Miyazaki on the Strength of the Human Spirit: The Wind Rises Review

GMS here.

Two amazing animated movies were released in the year of 2013.  Disney’s Frozen, a tale in which the relationship between two sisters is greater than that between a woman and a man, and Studio Ghibli’s The Wind Rises, acclaimed animator Hayao Miyazaki’s final masterpiece and a story where dreams and love must endure the times, fleeting and changing as the wind.

As of today, I can say that Frozen is no longer my favorite animated movie of 2013.

Now, before I get down to the nitty-gritty, let’s get the technical stuff out of the way first.  Yes, The Wind Rises was released in theaters in the U.S. on February 28th, 2014.  But, the Japanese release was on July 20th, 2013, making The Wind Rises a 2013 movie.  You wouldn’t base the release date of a movie made in America on the Japanese release date, even if you lived in Japan, right?  The Wind Rises is definitely a 2013 animated movie, and it is because of this that I am livid that Frozen won the Oscar for Best Animated Movie in the Academy Awards of 2014.  I’ll give the Frozen Fandom a minute to get the pitchforks ready, because I think The Wind Rises deserves the Oscar much more than Frozen.  Yes, Frozen is a really good animated movie, definitely Disney’s best in a long while.  I hate to say this, but all of the Disney movies, even the older ones, fail to impress me as much as the works of Hayao Miyazaki.  Great, now all the Disney fans are going to get their pitchforks ready.  Let me explain myself first.  Hayao Miyazaki is a freaking tank.  Let me repeat myself.  A.  TANK.  He is like a one-man animating machine.  He does most of his work on his own, or with a small team of animators.  Any use of computer animation in his films is pretty minimal when compared to the use of it in Disney’s recent films.  Compare the animation in Frozen to that of The Wind Rises.  Sure, Frozen’s animation is very detailed and beautiful, but in the end it is computer generated, and it looks a bit too perfect.  The animation in The Wind Rises is much more breathtaking because besides the fact that it is FREAKING BEAUTIFUL, you can tell that it was not computer generated.  There’s something to say about someone who can make a fully-animated feature in today’s times and have a minimal use of technology.  However, even compared to the Disney classics of yore, Miyazaki’s work impresses me much more because of his mastery of the craft of animation.  The pictures he can paint are simply breathtaking.  His style is definitely my favorite art style out of any artist I have yet come across.

And, before I continue, Miyazaki’s movies are NOT ANIME!!!!!!!!!!   His work is on a much higher plane, and to group him and his work with anime shows and movies, though those are awesome in their own right, is frankly insulting.  We cool?  OK, just wanted to make sure we were on the same page.

The Wind Rises is a fictionalized historical drama detailing the early life and career of real-life aircraft-designer Jiro Horikoshi, the man responsible for designing the Mitsubishi A5M and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, used by the Japanese Military during World War II.  His idol, who he frequently visits in dream sequences, is Giovanni Battista Caproni, an Italian aircraft designer.  The historical backdrop of the early 20th Century  and the base of real people definitely made me interested in this film, being the history buff that I am.

Jiro and Caproni: their real life and animated personas. 

The story details Jiro’s life as he grows up with his dreams of becoming an airplane designer, his success as a genius in the field, and his falling in love, all with the backdrop of early 20th century and war looming over him.  The characters are all well developed and very likeable.  I find myself relating to Jiro quite a bit: he is kind and caring towards others; he is smart, yet he gets absorbed in his work quite a bit.  Caproni is a very majestic kind of a person, yet is very inspirational as well.  Jiro’s love Naoko is a very loving and devoted woman, caring about Jiro till the end.  Kayo, Jiro’s sister, is reminiscent of Mei from My Neighbor Totoro: she is very headstrong, yet is independent and cares very much for her brother’s wellbeing.  My favorite character is Jiro’s boss Kurokawa: he is a short man that loves to shout commands at his employees and use sarcasm a lot, and as a result adds some excellent comic relief to this otherwise emotional story.  Kurokawa was voiced by Martin Short in the English dub, an excellent choice, however the character is reminiscent of Wallace Shawn’s character in The Princess Bride.

This would have been so perfect!!!!!

The musical score is wonderful.  Joe Hisaishi, long-time Ghibli composer, once again amazes me with his talent.  The music ranges from somber to some Japanese tones, to even some French tones.  Once again, I tip my hat off to you Joe, you amaze me!

