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July 31, 2016

Pokémon Go: Two Completely Different Points of View

(Note: This article was written before a game-changing event happened around Pokémon Go. I will talk about it tomorrow.)

Seeing the popularity of the previous post, I decided to discuss Pokémon Go some more. Clickbait? No, not at all. Let’s simply say that after about three weeks spent playing this game, not only have I been able to get a general idea of the game, I have also seen just how much it divided people.

I don’t like saying bad things about Quebec, but we’re a society of complainers. It seems to me sometimes that our national sport isn’t hockey; it’s complaining and whining on social media. Or wherever the public is given a place to vent their frustration for everyone else to hear. In some cases, it can be justified, but a general lack of research combined with a lot of misinformation leads to people taking the wrong causes or the wrong points of view. What’s more, the media, as always, is a mirror that actually deforms the reality. Obviously, very rarely if ever do we discuss good news; why? That doesn’t bring an audience in. They talk about the tragedies that occur because of it. They talk about the idiots who do stupid shit because of the app. THAT, my friend, is what the media wants to show. Because it’s less about showing the truth than it is about showing drama.

If an idiot does something idiotic while playing the app, the problem is not the app, the problem is the idiot. Yet, for every idiot who gets their hands on Pokémon Go, there’s at least a thousand intelligent players. If not more. But obviously, nobody ever talks about these intelligent players; there’s not a news story there. And thus news outlets, caricaturists, will gladly point out the addiction caused by Pokémon Go…

And then they say that I'm the cynical one.

July 29, 2016

Pokémon White (Part 5)

(Today is my birthday, but Planned All Along rarely takes a break ;) )

Go read the parts you may have missed:
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4

Team Plasma is out of the way, the Elite 4 has been vanquished… now it’s time to discover everything else this game has to offer – namely, many Routes and towns you couldn’t go to just yet.

First off, as soon as you get the Surf HM and use it on a Pokémon, you can go back to previous routes and surf on some water sections. Route 1 has a path that leads to Route 17, which is all water. There, you can find a lot of interesting items and also many Trainers to battle. This leads to Route 18, an island where you can get a Larvesta egg. The mighty power of the Volcarona will be yours in a few thousand steps and 58 levels!

Next is Mistralton Cave. One of the legendary trios this Generation is a group of Pokémon based on the Three Musketeers. The first one you can find is Cobalion, at Level 42, in Mistralton Cave (on Route 6). After getting Cobalion, you can go look for Virizion in Pinwheel Forest and Terrakion in the Trial Chamber of Victory Road. Then you could also get Keldeo, back when they were giving away Pokémon for the fifth Generation.

July 27, 2016

I Enjoy Undertale, But...

I strongly believe that one should always experience something by themselves in order to have their own opinion of it. As a reviewer, my task is to discuss games, but on most occasions I actually recommend the games I am playing – because most of them are actually good, despite my criticisms and nitpicks, whether it’s a small aspect of the gameplay I didn’t like or a part of the story that irked me (think of how Muramasa: The Demon Blade promised strong female characters only for the main two female characters to turn out not so strong). On the opposite end, there’s these games that everyone recommends, that everyone says are amazing. The hype surrounding these games is real, and it’s enormous. In case the title didn’t clue you in, I’m going to talk about Undertale.

Recently, in the hopes of expanding my gaming horizons, I opened myself a Steam account. I sincerely hope I can add Steam games to my list of things to review in the near future. In fact, with the third year on this blog having just end and a fourth one starting, I believe that this Steam account will open new gates for me. However, I couldn’t resist the temptation and bought Undertale.

Now, here’s the issue; I know quite a bit about the game and its story. I don't know everything, but I knew enough to have some idea of what to expect. I’ll do my best not to spoil much of it here, but constant exposure to the game and its fans, saying lines from any of the characters, and eventually reading about it on TVTropes out of curiosity, means that there was little surprise left for me. And I went into the game, fully aware of that. Many will say that watching/reading about it, and actually playing it, are completely different experiences, and I will wholeheartedly agree on that. Thus, in order to bring up my point, here is what was my first experience with this game.

Spoilers will start now, so reader beware. (Scroll down)

I killed Toriel.


Now, understand that, with my knowledge of the game, I was well aware of the multiple “paths” you can choose. Neutral, if you kill some but keep most alive; Pacifist if you kill none, which can become True Pacifist if you achieve some additional things; and No Mercy, which some dub Genocide despite Toby Fox being against the term. I was also well aware of all the consequences my choices had in the long run. This is a game where “actions have consequences” is a fully absorbed moral, and as a result the whole game changes either in minuscule or drastic ways depending on what you do (including Sans’ final words to the player changing depending on who you kill and who you don’t). You always have a choice; there is always a puzzle for you to solve when you don’t want to kill an opponent, and bosses have the more complex puzzles and often force you to think outside the box… despite what appears to be a lack of information on how to Spare many characters. Same goes when you want to spare a character but cannot find how, or your actions seem so inconsequential that you quickly change your strategy, deeming your previous one ineffective even if it’s actually the correct one. (As an example of a particularly devilish puzzle, the fight against Undyne where the only viable tactic is to run away as soon as possible until a point in the game is reached.)

That’s what happened to me with Toriel. You can attack as long as you don’t kill, even if you’re on Pacifist mode the game sort of gives you that option, but the only true way to win against her is to constantly attempt to Spare her. Even though the first few times, it seemed to have no effect whatsoever; and that’s what I did here, because it was my first time playing and I didn’t yet have the Undertale Pacifist mindset. So as a result, I went with something I know: Pokémon. To catch a Pokémon more easily, you deplete its HP without making it faint. I went in, thinking that Undertale had a more complex version of this, where an opponent was more inclined to listen if slightly weakened. The game treats this as a demonstration of violence nonetheless, though it has little to no result in most fights; in Toriel’s case, it was different.

