When I first saw Your Name, I was immediately enamored. It didn’t become my favorite movie overnight, though. It wasn’t until the third or fourth viewing that it took that spot. I evangelized the movie to anyone who would listen, and devoured any internet coverage I could find of it. In doing so, I learned about its creator Makoto Shinkai and his previous works. Most agreed they were beautifully drawn, good movies, but the occasional hardcore Shinkai fan claimed that they were superior to Your Name. (This came across much like a hardcore fan of a band telling you they were better before they went commercial.) Delighted as I was with Your Name, I decided to track a few of these down. The two that were mentioned the most were the Garden of Words (largely due to its cameos and references in Your Name) and 5 Centimeters Per Second, which some claimed as Shinkai’s true masterpiece. That one was relatively easy to find, so one night I watched it.
This set me on a journey to watch all of Shinkai’s movies, but the journey didn’t proceed as planned. I only just finished them over the past weekend. This is the story of that journey. I’ll try to avoid specific spoilers, but I can’t help but touch on themes and things like which movies had a happy ending, so if you want to watch these movies without any idea what you’re in for, skip this post.
I attended the special fan preview screening of Weathering With You, which included a recorded interview with Makoto Shinkai. In it, he made clear his intentions to create a movie that would hit audiences all across the world like Your Name did in Japan. In this, I fear he is going to be bitterly disappointed.
Following up Your Name, my favorite movie and I would argue one of the best-constructed movies ever, was no easy task. Shinkai appears to have tried to reproduce a similar story but on a slightly grander scale. A lot of the specific trappings of Your Name are there, but it just doesn’t work the same way. I have a lot of thoughts on this, but they do involve Your Name spoilers. (I will refrain from posting significant Weathering With You spoilers, though if there’s one thing the movie has over Your Name it’s that at least you can discuss it without everything being a spoiler!)
Very few video games have affected me like Shadowbringers, the third expansion for Final Fantasy XIV, has. I finished the main plot weeks ago, and just seeing people talk about the end scenes still makes me emotional. This is absolutely the best story in the Final Fantasy series, and maybe the best story I’ve experienced in a video game.
I want to talk about Shadowbringers, but I do not want to spoil it. This is an emotionally resonant story, and hearing about it in dribs and drabs would not do it justice. If you’ve played it, you already know what it’s about. If you haven’t, consider it. Granted, there are literally hundreds of hours of FFXIV between a new player and this story (and skipping the previous story, while an option, would undermine it to a large degree), but still.
What sets Shadowbringers apart for me is that it’s about your character, the Warrior of Light. Many people loved the story of FFXIV’s first expansion, Heavensward, but you really played a bit part in it. The big moments mostly involve other characters, though one scene in particular (before a battle on a certain bridge) shows how awesome your character is. Shadowbringers even tops this scene, though.
Prior to Shadowbringers, you spent much of your time killing pseudo-gods known as Primals. You have a rare special ability to resist their mental influence, an ability your main companions (the leaders of a group known as the Scions of the Seventh Dawn) lack, so these battles fall to you. Shadowbringers deconstructs this somewhat by putting you in a position of unique ability to save another world, but at great personal cost. (Not to imply this is a purely selfless act due to it being another world; the fates of that world and your own are intimately connected.)
One of the aspects of good writing is its ability to force you to suspend your disbelief. Obviously the game isn’t going to kill off your character in an ongoing MMO, yet the fear that you could die (or worse) grows to a very real level during the story of Shadowbringers. You are given several opportunities to show vulnerability or a facade of strength, and your long-time companions grow more and more concerned for your well-being. You press on because you must, but at a certain point when a character offers you a way out… well, I considered it for a moment. Not that the game would let you actually choose to do that. But the gesture felt very real.
Another neat trick Shadowbringers pulls off is causing you to feel sympathy for the Ascians: a group of genocidal black-robed baddies that have been behind nearly every evil act in the game since the re-launch. Shadowbringers changes none of that, yet by the end you will understand their motives and maybe even agree with them to some degree. For the first time, I hope the Ascian threat is resolved in some way other than simply destroying them all.