The dub is something to talk about.  Generally, Miyazaki movies have had better subs than dubs, but the English dubs of many of his movies have been pretty good, save for a few (Ponyo and My Neighbor Totoro, I’m looking at you!).  That said, I think Touchstone Pictures did a great job of bringing this movie to the States, with an all star cast of voice actors!  Featuring the voice talents of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Mandy Patinkin, and Stanley Tucci, how could you go wrong?  Great job Touchstone!

Warning!  Spoilers follow, so read at your own risk! 

There’s something I really want to talk about above all: the themes.  There are many themes in The Wind Rises, yet they are all contained under the umbrella of one large theme, represented by the quote at the beginning of the film:

“The wind is rising! We must try to live!”

All of the events of Jiro’s life, his love, his dreams and aspirations, all of the rest of the themes of the movie center around this one quote.  As Jiro’s life went on, gusts of wind of many forms rose up to meet him, and he was forced to deal with them and try to live through them.  He wishes to work with aircrafts, yet he cannot fly them due to his impaired vision.  Instead, he meets that storm with the decision to become a designer.  The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the Japanese Depression, and the looming World War II all rise up to meet him.  There is murmuring constantly in his aircraft designing business about how poor of a country Japan is and how behind they are in terms of airplane design, yet Jiro remains undaunted in pursuing his dream of designing amazing aircraft.  He falls in love with Naoko, yet he finds out she has tuberculosis and must make the choice of whether he wants to still be with her, knowing her time on this earth is short.  His love is so strong for her that Jiro decides to marry her.  Even when her condition worsens, and she would be better off in a sanatorium, Jiro decides to have Naoko live with him, so that she can spend the numbered days she has together with him.

Jiro and Naoko’s romance is one of the most beautiful and poignant facets of The Wind Rises. 

Jiro wishes to design aircraft for the joy of flying them, yet the only way for him to design aircraft is to do it for the purpose of war.  His dream of designing aircraft is constantly tested by the reality of war and the circumstances in his life.  One of the other themes that falls under this umbrella is dreams, and though the realization of these dreams may be tested, we should still pursue those dreams.  Jiro is uncomfortable at the fact that he must design for war purposes, as in many of his dream sequences Caproni has reminded him to not use his art for war.  He even undergoes many dream sequences in which he sees his dream resulting in a failure.

Though he experiences failure and understands the possibility of failure, Jiro nevertheless pursues his dream

Many of the projects he works on result in failures, and this leaves Jiro constantly wondering whether it is all worth it.  With the reassurance of Naoko and her presence at home giving him strength, Jiro continues to pursue his dream.  This also speaks to the power of love: the love you share with another can strengthen your spirit and help you to face any wind that rises up to meet you.

I will end this review with two quotes to think about.  Bothe of these further emphasize this theme of meeting the challenges of life and living on.  The first is a quote to Jiro by Caproni:

“Do you prefer a world with pyramids or with no pyramids?”

I love this quote, as it brings the idea of humans pursuing a dream to the end despite the odds against them.  The pyramids are a triumph of man, and show that despite how grand a scale and how seemingly impossible something is to accomplish, you can do it if you believe in yourself and face head on any challenge, or wind, that arises.

The second is the tagline of The Wind Rises in Japan:

The large black characters read: “We must live!”

Once again, this is reiterating the idea of the strength of the human spirit, and that no matter what wind rises to challenge us, we must remain strong and meet it head on, lest it blow us away.  This theme makes sense when you think of all the hard times the Japanese had to endure.  The depression, the various wars, the nuclear bombs, all were gales that tried to scatter the Japanese to the winds.  Yet, they survived, thanks to the strength of the human spirit.  This is why I love The Wind Rises.  It is not just any anti-war tale, it isn’t just your average romance.  It speaks to the resilience of the human spirit, its dreams and aspirations, and its loves and relationships.  If we understand that we can overcome trials, that we must live, then we will have the strength to survive any tragedy that befalls us, the will to face any obstacle that threatens to put us down, and the resilience to meet any storm head on.

Rocky IV: Why Its My Favorite Rocky Movie EVER

GMS here.

