[GAME REVIEW #200!!] Persona 4

Introduction

Atlus’s long-running Shin Megami Tensei metaseries had always been popular in its native Japan. However, the first games were released on Nintendo’s Famicom and Super Famicom consoles. The developer’s North American branch had a strict policy that prohibited any religious symbolism. Because of the series’ frequent use of Christian symbolism, these games had no chance of making it past Nintendo of America’s censors. Fortunately, the series was able to travel overseas when Atlus, like many third-party companies, jumped ship to the PlayStation line of consoles. Even so, the series was still largely invisible in the West. This changed in 2004 when Atlus released a localized version of the main series’ third installment, Nocturne. Though not as successful as many popular, contemporary JPRG series such as Final Fantasy, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne found an audience, becoming a cult hit for the PlayStation 2 era.

The PlayStation era marked the beginning of a Shin Megami Tensei spinoff series named Persona. It was one of the first games in the metaseries to be localized, though it quickly fell into obscurity. Consequently, when its first sequel, Persona 2, was split into two separate releases, the second failed to debut overseas. However, with the momentum gained from the positive critical reception of Nocturne, Atlus wound up localizing Persona 3. Because most Western fans had never heard of the two games preceding it, Persona 3 ended up being a gateway entry for anyone seeking to delve into the metaseries along with Nocturne. Indeed, many Western critics praised Persona 3 for providing a unique take on the gameplay Nocturne pioneered.

With the series finding its way into Western markets and Persona 3 proving to be a domestic hit, a sequel was inevitable. Katsura Hashino, who had directed many installments in the metaseries, including Nocturne and Persona 3, found himself in charge of leading a new team. Many of the people who worked on Persona 3 returned for this project. A significant portion of the new personnel consisted of fans of Persona 3. With this new installment, Atlus sought to improve both the gameplay and the story so as to not retread old ground. Development began shortly after the release of Persona 3 in 2006, though ideas had been thrown around earlier according to Mr. Hashino. Development of this game, simply entitled Persona 4, took place over the course of two years. It saw its initial release on July 10, 2008 in Japan for the PlayStation 2 before debuting in North America the following December. The game saw the the light of day in Australia and Europe in March of 2009. Despite being released two years after the launch of the PlayStation 3, Persona 4 was even greater hit with the metaseries’ new fans than its predecessor. It is considered one of the greatest games of all time and an exemplary swansong effort for the then-aging PlayStation 2. Was Persona 4 able to give the greatest-selling home console at the time a worthy sendoff?

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Repo Man (Alex Cox, 1984)

A curious incident occurs in the Mojave Desert when a policeman pulls over a 1964 Chevrolet Malibu. The driver is one J. Frank Parnell. When the policeman decides to examine the trunk, he is immediately vaporized by an unknown force, leaving only his shoes behind. Meanwhile, a punk rocker named Otto Maddox is fired from his supermarket job. Without a dollar to his name, he wanders the streets until an older man named Bud drives up to him. He offers Otto $25 to drive a car out of the neighborhood.

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100th Film Review Special! The Worst and Best So Far, Part 4

As anyone who has been following me for a significant length of time knows, I tend to be pretty stingy with 9/10s. This is because I feel many critics hand them out to every other film they like. As long as they’re consistent, that’s fine, but with my scoring system, I wanted to make creators well and truly earn every single point. You want a seven-point passing grade or better? You gotta work for it. Because of this, you won’t see me award this grade often, so when it happens, you can safely bet that I’m discussing a masterpiece.

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100th Film Review Special! The Worst and Best So Far, Part 1

Well, it finally happened! As of last Saturday, I have officially reviewed 100 films. I’m not surprised that it took me less time to reach this milestone than for game reviews given that video games take a much longer time to review properly. Whereas the game review I’m working on for my 200 special will exceed 10,000 words, my longest film review doesn’t even go past the 3,000-word mark. If it’s a film that has a loose structure or a minimalistic plot, you can safely bet it’s going to be around 1,000 words. Epics, on the other hand, tend to be around 1,500-2,800 words.

Anyway, to celebrate, I thought I’d take a look at the worst and best I’ve reviewed so far. Unlike with my game review specials, I don’t intend to rank the films from worst to best. Instead, I’ll be covering films I’ve awarded one, two, three, eight, or nine points. This way, you can get an idea of the material I’ve covered in addition to getting the best recommendations quickly. So without further ado, let’s dive headfirst into the bomb pool and get the worst over with so we can end this special on a high note.

