Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Topic: Gaming - Tales Series

February 2012 is going to be a big month for me. Honestly, I'm excited. No, it's not because there's a major life event coming my way, nor is it because I'll be in my final semester of college. Remember when I said that gaming was a big part of what I did? That it was my "thing?" February is going to be a big month because my all-time favorite game series is releasing two new US titles that month: Namco-Bandai's Tales series will be releasing Tales of Graces F on the PS3 and a remake of 2005's Tales of the Abyss for the 3DS.

I'm so excited that I can hardly contain it.

In the US, the Tales series is overshadowed by the Final Fantasy series, and we hardly ever get to see Tales titles here in the US. The last one that came out here was 2008's Tales of Vesperia on the Xbox 360. (True facts: I bought a 360 just so I could play Vesperia. I'm not kidding.) In Japan, four Tales games have come out since Vesperia. Those are Tales of Vesperia (remade for PS3 with new playable characters and a deeper storyline to coinside with the movie), Tales of Hearts (DS), Tales of Graces (originally on the Wii, and remade for PS3), and Tales of Xillia (also on PS3). US fans will never see Hearts, and there's a decent chance that we won't see Xillia, either, which is a damn shame.

Namco-Bandai has been hinting that, if Graces and Abyss 3D sell well enough, we might see a localized version of Tales of Xillia. "Might" is the key word there. I said it once up there, and I'll say it again: that's a damn shame, because the Tales games are some of the finest JRPGs I have ever played, and I've played a lot of them.

For starters, every mothership title to date has had an extremely strong storyline behind it, with a cast of extremely strong (and well-voiced) main characters to drive it. 2004's Tales of Symphonia had Lloyd Irving as its leading man - kindhearted, strong-willed, a bit slow, and a strong sense of justice - and Colette Brunel as its leading lady - polite, quiet, and overwhelmingly kind. The rest of the main cast was just as strong and believable as its two main characters were, and even when the story hit a cliche that would otherwise make you groan, it somehow worked within the game's universe and kept you pulled in. It's been seven years since that game has come out, and I still sit down to play through its story. That alone should tell you something. 2006's Tales of the Abyss on PS2 was just as strong. Main characters: Luke fon Fabre, selfish, bratty prince, and Tear Grants, a disciplined, tough soldier. Storyline: gave me a mindfuck the first time I played it. Did it again the second and third time, and I knew that it was going to happen.

I could run through all the Tales games that I've played and tell you why it's a strong game while trying not to give away the plot, but we'd both be here all day. The best way to see for yourself is to go down to GameStop, or go over to Amazon, and get yourself a used copy of Tales of Vesperia on the 360. Play it, give it at least until you get to Capua Nor to make up your mind. If you like role playing games, the Tales series will never disappoint.

If you're too lazy to go out there and play a game, or you don't have the necessary time, go watch an anime. Phantasia, Eternia, Symphonia, Abyss, and Vesperia all have anime adaptations. Phantasia and Abyss are out in the US.

Don't just brush the Tales series off as another run-of-the-mill JRPG. It's so much more than that, I promise.

Do you maybe already know all about what I said about the Tales series up there? Do you want to help out - as a fan - to try to get more of these games over here in English?

Then hop on over to Facebook - I know you have one - and go "like" the Aselian Movement. It's the headlining page in a fan-created movement to get Bamco to acknowledge that yes, Tales fans exist outside of Japan, and YES WE WANT GAMES DAMMIT. And then go like the other pages involved in the movement. You can read about what the Aselian Movement is all about, as well as find about the other games involved in the movement by reading about them here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: Harvest Moon: Tale of Two Towns (3DS)

Title: Harvest Moon: Tale of Two Towns
System: Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Buy It:
Before we start off, let me say this: for all intents and purposes, this review is for the 3DS version of Harvest Moon: A Tale of Two Towns. Other than 3D effects, an animal-petting minigame, and the 3DS region-locking, I know of no differences between the two versions. Now, with that out of the way, let's get to talking about HM:ToTT!

The Harvest Moon games have remained mostly unchanged since the franchise started in 1996 on the SNES. As much a dating simulation as it is a farming simulation, it has a niche following in the United States, making it a small - but successful - franchise. Other than some graphic re-hauling over the years, the main HM franchise has always been about two things: rising up to create a successful farm, and finding yourself a spouse. In that regard, HM: Two Towns does nothing new. But the new things it does bring has kept me interested and occupied.

The most interesting part of Two Towns is that you can choose which town you want to live in at the beginning of the game. The first choice is the farming village Konohana, a tranquil and pretty Japanese-inspired town that centers around raising crops over livestock. On the other side of the mountain, you have your second option: the town of Bluebell, a more European-looking town that centers its income on raising livestock. No matter which town you choose, you can utilize the land on both farms. (This makes it easy to live in Bluebell and raise a lot of livestock and still use the fields in Konohana to raise long-lasting crops like soybeans, corn, tomatoes, etc.) Living in Bluebell is almost like cheating. Living in Konohana is a lot more typical of other Harvest Moon games: being broke all the time and struggling to get the money needed for important things like seeds, fertilizer, and pet food.

Other activities - fishing, bug gathering, and foraging - are back from other games and work just as well as they ever have. Fishing has a new option, though: you can now wade into shallow water and catch fish with your hands by walking up to them and hitting the "A" button. These tiny fish can't be used in cooking, but they can be sold for ten to thirty gold and be used to fulfill requests for villagers.