I had the greatest end to a summer that I could ever have: a Rocky III and Rocky IV double feature.  Due to the pressuring by K-Dog and two of my other dear friends, I have gotten into the Rocky series.  However, the one thing that intrigued me the most about the series was a clip my friend posted on Facebook:  the first few seconds of Rocky’s fight with Ivan Drago in which Drago says his famous line, “I must break you.”  That made me want to watch Rocky, and so, in anticipation of Rocky IV, I watched the first movie, which BLEW ME AWAY.  The heart in that movie is something I can barely put into words.  I then proceeded to Rocky II, which wasn’t as impressive but had an even better fight with Apollo Creed than the first one.  The third one was very enjoyable, with one of my favorite songs (Eye of the Tiger) and the monster Clubber Lang.  Finally, the moment I had been waiting for had arrived: Rocky IVWas it everything I had expected?  Yes, and more.  Do I think it is the best Rocky movie?  A good possibility, but not for sure.  Is it my favorite?  Well, if you read the title, by know you know that it is my favorite Rocky movie EVER.  Here’s why.

I tend to love movies that are products of their time.  The James Bond movies are largely products of their time.  Dr. Strangelove is a product of its time.  However, more than just about every movie I have seen, Rocky IV is a product of its time, but it’s also much more than that.  I am somewhat of a history buff, and my favorite time period of U.S. History is the Cold War (which would explain why I love James Bond and Metal Gear Solid 3).  Seriously, with the way I joke about the Soviet Union at school, people actually think I’m communist (which I’m not, by the way).  I just really am intrigued by the time period.  During that time period there was, of course, much tension between the two great superpowers: U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R., or C.C.C.P.if you speak Russian.  This sentiment crept its way into our popular culture, and many stories in books or movies featured the East vs. West conflict as its major theme.  Now, along comes Rocky IV, released in the year 1985, and bearing the same conflict of East vs. West—for most of the movie.

Is it East vs. West, or man against man?

Though the opening credits feature two boxing gloves clashing, Rocky’s with the Stars and Stripes and Drago’s with the Hammer and Sickle, an image clearly representing this decade-old conflict, this conflict fades as the movie progresses.  It clearly changes toward the end to a different theme, one expressed by a lyric from a song in the movie, Burning Heart by Survivor: “Does the crowd understand?  Is it East vs. West or Man against Man?”  Yes, the battle between Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago changes from a battle of U.S. vs. Russia to man against man, and there are quite a few factors that play into this.

“I want you to promise me you’re not gonna stop this fight, no matter what. No matter what!” 

To understand these factors, we need to look at the three fighters in this movie: Rocky, Apollo, and Drago.  For clarity and chronology’s sake, I’ll start with Apollo Creed, and what he’s all about in this movie.  Apollo has always held fighting dear to his heart as his prime value.  Fighting is who he is, and he will never pass up an opportunity to better himself and prove to the world that he is capable of greatness.  He tells this straight out to Rocky in the first fifteen/twenty minutes of the movie, when Rocky questions whether he should go through with the exhibition fight with Drago.  This sentiment has been his feeling all along, even when he was the heavyweight champion of the world.

Creed needs to prove himself to the world once more in Rocky II

You can tell that this is his feeling in Rocky II when he wants to rematch Rocky: he wants to do so because he feels that his ability was made a fool of in the first movie, and he wants to prove himself to the world again.  This is in clear contrast with the sentiment of Clubber Lang from Rocky III, who simply wants to be the best and crush anyone in his way, a much more selfish sentiment, fueled by rage to boot.  Creed has even passed on this sentiment to Rocky when training him, and so has Adrian.

Adrian’s speech to Rocky in Rocky III brought tears to my eyes, and it’s very true what she told him.

In Rocky III, Adrian tells Rocky that he needs to fight for himself and to show the world that he is capable of greatness.  If Apollo has this great sentiment, then why did he lose to Drago, who does not have this sentiment at all?  The answer is simple: Apollo was cocky, and treated the fight more like a pageant, in his usual style (see Rocky I and II).  This pageant, though, was the most overblown.

Livin’ in America indeed.

He did not take Drago seriously, a huge mistake.  Thus, Apollo dies, leaving Rocky next on Drago’s hit list.

 “Cause I’m a fighter! That’s how I’m made, Adrian. That’s what you married. We can’t change what we are.” 

