Friday, November 10

We're Going to Play Final Fantasy XII

Surprise! Surprise! Well, of course it was only a matter of time: FFXII is one of my favorite games in all of existence, and I'm so very excited to finally be sharing it with Aaron.

It's his first time ever, and it couldn't be more special to us. We're going to start playing it tomorrow on our original anniversary, 11/11 at 11:11am.

Speaking of elevens, it is interesting that Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age came out on July 11th. Even the double IIs in XII look like an 11, and it's also been 11 years since I've first played it when it came out around this time in 2006. That's crazy spooky... us and our elevens!

So, we best be off on our grand adventure, and we'll take our time. I kid you not, my first playthrough took 111 hours (serendipitously), and then throughout the years I added over twice that many hours to my save file.

Happy gaming,
~Claudia

Monday, October 23

Us

"Us"

Shadows may shroud,
Temporary in Time;
True Love is illumination,
Brilliant as our bond.

We will always be,
- Aaron -

Monday, October 9

Metroid Fusion

Last, but not least....

It's been a grand marathon. Claudia and I have traversed the galaxy from one remote region to another, recounting our experiences and the feelings that reflect them. Along our path, our view of the world has been expanded, bringing with it the wisdom to live in finer harmony with ourselves. Life represents itself at different scales simultaneously, granting opportunities to observe from different perspectives and acquire more comprehensive understanding; for that we are truly grateful.

Chronologically the latest chapter in the series, Metroid Fusion depicts the consequences of both Metroid II and Super Metroid; impacting the planet SR388, the Galactic Federation, and Samus herself. This is also the first game released to emphasize the significance of the metroid as an entity.

Having been released following Super Metroid, Fusion employs a similar but improved presentation. Both games have a 2D, scrolling, platforming format; but, thanks to the GBA hardware, Fusion possesses several technical improvements beyond its SNES precursor. Regarding story, Fusion is considerably more narrative in nature, resulting in a more linear adventure than was typical in previous Metroid releases; however, this does have merits, and Claudia was certainly intrigued by what unfolded.

Overall, the classic Metroid conventions remain, so there are opportunities to freely explore and search for items. During these segments, we enjoyed finding an abundance of items; we cleared our mission in 5hrs, 46min; with a comfortable 89% of items acquired.

As discussed in previous marathon entries, the stage set by the Metroid series is analogous to our own current political situation: the Galactic Federation can be considered directly analogous of the motives and activities of governments. Metroid Fusion, Other M, and Prime 3: Corruption are all clear exhibits on how the Federation is willing to follow the path of the Space Pirates in the reckless acquisition of power. The ends to these means are unclear at this point in the saga, but power is always sought with the intent of its eventual use....

Clearing the way for the character development found in Other M, Metroid Fusion is the first release to extensively feature the inner thoughts of Samus Aran, giving the audience an extraordinary glimpse into her character. Written dialogue and events both serve to solidify her as a compassionate human being in addition to a resilient bounty hunter.

This series has captivated me since my first experience with Metroid II on the Game Boy, and now that I've shared this part of my life with my Truelove, we are intrigued about how this epic will unfold further. Until then, an official remake of my first foray awaits us; Metroid: Samus Returns promises to be a remarkable rebirth of what initially called me to these adventures, and Metroid Prime 4 may perhaps bring closure to the questions Corruption left in its wake.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- Fusion is a compelling chapter, particularly benefiting its introduction and conclusion. Metroid enters new territory here, creating a path for subsequent releases.

- Advances made in presentation relative to the capabilities of the SNES ensured this handheld title stays exemplary in its genre. Fusion is cinematic; what was accomplished within the 2D format is impressive.

- Intricate details and animations of sprites are outstanding. Special animations and effects help bring Metroid Fusion to life during both gameplay and story elements.

- Environments are beautifully executed. Parts or entire areas will change depending on the scenario, with dramatic effect.

- Sound design in Fusion is excellent. Audio is optimized for the smaller speakers of a handheld system, and effects perfectly identify what's happening on screen.

