September 28, 2006
Radiata Stories takes the world of RPGs to an entirely new level. The one word that really describes the world and people and culture of Radiata is vibrant. It just seems so alive. There are over 200 different characters, each with their own personality, daily schedule, and role to play in the game (small or large). As I learned more and more about each person, I came to know them all fairly well. I knew their names, places they would frequent, and sometimes motivations. The scenery, maps, and architecture are brilliantly realized; this is not a tiled map. I would often admire the scenery as I travelled on roads (yes, roads, like normal people).
From a technical standpoint, this game really delivers. There were several new technologies put in as nice touches which you wouldn't really notice, but help to put polish on the game and also add more life to the world. Some examples of this are the random behavior of street lamp halos, or the POV display of characters during battle, or correct shadow placement, or texture and lighting shaders applied to the screen.
The music is also very good. It's environmental but exciting and always fits the mood. The only thing I wish was that the battle music would be a little more interesting. I found it a little too monotone or repetitive to my liking.
In fact, the only thing that wasn't so great was the combat. There was a little strategy involved, where guarding and moving to a new position could help. And you have to order your teammates to perform certain things in support on some occasions, although the AI is pretty decent regardless. But overall I felt like it was a little on the button-mashing side and once you've picked a decent set of attacks it doesn't matter anymore. You can't really do any special moves and getting new abilities or attack modes requires you to change your party members.
Another thing that's really great about the game is how you can make a real life-altering decision halfway through. It completely changes how you have to view things, having to choose between two mutually exclusive choices. Either choice requires you to make compromises which in an ideal situation you wouldn't have to make. And each side can be considered right and wrong at the same time.
Because the split makes playing through the game a second time worth it, I clocked in about 75 hours total. That sets a new record, beating out Star Ocean by a few hours.
September 27, 2006
Record of Lodoss War
Record of Lodoss War is a famous anime. Considered one of the archetypes of the fantasy genre. And it does follow very closely the sorts of things developed in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and also Dungeons & Dragons (original). But I didn't think it was that great. The art and music was fine, especially considering the 1990 date. And the basic plot was there. But it was just very simple and straightforward, without much depth. I also felt the dialogue could have been better; conversations were very convenient at times.
September 24, 2006
Alien Nine is a four-volume manga by Hitoshi Tomizawa. It's about some middle-school girls who join the Alien Party; a group of school kids whose responsibility it is to protect the other students from alien invaders. But the real situation is a lot more complex and subtle than that. I really like the ideas presented in this story, which is very imaginative, and I also like the characters. They're all unique and interesting. All of that put together in this unique situation makes for great reading.
The only thing is that there doesn't really feel like a real conclusion to the plot. I think that's partially simply because the world the story takes place in is familiar enough to feel like something that would happen in the near future, but strange enough that you feel a need for things to get back to our reality. But that's not something that will happen, and this alternative future is something that fits their sense of normalcy so anything that changed that would be a strange thing to occur.
Love Fest SF 2006
I just got back from the San Francisco LoveFest, 2006. I didn't go the previous two years (when it was called Love Parade) because Shannon had her birthday parties. But this year Shannon isn't having a birthday party. I took Caltrain up to BART right to the middle of the event. Took a little under 2 hours that way. I met up with Alla and some of her friends as the parade was moving down Market Street.
The parade wasn't as good as I thought it would be. For starters, most of the people were not dancing. The crowd got larger in the afternoon, but most people just stood around. It seemed more of a San Francisco parade where people were more interested in dressing funny and strutting around than in the music and dancing. We saw a bunch of naked men walking around, and also a naked transvestite. The number of naked men far outnumbered the number of topless women. Alla's friends weren't much interested in dancing either; they just kept walking around and standing in front of floats.
The music also had good points and bad points. I would say about half the floats had music I didn't like, and the other half had decent music that was just messed up because the speakers were being overdriven and creating a lot of distortion. They also boosted the bass frequencies and at times, because the floats were so close in the plaza, it seemed like a war between DJs as they tried to out-bass their neighbors. During the parade, there were large sections without music, which also wasn't that great.
Unfortunately, it was so loud my ears were ringing within the first few minutes. I should have brought my earplugs.
There were a few floats that were good. And DJ Rap showed up to do a set later in the afternoon, which was really cool to see. She was doing a little less breakbeat and a little more drum 'n bass, so while I liked seeing her and was excited, I didn't like her music as much as her debut album. But it was the right type of music for this venue, I suppose. Alla didn't like what she did with the synthesized music at all; she said it made her feel naseous.
I did find out about the promotional tracks off Beatport though, which I was able to download for free. Not WAV format, unfortunately, but MP3. They gave out a download card if you gave a $10 donation to enter the plaza. Turns out you really didn't need to get the card in order to access the promotional tracks. Two of Alla's friends thought the $10 donation was required, partially because of how they set up the entrance, and decided not to enter the plaza.
I feel a little sick now, with a headache and I notice now a sunburn. I think the sun, the activity, and a lack of water has left me dehydrated and with a headache. I bought some Gatorade that I hope will help a little. Not sure if I will go next year. If I do, I'll have to remember to bring ear plugs.