Moving on to Rocky.  Rocky has had the same set of values as Apollo in the previous movies, and his belief in these set of values has increased as a result of being under Apollo’s tutelage.  Though his success in fighting has been somewhat “rocky” over the years, as he had to deal with the attention, fame, Mickey’s death, and being part of a family, he has always pulled through in the end, because his friends have reinforced this value.  Rocky wants to prove to the world that he is capable of greatness, and his “warrior’s code” requires that he fight anyone who would challenge his title, as it would be a reaffirmation of his ability and yet another chance to remind the world of his greatness.  Though he may try to escape it by retiring, the ring will always call to him.  Mickey was right about a lot of things, but he was wrong in trying to protect Rocky from fighting Clubber Lang in Rocky III.  Though his intentions were good, and he truly cared about Rocky’s wellbeing, Rocky needed to remind the world that he is capable of greatness and is not the has-been that Lang makes him out to be.  By trying to protect him, Mickey was saving Rocky’s body but damaging his soul.  Throughout these four movies, Rocky has held this value close to heart, and this is the reason for his success.  His determination to push himself in his training led him out of his comfort zone in Mickey’s gym to Apollo’s old gym and even the snow-capped mountains of Russia.  He pushes himself to the limit, whether it be chopping down trees and adding it to a wheelbarrow so he can pull it on his hands and knees (along with Pauly), climbing the mountains of Russia, or racing Apollo Creed on the beaches of California.

Rocky trains hard to attain his goals.

When Drago kills Apollo, you immediately think that Rocky’s thoughts turn to revenge, and you’d be about half right.  It’s much more than that.  When Rocky says he doesn’t want Apollo’s life and sacrifice to be in vain, he doesn’t want to just avenge the man, but the man’s ideals as well.  The ideal that is the central ideal of the entire series: that a man can rise from nothing and prove to the world that he can go the distance.  Drago is actively challenging that ideal, and has struck the first critical blow by killing Apollo.  Rocky must defend that ideal at any cost, even his own life.

 “It is a matter of size. Evolution. Isn’t it, gentlemen? Drago is the most perfectly trained athlete ever. This other man has not the size, the strength, the *genetics* to win. It is physically impossible for this little man to win. Drago is a look at the future!”

Finally, we move to Ivan Drago, my favorite character in the Rocky series thus far (I still haven’t seen Rocky V or Rocky Balboa).  After viewing Rocky IV and deliberating in my mind, I believe that Ivan Drago is a tragic character in a sense, as he is a puppet for the majority of the movie: a puppet of the decade old Cold War power struggle between East and West.  There is a clear contrast between Ivan Drago and the two other antagonists Rocky has faced (or former antagonist, in the case of Apollo Creed).  Apollo, as I stated earlier in my analysis, had the same values as Rocky, and instilled them deeper in him before he died.  Clubber Lang was different.  Rocky and Apollo’s sentiment is not only that they personally can achieve greatness, but that any man can rise from nothing and go the distance.  Lang’s was more selfish: he was in it to win it, and he’ll crush anyone in his way of the title.  Drago is a puppet of the Soviet Union in their efforts to win the power race against America.  He is, in essence, a lab-grown fighter.

Ivan Drago, the lab-grown boxer.

Drago trains under close supervision of Soviet scientists, using special machines to increase his performance, and he even uses steroids.  Come on, isn’t it obvious?  The way his wife so quickly denies that they are doing so should be enough, but a needle with a substance inside it is shown being prepared and injected into Drago during the Heart’s On Fire training montage.  If that’s not Drago being injected with steroids, then I can speak like Morgan Freeman.  Even if its not specifically steroids, its definitely some substance injected into his system with the intent of improving his performance.  Just watch the training montage again and you will see the difference between Rocky’s and Drago’s training regimen, and how much more genuine Rocky’s is.

Compare the two training regimens, will ya?

Drago does not have the same values as Rocky, as he is a puppet and is not concerned with furthering himself, only his country’s quest for power.  This is further emphasized when he says, “If he dies, he dies.”  Killing an opponent does not matter to him, as long as the reputation of Mother Russia is furthered.  Even if Drago did want to further himself, it would be in terms of furthering Russia as well, and it would have nothing to do with Rocky and Apollo’s values.  Need further evidence that he’s a puppet?  Look at how the party member and his wife have to speak for him throughout the movie.

In Mother Russia, you do not speak words, words speak you.

Drago utters fewer words in Rocky IV than the script for 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet his words reflect his character at the various points in the movie, and each line of dialogue is very important in understanding his character.

A battle of countries or of men?

The final fight between Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago reflects the change in perspective of the movie from a battle of East vs. West to man vs. man.  Notice how in the beginning, Ivan Drago utters his famous line, “I must break you.”  Not I will break you, I must break you.  Saying “I will” is a way of reaffirming what you are about to do to others and yourself.  It’s a choice, and it’s more personal.  Must is a statement of requirement, showing that at the beginning of the fight, Drago is still a puppet of the Soviet Union, and must break Rocky in order to further the reputation of the motherland.