There is one aspect of the Shadowbringers story that really enhanced the experience, but I’m not sure it was intentional. The game pulls no punches from the start, showing the horrific conditions on a world that was nearly destroyed a hundred years ago. Creatures of Light, an aspect you normally identify with, keep the remaining populace in the tyrannical grip of fear. After a strong start introducing this doomed world, things slow down a bit. You learn a lot of lore, but as you get closer and closer to taking out the Big Bad and saving the world, something seems to be missing. Indeed, as the main plot resolved, I felt some disappointment. Things didn’t end as dramatically as I had expected.
Obviously the “end” was not the end, but even so, the game continued to lower expectations a bit. It teases you the whole time by hiding the name of one of the new zones, but that reveal is shockingly anticlimactic. For a time you’ll find yourself wondering where exactly everything is going. And at that point, when I found myself questioning the wisdom of their storytelling, it all came together. I don’t know if they meant to lower expectations like that (and if so, I suppose writing this is undermining their effort!), but it left me in a state to be utterly awed by what followed.
The climactic events of Shadowbringers are amazing, full stop. The way the plot unfolds leading to the final encounters is second to none. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say the greatest sequence of cutscenes in Final Fantasy history happen here. And it’s because my character was at the center of them. Many hours of story culminated in a surprising but inevitable Moment of Awesome that I seriously considered using as my wallpaper.
Shadowbringers is inspiring. This is what video games can be. Playing a character puts you in a unique position to experience story in a different way than a book or a movie. When I was younger, I might consider it somehow crass to have a whole story basically build up to a raw emotional payoff. But what exactly are we looking for from our entertainment, if not that? I almost quit FFXIV before Shadowbringers, and while my reasons were (and remain!) solid, I’m very glad I didn’t. And I’m also glad I had fellow players and friends to share this experience with.
New Jersey gas isn’t as cheap as it used to be, but I still plan trips around buying it there whenever possible. That’s how I found myself in the middle of New Jersey on Father’s Day night looking for gas. And also caffeine. I wasn’t on the turnpike with its oh-so-convenient rest stops, so I was relying on the blue GAS and FOOD signs that show up before each exit. I don’t like those signs, because I’m always convinced I’m going to get lost before I find the gas (or food). Not that that’s ever happened. Usually the gas station is within sight of the exit, and things proceed swimmingly.
The First Trial
The first sign I saw indicated that both Exxon and Shell were available at the next exit. A short time later, a second sign indicated four different restaurants. I didn’t recognize three of them, but the fourth was McDonald’s. A drive-thru would be optimal, and I just wanted a Coke, so I made the decision to take this exit. The exit ramp indicated McDonald’s was 3.0 miles to the right. Exxon was 0.1 miles to the left, while Shell was 2.7 miles to the right. With vague thoughts of using my Stop & Shop discount and under the assumption that the two were likely near one another, I went right. I saw the Exxon station’s lights to the left as I made the turn. Even considering what I’d discover about Exxon shortly, I wish I had just gone left right there.
That’s not what I did, though. Instead, I noted my current mileage, added 2.7 to it, and determined when I should be in the correct vicinity. I was surprised to find that the road I was on ended abruptly in a T-intersection with a major road before I saw either Shell or McDonald’s. I had gone less than a mile. No signs indicated which way to go, so I figured I’d double down and go right again. My GPS did not agree, desperately begging me to make a U-turn (or what passes for a U-turn in New Jersey) and go the other way. I refused.
Two miles of sparse buildings and no gas later, I capitulated to my GPS. It indicated a jug handle unlike any I’d seen before. I’ve driven through New Jersey enough to have strong opinions on the liberties their civil engineers take, and I’ve seen and even used a jug handle or two in my day. But this time, the right was after the intersection I was trying to make a U-turn at, with a circular ramp like the inside of a cloverleaf. It seemed like a reasonable enough idea conceptually, though driving past the left I could have easily made in most other states before turning right to come back to it was strange, even by New Jersey standards.
I assumed that I’d pass the point where I’d decided to turn right, go another few miles, and find that Shell station. Instead, I found myself back on the Interstate I had started on almost immediately. I had failed to get gas (or caffeine), but I still had 90+ miles of range left. I did want to get home sooner than later, but all I had to lose was time. So I tried again.
