I have very low standards.

I’ve been watching Blade Dance of Elementers lately. This is the sort of anime I talk about when I want to show how far I’ve fallen, because it’s YET ANOTHER harem anime set in a fantasy world where Only Girls Can Do <special thing> but the main character is a GUY who can do <special thing> so naturally the thing to do is to send him to the super prestigious academy full of hot girls wearing extremely short skirts.

Oh my god. This is the premise of the Wheel of Time series, if you come right down to it. I’m imagining a terrifying alternate universe where those books get an anime adaptation in which Rand is sent to Magical High School.

It’s kind of like a fantasy Infinite Stratos, when I think about it, though the fortunate thing is that Blade Dance never got a second season so it can’t have the same incredible drop-off in quality from season 1 to season 2 that Infinite Stratos had.

Oh, right. Blade Dance got 12 episodes. It’s based on a 20 volume light novel series. The light novels have not been translated, and presumably never will be. I’m on episode 9 of the series and it really feels like maybe by episode 12 we will have gotten to the point where all of the characters have decided to team up, at which point it will end without them actually doing anything as a team.

Before I get to the point of this post, let me give you some more details so you can never ever watch this show.

This is Claire. Claire is a red-haired fire-element-using pettanko violent tsundere who CAN’T COOK LOL OMG seriously everything she cooks turns to charcoal, it’s hilarious right.

Right now, think of three shows with red haired pettanko violent tsunderes who can’t cook. If it took you more than five seconds, I assume it was just because you were trying to decide whether Louise from Zero no Tsukaima has red hair or pink hair.

The rest of the cast is pretty much the same character-design-by-checklist. You’ve got your ice user, who has a bigger chest than Claire and is also a tsundere, you’ve got a princess character who is even more endowed and who is super sweet and nice but has a little bit of a evil side, there’s the faithful maid who points out when the other girls are being dumb, and then there’s Est, who is a thousand year old sword spirit that manifests in the form of a loli because it makes the main character nervous and also because she can turn on THESE EYES when she wants parfaits:

Officers, she is ONE THOUSAND YEARS OLD and there is nothing wrong with watching this show.

OK, you know what, I’ll just come along quietly. No need to make a scene.

On the topic of knee socks, the only way this differentiates itself from the thousand other harem fantasy anime shows based on light novels is that it’s basically Zettai Ryouiki: The Animation. There is a ridiculous amount of dialog delivered with the camera at this viewing angle:

I am almost certain that this anime exists because someone in the studio had a thigh fetish and wanted to get it made into a show. I guess you have to give them a certain degree of respect for that?

That said, even though everything this show has to offer is something I’ve seen many times before, and usually done better, it’s still making me laugh. That’s about all I want from my entertainment these days.

Posted in anime | Leave a comment

15 Years Blog.

I remembered an anniversary post! That’s a thing. 15 years of occasionally remembering to post here. The world is a much different place than it was 15 years ago, and I’m not sure anyone really cares about blogs anymore, to be quite honest. I can’t remember the last time I actually had a list of blogs I followed regularly as opposed to just following creators on Twitter.

Nonetheless.

I’m currently splitting my gaming time between a) the latest WoW patch, which introduced a new zone and new raid and all sorts of things to do in the pursuit of making my character’s numbers slightly larger and b) Elden Ring, which quite frankly is way more engaging than Yet Another WoW patch. I’m really enjoying the experience of playing a Souls-genre game during the initial rush, when there are messages and summon signs EVERYWHERE. It’s also surreal seeing the game reviewed so well by, basically, every piece of gaming media on the planet. It’s …more accessible? than your average Souls game, but more accessible in this case just means that you have a bit of a glowing arrow pointing you in the direction of the next boss that will kill you until you get good.

Elden Ring aside, I’ve been watching a ton of anime, some of it unabashedly trashy – OniAi and Elementalers of Blade Dance spring to mind as two recent examples – and some of it actually kind of wholesome, like My Dress-Up Darling or My Senpai Is Annoying. I’m also working through one of my lower-priority digital organization projects, which has been tweaking downloaded manga so it doesn’t look awful in iComics, which is my iOS comics-reader-of-choice.