The 3D graphics add a cute shadow effect to the game, but overall isn't worth the ten dollars extra you have to plunk down for it. The 3DS-exclusive animal petting minigame, however, makes your animals friendlier faster, and is an interesting benefit to getting the enhanced version.

In spite of everything that Two Towns is doing right, though, classic HM bugs are still present. The game freezes periodically and at random times, and when your only option for saving is before you go to bed, a lot of things can be lost. Additionally, the game lags when there's a lot of things going on: riding your horse while other livestock roams around in their pens will cause the game to slow a little bit. In 3D mode, it's motion-sick inducing. In 2D, it's just annoying. The last thing that this game has wrong with it - really, really wrong - is that the weather system only kind of works. Listen to the radio before you go to bed, and it will tell you what the weather for the present day and the next day will be. There's about a 45% chance that the weather forecast for the next day will be wrong, making it confusing and difficult to plan ahead for the next day, especially for weather-specific events like flower events and figuring out what to do with your livestock for the day.

Overall, Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns is fun and addicting. The typical bugs are still present, but are as much a part of the Harvest Moon experience as courting a villager.

Bottom Line: Mostly the same Harvest Moon, but with an interesting addition of choosing where you can specialize. It's a welcome - and interesting - change. Typical HM bugs are still present and more annoying than ever.

Final Score: 8/10

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Topic: Gaming - Pokemon

Gaming is an important part of my lifestyle. What little time I have left between chillaxin' with friends, writing, homework, and life screwing me over, I dedicate to gaming. It's something that was in the house before I got there, and I'll be taking with me to my own household, when I finally decide to strike it out on my own.And one of the franchises that's been in my house since I was a small child was Pokemon. It's a staple in the house, along with Mario, Zelda, Ratchet and Clank, Spyro the Dragon (the original Insomniac games), and Crash Bandicoot (the Naughty Dog games.)

But lately, I've been catching shit for the whole Pokemon thing. No one can give me a reason why, but I'll suspect that it's "Hurrr, you still play Pokemon. You should grow up." But you know what? I loves me some Pokemon games, even now.

Above left: What someone who makes fun of
my Pokemon habit looks like.
There's a mix of reasons for that. One, Pokemon Blue was the first game that was ever truly mine. I didn't have to share it with anyone. I got to play my game, on my GameBoy Color. And the feeling was amazing. Two, I like seeing the games evolve into what they've become today (inb4 sellout.) Three, I still enjoy the hell out of them for what they are - a solid strategy RPG. And four, the spinoffs are fun too.

Now, before you go jumping down my throat about being in my 20s and still playing games designed for children, take a second to stop and think for a second: if you do, you'll look like that guy up there. Do you really want to look like that guy up there? Nah, didn't think so.

The main games in the Pokemon franchise are, whether you like it or not, solid tactical RPGs that're pretty damn customizable. And if you're really into it, it opens a whole new set of doors into the mechanics of the whole thing. Essentially, there's two tiers to everything in a Pokemon game: a casual tier, where you can just play through the story, get your badges, and battle your friends over local wi-fi. And then there's the hardcore tier, where you can specially train your Pokemon for their best stats (IV and EV training,) competitively battle with others, or set special rules that you have to follow throughout the course of your journey. (Go watch a Nuzlocke challenge on YouTube or read the comic on to get a better idea of what it is and to see how srs bns Pokemon can get.)

And it's not just the mainstream games that get that treatment, it's spinoffs as well. And everyone knows that when it comes to spinoffs, Pokemon is pretty damn successful. (Just off the top of my head, there's the Pinball franchise, Mystery Dungeon, Ranger, Stadium/Colosseum, PokePark, the upcoming Rumble Blast and more that I know I'm blanking on.) And when Pokemon does a spinoff, they do it right. PMD (Pokemon Mystery Dungeon) is one of the best mystery dungeon games I've ever played. (Keep an eye out for a post on those in the coming couple weeks.) Pokemon Stadium entertained me for literal months when I was a kid, and still does. There's a few horrible games in the franchise, sure, but every franchise has their weak spots.

Any way you slice it, Pokemon's not just for kids anymore. As long as adults can have fun too, Pokemon will continue being everyone's game.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Announcing a spin-off blog!

So, as we all know, I'm young and insane.

And as you may not know, I've got severe wanderlust.

With one more semester ahead of me before I get my Associate's in Creative Writing, I've been thinking more and more seriously about something I've thought about since I first got my car: a road trip. Not just any road trip, mind you: this would be a road trip for the ages. To go out and see what you've never seen, to do what you've never done, to live like you've never lived.

That's my goal, after I graduate. To go out on an epic road trip and do, see, eat, and experience things I've never done/seen/eaten/experienced before. You can check out the new blog, Smart Across America, and see what my plans are. And when I finally get going on my trip, it'll be everyone's main way to creep on what I'm doing, where I'm going, where I've been, and where I'll be going next.

