Sailor Moon Crystal – Act 7 – Mamoru Chiba!


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This is still event television for everyone, right? Right. I didn’t even need you to answer that, actually. Well, I myself had a slight delay in getting around to Sailor Moon Crystal this week, for which I know there can be no forgiveness. All I can do is move forward, head held high, knowing that my work as the curator of this anime is important to the total of the human race’s accomplishments. That this art cannot, in fact, be discussed enough.

As we left things off last week, Tuxedo Mask had fled into the shadows with Sailor Moon, presumably to take her someplace safe to convalesce after the confrontation with the fearsome Queen Beryl. And as it happens, we now have direct continuity… because here our hero is, waking up at Mamoru’s pad. You all know Mamoru, right guys? The guy who is totally not completely obviously Tuxedo Mask, who Usagi keeps bumping into? He dresses kind of flashily, wears sunglasses a lot… you know the type.

So right away Usagi notices the whole Tuxedo Mask costume lying around and comes to the appropriate conclusion. Glad that’s out of the way by Act 7 this time around. I don’t know how long the truth takes to sink in in the original show… but it was a while.

Cue that title song, fools.

So it turns out that Mamoru has very few memories. Some brief snippets of childhood. That’s about it. Apparently he’s got boku bucks though, which is always handy. He’s searching for the Legendary Silver Crystal because it’s the only clue about his missing memories. From a recurring dream he’s been having about a certain princess. Unfortunately it seems our heroes aren’t quite ready to put any of this all together yet. I’m sure they’ll get there. Usagi leaves, but not before she and Mamoru have another semi-creepy moment. Since it’s their love story, ultimately, I’m going to have to stop giggling at them all the time… but I’m just not there yet. Forgive me, readers, forgive me…

Next we get a couple cuts so swift, I could swear we were watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In her secret headquarters, Luna is talking to a mysterious figure who is totally not Sailor Venus, but totally is. They’re out of time! There’s no time left! The enemy is coming!

Meanwhile, in the Dark Kingdom, that enemy is doing things. Incredibly important things. In fact, let’s take a full line break to reflect upon a name that is now being mentioned for the first time:

Queen Metalia

Fans of the original anime may or may not even be familiar with this character, as she did not exist in the English dub, instead replaced by some nebulous energy that Beryl would occasionally consult with, to unclear purpose. Here, things are laid out fairly explicitly. Back in the day, Queen Beryl discovered the Dark Kingdom near the North Pole of Earth. There, she awakened the slumbering Queen Metalia, which led to the downfall of the Moon Kingdom. In the end, Metalia was defeated and sealed by the Sailor Guardians, but now she – the nebulous ‘Great Ruler’ that our Kings (Kings!) are always on about – is back for revenge. With the Legendary Silver Crystal, Metalia will consume Earth, destroy everything, and kill everyone.

Queen Beryl is more of your world rulership kind of gal. She’d actually prefer less annihilation, more domination. Zoisite still seems to be recovering from the beating Sailors Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter dropped on him, but there’s a Silver Crystal to be found, damnit. So get moving.

Word on the street about Sailor Moon is spreading. It doesn’t seem entirely… or at all… benign.

But at school, unaware of all this apparently, Makoto, Ami, and Usagi are having lunch, and Ami has been researching Sailor V. Who is probably totally not Sailor Venus. I mean, she has the Moon Kingdom’s crescent boldly emblazoned on her forehead, which seems like a weird tattoo to get out of coincidence, but otherwise… and then in by far the creepiest thing to happen yet, Umino emerges from the shrubbery, enhanced by all kinds of hilarious anime tactics, you know, to really drive the creepiness home. This guy is a winner. Even Usagi thinks he’s creepy, and she likes everyone! Also his new suspicious plan is to “catch” Sailor Moon. HMMMMMMMMM! That does not seem ominous at all! After the break, even Naru-chan is hunting for Sailor Moon. Everyone is. Everyone. It’s like a creepy Japanese horror movie, only you know, it’s a cartoon for young adults.

Zoisite has turned the entire city into Sailor Moon hunting zombies. I have to be honest, this is a good deal more impressive than anything I ever saw him do in the original anime. The Sailor Guardians transform and roll out to protect Sailor Moon from the harm apparently wished on her by the entire populace, but with little hope of success… but Sailor Moon’s powerful new healing spell also breaks the mind control without trouble! …Oh, and probably draws Zoisite. This time, our friend (King!) from the Dark Kingdom is ready even for the combined attack of the Sailor Guardians, with a sphere of black kick-ass-ness. Fortunately, Tuxedo Mask is there to intervene, not with fancy magicks, but with a devastating right hook! He gets exactly one of those off before Zoisite decides his evil power can probably protect him from amateur boxers too. There’s some mushy stuff… Tuxedo Mask’s true wish… etc. … But what it boils down to is HOLY SHIT THERE’S SAILOR VENUS. I mean. It could be Sailor Venus. Who knows, really? There’s no confirmation. Who knows!?

I learned a lot more about the Sonique Cleansing Brush during this episode than I did about Sailor Venus. I’m willing to admit for now that that’s nobody’s fault, though. Actually, Hulu’s commercials have been somewhat tolerable this week. I’m impressed. Thank god that esurance commercial is out of the rotation. I’m seriously not sure I could have made it through this episode if I had to endure the esurance commercial.