I was actually going to do a write-up on my process, which involves using Pixelmator Pro to edit covers and some command-line scripts to tweak image sizes, but I wasn’t happy with how that was turning out. It may be something better-suited for a video. It would be EXTREMELY Mac-centric.

I also re-purchased a small piece of my childhood, thanks to the power of eBay. As a Star-Wars-obsessed youth, I had a number of the die cast toys that Kenner put out in the late 70s, one of them naturally being a Y-Wing. At some point in the intervening 40 years, I’d lost the BODY of the Y-Wing but had somehow managed to hold on to both of the engines.

It turned out that someone was happily willing to sell me the center part for about ten bucks, and I now have this sitting on a shelf, exuding nostalgic good vibes:

Yes, it’s beat all to heck. It’s SUPPOSED to be beat all to heck. Y-Wings are supposed to look like they’re held together by prayers and duct tape. What I’m more confused by is why it’s painted with red accents when every Y-Wing in Star Wars was in Gold Squadron, I think. I know that’s just how the toy was made and I guarantee it didn’t bother me at the time.

Anyway. 15 years, huh. I should probably go back and re-read some of my earlier posts, back from when I still had ambitions and aspirations.

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Work in Progress

2022. New year. Huh.

2021 was a very bad year for finishing games. I’ve been keeping track since 2007, and my previous fewest-games-in-a-year was 17, back in 2013.

In 2021, I finished 5 – and three of them were games I’d played before.

I have been spending a bit too much time messing around in MMOs, of course. That never helps. I’ve also watched more anime in the last year than I managed to fit in probably the five years previous, which has been fun.

Nonetheless, I’m back in the position of owning a bunch of games I haven’t played yet, and I should probably do something about that this year.

Unrelated to this, except that it has definitely left less time for digital entertainment, I’ve finally gotten around to reworking my home office. This is my second major revamp in the last decade, and my original vision for the space was, well, somewhat dark and depressing.

Also, while I originally loved having 25 square feet of desk space, the end result was that it tended to accumulate a LOT of clutter.

So I’ve made some changes. This has actually been occupying most of my spare time since mid-December. Here’s one side of the New Look.

The room is still a bit of a work in progress, but going from Black On Black With Some More Black to a room full of white and natural wood has been a huge and positive change so far. I’ll probably put up another post when I’m done with it, showing off the other sides of the room at least. Maybe I’ll even do one of those videos where someone walks around and tells you All About Their Stuff.

I’m down to 8 square feet of desk space now. I’ve had to break out a card table a couple of times for projects that mandated more space, but every time I’ve done that so far I’ve finished the project and put the card table away again, which I think is very important.

Oh, and that blank shelf on the display shelf is reserved for the Lego Y-Wing I bought in 2019 and which my wife and I plan to put together one of these evenings.

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Twilight? of the Otaku

I’m not a huge Holiday person, but I had the opportunity yesterday to fly down to San Francisco with my wife and spend the day with my in-laws, who are actually fantastic people and not at all the sorts of monsters that the image of “the in-laws” typically conjures up.

I will say that driving anywhere near Union Square during the holidays is a bit of a nightmare, made more so by the frankly overwhelming police presence and the number of blocked-off streets. San Francisco has been in the news lately thanks to a number of smash-and-grab flash-mob-style retail robberies, and it looks very much like they would not like to be in the news for this again any time soon.

They are aided in this by what appears to be a gentleman who has decorated his vehicle in a way that I am CERTAIN would get him in trouble in most jurisdictions.

We were in Union Square because, well, it’s the holiday season and some degree of “Festive” is required, and Union Square goes all out with the Festive. There’s a massive Christmas tree, there are ice skaters and carols and everything is shiny and I will show you absolutely none of this in favor of an out-of-context image from the parking garage.

I realize that “C.H.U.D.” was set in New York City, but if a modern low-budget horror director wanted to do some sort of revival with a Bay Area setting they could save themselves a lot of money on sets by making use of this parking garage.

But, since we didn’t get eaten by anything and didn’t get to witness any Surprise Wealth Redistribution on the part of the local citizenry, we decided that we’d get some lunch at SF’s Japantown. My in-laws are well aware that my wife and I are both massive weebs, after all, though they presumably don’t know the word “weeb” and probably have some much more polite term.