In the meantime, during pre-trip, feel free to suggest places for me to go/eat/see/do. I'll admit, while I've been doing research myself, sometimes the best things to do are the ones that you learn about from other people. The blog is empty and sad right now, but check back. I'll start putting things up soon!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Power Outages and Lacks of Updates

So, you might have heard about the recent snowstorm that pummelled the Northeast. We're out of power here, and that means a lack of updates. I have a few scheduled for the coming days, but unfortunately, until powe is restored, there won't be anything new from here after the last few post. Hang tight, I'll be back soon!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: Professor Layton and the Last Specter (DS) PART TWO

Title: Professor Layton and the Last Specter
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Number of Players: 1
Buy It: Amazon | GameStop | PlayAsia (Japanese) (English)
Other Notes: Soundtrack available on PlayAsia | Read my review of London Life, the mini-RPG bonus game here if you missed it.

If you had asked me what I thought of brain teasers circa 2008, I'd have told you that they were a waste of time. Because they were never something I was ever good at, unlike my father, they were something actively dismissed. Worse, if an assignment called for them for homework in school (and it did, on a few occasions,) I would take an F for the homework grade rather than sit there and suffer through a bunch of puzzles that would infuriate me.

Then Professor Layton walked by, and all that changed. Between the first game's enchanting art style and charming music, I was immediately hooked, puzzles be damned. I was more enchanted by the story, characters, and settings than I was by the puzzles, but they grew on me. Now, at the fourth game in the series, I can say (without sarcasm) that I'm really glad that I took the first step into the puzzle-solving franchise. Professor Layton and the Last Specter takes everything about the series up a notch: story, puzzles, characters, and music, and keeps the entire experience as charming and magical as it was in the first game. But better.

This game (and, yes, the next two,) act as the prequel chapters towards Curious Village and give players an insight to what the gentlemanly Professor Layton was doing before St. Mystere ever became an issue and before Luke started wearing that adorable periwinkle sweater vest he always wears. The game kicks off with a few wonderfully rendered animated scenes and a few easy puzzles to get you going before you start getting kicked in the pants with new, more difficult puzzles. Veterans of the series know what to expect: puzzles ramp up in difficulty the more you play, plot twists come out of nowhere, and hint coins are still hiding in elusive spots. Newcomers to the series won't be disappointed, and the Professor walks through how everything works himself early on so that you don't get confused.

While plot twists and red herrings can still be somewhat frustrating, the story kept me engaged throughout so that I didn't get flustered enough to throw in the towel without seeing things through to the end. Even with the tomfoolery with the plot twists, I can't dock too many points from the game. It's remarkably solid, fun, and still a great way to waste a weekend. If you've been putting off getting the game, stop. Just go get it. If you've been interested in taking the series for a spin and never have, there has never been a better time to join the Professor in solving a mystery.

Bottom Line: Same Professor, but more. More cutscenes, more puzzles, more enchantment. You know, more. And bigger.

Final Score: 9/10

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: Professor Layton and the Last Specter (DS) PART ONE - London Life

London Life title screen
Title: Professor Layton's London Life (mini-RPG bonus game)
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E 10+
Number of Players: 1
Buy It: Amazon | GameStop | (English version) (Japanese Version)

I'll say this first: this is a review in two parts. Why? That comes next.

I bought this game the day it came out, and as of right this very second, I have not yet started the main game. That's because of this nifty little bonus RPG that Last Specter came with, called London Life. What is LL? It's one part Animal Crossing, one part Professor Layton, and one part Mother 3 (I think it was called EarthBound in English? Don't quote me on that, though.) And it's one hell of a great time.

You start off by creating a character from the top-down: looks, personality, style, the whole nine yards. Like in Animal Crossing, you start off by getting off a train in a new town and moving into your new apartment. Your furnishings are sparse at first: all you've got is a bed. Over the course of your time in Little London, though, you can buy new things and add to your room, though doing fetch quests for the other Londoners can get you some pretty nifty items that either can't be found anywhere else or are very expensive.

The game operates on two different levels: one is Wealth, the in-game currency. The other is Happiness, which affects almost everything else in the game: what kinds of fish you catch (and how often), what kinds of flowers you find in flower boxes, how much you get paid on jobs, and how well others respond to you. Of course, your happiness goes down if someone in town yells at you, but you can replenish it by making or buying food and eating it. Happiness, in most cases for London Life, is more important than Wealth, but the two are so well intertwined that sometimes it's hard to tell.

London Life player character (center) seen with
Luke Triton (left) and Flora (right)
But by now you're probably wondering where the Mother/EarthBound part comes in, right? It's all in the graphics, baby. Cute sprites looks like they could've been lifted right out of one franchise and plopped onto the other. It's not a bad thing by a long shot, either: London Life really benefits from sprite usage.

The biggest part about this game though is the part that I fear will turn players off of really playing it: it's all mission based. Don't be turned off by the fact that this is all built on fetch quests. I'm not normally a fan of mission-based games - my dislike of them kept me from really enjoying Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days - but I literally couldn't put this down. My inner completionist went balls to the walls with this and had a great time learning all the recipes, completing every single mission, and making my million-Wealth apartment all my own.

While the complete mini-story can be completed in around two hours, I had a lot of fun sinking hours upon hours into completing all the quests and helping out all the familiar faces from other Professor Layton titles.

I have no complaints with this game, at all, except maybe that it's too short. In all honesty, I would have bought this as a stand-alone game. It's that good.

Bottom Line: Mini-RPG that comes with Last Specter. Shockingly fun, lots to do, and extremely customizable.

