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Friday, June 06, 2003

Speaking of Reviews, or, Because You Care About What I Like

A brief rundown of the media-related parts of my life lately.

Music:

Quality, Talib Kweli

Winner of the Truth-in-Advertising award, this CD is indeed quality. There's nothing not to like about this album. Kweli's socially conscious lyrics are a good place to start, but being nice doesn't necessarily make for good music. What does is a wide range of superbly done songs. With many different DJs supplying the beats, the songs come from different places, but more importantly, they have different emotions attached. Kweli's last album, Reflection Eternal, was good, but had emotional problems, in that all the songs seemed to be coming from the same level of dissatisfaction/slight anger. The emotions spill out with intensity here, from anger to love to depression to just wanting to dance. It all comes together on the track Get By, which seems to be something of a hit, and I can't think of a better song for that to happen to. Seriously. The joyously infectious song is quite easily the best hip-hop song I've heard, and that makes it quite possibly the best song I've heard. If you like hip-hop at all, get this album. If you don't like hip-hop, this album might change your mind.

Electric Version, New Pornographers

A few years ago, some band members in the Vancouver, BC area got together and started messing around and created an album. The album, Mass Romantic, kind of disappeared, but just enough people listened that reviewers picked up on it, and suddenly, it started appearing on Best of 2001! lists, even though it had been released in 2000. Funny, that. at any rate, it's a good thing it did, because it really was one of the best. But I had little hope for a sequel appearing, it being an indie "supergroup" and all. All of the sudden, though, it did. Hooray! I thought. For the first time in years, a band I really liked was putting out a new album. I could get excited. Excitement turned to dissapointment upon listening to the CD, however. This is not to say it's a bad album. It's not. It's good. More than pretty good, less than really good. But where Mass Romantic had several superb songs with a nice supporting cast of different tunes, Electric Version has a handful of fantastic tracks supported by songs that all pretty much sound the same. It's as if the band got together and said "OK, how can we try and duplicate the raw energy of our first album?" and all they did was try to duplicate. It works decently, but it's not a classic.

Games:

Hey, with my new place, I can play games again. Huzzah! It's been RPG time for me, so onto . . .

Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land, PS2

Wizardry? On a console? I remember back in the day when I was a wee lad and my parents bought me Wizardry 7 for PC. (I remember this largely because it was last time I ever remember them getting me a game out of the blue.) I didn't see the depth then, but as I got older, I discovered that this was the most intensely intricate and superbly done role-playing system ever devised for a video game RPG. I got Wizardry 8 last year, and found the amazing depth shifted from character development to tactics in battle, and it was very nearly as good. But a simplified Wizardry for PS2? How's that gonna work?
Rather well, I found. The game quite nicely strikes a balance between PC and console style gaming, between American and Japanese styles of design, and between old-school and new RPG types. It's got a plot and setting reminiscent of Diablo, character design that seems out of non-Square console RPGs, like Valkyrie Profile or Ogre Battle, and combat halfway between Eye of the Beholder and the old Final Fantasy's. It's also got a genuine difficulty to it, which is rare in a console RPG. It's not a stunning masterpiece like Wizardry on the PC has been. But it is an entertaining game that proves to be different from the generic RPGs which dominate the PS2.

Dark Cloud 2, PS2

(note: this is more impressions than a full review, I don't think I made it far enough to judge the whole game. But this is what I see so far)

Speaking of generic, this game should be it. You're a plucky young aristocratic boy, making his way in the world and also saving it from ultimate evil. Or you're an equally plucky girl from the future, exploring the old world, and of course saving it from ultimate evil. But Dark Cloud 2 stands out. This is partially due to its graphical style. It makes the best use of cel-shaded graphics since cel-shaded graphics were introduced back in Jet Grind Radio (sweet, sweet Jet Grind Radio . . .). It's fun to look at, and the characters have a goofy stereotypical charm, kind of like Skies of Arcadia. Describing the way it's pleasing is next to impossible, but when you see it, it clicks.
Graphics are all well and good, but everybody who's anybody knows that gameplay is more important. Dark Cloud 2 is an action/RPG, and holds the game up on those terms. It's also reasonably difficult, I've died more than a few times. Where the game succeeds, though, is in the depth of things to do. You can take a camera out and take pictures of things and make inventions based on those pictures. There seem to be minigames coming down the pipe, too. What I've been wasting time doing is upgrading my items. You have different weapons and you can change them into other things the more you use them. The game manages to make this fun. I'm having fun running around and fighting to upgrade my items. I'm enjoying the equivalent of random battles. THIS IS A GOOD SIGN. The last console RPG I remember that was able to do that for me was Grandia. I see how this works now (game philosophy tangent!. If the random battles are simply obstacles towards moving a certain direction, as most are, then the gamer will want them to end, or never even start, so the gamer can progress. But if the battles are an end in and of themselves, then the gamer will seek out the battles.
At any rate, Dark Cloud 2 seems to have great style and more than enough substance to pull it off. I will continue playing.

- Rowan Kaiser, 2:57 PM
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