re missing out on the “main” character.

She also functions similar to Kirito now, using the same kind of hands-on approach to problem solving. Part of that is because she hasn’t been his girlfriend for years without learning anything, and part of that just goes to show why they work so well as a couple to begin with. They aren’t together for only superficial reasons; they both have an almost pathological need to right injustices. On a more basic note, we now get Hero! Asuna rescuing Damsel! Kirito, and that’s a nice change of pace.

In terms of the larger story with Rath, I’m wondering about Kirito’s overall significance to the Underworld project. Obviously Rath wants Kirito’s consciousness in there because they expect his presence will cause the AI to grow in a certain way, but does it necessarily have to be Kirito in that role? I think it’s less that Kirito has super-special soul juice or whatever, and more that he just happens to be the person who was integrated into the system first, so Eugeo and Alice have memories of him. If it turns out they need Kirito because he is just that special of a snowflake, I’m going to be a little disappointed.

It was nice to see everyone working together as a team; even something as simple as Klein driving Asuna around in his car shows that in the real world, they all have different roles and can contribute in different ways. Considering one of their team members is a nigh-omnipotent AI, things feel a little bit stacked in their favor, but I guess it’s a little bit late to be complaining about that? It just goes to show, if you ever find a down-on-her-luck orphan, be nice to her: she may turn out to be a Goddess AI who can hack government databases for you! Always a useful tool to have in one’s back pocket.

I may be the only one here who doesn’t care what happened to Kirito’s assailant. Until the show gives me reason to believe otherwise, I’m going to assume 1)Asuna called the police and 2)he’s in jail; the end.

Finally, I’m interested in the fact that Kayaba Akihito had a lover; they may have revealed that before, but this is the first time I remember it coming up. It would be easy to assume that Akihito was an angry loner who was lashing out at society, but the show has always portrayed him as more nuanced than that; granted, the dude straight-up murdered 4,000 people and viewers should always keep that in mind, but I appreciate what an interesting character he is regardless. It’s interesting how he, and his dream of an imaginary castle in the sky, continue to affect the world of SAO even years after his death.

My early reservations about this season have pretty much evaporated by now; now I’m interested to see how the Underworld plot is going to interface with Asuna’s plot. I don’t see any reason why Asuna couldn’t just visit Underworld in a dive, but in some ways, it might be more interesting if she remained separated from Kirito and had to fight her battle on a different front. We shall see.

LB:

Originally, I enjoyed this episode until the last five minutes or so– though, now that more has been explained to me, I’m finding myself coming around on it.

The big issue I had when I first watched this episode was that at the very end of the episode, Asuna was able to fool top-level security checks, multiple times mind you, simply by having Yui switch the database profile photo with hers. That seemed WAY too easy for me to buy at first, but since I’ve watched this episode I’ve been told by multiple people that this is a perfectly viable way of hacking the system and it’s made even more plausible due to the fact that Yui is like a God-level AI. So yeah, never mind I guess?

Other than that, I really liked that we’re getting a break from Underworld to see what everyone else is up to. The lingering question in my mind, however, is all about the initial attack from the Laughing Coffin member that put Kirito in a coma. Was that attack pre-meditated by RATH in order to get a great test subject? Or was it just one big happy coincidence? That’s an answer that I’d really like to have about now but I’m guessing that if we ever do find out the answer, it’s not going to be for quite a while. *sighs*

Lifesong:

Japanese military is not what I expected when I asked to see the outside world, but it makes enough sense to me. I don’t know how well known the idea of an AI arms race is for most people. If you’ve never heard that term, take a moment to google it. It fits Sword Art Online and might give you some interesting thoughts to chew on.

Alicization appears to be Japan’s answer to an AI arms race. It brings a dozen new questions to the table, like what does Japan’s military want to do with these AIs? I’ve been speculating that Underworld is some sort of immortality project. Now that I know the government is behind it, that’s only one of many possibilities. Immortality doesn’t seem to be the focus.

For now I have more questions than answers about Japan’s AI goals. I can’t speculate past the political and economic powers of developing an advanced AI. It’s an interesting topic. Its inclusion elevates my curiosity for more world building. How do the rules the AI in Underworld live by fit into the larger goal of this military project?

The military twist is cool, but the real MVP this week is Asuna. Not only did Asuna manage to hack a Japanese government database with the help of her own AI, she located and infiltrated the naval base holding Kirito faster than he figured out how to cut down a tree! Who’s the OP one now?

Episode 5’s portrayal of hacking was fantastic. Step 1: Change the picture in a database. Step 2: Walk in and pretend like you belong until you do your thing. I appreciate how down to earth that is. No fancy pseudo-science hacking magic, just some plain old BSing.

Speaking of BSing… Whatever happened to the guy who stabbed Kirito? The story hasn’t acknowledged his existence beyond what he did in episode one. Did Asuna go into berserker mode and beat him senseless? Did that stab wound from Kirito somehow take him out? Maybe a wild AR Pokemon hacked into his brain and put him into sleep mode until the plot remembers his relevance? I don’t need that explained now, but it feels odd that it wasn’t mentioned.

I felt like this episode did a great job of bridging Kirito’s stabbing and catching us up with Asuna and friends. I wonder if Asuna will be able to jump into Underworld? But I need more information to speculate the purpose of Underworld. Developing AI makes sense, but why is Kirito needed? Maybe that’s Kikuoka’s whim more so than anything else? The episode title for next week leads me to believe we will get some more answers ASAP. I can speculate more after that.

Sword Art Online Alicization, Episode 4

LB:

Finally!

That’s all I could say to myself as I watched the latest episode of SAO. Finally we got the action sequences that fans have come to expect from this series, finally we saw the damn Demon Tree felled, and finally, we saw our heroes embark on what I’m certain will be an epic journey. At least it had better be, or else I’m going to be one unhappy puppy. I quite liked this episode since it moved the story along so strongly. Things actually happened in this episode which made me want to pay attention to all the things.

There are still a ton of questions that need to be answered (many of which were originally raised by the opening animation rather than the episodes themselves, which is strange). My prediction is that eventually, we’re going to get to the big city and learn that Alice isn’t dead but has actually been drafted into the Integrity Knights. I have no idea what is going to happen beyond that (and I don’t even know if I’m correct or not) but I know that for the first time in a couple of weeks, I’m genuinely excited to find out.

Karen:

Wow, this episode did everything but give you a mug of hot cocoa and a backrub after it was over. A cool fight, everyone now remembers the stuff from episode one, significant plot advancement, and the demise of The Tree That Could Not Be Cut? What more could you ask for?

I do have a bit of a problem with reminding myself that the violence is not “real”– that is, even though they’re in a very realistic virtual world and Kirito feels pain, they’re still not in reality. I kept thinking during the fight that Kirito shouldn’t be able to take as much punishment as he was taking and still be able to keep fighting at full strength, but when you remember that it’s a virtual world, it makes sense; in most games, as long as you have 1 HP, you can function as though you’re perfectly healthy. Kirito may have been down to about 250 HP out of 1128 or something, but he didn’t die, so he was still functional.

We know from Ordinal Scale that Kirito is limited in Augmented Reality compared to full VR, so it makes sense that his battle performance in this setting is that of his video game avatar, since this is a full-dive situation. However, the fact that he has such detailed sensory input makes it more akin to AR than his previous VR fighting experience, and I hope that’s something that the show explores in more depth.

