Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Worlds of Power: Castlevania II — Simon's Quest (1990)

Authors: Christopher Howell and F.X. Nine | Page Count: 138

"I was not born a hero, Timothy Bradley, but I have faced my fears.
He who confronts his deepest dreads everyday… that person is a hero."

F.X. Nine is the pen-name of Seth Godin, an entrepreneur, as such. It seems he sketched the basic plots, players, and game-related specifics of this series. In this entry, Christopher Howell is the one who brought it all to life. As the dialogue is what overwhelmingly sells this for me, as opposed to the adapted aspects, my praises will naturally fall primarily upon Mr. Howell. It should also be noted that Nintendo did not ultimately endorse this endeavor.

To specifically address the nature of this as an adaptation of an NES game, I must immediately relate that it does not strictly follow the events of the game. I’ll pull a percentage out of my posterior and say it’s about 40% accurate, I guess? A sincere attempt is made to respect the geography and layout, but significant changes are definitely afoot.

The most far-reaching change is that Simon Belmont is not traveling alone in this iteration of the tale. He plucks a middle-schooler from earth to accompany him on his quest to rid himself of Dracula’s curse. Funny how that’s actually the name of the third game, even though it’s a significant part of the second. Simon and Timothy Bradley are a classic odd couple. Simon is stoic and severe; Tim deals in puns, bad jokes, and bad habits.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like if there was an episode of Kyoryuger where Nobu and Tessai worked together, this is the book for you.

There are a few typos. I believe I counted four, but they honestly aren’t problematic. There are hint boxes, referring to the game, presented at the end of some of the chapters. They don’t always paint a full-enough picture (you have to break through the floor to find both the laurel and garlic salesmen in Aljiba), but everything actually stated in them is accurate. Oddly enough, one of them uses the alternate romanization for Rover Mansion (Lauber), when Rover is used in the main text.

Oh, and get this: Howell actually explains why the townsfolk are cryptic and deceptive!

In one instance, an item is established as being necessary, only to have another used when the requisite situation occurs. Also, two of Dracula’s parts were changed. None of the above are huge deals, for a few reasons: 1.) The bits referring to the game—the hint boxes—are correct, as stated. 2.) The item switcheroo can actually be interpreted as the set-up for something much later in the text. 3.) One of Dracula’s pieces in the game wasn’t even part of his body! 4.) The specifics of the lore and mechanics aren’t the actual focus, here. Emphasis is placed, instead, on the characters. Specifically Tim, of course. Through his eyes, we’re exposed to ridiculously clever metaphors, similes, and descriptions of the world of Castlevania. There’s also a great wealth of wonderful statements about life itself.

What’s on display here is so effective that I’m willing to overlook one of my biggest pet peeves in fiction: event skips. As a kid, I even wrote Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman asking about the excised quest for the Hammer of Kharas between the end of Dragons of Autumn Twilight and the beginning of ...Winter Night. Hmm, looks like they did end up writing a book about it. Too bad I don’t care, anymore~

Here, I think it was to preserve the surprise of some of the puzzles, but the journey through Berkeley Mansion definitely whet my appetite for five more helpings of urban exploration that were in no way delivered upon.

If you end up purchasing and enjoying this, please, please consider watching Engine Sentai Go-Onger and its dedicated movie. You will find much the same sentiments, therein. You will find that Sentai deftly balances humor and meaningfulness in exactly the same manner as this book. The excerpt read during Awesome Games Done Quick a few years ago is NOT representative of the entire experience. This is a book very much worth reading, especially for children. It’s the perfect mix of heartfelt inspiration, goofiness, and the quaintly macabre.

Son, You are 4 Too Young To Be Telling Old Man Jokes out of 5

Nutted by NEG.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Official Final Fantasy VII Strategy Guide (1997)

Author: David Cassady | Page Count: 223

"Thanks to everyone for trying their hardest
to make this the best book possible."


I purchased this guide the same day my dad spontaneously decided that it was time for us to get a Playstation. He was going to buy one over Christmas, but he really wanted to play Nascar 98 with his friends (I know, I know). Ergo, we had an impromptu spending spree. It’s a memory I will always cherish. I still have the games, this guide, and Smash Mouth’s Fush Yu Mang. Let’s see how this holds up.