I kept trying to attack her, get her HP below half; then perhaps she would accept to stop attacking me. I did realize that, once I was at 1 HP, her attacks were purposely avoiding my soul, my weak point; but repeatedly using Spare still didn’t seem to give any results. So I attacked some more. She was close to half her health… I made an attack that wound up critical every single time I tried – because I reloaded my save file a LOT before that fight. That was the point: To show that depleting an enemy’s health won’t have any effect when you’re trying to spare someone; either that or it makes your situation worse. I would keep on killing Toriel, accidentally, because the Spare button didn’t seem to be doing anything. Oh, what a mistake that was. I had to resort to an online guide to figure out what I was doing wrong.

Long story short, I still didn’t have that habit of trying everything except attacking in order to spare every opponent – and thus I kept making the same mistakes.

I’m not pro-killing Toriel. I’m a guy who kills in video games by force of habit, like just about everyone who touches this game for the first time. You’d make a case that not all gamers are natural pacifists outside of games, and I’d believe you. But I am, so the Pacifist route seemed to me like a given. I knew you could go through every fight without ever killing, so Toriel was always a mistake. Never a willful decision. I did end up sparing her successfully and could continue my playthrough, meeting Sans and everyone else.

The whole game rests on the choices you make, and as soon as you hear about the multiple paths you already have an idea of what you want to do. As for me, the choice became evident; Neutral/Pacifist, then True Pacifist. No interest in doing No Mercy. For once that an RPG allows me to not kill anyone, I was gonna carry through with it. Besides, like I said, I know almost everything about No Mercy, up to and including the final boss fights. And despite the insistence of some that I should also experience No Mercy to get the full story… No, I don’t want to. I know the full story, and many other games already let me kill everything on my way, with more challenge than Undertale (since apparently No Mercy becomes a boring venture as you become way too strong against enemies for them to remain a danger). No Mercy shoves it in the player’s face not only that killing is wrong, that these horrible actions have even greater consequences, but also that a quest for strength alone is pointless if you don’t think about the opponents you defeat. It’s funny how I’m writing this text to get my mind off my long review of Pokémon White, which explores a similar theme with Cheren, the rival who’s bent on becoming stronger but never thinks twice on what to do after he’s acquired that strength.

So I decided, and it’s final, that I don’t feel the need to explore No Mercy. I couldn’t care less what Flowey thinks of me, that I’m a chicken who’ll only watch videos of it. This game may be fantastic, Flowey is still just pieces of data, and I can choose who I want to listen to in this game; namely, everyone except Flowey. This is one of the rare games where I don’t want to achieve 100% completion. Not because I can’t; I certainly could if I were to put the effort into it, like I do for even longer games where 100% completion takes hundreds of hours of gameplay; but I grew attached to the characters, and I just can’t see myself killing them.

Willingly, anyway; I’m sure any further Neutral, Pacifist or True Pacifist playthroughs will see me accidentally killing one monster or another, but never willingly. Even if I CAN choose to stray off the No Mercy path in late-game, it’s too painful to watch from the start. I wouldn’t enjoy it, and I play games to have fun. I like the emotions a game’s story can bring me, but I don’t like feeling like an asshole as I play.

That’s me, only me. The success of Undertale is that you can choose what you want to do. Want to have “100%” completion and do Neutral, Pacifist, True Pacifist, No Mercy and Pacifist again? Go ahead, but be aware of the consequences. Do what you want. Want to do only Genocide? Have fun killing. Want to Let’s Play the game? Be wary of everyone who’ll be telling you what to do.

Don’t listen to them. Seriously though, this is a game that welcomes this kind of free exploration between the paths, a game to experience the way you want. And I can’t understand why some Undertale fans just can’t grasp that concept. Your favorite order of paths to play this game won’t be the same as someone else’s. Everyone’s free to make their own decisions here, so don’t force someone else to play the game the way you played it.

Some Let’s Players showcase the first time they play the game. I’ve heard stories of infighting in the comments section, every viewer having an idea of what the LPer should – nay, MUST do. Christ, that has to be one of the most heated arguments in gaming these days. The interest of Undertale is to discover how it’s played, how every fight has its little special actions you can do, and what these actions lead to. Discovery is what makes this game unique, and nobody has the correct answer on how to play this game to the fullest.

Playing only Pacifist, like I do? You’ll miss on major parts of the plot. No Mercy? If you carry through to the very end, your next playthroughs will be tainted forever (even if you uninstall and reinstall the game; there are ways to undo that but I’m not enough of a computer buff to explain them). Neutral, over and over again, by sparing some bosses and killing others, almost at random, to see what Sans’ final words will be? Enjoy that. I made my decision and I stand by it.

I killed Toriel; if I had been Let’s Playing this, one third of the people would have told me that I’m a monster, another third would have told me to continue on my way, and the last third would be made of different opinions on how to approach Neutral playthroughs. That’s how divided people are. What’s worse is how everyone is so willing to spoil large parts of the game when, really, Undertale should be experienced blindly – something that is practically impossible now as any point of criticism on the game will contain a spoiler. Long story short, I’m not surprised that there are Let’s Players out there who outright refuse to showcase themselves playing this game, with how toxic the discussions can get among the viewers.

Live and let live, I guess that’s what I’m trying to say here. You love this game? Love it all you want. But accept that some people play the game differently than you do. I really enjoy my experience with Undertale so far, thouh I do have a few points of criticism about it; but in the end, what irks me is really the fans who can’t realize that there are other ways to play aside from theirs.

There are other things, of course; controlling a (mostly) mute character means that everyone’s talking to you, but you hardly if ever talk back to them, and for a game that promotes a form of socialization with the NPCs, it’s a bit of an oversight – then again, it would be near-impossible to program, or it would take a lot of time. I can barely imagine how long it took Toby Fox to program everything Papyrus says when you call him, since his lines changes on every single screen where you can contact him. Same goes for the little bits of text that change when you start a new save file after beating it, from Flowey’s comments at the beginning to the little things NPCs say to indicate they recognize you, to Sans’ final words changing.

Also while the battle system is unique (who ever thought of mixing Bullet Hell and RPGs that way before? And which game has ever had so many options to defeat an opponent through kindness?), it can get a little grating at times, especially in how some attacks are extremely hard to avoid, and it’s sometimes impossible to avoid taking damage. Even then you’re not always told what you can do – and sometimes remembering which colors do what on the Bullet Hell box isn’t always a good indication. I would say the game often takes too long to show a change when you’re trying to spare a boss and the fight's internal time counts turn per turn how often you've tried the Spare button… but that’s just me. In the end, I still enjoy it. But I have to enjoy it my way.