Act 8 is titled Minako – Sailor V! So I think we have some hint of what to expect there… but the preview also hints at the arrival of Kunzite as enemy commander, and possibly some real exploration of the whole past lives and ‘Moon Kingdom’ stuff. We pretty much all know what to expect here, but it’ll be fun anyway. I personally can’t wait! Seriously, though, what happened to Jadeite… and Nephrite? Just hanging around base? Wouldn’t it make sense to pool strength? Ehhh. Best not to ask questions to which I will regret learning the answers. Perhaps they’ll turn up, with a part yet to play, ere the end.

Sailor Moon Crystal – Act 6 – Tuxedo Mask!


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Obviously, being back on a regular schedule of Sailor Moon has reinvigorated me. With a regular schedule returned to me, I find that each day is easier to suffer through, knowing that my long, Sailor Moon Crystal-less nightmare is closer to being over. Act 6, Tuxedo Mask! I think we can all guess on the subject matter here, though it seems frankly unlikely that this single act will resolve the standing mysteries about Tuxedo Mask. To find out, we’ll have to watch together.

Forget not, dear readers, that many peoples of the world still cannot enjoy this show – tremendous as it is! – legally within their own borders. You owe our friends in Canada and other countries at least one mild pang of guilt as you work your way through this fortnight’s offering from Sailor Moon Crystal. And if you are still well pleased at the end, your soul fulfilled and happy, chalk it up not to a lack of empathy, but rather to the fullness of the show.

In a very, very brief pre-credits scene, Luna introduces the Moon Stick. It’s sort of like a stick… with a big crescent moon on top of it. Obviously, all fans will recognize it right away.
Ballin’. Luna explains that it will help against enemies. Okay, that seems reasonable oh and we’re ready to go? Sailor Moon Crystal!

But first, let’s rock out.

A lot of Mamoru in this first segment. First, he wakes up in the middle of the night, full of doubts. Then he bumps into Usagi in the streets once again. Also, apparently he’s been giving press conferences… talking about how the various crimes he has committed were all in search of the Legendary Silver Crystal. Well, I suppose any number of B&E’s can be forgiven if it means keeping the Crystal away from Queen Beryl and the Dark Kingdom, and their mysterious Great Ruler.

Apparently Tuxedo Mask is the talk of the whole town. At school, on the radio, on TV, in the streets… he, and the Legendary Silver Crystal, are all anyone is talking about. Tuxedo Mask hopes that this will reveal a lead for him…

… But in the Dark Kingdom, the European Commander (whatever that means), Zoisite, petitions to replace Nephrite, who was both beaten and badly injured in the last act by Sailor Jupiter. Zoisite has a plan not only to seize the Legendary Silver Crystal, but also that whole general energy-grab thing that the Dark Kingdom is after. Great Ruler, etc., remember?

After closing time at the arcade, the Sailor Guardians discuss the situation. Luna has been doing a great deal of research, but apparently still doesn’t know who the enemy really are. She knows enough that they are trying to awaken some terrible evil from a deep sleep. Oh, and it will be bad if they succeed. In case that wasn’t clear. Their exact identities remain shrouded in mystery, though, and probably not for a hugely significant later reveal or anything like that. For the moment, the only important thing to know remains that the Legendary Silver Crystal is far too dangerous to be allowed to fall into enemy hands. In Luna’s opinion, it could destroy an entire planet if it fell into the hands of evil. I probably don’t need to spell out the ways in which that might be bad for you and me.

We learn a few key phrases here, too: The royal family of the Moon. The princess descended from the Moon. Awakened Sailor Guardians. Hmmm.

Meanwhile, much more importantly, ON TV…. a female anchor who looks suspiciously exactly like Zoisite except with hair pinned up differently… hypnotizes what appears to be every viewer in Tokyo into mindlessly searching everywhere they can think of, all in an effort to locate the Legendary Silver Crystal. Of course, all this pointlessly expendeded worry or whatever, is then absorbed by the Dark Kingdom.

Didn’t I see this commercial for Hanes tagless underwear like two years ago? Is this still some kind of big announcement? At least His Airness isn’t sporting that Hitler ‘stache in this one. Also, Wal-Mart seems to have stuffed a lot of commercials into Hulu’s repertoire. You shouldn’t shop there.

After the break, the Sailor Guardians head down into Luna’s secret base, which seems bizarrely large and also somewhat interdimensional, hanging out beneath a Sailor V machine. Using Luna’s computers, they’re easily able to track the energy being stolen from humans, and the mind control signal, to a TV station. The Sailor Guardians arrive right in time to observe Zoisite beginning to suck his victims dry of their energy. Weirdly, though Luna tells us she still isn’t sure at all about the enemy, she immediately identifies Zoisite by name. Was she there when the Four Kings (Kings!) introduced themselves at the Masquerade? I honestly can’t remember.

Sailor Moon’s own travels are interrupted when she runs into Tuxedo Mask again. He confirms in person that his goal is the Legendary Silver Crystal. But unlike the Sailor Guardians, he has no special powers (how does he keep finding Sailor Moon, then? Huh? HUH!?). Sailor Moon actually has similar concerns; she’s supposed to lead the Pretty Guardians, but she doesn’t have the firepower that her allies do (in perhaps the most stark reversal of the original anime yet, where the other Sailors frequently felt totally inessential), and she obviously feels inadequate to the task.

Speaking of which, on the rooftop of the TV station, Mars, Mercury and Jupiter are attempting to drop the hammer on Zoisite. A repeated assault from the Sailor Guardians seemingly has Zoisite on the ropes, before the shitennou (Kings!) manages to unleash a big counterattack. With the three Pretty Guardians trying to recover their strength on the helicopter pad, a peal of mad laughter besets them. Sailor Mars is awed by the evil energy she suddenly feels. Then, incredibly, Queen Beryl herself descends from the sky, introducing herself, and overwhelming the Sailor Guardians, who know instantly that they are outmatched. We need Sailor Moon!