Final Score: London Life gets a solid, well-deserved 10/10

Special Note: You can buy the game's full soundtrack here. It's beautiful, as I'd expect from a Professor Layton game.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Creative Nonfiction is...?

One of the semester long questions that I'm supposed to be finding an answer to is "So, what is creative nonfiction?" And as easy as it would be to just pop onto Google and look up a definition, that's not what my professor is looking for. She's looking for thoughtful, intelligent responses.

It took every ounce of willpower that I had to refrain from putting quotations around most of that last sentence. Not because it's there, but because the terms "thoughtful" and "intelligent" are relative. Especially - let's be real here - at a community college. Okay, now that I'm done making fun of community colleges and the people who attend them (myself included, guys, so chill out,) I can get through with this.

Creative nonfiction, to me, isn't just writing about things that really happened - anyone can do that, and it's called an expository essay or a textbook. No, creative nonfiction employs writing tools and devices from fiction to make a real event or topic interesting, more vivid, or more relatable. It's the "creative" part that keeps it from being dry and insufferable.

So, what does that mean for readers? Well, for one, a creative nonfiction piece should hold the reader's attention, even if the topic isn't one that the reader would usually stick around and pour attention and time into. (See what I'm doing here? If you're still reading this, it means that I'm succeeding.) A journal, blog, or other record that just tells of "I went here and did this and then I went someplace else" isn't going to be very interesting to another person. It probably won't even be that interesting for the person that wrote it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS)

Title: Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
System: Nintendo 3DS
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Buy It: | GameStop

Go ask a gamer about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I'll bet that they've played it. It's one of the single-most influential games that's ever come out, and quite possibly the most well-known Zelda title to date. There's a reason why this game is successful every time it gets remade. Something like that isn't an accident. That's because this game is a timeless classic, and it will remain that way for quite some time. That said, let's go and talk about its most recent incarnation: Ocarina of Time 3D.

Let's start with graphics. They've been updated for the 3DS outing; pots and jugs decorate what used to be barren shelves in houses and shops on earlier editions. It's a little tougher to see the seams in texturing, the harsh lines making up buildings and trees have been softened; clipping errors are harder to come by. The graphics are pretty, they work well, they're more fully developed and everything feels alive. The update was necessary, and what has been done doesn't at all disappoint. Ocarina's Hyrule feels more fully realized now than it ever has before. The 3D option adds a depth of field that wasn't possible before, making it even more possible to get sucked in to the action.

Gameplay has gotten an overhaul as well. The addition of gyroscopic targeting allows for less slingshot fumbling and more shooting Skulltulas. And the gyroscopic targeting system is quite impressive. It allows a full 360-degree targeting range (provided, of course, you're able to turn that far,) and has completely eliminated the need for joystick-based targeting. Plus, the touch screen now has all your map- and inventory-based needs so you don't have to ever interrupt the action on the top screen. And, with the unlockable addition of Master Quest, the game goes much farther and gets much tougher on subsequent playthroughs.

Of course, through all this glowing praise comes the bad news, right? Well, unless you're like me and get motion sick with those 3D graphics, there's no bad news. At all. Ocarina is as fun, frustrating (water temple, anyone?), and engaging as it was when it first came out. If you haven't played it yet, go out there and grab yourself a copy.

Bottom Line: Play it again. For Hyrule! And, you know, for Master Quest.

Final Score: 9/10

Monday, October 17, 2011

Topic: Writing and Characterization

One of the things I've never had a problem with is creating and developing a character. I've always been pretty good at creating a character and knowing what their motives, fears, goals, hobbies, strengths, and weaknesses were. Like having perfect pitch, it's something that I normally take for granted. So, when I was asked in my short story class a few weeks ago how I create such believable characters - even when they're doing unbelievable things - I had to stop and really think about it. "I just do" or "I'm not sure" aren't acceptable answers, especially when someone is looking to you for help. I've been spending a lot of time recently thinking about my own character development exercises, and I've come up with a really, really loose list of things that I do. Check them out; they're under the break.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's the little things in life, I guess...

My favorite day is the day after laundry day, when I can wear the same pair of socks twice in a row.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Stupid things I do volume one: food

I noticed tonight as I was eating my dessert that I do a lot of stupid things concerning food. Some of them were thing I've noticed before but never really paid attention to: wiping off utensils before using them, cleaning the top of my soda can, only drinking out of one side of the glass... Stupid things like that. But tonight, I noticed a few new things.

Like sniffing my food before I eat it, even if it's something I just made. It could have come directly out of the pan and onto my plate, and I'd still give it a sniff before I ate it. I know what it is; I just made it. Duh. But for some reason, I have to give it that sniff before I pop it into my mouth.

The next thing I noticed today was that I always microwave my Italian ices before I eat them for about twenty seconds. So that they're soft and easier to eat. (Yes, before you ask, I have all of my teeth.) I just prefer the texture of Italian ice when it's been microwaved for a few seconds. It doesn't really melt it, just makes it easier to eat.

The last one I'll go into tonight involves Twizzlers. I use them as straws until they get soggy. Have you ever had strawberry flavored Coke? I want it if it tastes like Coke through my Twizzler straw.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Review: Chocolatier (DS)

Title: Chocolatier
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1

Buy It:

This is more of a job lot review than a real review, but here goes. Last time I went to Five Below, I decided to let the gamer inside me loose, and check out the games. Usually, there's only a handful of lame movie tie-in games for the Gameboy Advance, but this last time was a jackpot: DS games, PS2 games, and even a few Wii games lined the video game bin.