On the subject of the battle, that was some quality fight choreography and animation. It’s easier to forgive the talkiness of the last two episodes knowing that the show had such an ambitious action scene coming. Now, after this season, I could do with never seeing any frickin’ goblins ever again, but if I have to see goblins get beat up, this is the kind of style I want to see it in.

One thing that I found interesting was that Eugeo remembered Kirito when he was on the brink of death. The implication is that Artificial Fluctlights have the same “life flashing before my eyes” experience that real people do when they’re approaching death. If Eugeo’s memories of the Kirito of his childhood were overwritten by the System (which appears to have been the case), this is another example of the human soul overpowering computer programming. We saw this as far back as Aincrad, when Asuna was able to shake off a status effect through sheer force of will to save Kirito, so this is something that’s always been part of the show, for better or for worse. In fact, I wonder if this arc is going to take that aspect of the original SAO story (which many viewers saw as a weakness), and fully develop it.

Of course, there’s a danger of an overly optimistic/Care Bears sort of message here, like “not even computer programming is powerful enough to overcome the will of the HUMAN SOUL!!!!!” but I trust Reki Kawahara (at least at this point in time) to be a little more nuanced than that with his writing. I think the struggle of the Artificial Fluctlights to gain control of their lives is going to end up being more complicated than “Believe in yourself,” or rather “Believe in the computer code that makes up your soul!”

Otherwise, it was interesting to see how the villagers reacted to the unexpected felling of the Demon Tree. I thought they’d be scared of change, but for them, the task of evaluating anything has been outsourced to the Taboo Index, so it doesn’t even occur to them to be scared of change. I mean, if cutting the Demon Tree down a few hundred years early was a bad thing, it would have said in the Taboo Index “don’t cut down the Demon Tree early,” right? I’m interested in seeing more about how judgement and morality works in this world where all their rules are put down in black and white.

Yes it is obviously similar to real-life religion, but different in the sense that there’s no possibility for dissent. Every text-based religion (that I’m aware of, anyway), has it’s own disagreements in regard to interpretation, but as far as we can tell, there are no Rabbis arguing over the true meaning of the Taboo Index; it’s simply taken completely at face value. I wonder what it says about me that in an episode devoted mostly to hacking the limbs off of goblins, my main takeaway is “Ooooh, it’s like the age of the Great Rabbis without Talmudic Commentary!”, but whatever; I’m enjoying myself.

Lifesong:

Episode four wrapped up the “leaving home” stage of Eugeo’s adventure in style. The goblin fight was fantastic. The ebb and flow of Kirito crossing swords with the goblin leader and his hoard made every hit exciting. And hey, Eugeo is actually important after all. He may have almost died, but in the scheme of tragic Sword Art Online moments? It felt good to see him make it through the fight.

The hook for Alicization is finally in full bloom, and now that it is I’m excited to see where it goes. Sword Art Online has had moments in the past where it felt like an adventure, but never like this. It’s given supporting characters important roles, but again, not quite like this. Eugeo is the hero and Kirito is taking on the role of mentor.  It’s neat to see SAO breaking away from the new-heroine-of-the-week style if only in a small way.

The way Underworld is hyper realistic in tangible sensation, but still gamey at it’s core is interesting to me. Kirito’s injuries during the goblin fight are a new kind of problem for him because of the pain. Ultimately the injury isn’t such a big deal; same for Eugeo. He takes a hit that should kill him and some durability sharing fixes the issue. As realistic as it all feels, this world runs on numbers in the end.

Now that Kirito and Eugeo have launched their adventure, I want to see things from Asuna’s perspective. I hope we get to see more of what’s going on outside of this virtual world. The timing is appropriate; Kirito and Eugeo’s adventure is off to a strong start. Now please tell me why Kirito is stuck in Underworld. Asuna did promise to follow Kirito anywhere. She also knew a whole lot about the origins of Alice in Wonderland. Tragic tone setting or subtle foreshadowing? I’m not sure yet.

Perhaps the most satisfying element of this whole episode was the end of our dear friend, the Demon Tree. I didn’t realize how much I wanted that thing gone until I felt like standing up to cheer when Kirito finally landed a good hit on it. The story even gave Eugeo the role of finishing it off. It was his task, and he handled it.

I know it’s a popular thing to act like SAO’s storytelling hasn’t improved since the Fairy Dance arc. I disagree, but will admit Gun Gale Online and Mother’s Rosario were both far from the death game promised in Aincrad. I can argue till I’m blue in the face that even SAO’s worst arc still hits good emotional notes, but… that doesn’t and won’t make it what people wanted or expected from the series.

Alicization seems to be building on the themes it explored in Mother’s Rosario. Especially in the sense of finding ways to create a virtual reality fantasy that is more than a game. It’s what I want from SAO, but I wonder how other long time fans feel about this narrative focus? That’s become a more interesting question as the direction of this arc becomes clear.

If nothing else I feel good about the storytelling of Alicization. Episode four had a great fight and hit all the right emotional notes. I can’t wait to see where it goes next. I hope other fans are enjoying it as much as I am.

Sword Art Online Alicization, Episode 2

Lifesong:

Kirito in Underworld works a lot better after hearing an explanation of the Fluctlight. I liked the flow of episode two; this place now has enough nuance to create a mysterious atmosphere. Kirito rediscovering it bit by bit was much more interesting than our introduction.

I found it interesting to note that Kirito can’t immediately spot the tell-tale signs of a digital world. You’d think he would know immediately based off the look and feel of it, but It takes seeing a digital menu to convince him that he’s in a virtual world. It isn’t hard to guess why someone might want to make a seemingly perfect virtual utopia like this. It makes the question of why they want to hide it from testers a more compelling mystery.

Connecting directly to the fluctlight in someone’s head gives digital worlds new options. The concept of transporting those light signals into a computer makes for good science fiction. Kirito’s theory that the NPCs in this world are too realistic is the clue. Imagine that as a company, you can offer a sort of digital afterlife. I’m sure that would find a market. The implications are fascinating.

Time passes faster in the virtual world than it does in reality. That means increasing the experiences one person can have during their life. Not only can you experience life longer, but you can potentially live forever inside the machine. That’s speculation to some degree, but it seems to be the general direction this arc of Sword Art Online is taking. If the company that made Underworld can copy a human soul and then host it in a human world without a human body… That’s basically immortality.

One last thing I found worth commenting on is the way Kirito is able to use a sword skill from Aincrad. Perhaps the base for this world is similar, but I suspect it’s more than that. Fluctlight is someone’s soul, right? It contains their memories and personality from real life. Wouldn’t it also contain their memories from time spent in other digital worlds? It may be more than sword skills Kirito that can use in Underworld. How long will it be before Kirito is flying around with magical imp wings, cursing himself for never learning any magic in Alfheim Online? Or you know, never bothering to fire a gun in GGO? I’m sure he’ll figure out a way to cope, but the implications are fascinating to think about.

Karen:

Though this arc is playing around with a lot of really interesting ideas, this episode was rather dull. Since Kirito doesn’t remember his original trip to Underworld, we’re stuck watching Kirito relearn all the things that we already know from Episode 1, which is a little frustrating. Watching Kirito put his deductive reasoning to work to figure out what’s going on keeps things from getting too boring, but I have to wonder if there wasn’t a better way to do this.

