C’est la Divertissement Vie. (That’s the Entertainment Life.)

Games:

I may seriously never purchase another game from Konami again.

mgsvYes, I’m late to the party. But their last great game, Metal Gear Solid V, was never given the chance to be completed. The game was delivered in an episodic fashion that spanned 50 missions. 51 was supposed to effectively be the game’s final boss battle. Cut material from the collector’s edition showed a half complete last episode, which would have been an excellent note to satisfy one last dangling plot thread and go out with a bang.

It was never released. And according to Konami’s spokesmen, never will be.

This information was never quite clear to me given the layouts of story-focused wikis, or the strategy guides and commentary boards that avoided discussing the plot for fear of spoilers: I only just learned of the mission conclusion after completing 89% of the game. But imagine, if you will, the Harry Potter series sans the final battle with Voldemort and the epilogue. Or Star Wars: Return of the Jedi without the Battle of Endor.

Others have covered the likely cause of this sad state of affairs better than I have, but the likely culprit was the Konami/Kojima split. I’ve played several Kojima games in my life and I know that he would never willingly leave a story incomplete. Of those titles were Zone of the Enders and its sequel, as well as Metal Gear Solid, Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater. While he always had more stories to tell, leaving the current arc incomplete was simply never his style.

Of the game itself, I could see how it was almost a masterpiece. Almost. The game play constantly brings me back again and again for its completeness, it’s total immersive elements. The depth of strategies is profound in and of itself, where no item or weapon ever seems to have just one purpose. Every game play session, I learn something new about how to combat my foes; some trick, a tactic or vantage point I never considered before. Even without the cut ending the story was somewhat weak, but this was countered with dozens of great moments that constantly made me forget vulnerabilities in the overall tale. Mission 51 would probably make me condone this, but I will never know for certain.

That being said, I refuse to give up after coming this far. I’ll see this through to the end but that is all, despite my disappointments and reservations.

Movies:

The Professional: Golgo 13golgo13 feels like something that could and should have been better.

Golgo 13, sometimes known as Duke Togo, is Japan’s answer to James Bond: an ageless, ongoing assassin whose stories often have to entertain without ever developing the man himself. Instead, the creators rely heavily on crafting sensational plot twists, over-the-top sex scenes, backstories for his victims, visually insane villains or researching mind-boggling but physically possible acts of sniping such as ricocheting a bullet off an ocean wave. Anything to avoid piercing the titular character’s stoic demeanor and mysterious allure.

In this film, Mr. Togo is contracted to end the life of Robert Dawson. However, it happens at a sensitive time during a company coronation, when Robert is dubbed the new CEO of a massive, massive enterprise. Although Togo succeeds, the contract’s legacy turns sour as the would-be CEO’s father (the current CEO Dawson) seeks revenge for the death of his son.

The beginning feels almost distracted by another contract that Golgo accepts, which concludes with him being chased by the FBI, CIA and Pentagon. All these agencies under the employ of Dawson himself, who wields his company’s power in a way that the Sherman Antitrust Act was exactly designed to prevent. Despite the threat, Togo seems oblivious to the danger and completes another contract. Only then does he realize how unrelenting the government’s hitmen are, as Golgo’s informants are either killed or turn on him.

The visual style of The Professional was somewhat distracting. While the action scenes were straight forward, coherent and well handled, Director Osamu Dezaki seemed determined to punch up even basic dialogue with flair unnecessarily. The movie also used some CGI animations to handle some helicopter assault scenes, but the technology was simply too immature at the time to effectively tell a story. Likewise, the story concocted several Bond-level villains for Golgo to fight as well, the story actually suffers from the introduction of too many antagonists to effectively develop in its 90 minute running time. However, the final plot twist at the end was somewhat satisfying (highlight to see spoiler): It turns out that Robert Dawson ordered the hit on himself, an act of suicide because of his fear of being unable to live up to his father’s expectations.

Television:

I gave up on Orphan BlackAmazon’s sci-fi series about clones.

“Where’s this madness going?” I asked myself after the ninth episode of season two. The plot consisted of most of the characters milling about in circles. Once again, the protagonist’s daughter had been kidnapped, after a long season of hiding about the countryside to no real effect. Meanwhile, antagonist Helena was stolen by some strange religion-meets-genetics commune who took her eggs. After she escaped and then willfully came back, she threatened a harsh nanny for mistreating the children under her care, not long before Helena sets the compound on flame regardless of the lives of the kids inside.

Characters portrayed by anyone besides Tatiana Maslany became less interesting, and except for concerns regarding a genetic disease amongst the show’s many clones, the entire season felt like little more than “filler.” ggrThe show felt like it willfully resisted growth despite a strong first season. Only Maslany’s skillful acting kept me going this far, as she slips in and out of versions of herself in a believable manner.

