A Little Perspective From Tom Church

Posts tagged ‘video games’

A Pokemon Post

Only a few days ago, Pokemon X and Y version were released in America. And even under all of the college schoolwork and studying, even while I sleep and exercise and eat and try keeping up with my TV shows (which are all back in season), I still haven’t been able to escape the ripples it’s made in the gaming community. If I think too long about how I don’t have X or Y, I get a little anxious.

I’m curious as hell, and I’ve decided to look more into it recently; I’ll detail my finds in this post, and hopefully inform some of you guys on why this is so exciting for me. I started by watching “Pokemon: The Origin” which was a miniseries aired on Tokyo TV on October 2nd. It was a back-to-back broadcast of four episodes of never-before-seen Pokemon adventures. Except this time it wasn’t Ash and Pikachu, it was Red and Charmander.

Image

For those of you familiar with the Pokemon TV show that played in the 90s (and apparently the 2000s but I didn’t keep up with it), you’ll know about Ash, Pikachu, Misty, and Brock. And as cool as they were, “Pokemon: The Origin” instead chooses to focus the story on the exact events of the very first video games ever released in the Pokemon series: Red and Blue Version. Therefore, the characters are Red (the main character, the Ash equivalent), and Green (his rival, the Gary equivalent). Ash chooses Charmander, and Green chooses Squirtle.

This series was released to commemorate the beginnings of the Pokemon video game franchise and was aired only in Japan, and therefore you’ll only find it online with subtitles. However, it was absolutely worth the watch, and made me nostalgic as hell. Its notable aspects include a detailed account of the Cubone story in which its mother died and became a ghost; a look into snippets of Giovanni’s past; and even a surprise ending to the series tying it into the new X and Y series developments, a surprise which I will not spoil for any of you readers.

Okay, so getting back to X and Y: what makes them special? I’m sure that’s what everyone’s asking, and it’s certainly what I’ve been wondering. Trust me, I’ve passed up recent Pokemon DS installments without much of a second thought: Pokemon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum Versions all looked strange to me, and I did not ever bother completing them. I never purchased my own copy of any. I bought Heartgold Version and thoroughly enjoyed it, but have not played it much since beating it. And I did not play any of Pokemon Black, White, or Black 2 / White 2. I’ve tried articulating my reasoning before, but haven’t been successful; mostly, I just thought they were slower-paced, had strange Pokemon I was not willing to take to heart, and were not familiar to me.

Pokemon X and Y developers have spent a lot of time and money trying to induce nostalgia and draw its old audience back in with the new. “Pokemon: The Origin” brought everyone back to the 90s, when they’d first started playing Pokemon. In X and Y, it was revealed before the game was even released that the player would receive a new starter Pokemon, and then shortly after, have a choice of Squirtle, Bulbusaur, or Charmander as a “second starter” option. I see it as a direct appeal to people who’ve been playing for a long time, and honestly that’s pretty badass.

(quick sidenote: if you need to get caught up or have your memory jogged on how to actually play the games, I’ve done my best to describe the gameplay involved in Pokemon here, and subsequently here)

All the Pokemon hype has had me playing Platinum religiously. I’ve got a copy now and I’m trying like hell to create a balanced team of Pokemon I’ve never used before, and to beat the game so I can move on to White version. Once I’ve caught up, maybe I’ll be in a position to play X and Y. That’s a bit aside from the point I’m trying to make.

Here’s what makes X and Y special:

1) X and Y have received the highest Metacritic score for any handheld Pokemon game in recent years. Metacritic has kept tabs on the handheld Pokemon game franchise since 2003, or since the release of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire Versions; they both scored an overall critique of 82. Since then, the highest score given to a handheld Pokemon game has been an 87, which was given to Heartgold and Soulsilver; Pokemon X and Y officially received an 88 and an 89, respectively, with user scores slightly higher, making them the best-critiqued handheld Pokemon games to date, according to Metacritic. Gamespot’s user reviews are funneling in, and Y’s average score of 8.8 is lagging behind X’s, which has so far teetered at 9.3.