Anyway, parking in Japantown is much easier and much less terrifying, so I recommend it. I won’t necessarily recommend the place we decided on for lunch, because they served me a painfully-mediocre katsudon and charged fifteen bucks for it, but there are many restaurants and some of them look pretty good. I wouldn’t mind spending a week in the area just trying out new places to eat.

I also recommend visiting Japantown if you want to drop some cash on nerd toys. There are a LOT of shops that will sell you anime figures or Sanrio plushes or Tokidoki-branded tchotchkes.

Note: I’m not sure how much a four-foot-tall Rem figure will cost you. I imagine it’s measured less in terms of dollars and more in terms of how much of your soul you are willing to sacrifice. Also it probably comes with a free lifetime membership on some sort of government watch list.

But, to be clear here: I’ve just received my holiday bonus, which was a single check that was roughly four months worth of salary in one lump sum. I have no significant debt and could have gone ABSOLUTELY HOG WILD in the anime stores.

Instead, I bought this:

…which was a bootleg Nezuko keychain. It cost me $4.35, with sales tax. It’s not fantastically-well-done by any means – presumably the bottom of her hair is intended to have orange highlights, and her coat should likewise be a different color – but it’s cute enough and I have been enjoying Kimetsu no Yaiba and now I have a little mascot for my office.

So, the majority of my bonus is, rather than being turned into nerd toys for my office space, being put into savings. I did buy a new standing desk, so I’ll probably post something on that when it arrives. I guess this is what being an adult feels like.

Posted in anime, travel | Leave a comment

Earning my raiding creds

I don’t think it’s too outrageous to say that WoW is a bit of a mess. It’s creaking along under 17 years worth of recons, revamps, stat squishes, level squishes, new expansions, content removals, player demands and bizarre development decisions. If someone asked me “Should I start playing WoW, in 2021?” my response would have to include “is it important if it makes any sense at all?”

Having said that, however, it absolutely shines in dungeon and raid design, even if part of that is thanks to the designers being able to assume that players will be making use of a vast number of community-created add-ons to help actually survive the encounters. There’s a lot that could be said on that, but I’ll try to stay positive here and simply say that I really enjoy WoW’s group content to an extent that I can’t say for any other MMO I’ve played in the last decade.

Doing the single-group dungeons, over and over again on harder and harder difficulties, has been what’s kept me logging into WoW long past the point where I would typically get burned out and quit.

What I traditionally HAVEN’T done in WoW is a lot of raiding, because honestly that’s the point where instanced content goes from “kill things and take their stuff, with four strangers” to “kill things and take their stuff, with like 14 to 19 other people who you see on a regular basis” and I have a really bad history with starting to take the raiding side of a game entirely too seriously, especially if I’m playing a tank class.

For the last few months, however, I’ve been hanging out with the same group of people for about four hours a week, beating our collective head against WoW’s current “Heroic” raid. This is the second-highest difficulty raid level in the game, under “Mythic” which is for the genuinely-invested cutting-edge-type players.

There are ten bosses in the raid. We beat boss #9 in mid October. Since that time, we’ve tried to kill boss #10 about 80 times. I’ve added some raids with strangers to that total, meaning that my personal death count to this boss was well over a hundred.

It is a fiendish encounter, one of those where a single person doing the wrong thing can kill everyone, and it stretches on for roughly 14 minutes – at which point, if you haven’t done enough damage to the boss, she simply kills you all anyway.

Up until this point, my high water mark for bosses in any video game has been the Fume Knight, in Dark Souls II. I have no idea how many times it took me to kill him, but by the end of my many, many attempts it was like he was walking in slow motion while I danced around him chipping away at his health bar, with the only tiny tiny problem being that if I missed one dance step he would instantly kill me.

Fighting Heroic Sylvanas Windrunner? More or less the same thing, except with 15-20 other people who also need to be in the same state of focus.

So, I assure you that actually beating the encounter, after months and months of trying, is a heck of a feeling. And it even comes with its own special achievement, that basically says “I did this while it was still hard” because most WoW raids are …if not trivialized by the next major patch, at least made considerably easier.