That’s all I really had to say about Undertale. I will probably never review it – everyone already has. I will probably never Let’s Play it – for everyone who will read this article and take my request to heart, there’s at least 10 more who don’t follow the advice and pester LPers with how they should be playing. Besides there are many other games I’d want to LP first. I might reference it sometimes and grow my fanbase out of it; I think I already made a few Undertale jokes this year. This Friday I’ll post Part 1 of my review of Pokémon White, which also discusses heavy subjects based on what we’ve taken for granted all these years in Pokémon. It’s that little edge of deconstruction that I love about games today. See you there.


Added note, post-completing Pacifist and True Pacifist: Completing a Pacifist route leads to a fight against Asgore that is exactly the opposite of Toriel’s, when taking into consideration my Pokémon metaphor. To spare Toriel, I thought I first had to weaken her, the same way I weaken a Pokémon to have higher chances of capturing it. Because at that moment, the player is yet unaware of the thousands of curveballs the game will toss at them in regards to regular RPG actions. Asgore, on the other hand, makes sure there is nothing you can do to spare him, leaving the only option to be to fight him. I felt so sorry killing Toriel, after a whole game spent sparing people, I didn’t want to kill Asgore. However, in normal Pacifist Route, Asgore’s HP has to be depleted slowly but surely (and it can’t go below 1, something the player never finds out about until they finally “defeat” him; plus, on the Pacifist route your stats are extremely low, so your only chances at survival against Asgore are to equip the weapon and armor you find before you battle him, and to stock up on healing items). In other words, Asgore is the closest to a normal RPG fight in the whole game, forcing you to play against him like you would in a normal RPG, and you, so close to the end of the adventure, after spending the whole game sparing people, not wanting to attack him even though it becomes the only option. Brilliant.

I will say this, as my (possibly) final words on Undertale; I’ve seen the endings I wanted to see in-game. These characters are too happy the way they are now. I’m determined to keep it that way. (Or, perhaps, reset and do Pacifist/True Pacifist again. Enough RPGs out there allow me to kill already.)

July 25, 2016

Pokémon White (Part 4)

Alright, so we’ve discovered Team Plasma’s ulterior motives, we’ve collected all eight Gym Badges… now all that awaits is that fateful battle against N! And the Elite 4, too! Oh, and the Victory Road before that. Seems simple enough.

When Nick leaves the eighth Gym, he meets Professor Juniper; she gives him a Master Ball. Yay, thanks! Gonna keep that for Zekrom. So, now we can go to Route 10 and into Victory Road! On Route 10, we meet Cheren again, though he's accompanied by Bianca. Guess what he wants?
a)      His Pokémon are weak and he needs a few Potions.
b)      He wants to battle.
c)      He has turned to Team Plasma and wants to steal your Pokémon.
d)     He wants to find Prof Juniper, she's in danger.

If you answered anything except B, then clearly you haven’t played enough Pokémon. That, or you really didn’t read through the last 3 parts. Honestly, I'm starting to get tired of rival battles in this game; Bianca is okay, but Cheren is just plain annoying now; and if you're willing to consider N as a rival, that also makes him an annoying recurring opponent - though since he's also the villain, the repeated fights against him are justified. I was rooting for option D as well, that would have been a nice change of pace - and Team Plasma seems dirty enough to kidnap people. But nope; rival battle. Once again, Cheren is defeated, but he takes it far better than any other time before. He knows you’ll be facing off against N, so the best he can do is to give you some words of encouragement – and some more strength. He knows you’ll make good use of it.

I should come back here in winter and bring my
Krazy Karpet!
Victory Road is pretty peculiar this time around. As usual, it’s a maze that requires many of the field abilities you’ve gained so far; however, while much of the maze takes place inside, a lot also happens outside. You climb from a floor to the next inside Victory Road, solving the puzzles, but sometimes you have to walk outside to go from an exit to another. You can also slide on the mountainside to reach a lower floor; sometimes, this is the only way to move forward. You have to think in 3D for this one, and it’s absolutely brilliant. Definitely more creative than the boring normal caves we see in the other regions. In this place await strong Ace Trainers, as well as many Pokémon that could be very interesting to catch, like Deino. Once Nick reaches the top of the mountain, he can find a Pokémon Center, and a large coliseum looming over Unova, the home of the Elite 4. Nick stocks up on items, because once he enters that place, there’s no turning back.

Left to right:`Marshal, Caitlin, Shauntal, Grimsley.
Seems Gyms and Elite 4 attract all kinds of strange folks.
This is also the first Elite 4 where you get to choose the order in which to fight the opponents; of course, the Champion always comes last, but you can battle the Elite 4 members in any order, as long as you defeat them all. It’s the first time in the franchise, and I think it’ll stay that way from now, as the Kalos Elite 4 also went with this concept. It’s true that it’s a lot less restrictive than previous Elite 4s where you had to adapt your strategy to the predetermined order. First is Shauntal, an expert in Ghost-types. Then there’s Marshal, who’s a tough Fighting-type user who has a boxing ring as his stage. After which we have Grimsley, another Elite 4 Dark-type user (The third in 5 generations, while there still hasn’t been a single Dark-type Gym). Last but not least is Caitlin, a sleepy girl with a preference for Psychic-types. These four characters are each unique, and their room represents that; to reach them, the Trainer follows a path that goes up around their room. Shauntal loves to write, so her room feels like a big library, as an example.

It is an impressive location for the Elite 4.
But it's still just an Elite 4; if you're prepared, you can defeat them
with relative ease.
Now... Alder!

When all four members are defeated, the statue in the center glows; stepping near it, we descend to the lower floor, after which we climb many sets of stairs towards the Champion. However, when we get there, we see N has arrived first. Ah, dammit! And he has already defeated Alder! Immediately, N uses this new pedestal to claim that all Trainers in Unova must release their Pokémon! When Alder objects, N replies that since he won their Pokémon battle, his ideology beats Alder’s, therefore he’s the one who’s right-ah, for fuck’s sake.

