Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Movie Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Captain America: Civil War is a thoughtful exploration of power, responsibility, vengeance, and friendship. The movie's first act is somber, balanced out by its slightly lighter middle -- and then things get dark for the finale. While Captain America v. Iron Man would have been a more accurate title for the film, at the story's core is Steve Rogers' incorruptible heart and soul, and his steadfast faith in his friends. Also: this movie's soundtrack is outstanding.

Tony Stark does a whole lot to drive the plot of Civil War. Following the Avengers' ultimately catastrophic victory over his creation, Ultron, Stark refuses to contemplate his own penchant for world-ending destruction. But he's clearly very disturbed (see "Someone Help Tony Stark") , and his cry for help takes the form of his support for the Sokovia Accords, a treaty that would give an international body oversight over the Avengers.

Steve Rogers staunchly resists this tide of change: "The safest hands are still are own," he tells the team. Just like when he told Nick Fury back in 2014's Captain America: Winter Soldier that building superweapons to counter potential global threats "isn't freedom, it's fear," Captain America sees the pitfalls of government overreach. He refuses to surrender agency to gain accountability. The rest of the Avengers take sides accordingly.

When his childhood friend Bucky the Winter Soldier reappears, Captain America goes rogue to bring him back. This eventually leads to the big superhero showdown, which is as epic as the trailers promise, but there are two striking things about this fight. First, the lead-up to it -- with both sides recruiting additional members -- is hilarious and consists, for me, of the single best scene in the movie (hint: it contains the line, "Not in that onesie you're not."). Second, the fight is when the movie's main theme, "Civil War," thunders front and center, and it is magnificent. While it incorporates the soaring trumpets of Captain America's own theme music as well as trilling violins and percussion for the explosive action, its crescendo is grim and ominous -- it's lamenting, not celebrating, the battle. (In fact, I hear echoes of Ni no Kuni in a section of eight tones...just me? Okay.)

The score is similarly tragic during the final battle, which, delightfully, is unexpected. The villain in this movie, played by walking Bitchy Resting Face Daniel Brühl, is nefarious and -- remember what I said in my FF Tactics review? -- a good villain must execute his plans successfully for him to be awesome, ergo, Zemo is awesome. A good back story is also a must, and this too is provided. I doff my monogrammed cap to writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely!

Assorted thoughts:
  • Spider-Man is terrific! Like Deadpool, he's a great fighter and has no filter between brain and mouth.
  • Marissa Tomei!
  • I like that Scarlet Witch is basically a nuke, and therefore must be guarded by Vision, another nuke.
  • Silly Cap, of course Natasha knew where you were headed and got there first.
  • Okay, Ant-Man has proven himself a worthy Avenger.
  • The Stan Lee cameo was so good. Do you remember all his cameos from the other movies?

TL;DR: Watch it, obviously.

This post brought to you by free cake!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Toddler Dictionary

As Junior continues his merry, terrifyingly rapid absorption of new words and concepts, it's becoming increasingly apparent that not everything is making it through his expanding cerebral cortex. Let's just say he's still sounding out his words, see below:

This is a BULDABA--

This is EMILY--

He's obsessed with EYBEESHEE--

And here's a HAPILAPA--

Since these are things that we see every day in the city, he gets to practice these words a lot. I'm confident he'll get the right pronunciation eventually, one syllable at a time!


Meanwhile, it's taken quite a bit of mental labor for me to compile this handy guide for his Tagalog:

ALAMA walang laman (empty)
BALABA sa labas (outside)
BIKA bisikleta (bicycle)
LUK-A lakad (walk)


Fortunately, he can pronounce most words correctly, or at least intelligibly, as long as they're two syllables and under. Hence the problems with Tagalog, which "has a hundred syllables per word," or so hubby opines.

TL;DR: Junior is becoming quite the chatterbox!

This post brought to you by fancy Canadian chocolate!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Game Review: Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions (PS Vita)

Last month, I downloaded Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions to my Vita to continue my life quest of completing games I gave up on as a youngster. Forty hours later, I re-emerged with a profound understanding of why FF Tactics holds a special place in the hearts of gamers, as well as a nearly irresistible urge to replay it. But Assassin's Creed Rogue sings to me from the shelf, so I shall revisit my fondness for FF Tactics in this post.

Briefly: FF Tactics is the story of a young hero who fights the evil hiding behind the politics and warfare surrounding him--evil both human and demonic. Backed by your soldiers, you, the hero, must skirmish across the continent to eventually save the day.

