Random Nostalgia #9

Starring Matthew Broderick as Chip and Molly Ringwald as Melinda the Mental Marvel.

Back when I was a wee laddie, my mom sometimes picked me up after school and had me spend the afternoon at the office in Makati where she worked. Having nothing better to do, I would kill time by mucking around with the icons on their Windows 3.1 workstations and typing in nonsense commands in DOS (much to the chagrin of her co-workers). Eventually though, their computers got upgraded with the most important feature: actual games! And I’m not talking about Minesweeper and Solitaire either (although they’re OK time-wasters, I guess). I’m talking about stuff like:

SkiFree: One of the first PC games I ever played, it’s a simple game with a simple premise. You guide a skier down a snowy slope with the mouse and avoid obstacles like trees and dogs. Your reward at the end is a high score for the fastest time, plus a few seconds to try to escape the belly of a hungry yeti! If you’re good, you might survive long enough to have a second yeti chase after you. Either way, you’re gonna get eaten. It’s awesome. Someone should remake this for the iPhone or something, although it is free to download directly from Microsoft these days.

Chip’s Challenge: Although she doesn’t look like it now, my mom was actually quite the gamer back in her day, completing the old-school King’s Quest games without the help of strategy guides or the internet. (How she got any work done in the office, I’ll never know.) One of the games she still has me beat at is Chip’s Challenge, a fun block-and-switch puzzle game that tells the timeless story of a nerd who risks life and limb to get a prom date with a girl genius. Naturally he has to go through said girl’s laboratory, where her deadly experiments have run amuck. (I can totally relate to this guy.) For literal decades, I was stuck at the Castle Moat level (which my mother beat ten levels ago, then she got bored and promptly quit the game) until a YouTube video showed me how to beat the damn level in one minute. Boy, do I feel stupid.

Hover: Basically a cool 3D bumper car version of Capture The Flag, taking place in some sort of futuristic theme park. You can use these different power-ups like springs and cloaking devices to gain the advantage over the enemy team. This game came bundled with Windows 95, thus proving that Windows 95 was the best version of Windows ever.

The Incredible Machine: A super-fun puzzle game where you construct a Rube Goldberg machine to complete specific objectives, like popping balloons with a series of gears and rubber bands. Then there’s Freeform Mode, where you can build your own machine with unlimited parts. For some reason, every kid who played this game built a lot of contraptions specifically made to torture the in-game cat.

I can talk all day about these old games, but I gotta jet. And to think, nowadays they don’t even allow Minesweeper and Solitaire where I work!


Random Nostalgia #8

Man, I’m gonna be perfectly honest: I can talk all day about random nostalgic stuff if anyone took the time to listen. Which is sad, because I write this stuff on a blog nobody ever reads, except maybe Google-bots. (A shout out to all the loyal Google-bots who have kept my blog on the “zemzelett” search results page for years!) Maybe someday, I’ll gather all the better stuff I wrote and stick it on that really awesome website I’ve been planning to set up but was too lazy to actually make. But anyway.

I love Ernest the Vampire. It was one of those foreign cartoons that used to air on RJTV 29 in Manila. Speaking of RJTV 29, it probably deserves its own nostalgic article. Back in the ’90s, my brother and I watched the “Classic Cartoons” segment every afternoon on that channel, which also aired a TV shopping program and a lottery program in between Ramon Jacinto concert videos (thus the “RJ” on RJTV). Is RJTV 29 still a thing these days? Anyone?

Sorry, I got a little sidetracked there. Anyway! Ernest the Vampire is a series of short French (or maybe Belgian or Quebecois?) cartoons about this comically inept vampire whose oversized fangs look more like walrus or elephant tusks (which actually becomes a plot point in one episode). Since the show has no spoken dialogue, the show relies purely on visual gags and musical cues. Each episode plays out like a comedy version of the Twilight Zone, complete with a creepy (but funny) twist in the end. Each show always ends with Ernest waking up in his coffin from what turns out to just be one of his frequent nightmares.

What makes Ernest stand out from most other cartoon shorts is the art direction. Unlike other gag cartoons with their clean and bright colors, Ernest uses a textured, muted palette, making it look like a horror version of The Snowman. The subtle background music is a little unsettling, adding to the whole eerie Twilight Zone feel, but at the same time emphasizing the visual comedy without being in-your-face. The end product is a memorable cartoon that is equal parts creepy and endearing. It’s incredibly obscure, but thankfully someone on YouTube uploaded all of the episodes. Do yourselves a service and check ’em out–they’re only two minutes long each. My personal favorite is the video above, “Ernest and the Mysterious Beauty”, which has everything I liked about the show. Enjoy!

Kingdom Hearrrrrrts!