Sailor Moon’s confidence is shot, but Tuxedo Mask talks her out of her funk. Maybe she doesn’t have the power to generate fire, ice, or lightning, but she is the leader, she has the power to make other people feel good about themselves. Sailor Moon transforms, and joins the fight! Awesome! In spite of her flaws, she is determined to help. She grips the Moon Stick (I wonder what it could fo…. whoa!) Moon Healing Escalation! Those words don’t really make sense in that order at any level! But she does release energy that gives even Queen Beryl a tiny bit of pause. When Sailor Moon attacks, Zoisite leaps in front of the blast and, to be generous, it seems to fuck him up bad. Beryl, to everyone’s amazement, takes her fallen shitennou (Kings!) and bounces.

With Sailor Moon’s energy exhausted, Tuxedo Mask carries her off to recuperate.

As predicted, we didn’t get many answers about Tuxedo Mask this week. But it looks like he rates his own 2-parter, because the next episode looks to be very much about him as well. So far we have only one episode that I would really describe as ‘filler’, because this one had a lot going for it, between Sailor Moon’s soul searching and a flesh-and-blood appearance by the mighty Queen Beryl. I’m still looking for confirmation on the fate of the luckless Jadeite, but maybe that will come in time.

Anyway, this was an action-packed week, and I hope you enjoyed the episode as much as I did. And yes, we’re all dying to see Sailor Venus introduced. I suspect we’ll be waiting a while though. I seem to remember her appearing only about two thirds of the way through the original anime. I don’t know when she first shows up in the manga, because frankly, I’m woefully unprepared for this week’s article. I’ll try to do better in a fortnight.

For now though, let us simply enjoy the warm embrace of Sailor Moon Crystal together, and glide off into the night.

A Glorious Fantasy: Finally, a Thief!


Abbreviated boilerplate! Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through Lightning Returns, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’. This list continues to undergo revision, and I seriously considered removing Final Fantasy 9 from it for personal reasons. In addition, no MMO titles will be played. Sorry, folks?

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research. Let’s move on!

Previously on this series!

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The traditional mood music is at hand!

Version Played: Original PSX discs, played using a “slim” PS2 system

Final Fantasy IX is a game that for me, and mine, and my generation of gamers… feels more modern than it actually is. How many among us would be surprised to learn that Final Fantasy IX was released in November of 2000? We are approaching its 15th anniversary. It’s perhaps the newest of the old Final Fantasy games. Except, we don’t think of Final Fantasy VII as old, do we? It is, and we should. Some of us probably do. But that still seems odd to me. Truthfully, Final Fantasy XIII probably has more in common with VII than it does with I. Evolution is an ongoing process, and it’s one that ongoing fans have learned to accept.

But there’s a lot going on in Final Fantasy IX that would be both weirdly prescient and altogether ignorant of the future. It’s an interesting game in many ways.

The core conceit behind FFIX is that it’s a return to the “roots” of the Final Fantasy series. Superficially, there can be no argument about this at all. Final Fantasy IX brings back the saga of the four crystals that rule or shape the world (a premise which every game before Final Fantasy VI incorporates). It’s got airships, it’s got the ATB gauge, you buy and equip weapons and armor, and your abilities are gained as you level. After Final Fantasy V (with its variable Job System), and VI, VII, and VIII… which allowed total freedom of customization to the player given more or less application of effort… Final Fantasy IX has our characters locked into their classes, in a nod to Final Fantasy I and IV.

The designs of both the world elements and (particularly) the characters are also a deliberate reaction against VI, VII and (especially) VIII, which featured increasingly advanced technologies and settings that were undeniably darker than previous Final Fantasy realms. Final Fantasy IX’s – and this is important – surface tone is much goofier. The character designs reinforce that for the entire game. Of course, this game is actually full of some really messed up shit… way more than I remembered there being, in fact. Even in the darkest pits of this game’s soul though, the bobblehead characters work to lessen the impact. There’s nothing creepy about them, for the most part.

The unfortunate side-effect of your characters being “locked in” to their roles is that a certain party composition is virtually required to complete the game. With enough ability gimmickry, you might be able to pass the game’s challenges by overleveling significantly and abusing Auto-Potion, but in general, you will take one of the game’s White Mage characters, Eiko or Garnet. Neither provides any meaningful offense. Garnet has offensive Eidolons, but their MP cost remains prohibitive until perhaps the very end of the game, with a few notable exceptions. Physical fighters like Steiner, Zidane and Freya remain your bread and butter as always, though Black Mage Vivi can certainly contribute. Indeed, my own party for this entire playthrough consisted of Zidane, Garnet, Vivi, and Steiner.

The one nod to character customization available in this title are character “abilities” which are learned off of equipped weapons, armor and accessories. Calling this system “customization” is a bit of a stretch, as all unique character abilities are learned this way (i.e., Garnet’s weapons will teach her White Magic, which Zidane and others cannot learn), along with the same pool of generic abilities for each character. Some abilities are easier to come by than others on certain types of armor. For example, Zidane’s light armor and daggers have easy access to thief abilities, as well as physical combat abilities such as Bird Killer or Golemslayer. You have a limited number of points with which to “equip” learned abilities, and equipping the proper status resistances and combat proficiencies can mean the difference between victory and defeat in many of the game’s areas.