Speaking of boring, there’s poor Eugeo’s calling: hacking the same tree with an axe 2,000 times every day. I don’t know the significance of the Demon Tree to Underworld yet, but I took this as a commentary on the mind-numbing repetition of the kind of tasks you tend to take on in virtual worlds; daily quests you can repeat for years, killing the same monster over and over again in the hopes of snaring that .01% drop, and so on and so forth. One of the premises that the isekai genre is based on is “living in a world with video game mechanics would be hella fun”; here, we’re getting the opposite view.

And yet, Underworld isn’t supposed to be a game, as far as I can tell; there are no goals for the player. Yet it’s clearly based on games, and I would bet money it uses some of the same code from SAO, which is why Kirito’s sword skills seems to work in Underworld. It seems like Kayaba Akihito was the only one in the world who could program virtual reality worth a damn, so even years after the SAO incident, people are still ripping off his work. Kind of depressing, but certainly not unrealistic.

The most important thing we learn here is that Underworld is likely populated by Artificial Fluctlights– newborns that had their souls “cloned,” then raised from birth in this virtual environment. Huh. In Ordinal Scale, there’s some talk that the programmers have had enough with the “top-down” approach to AI; raising artificial souls from birth would definitely seem to be more of a bottom-up approach. It is a bit jarring that actual people are involved– I would have assumed that to make an Artificial Fluctlight, they would have just used algorithms or whatever to make a fake personality. Copying existing people’s personalities adds a whole ‘nother layer of ethical wtf-ery on top of everything.

I wonder about the role of the Church in this story. Unless the show does something really unexpected, wouldn’t the Church in Underworld be 100% right about everything? Their world really was created by a superior being (or beings), who watches over everything they do, and so on and so forth. Oddly, Kirito is a non-believer in the sense that he doesn’t have to believe; he knows. I’m kind of hoping that Kirito starts using prayer as a means to communicate with the developers, because I’m always interested when fiction explores inside-out religion; it’s one of my weird hang-ups.

Hopefully we’ve gotten all the (slightly painful) exposition out of the way and can move on to more exciting things now. There’s a lot of potential here, but it’s hard to be properly excited by it when most of the episode is taken up by two dudes talking under a tree.

First Look: Conception

Karen:

There are a lot of worthy shows we have yet to write up this season, like Bloom into You and the surprisingly delightful Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny-Girl Senpai, but I just had to write about Conception immediately. It’s terrible, but it’s terrible in a way that’s just hilarious to me personally.

I guess you could say it’s “so bad it’s good,” except for a lot of people, I think it’s really just going to register as normal-bad. And that’s fine, but if I’m getting some enjoyment out of it, no matter how perverse, I gotta give it credit for that.

We start out with a bunch of oh-so-sexy female silhouettes, letting us know immediately what kind of show this is. But there’s something wrong with these illustrations; I can’t figure out what it is, but these women’s bodies look weird to me. Like everyone looks kind of sinewy and detailed in the wrong places. This isn’t the OP, is it? This better not be the OP. That would just be sad.

What is going on with this poor girl’s body? I think that’s supposed to be her butt in the foreground, but it looks more like her knees, doesn’t it? Maybe she’s a zombie and she can twist her pelvis a complete 180 degrees around? Curious.

We open with our protagonist, Itsuki, learning that his cousin (and close friend) Mahiru is pregnant. Who’s the father? No one, apparently; Mahiru just up and became pregnant, without ever having sex. See, this is where the show wastes a perfectly good plot, because I was so ready for her baby to be Jesus Mark Two, and then that doesn’t happen. I mean, think about it; imagine a normal high-school based anime, except the main girl is magically pregnant, and you don’t know if the baby is going to be Jesus 2.0 or the Antichrist? And all the other characters are trying to figure out whether or not her baby is going to bring about Armageddon based on her pregnancy symptoms? That could be a quality show. Alas, we are not so lucky.

Itsuki and Mahiru then get sucked into another world (update your “Number of Official Isekai shows this season” lists), then Mahiru basically vomits up a demon. We later learn that this is what Star Maidens do to clean out impurities in their systems; expel badly-animated monsters. I hope that if I expel a monster to purify my uterus someday, it looks cooler than a villain out of the 1980s My Little Pony cartoon.

This is the “monster.” Was the guy who normally does the lighting and shading out sick that day? Because the entire scene with this dude looks unfinished. Maybe it would be understandable if the show wanted to put the emphasis on the sex scenes, but seeing as how there are NO actual sex scenes….

Itsuki manifests a magic sword, because he is a magical hero sort of fellow, and vanquishes it. Some exposition later, we learn that this world relies upon visitors from other worlds to fight evil for them, for some reason. So Itsuki and Mahiru are the latest pair pulled from Earth to help fight the monsters of the labyrinth.

Wait a minute…if the monsters are in the labyrinth, can’t you just leave them there? Is it really necessary to fight them? I mean, I guess we have to assume that the monsters of the labyrinth will break out eventually if they aren’t dealt with, but we don’t know that; for all we know, there’s no need to fight these monsters at all and the Powers that Be just want something shiny at the bottom of the dungeon.

Itsuki flirts with a doctor examining him, who seems to reciprocate his feelings, and we get a lot of lewd camera angels of her. Of course,  if Itsuki and the doctor hooked up, that would just be regular, consensual sex without any morally reprehensible element of coercion, so of course this show wants nothing whatsoever to do with that.

To save this world (or fight the monsters in the labyrinth to get the shiny thing located in the chest on the bottom floor, who knows), Itsuki must impregnate 12 “Star Maidens,” of which his cousin Mahiru is one. The magical Star Children that result from these, err, encounters, will fight the monsters. Why can’t Itsuki just fight them off himself? He already has a magical sword, which is usually 95% of what you need to defeat JRPG monsters, so I’m a bit unclear if this whole baby factory is really necessary.

That aside, when Itsuki “impregnates” someone, that’s not really what happens; we’re told that the baby just “pops out,” presumably through a portal or something, so there’s no actual pregnancy and no process of childbirth. Damn, where do I sign up? I’d become a Star Maiden if it meant I could have another kid without going through all that nonsense again. Okay, so maybe I’m not a Holy Virgin or whatever (TMI?), but my Star Child would have many useful properties! Primarily, any child of mine is guaranteed to love the absolute fuck out of mindless dungeon-crawling, and if the game this show is based on is any indication, that’s something a hero in this universe is definitely going to need. Vote for Karen for Aries Star Maiden this November, I won’t let you down.

Anyway! These two cousins need to get it on, stat! And here’s where things start to get really hilariously awkward. The two of them are led to a bed, and Itsuki is wearing handcuffs because…why? It’s never explained, he’s just handcuffed for no reason. Then he tries to take off Mahiru’s halter top, but not only has he apparently never seen this item of clothing before, he seems to be unfamiliar with the concept of clothing in general. He seriously tries for like 10-20 seconds, with his handcuffed hands, to take off Mahiru’s top by pulling down on one of her little spaghetti straps, and this is when I started laughing out loud. Why doesn’t he just take the shirt off over her head? How did he get this old without knowing how shirts work?