The new Kingdom Hearts game is coming out! Being a hopelessly indoctrinated Square Enix fan, I’m forever burdened with a curse that gets me excited about their games until the end of time, no matter the amount of hokum they pump into their stories. And based on the title alone, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance promises more of that pretentious melodrama and convoluted plot that the rest of the series excels at so much.

Kingdom Hearts

“So happy for you Goofy and imma let you finish, but I need to know whether I exist or not.”

“But it’s not convoluted at all, you fool!” you might say. “Just take a minute to go through the plot and you can follow it just fine!” And you’d be correct. I can follow the plot just fine, all right—the story overall is as simple an archetype of Good versus Evil as it gets—but it’s told in the most obtuse way possible.

Somewhere down the line, Square Enix realized that the Kingdom Hearts fan base was getting older, and would probably prefer more depth and intrigue to the story over the simple “love conquers evil” theme from the first game. So, for better or worse, they decided to inject elements from latter-day Final Fantasy and downplayed most of the lighthearted Disney elements for a darker, more “mature” feel. Shadowy organizations! Clones! Existential angst! Betrayal! It was a whole new world.

Now I understand the need for an edgier take on the series, but it was handled rather badly, and most of the time it felt like it relied too much on tired anime clichés and phoned-in generic speeches about love and friendship. A truly mature story about teenagers means real-life problems about love, heartbreak, individuality and growing up, not some monologue asking corny pop-philosophy questions like, “Are my emotions real? Do I really exist?” It’s like they’re trying to completely bury the kid-friendly Disney elements because older kids might find it lame, yet at the same time they’re not going far enough to make it mature (not the blood-and-boobs kind, but actual narrative maturity).

And then there are all the unnecessary plot twists that are supposed to add layers of intrigue to the plot. What it does add is a layer of WTF. SPOILER ALERT, the silver-haired man in the black cloak is the bad guy! Only he’s not really “Ansem”, but Xehanort, the rogue apprentice of the real Ansem (who now goes by the name “DiZ”)! Except that he’s not the real Xehanort, but rather, a Heartless that was born when Xehanort was split into two entities, with the other half calling himself Xemnas! And despite being technically two separate entities, Xemnas and not-Ansem basically have the same personality and the same goal of capturing Kingdom Hearts! And if that’s not enough, Xehanort himself isn’t really Xehanort, but the amnesiac body of the Keyblade warrior Terra, who’s being possessed by an old man named Master Xehanort! Also, Riku is now going under the guise of Xehanort’s Heartless and calling himself “Ansem”! Seriously? Kids, this is an example of hokey writing. Plot twists are supposed to add depth to the characters and the plot, not make the story a bloated mess.

What could’ve been: Kingdom Hearts concept sketches showing that classic, whimsical Disney feel. No superfluous belts and zippers to be found here, folks!

I see the series’ attempts at a meatier narrative as an effort to rise above being the mere fanservice mash-up that it was originally conceived as, and I admire that. It’s just that a setup like this should’ve been a chance for characters from different worlds and franchises to interact with each other. Instead, each Disney world is treated like a town from a Pokemon filler episode, Final Fantasy characters only show up as cameos, and all of the elements never really unite as a whole but rather held together flimsily by the ridiculous main plot.

In the end, Kingdom Hearts didn’t need an overwrought narrative and New Age metaphysical hogwash to be compelling. All the series really needed was a simple, honest, heartfelt story about a group of friends trying to find each other while saving the world alongside Final Fantasy and Disney characters. Sadly, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m getting the damn game anyway, so whatever. After all, a true fan enjoys a game despite its faults, not because of them.

But seriously. Mandy Moore as Aerith, talking to Donald Duck and Goofy? That, to me, is the meaning of life.

Random Nostalgia #7

For today’s Random Nostalgia, let’s have a gander at this old Filipino comedy, starring Joey De Leon and the late Rene Requiestas. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Super Mouse and the Roborats.

Super Mouse and the Roborats

Can you say, “remake”? No. No, you can’t.

Jeezus Cripes Bananas.

Does anyone remember this movie, I wonder? Probably. I mean, Boy God was even more obscure, and yet io9 did an article on that.

As I recall, the plot involves Joey De Leon playing this Clark Kent-like character, except he apparently belonged to an advanced race of mouse-men from space. He spends the movie fighting these cyborg rat-men (the titular Roborats) and making cheese-related jokes. Also, there was this musical number where he sings about being a mouse-man from space while two hand-drawn animated mice serve as his backup singers, all set to the tune of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”. Sadly, no one uploaded any footage on YouTube, so I have no proof that I’m not making all this up under the influence of FDA-blacklisted substances. (Try describing that scene to someone who hasn’t seen it before, and you’ll quickly find yourself excluded from any human contact.)