That’s about all there is too it, really.

I have trouble taking the main antagonist of this game seriously, and it turns some of the dramatic moments into silly ones for me. Aside from that, however, it would be difficult to earnestly argue that this game doesn’t live up to what the Final Fantasy brand represents. It’s even a little meatier than its predecessors in VII and VIII in terms of core story, taking a fair amount of time to work through. In addition, some of the battles in IX can be difficult unless you’ve substantially overleveled. Once you’ve identified the best abilities for each situation, you won’t have much of a problem, though this game’s final boss might be the most difficult one I’ve faced, other than the infamous Cloud of Darkness from FF3. As always, your own mileage may vary, but I have a hard time conceiving of ways to make a more infuriating storyline boss.

All of that goes triple for Final Fantasy IX’s superboss, the dreaded Ozma. Although there are many cheesy workarounds available to make him much easier to defeat, he will still feel completely impossible unless everything goes perfectly. I have defeated him, but elected not to do so during this playthrough. I did defeat the other optional boss, Hades, in Memoria, which gives access to the game’s most complete Synthesis Shop. Taking advantage of the items available there will make the game’s final challenges – and Ozma! – quite a bit easier to deal with, and Hades is nothing more than a fairly difficult boss.

On the whole, I found IX to be fairly uneven. Its plot is a bit on the ridiculous side, which I’ve come to realize is an appropriate thing to say about most of the Final Fantasy games. The only ones whose stories have stuck with me so far were IV, VI, and VII, and maybe a little bit of FFT. Will this improve? Hmmm! The gameplay is very straightforward, which is a mixed bag. Eventually you’ll reach a point where you’ll have your ‘strong’ party, and the occasional swap of abilities to protect against local status effects will be enough to find your way. Certainly, I did not find the system here to be nearly as engaging as the ones from VI, VII and VIII, but nor is it entirely without substance (such as in FF1). Still, probably the weakest system to be seen since FFIV’s similarly static model. When the game was fun and interesting, it was fun and interesting, but I did spend periods tiring of the random encounter rate, wishing the graphics were better, and hating the back of Zidane’s face with the scorching power of my brain. Him and his stupid tail.

But I knew going in that this one would be far from my favourite installment. I actually think I enjoyed it more this second, and probably final, time through. So there’s that.

One word of caution for anyone looking to play back through this title: I played on the physical PS2 plugged into my HDTV, and boy did this game look like shit. I highly recommend pretty much any solution but the one I chose. The text was mercifully still quite legible, and the cutscenes scaled nicely, but the in-game graphics… well. Let’s say that I was startled after having played through the nicely-upscaled Steam ports of VII and VIII, and the beautiful PSP version of FFT.

Oh, and join me next time when I discuss the jump to the Playstation 2 with Final Fantasy X!

This game’s soundtrack is far from one of my favourites. It took time just to pick two songs for this piece. Yikes.

Sailor Moon Crystal – Act 5 – Makoto – Sailor Jupiter!


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It has been a while, my friends. Yes, we were all forced to suffer through a lifeless, Sailor Moon-less week of tedium and sorrow. Yes, I suffered alongside you. The only thing that could settle my heart was peering through the veil and onto the future, where this episode and its boundless promise awaited. Fortunately, it would seem that most of us have survived and come out the other end. Thank God that, at long last, Act 5 of Sailor Moon Crystal has finally arrived (give ye no thanks to Hulu, for they continue to be absorbed by the foul Geico Pig commercials, and have broken faith with the people of Earth).

As is customary, let us begin this week’s celebration of Sailor Moon with a moment of silence for those of us in Canada and other territories who, as of yet, cannot legally drink from the ever-filled chalice of Sailor Moon Crystal. I wish that I were strong enough to stand in solidarity with you, my friends. 

But I am weak.

Back to business as usual in Sailor Moon Crystal, this week we look to meet Sailor Jupiter, the fourth Pretty Guardian. During the cold open, Luna, everyone’s favourite Moon Cat, is busy pointing out that Usagi-chan does not pay attention to what’s going on. Usagi is going to argue, but then is nearly run over by a car, only to be knocked aside by another girl, who then wanders off in the rain. However, some bit of that tall brunette remains with Usagi, who stares after her. One cool thing about Usagi is how empathic she seems to be. She can sense special things about people without even meaning to. She’s a very sympathetic character in this treatment, probably more so than how the original anime handled her – well, the Ocean dub anyway.

Now let’s rock out.

Jadeite appears to be out of the picture. I was expecting him to get dramatically slain, or at least banished into crystal or the infinite labyrinth of eternal ice or whatever. But no. Queen Beryl is mad because her team keeps losing. Nephrite has a plan. He’s going to exploit love. I feel like if it were really that easy, Nephrite, someone would have done it already. I mean, I get that you Dark Kingdom guys are like weird robots and you don’t really “get” people, but c’mon.

At school, Usagi and her friends swoon over wedding coverage. Good times all around. Master Expositor and Master Creepy Swirly Eye Dude Umino breaks into their conversation to mention that several men have gone missing while shopping for wedding wear. Let’s put a pin in that, shall we? I feel like we all know how these Sailor Moon stories go by now. More importantly, Usagi once again literally runs in to the mysterious brunette we all know is named Makoto. Umino, Exposition Master tells us that this girl is a new transfer student, that she is rumoured to have superhuman strength, and that she was kicked out of a previous school for fighting.

So she’s probably a good candidate for the X-Men.