I don’t think I can really explain just how bizarre and unsexy this is. This poor kid is being forced, essentially at gunpoint, to have sex with his cousin, except he’s handcuffed, has a fear of shirts, and both partners are being harassed by a horny stuffed animal who seems to have no role in the plot other than to recite sophomoric euphemisms for sex, non-stop. I mean, I’m sure one of the main criticisms this show is going to get is that it’s “really just porn,” or something like that, but I find it hard to believe that anyone is seriously aroused by this.

I mean, hey, I don’t judge: if you find this kind of thing really sexy, more power to you, I guess? But it’s about as intuitive as finding a scuba-diving giraffe sexy, it just doesn’t seem like it’s meant for that purpose.

So we don’t get to see the sex, because if there’s one thing you never get to see on one of these “really just porn” shows, it’s actual sexy times. Considering there’s 12 Star Maidens and 12 episodes to the season, it seems like a safe guess that each episode of this show will focus on Itsuki courting a different girl…except it isn’t really courting, because they have no choice in the matter. These girls have been raised from birth to create magic kids, so I’m not sure why there needs to be any preamble to the sex. Itsuki’s going to be like “It is time to make a Star Child,” and the girl will be like “Yes, time to do our duty to the Fatherland,” and then it will fade to black, for the sake of all the sex we’re not seeing, and will never get to see. What are they going to do with the other 23 minutes of the episode? It’s mysterious.

There really isn’t a good reason to recommend this show, but personally, I just have to see how they continue to make this allegedly fanservice-centered show the unsexiest thing in the universe. If this show were competent, there would be a place to discuss the disturbing implications of the coercive sex inherent in the premise, and so on and so forth. But this show is just too ridiculous for that; in order to be disturbed by it, you’d have to take it seriously for at least five seconds, and I don’t believe that’s possible.

This is actually supposed to be Itsuki’s crotch, we think, but whenever they zoom out, there’s no bulge and it just looks really weird. 

Lifesong:

When I think of Conception the first thing that comes to mind is now red boxers. I felt like half the episode was spent panning around the protagonist’s crotch. He’s stuck getting “examined” by some nurse, tied to a bed.

Why does the protagonist spend such a long time tied to a bed, you might ask? Well, they had to info-dump the dungeon crawling stuff somehow. Why not explain the how and why of magical baby-making with slow pans over a nurse leering at the dude’s package? There was even reciprocal leering! The protagonist leers at the nurse in her tight, form-fitting outfit while she leers at his red boxers. The whole thing reminded me of one of the bathing scenes from the Monogatari, only it wasn’t over-the-top enough to clue anyone in on the joke.

This first episode is funny. It’s funny because it’s awkward. It’s also lame, and lame because the storytelling is awful. It wants to be taken seriously, but doesn’t deserve any serious thought. I want to stress that those are two different things. It’s bad, but not because the comedy is failing. The storytelling is just super dumb; It’s the method more than the content. And on a certain level, that’s pretty damn impressive. I’m basically telling you that the storytelling is dumber than the premise.

I actually enjoyed this episode a good deal and I’d be lying if I said otherwise. I was laughing the entire time. I’ll almost certainly watch another episode or two. It’s so awkward it’s hilarious. It’s like a nerdy teenage who just hit puberty singing I’m Too Sexy completely off-key and expecting to be taken seriously.

As far as info dumps go I’ve seen worse than slow pans and service shots, but there was something special about the animation here. The magic was in the way the camera gets too close for anyone to actually be sure of what’s supposed to be on the screen. One more element to make the whole thing funnier than it should have been.

If I felt like this episode had been attempting comedy I’d be giving the staff two thumbs up…but I’m fairly certain it wasn’t. Some other elements like the protagonist forgetting how shirts work may have been intentionally awkward… I think they were going for sympathy with the protagonist’s I’m-about-to-get-laid panic, but it didn’t quite work. The mascot character was probably intended to be funny, but is actually the most cringe-worthy part of the whole episode.

I enjoyed Conception for all the wrong reasons. I remember enjoying the game Conception 2 back when it released– at least the first 10 hours or so, which is all I played of it. Now I’m wondering if that game’s story was equally dumb, or if this anime version of the franchise is just in a class all its own.

Long Island Retro Gaming Expo 2018: Picks From the Dealers’ Room

This may shock you, but I spent too much money in the Dealers’ Room once again. I joked after Cradle Con that I wasn’t going to spend any more money on games or anime for the rest of the year and uh…yeah, I lied. I am a liar. I am setting a bad example for my family.

Nevertheless, I cannot go back in time and unspend all this money (not that I would), so I may as well take advantage of my fevered shopping spree by getting a blog post out of it. Seriously, if I go to Anime NYC (or any other con) anytime soon, I’m probably going to have to make a point of avoiding the dealers room, since I really can’t afford to do this. But enough realistic negativity, I have swag to show off!

I filled out my PS1 RPG collection with these two gems, which I’ve wanted for a long time. I’ve always been intrigued by the dating/weapon forging mechanics in Thousand Arms, and the job system in Star Ocean: The Second Story always sounded exactly like my cup of tea. There are PSP remakes of the early Star Ocean games, but from what I’ve read, I’m better off with the original here anyway. I wish I’d bought more of these games back when they came out, but back then, I only had so much babysitting money….

Speaking of RPGs, I needed this to fill out my FF collection so I can make good on my ongoing threat of Let’s Playing them all some day. Technically I do own these games already (Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls for the GBA), but I’ve decided recently that I’d rather have everything in Playstation format when possible. PSX discs are readily available, usually inexpensive, and easy to (legally) play on the computer with an emulator.

For the record, I’ve never actually finished FF1; I’ve played about 75% of the way through it several different times, but just never completed it for some reason. I need to fix that sometime soon. FF2 I have yet to even attempt.

Not JRPGs? There must be some mistake!

I wasn’t planning on buying these, but I’ve been hearing since the ’90s that the Legacy of Kain series is high-quality, and these were really inexpensive. As an Eidos series, Kain is kind of like Lara Croft’s brother anyway, right? It made sense in my head.

After attending Leonard Herman’s panel on video game history, I was really curious to read his book. Phoenix has been around since 1994, but the fourth edition covers games history through 2015, so there’s a lot to go through here. I’ve started reading it and find it quite addictive, even if a lot of it is dedicated to covering dodgy peripherals for obscure systems I never knew existed.

Mr. Herman was really nice and even offered to help me raid the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester to get at their JRPG collection, although I was kidding about that. Or…maybe he was kidding. Let’s assume someone was kidding.

Most of you probably need some background in order to understand why I absolutely lost my shit when fell over this. Versus Books was a company that put out unauthorized game guides back in the ’90s, and they’ve been all but forgotten today. What a lot of people don’t know is that in addition to being very thorough, the Versus guides were also hilarious; reading the Metal Gear Solid book is almost as fun as playing the game itself. Years ago, my brother wrote to the company to try to get a copy of this guide, but they were out of business at that point and it seemed like there was no way to get it.

I don’t know if they used this book to take the piss out of FF7 the way they did for MGS and Resident Evil 2, but if there’s even a chance, I have to find out. Plus, maybe I’ll finally learn how to master all those stupid Gold Saucer minigames that I suck at.

One of the only early Tomb Raider guides that I didn’t already have. I like to collect the TR strategy guides because I need them to complete the damned things I like the extra stuff that’s often included in these books. Chronicles was the installment of TR that came with the infamously robust Tomb Raider Level Editor (TRLE), so I’m curious to see what the book has to say about that.