N, let me introduce you to something called sportsmanship.
AKA, don't be a dick to the people you defeat.
That’s not how debates work. In a debate, you may agree or disagree with the person you speak to; but you’re trying to prove your point or bring good arguments. In video games, an enemy who is defeated may join the protagonist; it happens. But here, we’re talking about fights that lead to friendships; not debates. In a debate, no matter how much you beat the other at something, that doesn’t make you more right than them. N, once again your heart is in the right place, but you’re just doing EVERYTHING wrong. I haven’t seen you bring up any arguments. Ghetsis has brought arguments – ones that are completely one-sided in his favor, but arguments nonetheless. Because from his point of view, he’s right, and he can justify himself – no matter how crazy he might be. They always say the best villains are the ones who actually believe they’re doing the right thing, after all. You’ve said nothing. You seem under the impression that defeating Alder immediately makes you right just because you’ve proven yourself to be stronger. That’s not how it goes. You’ve watched too many bad anime. People aren’t immediately swayed to the strongest person around. (Then again, seeing the insane popularity of Saitama from One Punch Man…) I mean, N, you clearly don’t want to hurt anyone. People can see that, despite your strange mind, you mean well. You won’t use force and you know it. Ghetsis, on the other hand? He’s ready and willing to use all the force he has. Which, again, brings me back to this entire goddamn debate: The problem isn’t the Pokémon being owned, it’s the Trainers using them for nefarious purposes.

But of course, N won’t listen. He has a final ace up his sleeve, though… his very own castle. Which somehow was hidden just behind the Elite 4 Coliseum, freaking underground, with a mechanism to rise up at that exact moment.

Such a giant castle that was somehow deep underground
and able to rise... blblblblblblblblblblblbl...
Okay, I’ve gone nuts. I’ll go buy myself a funnel hat and go outside to yell about the upcoming end of the world, dressed as a sandwich-man. I mean, I knew the Pokémon series could often pull pretty big plot twists out of nowhere, but that castle is pushing it. Even better, N can enter it thanks to a staircase that appears, and we’re invited to follow. How long was this fucking castle waiting deep underground? …How, how did they build it underground? How did they manage to do any of that without a single Elite 4 member noticing? How… how… how… I mean, it’s freaking impressive, but it makes zero sense whatsoever. Here, let’s say the castle belonged to one of the two brothers of legend, hence why it was hidden so deep underground, and Team Plasma seized it; how did they learn about it? When did they look for it? When did they find it? And what a coincidence that it was located exactly where the Elite 4 chose to be! And... No, I'm sorry, that plot twist makes no fucking sense no matter which angle I try to look at it.

Don't give me orders! I was heading there anyway!
N retreats into the castle, knowing the player will soon follow. Then Cheren arrives, ready to fight the Champion, but sees the castle and is quick to tell Nick to head in there to end this madness. We enter the Plasma Castle, and are confronted by six of the seven Sages – Ghetsis excluded, because by now it’s obvious that he’s the brains of the whole operation. But then… Clay bursts in! Followed by Lenora! And Burgh! Elesa, Skyla, and the others! Yes! The Gym Leaders are on MY side, Sages of Team Plasma! These little stories of debates and who's right, who's wrong, it's all nullified now that you're officially aiming to do evil. The Gym Leaders hold off the six Sages. Clay tells Nick to hurry through the castle to fight N. Let’s go upstairs. In the next rooms, we meet some Plasma grunts ecstatic about getting people to release their Pokémon, and have this sort of nasty glee about it. Just in case you needed more proof that they don’t actually have good intentions.

Electric train battery powered by the electricity of
thousands of helpless Joltik not included.
Near the next room, the Shadow Triad helpfully informs Nick that someone can heal his Pokémon nearby. Gee, you guys may be monsters aiming to rule the world trough a totalitarian regime, but you sure take that little “player fight against N” seriously! In that room, we meet Anthea and Concordia, N’s adoptive sisters who heal the player’s Pokémon and tell him a few interesting details; among others, that Ghetsis found N in the wilderness, in the case of Pokémon who had been harmed by their Trainers. After Ghetsis adopted N, he kept bringing abused Pokémon to the young boy to keep his ideals alive, to convince him to pursue the cause of freeing all Pokémon from their owners. Two floors higher, we find a room filled with toys. N’s room. A basketball game, an electric train that moves endlessly and pointlessly on a half-broken track, a skatepark that has no purpose… And that creepy music box… it’s like N’s growth into a teenager and then an adult has been stunted… Gee, no wonder he still sees the world in black and white! That’s why he couldn’t give actual arguments for his cause! He’s a teenager with a kid’s brain… Admittedly, a brilliant kid, but a kid nonetheless, and a kid without social skills to boot.

We get to the final room, where Nick encounters Ghetsis, who’s practically jubilating with a malicious joy at the thought that he’ll break out of his guise as a mere Sage and finally take the spot he has always actually held – true leader of Team Plasma. I’ll give it to Ghetsis, he’s by far one of the most interesting villains in all of the Pokémon franchise, if only because of how twisted, sadistic and manipulative he is, and how these traits of his are unrivaled by the other Team leaders of the past and present. I think the only one that got even close was the leader of Cipher.

Christ N, can you stop being wrong in everything?
It's not even funny anymore.

Anyway, Nick steps in the final room and there he meets N, for a final time. The green-haired teenager is determined to prove he’s right, but he’s a little saddened when he notices the player’s black stone hasn’t responded and didn’t reform into Zekrom. He calls forward his own dragon, Reshiram, which comes blasting in the room through the wall behind. Pfft, poseur. You just destroyed your own throne, N. However, sensing Reshiram, the black stone gets all agitated! It inhales the energy around itself and transforms into Zekrom! N says that Zekrom wants to be befriended by the hero, but only if he gets caught. You know what that means; battle against a Legendary! Nah… I’ll Master Ball him.

Not even gonna bother with trying to battle this guy fairly.