Like the game itself, there are a number of typos. Unfortunately, this bleeds into the very way the guide is structured. They set out to label the entrances and exits of each game-screen with numbers. Except, sometimes, they forgot to include the exit number from the previous picture on the next picture, as an entrance number. Further, based on the sidebars, they initially intended to label items with letters. However, in the text, they refer to event locations and NPCs by letters, as well. Eventually, they start referring to significant buildings that way, too. In one instance, there are similar pictures of the same screen, and the second one, on the next set of pages, is labeled, but not the one that exists beside the relevant text. Some things referred to in the text by a letter seemingly correspond to screen-shots that were not ultimately included.

At one point, the use of letters to denote shops, treasure chests, NPCs, and entrances(!) AT THE SAME TIME results in a gigantic confusing mess. There are ‘A’s as far as the eye can see on those pages, in addition to the usual numbers!

The ways they managed to screw up the labels in this book are a little bit awe-inspiring.

The explanation of one puzzle in particular is almost perfectly made more confusing by one word utilized therein. It's so acutely wrong that it seems intentional. The Chocobo raising guide is a nice starting point for understanding how to create the special types, but if you want detailed specifics (I.e., you have better things to do with your life than endlessly experiment with breeding birds), go find a dedicated FAQ. The lists in the back of the book were compiled by someone other than Cassady. One thing that he stopped short of spoiling in the text, is spoiled in a list. Communication, guys. Communication.

Nice pieces of official artwork are used, but outside of the stock character art, they are universally desaturated, lowered in contrast, and exist only as backgrounds that are barely visible. Why bother? A piece of Vincent is used for every set of pages covering the Side Quests. Consequently, the top of every left-oriented page has black text on a black portion of the background. It’s barely legible. There are errors in the bestiary entries, and some are entirely blank of data. Some enemies present in certain areas are not listed beside those sections of the text, only in the dedicated appendix. I suppose they included only as many as they had space for on the cramped pages. In several places, they include a gaggle of FMV caps when they could have used that space for appropriately rendered artwork.

I don’t know why enemy skills are not prioritized in these guides. Yes, most are gimmicky and you’ll never use them, but a few are always virtually essential. I like how they’re mentioned after-the-fact, here, when they’ll be useful, not when you can actually learn them. That's sarcasm, folks. Some of them are entirely missable.

If you’re willing to ignore the screenshots and just read the text, you will be MOSTLY fine, but you shouldn’t have to. They are a crucial part of an endeavor such as this. In a world of FAQs, the pictures and artwork are the only selling point of these guides, for most consumers. An author’s approach, their humor and elaboration, can also bring purpose and life to them, but this one is written in the most basic way possible. It fails to have any significant, lasting purpose.

Everyone at Brady Games should have tried harder. Unlike Olafson, who mostly only suffered from the lack of information inherent to being a Westerner, writing in the year VI was released, Brady Games failed to properly visually lay out the (mostly correct) information (and artwork) they actually had at their disposal. The blame falls squarely on their heads.

If you want a comprehensive FAQ that has wit and verve, I recommend Absolute Steve's.

½-Assed, At Best out of 5

Nutted by NEG.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Final Fantasy III Players Guide (1995)

Author: Peter Olafson | Page Count: 164

“They’re a good bunch of people, in a real story, full of twists and turns, and you can put your heart into them. Many of them have something in their past that’s holding them back, and you’ll have to help them come to grips with their inner demons.”

In the days before Squeenix was hiding things behind otherwise unremarkable endless walls of textures, and denying you an ultimate weapon for doing something as natural as opening chests at the beginning of a game, Square Soft was in the business of providing players with far more innocent secrets. The type that you could actually stumble onto yourself, if you were thorough enough in your explorations. Back then, your parents may have bought you a strategy guide out of the kindness of their hearts, because they saw them on the rack, not because they were harangued by an employee who counterintuitively wants to remain in the employ of a vampiric and entirely disreputable mega-chain.

Times heartbreakingly change.

My original copy of this went missing, sadly, and I will wholeheartedly admit that this is an endeavor of nostalgia. However, as a matter of personal principle, I do not allow things to remain solely in its softening and heralding glow. I’m here to be (as) completely objective (as a human can be) about its advice, given my twenty plus years of experience with the game. There is no disrespect intended to Mr. Olafson, regardless of the outcome, not the least of which is because of a passage of the introduction that has stuck with me all this time, completely in the absence of the book itself:

“Finally, if possible, hook your machine up to stereo speakers and a nice big TV. The music is superb, and the graphics shine whether you’re looking at something as simple as a section of wall, or whipping across the landscape in Super NES’s special ‘Mode 7.’”

