Opinions: 2017 – A Dual Life Perspective (Part I)

Well, it’s July, so it’s time for me to reflect on the first half of 2017 both in the real and in the virtual. The real has been…well…fascinating? Certainly surreal. And hard. Where to even begin?

Well, I suppose I’ll start with the biggest elephant in the room, which has been learning how to adapt not having my ex be so attached to my life. Which has been both the most difficult thing I’ve ever done as well as the most edifying. Putting twelve plus years of a relationship behind me has been monumental, and it’s still ongoing, but I’ve come to terms with a lot of what happened between us, how I personally needed to mature and improve, and am beginning to forge my own identity and purpose in life. The divorce is pending at present waiting on final judgment, but I don’t foresee anything holding it up given how straightforward it was. My ex and I continue to be on adequate terms — I mean, it can’t ever be how it once was, for god’s sake, but it’s friendly enough — and while there’s a part of me that wishes things had gone differently between us, I also am well aware that we weren’t helping each other any more by staying together. The happiness had gone. And realizing that (as well as accepting it) has been rather important for me to be able to move on. On that note, I think I’ll be keeping any further mention of her to an absolute minimum moving forward. It’s been a year, and I personally need to spend much less time thinking about her and what happened between us. At this point, it’s effectively over and I want to refocus my thoughts and energy towards whatever is coming next, not agonizing over what has already passed.

In February I was laid off from my job, which added an extra layer to the personal strife I was already swimming through. I was reassured it had nothing to do with performance and I remain on good friendly terms with my former boss and the team there, but it was almost as if the rug was pulled out from my already wobbly legs. Unemployment would carry me through most of the year thus far, which had pluses and minuses. I hate being unemployed and relying on government assistance, but I believe I did need to step away from my job and face the music in regards of dealing with everything else going on in my life properly. So I utilized the time to focus on emotional healing and attempting to better accept my situation and be okay with all that had happened, which was crucial. I had not allowed myself such time while there to fully cope with the separation and being single again. So while it sucked losing that connection and being more distant from that group of people, I feel that I needed that. I had to think. I had to grow up.

I started a new job last month, refunding orders for an online retailer. The pay barely covers my expenses but my parents have been wonderful and incredibly supportive, helping me out here and there as I need it. I do not wish to take advantage of their kindness, because it’s providing me relief from other stresses so I can try to focus on continuing my solo journey. And the work is okay. It’s a job. I’ve met some cool people and look forward to getting to know them all better, as well as trying to balance my stronger friendships from my past job.

Ultimately the biggest battle I see in front of me is overcoming apathy, procrastination and laziness. Heh, my vice for as long as I can recall, alas. It’s something that easily overpowers me, and I have to really work at preventing it from consuming me. I’ve noticed its impact as I’ve gone through my discovery the past few months and am trying to shut it down…well, at least to some extent. Incredibly tenacious, those habits one has had since childhood. But I’m conscious of it now, and I’m making an effort. If I can get a handle on that and my stupid sense of fear that has crept far too deep into my psyche over my 34 years, I’ll be set for anything. But being aware of one’s faults is a big part of the battle. Launching Isolate and So…this webcomic again on my art blog is a big step towards me regaining my artistic excitement; digging back into my research and considering new articles for P4 has been massively intriguing; I’ve returned to documenting my cherished LEC and Heritage books; and of course, I’m posting a ton of video game stuff here at LVLS. These four sites are helping me so much. I can only hope you find them interesting as well.

And geez that’s not even getting into the shitshow that is the political landscape right now. The brazen, underhanded and inhuman lengths a good portion of our elected officials are pushing right now is sickening to me. Especially in regards to women’s rights, immigrants, and health care. I’m just gonna keep it short and sweet — if you’re trying to trample us to fatten your pockets and undermine fair and proper democracy, just go fuck yourselves right off. Seriously.

Anyway, let’s end the real for now…let’s talk about games! The virtual!