The Second Trial
The blue signs were so similar to those I had seen during my first attempt that I checked the remaining time on my GPS to confirm I hadn’t gone in a big loop. It was 10 minutes shorter than before, so I took that to mean this wasn’t the same exit. I almost wish it had been. This time, the exit ramp indicated that Exxon was in 1.7 miles, while Shell was further on at 2.4 miles, both in the same direction (once again to the right). McDonald’s was listed at 2.7 miles, also to the right. I expected to be diverted to yet another road long before I saw any of that, but this time things went smoothly and I saw the Exxon station come into view right on schedule.
Relieved that gas was in my future, I looked ahead and realized things were more complicated than I thought. The Exxon station was on my left, but there was no entrance from the road I was currently driving on. Just ahead, it did split into a four-lane highway, complete with concrete median divider. From what I could see, I had to be heading the opposite way to enter the Exxon station. Still, signs indicated that McDonald’s was to the left, and my GPS was telling me to go left and make a U-turn on this road to continue on my trip. I figured I’d go left, head to McDonald’s, then come back this way and hit up the Exxon before getting back on the Interstate. It was the perfect plan. It was, unfortunately, not what I actually did.
I found the McDonald’s at the end of a strip mall. I had only seen two previous strip mall McDonald’s before, and they always seemed a bit odd. As I pulled into the parking lot, I thought I recognized this particular McDonald’s. Perhaps this design was common in New Jersey, but I’m fairly sure I had stopped at this very McDonald’s a year earlier, learning how to use my phone as a hotspot to deal with some work issue or another. In any case, they had Coke, which was what was important. They didn’t have a drive-thru, but even at this point I was happy to take what I could get.
Aside from some disbelieving comments from the employees that people were still coming in at this hour, my order was filled without incident. I got back to my car and realized this was going to be more complicated than I had thought. The only exit to the strip mall took me on the same road I arrived at, going the same direction. With the median still in place, I was going to have to make a U-turn. Well, no biggie, I thought.
I proceeded up the road to a pleasant surprise: I was actually able to make a normal U-turn here, no crazy New Jersey traffic patterns needed! Things were looking up. I hadn’t seen the Shell station on the way, but the Exxon was still waiting for me. My GPS, however, was telling me to turn right off of this road almost immediately. I considered ignoring it to ensure I ended up at the one gas station I had actually seen so far, but the prices at that Exxon were 30 cents higher than anywhere else I’d seen in days (what happened to you, New Jersey gas prices?) and I still had plenty of range, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to listen.
The GPS told me to turn right almost immediately, but I was confused because to my right was some sort of non-freeway rest area. It looked like a park, not a driving route that would go anywhere. After missing that turn, it re-routed and told me to turn right up ahead. I ended up in a residential area, which would have been alarming, except I knew Google did that sort of thing sometimes. It usually worked out well. I’m struggling to make out the correct turn up ahead, and I see an SUV making it, so I assume I’m in good company. I turn left, and find myself on a surprisingly narrow road. It had no lines and seemed like it could barely fit two cars, which I quickly confirmed by having to nearly pull over to allow traffic to pass me in the other direction. I took a look at the GPS. I was supposed to turn in 1.9 miles and not before. This was going to be interesting.
Fortunately, I saw very few cars aside from the SUV I was following. I did see some deer, though, and proceeded to keep my speed to a bare minimum. I wondered whether my car’s obstacle detection would detect and brake for a deer in the road. I wondered what would happen if anyone was coming when we crossed the one-lane bridge. And I wondered where the side of the road was when I was trying to let the Jeep with the blinding lights pass me on a particularly narrow stretch.
Somehow I survived, and the tiny rural road spit me out right near the Interstate. That explained why Google thought it was a good idea to take me on this route, and I assume the same was true for the driver of the SUV I had followed for the full length. I had my caffeine, but I still needed gas.
The Third Trial
The next exit had no blue GAS sign that I saw, but the one after that did. Like the others before, it listed Exxon and Shell. This time, one had an A above it and the other a B, which I thought odd but didn’t think to keep in mind. It turned out that there were two different exits, A and B. I couldn’t remember which one was which, but I thought B was Shell, and after seeing Exxon’s prices I wanted to roll the dice on them.