Apparently magazine ads for games have become collectibles, which makes sense; they often make nice mini-posters. I didn’t think this was something I was that interested in until I saw that they had an add for Ehrgeiz, then I just had to get it. I got a few more of these while I was there (see header). Sadly, they did not have any ads for Parasite Eve. I also picked up one for the original Advance Wars for my brother, since that’s one of his all-time favorites.

These were free, yaaay! Old School Gamer Magazine was kind enough to give away sample issues to anyone who signed up for their email list. I’m glad to discover another print game magazine, since all my favorite ones ceased publication long ago. This mag just started last year, but it has a very experienced team of writers. I’m definitely going to keep up with it and hope they keep publishing it for a long time.


This concludes my posts on LIRGE for 2018. I hope you all enjoyed getting a peek at this fun convention, and consider coming down in 2019 if you’re anywhere near the NY area. LIRGE also includes Tabletop Expo, which I did not cover because I had my hands full with the video game component, but I hope to spend more time there next year. Tabletop Expo might be spun off into it’s own convention next year, so definitely keep tabs on the LIRGE website if you’re interested in attending either or both.

Long Island Retro Gaming Expo 2018: Cosplay!

The Long Island Retro Gaming Expo may not be a cosplay destination in the same way that say, Anime Expo is. That said, there was some pretty impressive cosplay on display, and even the simpler costumes shined when their wearers went all-out with roleplaying. Since it was a gaming convention, obviously most of the characters depicted were from games, but there were also some costumes from anime and films. There was even a roving gang of Star Wars cosplayers, but I never got a good picture of them because they only seemed to show up when I was a)eating a sandwich or b)in the bathroom.

No one literally said, “You just missed them; the elusive Star Wars cosplayers!” but that was kind of how it felt. I hope that was the only group cosplay that I missed; if I find out there was a Final Fantasy VII troop somewhere that I just never ran into, I’m going to be upset.

A note on lighting: The Expo holds its cosplay contest in the Planetarium, which is a really cool venue in general, but it doesn’t have the best lighting for photography. I took a lot of these photos during the contest, meaning the photos are a bit dark. I’ve done my best to compensate, but there’s a limit to what I can do. Geek-E Magazine sponsors the cosplay contest, and they had a professional photographer taking pictures, so better pics will be available through them at some point.

Let’s start with a character close to my heart, a gorgeous Lara Croft. Man, I want to cosplay as Lara Croft now…maybe next year. Of course, if I was going to do that, I should have probably done it before I cut off nearly all my hair. Maybe I can cosplay Dora the Explorer in the meantime?

The only Star Wars cosplayer I was able to track down. Was he part of the roving gang of Star Wars people, or an independent agent? Not sure. I should have tried to follow him and see if he’d lead me to the Jedi or whoever, but I’m pretty sure that would have violated the con’s no-stalking rules….

A great Street Fighter group cosplay; so glad I caught these guys on my way out. Sadly, there was no group of X-Men cosplayers for them to fight with; I’ll have to wait for next year in the hopes of seeing an X-Men vs. Street Fighter reenactment. But it’s possible! Keep hope alive!

The judges for the Kids Cosplay contest. I didn’t take pics of the kids for the most part (as a parent, I feel weird about it), but this Little Sister from Bioshock 2 crept in there.

I’m going to level with you, I have no idea what’s going on here. Bunny Sailor Mercury hanging out with…The Riddler? Not a clue. Why didn’t it occur to me to ask them while I was taking the picture? I am an AWARD-WINNING journalist goshdarnit, you’d think I’d know better than to embarrass myself like this.

Awesome Breath of the Wild Zelda. Not to be confused with the Hyrule Warriors version of Zelda, who was also in attendance. It’s almost like this Zelda series is popular or something.

Ness from Earthbound. I’ve really gotta play that game one of these years….

Crash Bandicoot.

This costume is of a Clow Card from Card Captor Sakura, but I’ve been looking for a while and I can’t figure out which card it is. It sound like she said the “Fate” card, but I can’t find any reference to a Fate Clow Card on CCSak sites. Any Sakura superfans able to help me out here?

Your friendly neighborhood Tobi from Naruto.

Hyrule Warriors Zelda. It’s a shame I couldn’t get a better picture, because this was an awesome costume. She won Best in Show.

Cube from Jet Set Radio Future. Love the skates!

Finally, a Mario! Worth the wait.

It’s another Ness from Earthbound. Uh, I really need to play that game….

The Squid Sisters from Splatoon.

Awww, it’s an entire Mario family! I’ve never seen Peach in a cowboy hat before, but I’m sure that comes from somewhere. Their performance was hilarious; they split the Best Group Cosplay trophy with the Splatoon group.

This is a cosplay from the movie The Hangover 2. I haven’t seen the movie, so I have no idea what’s going on here, but it looks like a really good attempt at…at…at a costume. Way to think out of the box there, friend.

A lovely Princess Peach. Not that I have anything against “casual Peach” above, but this is what I think of when I think of the Princess of the Mushroom Kingdom. This cosplay won the Best Craftsmanship award.

Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat. He did not do any huge acrobatics (which are against con policy anyway), but he did a nice routine featuring Kang’s trademark kicks. I wonder: did he have a violent confrontation with the Street Fighter team above? The mind boggles.

Remember Breath of the Wild Zelda from alllll the way back at the beginning? She found herself a Link! Okay, obviously these two came together, but I like the idea that they just randomly found each other at the convention. Then it was love at first sight.

Thank you to all the cosplayers for allowing me to photograph you. To those cosplayers at LIRGE that I missed (and I know there were some), my apologies; I was trying to get as many of you as possible, but I’m only one person and can’t be everywhere at once. I’ll probably be dressed as Dora the Explorer next year, so if I missed you this time around, you know where to look to get your picture taken.

Keep in mind I’m in my 30s though, if you see an age-appropriate Dora the Explorer cosplay, that is an actual child and you should probably leave them alone.

 

Long Island Retro Gaming Expo 2018

The Long Island Retro Gaming Expo is probably the warmest convention I’ve ever been to. I’m not referring to the ambient temperature; the AC was working fine (and in the Planetarium, arguably too well.) I mean it felt warm in the sense of being incredibly inviting and friendly. Part of this is no doubt due to the efforts of the con organizers (who deserve plenty of credit for putting together a great event), but I think it’s also due to what the gaming community looks like in 2018.

You had babies in strollers clutching beloved Pikachu plushies, little kids wearing Mario t-shirts, older men and women who vividly remembered playing their Magnavox Odyssey in the ’70s, and everything in between. It was really a family event, not just because there was all-ages programming, but simply because there were a whole lot of families walking around. You had hardcore game collectors, anime cosplayers, tabletop enthusiasts, professional game historians, indie game developers, and little kids who just wanted to play Sonic all day long, and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time together. I know that this one convention does not represent the state of gamer culture in the entire world, but the attendance at this event couldn’t be further from the stereotype of the stand-offish, “toxic” gamer.

The whole second floor of the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, NY was filled with dozens and dozens of consoles playing retro games. There were also plenty of classic Arcade cabinets. 