Whether or not you catch Zekrom, you then have to fight N. Zekrom can be added to your team immediately, then N heals your Pokémon – what a fair opponent – and then this is it, the decisive battle. Doesn’t really matter which version, the only thing that changes between these two fights is Reshiram or Zekrom at the head of N’s team, at LV52, two levels higher than every other Pokémon in his possession. He’s got a good team, but if you got that far, chances are your team is better. There’s the legendary dragon Reshiram (Dragon/Electric), both fossils (Carracosta and Archeops, both part Rock-types), and the other three are the Ice-type Vanilluxe, the Dark-type Zoroark, and the Steel-type Klinklang. Single-type Pokémon are usually easy to dispose of, so outside of a few surprise moves it should be fine.

N, you call these Pokémon your friends, yet you are willing to use them to
battle, and you... you... urgh, I,m so tired of trying to argue with this guy.

N puts up a good fight but he is defeated, at the astonishment of the entire Team Plasma. He immediately realizes the error of his ways: “Two heroes living at the same time— one that pursues ideals and one that pursues truth. Could…could they both be right? I don't know. It's not by rejecting different ideas, but by accepting different ideas that the world creates a chemical reaction. This is truly the formula for changing the world." See, there you go! You’re learning! You had to lose to understand, but you finally got it!

If all the Team Leaders got
into a fight, he would be the
biggest in this battle of jerks.
As for Ghetsis, he comes in and verbally tears N a new one. "After all of that, do you think you're still worthy of sharing the name Harmonia with me? You good-for-nothing boy!" The true leader of Team Plasma says that N’s defeat still doesn’t change much for his plans; N’s charisma has already started convincing people to start releasing their Pokémon. Ghetsis clearly has a lot of sadistic pleasure in chewing out his adoptive son. Like he knows it hurts N, hence why he does it. What we have here is likely the cruelest Team Leader. Not the one with the most impressive plan – I mean, in the end the Legendary Pokémon’s role is minor, unlike for Teams Magma, Aqua, Cipher, Galactic and Flare, where each time the massive power of a beast of legend was required for the plan. But Ghetsis here only wants power and is ready to do anything to get it. Zekrom or Reshiram, they’re just the bullies he’ll use against the population. He truly shines by how monstrous he is, as he raised a child to be his puppet for his grand scheme, purposely stunting N’s growth as a human so that he remains loyal and devoted! And when that puppet proves not enough, Ghetsis is more than happy to twist the knife in! He doesn’t need powerful Pokémon to be an asshole. He was very well ahead on his path to become a complete monster long before Reshiram was revived. In the sequels, Black 2 and White 2, he gets some new inventions that he uses against the player - and Kyurem -, but once again he’s just a sicko who wants power and will do anything to get it… he’s not an illuminated moron who believes the universe would be better without emotion, or an elitist jackass who believes only rich people and certain types of Pokémon are allowed to exist in the world. He doesn't need these aspirations to be a complete monster.

Of course, now that his plans have been made clear, Ghetsis says the hero knows too much and needs to be disposed of; in other words, here is the true final boss. Yeah, a man with so many human resources, so many followers, could just kill you right there and be done with it, and yet no. Pokémon battle it is. Ghetsis is a lot stronger than N with his Pokémon, which is ironic; but then again, he was trying to lay low, so I guess it makes sense. Plus, N always releases the Pokémon he uses, while Ghetsis had to have kept his. His team ends with a Level 54 Hydreigon, which is impossible since Zweilous evolves into Hydreigon at Level 64. In Black 2 and White 2, his Hydreigon knows Frustration, a move that is stronger the more the user hates its Trainer. And that Frustration is at full power; gives you an idea of the type of guy he is.

I mean, the guy is actually brilliant as an evildoer. The only place where he’s completely clueless is in his wardrobe – I mean, really? A robe that looks like a castle tower? Not a single real-life designer wouldn’t laugh at this. He does get wiser on clothing in the sequels… though he gets even more unhinged than before.

Goodbye Sharp!

Anyway, despite his powerful team, Ghetsis is defeated. Seeing his plans crumble, Ghetsis gets reduced to a yelling mess, bawling that he is perfect, that he was going to make his perfect world (apparently, for him perfection is something only he can enjoy), and in the end he’s just spouting insults at N. Oh, Ghetsis, how low you’ve fallen. In the end, you’re nothing more a man who throws childlike temper tantrums. It’s almost sad to see a villain break down… then you remember all of the horrible things they’ve done, and you stop feeling sorry.

Alder and Cheren escort Ghetsis out of the room, and N asks the player to follow him. N admits that when he met Nick in Accumula Town, he was surprised to hear his Pokémon liked him. The next encounters with the player, his Pokémon and his friends, led to N questioning himself more and more, despite being under Ghetsis’ machinations. He feels the need to apologize to the world for taking part in this, so he says some final words of goodbye to Nick, summons Reshiram, and flies off. And that’s how this story ends.

Reshiramspeed, N. You may be a guy with many faults,
but in the end you honestly were misguided.
Fight for what you think is right, but never forget
what you've learned from this journey.
I won't forget.

Well, that’s the end of the Story Mode. In Part 5, I’ll go over everything else than can be done in this game. Stay tuned!

July 22, 2016

Pokémon White (Part 3)

Go read Parts 1 and 2 if you haven't!

Hello, fellow kids; let’s continue on this journey across Unova! There’s not a single challenge big enough for us! There’s not a single opponent that cannot be made into a friend! There’s not a single Gym we go through without having encountered Team Plasma on the way towards it! There’s not a single Gym Leader we defeat without Cheren wanting to prove himself better than everyone else at Pokémon battling, and subsequently losing to the player!

The story is even more focused than in previous Pokémon games, with the conflict against Team Plasma clearly taking more importance than the Trainer’s journey to get the eight badges. Although Cheren’s constant desire to battle the player character gets kind of annoying after a bit. Even Blue and Silver weren’t that persistent.

We reach Driftveil City, which is an ocean port city in Unova. It’s also close to Route 6 that leads to Chargestone Cave, and the Cold Storage can be found south. There’s also a nice market around here, where a biker can teach you about the new types of Pokémon battles taking place here, one of the two in each version:
-Triple Battles: Three Pokémon on each side, thus having to take into consideration all attacks that target multiple opponents. The Pokémon are in two rows of 3, so the Pokémon on both end can only hit the opponent Pokémon they can reach – therefore, no attacking the one at the opposite end of the other line.
-Rotation Battles: Single battles with a twist; at the end of each turn, your Pokémon is called back and you switch for another one, among three of your team. You’re limited to those three Pokémon but can rotate them as you please.