Clearly, this fight is a show put on for the whole world to prove the might of Mother Russia.

The fight begins, and as the fight goes on, and Rocky begins to push Drago and prove himself, I feel that Drago realizes the difference between him and Rocky: Rocky is fighting for himself and his ideals, not for the betterment of his country.  This is shown during a break when Drago is criticized by the party member for starting to lose his edge.  Drago grabs him by the neck, almost suffocates him, and throws him to the ground.  After this, he yells that he fights for no one else but himself.  He has realized that Rocky’s strength comes from fighting for himself, and he begins to respect Rocky for it, I feel.  He feels if he adopts this belief, he will have a greater chance of winning.  This newfound respect is solidified and proven by the last statement Drago utters, before the final round: “To the end.”  This, and Drago’s change in ideals, marks the change from a conflict of the Cold War to a battle of wills.  This is also reflected in the final few rounds, where there is little to no technique applied to the fighting by either Drago or Rocky: it’s simply “a street fight,” as the one announcer put it.

It is man vs. man at its finest.

However, Drago is too late to change his vision of fighting, as he is not only still a lab-grown fighter while Rocky has had many years of intense, real, personal experience, he also lacks that last single element to his ideals that Rocky has.  Drago is not being a model for anyone; he is only interested in believing in himself and proving to others that he is the best.  Rocky is a model for people because his ideals and values are such that he believes that any man can rise from nothing and go the distance, if they believe in themselves.  This is why Drago loses: Rocky’s intentions have been greater for the entire series, and as such he has trained with that in mind, while Drago has only trained with Mother Russia in mind.

Rocky’s somewhat cheesy but endearing victory speech.

This is further shown in the end, when Rocky gives his victory speech: “If I can change, and you can change, then we all can change.”  Rocky truly believes in himself and others, and this is why he is victorious in the end.

So, why do I love Rocky IV?  All of the Rocky movies have Rocky and Apollo’s ideal at heart: that anyone can rise from nothing and go the distance.  It’s just the fact that Rocky IV is my favorite representation of this ideal, and each person has their own idea of which Rocky movie shows this the best or is their favorite representation of the theme.  So, which Rocky movie do you think is the best?  Which is your favorite?  I would love to hear from anyone who wants to talk about this iconic series.  Until then, this has been GMS, and I don’t have the eye of the tiger, because it’s genetically impossible.

Catherine: GMS’s First Impressions

(I know that I’m doing a “first impressions” review on a two year old game, but please bear with me.  I really want to share a few of my thoughts on this great game!)

It’s the summer of 2011, I’m on my computer at home surfing the web, and all of a sudden, an ad for a new game pops up.  The game is called Catherine, and the ad featured a raunchy pic of a blonde with a weird hairstyle stripping and a guy with an afro and horns caught in between her breasts as sheep fall from the sky.

The ad that changed my life (sort of)

My first thoughts were: “What the hell kind of a game is this?”  Then, my id kicked in, and my drooling hormonal teenage self clicked on the ad with vigor, eager to see what the next webpage had in store for me.  Of course, it was the website for the game, with news and stuff.  However, in an interesting twist, the website primarily had a black screen, with two chains hanging from the top and a question asking “Can love exist without pain?”  There were two responses: “Yes, of course!” and “No way, man.”  I picked the latter, and was transported to a page with the same blonde girl lying horizontally in a voluptuous manner.  Not only did the website had news and stuff, it also had this phone on the bottom left, where you could engage in daily conversations with Catherine, said voluptuous blonde girl.

An example of a phone conversation you can have with Catherine on the website.

I spent the next few days speaking with her, every day making a new choice as to whether to back away from her or indulge in her forwardness.  I was hooked on Catherine so much that I felt like I was in a relationship with her.  I was obsessed.  Crazy, aint it?

Catherine would disappear from the forefront of my gaming mind by the time summer was at its end.  I mean, I didn’t (and still don’t, but intend to) own a PS3, and I am not an Xbox person, so I could not see this obsession through to the end.  More important things like Mega Man and Final Fantasy would take over my gaming world, I didn’t have time to obsess over a game I would never play, right?  Right?  Enter late 2012 through early 2013.  My good friend and partner on this blog, K Dog, relayed to me of his discovery of “this great new and underrated game company.”  I thought: “Really?  I highly doubt anything could be as great or greater than Nintendo, Squaresoft, Enix (Yes, Square and Enix SEPARATELY, not together, they were better when they were separate), Konami and Capcom.”  The company was Atlus, and K Dog went on and on about this RPG called Persona 3 and how amazing it was.  I was astonished, to say the least.