- Nintendo was quick to improve upon the influential map system of Super Metroid; this is the first game in the series to utilize a system of open and closed dots to mark the detected location and acquisition of items, respectively. Fusion's map displays item tallies during a "game+", aiding the efforts of completionists.

- For speed runners and those moments where text appears slower than is preferred, narration and dialogue can be advanced quickly. Input by the player is required to continue reading, which is most appreciated because this allows one to proceed at their own pace.

- Due to events unforeseen by Samus, her iconic gunship has been replaced; however, the new vessel has an excellent design. There have been numerous ship iterations throughout the series, but Fusion is the first chapter released that explains the switch.

- Samus endures a monumental change at the outset of Metroid Fusion that could be permanent. This is the first instance in a Metroid release where the recovery of abilities is given a reason; one that would prove to be among the most justifiable. It's ironic then that here, in what is currently the latest part of the saga, begins the tradition of creating a situation in which Samus must recover abilities and discover new ones.


Cons

- The unfortunate flaw in Fusion's sound design makes performing a somersault jump blatantly obvious. Stop jumping so loud, Samus.

- Throughout the space-faring galactic epic that is the Metroid series, we were presented ample opportunities to break some glass; our favorite flavor is a walkway or elevator enclosed in a glass tube. Metroid Fusion however provides no such fun: there are indeed glass tubes, but they are impervious to our weaponry!

- Lastly, Metroid Fusion provides nary a legitimate complaint with which to occupy the cons list. This is the principal objection we have with this title, and it should be taken very seriously.


Completing this marathon marks the conclusion of a tremendous introduction for Claudia and a refreshing review for me. May every new voyage into the unknown invigorate the hearts of we adventurers, two! See you next mission.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

Thursday, October 5

DIY Beauty: Get Better Sleep with Essential Oils

School is now in full swing and the holidays are upon us. It's a busy time of year, and of course quality sleep is a must! It's important to get to bed on time (ideally 9-10pm) and get enough rest, but that's easier said than done sometimes. However, essential oils can be a big help. Right before bed, choose a favorite essential oil to use for aroma therapy (breathing them in deeply is simple enough or they can be applied directly under the nose or on the upper chest). Rosemary and lavender oils are great for stress reduction and relaxation. Eucalyptus and tea tree oils relieve stuffy nasal passages and help one breathe more clearly. Rose and vanilla oils are aphrodisiacs. There are many wonderful options! Enjoy them and sleep well.

Cheers and here's to happy, healthy living.
~Claudia

Tuesday, September 26

Metroid: Other M

There's a human in there.

During the course of any story, the most memorable of characters evolve as events unfold. These "round" characters are appealing because that ability to grow is within each of us, so that relatable quality tends to make them more memorable. Samus Aran is one such character, and although the beginning of her development was delayed until the release of Super Metroid, she has become possibly the most elaborate character from any of Nintendo's franchises. Every narrative moment in the series exhibits a glimpse from which the player may learn a little more about who Samus is and what motivates her actions. Within Metroid: Other M, unseen facets of her identity are finally disclosed after having only been referenced during the events of Metroid Fusion, released eight years earlier.

Despite all creative intentions, the solidification of Samus' persona has precipitated remarkable controversy among the Metroid audience, because Other M cinematically tells a story that leaves very little room for conjecture regarding its heroine. Samus is better known than ever before, and although there are countless negative viewpoints available elsewhere, offered here are far more understanding, accepting, and respectful observations about the human being beneath the armor.

Yes, Samus Aran is human: she has a background and a personality. It is an unfortunate signature of society when any character might be ridiculed for being more than a mere vehicle through which a player may exercise their own desires for decimation. On the contrary, those unique circumstances, emotions, choices, and vulnerabilities are what create such excellent characters; they're the attributes and virtues that are to be appreciated. Furthermore, the nuances in persona that might be considered weaknesses are often the side of duality that reveals a character to be much stronger than is initially perceived by the audience: to rise through fear or other potential internal obstacles shows far more growth than simply acquiring physical power to defeat adversaries. Indeed, there is the classic tenet of ability advancement in Other M, but the essence of this story focuses on who Samus is beyond what she does.

