Who Am I?
By Le Chupacabra
Five hours into a seven-hour layover, a certain sense of torpor sets in. Most of Dubai's duty free shops have been thoroughly explored. Their goods have been examined with a discerning eye, prices converted with the tongue slightly sticking out of the corner of the mouth and audible annoyance announced in the form of a large groan once realisation sets in - might as well hit Amazon once I'm back. This was especially true with the surprisingly eclectic collection of games (and they're still selling PlayStation 2 bundles and Gameboy Advances!) Lips twitched imperceptibly (at least to myself) as the math was done on the fly and looks of longing were cast at certain titles.
But really, was I going to finish Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2? It's a PlayStation 2 title and I've its spiritual successors to boot - the latest of which lies sheepishly unfinished in a sad-looking brown bag.
Increasingly, it has become all to easy to build up a sizeable library of games, nicely arranged on one of those transparent magazine racks, thank you very much. What isn't so nice is how the effort going into picking the titles, finishing them up and then putting them back on the rack - discs nicely broken in and manuals well-thumbed - seems to be a bit more than lacklustre.
Shameful behaviour, that.
Can I really blame not being able to attain a favourable work-life balance? Not really since it's fairly balanced as it stands. Is it that I feel too busy in general? I just started so that can't be an issue! Maybe - and committing this to paper is a real struggle - I'm losing interest in games?
A quick mental checklist shows that while my previously near-melodramatic levels of involvement have died down, I'm still a gamer. I think.
The same mental checklist also shows an increasing amount of repetition, of more exacting research, of time-tabled hours. Maybe all of the above issues do count, if not individually at least collectively. A friend recently described my behaviour as 'playing (no pun intended) it safe' - I denied it but without much gusto, admittedly. Gone are the binges that would leave me a reeling, giddy mass of exhaustion, eyes over-bright and sleep patterns ravaged. Mellowed out is the relentless pursuit of drip-fed information for a single title that would consume unhealthy chunks of time. Perhaps, it's not all bad - after all, even the best things in life are best taken in moderation. What I'm really interested in is how I got here. My parents probably see it as some sort of self-induced rehab while personally I'm just a little curious - is this what they call growing up? Aren't game developers mostly people in their late 20s, 30s, 40s and even 50s?
"Ah...", but a sly voice in my head says, "...weren't you always more interested in writing about the craft of videogames than immersing yourself well and truly under?" It's true though - I've mostly taken a strong academic approach when considering games, saving that cult-like fervour for a handpicked selection. To rattle off a few of those names: Metal Gear Solid's insane storytelling, Shadow of the Colossus' pastoral and mostly non-combative approach, Kingdom Heart's potentially disastrous meld of Disney and Japanese gaming aesthetics, Halo's near-perfection in balance. This list is exhaustive and represents where I've invested more than a pedantic level of interest. To me these stood out in some way, shape or form as having that extra bit of pizzazz, that secret sauce that tantalises because it's still a secret despite a few well-placed guesses.
So then, without much drama, I'm a selective gamer then? A bit more nose-stuck-in-the-air than I should be? Shouldn't I be more accommodating, willing to experiment?
During that epic layover, there was a PlayStation 3 lying around with a spanking new copy of Fifa 10 purring to me. I picked up the controller and after some cursory flicking about menus, dropped it. In the exact same situation about four years ago, I had gone through a fair few levels on the display copy of Resistance: Fall of Man. Compounding that was how I didn't miss my Nintendo DS during this trip, and of how, when asked to list my top ten games for this year, I couldn't confidently recall the names of ten games that I had played. I did play more than ten though.
That isn't an entirely fair judgement however. My interests have always been on a broader scale regardless of the amount of binge-gaming back in the day. I've always more content on playing around and coaxing out artistic flair from a shiny new DSLR than my DS; I've always been interested in finishing an epic fantasy saga novel than some D&D rip-off game. It goes without saying that it was always far more interesting to exchange light-hearted banter with real people instead of the ones that sit behind a screen, some circuitry, an internet connection and some random physical distance in whichever cardinal direction. Thing is, what's really changed is the amount of time I'm putting into wearing all these different caps: if anything, I've learnt to manage my time instead of my inventory space, a particular skill that seems to evade the average gamer.
So, this presents an existential crisis for the gamer in me. I wasn't unduly worried (Hah! Another symptom!) but comparing the then with the now is a little sad: it's a bit like becoming distant from an old friend. However, finding myself in my old room in Bangladesh after a good year-and-a-half, I was strongly reminded of co-operatively destroying all manner of mythical beasts in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance with my cousins, of being sequestered during one of the colder winters hacking and slashing through Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, of the first time I plunged a knife into an enemy's back in Commandos, of feverish Medal of Honour vs Call of Duty (this is before 'CoD4' came out, young grasshoppas) debates at school.
Now on my way back, I've been eyeing the WarCraft III icon on my desktop a bit more frequently than usual and I know I'm finally going to warm up my old PlayStation 2 and boot up Final Fantasy X. It's going back in time in a good way: away from system updates, social networking within games, in-game advertising and spectacle over substance.
So, where's that memory card? It needs some dust blown out of it even if only for a weekend.