Poor Makoto. Nobody wants to hang out with her. People are intimidated by her reputation, and she does seem to stand about six feet tall. We all know that Usagi can only see the best in other people though, right? Of course she sidles her way up to Makoto during lunch. It’s a running gag now when Makoto saves Usagi from her clumsiness right? Because dear ole Makoto barehands a baseball that was about to clock our Pretty Guardian of the Moon in her face, and then throws a pitch I’m fairly certain is illegal back toward the diamond. Time for some exposition! Makoto is a real do-it-yourselfer. She cooks, she made her own purse, and she’s living by herself. Seems rough, for a middle school student, that’s for sure.

Usagi is so nice, that she immediately wins Makoto over. I think we all saw that coming. Of course, Makoto then says the magic word, when she admits to looking for an arcade in town. Booyakasha!

At the arcade, Makoto is a real ace at the ubiquitous Sailor V video game. She also has googly eyes for Usagi’s friend Motoki, who works there. Ami continues to be astonished by Usagi’s ability to make friends. Frankly, I am too. Probably no one ever was so delightful as Usagi. I mean, she’s giving people nicknames now. That’s an entirely new stage of awesome. While wandering around town, of course, the friends end up at the cursed bridal shop. Let me just unstick that pin from earlier real quick. They say there’s a bride-ghost there, and that grooms have gone missing. Mannequins are creepy enough without them coming to life, thank you! 

Things go from bad to worse when that selfsame bride mannequin creeps up on poor Motoki and brainwashes him. He goes looking for Makoto! That Nephrite…

Political commercials are boring. I’m pretty unlikely to be swayed by a crazy-slanted 20 second sound byte. I can promise I don’t want to use Geico though, after my 29083048th dose of the Geico Pig. You know I used to think the Geico commercials with the gecko were pretty clever? Yeah. We’re about ten years past that now. Hulu has much to answer for.

Noted pervy weirdo Tuxedo Mask awakens Usagi in the middle of the night and steals away with her through her bedroom window. Luna notices, more or less panics, and calls in the big guns. As I think we’d otherwise hoped, the Sailor Guardians confront the evil mannequin – obviously, Nephrite’s pawn, not a ghost, but a servant of Evil! – but she’s got some tricks. Nephrite shows up to taunt our heroes. Usagi gives a speech about love. Against your expectations, it mostly results in the Sailor Guardians getting owned by green magic…. but also in Makoto judo flipping the mannequin, and standing up for herself.

You go girl. Obviously, it’s about this time that she’s revealed as Sailor Jupiter. Her transformation is notably cool. Lightning is always a fun visual effect, and they do it nicely here, as Makoto becomes the Guardian of Love and Courage, Sailor Jupiter! She immediately summons both a hurricane of apparently-sharp flowers and a bunch of freaking lightning, busting up that stupid mannequin, and leaving Nephrite looking like a fool.

As a coda, Luna gives Sailor Moon a cool new toy, and me an opportunity to see commercials from the other political party. Woooo, senate elections! And a Wal-Mart commercial that makes me feel bad for employees of Wal-Mart. Are they really doing people’s shopping for them now? Actually, come to think of it, that’s probably a lot more fun than the baseline retail experience. I redact my sympathies.

Only a fortnight from now though, our odyssey will continue, with Act VI. It sounds like we’ll finally learn a little bit more about our mysterious possibly-ally… Tuxedo Mask! Well, I’m stoked. Meet me there. We’ll talk about it. We’ll do lunch. It’ll be great. In the meantime, remember your friends who can’t watch, and try not to taunt them with your knowledge of how great this show is.

Sailor Moon Crystal – Act 4 – Masquerade Dance Party!


sailor_moon_crystal_04_preview_masquerade_dance_party_masqueradeObviously it is a source of tremendous pleasure for me to say that once again we return to the bi-weekly world of brand new episodes of Sailor Moon: Crystal. I am deeply troubled that my brethren in the great country of Canada still can’t imbibe legally of this show. Say strong, my friends, and any of you others similarly handicapped! One day these chains, too, shall be struck, and we shall be free to embrace Sailor Moon as one people, together.

This week’s episode looks to be the first one yet not to introduce a new Pretty Guardian to the team. As I stated in my previous recap, this is in keeping with the manga timeline, which we already know is more of a priority for this series. Our very brief cold open has Moon Cat Luna narrowing her eyes at the figure of Mamoru Chiba, aka Tuxedo Mask.

And then we’re off on the opening theme song odyssey. Yes, it is still long. No, I am not tempted to skip it. Get out of here with that hate. One thing I will say is that between the theme song, the closing song, and Sailor Moon’s transformation (hers is about twice as long as the others’, I think) they really pad out the 25 minute run time on these episodes. It’s really just a normal half hour of television.

Hulu’s commercials have annoyed me far less this week. I do hate the Geico Pig almost as much as it’s possible to hate anything, but his DMV commercial is pretty short, and it doesn’t fill me with hate the way that eSurance commercial with the woman on the rooftop does. The rest of the commercials were pretty forgettable. That’s in no way a bad thing. Don’t worry, you can expect a link if I find a particularly irritating one this week. That’s my promise to you, valued reader!

Since we don’t have to spend a lot of time on a new character this week, this episode feels pretty lightweight by comparison to the last few weeks. Usagi makes it to class (on time, for once!). All anyone is talking about is the police barricades that are in place for the arrival of Princess D, from the Kingdom of D, a kingdom which has become fabulously wealthy based off of a plethora of precious gemstones as a natural resource. Princess D is bringing the fabulous legendary ultimate real secret treasure of her family to Tokyo to show it off at a grand ball / exhibition for… well… I’m sure she has reasons of some kind, anyway.