Personally, I’m a fan of neither, I’m still the kind of guy who prefers single battles or double battles.

July 20, 2016

Pokémon Go: Have Some ******* Common Sense

The new Pokémon craze is here, and it’s taken over the lives of millions of people. I can see why, Pokémon Go is a very interesting idea with a lot of potential, and it finally gives kids and adults a reason to go play outside. I can’t complain about Pokémon Go’s qualities. I can, however, complain about the many, many defects it has. I would have discussed the extreme storing of data that the app used to do, keeping track of even the last website visited by someone on the phone, and the many, MANY things it could learn about the user thanks to a complete access to the player’s Google account. Both these problems have been solved. What hasn’t been solved is the app’s tendency to crash in certain zones after you’ve tossed a Pokéball, the overabundance of Pidgey, Weedle and Rattata, and the rarity of Pokémon, Pokéstops and Gyms in some suburbs (including mine). I also think its paying options demand too much real money and give not enough Pokécoins for what you pay (in Canada, anyway; due to conversion rates, that 14500 Pokécoins pack you can buy at 100$ in the US costs 135$ here). Honestly, I don’t think it’s all that fantastic an app; it has caused me to rage more often that it has made me joyful.

July 18, 2016

Pokémon White (Part 2)

Welcome back to the Planned All Along third anniversary review! Go back to read Part 1 if you haven’t!

Aw, I haven’t played this game in almost two years, yet I still remember my first team. It had a Samurott, a Liepard, a Zebstrika, a Simisear, an Unfezant and a Musharna. I loved them, they carried me through all the challenges of the game. It speaks volumes how much one learns to love these animals, even if they’re nothing else than packets of data. One of the advantages of Generation 5 was that it tried to have examples of most types even early on in the game, allowing for a wide diversity of teams over the first three Routes.

"Challenged"? Please. There is no
way he can be a challenge.
After the little encounter with Plasma grunts in the Dreamyard, it’s time to go on Route 3. It’s a long way towards Nacrene City, but it’s an interesting Route with a DayCare center – this early? Cool! – as well as Wellspring Cave, a quick stop to get maybe a Woobat or another underground Pokémon. However, as Nick walks there he sees Bianca and a little girl coming his way. Bianca says two Team Plasma grunts stole Pokémon from them and his in Wellspring Cave. Oh really? Not on my watch! Nick goes in there and, helped by Cheren, defeats the grunts. He then gives Bianca and the young girl their Pokémon back.

Dammit N. Might doesn't make right. Right makes might.
To believe the former, you must be thinking that you live
in a video game.
Is that the best you have to offer, Plasma? Mere shenanigans? On to Nacrene City, home of Lenora, a Normal-type Gym Leader and famous archaeologist. Her Gym is a museum, of which she’s the director. That woman is awesome in so many ways! I like her! Nick tries to go in the museum, but N shows up and demands a Pokémon battle against him. He has three new Pokémon, freshly caught, and still seems to greatly love them. When he’s defeated, he states again that he’ll work towards his dream of separating Pokémon and humans, but that he’ll need more power to effectively do that. Sigh, I dislike preachers who keep raving about their message to people who are clearly not interested. I especially hate those who keep going at it without ever asking people’s opinions. You know, if you asked people what they think on the issue before blasting in screaming “FREE ALL POKÉMON”? Maybe it would help. Maybe bringing actual arguments would help too instead of just stating your message ad nauseam. Good lord kid, who raised you? Am I gonna have to teach you how rhetoric works?

July 15, 2016

Pokémon White (Part 1)

On my first year, I reviewed Generation 3’s Pokémon FireRed and a bunch of additional Pokémon games, like Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Rumble. Last year, I reviewed Generation 4’s PokémonHeartGold. This time, I’m getting into Generation 5, with Pokémon White. And off with the remakes, this time we’re discussing the real game of the Gen!

Original image here
Generation 5 wasn’t received all that well, for a number of reasons. It didn’t allow players to access Pokémon from any of the previous Gens until post-game, forcing them to play with the new creatures. I mean, it kind of makes sense, this was the biggest Generation to date with 156 Pokémon. Would be a shame never to try them, right? Oddly enough, that generation came under fire for the designs of its Pokémon. As if the design was all that mattered on a Pokémon, am I right? I mean, look at Garbodor, it may be a garbage bag; it’ll still kick your ass. Plus, there are many arguments that encourage a trash Pokémon. The ice cream Pokémon? I don’t mind it. Yamask is creepy? So what? How many previous Ghost-types were creepy? The cell/fetus Pokémon? Unexpected, off, but creative. Alomomola? Design too close to Luvdisc, I’ll give you that, but WAY better than Luvdisc in battle. The giant snowflake, the ground fish, the candle? I trust the people at Game Freak with the designs. They know their stuff. These may be weird Pokémon, at least they’re not gimmick Pokémon who live only for their gimmick and aren’t worth crap in battle. Looking at you, Farfetch’d, Spinda, Delibird.

Good thing they didn't use a
lys flower in their logo, or I
would have gone to kill them.
Pokémon Black and White are also known as that time Game Freak started digging into their own clichés and building stories around the concepts we had been taking for granted since the beginning. Any series that goes far enough will start doing that; you’ve seen the world, you’ve seen enemies, you’ve seen situations, now we’re deconstructing. They’re toying with the inner workings and taking piece after piece. And then they rebuild the same thing with stronger bricks. It’s said that the first three Pokémon films each deconstructed a key element of the series: Mewtwo Strikes Back observed the role of Pokémon as fighters. Pokémon the Movie 2000 looked at how we treat them like collectibles. The third movie analyzed their role as companions. It took Gen 4 before the game series started checking certain elements in the franchise in greater depth. Diamond and Pearl observed the roles of Legendary Pokémon, when these powers the Pokédex brags about are real and these mighty creatures really do control time and space, and all the trouble this causes for the humans - amd Team Galactic's plan is all about harnessing the insane power of these Legendary Pokémon who control time or space. Gen 5 deconstructed Pokémon as battlers once again, coupling it with a nasty critique of censorship. Gen 6, while not deconstructing much, did improve on the Trainer-Pokémon relationship, an odd case of reconstruction without previous deconstruction. I hope Gen 7 comes up with an interesting story as well.

