Mockingjay, Part 2

I hadn’t expected to see this film anytime soon. I saw the first movie in the cinema, the second on an ex-rental DVD we picked up, and the third on Amazon Prime streaming. Getting out to see anything can be awkward. But a friend was going to see it tonight, and invited our household along. Well, the grown-ups, at least. I think only my wife and I had seen Part 1, and she knew I wanted to see this one, so she suggested I take the opportunity.

I will aim to be as spoiler-free as possible, in talking about parts of the movie

We talked through the trailers (including Allegiant, Creed, and a new Julia Roberts movie), and settled down for the movie. I don’t think there were more than a couple of other people watching.

We had fun. Most of the time we were completely engaged with the movie, but there were a few points where we quietly commented to each other.

There was a point where a bunch of characters are sneaking around, and they hear some strange noises. One of the noises may have been a kind of whispered “Katnissss….” which did invite a “My Precious….” comment.

As far as I recall the book, the movie followed the book pretty well. There was a part of the book that I read a few times, not succeeding in following it very well. As the books follow Katniss’s perspective, I think the scene was intentionally confusing, it’s pretty chaotic and a lot of things were happening, so it wouldn’t be surprising for the character to find it difficult to follow all that’s going on. Still, it was nice to see it a lot more clearly in the movie. The scene in question is outside the presidential gates.

I found the movie as well-paced as Part 1. I thought Catching Fire was a bit squeezed into the movie, and rather a lot happens in the Mockingjay book, both movies based on it seemed to give the scenes enough room to breathe. I didn’t think anything seemed dragged-out. There were some characters who could have used a bit more time to help the audience get to care about them, but that’s a pretty minor nitpick.

The last few scenes were especially important to get right, and I think the filmmakers did well enough.

Creature design was interesting. Shades of Alien, but it’s kind of hard to not evoke that, with that combination of head shape and posture. Different colour, evoking more the Alien/human hybrid from Alien Resurrection. Maybe Venom from the Spider-Man cartoons, minus the tongue.

Having read the book, there were definitely some moments of anticipation for things I knew were coming up. And I didn’t feel disappointed by anything.

All in all, I think the movie series treated the books pretty well. I’d still say the books are worth the time to read, but wouldn’t turn my nose up at the movies.

Sat nine rows back in a pretty small cinema, which was good for the most part. Only one actiony sequence was hard to watch. Not enough to make me wish the director had been forced to watch the movie from the front row at a big cinema screen.

Many years ago, I started collecting the MPAA numbers that are (usually) at the end of movies. I’d noticed them for a while, and it has kind of been an on-again off-again project. Complications with making them out, in the VHS days, and scrapping the project one time when I encountered some major inconsistencies between the number and the movie’s copyright date for a chunk of movies. Now I get screen grabs off the DVDs, when I can. Anyway, for a while now, I’ve been expecting each movie I see to break 50000. Mockingjay  2’s number was 49995. Maybe Star Wars?

FF Violin

I have mentioned before, more than once, being rather fond of Final Fantasy music. Of course hearing some when I played the games, downloaded some MIDIs that I used to listen to on my phone, back when I had one. Listened to a bunch of different arrangements: the Distant Worlds orchestral series for one, various piano arrangements (the official Piano Arrangements, various YouTubers).

Last night I was watching more arrangements on YouTube, I found a complicated solo piano version of the battle theme from IX, and another of The Man With The Machine Gun from VIII (Oldest’s favourite). I stumbled upon a series of Related videos, which were tracks from a series of albums called “FF Violin”.

A violin or two are the featured instruments, but there are other instruments on the tracks as well.

Contrasting with PS1 music/MIDI, piano and full orchestra, these violin tracks have something of a different character about them. Which makes sense. And again, it’s another set of music that I could just listen to all day (and I did for a pretty big chunk of today).

The musicians behind these tracks made 5 albums, but they’re only available in Japan (well, you can import them, but like other Japanese CDs they’re rather expensive that way).

Playlist here,  includes all the first album, most of the third, some of the second, and one video containing the whole of the fifth. Here‘s a video of the second, and here‘s one of the fourth.

Oh Look, Another War

There was an episode of Father Ted, where Ted was running a raffle, and the grand prize was a new car. Unfortunately, soon after he picked it up, the car suffered a minor dent. Ted got it into his head that he could tap the dent out with a small hammer. This, of course, went horribly wrong, and the denting spread and spread around the whole car, it looked like a write-off.