The main Freeplay arcade area, minutes before the doors opened at 10 a.m.; once the con was open, it was standing-room only in here.

Even though the con is primarily focused on the gaming of yesteryear, there was plenty of talk at panels about recent developments in the industry. About half the convention was in morning after the apparent Death of Luigi during Nintendo Direct; streamer Vinesauce even held a “moment of silence” for Luigi during his panel. (It lasted about one second, but hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?) More importantly, everyone was talking about Nintendo’s aggressive targeting of ROM sites; in some cases, it came up because I asked about it specifically, but a lot of other congoers broached the subject during Q&A sessions as well.

While no one condemned Nintendo for shutting down emulation sites, many guests expressed concerns about how this move could effect the preservation of video game history.

“Taking such a broad approach to the issue does actual harm to the medium,” said Jeremy Parish of the Retronauts podcast. “As it is, it feels like they’re cutting off access to the past.” Parish went on to suggest that Nintendo continue taking down ROMs of their own games, but perhaps allow ROMs for more obscure titles to remain available.

From left to right: Jeremy Parish and Bob Mackey of Retronauts, and Kurt Kalata, Editor-in-Chief of Hardcore Gaming 101. Their panel covered the history of SuperJoe.

“This is a tricky topic….there are some games that are out of print, that the only people that would be making money from them are second-hand sellers– for like $400, for some of these games,” said @VinnyVincesauce, a popular streamer. “So you want a game that is, let’s say, from 1989, that you can’t get on the Virtual Console, that you can’t legally own. Now they’re making it harder for you to get it, so it’s just gone now.”

To Vinny’s surprise, the Vinesauce panel filled pretty much the entire Planetarium at the museum. This was about as close as I could get.

Leonard Herman, video game scholar and author of Phoenix IV: The History of The Videogame Industry, had a different perspective on Nintendo’s actions. “I’m for that…As a writer, you have copyrighted materials. The copyright lasts the life of the person who wrote it plus 50 years, and whether you’re making money on it–whether it’s available or not– those copyrights should be preserved. And I found my book, the earlier editions, on the internet for download, and it infuriates me…not that I’m losing a sale…I just don’t believe, unless the person who put it out agrees to it, I don’t agree with that.”

Right: Video game collector and educator John Hancock, and Leonard Herman, known as the Father of Videogame History. Their panel together covered not only milestones in video game history, but how to dispel misconceptions about videogames and disseminate the facts instead.

“I’m torn, because as a preservationist, emulators are the only way to play prototypes and hacks and all that stuff, and I think that’s awesome,” said game collector John Hancock, Herman’s co-panelist. He went on to say how frustrated he was as a collector to see Nintendo pass on the opportunity to allow people to legally purchase ROMs for individual games, and instead focus on “half-baked” options like the NES Classic. “It frustrates me to no end.”

Shawn Long, better known as RGT85 on Youtube, also lamented the inability to legally purchase older games directly from Nintendo, using the example of Mario Sunshine for the Gamecube. “This should be done more on a case-by-case basis,” said Long, echoing what Parish had said earlier in the convention.

Naturally, there were plenty of other things to talk about besides Nintendo’s recent shenanigans. Pete Dorr of Pete’s Game Room hosted a very entertaining panel about collecting games for older systems, speed-running, and finding underrated gems in older console libraries. He has also very nearly convinced me that I need to speedrun Ehrgeiz: The Forsaken Dungeon, so if you hear any tortured screaming coming vaguely from the Tri-State Area, know that it’s all Pete’s fault.

The guys from the Stone Age Gamer podcast used their panel to pit controller-against-controller in a no-holds-barred Best of 16, “The Best WORST Controller.” With the help of the audience, they picked the Dreamcast controller as their favorite “bad” controller; personally, I think the fix may have been in for the Dreamcast from the start, but I will give the SAG guys the benefit of the doubt here.

The Stone Age Gamer panel: Kris Randazzo, Dean DeFalco, and Marc Raimo.

I even got to attend a panel on NESMaker, something I didn’t know existed before this convention. Software that allows you to make videogames without coding has proliferated in recent years, but what makes NESMaker particularly special is that you can burn your creation to an actual cartridge and play it on an NES console; obviously, you need to invest in some hardware to be able to take advantage of that particular feature, but it’s pretty amazing to me that this is even possible. In terms of features, the program looks to me like it has a lot in common with RPG Maker, although with fewer options; however, that might be a good thing. Apparently you can knock out a game in NESMaker in a weekend if you feel like it, whereas RPG Maker can consume your entire life if you let it (believe me, I know this from experience.) I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to drop $36 on the software myself, but for hardcore NES-era fans, this looks like a dream come true.

I have some other stuff from the con to post for you: keep an eye out for cosplay photos and my pick ups from the dealers room (aka “The Reason Karen Can Not Afford to Go To Conventions Anymore). Now I’m going to go obsessively look up information on speedrunning, because surely I can find the time to fit that into my schedule, right? Don’t answer that.

Tomb Raider II, Level 6: Diving Area

From the title, Diving Area sounds like it should be a fun little level. Imagine Lara set loose in some kind of lush waterpark filled with swimming pools, indulging in some underwater treasure hunting whilst taking in some of that gorgeous tropical sunshine. But no, that is not the delicious digital feast that has been prepared for us.

Instead, we’re still stuck on the inside of this claustrophobic, ugly-as-sin oil rig, filled with toxic waste, and whenever we’re not busy running from room to room to push buttons that should really be in the same damn room, some asshole keeps sneaking up on Lara from behind and setting her on fire. There’s room for improvement here, is what I’m saying.

If I can’t have idyllic underwater treasure hunting, I guess two packs of grenades stuck behind a giant fan will have to do. Seriously, this is a well-hidden cache of grenades, there should have been a Jade Dragon here or something.

I did come dangerously close to having fun with this level, because it’s usually pretty clear where you need to go next, plus the platform elements are fun. The experience was spoiled a bit by too many enemies, especially the new flamethrower baddies, who are just unfair. However, there was nothing about this level as singularly tedious as the second half of Offshore Rig, so I’ll take what I can get.

Have You Thought About Renewable Energy Today?

Why is there a pool of toxic waste in the middle of the oil rig? Are they also mining Uranium from the sea floor or something? I wouldn’t put it past Bartoli, I bet that guy wants a dragon AND a gun that shoots nukes.

One thing that I never got around to talking about last level was the fact that Lara’s stuck on an oil rig. I may not like the look of the location, but it’s kind of interesting thematically. Oil is made up of fossils, creatures from the past– plants, animals, who knows what else– that we dredge up from the bottom of the sea and use for power. From a certain point of view, it’s a kind of an exploitation of the past, although a kind of exploitation that Lara herself is guilty of; after all, I don’t recall seeing any solar panels on the roof of Croft Manor.

Mostly, this area is just a pit stop to fit in a few more levels before we get to the sunken ship area, and I don’t think it was meant to serve any larger symbolic purpose. However, the fact that this whole area is associated with the Bartoli cult and all the evils they do (plus the fact that it’s just generally inhospitable towards Lara), gives a pretty negative view of using fossil fuels for energy, whether or not that was the intention. You get the impression that after this little adventure, Lara’s going to seriously consider building a wind farm somewhere on her property…possibly because, after the body count she wracks up on this rig, there won’t be anyone left to process the crude oil anyway.