2) In the past, Pokemon games have differed mostly cosmetically. After the new types (dark and steel) were introduced in Generation II of Pokemon (Gold, Silver, Crystal), there haven’t been many additions to the Pokemon formula. Berries can be grown, the Vs. Seeker allows trainer rematches, the bicycle has two gears instead of one, etc. Ultimately, aside from the addition of one hundred plus Pokemon every generation, the games aren’t too different all the time, if you think about it. They’re still fun, but they tend to bank on success with minimal addition.

X and Y are the most major upset to this trend I think I’ve seen so far. First off, there’s the fact that this game truly belongs on the 3DS because it allows free, 3D overworld movement. You don’t walk on a 2D grid anymore, you can move in any direction the joystick can command. You get roller skates as well, a small and rather basic change, but with some neat uses. This is the first Generation to introduce a new Pokemon type since Generation II: the Fairy type is now in play, some of its more notable members being Mawile, Sylveon (new Eevee evolution), and lots of those “pink” dudes we think are cute. Fairy is super-effective against Dragon. Think about that.

The option to receive a second starter (Squirtle, Bulbusaur, Charmander) eliminates some of that ever-present fear that your rival will kick your ass. The 3D battle animations are much more enthralling and thrilling. The new Pokemon are abundant and presumably fun to raise. And there is an entirely new territory to explore, the Kalos region, which I don’t know much about and don’t want to until I experience it for myself.

A last paragraph about some other innovative features introduce for X and Y: there’s Pokemon Amie, which is a function of the game allowing you to play with, pet, and feed your Pokemon in order to get more accustomed to them. The benefits range from increased experience in battle to a better chance they’ll survive a normally-lethal hit. Also, the Pokemon Bank is a paid service (price not yet revealed) that allows you to maintain virtual boxes full of Pokemon. It allows for the transfer of Pokemon from previous games to the boxes via Wi-Fi, so that the awesome teams you end up getting at the ends of playthroughs are more tangible and not so forgettable. The Internet compatibility of Pokemon games seems to only be expanding nowadays, and some people argue that this is “as close as Pokemon will ever be to a massively multiplayer online game.”

Pokemon-X-and-Y

3) These last two additions are significant enough to mention on their own. The first of which, Super Training, is a new way to level up Pokemon statistics. This seems like more of a competitive-edge type function, for people who tend to level-grind their Pokemon to battle gym leaders or friends. Personally, I appreciate that the option is there, because there were definitely games in the past where your only training options became wild Pokemon or the Elite Four. This function allows you to basically take on the role of a personal exercise trainer, and raise your team’s stats individually (not their levels). It functions like Protein, Iron, and the rest of the Pokemon “vitamin” items that were utilized in the past.

The other new thing is Mega Evolution. This means that many Pokemon in their final form will be able to surpass their final stage of evolution temporarily to look badass and deal some major damage. Mega Charizard, Mega Alakazam, Mega Gengar, and others have been officially released. This adds a brand new battling dynamic and aesthetic to the game. Pretty damn cool. Not only that, but their forms differ between versions X and Y. That means that stats and appearance are completely divergent depending on what game you got.

List of Mega Evolutions documented thus far

So there you have it. That’s about a complete a list of things I can tell you guys without spoiling the hell out of the best parts of the game. I’m sure fans of the series will love it, and from what I’ve heard, even newcomers will find it fun and welcoming (and perhaps a little overwhelming). Happy playing!

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

Instrumental Music for Homework

A lot of people ask me “how in the world do you manage to read and listen to music at the same time?” Then I yank off my headphones and say “HUH?” really loudly and everyone in the room turns to look at me.

I like my music loud. But in any case, my answer to that question is simple: typically I’m listening to soothing piano music, or goofy techno beats. This ‘atmospheric’ music is meant to serve a few purposes: to block out nearby conversations; to get me feeling relaxed (or excited, depending); and to also avert potential conversations. Sometimes, people are brave or impolite enough to interrupt others who are quite immersed in their book. It’s a fact of life: other people will talk even as you flip the pages, even as you make coughing noises, and even as you make only the softest of grunting noises to confirm (or deny) that you are listening intently.