24 episodes, 2010
Sincerest apologies from this humble reviewer for the long absence and heartfelt thanks to everyone who bothered to mail and pester yours truly for new anime reviews. You people make my day. Now to make up for the offence, here's a fun treat for you all. This is pretty much fresh stuff, just finished its run in June this year. The name sounds weird, yes; including the double exclamation marks too, but let's not be judgmental yet. Let's start with the plot summary-
Ikebukuro is a strange place with strange people. Weird things happen here everyday - urban legends roam the streets at night, possessed sword-wielders slice away at people out of 'love', scary-looking friendly men sell 'Russian Sushi' (whatever that means), bartenders hurl vending-machines at people they get pissed at and gang-fights break out every now and then in every corner of the city. Ikebukuro is the place where all the puzzle-pieces of the story come together. At first, you don't know who they are: every character seems insignificant, yet nobody is. Together they construct the multiple branches of the same story-tree, their seemingly ordinary lives turning extraordinary and coming together in one hell of a joy-ride.
The fun thing about the anime is the way the story is told. Parallel story-telling, starting off with completely random-yet-important stuff; this style is pretty cool, although not uncommon. You vaguely know that there's a story but you have no idea where the hell it's taking you until the end. It's more like a living-in-the-moment kind of feeling; the random events are intriguing enough to keep you busy, taking you along with the flow.
What kind of intriguing stuff, you ask?
The central character of the story, Celty Sturluson, is a Dullahan (Valkyrie, the headless angel who guides the warriors' soul to Valhalla) who has lost her head and frantically searches for it everywhere. And she does this wearing a kitty-eared helmet on a black motorcycle that neighs like a horse.
How cool is that, right?
While searching she comes into contact with Mikado Ryugamine, Kida Masaomi and Anri Sonohara: a bunch of normal school-friends with unique secret identities. And of course there are the other interesting inhabitants of the city, including the mystery man who hides the lost head of the angel. With twists and turns of the story, the characters are all hurled into chaos and the story gets interesting. That's where the fun begins.
Another thing that has become pretty common in recent anime: featuring characters that seem plain and normal at first sight but stick with them for a while and they'll reveal their super-cool sides in no time. That way every character, even the irritating villains, eventually end up acting cool, which is not a bad thing I guess. Characters are, after all, the heart and soul of an anime, aren't they?
When it comes to animation, Durarara!! has first-class background art, in some scenes it's really phenomenal. Character designs could be a bit better, though. Motions are clumsy in some places, especially the fight scenes, which is a bit disappointing. But the anime covers up for all these flaws with great-sounding music and an overall bright and colourful presentation. It has a very positive and cheerful vibe to it and you can feel it while watching, regardless of the somewhat twisted storyline. Funky music by Theatre Brook (“Sunset of Betrayal”), Yuya Matsushita ("Trust Me"), Rookiez is Punk'd ("Complication") and On/Off ("Butterfly"), totally makes it a worthwhile watch.
So there you have it, a modern day city-flavoured anime with hints of absurd stuff here and there - should be fun, right? Give the series a try and decide for yourselves.
Music is said to be the salvation for our souls. These days, as it seems, there are more genres than there are listeners (well, that is an exaggeration, cause there are 7 billion of us). But you get the idea. It seems only logical that we're having trouble choosing the music appropriately and like everything else, this responsibility should be given to websites to sort and select our music according to the mood, time of the day, dance-ability and whatnot. Here's a list of a few sites that can help you do that:
1. Musicovery.com: Musicovery.com helps you pick songs according to genres, decades, mood or dance-ability. The site looks charming with results displayed in visually inspiring clouds that change as you change your settings. You can ban songs and like them as well.
2. Stereomood.com: Stereomood.com works on many different levels. You can use the search bar at the top and select music for your mood or activity. From the playlist you can either play single songs or the entire list.
Another menu on the left reveals which songs with that tag are found in artist or mood categories. When you're logged in you'll see a like option and you can add songs to your library by clicking a plus icon. You can also create custom playlists based on items you have added to your library.
3. Moodstream.gettyimages.com: Moodstream makes your experience a great deal better by integrating visual and audible experience. As it's said in the introduction page of the site: Moodstream is a powerful brainstorming tool designed to help take you in an inspiring, unexpected direction. Whether you want images, footage or audio, or just need a stream of fresh ideas, tweak the Moodstream sliders to bring a whole new creative palette straight to you.
There are 8 presets, inspire, excite, refresh, intensify, simplify, or stabilize. You can also manually push the sliders to define your mood in various terms. This site looks great and can surely inspire you.
4. Meemix.com: Meemix.com lets you play the music you like. You select the genre, select the decade and songs will pop up. It'll refine the song choices with time. You can also fine-tune the algorithm that picks songs for you. There's also a top 100 list and you can meet people there. It works kind of like last.fm and Pandora.
5. Rainymood.com: One of the cosiest things you can ever experience is listening to your favourite songs on a rainy day. The sound of rain just works as an instant relaxing agent. This site offers you a 30 minute loop of rain sounds to be played along with your favourite songs. This makes the listening experience a hundred times better.
You know all the sites now, so click away towards music bliss!