Being steeped in narrative, Other M is the most cinematic Metroid by a large margin, and is part of why it has earned the distinction of being Claudia's favorite of the series. Storytelling is an important aspect of a game for both her and me, so we highly appreciate what is offered in this chapter. Samus' thoughts are revealed within polished animations that seamlessly segue into excellent play mechanics when it's time for the audience to handle the action. That action is a clever fusion of retro controls and more contemporary art direction. Samus' voice has a solemn tranquility, and is befitting a veteran bounty hunter that still retains a virtuous demeanor. She's been through everything depicted within the timeline to this point and more, yet there remains the strength to exhibit compassion and follow the path she feels is valid.

As an unfortunate result of that path however, Other M incorporates perhaps the least reasonable scenario in the series for the recovery of specific abilities, chiefly involving Samus' movement and armor. The dubious nature of this gameplay mechanic repeatedly makes the exploration element feel forced, and the timing regarding weapons or armor retrieval border on the absurd.

Metroid: Other M has some conceptual flaws; however, the opportunity for improvement is still a part of the human experience, which is what one might appreciate in this story when they are ready for such a message. Consider that life will sometimes provide us undesirable situations, but in the long run we can use these moments to learn about and expand ourselves in different ways. This process is something to appreciate and allow for the tempering of our being, as it continues to be for our protagonist.

Claudia and I immensely enjoyed our time within the halls and spaces of Metroid: Other M, so while acquiring our 100% collection rate was a relatively simple task, we reached that mark with our save file showing 11:26:46 on the mission clock. Great care went into the production of this significant story, so we took the time to see all the sights.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- Metroid: Other M is a refined combination of classic and more contemporary gameplay conventions. The game is beautifully represented in 3D, but the controls are reminiscent of the 2D age, with the Wii Remote primarily held like an NES controller.

- Where Other M departs from that retro style of control is with its quicktime events. This is the first Metroid to incorporate such a mechanic. Well-timed inputs will trigger Samus to dodge, counter, and finish off attackers quickly. The action is faster than ever, and the developers made sure the combat fit the experience.

- Samus finally speaks her mind in this chapter, and it's for good reason: this is by far the most transparent Metroid game so far, and it's only natural that the protagonist should have the opportunity to voice herself. Again, Samus speaks as could be expected from a character of her composition.

- So far, there have been limited occurrences of pre-rendered cinematics within the series, but Other M delivers what must be nearly 100% of it. Story is essential here, and in that, this mission is most certainly successful.

- There is so much content that once the game is completed, a Theater Mode avails players with the opportunity to watch a movie version that lasts over two hours. During the actual game however, cutscenes imperceptibly transition into realtime play.

- Samus perfectly tracks the nearest target based on the direction she faces. When coupled with the controls mentioned above, Other M has some of the fastest and smoothest action in the entire series.

- Doors are again the active loading elements, as they often are in Metroid, and they function perfectly this time as well. However, there were some occasions when doors were slow, but these were very rare and only when traversing the terrain was at its quickest.

- As a twist on gathering the classic (but inexplicable) energy balls and weapon ammo from dispatched creatures and machines, navigation rooms provide the only means of fully replenishing Samus' supplies. We found this to be more plausible, and increased the relief we found away from our occasionally precarious path.

- The sound design of Other M is crisp, powerful, and has a unique signature while also sharing a few effects with other chapters. Music seems less prominent than in the rest of the series: besides reprising iconic melodies and offering some great new ones, most musical elements are generally atmospheric and set an overall mood. From start to finish, this mission is a treat for the ears.

- Apparent during play, but seen in true conceptual detail via the gallery, designs for power-up tanks are some of the most unique and intricate in the entire series. Each is instantly identifiable by its specific color and shape, giving them character while sharing unifying elements. Tanks are also actually two-part objects, the core being contained in a matching pod. The way in which Samus interacts with them depends on whether or not the pod is present.

