October 10, 2006

Unplanned Absences [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at October 10, 2006 6:48 PM

Remember when I used to update my blog? You may be wondering if I have been detained by the Bush administration, but in fact I have been distracted by things like science and Valkyrie Profile 2. However, I have once again been getting calls for an open thread, and I'd better start reviewing CDs if I'm going to get through my backlog before the end of the year. Also, I've been playing some video games lately:

Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra: The Xenosaga series was originally meant to run six episodes, but this was overambitious and the sequence was truncated here. This meant that some threads had to be wrapped up hurriedly, and the plot picks up after skipping an entire episode's worth of developments. Fortunately the database from Episode I has reappeared and so the player can at least read about what happened; likewise, one character's backstory is presented mostly in database text where it might previously had been slated to occupy most of an episode. The main storyline is left to play out at double speed (by the standards of this saga, but perhaps normal speed for another console RPG).

As the spiritual successor to Xenogears, Xenosaga labors under certain expectations, especially in its last chapter. Both draw heavily from Gnosticism in their themes, and lay out the plot in a style appropriate to a mystery cult, where the player is in the dark about the true nature of the universe until it is made plain in a series of final revelations. Part of the genius of Xenogears was the way it drew together the threads of Christianity, Gnosticism, and Nietzsche—it was one of the most literate console RPGs ever—into a coherent plotline. (Especially appealing to my philosophical sensibilities was the way it ultimately deferred to a kind of scientific materialism.) Unfortunately, Xenosaga doesn't reach these heights, and in making the competing philosophies more explicit, it loses the coherence in the story. The major revelations near the end thus fall into two categories: the kind that the observant player figured out two episodes ago, and the kind that don't actually help the story make any more sense.

This is probably a consequence of the shortened scope of the project and the departure from Monolith Soft of major contributors to the narrative aspects of the game. It's a disappointment for those of us who came to the series in part because of the strength of it's predecessor's storyline. At a smaller scale things generally work better&dmash;several of the set pieces are very well executed, in particular the chilling weapons test scene that occurs early in the game.

But in some sense all these things are secondary considerations: this isn't a movie, it's a video game, and the actual gameplay is a lot of fun. The battle mechanics depart from the previous episodes somewhat (moving in the direction of Final Fantasy X) but maintain the same crystalline turn-based feel, with good strategic depth but less frustration. Meanwhile the mech battles now resemble a streamlined version of the Xenogears system, as big an improvement over the second episode's approach as that episode was over the first in this department. The dungeons are visually spectacular, satisfyingly intricate, and generally a joy to explore. The biggest disappointment was the lack of any bonus dungeons like the ones in the previous episode. On the strength of the gameplay I'm giving this a high rating even if the conclusion to the story wasn't to my satisfaction (and even if it's not the best dungeon crawler to come out in the last two months—it's hard to compete with tri-Ace in that department). Rating: 4/5

Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped: I assume the venerable noise-rock band needs no introduction. One doesn't generally have high expectations for 25-year-old bands, but they've put out a decent album here that's more accessible than much of their catalog. Their trademark fuzz, distortion, and atonal singing is certainly present but it's put into the service of some catchy tunes, especially "Incinerate" and "Rats". They might be well past their peak but they can still write some good songs. A stream of "Incinerate" seems to be available at Geffen Records. Rating: 3.5/5

Tags: Games, Music, Open Thread
Comments

I do have high expectations for the 25-year-old bands I like. I've liked them for 25 years (or some other long period of time), so of course I should have high expectations when they produce a new album.

I do remember when you posted on your blog. I also remember when people occasionally posted comments on mine. :)

By the way, when are you heading to SoCal?

Posted by: Mason | October 10, 2006 10:34 PM

Ah, but that's for the special case of bands you've liked for 25 years. I think a lot of long-lived bands are just going through the motions after a while (but obviously there are exceptions).

I was thinking about making a trip down south next weekend (the 20th-22nd) but it will depend on the lab situation and whether people are around... LA/Pasadena people, is that a good weekend or should I try sometime in November?

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | October 11, 2006 3:55 PM

YAY! *thinkthink* I think I'm mostly free that weekend, aside from the usual rueda on Sat. from 1:30-3:00. That, and I think the 22nd might be good night to go out for dinner.

As usual, offer of extra room here stands, and as usual, the disclaimer re: the shower stands as well.

Back onto topic, I can only three of a few things I've liked (to within a reasonable doubt, of course) for 25 years, and only two of them can be repeated in polite company.

Posted by: Lemming | October 11, 2006 7:08 PM

I'm free, and I have Arrested Development and the Shield.

November is tough for me, only the second weekend is free since the first weekend I'm visiting Chicago and the third weekend I'm visiting Dallas. Maybe I'll see you there.

Posted by: Josh | October 11, 2006 10:26 PM

That weekend will probably be pretty good, I think Jon+Frances are visiting as well that weekend. Perhaps you can share rides?

Maybe I should hurry up the prep on that one-shot mage game. :)

-Z

Posted by: Zifnab | October 12, 2006 12:25 AM

That weekend (10/22 bit) is good for me except for Saturday from the morning through 5 or 6pm or something (I'm not sure of the exact time). I am chairing a SURF session and then I have to do my SURF judging thing for some amount of time after that. I can be available in the evening on Saturday, though I promised my students I'd buy them dinner at some point, and that may be the night I have to deliver the goods.

Posted by: Mason | October 12, 2006 12:34 AM

Sunday morning's busy for me until 1 pm (stupid morning raids) but otherwise I'm clear.

Posted by: Mike^2 | October 12, 2006 8:24 AM

Cheryl's got a link on her blog that Doug Baker died in a car accident. Some of you might have known him. He was a Lloydie, class of '02.

Posted by: Jenny | October 12, 2006 10:09 AM

Sounds like the weekend will work for you guys, so I just need to figure out my lab commitments. Another possibility is the weekend after that (27-29 Oct).

Z: I'd be up for a Mage game. I recently had an idea for a multiple-session Cthulhu game that I am tempted to run over my next few visits, but it won't be ready to start by next weekend. (If people are interested in something like this we could at least do character creation.)

Jenny: I also saw that on Cheryl's blog. I knew Doug but not very well.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | October 12, 2006 3:55 PM

Sad news. Been feeling like I should say something, didn't want to say something trite. Started to get to know him my last year, and learned enough to respect him a lot (in spite of my expectations to the contrary).

Posted by: Lemming | October 12, 2006 10:04 PM

The weekend of 10/27-10/29 does not work for me, as I'll be in England working on some very important quests.

I am very interested in either Mage gaming or Cthulhu gaming or both. (For example, making Cthulhu characters on Saturday and then playing Mage on Sunday would work really well for me. Then I could just make my Cthulhu character after the SURF stuff is over and others can potentially make theirs while I'm still dealing with it.)

Posted by: Mason | October 13, 2006 5:55 PM

Frances and I are, in fact, planning to be down there next weekend. I don't think sharing rides will work very well, since we're planning on staying in the LA area for a bit less than a week, to visit other relatives in the area.

Posted by: Jonathan | October 14, 2006 4:14 PM

PAR-TY PAR-TY PAR-TY PAR-TY!!!

Posted by: Lemming | October 15, 2006 3:18 PM

Like it's 1999!

Posted by: Mason | October 15, 2006 3:41 PM
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