Among the games I found there was an unassuming DS game by the name of "Chocolatier" where you, the player, became a - you guessed it - chocolatier to revive a once-famous brand name to its former glory. By haggling for ingredients and travelling the world to get only the finest goods, you were able to make better chocolates, and as you got better, you were able to make more and more kinds of chocolates. As you progress, you gained the ability to buy new factories  (and therefore make more chocolates at once) and by running errands for people, you'll be able to get new recipes. The premise was simple, yet engaging. And for five bucks, I figured I really had nothing to lose.

Making the chocolates had an interesting game mechanic: plates with notches revolved around a "cannon" in the center of the screen with an ingredient on it. Shoot the correct ingredients onto the plate you wanted to by touching it with the DS stylus. Once the plate was full, it'd vanish and get replaced by a new one until your time ran out. (It was something like 60 seconds per round.) The better you did, the faster the wheel with the plates would spin, and the more chocolates you could pump out. Plus, the better a recipe you were using, the more ingredients you'd need to make the chocolate and the tougher it'd be.

The game was much more addicting than I thought it'd be. The entire campaign only took me about six hours to complete, but it was a fast-paced, fun six hours. And I did it almost straight because I couldn't put it down. Completely worth my five dollars.

Bottom Line: Fun, fast-paced game about reviving a chocolate company to their former glory. Look in the right places, get it for $5 or less. (Trust me, it's worth your $5.)

Final Score: 8/10

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Essay: What is Love?

This is a piece that I'm really, really proud of. It flowed the way I wanted it to, it led itself without ever feeling forced or fake, and it paints a really good picture of me without ever giving concrete details about myself. I'd written it for my ENG 231/Creative Nonfiction class, and both the group I read it to and my professor enjoyed it. It's one of those things that I just had to share. So, below the cut, read one of my favorite Creative Nonfiction pieces thus far: What is Love?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I'm going to be flooding all your crap pretty soon. Sorry. I've been on a writing kick, and I'm proud enough of some of my stuff to put it out in the open. That's really rare for me. I'm trying to keep it down to one post a day. Let's see how fast I burn out, yeah?

Featured on Pulp City!

So, at the beginning of the semester, my short story "That's Suspicious" was published on the Pulp City blog. (Pulp City is HCC's literary magazine.) It was based off of a real event, but it's easier to call it fiction because the finer details are a little fuzzy.

You can read it here!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Creative Nonfiction is Terrifying.

I'm supposed to have two goals for the Creative Nonfiction class that I'm currently enrolled in: the first is to read and pick apart a creative nonfiction essay every week, breaking it down into themes and things I notice about the writing: how it was written, why the author chose to write what they wrote, what the topic says about the writer, what it's supposed to make the reader feel, etc. The second part is to take an element of what that author used - a style, a mood, a theme, you name it - and borrow it for my own piece. Every week, I'm to write a creative nonfiction piece and share it with the class.

I'm finding the process a tad difficult.

It's not tough for me because of how I have to write. Borrowing styles is how fledgling authors experiment and learn and find their own writing voices, the same way that children borrow verbal tics from their heroes and mentors. The part that's difficult is figuring out what to write. 

I'm a bit biased when it comes to my own writing style. I tend to try to look at things from a more lighthearted point of view. I like to make things funny, even when they're not. I like to make people laugh, even if it means that sometimes a joke comes a little short of where I intended it to go. Sometimes, my writing isn't allowed to be funny. I've never really been a good dramatic writer, and I'm sure that part of it has to do with my personality. 

But I also know that part of it lies within my own anxiety of putting too much of myself on the table: too many details about myself, facing and owning up to my insecurities and shortcomings, things like that. It's like the moment a hero realizes that the darkness he's fighting is really just his own reflection; to get rid of the evil, he must get rid of his reflection. Get rid of himself. Sometimes, it's facing that fact that makes writing creative nonfiction difficult, especially when it's about yourself. It makes you dig up things about yourself you're ashamed to admit, wish you could forget. Everyone has skeletons in their closet; writing creative nonfiction makes you dust yours off and display them. Sometimes it's to prove a point, but it can be just as moving and heartfelt when you don't.

So far, I've been able to tell a lot of the humorous stories from my lifetime. The running gag between my friends and I is that my life cannot be real, and is in fact just a scripted TV show that everyone is in on but me - like 1998's The Truman Show. 

I know that I can't keep running away from the more dramatic moments of my life. I know that I'll eventually have to face them head on and write about them, catalog them like I've cataloged the hilarious, surreal, and extraordinary moments in my life. I'm not sure if I'm ready to face the more dramatic, sad, and "real" moments that my life has had to offer, but I'm sure that I'll find a way to make them just as fluid and readable as the ones that have focused on the fun times in my life.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: Princess Debut (DS)

Title: Princess Debut
System: DS
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1

If you read my post about gaming that segued into a post about my bizarre love of otome games, you remember me mentioning Princess Debut, the otome game about the girl who swaps places with the princess from a fantasy land that looks just like her. She then goes on to spend the next month in this fantasy land, learning to dance and looking for a prince to act as her dance partner, all the while trying to pose as the real princess. Oh, and the princes all look like the cute guys from her school in the real world.