- For the first time in a Metroid game, the Speed Booster has been represented in 3D, and has made a great starting impression. Likewise, the Shinespark is equally successful in this rendition. Both have a simple but powerful design in their animation and sound, effectively conveying the speed and power Samus' suit avails her.


Cons

- Perhaps the single biggest quarrel of Other M regards the circumstances through which Samus regains the use of her arsenal and abilities. Yes, she willingly cooperates with the involved character's stipulations, but the unnecessary way in which Samus does so repeatedly endangers herself and impedes her own mobility. As discussed earlier, the most reasonable scenario would only affect weapons, leaving all her armor and movement systems available.

- Samus often finds herself on planets teeming with life, so it's only natural that when creatures die, others might replace them from elsewhere in the biosphere. Although the recurrence of lifeforms in any given space is a consistency across all of Metroid, it does seem silly that this phenomenon could possibly be infinite within the confines of a ship, regardless of its size.

-  Why do creatures know martial arts? Team Ninja. Indeed, there are an unusual number of species in Other M possessing such frightful proficiencies, and this is the only installment released to date where that is the case. It certainly helps show off the combat system, but it seems a bit outlandish at times. However, it could simply be to illustrate how far the Federation is willing to go....


Perhaps the most underappreciated of all chapters, Metroid: Other M expands upon the series' practices by telling a very different but vital epic in cinematic fashion. Participating with an open mind can help one value the true strength that results from vulnerabilities in any character, including the cast from our very own stories.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

Monday, August 28

Super Metroid

Quintessence. It's super.

What could possibly be written that might sufficiently express the immense significance Super Metroid holds for me? The very question also serves as the answer, but may my best words suffice in the lines ahead. It's also with great amusement that I recall the year this game was released, when two copies (each from two different sources) simultaneously arrived in my care. Surely, this was an omen.

For the several weeks that followed, Zebes had me. The brilliance of the series' first opening sequence begins the very moment the game is powered on. Minimalistic music with dissonant intervals conveys tension over cuts of dark imagery of an apparent attack just past; all the while a baby metroid cries out, still in captivity from the end of Metroid II… so what is going on? This is just the title screen. The beginning of the game has Samus recount the first two chapters and interim events that lead up to this point before the player takes control. The title sequence and narrative are presented with a cinematic feel, and gameplay is utilized to include the player in the prologue: from the very outset, Super Metroid is ingenious and groundbreaking.

Such an opening is also the first time in a Metroid release when Samus' character begins to be explored. Indeed, there is a human being under that Chozo armor, and this is when her capacity for compassion is unveiled. Samus' humanity is explored further in Metroid: Other M; however, establishing her nature early in the series' release history makes her relatable and builds a bond with the player, helping drive the interest to complete every epic adventure in the best possible way. It's also part of what connects the story of Metroid to our own world; again, making everything believable and thus appealing.

Of course, these intricacies are levels of thought that were still unconsidered in my youth; adventure was the name of the game. My basic understanding had Samus as the heroine fighting to set things right, with the villains having taken the baby metroid for their own dreadful ends. As I sought deeper significances in following years, the metroids themselves took on a different role as my perspective changed. The early portion of the Metroid storyline (especially the Prime sub-series) shows what's known of the creatures as mysterious, but dangerous entities that pose dangers to all who encounter them; conversely, the latter installments (with Metroid II as the turning point) suggest that the organisms were created for a purpose that had nothing to do with warfare. The behavior of the hatchling distinctly suggests the capacity of the species to form emotional or psychological bonds, but there will be exploration of that in a future chapter.

One thing is for certain: I have the warmest of regards for the infant metroid, and it was instant love for Claudia as well. In fact, we began referring to the hatchling as "Sweet Baby!", and we still do.