Suikoden II

Suikoden II was worth the many years I had been hoping to find a means to be able to play it. Its scarcity made a physical copy nearly impossible to procure without a miniature fortune, and I’m not an emulating type of guy, so I wasn’t sure if I’d ever have the chance. PSN teased the idea with the release of the original early on, but years passed before Konami and Sony finally issued the game in a digital format via PSN, which I immediately jumped on. In my opinion, there’s some things that paying full price for is well worth the investment, and supporting the re-release of rare games I’m interested in is something I’ll always support.

Anyway! The game itself was great! It’s in most respects a massive improvement over its predecessor, with more great characters, better visuals and music, a stronger and more diverse battle engine, a truly sadistic villain and some pleasant plot twists, more to do with your castle than the last game, and a lot less reliance on keeping certain characters around. I was able to rock my party of Hero, Nanami, Wakaba, Oulan, Tengarr and Eilie through most of it, and when I couldn’t I only had to swap out one to two of those in most cases. I didn’t care so much for the strategy portions (really really watered down Fire Emblem stuff), and that stupid obsession with gambling to progress returned from the last game to spite me again (and it was even touchier here), but otherwise a really strong contender for best retro experience of the year right off the bat.

Mega Man X

Man, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this Mega Man X image. I suppose next time I write about it I should spice it up a little. :p

2017 was the year I finally got over my initial complications with X and understood why people love it so much. As my post details, it’s because with this game Capcom finally got the charge shot right after three failed attempts to spark the classic Mega Man formula with it. With a more fluid protagonist and a capability to boost up your subweapons as well as your standard Mega Buster X, the mechanic clicks at long last. And it’s a whole heap of fun storming through the robot master stages and getting those armor and upgrades — a slight Metroid influence, perhaps — and feeling really powerful as you face off against Sigma. That final fight is perhaps too tough, and while the intro stage teaches a lot (I hear you Arin) I still feel that it is the biggest roadblock to enjoying the game proper. But hey, I really liked it in the end! Yay!

Contra III: The Alien Wars

I adore the original Contra. And unfortunately for me my fandom for it has thus far only really been for it, despite trying out Super C (good but not as good) and Contra 4 (I didn’t get into it as much as I would have liked…I think the dual screens were a bit much to take in all the chaos). But I’ve finally found a game that comes closest. Now, this doesn’t dethrone the king but it does do an admirable job living up to its legacy. It has smooth controls, great setpieces (I LOVE STAGE 4 OMG), cool bosses and just reeks of that Contra goodness that I’ve craved for so long. Sadly, the overhead areas still kinda suck, and the music isn’t quite as memorable, but overall this is easily my #2 of the franchise.

Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero

I was pretty taken with my first experience with Shantae through Pirate’s Curse, so I was game for another one. However, 1/2 Genie Hero didn’t resonate with me anywhere near as much as its predecessor did, and I think it boils down to the reversion to Shantae’s genie powers over her pirate gear. While it may be signature to her overall legacy, Shantae’s shapeshifting proved more obnoxious in execution to me than her more straightforward moveset in Curse, as I detail out more thoroughly here. I also didn’t care so much for the visual shift to a even more anime style for the characters, although that may just be me. On the plus side, the music is sensational and it does have some fun moments, but overall I feel this was a pretty big step backwards for the franchise. Good, not great.

Mega Man 4

Since I conquered Mega Man X and came away happy, I figured I’d try to work through the one NES Mega Man game that vexed me in a similar fashion and see if I could find a solution for why I didn’t get into it earlier. And while I beat it this time…I still don’t like it all that much! My post goes into this in more detail, but I feel that Capcom hit a wall here that Mega Man 5 and 6 were able to surpass a little better, and it’s mainly in the the deconstruction of the mechanics. By adding in a Charge shot, the game rendered a lot of the secondary gear much less essential, and the weapon loadout in 4 is lackluster in contrast to the other NES games. Visually the game doesn’t look as nice as 3 or the later games, hurt by an unexciting color palette and somewhat boring locales. The music is okay, but not exceptional like the last two games nor as complex in sound as its sequels. I guess the game just feels really half-baked to me. So far, this is my choice for worst game I’ve played this year. (and yet when I thought about it in 2018 I went with 1/2 Genie Hero…)