That was last week. This week, I try to do it a second time. She drops loot, after all, and that makes my numbers bigger.

Posted in MMORPG, PC Gaming | Leave a comment

Xbox 20th Anniversary – No More Looking Back

I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with Microsoft’s consoles. The original Xbox was the 800-pound gorilla of its generation, and had some brilliant exclusive games, but couldn’t stand up to the sheer variety of titles available on Sony’s console of the time. The 360, barring its charming tendency to self-destruct, may just be my favorite console of all time… but was fairly quickly outclassed by PC ports of the majority of its titles.

And the Xbox One may be the second-greatest own goal in the history of consoles.

That being said, after spending the majority of the generation hanging tight to a DualShock 4, I did eventually wind up being enticed back to the Xbox brand, thanks largely to its introduction of backwards compatibility in 2015. I picked up a One S, then a One X, and finally a Series X thanks to finding one by sheer chance, and having my games, along with their save files, come with me from console to console has been a very pleasant experience. It’s how things Should Work.

So, with rumors of new additions to the backwards compatibility program, I made sure to carve out half an hour of my day to watch this morning’s 20th Anniversary stream. On my employer’s time, I will admit. I’ll make sure to work a little later one day this week to make up for it.

I was expecting a nice bit of navel-gazing and the introduction of maybe a dozen or so new BC titles. I wasn’t expecting a half hour of Microsoft poking fun at previous missteps and giving us SEVENTY new BC games.

Oh and there was something about Halo, too. I think?

The glee of today’s announcement was tempered somewhat by their muted after-presentation announcement that this would be the last batch, and that by extension there would be a ton of games forever locked to their original hardware.

Still. I can look at my Xbox library and see a row like this:

And that’s pretty good. It’s made even more impressive because I used THESE discs to install the DOA games:

Yes, these are NTSC-J original Xbox discs, and they gave me licenses for the US versions. Considering how annoying the Xbox regional locking was, back in the day, this was just a touch unexpected.

Sadly, we’re never getting the Fatal Frame games. I’ll have to hold on to a 360 for those, and Justice League Heroes, and two or three other games. SOME of those are getting PC ports, anyway. Bullet Witch and El Shaddai are two of the ones that stand out, there.

Anyway, today was a good day. Going to boot up DOA2 Ultimate and take one more crack at that survival mode challenge that I could never quite pull off. Odds are I’m STILL not going to be able to do it, but you never know until you try.

Posted in xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | Leave a comment

Return to a neglected blog.

Normally, when I haven’t posted here in a while, it’s because I’m playing an MMO and am in the “eat sleep work MMO” phase, and this particular gap is no exception. I’ve been playing a surprising amount of WoW, and a lot of other stuff has been pushed to the side because of it.

The thing that’s kept me in WoW this time is their Mythic Dungeon system, which has you repeating essentially the same set of 8 dungeon instances over and over again, with different difficulty modifiers.

For an example, this week presents its dungeons with “Bursting” and “Volcanic” modifiers. This means that, when you kill any enemy in these dungeons, they explode, doing damage to the party. In addition, while you’re fighting there are periodic and random little lava vents that erupt around the fight area, meaning that you need to avoid getting hit by those.

The effect is that fights are very chaotic affairs where you need to dodge effects in the environment as well as all of the stuff that the opponents are trying to kill you with, and then at the end of the fight people have a tendency to fall over because of the damage you’ve taken from the enemies exploding.

It’s a …moderately cheap way of extending the value of content without actually needing to make something new, to be sure, but I’m enjoying the way that different combinations make repetitive content into something considerably more dynamic. Map chokepoints that would have been good ways to funnel groups of enemies become death traps from many little lava vents in a small area, and trying to speed run dungeons by pulling huge groups and using area-of-effect spells to burn them down becomes borderline-suicidal as the group suddenly needs to absorb huge AOE damage in return.

And all of this will change next week when the modifiers change again, and we’ll need to adapt to whatever those bring.

Anyway, there’s a rating system linked to this, and while I’m not SUPER competitive I am enjoying watching myself climb the rating ladder.

But, setting WoW aside, I have been dealing with some aging-related and clutter-related stress, and I’m not sure I’m handling it entirely well.