At the arcade, Ami and Rei talk, and play some Sailor V while they wait for Usagi who, while on time, fell asleep during class and got nailed with detention. With Luna, the girls have a little meeting, discussing the mysterious enemies that keep popping up. Since even we the viewers don’t clearly know the objectives of the Dark Kingdom yet, our heroines know even less. Luna does mention that the princess they are supposed to be protecting has been sealed in some way that would make it difficult for enemy forces to find her, and that the Silver Crystal is a source of incredible power. Letting it fall into the wrong hands would be catastrophic.

Meanwhile, down in the Dark Kingdom, we finally meet Kunzite. You can tell he’s cooler than the other three because he has a cape, and his outfit is slightly different. Queen Beryl orders the four of them to figure shit out. Get the Silver Crystal. Restore the Great Ruler.

Back at Usagi’s house, we learn that her father is headed off to Princess D’s gallery for an interview for his “magazine”. I assume he’s some kind of respected online publisher. Anyway. Usagi, not to be left out, immediately uses her magical powers to transform herself into “a princess”, and runs off to infiltrate the party. This is followed by a K-Mart commercial that is… just bizarre. I wish I could find a video link for it. I feel like I’ve failed you.

Offscreen, Usagi ropes her friends into coming along with her to Princess D’s party. Naturally, the three girls are able to simply walk in like they own the place, while Luna is detained at the gate. Usagi immediately becomes excited by the masquerade nature of the party, and runs off to involve herself in some dancing. Ami and Rei remain more focused on their actual mission, which they head off to get a jump on. Usagi’s own father sees her running around, but only wishes to himself that his girl will grow up to be so beautiful. Naturally, Usagi ends up on the dancefloor with the mysterious Tuxedo Mask. It’s going well at first, but then he bails for seemingly no reason.

Meanwhile, Ami and Rei have tracked down Princess D, the treasure, and a disguised Nephrite, who apparently has replaced Jadeite as the commander of record for this episode. This is another manga thing, although I believe that in the manga, Sailor Mars slays Jadeite with her fire attacks at the end of Act 3, which was not the case here. Nephrite is confronted by Sailors Mars and Mercury, so he decides to possess Princess D while he himself flees. Princess D goes crazy, sprints through her own party knocking people casually aside, and then leaps a balcony. Usagi goes over the edge as well, but Tuxedo Mask catches her. He loses his grip, however, and Usagi is forced to use her powers to save them, transforming her pen into a… parasol. That works, I guess! For some reason, Tuxedo Mask doesn’t seem that perturbed, but he does bail again. What’s with that guy, anyway?

Sailor Moon joins her companions and uses a cool new moon beam to blast the Nephrite right out of poor Princess D. All four of the Kings (Kings!) of the Dark Kingdom show up to act intimidating. They don’t really do anything though. Kunzite reveals that (in case we couldn’t guess) that they’re after the Silver Crystal in order to rule the world. He ends with a cartoon-villain-ish “Stop us if you can!” before they bail, surrendering an obvious opportunity to use their combined magical powers to bust up the Sailor Soldiers something good. No, I’m sure that strategy will pay out in the end. I’m not here to question the tactical wisdom of the great Kunzite.

In the end, Princess D’s treasure is just a ridiculously ostentatious statue of the first Princess D, made out of a 2000 kt diamond. Good grief. Tuxedo Mask finds a sleeping Sailor Moon on the balcony, does some creepy face stroking and hair touching, and goes in for the kiss. It’s about this time that Luna shows up and starts spitting fire. Who is Tuxedo Mask? Is he friend or foe? Well, he’s after the Legendary Silver Crystal. And if we’re after the same thing… maybe we are enemies. Then he vanishes into the night. Man, that guy is the best. Our outro is a glance of Makato, who I suspect will feature prominently in next we… damn, is it really an entire fortnight to wait? Curse this release schedule! Anyway, I strongly suspect based on prior knowledge and the teaser which uh… covers things pretty comprehensively… that we’ll be meeting Sailor Jupiter next time. Cool beans. The shows where we’ve been introduced to new Sailor Guardians (especially Act III, which I think was the best episode so far) were quite a bit more compelling than Masquerade Dance Party, which felt like a lot of fluff paired with some cool moon beams.

Well, no matter how long I’m being cruelly forced to wait, never fear dear reader! I will be with you next time for Sailor Moon Crystal: Act V!

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods


Dragon-Ball-Z-Battle-of-Gods-Poster

Yes, my friends, while the rest of you were off seeing high flying summer blockbusters with nearly universally positive reviews I took a slightly different approach… and saw one of the very few showings available in my area of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods. You know, the first Dragon Ball Z film in 17 years to receive a theatrical release? That particular fact doesn’t really mean anything aside from highlighting the fact that Battle of Gods was, in fact, released theatrically. Depending on your location, you may still have a few days to see it. Let me get this out of the way right now: If you were – or are – a fan of Dragon Ball Z, you should see this movie.

Why? Well, let’s talk about the film a bit.

Events open with the introduction of Lord Beerus, also called Beerus the Destroyer. He’s smarmy and wicked, and he ordered Freeza to destroy the Saiyan world of Vegeta 39 years ago, before taking a nap. Now that he’s awakened, he is surprised to learn of Freeza’s death, and even more surprised to learn that it was at the hands of a Saiyan warrior. Abruptly, he recalls a prophecy he was interested in once about a “Super Saiyan God” (the film’s dialogue itself makes fun of this title. Don’t worry!). These opening scenes also give us a good sense of the tone of the film: Despite the fact that are no doubt headed to some mighty Dragon Ball Z action sequences later, the film is largely comic in tone.