Even the walls in FF VI are works of art, and he acknowledges that, the same as I do, to this very day. Graphics and filmmaking, and honestly anything created by mankind, are all a product of the realities of the world and the technology available at the time that they were birthed. Yes, sometimes we’re able to eventually do some things ‘better,’ but the age of a piece of media shouldn’t be held against it, as a matter of course. There are people out there who disregard things because of such circumstances and I pity them. I won’t say ‘limitations,’ because in some cases they are actually strengths. Technological Zeitgeist can be very powerful and I unquestionably believe it to be in regards to FF VI. Sprites are beautiful and these are the best I’ve seen.

Unlike with Chrono Trigger, where I adore the sprites, but cannot stomach the original Dragon Ball Z-esque artwork, I do in fact like Yoshitaka Amano’s foundational character artwork for VI. It is deliberately peppered throughout this book, to my utter joy. It is joined by a number of boundary-less charts detailing things such as the Magicite available in the game and the characters’ unique skills. However, there are some rather grave omissions on that particular front, and a few others. Olafson fails to list the majority of Strago’s Lores, or what monsters he can learn them from. Only a small few are mentioned in passing, which is unfortunate because many require special techniques to even be elicited at all. He does not touch on the Dances that Mog can miss out on permanently. I cannot hold the lack of coverage on Gau’s Rages against him, however, as the list is extensive and intensely daunting, which in turns makes it unlikely that he, or any casual fan, would know that it’s actually not completable at all, without a cheat device. Especially as a Westerner in 1994-95!!!

He also somewhat inaccurately describes the mechanics for maximizing one’s score in one specific mini-game and neglects the specifics of a boss with an unorthodox gimmick. I suppose he simply got lucky on all of his playthroughs? He seemingly missed seeing three essential flashbacks on all of those runs, as well.

I realize that the immediately preceding paragraphs are very punitive in nature. However, outside of the final bullet-point, Olafson repeatedly demonstrates that he possesses not only a chronic sense of humor about the proceedings, but also a deep abiding reverence for the STORY. One that I have always shared. Even though he does not deliver a few important pieces of information, he will not lead a player astray in terms of the timeless and shining narrative. In fact, he basically retells it, here, and when I read this straight through, I felt the same emotional stings as I do when playing the game. He conveys so eloquently that he understands the value of it. He kids about it because he loves it, the same as I do.

I had completely forgotten that he outright states to the Western audience that this is actually FF VI, and not really III. I clearly forgot early on, as I was befuddled when VII was released, like many others were. He was ahead of the curve in many regards, including his passion. And, in this day and age, that’s really the only reason to buy this: if you want something that accurately embodies your feelings about the game. To know that you’re not alone, much the same as what is conveyed by the game itself.

3 Startlingly On-Point Beatles References out of 5

Nutted by NEGIf you'd like to hear me fill in the gaps, go here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Tomie: Deluxe Edition (2016)

Author: Junji Ito | Illustrator: Junji Ito | Page Count: 745

'Her only real interest is herself. She wants to be desired. To see how far she can lead men. It's not that she wants their love. Just a boost to her ego. That's all she cares about. Men, of course, will take it all wrong and fall for her. Strange thing is, when a man falls too far, too hard, he wants to cut her to pieces.'

In the horror world the true icons are the ones who contain that indefinable mystique, that allure which ensnares your attention and draws out your fears. Tomie Kawakami is one such icon. Her outside complexion may be her greatest killer quality. She's the it girl with the highest standards who's on every man's mind. To even set eyes upon her is a death sentence. Tomie doesn't simply inspire great adulation in her suitors, but awakens a sickening and jealous bloodlust which endangers not only others but Tomie herself. They love her to pieces, literally. 

Junji Ito truly created the perfect monster in Tomie. She's that seemingly immortal sci-fi creature who keeps coming back to life. She's that beautiful, out-of-reach sex symbol. You want her so bad you'll kill your friends to be with her. Unfortunately, you'll kill her too...again and again. 

Included are the 20 Tomie manga stories (originally three volumes) into one hardcover. The book's aesthetic follows Viz Media's previous releases of Uzumaki & Gyo with cover and interior art sprinkled throughout the opening and closing pages. 