By this point, you know the deal; eight gyms, Elite 4, champion, villainous team, rival(s), a lot of exploration, etc. Just because the formula was shaken a bit doesn’t mean said formula changed all that much. And it will be very interesting to see how this formula evolves with the story they’re presenting this time around. We’re heading into Unova, right now!

July 8, 2016

Dream Theater's The Astonishing (Part 3)

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

Continuing from Part 1 and Part 2, here is the final part of this surprise review of a music album.

Disc 2 begins with “2285 Entr’Acte”, a short instrumental that combines bits and pieces of the songs on Disc 1. Nice little instrumental, wouldn’t be my favorite but it is sweet. It then becomes “Moment of Betrayal”. Gabriel is ecstatic, certain that the plan he has built with Faythe will succeed and change Lord Nafaryus’ view on life. The Chosen will meet his dear Princess tonight, third day of the ultimatum, to rehearse for the big concert. Arhys contacts Daryus to arrange something near the amphitheater, where Gabriel will be captured. The Ravenskill Militia leader still recognizes that it’s a horrible thing to do.

The next song is “Heaven’s Cove”, a mostly ambient track that conveys an emotional weight, presenting the location of the finale: Ravenskill’s amphitheater, known as Heaven’s Cove. It’s the first location that has a song dedicated to it, presenting its feel; the earlier songs “A Savior in the Square” and “Ravenskill” did this a little, but mostly served to advance the plot. It’s still a sweet melody that turns epic when LaBrie gets in. It helps hammering in that entertainment hasn’t been a part of the people’s lives for a long time now.

Following this is “Begin Again”, Faythe’s solo song about feeling accomplishment at the thought that she’ll change history tonight, singing with Gabriel, changing her father’s view on life. Think of it as a companion piece to “Chosen”. It’s also a ballad, but to be honest I prefer “Chosen”. It doesn’t even say much that hasn’t been said, really; Faythe was bored with her life, thought she couldn’t escape it, met Gabriel, now it’s all changed, woo hoo! It feels a bit superfluous, though I guess that’s because the second album needed some levity. This is the last moment of lighthearted sweetness for a long while, enjoy it while you can.

Ten bucks says some people will complain because he's not
how they imagined him to be: White.

Next is “The Path That Divides”. Gabriel and Faythe are on their way to Heaven’s Cove, and so is Arhys, as he’ll soon meet Prince Daryus there. However, as he approaches his destination, Arhys suddenly realizes, “wait… this isn’t a good idea.” …No, you think? I really like how this song’s title and one of the early parts of it is a direct reference to lines from “When Your Time Has Come”. The proud soldier is about to go away, when Daryus arrives. A fight ensues between the two men when the Prince figures out that he’s not getting what he wanted. Unbeknownst to Arhys, he has been followed by Xander, who watches the fight – and thus, sees his father, the proud warrior, the man who boasted about his combat prowess, be killed by the Prince. Cue NOMAC track to let that dark moment sink in.

Xander runs towards his father’s body in “The Walking Shadow”, and screams at Daryus. Seriously, excellent work there from James LaBrie; if you thought he couldn’t pull off the impressive metal screams, here’s one song to prove you wrong. Daryus, as the monster that he is, assures Xander that his time will come too; by the way, in the lyrics booklet, that part is incorrectly given to Arhys; and with the tone, it’s like the proud warrior is inviting his son to die with him. It just doesn’t make sense. However, Daryus sees a shadowy figure approaching. Thinking it to be Gabriel, he leaps with his sword and attacks, only to realize too late that he has actually stabbed Faythe, his own sister, who was coming to the amphitheater for a rehearsal.

Gabriel arrives moments later in “My Last Farewell”, only to be confronted with the horrific scene. Arhys dead, Xander crying, Faythe on her final breaths (and yet she manages to stay alive despite the deadly wound for at least five more minutes), and Daryus catatonic (well, I think of him as such; not only does he say nothing on this song, he’s also absent as a singer in every track following this one, even “Astonishing”). Gabriel mourns and calls out Daryus, and releases all of his pent-up rage in a loud scream that pierces Daryus’ eardrums, deafening him forever.

Hey wait, Xander was close enough to be affected by that scream, wasn’t he? No? Ah, okay.  As for Faythe, she was listening to her music player when she got stabbed, hence why she was too distracted to react; and apparently the earphones also protected her ears from being affected by Gabriel’s loud scream. Which was, I paraphrase, “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrh!!!”

Which, by the way, was not even impressive. I mean, LaBrie pulled off a pretty great scream one song earlier, in “The Walking Shadow”, and then we get this, which is supposed to be a scream so powerful it made at least one person deaf and awoke the entire village, and yet it doesn’t sound nearly as impressive. Come on, this could have been better! I know it could have been better! That rale is actually so weak it’s kinda funny. Especially in how powerful it’s built up to be in the story itself.

Also, just how freaking loud was Faythe listening to her music if she ended up unaffected by the scream? I… I… Does not compute, does not compute! Error! Insert Logic file! File not found! Help! Blue Screen! …You get my point. While this is supposed to be one of the most poignant moments of the album, the issues in logic seen here prevent me from fully enjoying the song. I get that it was contrived to get where John Petrucci wanted to go, but… I just can’t ignore these problems! Okay, moving to the next song… we’re almost done! …I hope!

“Losing Faythe” (the song title that reveals the biggest spoiler) has Nafaryus and Arabelle arrive on the scene with guards after hearing Gabriel’s scream. Faythe is still alive, but barely. Nafaryus realizes that none of this would have happened were it not for his ego and desire to capture Gabriel. I hate to pin blame, but isn’t Arabelle also partly to blame since she’s the one who sent Daryus? Faythe passes on after five minutes of excruciating pain, and Nafaryus sees no solution other than trusting that Gabriel’s Gift can save her.

Well gee, he was quick to turn over a new leaf... I guess people will really accept anything when they've got their backs to the wall.