First, our villain pays a visit to King Kai’s planet, where Goku is training. Most of this sequence is played for laughs, and it’s fairly brief, but Beerus does demonstrate to us his power by effortlessly defeating Super Saiyan 3 Goku in two almost delicate blows.

Disappointed by Goku, Beerus and his servitor, Whis, head to Earth to try and find the other remaining Saiyans, and this Super Saiyan God. Upon arriving, they interrupt Bulma’s birthday party. In a pleasant bit of fan service, all of the characters from the series are there. All of the fighters of course, like Piccolo and Tien Shinhan, but also supporting cast like Master Roshi, Mr. Satan, and Videl. The film runs only about 85 minutes, so most of these characters aren’t given a ton to do, but the middle part of the movie takes place primarily at this party. Here’s where things had the potential to really slow down and drag… because despite Lord Beerus arriving and demanding to meet his Super Saiyan God rival, he soon takes a shine to the buffet table instead. In no time, he and Whis are chowing down on Earth delicacies at Bulma’s invitation.

Meanwhile, a subplot involving a character from the original Dragon Ball anime (one whom I had to Google, but I’m sure there are fans who will better appreciate his appearance in the film). He’s there to steal the seven titular Dragon Balls, which Bulma has collected to give away as a prize on her birthday. Everyone should have a friend like her, I guess, because that’s quite the gift.

Lord Beerus eventually gets into a fight with Buu over pudding cups, and things start to head in the direction we always knew they were going to go: Beerus ultimately is here to challenge his new potential rival for fun and for profit, and unless the Super Saiyan God can prove stronger than he, he’s going to destroy the Earth. As you would expect, the lesser fighters all bounce off of him to no great impact, and even the mighty Vegeta is no match for Beerus, even after going berserk. Luckily, Goku arrives to save the day. Some complicated stuff happens that doesn’t really need a full rehashing. Suffice to to say that with the Saiyan characters pool their energy together, they literally transform Goku into a God in order to battle Beerus.

While I personally found a lot of the nonsense in the middle of the film to be very funny, I suspect it won’t play as well later on small screens as it did in what was actually a fairly crowded theater. What will play nicely on any high definition screen are the battle sequences that make up the last part of the film between Beerus and Vegeta and then, of course, between Beerus and Goku. One compliment that I would not pay to the original run of Dragon Ball Z was to its animation quality. Even the very coolest fights in Dragon Ball Z (say, some of the later ones against Perfect Cell) absolutely pale in comparison to what we get here.

Using modern animation techniques like blending some CGI in with the animation, incredible 3-D angles, and modern computer colouring, the battle sequences are awe-inspiring. Instead of endless series of rapid-fire punches and kicks that leave more to the imagination than we actually see, most of the battles play out with clear, decisive movements. Punches and kicks feel real and powerful. Energy blasts were given a little help from the CGI and seemed to crackle on the screen. Even if you found the central part of the movie a total slog (which would be a shame!) it’s probably worth it in the end!

I’ve seen other reviews cite the ending as underwhelming or disappointing, but I actually thought it was very suitable. While it’s true that the appeal of Dragon Ball Z wasn’t it’s complicated characters or sensible plotting, the spirit of the show and the characters is alive and well in this film, and to see the original voice cast return in so many different roles was pretty impressive… not to mention jumping up and down pretty hard on my nostalgia button. I remember when I used to be frustrated every afternoon by this show’s interminable filler episodes on the Cartoon Network. Battle of Gods might have been the way I’ve most enjoyed it since; in a single, digestible chunk that gave me a little of everything that ever made the show appealing.

A Glorious Fantasy: The Original Klingon


Columnist’s Note: This article has been edited from its original form to include some thoughts about the Master Calculator and the battle with Belias the Gigas in response to compelling arguments made in the comments. This was an important change, and it expands humankind’s capacity for growth.

Abbreviated boilerplate! Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through Lightning Returns, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’. This list continues to undergo revision, and I seriously considered removing Final Fantasy 9 from it for personal reasons. In addition, no MMO titles will be played. Sorry, folks?

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research. Let’s move on!

Previously in this series!

FFT

As is customary, let’s start with some mood music.

Version Played: “War of the Lions” PSP remake, complete with incredibly Shakespearian translation.

Final Fantasy Tactics is sort of the gold standard for tactical RPGs. It is also a game around which many PSX-era Final Fantasy fans rally together as a point of shared joy. In my entire life, I have never met someone who actively disliked this game. That, in and of itself, is incredible. I mean, who doesn’t know someone who dislikes Final Fantasy 7, 8, 9, 10, etc. ? Tactics rises above that crop to my mind for three major reasons.

1) The gameplay mechanics are deservedly the gold standard for tactical RPG play. Yes, I love Fire Emblem too. But there’s something about the job system and the customization available to the player in Tactics which hits the spot. Oh, and you get a variety of broken NPCs if you’d rather just use the cheater sword abilities the AI has been trying to best you with all game. I won’t blame you if that’s how you feel.

2) The story appeals to people in a kind of ‘Game of Thrones’ way. Despite all of the magic present, it’s not utterly fantastic. The focus of the story is on ambitious jackoffs who would sacrifice anything to advance their own ambitions… and one guy who is kind of the opposite. It’s a semi-kind-of-realistic middle ages type setting. It feels to the player like a place that could actually exist, which is simply not the case for other Final Fantasy titles.