Mario Kart 8

Now after two disappointing experiences, Mario Kart 8 was exactly what I needed as a pick-me-up. Mario Kart 7 didn’t hook me when I tried it out, and I had passed entirely on the Wii rev, so I wasn’t sure how interested I would actually be in 8, but it was available at my favorite indie shop last time I was there, so I figured “what the hell” and picked it up. Glad I did, because it’s arguably the best Mario Kart of all time in terms of content, track design and certainly visual/aural excellence. With a plethora of tracks, characters and new items, there’s a ton to drive through (and the DLC adds a ton of great stuff to the already stellar selection, including cameos from other Nintendo works like Zelda, Animal Crossing, F-Zero and Excitebike). To sum up, I’m glad I gave this a shot, as it’s currently my surprise of the year for how much pleasure I’ve gotten out of it. (Fire Emblem Echoes ended up taking it, sorry)

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen

This is a surprisingly good game! I didn’t expect to be playing it off and on for four months or so, but I really got into the combat and the team dynamic. It’s like Skyrim but with better AI and battle controls! And while the world itself lacks the depth and scale of Bethesda’s giant, in some ways I kind of prefer the smaller, more intimate environments that worked well to allow different fighting options. It would have been nice if my two extra pawns would have leveled up (I always felt a little guilty letting them go so I could get stronger partners), but beyond that I really got into it. Grabbing griffins and soaring with them as you slashed at their wings was awesome. Blinding cyclops with a flurry of arrows was awesome. Being scared to shit of trolls early on to just steamrolling them later on was awesome. In short, lots of awesome. Wish there were more settlements, though. I liked Gran Soren and your hometown, but would have loved to explore other cities and towns. Still need to do some postgame/Dark Arisen content, but I’m looking forward to it whenever that mood strikes me.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I’ve written about Breath of the Wild a lot on LVLS the past couple of months, so I think I’ll just keep things short and simple here and say this game was my saving grace this year. It kept me sane and grounded when my job vanished, allowed me to explore a huge vast of landscape to help me cope with everything seemingly going wrong in my life, and gave me a huge sense of accomplishment in a time when I really needed it. The virtual space has always been a place of safety and empowerment for me, and Breath of the Wild was exactly what I needed at a very turbulent point in my life to be able to handle everything else.

Capcom Vs. SNK 2

Somewhere in the midst of Breath of the Wild I sat down to replay one of my favorite fighters, Capcom Vs. SNK 2, courtesy of Rock Howard’s reappearance in the latest King of Fighters. So I set him to Ratio 4 and went to town a couple times in Arcade mode. He’s so cool. Love this game, too. It’s got such style (even though over half of the Street Fighter roster are Alpha sprites, and Morrigan looks terrible). And it’s so fun to play. Man. Sometimes revisiting the best of Capcom’s fighting days makes witnessing the present day a lot more of a bummer. :p

Tony Hawk’s Underground

When I decided that some Tony Hawk would be kinda fun to return to, I spent an entire day conquering the Story mode as one of my OCs. I was actually a little surprised at how quickly I made my way through it, considering I haven’t played a Tony Hawk since THUG2 in like 2003? Apparently it sticks. The game itself is perfectly adequate. Fun to play, awful to look at now. Activision and Neversoft certainly didn’t put a ton of effort into making the graphics stretch beyond that particular generation (something Okami or Beyond Good & Evil or Zelda: Wind Waker do), and while the story isn’t anything to write home about, it’s fine for what it is. At least doesn’t plunge into stupidity like THUG2. :p So yeah, it’s good but nothing spectacular.

Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3

I don’t remember why I felt like playing this, but it’s a superfun game so that’s a good a reason as any! Strider, Spenser and X-23 were my teammates of choice this go-around. Initially I was a little aghast because I lost Jill and Shuma-Gorath, thinking I didn’t still need that MvC3 file to keep unlocking them after the first time, but I was wrong! After a quick download I was able to add them back in. But yeah, had a good time! Sad that this game currently looks better than Infinite running on next-gen hardware…

Shovel Knight

Decided to utilize that Shovel Knight amiibo to do a Custom Knight run on the Wii U (I originally played this on the 3DS and I’m not going to get an amiibo reader for it :p ), which was a very different but extremely enjoyable playthrough! A LOT easier, thanks to how overpowered some of those relics are, but it was spectacular fun. Great game. Probably heavily influenced its placement on my Top 111…

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment

Specter Knight is a fun expansion into the Shovel Knight mythos, although I found Plague Knight an overall better experience. That being said, Specter is certainly unique in contrast to Shovel and Plague, and the wall cling/grinding mechanics are a little touchy but overall enjoyable. The boss fights are arguably the best thus far in the series though, with a lot of great twists and surprises. Yacht Club is doing amazing work with this game and I heartily recommend you giving it a shot if you haven’t!

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

It’s been a few years since I last played through Symphony, and with Aria fresh in my mind (and a Let’s Play from Taiyou, Inc. helping inspire me to play it again), I felt like giving the game a complete replay. And it’s still a sensational game and it’s still one of my absolute favorites, but I still have the same conclusion that Aria controls just a bit better and that for me is enough of an edge to give the later game my higher praise. But the visuals, the music, the boss fights, the secrets and easter eggs…there’s so much good stuff in Symphony that it is still a favorite of mine (it’s in my Top 20 after all). I just wish Alucard was slightly more fluid, didn’t have to equip potions to use them, and his super jump was easier to pull off. Basically everything Soma is. :p

Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright

I’ve already wrote a lot about this game, so I’ll keep it brief here. I think that this scratched the FE inch decently enough, but man, I really really did not connect with Corrin. She just was so flat and uninteresting. Ugh. I actually liked her in Smash more than I do here. Which is weird. Thankfully the supporting cast helped a lot (Rinkah is the shit), but between the boring heroine and a fairly vapid plotline, this is easily the dullest FE I finished. Shadow Dragon is FAR worse, but I hopped off of that early. Anyway, I forgot I had another article on this to write until now but I don’t really remember the maps anymore…lol. I’m keeping this because I quite liked some of the secondary cast (as noted above and in my articles), but I won’t be diving back in any time soon. Certainly a contender for Most Disappointing, I guess.

Strider (NES)

This was the easiest victory in some ways thus far, as I only had one final area to traverse to call this beaten, but I had to reacquaint myself to the game’s wacky momentum based movement and its glitchy behavior first, which took me a few replays to actually pull off the credit scroll. The penultimate boss is pathetically simple if you know the secret (charge your otherwise rarely used Plasma Bolt to disarm him, then slash like crazy and then repeat as necessary), with the final boss being simpler still (jump holding your sword upwards). So while it took a little finagling to do it, it overall wasn’t that tough beyond the midboss patterns and some sticky platforming. I wrote an overall franchise piece following this, as this was the last game in the official Capcom canon I needed to beat to have all of them under my belt.

Resident Evil 4: Separate Ways

Writing my RE4 Top 111 article made me want to devote some time to the game minus my ex, in order to reconfigure my feelings about it. I know, I just said I’d be talking about her less, but this game truly is entangled in our relationship — for fuck’s sake, we spent several dates working through it together back in 2005. So I decided to revisit Ada’s campaign, one I haven’t done in some time and a smaller time commitment to blitz through it (I also didn’t have a New Game Plus at the beginning of Leon’s campaign accessible at the moment). And it’s really good! This is still a marvelous game, and while Ada’s mode is not as deep or rich as Leon’s, it’s still a nice expansion to the core game that does a lot of cool stuff on its own. And Ada’s awesome. So overall a win on many fronts!

Blaster Master Zero

And we end on Sunsoft and Inti Creates’ Blaster Master Zero, an excellent remake of the original NES classic. I wrote a review of sorts on it recently, but I’ll just say that overall this is easily the best game in the series I’ve played so far and worth the investment.

So that’s the first half of 2017 in the bag. We’ll see what the second half brings…