Having headphones on makes it less likely that you will be interrupted.

But if I haven’t made it clear yet, I listen to instrumental music when I read, or when I do homework. It was certainly a leap to being with: I had no clue whether or not I’d like it at all. The only instrumental music I’d ever listened to up until maybe ninth grade was a small array of Rush jam sessions and Joe Satriani guitar solos. Honestly I was thrilled with neither. In fact, classic rock now bores me half to death. It was a phase, we all had them. Or maybe only I did, and I’m just compensating.

In any case, my musical taste now is pretty rad. I’ve always been told to be diverse, and I’d say I’ve stuck to that mantra pretty well. I can appreciate pretty much anything except harsh rock and metal. Also, sometimes new country songs peeve me. In spite of its popularity, I’ve found myself griping about “Hey Ho” by The Lumineers. I find it disagreeable for some reason.

But that still leaves me with a wide range of genres, doesn’t it (well, let’s exclude ska while we’re at it)? It sure does, and I listen to ’em all.

 

*1*

Let’s cover a big and modern category first: instrumental music by bands that normally sing. There are many, many typically vocal bands that release albums with a few instrumental songs thrown in:

“North” by Phoenix (great study song)
“F*ck This Shit” by Belle and Sebastian
“Oscillate Wildly” by The Smiths
“Jumbo Blimp Jumbo” by Kyuss
“Life in Technicolor (Instrumental)” by Coldplay

There’s a short list that I’ve downloaded and listen to–they’re really great, and sometimes if I’m really into a band I’ll search the web or iTunes to see if they’ve released any instrumental tracks. Sometimes they are instrumental versions of some of their other songs, and other times they’re completely standalone.

 

*2*

The next category is completely instrumental bands. These actually pop up more than I’d have thought to begin with, but I’m glad they do. One time, I was in seventh grade or so, and I searched “;” in the iTunes search bar. I played the first song that came up, “;” by The Coma Lilies. It was nothing special at all. It was actually just random, discordant chiming. But the rest of the album that surrounded that song–the album was titled “Memento Mori” and was an obscure prog EP–was so brilliant that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend it with my 7th grade mind. I’d stumbled upon something that I would enjoy for an exceptionally long time. The EP itself has several gems: “What Do I Have To Do To Check My E-mail?” is one, a fast-paced and intense song, and “P*nis Envy,” my personal favorite, has astounding buildup, as well as a remarkable effect on my countenance while I listen. Here are some instrumental bands to give a listen:

The Coma Lilies
Explosions In The Sky
God Is An Astronaut
Helios
Emancipator

 

*3*

And then we get to the classical stuff; the compositions and the symphonies and whathaveyou. I can appreciate a wider variety of classical music, it seems, the more I listen to it. I think my favorite so far is Brahms. His stuff is just so rad. But of course otherwise you’ve got the patriarchal, eternal composers like Bach and Beethoven and Mozart and Chopin and Liszt, etc. Here are some pieces I especially enjoy:

“Intermezzo” by Johannes Brahms
“Rhapsody In Blue” by George Gershwin
“Turkish March” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
“Lux Aeterna” by Clint Mansell (LOTR: Twin Towers / 300 theme! read next category for more…)
“Andante” [part of Piano Concerto 2 in B-Flat Major] by Johannes Brahms (again)

 

*4*

If you’re like me, you like the buildup in an instrumental song, too. Here comes the movie/TV scores, the stuff that’s really blatantly designed to evoke some sort of feeling. Sometimes it gets your blood pumping, other times it stimulates your sadness, but whatever the case, there’s a certain quality that I like about this category: nostalgia. Every time I hear Joe Hisaishi’s “One Summer’s Day,” I can picture the car bouncing, the passengers jostling around at the beginning of “Spirited Away” (a fantastic movie, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again). There are so many feelings to be had with pieces from Original Soundtracks (OSTs) from your favorite movies. This category is really entirely up to you, because chances are you’ve seen some brilliant movies that I haven’t, and vice versa. But here are some of my favorites:

“The Sixth Station” by Joe Hisaishi (Spirited Away)
“Theme [from Jurassic Park]” by John Williams (Jurassic Park)
“Theme [from Braveheart]” by James Horner (Braveheart)
“Ashitaka and San” by Joe Hisaishi (Princess Mononoke)
“Elysium” by Hans Zimmer, Lisa Gerrard, Klaus Badelt (Gladiator)

 

*5*

And lastly, this category is all video game music. That’s right. Equally nostalgic as movie scores is old video game music that brings us back to certain points in our life. I highly recommend looking up covers by the London Philharmonic Orchestra; they’ve covered everything from The Legend of Zelda to Halo’s theme, and it’s all very impressive. You can also try looking online for certain Youtube playlists of the original music from the games. I found a playlist with over 100 tracks of old Pokemon Gameboy game music. It was crazy awesome and it really does the trick sometimes. Here are my favorites:

“Never Forget/Peril” from Halo 3
“Mice On Venus” from Minecraft (the artist, C418, does really great work)
“Title Theme” from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
“Far Horizons” from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
“Orb of Dreamers (The Cosmic Imagisphere)” from Little Big Planet

***

I hope all of that helped, and I hope those categories help organize and refine your search for instrumental music. As a bit of a sample, I’ll post the links for five songs, one from each category, which I find especially awesome!

1. North – Phoenix

2. Shook – Emancipator

3.  Intermezzo – Johannes Brahms

4. Elysium – Gladiator

5. Never Forget/Peril – Halo 3

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

Pokemon Gameplay Continued

It’s been a while since I’ve picked this up, but I really have been thinking about what to include in this post, as well as what key things are needed to help explain this. The whole Pokemon battling and training thing is actually super, super complicated. I used to think it wasn’t, but after playing through Leaf Green once and having a super awesome Pidgeot who was by far the best Pokemon on my team, and then playing through again and having a Pidgeot that sucked complete and total ass… There’s more to Pokemon than just the name of the Pokemon. There are so many small factors that apply, it’s literally crazy.

I’ll start with the beginning of the game. You name your character, and in most your decide what gender you’d like… then you go through the process of getting your first Pokemon. You always have a choice between three starters (except in Yellow where you get a Pikachu), and those three starters are always grass, fire, and water type. The way I generally view the starters is as follows: grass is weakest (but can always pay off); water is most useful in terms of HM moves that help you navigate and do overworld stuff; fire is most powerful and makes up for its vulnerabilities. All three are always good choices, that’s just my opinion.

You battle your rival repeatedly. He (or she) always gets the opposite of your starter. If you get grass, they get fire, et alii. It’s annoying as hell to battle them unless you pick up a dude who beats their starter. For example, if you make them get grass by choosing water, kill their grass dude with a flying type or something. Not too hard.

Battling gyms is fun, assuming again that you’ve raised the dudes to combat their type. Raising dudes is very tedious and time-consuming, but pretty well worth it usually. Here’s where all the complications come in though: while each Pokemon has many similarities to other Pokemon of the same species, each Pokemon also has MANY differences.

Take a Pidgey as an example. Let’s look at all Pidgeys’ similarities to each other. All Pidgeys learn moves at the same level (Sand Attack lvl. 5; Gust lvl. 9; etc.). All Pidgeys evolve at level 18 (at least in Gen. III). All Pidgeys are the same color and all. All Pidgeys have the same description in the Pokedex, and on, and on. These are all general principles that every Pidgey you find will follow.

But not all Pidgeys have the same nature: there are 25 natures total, one of which your Pokemon can have. Each nature affects the development of two of your Pokemon’s statistics. If my Pidgey were to have a “lonely” nature, it would have a 10% increase in its attack stat, whereas its defense would be lowered by 10%. This is a universal rule: while one stat gets a 10% increase, another gets a 10% decrease.

There are six stats in Pokemon: Attack and Special Attack, Defense and Special Defense, HP, and Speed.