3) Ramza Beoulve, despite ultimately not being that interesting, is a very easy protagonist to root for. He doesn’t have the capital-letter ISSUES that plague Cloud and Squall. He doesn’t have a bizarrely oversized head and a tail like Zidane. And he doesn’t narrate the whole game with inner monologues that caused some people to bleed into their brains like Tidus. No, Ramza is quite straightforward, and quite heroic.

But it’s mostly about #1. The mechanics are deep (sort of. They’re deep if you’re not just chasing the absolute optimum party, at any rate). They’re fun to play around with. They can make the game either embarrassingly easy or fairly challenging depending on which route you decide to go. It’s like the awesome job system from Final Fantasy V writ large in the PSX era! Only you also get many NPC characters with unique and interesting skill sets! I chose not to use any of them (except Agrias. I don’t hate myself) in this particular play through, but FFT certainly facilitates any style of play that you like.

The standout mechanic, of course, which you won’t find elsewhere – even in other incarnations of Final Fantasy’s own job system – is the Calculator or Master Calculator job. This job is very straightforward – it uses the battlefield metrics such as elevation, remaining wait time to act, and individual character level, and then devastates targets with magic. The Calculator need not spend MP to do his work, nor is he subject to the questionable charge times that render powerful spells like Holy of limited utility. Instead, the Calculator picks a metric to hit, then which multiple (3, 4, or 5) he wants to lash out at, and then gleefully rains fire down upon eligible targets… friend and foe alike. Because the Calculator class has abysmal stats and is unbelievably, unfathomably slow, I didn’t find it worth the time to train one of my party members in the skills this time around. But veteran players all know that the deployment of a Calculator’s skillset (preferably equipped on a better job: try Black Mage!) on the battlefield can easily win this war almost single-handedly.

Even using weak classes and abilities, and without the timely intervention of Count Orlandeau or the mighty Calculator, it’s perfectly possible to complete Final Fantasy Tactics. Once you have mastered the mechanics of the game and know what truly poses a danger to your group, I like to think the obstacles of this game are fairly easy to navigate. A standout, fairly brutal exception to this is a battle roughly halfway through the game at Riovanes Castle. You should save your game in a different slot before attempting it. In fact, keeping two different saves is always a good idea in this game, to avoid a possible soft lock of your file, where you’re locked into a battle that is too difficult for you to defeat, without the means to leave and level up or acquire better equipment.

There are a couple other possible exceptions, which revolve around a mechanic that simply doesn’t work as well as the designers probably intended. I consider it one of FFT’s flaws that several story battles involve “guest” characters. Early on, this takes the form of Delita and Algus, your supposed friends, who are there to make sure you can’t take a full party of 5 on a mission until the start of Chapter 2. They’re not always helpful, but they also can’t die, so they’re no liability either. Later, however, most such missions involve saving other “guest” characters from getting their dumb asses killed. Unfortunately, since guests are always under the control of the AI… this isn’t always possible. There is one battle (Castle Riovanes Roof. You know what I’m talking about) where the guest character routinely gets killed in the first round of action. Or any any subsequent round. In one shot. By some brazenly unfair enemy characters. This battle can be one of the most frustrating ones in the game because you have very little ability to impact its outcome. Either your “guest” behaves rationally and avoids the deadly enemy assassins… or she doesn’t… and it’s game over. Bummer.

One thing I want to mention in this space, before I get too far afield, is the translation. The original translation for FFT is in the same vein as the Ted Woolsey translations of earlier games. You still get the gist of it, but a lot of it is nonsense. It’s much worse than the original translations for Final Fantasy VII and VIII in this regard. Lots of stuff, even seemingly obvious stuff, is mistranslated, to the detriment of the story. PSP’s War of the Lions is heralded as a vast improvement, and in some ways that’s true. However, having now played both versions, I have to say, there’s a lot to dislike about the War of the Lions translation as well. It may simply be the original material to blame, which is fine, but this translation is insanely talky at times. We might as well be reading the original Shakespeare in some of the cutscenes. Melodrama and unnecessary wordiness abound, and the ultimate effect is a little bit off-putting to a modern player. Don’t misunderstand – by no means did I hate the War of the Lions treatment of the script. I just am not sure that it deserves the near-universal praise that it has received amongst gamers and critics alike. It’s talky. Often unnecessarily so.

By its nature, a game that you can play through with only Ramza and a party of generic characters (in fact, you can dismiss any of the story characters after they’ve formally joined) has to be light on character development. Characters like Agrias, who are central to the plot up until they join, disappear immediately upon doing so. As a result, the only meaty characterization is ultimately of the Beoulve family… Ramza, his sister Alma, and his two other brothers Zalbaag and Dycedarg. They are at the center of the conflict ripping Ivalice apart in any case, and they’re also the characters (along with Ramza’s best friend, Delita) who get the most screen time. Delita receives some additional attention in the War of the Lions, to where you could consider him one of the game’s better-explored characters. Still, you’ll actually find a lot of the most intriguing characterization actually belongs to the game’s various (and, boy, there are a lot of them) antagonists. This is definitely an intriguing reverse from the “norm”, but it works well here.

Ultimately, this is probably one that we can all still agree on. FFT kicks ass. It combines excellent and deep tactical gameplay with an intriguing story that might be a little less clear with the new translation… but certainly isn’t any worse. It might be one of the more cohesive FF plots around. It’s also got at least one more song I’ll share.

Join me next time, as I return to Final Fantasy’s roots, with Final Fantasy IX!