Tomie was the first manga Junji Ito ever produced. In terms of artwork, he is still honing his craft in the first few stories. He makes good use of POV and obviously grasps the importance of creatively utilizing B&W, but some movement is awkward and there is a lack of refinement in the lines. By the fourth story Ito is near the top of his game. 

The first third of the collection encompasses one Tomie tale. Each chapter has its own plot and some are direct continuations but certain subsequent stories are linked only by either a location or a significant supporting character. It starts with "Tomie" and ends in chapter six with the fantastic yet bizarre climax "Mansion." After that the most important chapter is "Waterfall Basin", which helps disperse the seeds of Tomie into the world as the stories become more sporadic, stand-alone and in my opinion, lesser. Strength lies in a grand storyline as in Ito's successful epics Uzumaki and Gyo. The concepts for many of the remaining chapters are still strong, but a number of them have abrupt and perplexing endings which lead nowhere. Not every single detail must be explained for a satisfying conclusion, but certain ideas are incomplete at best.

That being said, Viz Media's Tomie: Deluxe Edition is a horror manga fan's dream come true and belongs in every Junji Ito follower's collection. It satisfies a number of different genres including science fiction, horror and guro. Ito's mastery of shock is ever evident in his use of burst climaxes throughout Tomie. The sense of dread and excitement is there as you turn each beautifully drawn page.

3½ beauty marks below the left eye out of 5

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (1999)

Author: Ray Kurzweil | Page Count: 400

"I have been accused of that..."

This text is a complicated and multi-layered mountain to climb. The question is of course whether or not it’s worth it. That depends at least somewhat on you, as a reader and a human being. The gigantic prism-hued elephant in the room is that this is a book built upon a foundation of predictions of the future as viewed from the late 90s. If you are a person who understands and does not lie to yourself about the world as it currently stands (read: teeters on the brink) in this second decade of the twenty-first century, you will find yourself laughing at Kurzweil’s VERY rose-tinted reading of the then-future. These predictions are wondrous to ponder, but the simple truth is that we won’t see them come to pass given how incapable we are at overcoming our petty and bellicose nature, as a species.

Is there value in reading it as (partly) a work of fiction, though? I would argue yes, if you’re able to set the narrative and speculative parts into the proper context. I say ‘partly,’ because roughly half of this text is comprised of facts, figures, real-world technological timelines, and treatises on certain aspects of quantum physics. Get ready to have a finger planted in the Notes appendix at all times. And, those notes can get to be quite lengthy. Are you up for reading what equates to a college (or graduate-level) textbook? That’s what you can look forward to for a significant portion of this venture.

I realize I’m being excessively negative and dismissive (Hello, my name IS Neg, if you weren’t already aware.), but being the person I am, and in order to be honest with anyone who would potentially be reading this, it is nothing more than a necessity born of truth. Again, if you can make yourself read the speculative portions of this as a piece of fiction, then I do believe there is merit in making the large amount of time it will take to digest this work. These works. Plural. This is because of the dual nature of the book itself and the concept album that was created as a result: Our Lady Peace’s Spiritual Machines.

As a consumer of media, whether you realize it or not, you are fishing for hope, both real and entirely fictional. The beautiful thing is that the verity of a piece of media matters little to those of us who rest our mental (and for some, spiritual) well-being upon them. Not just hope, but strength, resolve, comfort, stimulation, and countless other things essential to the human experience can all be legitimately garnered from works that derive entirely from the minds of humanity itself. Raine Maida did a spectacular job of examining some of the very human concerns springing from the technological trends discussed herein. Albeit (at least partially) from the other end of the telescope.

Indeed, while many of the basic quantum and computational concepts discussed have stuck with me, what has haunted me the most, ever since I first read this, are the philosophical ramifications that Kurzweil subtly mentions in passing by having the reader character he creates simply dismiss outright. This is clearly 1.) intentional, 2.) accurate for her arc, and 3.) presented such that they’re meant to ceaselessly be splinters in your mind, even if most of what is predicted is never able to come to pass.

To Kurzweil’s credit, perhaps he teased that aspect of it because he knew he wasn’t personally capable of fully going down that side of the path on his own. I think it really works because of that, with the value being found in the intersection of his expertise, Raine’s pathos, and the reader/listener’s willingness to engage with what’s poking out of the shadows found there.

I also like it for how it consistently gives me pause. I like that it ultimately scares me in subtle ways the Matrix trilogy simply doesn’t, no matter how hard it tries.

4 Virtual Mollies For Every Man (and Woman) out of 5

Nutted by NEG