Yeah, I know. The story kind of sucks. But this is an otome game, where the only thing that really matters is the boys.

Above: The only thing that matters in an otome game. (Minus furry.)

So, you have six boys to pick from, not including Tony (the rabbit) up there, though he does get an ending of his own. The sixth guy never actually shows up until your second playthrough. But those guys up there, from left to right, are: Prince Luciano, Prince Liam, Prince Klaus, Prince Cesar, and Prince Vince (lol, rhymes.) The last prince, tastefully clad in purple, is Prince Kiefer. Each of these guys falls into one (or more) of the stereotypical otome game male categories: the doting big brother (Liam, or "the ridiculously kind one who likes plants" in the "real" world), the "perfect" one (Klaus, or the basketball star in the real world), the aloof one (Luciano, or the childhood friend in the real world), the flamboyant flirt (Cesar, or the playboy in the real world), the bookworm (Kiefer, who's still the bookworm), and the mischievous one (Vince, who's still the mischievous one).

The point of the game is to get a partner and wow the crowd at an important ball at the end of the month. The gameplay is a decently-implemented rhythm game, Ouendan-style. (Or, Elite Beat Agents, if you have no idea what "Ouendan" is.) The game gets progressively tougher as it advences throughout the month, and gameplay is pretty fun. The synthesized tracks are annoying from the get-go, and don't really get any less annoying, but they're not annoying enough to make me put it down. However, the game isn't without its downsides.

First, if you're not using a DS lite or a DSi (this doesn't include the XL; I'm getting to that), the game doesn't always register your tap as an accurate tap, and marks you points off (if it even credits you at all for it.) We have at least one of every DS incarnation in my house, and I've noticed that songs that I've gotten perfect scores on countless times always come up short on the 3DS and on the DSiXL. I'm not sure why that is, but I'd wager that it has something to do with the increased touch screen size on both. Second of all are, unsurprisingly, the guys. Well, not them specifically, but the dating cutscenes tend to drag out and could be cut by three or four rounds of conversation and still get the point across. Not only that, but one of the boys is frustratingly hard to get: Prince Luciano takes off about halfway through the game. If you're already dating him, and don't answer his questionnaire just right, he won't come back at the end of the month, and if you're single before he leaves and don't answer his questionnaire just right - you guessed it - he won't come back at the end of the month. And, given his personality type is tough to figure out what a "right" and "wrong" answer is, there's going to be a lot of rebooting and cursing on your end.

Bottom Line: Typical otome game story line, with a pretty decently implemented rhythm game embedded into it. Oh, and Luciano is a douche, but that doesn't really affect points.

Final Score: 7/10

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Review: BlazBlue: Continuum Shift 2 (3DS)

Title: BlazBlue: Continuum Shift 2
System: 3DS
ESRB Rating: Teen for blood, language, partial nudity, sexual themes, and violence.
Number of Players: 1 player mode, local 2-4 (no global online play)
Buy It: Here.

It shouldn't have taken me this long to get on playing Continuum Shift 2. There really isn't an excuse for it, and that's because even though I historically loathe fighting games, I can freely admit that I adore the BlazBlue franchise. It's the only fighting game (Super Smash Brothers aside) that I can say that I've sat down and memorized combos for; I've invested more time in 2009's Calamity Trigger alone that it rivals the amount of time I've sunk into We Love Katamari on the PS2. And that's a lot of time.

So, how does Continuum Shift 2 stack up against its predecessors? And how well does it play on the 3DS? Well, that's a mixed bag, unfortunately.

CS2's fighting style plays out wonderfully on the 3DS, and that's a huge plus for it. Because it's a four-button fighting system to begin with, it feels natural on the 3DS, and the D-pad makes launching attacks in a specific direction feel crisp and clean because of its "clicky" feel. And the 2D sprites look fairly decent on the handheld as well. Granted, it doesn't look anywhere as nice as the PSP's offering of BB: Portable, but the 3DS isn't an HD system. So aside from looking nice and playing greatly, what went wrong?

The 3D went wrong, for starters. Playing in 3D mode lowers the game's frame rate and makes combos harder to time than when you have the slider set to turn 3D off because you can't always compensate for lag. Secondly, the 3D gives me incredible motion sickness and a headache I've never felt before in a game. I can't play more than a round or two without feeling ridiculously gorky, and I'm not the only one of my friends that's said that. Other 3D games for the system that I've played haven't given me this sensation (though 3D movies give me massive headaches - that's why I'll never watch a 3D movie.)

There's two other cons that the game has. Fitst of all, the game allows local wireless matches for two to four people, but has no Nintendo Wi-fi Connection link for global play. The second is that it doesn't go into sleep mode. Shut the lid, and it just pauses (and drains your battery) until you open it back up again. Seriously. That's kind of inexcusable, because every other DS game has a sleep mode built in. That was just laziness on Aksys' part.

Other than the frame rate being off and the sleep mode being nonexistant, the game has everything the original console version of Continuum Shift had, including Legion Mode and the Tutorial Mode, which is perfect for casual and beginning players. But this game really doesn't do anything that other 3DS fighters don't do just as well, or better, like Super Street Fighter IV.