September 22, 2006
Noir looked very appealing to me because it featured some female assassins and claimed stylized gunfights and good action. But I was really disappointed by how it turned out. It's 26 episodes, but because of the heavy use of flashbacks as a plot device and to recap the previous episode, I think it could have been done a lot better as a 13 episode series. If anything, the word I would use to describe this series is inconsistent.
The action sequences are inconsistent. Sometimes, especially in the first episodes, Kirika and Mireille do some really cool things, both physically and strategically. But at other times they just walk up and stand there for a while pointing their gun, then shoot. In fact, I think they should have died within the first few episodes and the only reason they didn't is because the bad guys completely suck. Even the special bad guys are stupid and suck. How can they be surrounded by a dozen enemies, who are standing within a dozen feet, and not get riddled with bullets because they don't even move. They don't even turn their body to provide a smaller target.
The music was inconsistent too. Sometimes it sounded really good, but other times it was all messed up. For example, I don't know how it could be considered a good idea to mix a regular beat with choir singing when that singing isn't scored at the same tempo. Someone needs to go back to music school or at least the director or mixer needs to get their ears fixed.
Now that it's over, I'm not sure what happened at the end.
September 20, 2006
I finished re-reading Battlefield Earth, a book I bought a while ago. I thought back then it was better than I expected, and I still think it's a great book. It's nothing spectacular or really ground-breaking, but it is exciting and has some really imaginative points. Mostly it keeps you wanting to read because you want the Psychos to get overthrown and see humanity liberated. But what I really like is the epic nature of the story, which includes a lot of detail as it progresses. Of course, it's detail that is explained plainly and blatantly, so it's not a complicated plot, but it's still very enjoyable.
September 16, 2006
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie is a two-hour sequel to the series that picks up a while after the series ended. You cannot appreciate this film unless you have watched the entire series, so that is something to keep in mind. The story background and character development heavily depends upon the series, although there is a weak attempt in the beginning at giving new viewers some context. I found the pacing of the movie to be much better than the series, while still maintaining a quality story.
The villian of this movie doesn't have the greatest amount of screen time, but her character and role doesn't feel rushed either. Probably because she is involved in things from the beginning and her plan unravels slowly but steadily. Unfortunately, the movie does suffer a bit from trying to hit you over the head with its message regarding war and conflict and fear and hate.
What was interesting is the movie draws explicit parallels between the persecution that it is depicting now, in this parallel world, with the persecution that was a focal point of the series. And the gypsies are dealt with as the primary target, rather than the Jews, which is very uncommon but actually closer to history. It's probably that there's never been a large community clamoring about what happened to the gypsies, compared to the Jews, at that time in Germany.
September 14, 2006
Luna really liked Fullmetal Alchemist and told me I should watch it. She liked the story, and the ending, and the opening and closing music. I also liked the ending, which was surprising and also very well done, but found the story too drawn out and the rock music isn't my taste. The artwork is pretty decent and a lot of the action was pretty good too.
I liked the characters and the overall plot arc, but it just took too long and I felt like things repeated themselves too often. I guess a lot of things were sort of building up over time, in a detailed manner, but it wasn't until the episodes near the end that I thought anything was really getting accomplished. At that point, the extended character development does pay off a bit, but not a whole lot.
September 11, 2006
Turns out Thunderball is another James Bond movie that I've seen but didn't recognize by the name. This Bond movie was okay, but not that special I don't think. The best part about it were the underwater scenes, which were done very well and also somewhat exciting. But the villian wasn't particularly evil, although the cat-and-mouse dance between him and Bond did keep things a little interesting.
September 7, 2006
Replacement Plus 12.3 Driver
The replacement Plus 12.3 driver I requested from SVSound arrived today, although it didn't get sent to my office like I'd asked. I guess that change got lost in the RMA shuffle. Anyway, swapped it into my subwoofer and the rattling is gone. I played back Kodo's Ibuki and the two tracks Dub Gusset and Swords off Leftfield's Rhythm and Stealth. No rattling from those tracks or the startup thump either.
September 6, 2006
Mom over Labor Day
My mom visited this past weekend because it was Labor Day weekend. She arrived Saturday night and left early on Tuesday morning. She did bring me the pluge router I wanted. She also brought me two small albums of the wedding photos Luna and I had done last time I was in Shanghai. The photos look good, but the albums are a little crappy if fancy looking. They have the name of the studio on the front, instead of our names, and the veneer is missing from the back of one of them. My favorite picture is the one where Luna looks angry and is holding the Hello Kitty dolls.
Sunday morning my mom and I went to a Church in Fremont because Calvin went there to say a few words about Labor Day. He really only talked for about 5 minutes, and I had to sit through all the sermon stuff and preaching. I wonder if preachers recognize some of the hypocricy they spout. In this particular sermon, the only reason you might not consider it hypocritical is if you aren't willing to question your own faith. Which is the point, I guess.
September 2, 2006
Memnoch The Devil
I read another Anne Rice book, Memnoch The Devil, and I've sort of decided not to continue reading Anne Rice books for a while. Memnoch The Devil captures all of the brilliance and cultural elegance I think is the strength and beauty of Anne Rice's stories. I'm not entirely sure what her intention is regarding the discussion between God and Memnoch, but it's an intriguing discourse and also an interesting way to think about the history of Christianity. It is that back-and-forth between Memnoch and Lestat that brings a level of intelligent intensity to this novel.