Mainly: FF Tactics is beloved for its gameplay and characters, which more than make up for the lame final boss (as opposed to the main villain, which I maintain is Delita). Totally scientific ratings below, peer-reviewed by me:

Combat/Gameplay: 9/10
FF Tactics uses a turn-based system whereby a unit can move and/or perform actions based on its range and speed. The goal is usually to destroy all enemies, and different battles require, or at least advantage, a party that can either adapt to all sorts of scenarios (e.g. a poisoned swamp with enemies with ranged attacks), or a team that is specifically tailored to take down particular units (e.g. speedy physical attackers to pounce on mages before they can launch spells). So players are presented with a fun problem that comes with an equally fun solution: jobs.

The bedrock of the Final Fantasy series is its jobs system, with each job offering a unique set of skills and stats. In FF Tactics, players can customize all units, including the main character, by training them in particular jobs. I actually printed out a Job Tree because I wanted a Ninja, which can only be achieved by getting one unit to Level 4 Archer, Level 5 Thief, and Level 2 Geomancer -- which in turn has a prerequisite of Level 3 Knight and Level 4 Monk. The amount of grinding I had to do was insane -- and so worth it, because Ninjas are badass.

It was equally gratifying to level up my other units into powerful hybrids: a Holy Knight who can wreck everything and also heal others; a Time Mage who can cast Haste on the team and also Summon powerful creatures to attack enemies; a Dragoon who will jump out of the way of a rampaging vampire and land on its head, then un-vampire innocent victims; and so on. My problem, as ever, was my venturing into internet message boards to see how other players played the game, at which point I discovered sikrot ooltimit recruitable characters. Then I was all, "I must have them! Husband! Attend to the crying toddler, I'm getting me a SKY PIRATE!!!"

Sky Pirate Balthier, by the way? The most worth it, especially with his one-turn-kill Barrage ability. pew pew pew pew

My only beef is with all the battlefield animations that ate up precious seconds that could have been spent getting to bed earlier! GET OFF MY LAWN, YOU SILLY HAND-WAVING SPELLCASTERS! I actually thought longingly of playing Magic: The Gathering, because it's instant. I need instant things in life.

Soundtrack: 9/10
Nerd secret: At work, I listen to the soundtrack of the game I'm playing or will be playing. I've listened to the full FF Tactics OST about six times now. It offers a great mix of epic themes, militant/adventurous beats, and somber pieces for all the drama. Which brings us to...

Story/Characters: 9/10
While the sikrot demons behind everything were basic as hell, players control a main character who is the essence of good -- he does the right thing, no matter the cost to himself. And yet he's matched (outmatched?) at every turn by his former friend, who has his own plans for imposing peace. The themes of social status, its accompanying rights and responsibilities, and the misuse of power are sledgehammered into player brains via cut scenes or in-battle dialogue, but these are defining themes for human society and therefore a strong framework for the game's plotline of good vs. evil vs. hella shady.

Villain: 5/10 (Ultima), 10/10 (Delita)
So who is the real bad guy: the demon who sends out minions to incite war among humans so it can rise again and rule the continent, or the common-born soldier who deceives and murders his way to the crown? For sheer douchiness, I'd say the latter. Frankly, that's mostly due to screen time: Ultima only really appeared at the very last battle (granted, it took 3,000+ points of damage to defeat, which is pretty douchey), whereas Delita is the first character players see in the opening animation. Furious at the noble classes for disregarding everyone else in their quest for power, he fights, plots, lies and does whatever it takes to install himself on the throne. And through it all, players see flashes of a truly noble and righteous spirit, one fighting to raise the oppressed. It's Delita's methods that make him a villain, but he's a damn good one because he succeeds, you guys. If there were a version of the game that follows Delita's rise, I would play it so hard.

Visuals: 8/10
I was hooked as soon as I saw a knight (Delita) riding a chocobo in the opening animation. The FMVs added for the PSP (and thus Vita) are stunning, and I didn't even mind the freakishly large hands and missing noses!

As for the in-game stuff -- for a game that originally came out in 1997, it looks good! I didn't think sprites could be so...animated, but there you have it.


TL;DR: FF Tactics is loads of fun and when Junior inherits my Vita at age six, he will enjoy it, too!

This post brought to you by sunny spring weather! Hurrah!