Puzzle Puzzle, Turmoil and Buzzsaw

This level doesn’t boast particularly impressive puzzles, but it does have functional (and reasonably intuitive) ones. Too much of the level is spent going back and forth between two rooms, because God forbid you ever be able to solve a puzzle in the same room you started in, but let’s be honest: if that kind of gameplay bothers you, you wouldn’t be a fan of Tomb Raider in the first place.

What’s kind of a shame is that there are some things about this level that could be really cool, but don’t really go anywhere. At one point, a helicopter takes off in the middle of the level, but you can’t interact with it in any way, and you’re usually too busy in combat to even see it take off. You do get the opportunity to battle frogmen (and with the acquisition of the harpoon gun, you can even duke it out with them underwater if you want), but the harpoon gun isn’t fun to shoot. Most of the time, even after you have an underwater weapon, you’re still better off picking off the frogmen from solid ground. There’s a giant, spinning buzzsaw on the floor, but you never get the opportunity to shove any enemies into it. C’mon Core, throw me a bone here.

The fact that Lara can’t reach this keycard without getting shredded by the buzzsaw is an amazingly frustrating little tidbit. It’s the fact that it looks like you should be able to just pick the damn thing up without touching the blade that does it.

A note on a particular puzzle: the burner hall puzzle, the one where you can get the M16 if you know where to look for it. I swear I remember from years ago that I could hit one switch (turning off the first burner) then do a side-jump and hit the other one, allowing me to run down the hall, retrieve the circuit board, and make it back with plenty of time. This time around, whenever I tried to make Lara do a side-jump in this area, she kept hitting the ceiling and refused to jump; while I didn’t have a huge problem with it, this made the timing a lot less forgiving. Is this a difference between the Playstation and PC versions perhaps? It’s not important, but it bothers me because I have pretty vivid memories of solving the puzzle one way and it didn’t work this time.

Can you imagine if this fire extinguisher was actually functional, instead of just being there to mock you? Granted, Lara would die from being on fire before you could make it to the other side of the room to use it, but let’s not sweat the details here.

The Unbearable Cheapness of Flame Dudes

I don’t have a screenshot of a flamethrower, since I was always busy shooting like crazy whenever they were on screen, but I admit that was an oversight. So instead of the picture of the Big Bad Flamethrower guy I should have right here, enjoy this screenshot of Lara about to jump on a crane.

The idea that any death in Tomb Raider is “cheap” might seem a little silly. The whole franchise is based on traps that kill you instantly, not to mention a million other ways for our heroine to meet her demise. Unless you’re a serious fan and have the level memorized, you expect to see Lara die a whole bunch of times during any given level, and that’s not cheap; that’s just the type of game it is. That said, I still think the Flamethrower baddies are cheap, and overall a bad idea.

With most traps, no matter how deadly,  you can see them if you look out for them, and plan how to pass through them unharmed. In contrast, unless you know where all of them are in advance, the Flamethrower-toting baddies can just come out of nowhere and flame you, and then it’s Game Over. It’s okay to get a Game Over when you know you made a mistake and how to fix it, not so much when it feels like there was nothing you could have done differently.

This could be easily rectified too, since the amount of water on these levels could provide an easy out. If Lara can get lit on fire, she should be able to jump in the water and recover (like in The Dragon’s Lair), and then you at least have a fighting chance. Yet somehow, despite all the pools of water on this level, you often fight the Flamethrower dudes with no H20 in sight. To me, this creates additional difficulty for all the wrong reasons.

Bizarre Cutscene Theater: The Monk

When you complete Diving Area, you’re rewarded with one of Tomb Raider II‘s incredibly bizarre, disjointed cutscenes. A monk who has been trying to stop Bartoli thinks that Lara is a spirit guide sent to send him into his next life, and rambles on about that a little bit. Now, Lara doesn’t look like my idea of a Buddhist Spirit Guide, but to be fair, the dude has been tortured and lost a lot of blood. He is lucid enough to tell Lara about the Seraph, the key that Bartoli needs for the next stage of his plans. Bartoli, lurking on the perimeter, shoots the monk before he can give Lara any more information.

Now I know what you’re thinking; why didn’t he shoot Lara first? He had the drop on her, and she’s way more dangerous to him than an unarmed, delirious monk. I will repeat what I’ve said before; Bartoli passes up obvious opportunities to kill Lara because he wants to save her to play the Maiden to his Dragon. Like, what’s the point of even being a dragon if you can’t have your minions tie a woman to a stake and threaten to eat her? There is none.

But all of that is of lesser importance, because look at this:

YEAH I GOT THE WETSUIT! MY FIRST NEW OUTFIT IN TRII! I’M BLOWING THIS POPSICLE STAND!!!!!!

In perhaps the riskiest plan she has ever tried, which is saying something, Lara glomms onto a minisub that’s heading toward the bottom of the sea. For all Lara knows the sub could take an hour to get there and she would die from lack of oxygen long before reaching her destination, but the promise of pocketing artifact that both narcissistic Italian mobsters and delusional Tibetan Monks revere is just too much temptation to resist.

I’m still getting all the secrets. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep this up.

Best: When you finally drop down through the central hub and gain access to the whole level, it’s very satisfying. There’s a nice “aha!” moment when you realize how everything fits together.

Worst: The darn flamethrowers. They tempt you to save every five seconds, just in case you get immolated from behind around the next corner.

Rating: Two Uzi Clips Out of Five. Still brought down by too much combat and less-than-inspiring environs, but there’s some fun to be had solving a lot of small puzzles, so it earns an extra clip over Offshore Rig.

Next Up: 40 Fathoms, because there’s nothing that says “fun!” like suffocating to death a whole bunch of times before the level even properly starts.

Tomb Raider II, Level 5: Offshore Rig

Lara starts off the next major chunk of Tomb Raider II without her weapons, yet mysteriously unharmed. Given that Bartoli is really not a very nice guy, one has to wonder why he lets Lara live. Yes, I know if he didn’t, there would be no game, but let’s try to use in-game logic here: Why didn’t he just kill her while she was unconscious?  She’s already killed about 80 of his henchman (and maybe 30 of his dogs), so you’d think he’d want some revenge.

My guess is that he was planning to wait until he was a dragon and then kill her with his fire breath, because that would be a nice, theatrical use of his new powers. Either that, or the Fiamma Nera payroll was starting to get a bit unmanageable, and Lara actually did him a service by weeding out under-performing cultists. Maybe he was thinking of offering a her a job as his body guard, which would be the smartest thing he could do, but Lara busts out of her cell before the B-man can broker a truce, and now we’ll never know.

And So My Troubles Begin

This burner trap looks really threatening at first, but the solution is incredibly simple and kind of lame.

I really don’t like this level set in general. It has it’s moments, but in general it feels like your regular Tomb Raider session has been interrupted by Metal Gear Solid. You would think putting TR and MGS together would lead to good gameplay, but alas, no. It’s the sterile, industrial environments of MGS without the stealth and intrigue of that series, and the occasional plodding tedium of TR without any of the grandeur and atmospheric magic. Things do pick up a bit once we get to the sunken ocean liner, but we’re not there yet.

And argh, the color-coded keycards. Any Tomb Raider level that has Lara collecting key cards instead of ornate keys or ancient sculptures is automatically suspect.