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[GAME REVIEW] Pokémon Snap

Introduction

Prior to the launch of the Nintendo 64 in 1996, Nintendo announced the development of a magnetic drive peripheral for the console dubbed the 64DD. The 64 references the console to which it was intended to attach along with its sixty-four megabyte magnetic disks and DD stood for “disk drive” or dynamic drive”. The peripheral as was to have features such as the ability to connect to the internet, a real-time clock, and rewritable data storage. Nintendo themselves touted the machine as “the first writable bulk data storage device for a modern video game console”. Because even a peripheral console wouldn’t amount to much without a library of games, Nintendo turned to their various development teams to create original titles for the 64DD.

One such company up for the task was HAL Laboratory. Their proposed game was entitled Jack and the Beanstalk. It was named after the famous English fairy tale and inspired by the numerous beanstalks Mario could climb throughout his series. The development team itself was dubbed “Jack and Beans”. The project’s existence was revealed in 1995, but no screenshots or videos were publicly released. There was much speculation as to how the game would have played with some fans suspecting certain elements found their way to Earthbound 64 – another title intended for the 64DD. This is because in an interview with Benimaru Itoh, one of the art designers for Earthbound 64, he revealed players could plant seeds that grew in real time using the 64DD’s internal clock. However, the Jack and Beans team wouldn’t have to wait for long before a sudden development caused them to shift gears.

The year 1996 marked the debut of Game Freak’s Pocket Monsters franchise. Although released to a lukewarm response, it had little trouble finding a fanbase. With the Game Boy considered a passing fad by then, the millions of units sold revitalized interest in the aging, portable console. When the game was translated for Western fans under the name Pokémon, it became a hit overseas as well, causing it to become a worldwide phenomenon. This led a plethora of spinoff media, including an anime series, several manga stories, and a collectable card game. Once it was clear that the Jack and the Beanstalk project had made no significant progress, the team eventually proposed turning it into a Pokémon spinoff. From there, the Jack and Beans team had a definite direction, and in 1999, they at last completed the project. The game’s final title was Pokémon Snap. Because 64DD had been delayed countless times, they converted their game to the Nintendo 64 platform whereupon it sold 1.5 million copies. Exactly what kind of experience does this game, released during the height of the Pokémon franchise’s popularity, have to offer?

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[FILM REVIEW #100!] Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria, 2019)

Hustlers is a tale set in the seedy underbelly of New York City. Although the city’s most violent period is behind it, there still exist many stories of people barely scraping by and having to resort to desperate measures in order to make ends meet. In the year 2014, journalist Elizabeth approaches a former stripped from New York City named Dorothy for an interview. Dorothy is initially hesitant to tell this story, not wanting to put her friends in jeopardy. Eventually, she relents, though she makes it clear that Elizabeth isn’t to probe certain subjects.

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[FILM REVIEW] Apollo 13 (Ron Howard, 1995)

In July of 1969, history was made when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins manned the Apollo 11 space shuttle and touched down upon the moon. During this expedition, fellow astronaut Jim Lovell hosts a house party so they can witness the moment on television themselves. As they’re watching, Lovell tells his wife, Marilyn, that he intends to walk on the moon one day – having previously orbited it in the Apollo 8 spacecraft. Three months later, complications cause Lovell’s crew to fly Apollo 13 instead of the slated 14. It would appear that Lovell’s goal will come to pass sooner than expected.

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[GAME REVIEW] Aegis Wing

Introduction

In the 2000s, J Allard of Microsoft proposed a summer internship with the express goal of focusing on game design. Three interns for Microsoft, Scott Brodie, Danny Dyer, and Matt Monson, in turn created a game during the summer of 2006. Their effort was a shoot ‘em game named Aegis Wing. Mr. Dyer and Mr. Monson had been members of the Texas Aggie Game Developers, which was a student organization at Texas A&M University established to nurture new talent. The three of them collaboratively did all of the groundwork, though outside sources provided art and audio support.

The team ran into a few difficulties due to having but three months to see this project through and XNA, a freeware toolkit commonly used for Microsoft products such as the Xbox 360, was not yet available at the time. Nonetheless, the three-person team soldiered on, completing their work by the end of the summer – though they had to cut out a few planned features along the way. They handed their work to Carbonated Games, an internal studio of Microsoft Game Studios to be published. The fruits of their labor were then released on the Xbox Live Arcade service as a freeware title in May of 2007. What was this small team able to accomplish in three months?

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