Hmm, interesting…

I wanted to play this RPG that he claimed was the best he had played (Yes, better than Chrono Trigger and FFVII.  And he hadn’t even played FFIV or Earthbound yet!).  He told me that it took him the whole year to beat, and that stopped me clear in my tracks.  I looked up the average play time for this game, and it was like 170 hours!!!  I don’t have that kind of time to spend on one game!!!  I mean, I spent almost 200 hours on Pokémon Soul Silver, but that doesn’t count because I had already long beaten the game by the time I hit 100 hours.  It’s just that Pokémon is kind of like Skyrim: once you beat the main quest, you can just screw around the rest of the time playing it.  But, Persona 3!!!  170 hours just to beat the main quest!!!!  Screw that!!  Then, K Dog shocked me again, saying that Atlus also made another ingenious game, called Catherine.  My heart stopped for a second.  I asked him to describe the game, and he did.  It was the Catherine!  The same one!!  Memories of that summer came flashing back to me, and I felt a pang of jealousy fill my insides.  This was the game I had followed from before its release date, the game I fell in love with, the game I longed to play, and K Dog had beaten me to it!  Just like he did with Final Fantasy VII.

Time passed, and now we come to this summer.  I hung out towards the end of June with K Dog at his house, and after some gruelingly intense matches of Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2, he asked me if I wanted to play Catherine, and if he could coach me while doing it.  I jumped at the chance to play the game, and of course said yes!  For two different visits, I have spent about five and a half hours playing Catherine, and I’m almost done.  When I finally got to play Final Fantasy VII and Ocarina of Time, I was somewhat let down by my huge expectations for those games.  Not that they’re bad, but it was that feeling when you want something so bad for so long that when you finally get it, you aren’t that impressed.  This I cannot say about Catherine.  Catherine has met and exceeded my expectations as a game, and renewed my faith in this obscure company K Dog introduced me to.  While I may not get into the Persona series, Catherine is definitely the game for me.

Eh, maybe not…

YES!

           For the uninitiated, here’s the scoop.  You play as Vincent, a dude with an afro and traces of a beard in about his mid or late 20’s who has a girlfriend named Katherine (not to be confused with Catherine).

Catherine and Katherine: NOT to be confused.

They’re thinking about getting serious (as in Mahwidge), but this is mostly Katherine’s idea, Vincent wants things to keep going steady.  Then, Vincent has a horrible dream in which he is part sheep and must climb up a fast crumbling tower or risk falling down.  If he falls down in his dream, he dies in real life.

Y’know, The Climb by No Doubt would be a perfect song for this game…

He realizes the next day that this is a part of a string of deaths of men around his age, and also related to what is called by many the “woman’s wrath” or grudge or something.  If that wasn’t enough, he meets at the bar the voluptuous Catherine (not to be confused with Katherine), and is instantly entranced, but reluctant for obvious reasons (cheating=BAD).

Instantly entranced for obvious reasons…

And that’s pretty much the story, you as the player have to make decisions every day about how Vincent should deal with his predicament, and by night you must climb the tower.  This combination of decision-making elements and puzzles makes Catherine an interesting game indeed, but its greatest strengths lie in two factors: its theming and the little things.

First, the theming.  Remember how in my Top 30 Favorite Games I talked about how I don’t feel immersed in the game’s main character when the character’s profile is already quite fleshed out, like Solid Snake?  Vincent’s character is pretty fleshed out, so why isn’t this a mark against the game in my book?  It’s all about the decisions.  Every decision you make throughout the game (or just about) is weighed by a decision meter that is evocative of the devil and angel on the shoulders.

Decisions, decisions…

If you make a bad decision, it goes toward the red end, a good one toward the blue end.  This affects the ending you will receive at the end of the game.  It’s kind of like the trial in Chrono Trigger, except the whole game is built around it this time.  And this is where Catherine shines.  By making the player make the decisions of what Vincent should do, it makes the player step into his shoes, becoming him.  And with well designed and developed minor characters, Catherine is aces in the theming department.

I love these guys!  They’re like family!