On the plus side however was Good Girls Revolt, an amusing and unexpected show actually made me realize how bloody boring Mad Men sometimes was.

I can see how Good Girls Revolt was probably stiff-armed by Amazon for years until the latter show came to an end. Mad Men was/is the Oscar of television, but sometimes didn’t feel like it wore enough of the sixties (at least the pieces we wanted to remember) on its sleeve. GGR certainly does, but the other huge difference is that the series focuses around one major climax that the main characters built towards through behind-the-scenes politicking and subterfuge.

The girls seemed to truly wrestle with their guilt; a sharp contrast to the occasional acts of Mad Men’s cruel, tragic and unapologetic attitude.

The bad news however is that the show isn’t going to get a second season, at least not on Amazon. One aspect downplayed is that GGR is built on real events, namely Newsweek’s EEOC lawsuit in 1969. Although the name was changed to the fictional “News of the Week,” the historic aspects are still very highlighted. It’s safe to doubt that Newsweek enjoyed someone dredging up a nearly 50 year-old legal filing that put them in a bad light. And I could see why Amazon might not want to start a mudslinging contest with the news outlet in all in the name of entertainment.

Thoughts on “The Banner Saga”

That is a +1 mustache of gaming approval.

That is a +1 mustache of gaming approval.

Full disclosure: I have been working with Stoic Studios to do some writing for them, mostly to polish my craft as possible tie-in author in the future. While I still freely voice my opinion, I cannot claim that I’m impartial. So take it with a grain of salt. And pepper. And some delicious smoked paprika…

Last night I finally found some time to really, really dive into The Banner Saga. I thought I would just nibble a bit before bed. And before I knew it, three chapters and the night were gone.

I find myself eager to play, even now. The Banner Saga is a tall glass of tactical RPG we’ve sorely needed after the decade long feast of gorgeous-but-mundane AAA titles.

Once I started, it was difficult to put down. The multi-player Banner Saga: Factions prepared me well for the combat, as I’ve yet to lose a battle. But there were plenty of surprises left in store for me. The enemy AI isn’t a slouch foe- not perfect but far from terrible. And I found myself perplexed and intrigued that every fight was effectively a tactical puzzle, complete with surprises and depth. I might be carving my way through weak thugs, then suddenly realize that there’s a wolf amongst the sheep. Or find myself surrounded, trying to manage foes to one side as swiftly as I can before dealing with the other half.

There were new unit types to figure out, both on my side and against me. I found particular use for the spearman, a class whose extra ranged weapon pairs well in the corners when surrounded by varl or raiders, and I was really glad I pre-ordered the game and got my hands on crazy Tryggvi, a simple but valuable bonus.

Stoic borrowed the shifting POV chapter approach of Game of Thrones or rather A Song of Ice and Fire. But unlike George R.R. Martin, the chapter only ever shifts just as it’s situation begins to heat up. We’re chugging along on chapter 1 and my attention is all over the place until a certain character has died (death, the ultimate attention getter). But before that is followed up, we shifted over to Rook and his daughter Alette, whose village was escaping a dredge attack. But just as they’re out of the frying pan and into the fire, we switch back to the varls of chapter 1, leaving me anxious to know what happens next to the father-daughter duo and their allies.

The game is a true “page turner” if such a phrase could be applied to a game.

"Oh come on, ref! He's totally LeBroning!"

“Oh come on, ref! He’s totally LeBroning!”

Stoic’s approach to the adventuring and travel aspects is an intriguing and wondrous mess. As I marched along the road to my next destination, we occasionally run into problems. Sometimes it’s combat, which can be avoided or engaged. A risk in that one can gain promotions, items and reputation, but also lose men and expend supplies to recover post-battle.

Other times its issues in the camp, such as dealing with the damage inflicted by a drunk, or people wanting to leave to warn passing farms of the coming dredge. These short but simple events are reminiscent of The Sims and I am curious of the underlying mechanics of if or how they effect the overall story. Rewards and losses vary from more reputation (the game’s currency), men or supplies or even items useful for your heroes.

I don’t know yet how much of this is scripted or just random events that occur. These days, I have actively turned off reading wikis in order to be surprised and enjoy the simple delights of discovery. It always keeps me on my toes.

Funny thing is, I can’t tell how I feel about the lack of voice acting during the game’s narration. Part of me almost prefers it, being able to read the story at my own leisure. But that’s the reader in me coming out. Voice acting would have given another layer of polish that most gamers would prefer.

I’m hungry for more. But I must temper this with a reminder that The Banner Saga is merely part one and there’s part 2 and 3 to come. For all the great work they’ve done, I hope the developers keep this old viking proverb to heart:

“Praise not the day until evening has come;
a woman until she is burnt*;
a sword until it is tried;
a maiden until she is married;
ice until it has been crossed;
beer until it has been drunk.”

(*-I’m pretty sure this is referencing burial. If not, then those poor viking women…)