Bottom Line: Unless you're a hardcore BlazBlue fan, bypass this 3DS installment. Even though it plays naturally, the 3D was implemented ineffectively and the lack of even a sleep mode gets it points off. It's still a great fighter by itself, but after SSFIV, there's nothing to see here.

Final Score: 6-7

Friday, June 24, 2011

An update about updates.

This isn't going to be much of an update, but I did kind of promise that I'd update about mundane things that I do in my free time. Well, here it goes:

  • I'm still looking for a job, and that means any kinf of job. I'd like to land a writing gig, but without a portfolio that has things other than a few blog posts and a handful of creative writing papers from college, I don't see that happening.
  • I'm still working on my final manuscript for Morgan, but it's proving to be tougher than I thought it would be. There's something about this story that's alluring, but at the same time, I'm not quite "writing what I know" about. 
  • I have a lot scheduled for the upcoming days both here and over at Fashion Disasters. The ladies and I just have a lot going on right now that prevent FD from being very important.
I'll probably have some reviews (not just books, I swear!) coming up soon.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Job Lot Reads 3: Jack Tumor

Title: Jack Tumor
Publisher: FSG
Author: Anthony McGowan
Category: Young Adult Fiction

Photo from
Hector is being bullied. At his school, it's nothing out of the ordinary, but it is when you're being bullied by your talking, know-it-all brain tumor that tells you that you're living your life incorrectly. Now, having to live with a talking tumor that calls itself Jack, Hector has two lives that he needs to find a balance for: the life he lives, and the one that Jack wants him to live.

This novel is uproariously funny, in that British sort of way. (No surprise there, it's a book from England!) The humor in here is still enjoyable by those of us in the States, even if you're not familiar with some of the English references in it, because of the writing style and the "realness" if the characters (especially Hector.) It took me about seven hours total to read this book, and I loved every page of it. This was another win for the Job Lot as far as books go.

Rating: 9/10

Monday, June 6, 2011

Topic: Gaming, and Otome games

Gaming. It's one of those things that I've done as far back as I can remember. My dad got me a Gameboy Color for Christmas the year the Pokemon games hit shelves; my grandmother got me my first Pokemon game. Before that, though, my dad still had games in the house. PC games, NES games... we had them all.

And today, that's no different. Today, we have a 360, a PS3, a PS2, and the Wii, as well as a DSi, 3DS, and PSP. We keep up with current gaming trends, continue to get games as they come out, and I keep myself on the lookout for older games at rummage, estate, and yard sales. (I'm frequently lucky.)

But don't get me wrong. While I love new games and feeling like I could reach out and grab whatever's in the environment around me, and I love (clever) motion controls that don't force me to waggle my controller around like a douchebag (Did you get that, Nintendo?) I often get nostalgic for old games. They have some sort of cracklike replay value that can't be outright expressed in words, but grab you once you see them online, or hear their theme played. There's something about older games that I really enjoy - still - that really shaped the kind of gamer that I am today. (Which is RPG first and foremost, in case you were wondering, thanks.)

But all the RPGs and classic shooters (my first ever PC game was Doom 3. Dad let me play it, and it was epic) didn't prepare me for one of my favorite game genres: otome games.

Otome games are the girl's equivalent of dating sims. (This has led to a long running joke in the family that the "normal one who doesn't need help getting a date" cripples herself with dating sims.) In a way, the joke is right. I don't need help getting a date - I never have - but otome games usually let me indulge myself in cheesy cliche-ridden storylines without anyone around me having to suffer through another viewing of Chocolat - because most of them are, in fact, portable. And that's awesome.

A few publishers aren't afraid to bring them Stateside. One could argue that Natsume's Harvest Moon series is part dating sim, because no matter what gender you play as, part of the game is finding a wife (husband, if you're playing as a girl.) Actually, half the fun for quite a few Harvest Moon players is the dating side of it.

Natsume's also brought over one other, non-HM title that I know of, and it's called Princess Debut. The game is part rhythm game, part otome, and you play as a girl who trades places with the kingdom's Princess (who looks just like you...go figure...) to a fantasy land to learn to dance at a major ball. That's in a month.

But see, while the storylines are kind of shoddy, they're not supposed to be great, because telling a great story isn't really what an otome game is about. It's about landing "your dream guy." Besides, everyone knows that no real guy is perfect, and that there's no such things as fairytale romances.

...Which is why women everywhere love chick flicks. And some like otome games.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Job Lot Reads 2: Holdup

Title: Holdup
Author: Terri Fields
Publisher: FSG/Square Fish
Category: Young Adult Fiction

Photo from
This book is interesting. Instead of starting with a summary, like I usually would, I'm going to just go ahead and say it: This is one of those unique, multi-narrator-telling-the-same-event kinds of stories that are quite hard to pull off well.

Terri Fields pulls this off well.

Even saying that, though, I didn't like this book. The story was fluid and had an amazingly steady pace; every narrator had their own unique, defined voice (I never once got confused with a who's who moment); and transitioning between narrators never seemed awkward or clunky. So even knowing and realizing that the book was well-written, flowed amazingly well, and had a compelling storyline, why didn't I like it?

Perhaps it was the same thing that made this book so interesting to me in the first place: the multi-narrator format of it. There's something both compelling and annoying about books with many perspectives. On one hand, they let every major character tell their own take on the things happening, their opinions of other characters, and their outlook on the situation on the whole. On the other hand, you have the same exact thing.