For once, my guess turned out to be correct. A sign indicated that I should once again go right to reach my destination. And for the third time, I ended up at an intersection with an unexpectedly large road. Fortunately this time I caught the sign that told me Shell was to the left. The road was kind enough to give me another indication of the remaining distance to Shell, just over a mile, shortly before splitting with no indication of which way I should actually go. It seemed like the road itself was bearing left, so I did the same, my second consecutive correct guess. Not long after, I saw the Shell station. It was on the left side of the road, but I couldn’t tell if the cross street before it had an entrance to the station. The station itself was open to the road going to the other way, so I figured I’d just turn left into it.
That’s when I saw the police patrol car sitting in the parking lot, ready to head out onto the road. I was about to make a left right next to him, not only over an unbroken double yellow line, but one of those diagonal line-filled median areas. Was that illegal? It seemed like it might be, even thought it made no sense for it to be here. And that cop was right there, presumably waiting for some idiot to do exactly what I wanted to do. So I drove on.
I had slowed down to make the turn before aborting, and now the SUV behind me was right on top of me. His lights were blinding, and I was on a windy road with a lot of driveways and very few lights. It was hard to tell what was going on. I knew that I could turn on any side street and make the U-turn I needed, but I kept passing by them before I saw them. I checked my GPS, and the first “street” it indicated turned out to be a driveway. I was nervous with those SUV lights in my eyes, so I kept hoping, to no avail, for a traffic light. Even a second lane would have been a godsend, but it was not to be.
I proceeded for nearly two miles, frustration at the tailgater building, before my GPS told me to turn left up ahead. It looked like it wanted me to make a U-turn on that road, but something was odd. Very rarely has Google Maps told me to make a straight U-turn on a road without a median, and only when I was already on that road. It looked like that’s what it wanted, though. And mercifully, the intersection had a traffic light. Relieved that my gasoline odyssey was almost over, I got in the left turn lane to wait for a green.
The road I ended up on was another windy road through residential areas, though less trafficked than the one I had been on. It had a double yellow line, though, so I knew I couldn’t just make a three-point turn, even if Google seemed to want me to. The road was not wide enough for a U-turn, either. The GPS indicated I should U-turn at an intersection ahead, so I figured I’d turn onto that street, make a three-point turn there, then retrace my steps. So instead of a U-turn, I turned right. I was very surprised to see the “Private Drive” line in my lights as I did so.
Rather than a wide residential street, I was on a small dirt path barely wider than my car. I could either proceed into private property, or blindly back out onto the road. I weighed this decision for a few seconds, then made a little prayer that my backup camera cross-traffic detection was up to snuff and put it in reverse. As you may have guessed by the fact that I am writing this, I did not in fact end up killed right then and there. Instead I managed to retrace my steps and find that Shell station with upwards of 70 miles of range left to go.
I was so relieved I didn’t even look at the price. And no one asked for my Stop & Shop card, so I got no discount. As an aside, I did pass a few gas stations that were closed during the night, which gave me a new reason to resent New Jersey’s stance against self-service gas stations. I guess only the big ones were willing to pay people to man the pumps all night. I was fortunate and ran into no significant traffic for the rest of the night, but I did degrade New Jersey from the top spot in my Where To Get Gas rankings. And I got a dumb story out of it, so there’s that.
Yes, it only took me… wait, let me see the calendar… how many years? OK it’s been a while, but I finally got back to the FF6 walkthrough and finished it. It was left hanging for far too long. I think the walkthrough is pretty good. I write these walkthroughs primarily as a way to really analyze all the available data, and if the performance of my party in the playthrough I finished while writing it is any indication, it should be pretty useful.