I have a long-term goal of moving to Japan and living there for some time. Obviously, thanks to the ‘Rona, this is not happening any time soon, but there are other things getting in the way.

First, I’m getting older, and this is manifesting itself in annoying ways. I had a fall a few weeks ago, resulting in torn intercostal muscles, and it took nearly two weeks before I could comfortably lift things again – and I’m still getting the occasional twinge from my side when I get into or out of our car. This is just one example, but the larger issue is that making sure that my wife and myself have health insurance and access to medical care is suddenly a Much Bigger Concern than it would have been in our 30s.

Second, while I still have both of my parents, THEY’RE getting older as well. My mother, who was already borderline housebound before the world went to heck, basically doesn’t leave the house any more from Covid fears. And my wife’s parents are getting older. Moving away means that we’re not available in case of emergency.

To say nothing of the hassle of moving cats internationally.

Third, even after years of trying to (a) sell / donate stuff and (b) not buy too much more stuff, I still feel buried by the amount of things we own. Some of it doesn’t really matter all THAT much, in the grand scheme of things – while I enjoy having a workbench and a wide selection of tools on hand, I could also easily walk away from all of it – but there are also a staggering number of oh-this-is-collectible or oh-this-has-sentimental-value items.

Fortunately, a friend of mine is an AVID ebayer and has been helping me with the collectibles, for a cut of course. We’re hoping to get as much of that done as possible before the new tax law kicks in next January. This is basically the only thing that is going WELL right now, and it’s a little depressing that it’s only happening because she has been unemployed due to the pandemic and needed something to help pay the rent.

I also took three modern games consoles and a bunch of accessories down to the nearby GameStop when they were offering a sizable trade-in bonus, and walked out with nearly $1K in trade in credit and some gaping holes on shelves where the consoles were previously living. That was also a big win for space.

Something that I haven’t been able to get rid of, but fortunately will not need to move, is the stupid amount of computer hardware I have on-hand, most of which is used to set up test environments for my current job. That’s less of a clutter concern, fortunately, since when I inevitably get fired I can take most of it to the electronics recycler and wave goodbye to the dozen-or-so mostly-obsolete desktops and laptops that are currently taking up an entire, fairly sizable, closet.

So my long-term goal is basically:

  1. Wait for an international pandemic to burn itself out.
  2. Figure out what sort of visa I could possibly qualify for in moving to Japan. Whether that be working as an English teacher, studying in a language school, or the mysterious “designated activities” visa that requires you to have a huge hunk of cash in a bank account and doesn’t allow you to work while living there.
  3. Make sure that whatever visa I get also allows me a spousal visa.
  4. Figure out living arrangements that take foreigners and allow us to have a gigantic spoiled cat.
  5. Decide how the things that are actually important to us can make the move, and get rid of anything that’s not important.
  6. Oh, and do all this with while dealing with all the joys of getting older and having older parents.

No pressure, right?

Posted in Japan, MMORPG, organization | Leave a comment

I played Demon’s Souls again.

2021 has not been a big year for finishing games. Honestly, most of that is because I keep getting sucked into MMOs. Demon’s Souls is only the fourth game I’ve cleared, and the main motivating factor was that I chanced into a PS5 and felt like I needed to play SOMETHING on it.

Demon’s Souls was something of a revelation for me when I originally played it, back in 2016. I’d avoided the entire series based on tales of its legendary difficulty and hostile online elements, and only gave the game a try because (a) it was ten bucks on PSN and (b) I figured I’d get a funny blog post out of how bad I was at it.

I did not expect to persevere through the entire thing and then play Dark Souls 1-3 and Bloodborne immediately afterwards. So, you may imagine that I have a strong emotional attachment to the game, and I was looking forward to playing it again with the prettier graphics and what I expected would be a more active online community. (Strangely, it was pretty dead. At least I got to fight a player “Old Monk” a couple of times.)