That’s just the beginning. What matters next is the Pokemon you battle. Each Pokemon you defeat in battle gives you one or two EVs, which stands for Effort Values. If you get ten, it equals a single stat boost depending on what EVs you’ve gotten.

I know for a fact that Tangelas give you Defense EVs, for whatever reason. If you were to ruthlessly slaughter ten Tangelas,  you would see (or perhaps you wouldn’t… it’s really pretty hard to tell) a Def +1 somewhere down the road with your aforementioned Pidgey. The thing is, even if you’re leveling up your Pidgey without killing anything, it’s still gaining stats. Just not nearly as much as if you’re killing wild dudes all the time.

The reason it’s still gaining stats is because all Pokemon have a “base stat” value. If you get a Pidgey to level 100 without killing any Pokemon with it (via rare candy, say, or some other cheating way), it would have to see a minimum of 40 HP, 45 Attack, 40 Defense, etc. So some stats need to be raised at least a little, regardless of whether or not you’ve actually killed Pokemon to achieve them.

So, you might ask: “Should I go around killing Tangelas only so as to raise my Defense stat?” No. Actually, I don’t recommend this at all. There are some people who try EV training like that in an attempt to either (a) balance out stats that are severely lacking, or (b) try to maximize a certain stat which is already proficient. It’s time-consuming, boring, and it takes forever to yield any solid results. Chances are, the end product will be a flawed piece of crap.

“What about natures? You said there’s a 10% decrease for certain stats, and a 10% increase for others. Does that mean every 10 EVs I earn, one is subtracted depending on the stat? And one is added to the stat that sees a 10% increase?” No, it doesn’t really work like that either… it’s more like this. The base stats I was talking about earlier are changed. So that Pidgey with the Lonely nature, instead of having a base attack of 45 Attack and 40 Defense, would instead have to have, minimally, 49 Attack and 36 Defense. Because its attack and defense are raised and lowered, respectively, by 10%.

That’s some pretty in-depth shit, innit?

The fact is, I never pay attention to it. All I do is catch dudes and raise them. I keep those things in mind, but it’s not like I act on them. I don’t go around killing Tangelas just ’cause I know my Pidgey will end up having a sick Defense stat. In fact, I don’t really even pay attention to natures at all either. It’s too difficult to find the right-natured Pidgey. If it sucks, it sucks. Too bad. There’s always a weakest link on your Poketeam, bro.

Hope that cleared some shit up.

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

Pokemon Gameplay In A Nutshell

I am always completely thrilled with the Pokemon games–whenever a new one is released I get all hot and bothered. Sometimes I’m prevented from playing them due to lack of money and appropriate handheld device, and that is saddening, but the fact is that I’ve never lost faith in Pokemon after all these years. There are groups of people that will tell other people that “Generations 1-3 are better than 4 and 5” or “Generation 1 was the best, the rest are bullshit.” Those people are [censored]. They are [, generally speaking, people who are well-accustomed to said generations, who have not played through Generations 4 and 5 and have not gotten to know and admire the new and unique Pokemon these games have to offer. I myself prefer Generations 1-3, but I will never be found completely shunning the newer additions to the series due to silly reasons like ‘the newer Pokemon are shittily designed.’ The same arguments can be made about Generations 1-3, I promise.]

 

The fact is that Pokemon’s dynamics are ever-changing. And people who fail to keep up with them are too easily deterred. Some would rather dismiss the new games because they are too foreign, and that’s just a shame.

 

The Pokemon games have progressed exceedingly well. The basis of the game was incredible to begin with, though: a wide range of Pokemon to be caught, raised by gaining experience in battles with other Pokemon, evolved and basically refined into kickass, unbeatable monsters. I mean, they gave you 151 to begin with, and on top of that no Pokemon is the same as any other Pokemon even if they’re the same species. Statistics vary, even moreso in later generations because the Pokemon gained ‘natures’ which influenced their stat gains as they leveled up.

 

Also very impressive is the game’s use of TMs, which are short for technical machines. These are game-changers because they allow Pokemon to learn moves that they would not normally learn; certain Pokemon can learn certain TMs. For example, Squirtle the water-type can learn Water Pulse, which is a powerful advantage in battle, especially at lower levels. But there’s no way a Charmander (fire-type) would be able to learn it. Just like a Squirtle can’t learn Flamethrower. It makes a lot of sense, mostly.