One aspect I struggled with during the writing is just how far to go. I touched on almost every monster’s elemental weaknesses and strengths, but paid little attention to status vulnerabilities. There are a few reasons for this. One, I have to admit, is laziness. You could point out which monsters can be Muddled or who are vulnerable to death or whatever forever, and it’s a lot to write down. It would be a lot to read, too. Reason number two is that my favorite thing about playing FF6 is taking advantage of esper level up bonuses, and your stats don’t actually affect status ailments. Stop is going to work or not work whether it’s cast by Cyan with no Magic Power boosts or Strago at 110. As a result, really powerful status ailments almost feel like cheating to me. But then, I’m crazy when it comes to what I think of as cheating. The third reason is that, assuming you are paying attention to your stats, elemental spells are just more uniformly effective. Sure, I could cast stop on some boss that happens to be vulnerable to it, maybe re-cast it if it misses, and then kill it with impunity. But I can also smack it with three shots of Bolt 3 or whatever in that time and just end the battle outright. That said, there are a few enemies that are virtually impossible to defeat without status ailments (like the Intangir), so I did mention them in those cases.
Anyway, finishing FF6 is a big moment for me, because it was the last in a long line of games I felt obligated to replay. Baldur’s Gate II, which I also finished recently, was the last in an even longer line of games I promised myself I’d replay. And now I’m left, for the first time in years, with no particular game hanging over my head waiting to be played. It’s freeing, but also a bit paralyzing. It’s not like I haven’t played new games in this time, but now there’s no obvious “next” thing to play (or to procrastinate about playing). That’s why I’m writing a blog post!
So I don’t know what’s next. The FF7 guide is still hanging out there, half-done, and I would like to put that up before the remake comes out. Though at the rate Square is going, I could still have years. I’ve quit FFXIV for the sole purpose of having time to play other games, so I may start another deluge of retro reviews. Or, I don’t know, get some kind of outdoor hobby. We’ll see.
The most recent edition of the Adam Ruins Everything podcast (Rachel Weil on Femicom and the Value of Preserving Classic ‘Girl’ Video Games) really struck a chord with me. The topic, preserving retro ‘girl’ games, is particularly appropriate for this blog on International Women’s Day. I’ve spent a lot of time retro game shopping, and have rarely (if ever) come across any games that were marketed towards girls. Given the clientele at these stores, this is not surprising, but it is disappointing. I know of a number of efforts to preserve old video games, but aside from Rachel’s Femicom Museum, I don’t recall any so much as mentioning ‘girl’ games.
Almost as upsetting as the way we’ve casually dismissed the history of these games is the way many, including myself, thought of them even when they were new. That is: barely games, a waste of time, simple pandering. Somehow I doubt many guys formed such opinions based on hands-on experience. I’ve heard there are a number of gems hidden among games most guys wouldn’t be caught dead playing, and I can vouch for at least one series (Style Savvy) myself.
I’m neither qualified nor inclined to get deep into gender politics, but this discussion really made me think about how we judge both games and each other. Rachel’s discussion about how, at one point in her life, she stopped playing ‘girly’ games because she felt she had to makes me wonder just how often this has happened. I know how many times I’ve avoided something I was interested in because it was ‘not for me,’ and how rarely that turned out to be a good decision.
I am running low on retro games to review, it might be pretty fun to pick up some of these lost games and give them a shot. That is, assuming they can be found anywhere outside of a museum.
For those of you into this sort of thing, I am pleased to announce the Gamer Corner sites are now all running under HTTPS. And hopefully they even still work!
In what I believe is the longest-term goal I’ve ever successfully completed, I beat Blaster Master legitimately for the first time last weekend. (I’ve beaten it before with a Game Genie and on the Wii U using save states, but this was on original hardware with no cheats.) I don’t know exactly when I originally got the game, but it was before I had a Super NES, so it’s been at least 26 years. Seeing the final boss explode immediately filled me with a sense of pride, followed shortly by a realization that no one I know actually cares about this accomplishment. Ah well, such is the lot of the retro gamer. But at least I can yell about it into the void of the internet!
In talking to people and watching videos about Your Name (reminder: it’s amazing and you should see it if you haven’t), I noticed that there’s a lot of confusion on the specifics of the timeline. On repeated viewings I have noticed that events are generally closer together than I initially assumed, so I took it upon myself to use cues from the movie to construct a timeline of exactly when everything happens. Obviously there will be massive spoilers for the movie, and this isn’t a movie you want spoiled, so beware!