However, as we learn in “Whispers in the Wind”, Gabriel’s voice has nearly run out with that scream (Ha! Sorry, I’m still laughing at that weakly thing they dare call a scream), and he expresses it in a slow, melancholic tune that he should be a whisper (but then again, here it made sense to at least be, you know, audible; since I’d expect Gabriel to barely have enough voice to sing this at the moment. I’ll let it pass). Thankfully, the situation changes; the villagers of Ravenskill heard Gabriel’s scream, and are coming to his help. A huge crowd, if the title “Hymn of a Thousand Voices” is any indication. They come to give a little push to their savior. With all the people in the open area in front of Heaven’s Cove singing to come to his help, Gabriel suddenly retrieves his voice (Show of hands: Who thinks this is BS? …Thought so.), and they all sing as a majestic choir, a prayer for Faythe, who is magically brought back to life. Huh, so the Gift WAS magic after all! It makes so much sense in a medieval futuristic world to suddenly have magic show up!

Wait… At that moment, Faythe has been dead for five minutes. And had been stabbed five minutes before that. Arhys was killed about three minutes before Faythe was stabbed. So wait, Faythe, who was dead for five minutes, could be revived, but Arhys, who was dead for 13 minutes, couldn’t? Does it have something to do with the wounds themselves, Faythe could survive for a moment but Arhys died on the spot? Is that why? And the townspeople are still somehow fine with their chant bringing back only one of the two? Gee, what was that exchange like?

“We’re a thousand people singing along to give you the power to bring your loved Faythe back to life!
“But… what about my brother?”
“Only your love! Let him rot!”
“…Do I have a choice?”
“……….Okay then… pricks. GLORY OF SOUND, GUIDE HER TONIGHT…”

So yeah, Faythe is brought back to life by the power of music. Faythe’s parents are overjoyed. Um, they should probably do something about that wound, take her to a doctor or something. Anyway, in the next song “Our New World”, Gabriel and Faythe remember that Xander no longer has a father. They also realize that Nafaryus made a full 180 seeing his daughter brought back to life, so they sing as praise for this new world that awaits them, a world where the sovereign is benevolent and people are freed from the misery they’ve lived in for so long. Gabriel and Faythe adopt Xander as their son.

Wait, I just realized. Daryus can’t lead if he’s completely deaf. Therefore, the throne of the G.N.E.A. will go to the second royal child in line – Faythe will become Queen! And, thus, Gabriel will be King! So Xander will be a prince! On the plus side, Arhys’ wish came true, his son will never live in poverty again. On the other hand, family reunions will be a bit awkward.

“And this year for Christmas, Granddad Nafaryus gave you a brand new music player! And your deaf Uncle Daryus just gave you a full scholarship! Go hug your uncle, you know, the one who killed your real father! Go ahead, there’s nothing to be afraid of!”

…Damn, that was a nasty joke even by my standards.

“Our New World” is however very uplifting, and no matter how many jokes I’ve made so far, I greatly enjoy it. I know it feels like the last Disney-like number of the album, but its placement and the message are still pretty good. Nafaryus turns off the NOMACs in “Power Down”, and then we get our big finishing number, “Astonishing”. Arhys speaks to his brother a final time from the heavenly afterlife. By the way, can I say that I love how the melody of “Brother Can You Hear Me” has been taken and re-used in so many different styles? Every time it comes back on the album, there’s always a difference in the music. And it comes back in a grand finale here. Afterwads, Gabriel and Faythe go back on this adventure, promising to continue making the world a better place through music. A changed Nafaryus swears to become a better king, Arabelle forgives her son (He was easily forgiven, if you ask me), and everyone sings a final time.

“Eternally, in harmony, our lives will be astonishing again.”

Man, what a great album! Despite its many flaws – most of them in the story – I can’t help but enjoy it. I mean, John  Myung gets buried under the rest of the music, the volume for LaBrie’s vocals could have been increased a bit in some places (some lyrics are hard to decipher for someone like me, as English is my second language), there’s a bit of an over-reliance on ballads (which I can understand, considering the more “Stage Musical” feel of the whole thing). This is probably their softest album, even softer than Falling Into Infinity. And yet the story is just as strong on the side of emotions as Metropolis Part 2.

It would be too long for me to go back to the multiple issues I have with the plot, although what I remember in the end is that it’s about all the forms of love. Beyond the revolution against the tyrannical powers in place, we have the story of a man who has to choose between saving his son and saving his brother. A relationship that would be doomed between two people who came to love each other at first sight, at first note. We have the love a parent expresses for their child however helpless or rebellious they may be. Love for art, for entertainment, for music. The charisma that makes one move crowds, makes people change their own destiny. It may sound corny, but it’s all there. This is one powerful album we got here. As a bonus, it ends a lot better than the other rock operas that follow the same premise of music being outlawed (off the top of my head, Rush’s 2112 and Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage). It’s still not a full-on happy ending, but the entire album feels a lot more hopeful than those. In fact, that’s the word I get from this story: Hope. It’s the one feeling that can be felt through most of these 34 tracks. Even “Dystopian Overture” I felt was very lighthearted and hopeful for an instrumental meant to convey the horrific future.

Now, does it have plot holes? Plenty. Is it missing a bunch of lyrics? Yes. Are there things that just don’t make sense? You bet. This story only makes sense if you’re willing to make some pretty big leaps of logic, or at least rewrite small parts of it, in order to make it coherent. Keeping in mind that “most technology is gone, humanity is almost completely back to the Middle Ages, nobody’s got time to enjoy entertainment – or even sing, for that matter” is a pretty difficult task. I mean, can anyone among us even imagine a world without entertainment, let alone a world without music? I feel this also slipped out of Petrucci’s mind as he wrote the story, though I can’t blame him; This was a gigantic piece of work, errors were bound to happen.

In the end, I just love The Astonishing. I can’t really speak on the technical side of things aside from those few things I noticed; I don’t play an instrument (I tried harmonica; I stopped due to a lack of free time). Some of you may be able to see these problems better than me. But for what I got, I’m satisfied. Not the perfect Dream Theater album, but a damn good one despite its flaws.

Thanks for reading this review.