 

Pokemon gyms with gym leaders have always been awesome. The gym leaders are the boss battles of the game–trainers can be relatively challenging, but they’re mostly used to effectively level up your team of six Pokemon. Gym leaders are harsh and are normally very challenging, especially when you’ve got a team that’s poorly suited to go up against a leader. If you go up against an electric gym with only water- and flying-type Pokemon (which are both weak against electric), you’re completely screwed unless you’re a great, great deal higher in level than their Pokemon are.

 

Speaking of battling, a great addition to the game was rebattling. The earlier games were very flawed because once you beat a trainer, they could never be battled again. Their money dried up, their Pokemon would never be used against yours again. They simply stood there, only talking to you when you talked to them. It stayed this way in Gen I, but in Gen II there was a ‘phone’ addition to the player’s gear that allowed trainers to call the main character when they were ready to battle again. It was tedious to run and find these trainers, and it was also hard keeping track, but it was something. In Ruby and Sapphire the phones were subtracted, and the trainers were catalogued in a Pokenav application that showed a little red square next to the trainers who were ready to battle again–but this was very infrequent and a little frustrating when you needed to go and level-grind.

 

Fire Red and Leaf Green employed the Vs. Seeker which gave the player the power to ask nearby trainers for battles whenever they wanted. This was the most useful of all rebattling methods. I was impressed.
With the introduction of more Pokemon comes way, way more battling methods and team combinations. Many newcomers build a one-sided power-team that is basically a couple, if not one, strong Pokemon that do/does all the battling. The rest are HM slaves, or Pokemon that are in the party that have one purpose: to learn moves that enable the main character to go new places. These are moves like Hidden Machine 03, Surf, which allows the player to swim with their Pokemon across the water; or HM02 Fly, which allows them to fly on their Pokemon to towns they’ve visited before. These teams can honestly turn out very well–I beat Sapphire many times using only a starter Pokemon for battling. They end up leveling well beyond what the other trainers’ Pokemon are because they’re getting all the experience from battling, experience that should be shared among the whole team. I’ve fought the Elite Four (final battles against four very powerful trainers and a fifth–the champ) using a level 70 Swampert that killed all of the level 40s and 50s. It was great.

 

Since I’ve been playing so long, I like strategizing a bit more. I like trying to keep my whole party of six at the same level, so that I can have a team that balances out. This means that whatever Pokemon I’m up against, I’ve got at least one Pokemon who can kick its stupid sorry ass. If I have a Venusaur (grass) and I go up against my rival’s Charizard (fire), I’m screwed. But if I can swap Venusaur out with, say, a Golduck (water), I can destroy the Charizard. If he then throws out an Exeggutor (grass) that can easily kill my water-type Golduck, I throw out an Arcanine (fire) that takes care of his grass-type, etc. It’s actually very easy to figure out what kinds of Pokemon you’ll need to achieve a team like this, and there are many possibilities.

 

I’ve just started over my Heartgold version and I’m pretty psyched; I’m gonna have a really kickass team.

 

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

Beowulf And Skyrim Parallels

A lot of people play The Elder Scrolls now that Skyrim’s been released. It is a fantastic series, probably best described as the Lord Of The Rings of video games because of its depth and intrinsic lore. It has such an original and compelling fantasy basis that even Call of Duty and other FPS dorks choose to play it sometimes, and that’s saying something. In a sense, playing these games is like reading a book, without actually reading it.

And that feeling comes partially from the fact that these games emulate popular and classical fiction. It’s true that these kinds of things are referenced often; The Hobbit by Tolkien has the same premise as Beowulf because both lead up to the slaying of a dragon. In the 70’s and 80’s, metal bands thought it was totally hardcore to reference dark literature like The Necronomicon and other Lovecraftian creations because it meant that… well, I don’t even think they really know what it meant. Honestly I don’t like bands like that.