         But, what about the “little things?”  What do I mean by that?  I always say that, while the big picture is very important, the little details matter as well and, while Catherine delivers in both departments, the little things really struck me.  This is less of an analysis and more of a gushing session.  I love how drinking various alcoholic beverages makes you move faster up the tower in the dreams.  And, when you empty your glass, the narrator impresses you with his trivia knowledge of alcoholic drinks.  I always laugh when he says “How about some trivia about Japanese sake, now that you’ve finished your sake cup.”  The trivia is quite interesting, too.  Also, as you drink more, you can see that Vincent is getting drunk by the physical changes when he walks.  Instead of just his hands in his pocket shuffling around, he’s red-faced, slumped over, hands out of pockets, and rocks back and forth as he walks, like a drunken person.

Take it easy on the sake, Vince!

I also like how in the bar, there’s an arcade game called Rapunzel, which is basically and 8-bit version of the puzzle towers found in the dream sequences of Catherine, except they involve the prince climbing up the tower to save Rapunzel.

This is so cool!

Although a fun and addictive game, I tended to not spend too much time on it, as I wanted to get back to the story.  It’s these little details and more that make me appreciate Catherine all the more than I already do.

One last thing must be discussed: the difficulty.  The nighttime puzzle sequences are difficult to accomplish, as they involve a lot of trial and error and can be pretty grueling.  Though there are three settings of difficulty, even the easy mode exhibits this.  Once you get used to it, it’s not that bad, but the bosses are still a pain in the ass.  In fact, I just left off last time at K Dog’s house not being able to beat the chainsaw baby boss on the 6th night.  That thing was damn hard!

Add this to the banes of my existence.

Some may criticize Catherine for this kind of trial and error difficulty, but one could level the same complaint on just about all of the NES games.  Catherine is not that bad.

 Please.  I want to know which game you think is worse.  It should be no question.

Even the tutorial stage doesn’t really hold your hand like other modern games.  You are mostly left to fend for yourself.  The game provides you with useful techniques during every stage break, but I didn’t use them too much and instead used the skills I had acquired on my own and used my own style of climbing.  And boy, when you finally beat that tough boss, it feels damn good to hear Handel’s Halleluja chorus play.  It’s like in Dragon Warrior when you have been grinding for a long while and are starting to slowly lose morale, and then you hear the telltale chime that lets you know you have gained a level.  When I beat the boss of the 5th night, which I will not spoil for the uninitiated, I literally did a full body slide on my chest on K Dog’s carpet, flipping the boss off as it died.  I got major rug burn from that, and it’s still healing, but it was well worth it to do the victory slide.  Just, don’t do it yourself.  Trust me.

Well, that’s all I’m going to say for now.  I don’t have much farther to go in the game, but I don’t want to reveal all of my thoughts right now.  I plan on doing a dual review of the game with K Dog once I have beaten it proper.  Bottom line, Catherine has my seal of approval, and it’s a game you don’t want to miss.

Super Mario 64’s Ending: Why It’s The Best Ending to a Videogame EVER!!!!!

Hey everyone!  Great Mighty Steve here.

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about my favorite ending in all of videogames: Super Mario 64.  It has, in my opinion, one of the most awesome, emotional, and surreal endings to a videogame, and I think it is the best ending in all of videogames.  Period.  But, to truly say this, one may not simply state it.  I need a convincing argument to prove my point.  I have said in many conversations with my friends that I could write an entire essay gushing and explaining my feelings on the ending to this masterpiece of a game, and I think I will do just that right now.  So, I’m going to walk through the entire ending of the game, dissecting it, and explaining why it is so great and effective while adding my personal experiences in to make it even more authentic.  So, as Mario would say, HERE WE GO!!!!!

It starts, I guess I could say, with the final boss battle against Bowser.  Though I don’t necessarily agree with Nintendo Power’s statement that this is the best Bowser fight ever (c’mon, what about Mario 3?  Or Yoshi’s Island?), but it is still a great fight, what with the organ music and all.  And who could forget that triumphant tune when you get the star after defeating him?  So epic.  I have a very hard time with that fight because I’m not good with the N64’s controls, so beating Bowser successfully is always a triumph for me.  I always feel proud of myself when I throw him into a mine and he falls down in agony.