In the end, Holdup is an amazingly well-written novel that tells the story from nine points of view about a burger-joint holdup. Its best feature is also what irks me most about it, even though it's done incredibly well. I suppose that I just don't like the multiple narrator writing style. If you're looking for an interesting read, though, Holdup might definitely be for you.

Rating: 6-7/10

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Job Lot Reads 1: Full Service

Title: Full Service
Photo from
Author: Will Weaver
Publisher: FSG
Category: Young Adult fiction

It's the summer of 1965, and Paul Sutton is getting his first full-time job off of the family farm. Convinced that it would be good for him, his mother takes him around their small town of Hawk Bend, Minnesota looking for a job before he lands a job pumping gas at the local Shell station. For the next two hundred pages, Will learns the secrets of his small town, befriends the local regulars, and makes a few important decisions about where he's headed in life while trying to stay true to his roots.

This book had me pretty wrapped up in it from about the second chapter onward. I was pretty interested in it from the very beginning, but it wasn't until Paul started actually started interacting with the other characters around him that it caught my interest. Will Weaver's writing style is realistic and paints a vivid picture of what's going on in the small town of Hawk Bend, and I found myself really looking forward to picking it back up when I had to put it down for whatever reason. The characters were realistic (which is important to me, both as a writer myself and as a reader,) and the ending didn't leave me hanging or feeling like something was missing.

Final score: 8/10

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Topic: Blogging, and Why I Fail At It.

This is slightly ridiculous to say, but... I suck at blogging.

It's not that I have nothing to say, either. I have an endless anount of things to say about a lot of things - I spend a lot of time monologging to myself over the course of the day: it's what helped me pass my Creative Writing final, after all... But when I go to sit down and actually do something, I come up short every time.

As a creative writing major, and someone who actually wants to pursue writing as a career, not having an established blog is like shooting myself in the foot. Having an active blog gives those who want to employ me (as a writer) an active, constant look at:
  • My abilities as a writer: what I cover on the blog (and even what I don't) can show off my strenghts and weakness better than any kind of resume could. What I write about on a blog that I expect to be seen by people could tell them what kinds of writing styles I excel at versus what I'm wretched at. (For example, I freely admit that most of my poetry is pants. By comparison, my fiction writing is strong and vivid. And compared to my nonfiction, my fiction looks childish.)
  • How my writing is evolving (or lack thereof!) With an easy glance at a portfolio that can be seen right on a screen, anyone can see how my writing changes over time. If someone were to look at my writing style from even a year ago and compare it to now, there would be an obvious difference. This is actually giving myself a starting point to go off of later. I'll be able to look back and see how I've improved, and I'll be able to check back at what still needs improvements.
  • My own writing trends. I'll (and others looking at this) will be able to see what I tend to write about, and what things I kind of lack on. For example, I'm an active gamer and reader, so writing about books, games, and upcoming events wouldn't be all that uncommon. And it helps me keep a look at what I could use in here as a portfolio for jobs, gigs, and other application uses.
So, even with these pros on the list, why can't I seem to keep myself motivated?
  • I'm lazy, and I admit it. Blogging "for fun" isn't really my thing, because I don't find blogging fun by any stretch of the word. It find it almost like a chore, and it probably tends to show.
  • I'm always doing something else. Don't get me wrong; blogging's a great hobby for those who enjoy it and can keep with it. But I'm always out with friends on random adventures ("Let's go west, guys!"), or looking for things at Savers for costumes or to add to my expansive wardrobe, or playing games, writing other things, or watching movies. And then...
  • When I think about blogging, I say that I'll do it later. Remember that part about being lazy two points up? Well, that's only half of it. The other half is that I'm notorious for procrastination. Why? Because I can be! I'll jot something down in the margins pof a notebook ("Ha, what a great idea for a post!") and then when I have the chance to use it, I'll forget or say something along the lines of, "I'll do it later."
  • I'm self-motivated...but not when it comes to keeping a "diary." I've never been good at keeping a diary, even as a kid. Lots of my friends had them and used them constantly. They probably have everything that they did from the time they woke up to the time they went to bed written down in cute pink books with crappy locks on them. But not me - I was too busy sketching, writing short stories, and reading to give a damn about my day that obsessively.
  • I forget that it's even there. Yes, it's completely true. I forget that my own blog/journal/whatever even exists. I'm so bad at blogging that I forget that I even have a blog, then when I get hit with sudden inspiration, I remember that it's there and immediately lose interest because, you know, who wants to use a blog that's three years old for one new thought?
Not me, that's who.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Quite the score

Ocean State Job Lot has a bunch of young adult books on sale right now, and it's quite a score on my part. At $1.50 apiece for hardcovers, I've been able to snap up a good collection of interesting, offbeat YA books for about eighteen bucks total. I'll write about them as I read them. If you're looking for a quick read (none of the books I've found so far have been more than 400 pages long - the average seems to be about 200 pages, in fact) then these are a great bet.  

All of the books are closeouts of the The Macmillan Children's Publishing Group family: FSG, Feiwel and Friends, First Second, Holt Young Readers, Roaring Brook, and Square Fish.

External Links:

Macmillan Teen Books - from which all other imprints' websites can be reached.