Countless hours were logged during my time on Zebes since its reappearance in 1993, and my initial trek spanned over 40 hours. As my skills improved, my path was refined and my clear time fell quickly; eventually, I could see the credits roll in 1:48, after having collected 100% of items. This time, I happily helped Claudia have an experience with a pace more befitting the discovery that defines this series, so our clear time together was 5 hours, 16 minutes; and we acquired 98% of items.

Truly, this game is a masterpiece. There are innumerable nuances comprising this vicarious voyage, leaving very little that would improve upon the virtually perfect blueprint that was established. However, one must have their own experiences to fully appreciate what awaits them, so I encourage anyone interested in the Metroid series to ensure they participate in this quintessential title.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- Super Metroid made its debut notable by being the first game released in the series implementing an opening sequence. This included features like animations that also updated the visuals for events from previous games, and the ability of the SNES to allow for recorded voice performance.

- Another first for the series is the map system, the influence of which can still be seen in the newest of games. The map system of Metroid has been perfect from its inception here, but although it's comparatively simplistic to every evolution since then, those core aesthetics and functions are what persist.

- The 16-bit generation was the beginning of beautiful, detailed pixel art, and Metroid 3 is home to some of the very best. Immense care was taken with every background, foreground, animated entity and visual effect. The scope with which this title was produced is still readily apparent: it's as grand as the day it was released.

- A further example of what was pioneered in this era of games took the form of layered graphics. Moving layers of environments relatively, but to different degrees gives a sense of depth, and thus helps immerse players in the experience. There are also places where the background does not move at all, giving the impression of extreme distance.

- The sound designers for this game are experts in their craft. Synthesizers were the primary device used to create sound in games, and the SNES illustrates the pinnacle of what was possible in that earlier time. The masterful manipulation of waveforms all comes together to create a soundscape that equals its visual counterpart in depth, atmosphere, and signature.

- Surviving Samus' ordeal requires a connection to the experience that is fluid, intuitive, and precise; Super Metroid is exemplary in this regard, as its controls represent the apex of exploratory freedom for this series and as a benchmark in gaming history. There even exist some secondary and hidden abilities that come into play under certain settings and circumstances.

- Also unique to the series is a status screen which avails the switching of beams and suit abilities. This is both a curiosity and a convenience: nowhere else in the series does this functionality exist, but it can be useful because the disabling of certain abilities may make navigating specific corridors of Zebes notably easier. For example: my preference is to have the Ice Beam disabled for almost the entire mission.

- Finding hidden items in Super Metroid is reminiscent of the original NES experience, and for good reason: this is the same planet. With certain locales reproduced, and some items placed nearly identically, the intent is clear that Samus has returned to a familiar place that has been rebuilt to thwart her objective. 

- As mentioned above, Samus has some capabilities that are not immediately apparent, but are revealed by various means throughout the game itself. One such method is the inclusion of helpful creatures. These beings demonstrate their own natural prowess, hinting that Samus can also traverse the current obstacle in the same way. While this type of instruction in gaming may have a steeper learning curve than the more contemporary "tutorial", I find that learning through direct discovery is immensely more rewarding and memorable.


Cons

- Ever the expert in colors, Claudia noticed that the palette of Super Metroid is somewhat sour at times. We did however agree that this was an unfortunate limitation of the SNES being a 16-bit machine. Again, this was occasional, but those few instances were fairly obvious.

- "Who built this place?" Space Pirates. But seriously, the puzzle aspect of the Metroid series (or any other games of similar genre) can sometimes have environmental designs that are quite ridiculous when compared to sound architectural principles and practicality. Of course, this point is mostly harmless amusement; the Metroid series has some of the best level design that can be found anywhere.

- With all the innovations that were introduced in Super Metroid, it's surprising that the map does not indicate when items have been collected, as is the case in later-developed installments. There may have been some limitation on the SNES that prevented the potential for this particular function, although the map does mark when main bosses are defeated.


Over the years, Super Metroid has told a story that has changed along with my own perspective of the world. Finally sharing this part of my life with my Truelove is a dream-come-true, and our next adventure expands even further upon where we've been together.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

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