Next, Mario falls safely down in front of Peach’s castle.  The star floats in front of her portrait window on the castle, and she is freed from it, and glides down gently to the ground in front of Mario.  All this happens while her iconic theme plays in the background.  When I saved Peach in Mario 64, it was by far the most gratifying time that I have ever saved her.  She is shocked to see Mario, but is glad to see him and recognizes the fact that all the power stars are returned to the castle because of him.  Some people have complained about Leslie Swan’s voice acting as Peach, but I never had a problem with it.  She then gently kisses Mario on the nose.  I liked this kiss better than any other in Mario.  It was always on the cheek in most of the other games, but I like how gentle it is in this one.  Then Mario’s eyes narrow as if he is bashful and blushing, and he then turns to the player and exclaims, “HERE WE GO!!!!” while making the peace sign.  I laughed like crazy when I first saw this, because it was like he was saying to the player, “Check out how awesome I am!  The chicks dig me!”  This was the first of a few instances where the game breaks the fourth wall, and I really like instances such as these.  It’s as if Mario could be saying, “I’m going to get some, and it’s all thanks to you!”  Then Peach proceeds to return to the castle and says she will bake a cake “for Mario…”  Mario slowly follows her, and—FOURTH WALL BREAKAGE TIME!!!!!!  Mario turns and stares at the camera/Lakitu, causing Peach to softly call after him, “Mario!”  He then turns his head and follows her.  This blew my damn mind when I saw this.  This is another instance where Mario seems to nod to the player, saying that I accomplished this adventure with him, and he couldn’t have done it without me.  I love when games do things like this in their endings/credit sequences.  Final Fantasy, Castlevania, and Mega Man X have all done it, but Mario 64 pulled it off in the best way possible.  Those other games come right out and say it—“You played the greatest role in this story”, “You are the true warrior of light”, “…And, You as Mega Man X”  But, with all these little hints and fourth wall breakages in Mario 64’s ending, it truly made me feel like I played a great role in the adventure.  Only one other videogame has come close, and it was Earthbound, but even the way Earthbound did it was not as good as Mario 64’s way.  Miyamoto or Tezuka, whoever came up with this I respect you all the more.

Then, the best part of the whole ending: The credits.  Lakitu pans from Mario walking away up to the sun as a flock of birds flies past, and the music begins to play.  OH.  MY.  GOD.  This is by far the best credits/ending theme in video game history.  While the game’s developers’ names are rolling, scenes from the various worlds of the game play.  A wise man I knew once said, “It’s not about the beginning or the end.  It’s all about the journey.”  The combination of the music and the scenes bring back memories of your journey through the game—your adventure with Mario.  The energizing races with Koopa the Quick, the peacefull swims in Jolly Roger Bay, returning the baby penguin to his mother, racing down the Princess Slide, frustrating times in Tick Tock Clock, Rainbow Ride, and Shifting Sand Land, etc, etc, etc, the list goes on and on.  But, whether the times were fun, annoying, or frustrating, the combination of the music, scenes from the worlds, and the previous cutscenes make you feel like you accomplished something.  I felt like I had completed an adventure.  Which brings me to another point.  The combination of these feelings and the tone of the music made me cry.  I felt like I accomplished something, but I was genuinely sad that my adventure was over.  All those good times with Mario were over, and I would never experience them the same way again.  This is genius design for an ending.  The ending is surreal because it makes you feel accomplished while still making you feel sad that your journey is over.  By the time it was over, I was in tears.  No other ending has done this to me the way Mario 64’s ending has, and that’s why it is so great.

As if it weren’t sad enough, the final segments of the song play as Mario, Peach, and two Toads stand in front of the castle, waving goodbye.  This really is the end of our adventure, Mario!  I cried the most here.  Then, guess what?  FOURTH WALL BREAKAGE TIME!!!!  As they are all waving goodbye, Lakitu flies by and gets one last shot of the player, reminding you that YOU did this.  God, so much genius here.  Then, the icing on the cake—no pun intended.  The player is greeted by a picture of a cake with candles and two figures of Mario and Peach on top of it, with a sign saying, “Thank You”.  The last few notes of the song play, and Mario’s voice rings in, “Thank you so much ‘a for a’playing my game!”

This screen did it for me.   This is it.  This is definitely the best ending to a videogame EVER.  Seriously, I could go on for hours talking about this ending.  By making the player feel accomplished while feeling sad that the adventure is over, the ending of Super Mario 64 provides a surreal end to a videogame that no other game has successfully accomplished.  In MY opinion, at least.

So, what do you think?  Is there another ending to a game that tops this masterpiece?  I want to know what you all think about this ending and others as well.  Thanks for reading and, until next time, may Miyamoto be with you!