But The Elder Scrolls series is relevant to a broader population, arguably, because it’s not every guy these days that likes hardcore death-post sex technotica metalblast dreamvibe sassafras massacre hellscream valkyrie music. But there are a lot of gamers who play Skyrim.

Just google “Elder Scrolls References” and see what you find, honestly. There are millions. They’re often denoted as “easter eggs” and are arranged in order of which book or legend they’re referencing. There are references to LOTR, King Arthur, the Headless Horseman, etc.

But I recently read Beowulf because I found it at a book store for one dollar. I was very thoroughly astounded at how many references I found without even really trying very hard. Skyrim is chock full of them. In fact, it’s safe to say that the entire virtual realm of Skyrim is based off Scandinavia. I’ll remind you that there is a Nordic race in the game, which is basically human, but with special perks and abilities. They are not necessarily better than any of the other eight races, but they have a 50% resistance to frost and cold, and also a battle-cry that makes enemies flee for thirty seconds. It’s kind of fitting, honestly.

As I read and annotated Beowulf, I noted the use of titles: earls, mainly, and thanes as well. Earls are the English translation of the Scandinavian term jarl, which is used extensively in Skyrim. Thane is a term to describe someone of moderate nobility, in between the class of normal citizen and distinguished jarl. You become thane of several cities if you play the game properly and thoroughly.

Also, the main antagonists of Beowulf are mirrored, more or less, in The Elder Scrolls series, starting with Morrowind, or game 3 of 5. The Uderfrykte is a strange troll that you encounter in Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, and which you may kill all three times–it doesn’t seem to affect its appearance in later games at all. The Uderfrykte it seen as Grendel because of a nearby dead man’s journal, which describes his encounters with the Uderfrykte. It also speaks of a Uderfrykte Matron monster which you may find and kill–this is a mirror image of Grendel’s mother.

Also, the final antagonistic creature that Beowulf faces down is the dragon. Dragons are the major and highly difficult enemies found in Skyrim, the “boss battles” that sometimes come randomly. It is apparent that the dragons have been saved as creatures up until this game because the realm of Skyrim is obviously Nordic. It is almost as if the character plays in the time period of which Beowulf is set in, except with certain add-ons like magic and strange creatures, etc.

The presence of mead in Skyrim is prevalent, however its use is kind of absurd. If you drink too much of it, you gain little and lose a lot, because it decreases your strength and ultimately makes you kind of shitty for a while. Mead is kind of useless; I’ve never known anyone to trust in its effects while playing, and I’m assuming the only reason it’s really found is because the culture of the Scandinavians included it so heavily both in life and literature. The great mead-hall Heorot in Beowulf is proof of that.

In the story, Beowulf goes to fight for the king of the Danes, Hrothgar. This is used in Skyrim as the name of not a person, but a place; perhaps the place was named after the person, who supposedly really lived and may or may not exist in The Elder Scrolls. In Skyrim you climb a mountain to reach High Hrothgar, which is an enormous building meant for prayer and ritual. It is inhabited by old wise men. Honestly I don’t get the reference, really, but it’s kind of cool to see the name crop up again. Hrothgar was a sad guy in Beowulf because Grendel was killing all of his men. Eventually he sat alone in his mead-hall because no one visited him anymore, and it stayed that way for twelve years. Beowulf really helped him out by slaying the monsters for him.

My last reference, for this is kind of long and I could go for much longer, is one that I am proud for having found: at the beginning of Beowulf, it talks about the death of Scyld Scefing, or in English “Shield Sheafing,” who was the first of the line of Danish people. It says that he walked the “whale-road” to his death. This is seen in Skyrim as the road you walk on your way to kill dragon boss Alduin, for you walk a road up to the Hall of Valor (representative of Valhalla, or a sort of Norse heaven) that is lined with the rib cages of massive whales.

That’s it for me. If you are interested in any more references, be my guest and look them all up. There are some very good dialogue and physical references to some very relatable works of art and myth to be found in these game.