The good news is this movie is apparently available to watch online via TFC. Glad to see someone actually takes the time to actually preserve these movies, even if they are stinkers. Crappy movies are also a part of movie history, after all! Someday, people from the future will unearth this movie and say, “Wow, ancient Filipino movie makers must have been stoned all the time.”

I’m a Final Fantasy Fan. Big Whoop, Wanna Fight About It?

At the risk of sounding like an old fart, I remember a time when being a Final Fantasy fan simply meant being someone who enjoyed meatier storytelling and character development than what was common in video games at the time. We immersed ourselves in well-realized fantasy worlds and interacted with characters that had complex histories and emotionally engaging personalities. We all felt like we were a part of a real adventure, and it was all good fun.

Nowadays, it’s all about the hate.

Every entry in the Final Fantasy series, being radically different from all other entries that come before or after it, tends to have its very own crop of fans who think it’s the greatest game in the entire franchise. Which is all well and good, but the problem is that it doesn’t stop there. Ohhh no– every time a fan says something like “FFVI is the greatest game ever”, it is almost always immediately followed by idiotic babble like “FFVII is overrated” or “FFXII is not a true Final Fantasy”.

I don’t get it. Why is it so impossible for a fan to have enough love for multiple games? Is it in our human nature (or nerd nature, even) to savagely tear apart anything that doesn’t fall within our circle of immediate interest? Or are we FF fans so insecure in our love for our respective favorites that we feel the need to justify it by ignoring the merits of the other titles in the series?

Advent Aerith

Making an FFVII remake is a lot like reviving Aerith. I want it to happen so bad it hurts, but I know deep down that it’s probably a terrible idea.

Speaking of insecurity, we fans, for some reason, also feel the need to explain our love for Final Fantasy to non-fans, who come with their own brand of irrational dislike for the franchise. Western RPG fans in particular like to rag on the sillier elements of JRPGs (Spiky hair! Zippers and belts! Whiny androgynous protagonists!) as if they were the sole defining elements of said genre. (Presumably, the WRPG fans are just tired of getting mocked due to the tropes in their own games and decided to pick on the JRPG fans instead.) Cue our good old FF “apologists” who blame Final Fantasy VIII and Tetsuya Nomura for everything wrong with the series, as if that actually explains everything. “Witty” zingers and blame games have become shorthand for online discourse.

In the process of trying to save time, these cheap shots by lazy fans end up fanning flame wars instead. The time that could have been spent fostering productive discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of the franchise ends up being used for name-calling and tasteless metaphors instead. Final Fantasy is still controversial nowadays, but for all the wrong reasons.

The series had obviously seen better days, but saying that “Final Fantasy is dead” is just a self-fulfilling prophecy. In trying to please a minority composed of vocal whiners, Square Enix has sunk deeper and deeper into the habit of focus-testing the crap out of their games, instead of actually making compelling stories and characters that just happen to have mass appeal. I’ll tell you this, fellow fans: it’s possible FFXIII‘s story wouldn’t have been so hokey and forced if we didn’t criticize Squeenix so much that they became self-conscious and tried too hard. They tried to innovate the battle system and graphics to please the newer fans, but they ended up changing too much and alienated the old-school fans. On the flip side, they were trying so hard to retain the old-school fans that they ended up relying on tired clichés instead (Evil religions! Rebellious teenagers! Self-indulgent navel-gazing!). So, there we have it. (For the record, I love FFXIII‘s battle system, if not much else.)

But you know what? As I always say, if you truly love someone (or something), you have to accept them for all that they are, warts and all. A true Final Fantasy fan acknowledges the franchise’s faults but does not feel the need to justify them. A true fan shares good memories about Final Fantasy with fellow fans, not argue with them over trivial complaints and perceived differences. Best of all, a true fan just sits down, shuts up, and enjoys a good game of Final Fantasy.

Theme Song of the Day #2

親にはぐれた ひなどりも いつかはやさしい ふところに
かえる明日も あるだろう だのになぜ めぐり逢えぬ 父のかげ
泣くものか ぼくは男だ 信じてる信じてる その日のことを
この手で父を 抱きしめる日のことを

Any true-blue Filipino, young and old, can hum to you the melody to the Voltes V themes. They’re both very close to my heart, but here’s one of them, just for Father’s Day. Enjoy!

If I ever have children, I want them to play this at my funeral. I’m not even kidding.

As a bonus, here’s a version of the opening theme from Ang Dating Doon:

Time to get back to life. TTFN!

Random Nostalgia #6

Here’s a show straight from a forgotten era known as 1990, when Howie Mandel still had hair. It occupies the same tiny space in my brain as Mr. Bogus.

I always thought of Bobby as a modern-day Don Quixote. He always spaces out and goes off into his own little world, except his fantasies involve less of windmills turning into dragons and more of Gilligan’s Island parodies. Bless his gigantic head.