Short version: the PS5 version is gorgeous and has some QOL features that don’t affect the actual gameplay but that smooth out some of the rough edges. The biggest of those is the ability to send items to the storehouse NPC from anywhere, without needing to go back to the Nexus first, which means that you never wind up in the situation where you need to start dropping things mid-level just to pick up a new weapon. 100% thumbs up on that one. Load screens are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them affairs, for the most part, and Bluepoint really used the heck out of the haptic feedback features on the PS5 controller – to the point where I temporarily turned them off during a particularly hairy boss fight because they were a little too immersive and I caught myself flinching at the sensations.

Speaking of boss fights, I had some leftover guilt from 2016, where I used every possible cheesy way to kill a boss, so for 2021, I made myself actually get up-close-and-personal with bosses that I had previously sniped to death from a distance. This made fights like Tower Knight and Armor Spider and the Storm King MUCH more fun, I gotta say. The only boss I resorted to cheap techniques for was King Allant, and I don’t feel too guilty about that because I fought him fairly originally and for some reason I just was not getting the rhythm of the fight this time and the run from the archstone was starting to wear on me.

I have a few small quibbles with the remake, and they’re mostly cosmetic:

Some of the enemy redesigns seem… overdone? Like, the Fat Officials had a creepy circus-clown vibe in the original game, while in this they are grotesque creatures covered in all sorts of pustules. They don’t really fit in with the rest of the enemies in the Boletaria castle zones, which is the most common place you see them.

I’m also not a fan of the new voice acting, not that it’s bad or anything. I just miss the way that some lines were delivered in the original.

What else… oh, healing items are weirdly heavy in the remake. For balance reasons I guess? And for some reason there isn’t a trophy for finishing the game with the good ending, though there is a trophy for the alternate “evil” ending.

My biggest shock, really, applies to both the original game as well as the remake, and it’s this: It may be the weakest game in the series. Not having replayed it since my original run, I had forgotten how many annoying boss runs there are, how crazy the weapon upgrade system is, and how much time you spend farming healing items in the beginning. Looking at the improvements that came in Dark Souls, which was only a couple of years later, Demon’s really feels like a prototype. It’s still a brilliant prototype, and I’m glad that it’s been rescued from its fate of being stuck on the PS3, but I had been remembering it through some extremely rose-colored glasses and the replay was a little disillusioning.

Posted in PS5, Souls, videogames | Leave a comment

Hey, we’re getting some Fatal Frame this year after all.

Two things came out of Nintendo’s E3 presentation that I am extremely happy about.

First, more Rabbids.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was one of my favorite games from the Switch’s launch year, and the sequel looks like a blast. It also means I should probably play Mario Galaxy since it looks like a lot of the gags are going to be making fun of that series.

BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY.

Not only is Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water getting rescued from being confined to WiiU hardware, but it’s even coming to multiple systems. The graphics were intentionally a little low-fi on the original release, so it will probably look very similar regardless of where you’re buying it, but I will probably pick up the Series X release simply because I started with Fatal Frame back with the Xbox release of Crimson Butterfly.

It also raises the question, again, of who owns Fatal Frame. Obviously, Nintendo holds copyright on the ones they published for Koei Tecmo, including this one, and there’s a common wisdom saying that Nintendo is at least partial owner of the IP at this point, but the only legitimate sites I could find confirming that seem to link back to a blog post that doesn’t really give a source for its assertion, only that it is so.

It’s probably a moot point, since whether or not Nintendo owns the IP they have certainly been footing the bill for the last several releases, but it’s odd to see this one in particular go multiplatform.

With this, the last thing I personally would like to see brought forward to modern systems is the Splatoon 1 singleplayer mode. It wasn’t particularly deep, but it’s one of my favorite examples of a campaign that teaches you a bunch of systems and then hands you an absolutely marvelous boss as a sort of final exam.

There was some other stuff in the direct, but not much of it was particularly aimed at me so it didn’t really stick. The Breath of the Wild sequel got a vague date of “2022” which is also the year we’ve been told to expect Splatoon 3. My guess is that both of these are going to come alongside new hardware, whether that’s a DSi-style mid-generation spec bump or an entirely new console. Hopefully it will be backwards compatible.

Posted in Switch, videogames | Leave a comment

arrrgggulululululululghamf

guhurururrururuhuh. wbaududuleneifnguh.

WANT

Posted in Souls, videogames | Leave a comment