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

 

Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem is a Japanese video game that is comparable to Final Fantasy in the sense that it’s drawn out over several games (like, a dozen or something) and has different characters in each and every one. And they’re totally amazing.

I discovered them long ago–about four years ago maybe–when a friend let me borrow a game in the series for the Gameboy. It was called Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones and it was so completely and predominantly sexual that I nearly had some sort of strange visual orgasm. I had to drop it for a while.

When I came back, I discovered what I loved about it most: the characters and their subsequent characterization is phenomenal. Each character is so smoking hot in their own way that it’s like, how do you ignore them? Some characters who fight for you are childhood friends. Others are comrades and long-ago squadmates. Others are lords, ladies, and their faithful squires or pages. Others are young boys and girls who are just now learning to understand their fighting power, etc.

But what’s cool is that even though they fight for you, that’s not really the main focus: it’s really more about getting them to bond with each other. For instance, a weathered knight named Seth, if placed in adjacent panels to his young companion Franz for prolonged periods of time, unlocks a “support” conversation, in which they converse and grow closer. This means that next time they fight adjacent to each other, each one is a little bit stronger because of the bond between them both.

And this is where my description of the game as being “The Ultimate OTP [one true pairing] Game” comes into play. At the end of the game, it gives DESCRIPTIONS of the peoples’ lives together. I’ll give you an example: my favorite pairing, Colm and Neimi (childhood friends, thief and archer), have a short note written about them if you have three support conversations between them:

The childhood friends became lovers at first, then husband and wife. Worried for Neimi’s well-being, Colm gave up his adventurer’s ways. Neimi passed on her grandfather’s skill in archery to her own son and daughter.

Dammit if that is not the most gut-wrenchingly wonderful thing I’ve ever read about the two–I WORKED FOR THAT. I WORKED FOR THAT TO HAPPEN. I PUT THOSE TWO CHARACTERS IN A CORNER AND THEY SPENT COUNTLESS TURNS THERE DOING NOTHING UNTIL THEY WERE ABLE TO HAVE ANOTHER SUPPORT CONVERSATION.

Ahem, well anyway, the game is an “RTS” which means it’s a real-time strategy. The whole game is VERY mind-bending and painfully strategic, and the placement and equipment of your characters is of utmost importance. What’s great is that some characters are weak, and others are exceptionally strong. These strong ones must support the weak ones until the weak are able to take care of themselves, etc.

The characters who are weak are eventually able to “transform”–I’m not sure there’s actually a word for this–meaning that they change classes. An example would be Franz, who I mentioned earlier. He’s young, and he’s pretty cool and all. He’s a cavalier, meaning he rides a horse. Horseriding characters are good because they have a lot of mobility. They can move a lot in one turn, and can usually outrun enemies if need-be. But Franz usually doesn’t need to. He can use lances and swords (the ‘weapon triangle’ is as follows: swords beat axes; axes beat lances; lances beat swords) (this isn’t always the case; these weapons just have obvious advantages/disadvantages against other weapons, but they can still win out).

Franz is a cavalier. If he gets to level 10, I can use a knight crest on him and make him either a ‘great knight’ (which can use axes as well as swords and lances) or a paladin (which is strong, and has greater mobility, but uses no new weapons).

Do you SEE the possibilities?

You will sometimes come across red (enemy) characters who are different than all the other characters on the opposing side. They look as if their portrait art is different than what is normal, and they have a designated name. These characters are either enemy bosses… or they’re recruitable. And recruitable ones are AWESOME. That means you’ve got a new guy on your team, permanently. There are lots of opportunities to recruit new characters. It’s common to get at least one new character each level. You accumulate quite a few… but if one of your character’s health depletes all the way, they die and can never be deployed again. So you have to be very careful when it comes to placement, health management, etc.

Wow. I must sound like I’m working for Intelligent Systems or something, I’m really selling this game. But the point is, PLAY it. If you guys want, message me and I’ll tell you how to play without even having a Gameboy (I play it on computer, you can save games and everything. It’s quite literally my baby, and you don’t even need internet to play, either).

I hope to spark your interest, and maybe later we can have a (support) conversation about these games.

-Thom

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