I tried to enjoy this level, really I did, but it’s full of so many things that are just a pain. In theory, it’s clever that you need to manipulate your armed opponents into shooting out the windows for you so you can progress in the level, but in practice, you’re standing there, waiting to be shot, then getting shot. Not fun.

And getting sucked into the underwater fan about 20 times before you realize you have no need to go over there, ever; not fun.

And climbing lots of ladders. Not fun.

And getting shot by frogmen with harpoons, only to pull up on dry land and nail those froggy bastards with your pistols…okay, I admit, that part is a little fun. The point still stands.

Please sir, can I have the windows shot out? I would be so very grateful!

The Rig that Never Ends

This level isn’t very large at all compared to some of the ones we get later in the game, but it just feels too long. I think after Opera House, I wanted a quick, refreshing little level to get me used to the new environs while I recollected my arsenal of weapons. Instead, by the time you get to the giant, water-filled room with tons of precarious cat walks, it’s like “you’ve got to be kidding me.”

I’m tempted to chalk it up to pacing, except I don’t really understand pacing very well. People will talk about “pacing issues” in books or film, and I’m often not sure I know quite what they mean. Everyone has a different intuitive sense of how things should be paced, so calling something “poor pacing,” as if that’s the kind of thing that can be quantitatively measured, just seems kind of iffy to me. That said, I wonder if my overall dislike of this level can be summed up as poor pacing; there are parts of it I like, but those parts tend to be incredibly short.

Running on top of the seaplane is cool. It’s a shame there isn’t more to do here.

I made things worse for myself by missing the exit of the water room, so I ended up navigating the catwalks about 3-4 times, completely; that’s not the game’s fault, and should probably be chalked up to me being dense sometimes. But still, it happened, and it’s partially Offshore Rig’s fault.

I hate this room. Granted, it’s nice of them to put a pool of water under you so Lara doesn’t die when you fall, but in some ways that just prolongs the agony.

Just when you think you never have to hear that stupid alarm again, you pick up this keycard and it goes off all over again. Goddammit.

At least the combat isn’t too bad. There are a lot of foes that you can take out from afar with your little plinky-plink guns, and I appreciate that sort of thing. No matter the level, conserving ammo for my big guns makes my stingy heart proud.

Yeah, I took a long time on this level. I spent a stupid amount of time playing with the underwater switch that leads to the Jade Dragon thinking it was critical to my progression or something (it’s not).

Best: Jumping around on the plane en route to get your pistols, then experiencing the euphoria of being armed again once you find them. I swear, you can almost hear a chorus of angels singing.

Worst: Uh, everything else? If I have to pick, I guess navigating the catwalks above the huge, water-filled room. It’s a good idea, but it just goes on way too darn long. Add in the fact that you end up traversing it a lot looking for the exit to the room, and it’s just annoying.

Rating: 1 out of 5 Uzi Clips. You’re supposed to start out hating this level, then feel awesome once you get your pistols back; unfortunately, the pistols only make me happy for about two minutes, and then I go back to hating the entire level. I’m sorry, Offshore Rig fans.

Next: Diving Area. Just give me my goddamned wetsuit already and let’s get this over with.

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode 12

In the final episode, we learn that LLENN is an evil genius who’s just been hiding it well this whole time. The fact that she knew that mocking Sword Art Online was perhaps the one way to really push Pito’s buttons and get her to lose her cool shows just how good she is at manipulating people when she wants to. We can only hope that she continues to use her powers for good instead of evil, and the devastating loss of the second P-chan doesn’t drive her to a life of crime.

Just like the Elder Wand will not kill it’s owner, P-Chan II will self-destruct before shooting LLENN. Oh God, I just made a Harry Potter reference, please let this be a one-time thing.

I like the fact that the final battle was relatively short, giving the story lots of time to wrap up outside the game. There was one thing I didn’t understand: why did M bother to take Fuka hostage instead of killing her? I know he wanted Pito to lose, so he could have kept Fuka alive to support LLENN (which is ultimately what happened, of course), but that gives away the game to Pito. Yet when Pito shoots him as a traitor, she does so for other reasons, not because he left one of their enemies alive for no apparent reason. It’s just a little off.

Pito thought she had prepared well, but LLENN knew her one weakness; she had no defense against vampire munchkins.

I’m just going to choose to think that M’s reasoning was “Fuka is too awesome to kill,” in which case I must wholeheartedly agree with him. In this episode, we get to see more of Miyu, the player behind Fuka, and naturally, she’s great in meatspace as well. I know M has this all-consuming, twisted love for Pito, and nothing can change that, but there’s a sick little part of me that wanted him to drop Pito like a hot potato once Miyu started hitting on him.

Goushi: “Thank you for your sexual interest in me, but I only like crazy bitches.”

Miyu: “Have you SEEN me play GGO?”

Goushi: “Holy FUCK you’re right, you are everything I’ve ever dreamed of, you barely-restrained psychopath.”

In any case, I love how brutal the final battle is; it needed to be, or else Pito wouldn’t have believed that she had met her match in LLENN. As I predicted last time (not like it was hard to see), the other team comes in from offscreen and grabs the win at the last second, but do you really think they enjoyed it? You just know that no one discussing the second Squad Jam is going to talk about the winners at all; they’ll be talking about Pito, LLENN, Fuka, and those intense Amazon women.


“We won, but…it feels so hollow…*sniffles*”

I’ll admit, they had me for a fraction of a second; when they introduced the club owner as “Pito,” I actually thought, very briefly, that she really was Pito and all of the hints that Pito was really Elsa Kanzaki were false leads. Of course, the Karen on the show is smarter than this Karen sitting right here, and knew immediately who the real Pito was. I’m telling you: evil genius. Do we know what field Karen is studying in college? If it’s political science, the world is doomed to fall under the thumb of her adorable hegemony.

Hello, cute little girl. I bet Elsa’s rage comes from the fact that she’s saddled with an acoustic guitar; if she was allowed to shred with an electric guitar in a proper band, getting all that aggression out, this whole nasty business could have been avoided. Death Metal saves lives.

At first I thought it was a little convenient that Elsa’s obsession with death was “cured” by one battle with LLENN, but I think I get it now; the fact that there’s a player out there who can match her, and there may be others that she’s not even aware of yet, keeps life interesting enough that killing herself has lost its appeal. I think Elsa is just naturally talented at most things she tries, and she was getting really bored of a life with no challenge. The fact that LLENN can kick her ass was a revelation to her. I fear for what would happen if Elsa met Kirito; she’d probably become crazy-obsessed with him, and then everyone would bitch that the show was all about Kirito again.

Despite her evil genius, LLENN lacks the self-awareness to realize that she’s as feared in-game now as Pito is, and that’s comforting; we should all fear the day when LLENN becomes truly aware of what she is and what she can do. For now, she’s satisfied to run around shooting people with a deranged pop singer in the virtual world of GGO, and that’s a good time for everyone.

Onward, to another gratuitously violent adventure!

This show surpassed my expectations by just being really solid and fun all the way through. There was some food for thought, which I wrote about earlier in the season, but overall, this was a good rippin’ yarn with characters you liked rooting for and action that kept you on your toes. When mainline Sword Art Online returns this fall, it’s going to have some mighty big shoes to fill; well, technically, tiny little pink munchkin-shoes, but you get the idea.