Here’s YouTube to help:

My Facebook was lit up today with posts about the British Parliament’s vote to bomb Syria.

This Father Ted clip reminds me of the West’s foreign policy. And not a new phenomenon. I recently read an article concerning a bunch of places whose economies we ruined, and whose population we severely harmed. The CIA overthrowing governments, installing their own preferred puppet, who turns against them a few years later. From 2001 to the present day, going into perpetual war in Afghanistan, Iraq. Fighting ISIS in one country, aiding them in another (*cough*Syria*cough*).

Our rhetoric about protecting the poor civilians, again and again proves to be misleading (to say the least). At best, our rhetoric says something to the effect of “we caused this problem, so we should go and fix it”. At least that kind of rhetoric actually acknowledges that we caused a problem, too often it doesn’t. But, much like the poor car, our “fixing it” hasn’t made things better in… how long? The Fifties at the latest?

And it’s baffling to me when people use this issue to side with one political party over another. Blame the Tories when, in reality, Labour has done it as well. Same in the US with Republicans and Democrats.

I believe that part of the problem is that the debt-backed economic paradigm has war as an integral component. Look for a pattern of the minority party being able to provide more dissenters than the majority party. Politicians who stay in office long enough to establish a consistent dissenting opinion and vote, and actually consistently do, are very rare.

Ted, at least, had a conscience. Mulder’s maxim of “Trust no-one” sadly very much applies in this arena.

Pray for the Syrian Christians. May they fare better than those in Iraq, where the effects of our actions have proved catastrophic for them.

On Trying The Final Fantasy X Demo

I said yesterday that I would write today about my experience trying out the Final Fantasy X demo. And I will, but perhaps some background of my history with Final Fantasy first. And I’m going to want to point out how some things have changed, which will make more sense if you have some idea of what they’ve been changed from.

Back in college, a good friend of mine got into VII. Really got into VII, kept going on about how good it was. Sounded like there was a lot to it, but I didn’t have access to it at the time.

A few years later, I picked up a PlayStation second-hand. This was at the point where there were still PS1 games in the stores, but only just. I picked up VIII and IX new. I think Origins (I+II) and Anthology (IV+V in the European version, the Americans got stuck with V and VI and no IV PS release) may have been in the store, but I didn’t get them at that point, I did pick them, VI and VII up later (probably ebay). III was the only release from I-IX, that didn’t get a PS1 release anywhere.

I played lots of VIII and IX at that point. Didn’t finish them until much later. They were easy to play for days (maybe weeks) in spare time, but then I’d take a break, forget what happened, and find it easier to start over to remember the story, than to continue from where I left off…

VI I played through on the emulator, and I was multitasking while I did it, it was easier than going to the console and a dedicated screen.

A couple of years ago, a Nintendo DS was a family present, and one of the games that was also part of the family present, was III. So I did get to play through that one.

I’ve played some VII on-and-off with kids, on the emulator up here (I had them skip a part where Cloud goes into the mansion in drag).

I’ve played I, II, IV and V a little bit, mostly to test that they worked.

The stories take place on very different worlds. IX, getting back to the series’ roots, was more castles, villages, dragons and magic. VI had much more of a steampunk vibe, VII more cyberpunk. VIII is a bit more difficult to place, with mixed elements. There are significant parts with a sci-fi look.

The stories might, in some cases start fairly small – IX starts with a theater troupe on a mission to kidnap a princess, VIII starts with Squall having to pass a couple of tests of his ability as a warrior. The characters soon get swept up into a much larger, world-threatening story. In VIII, a sorceress from the past wants to compress all time to take control of it. In VII, we find out pretty quickly that the life is being sucked out of the planet, to meet energy demand. In IX, someone’s trying to fuse the planet with its dead twin, which will turn out catastrophic for everyone we care about.

There are many common elements through the games, that are sometimes implemented differently. Armour generally works out fairly similarly. You tend to start with something like leather armour, and work your way up throughout the game. Your characters often have job classes: something warrior/knight-ish, something leaning in the healing direction (usually a White Mage), something to cast more harmful spells on your enemies (often a Black Mage). Thief. Some games (III, V) you can choose, some (IX) you can’t.

Magic varies wildly: in III you buy magic from shops throughout the world, and it comes in different levels. Each character has 3 magic slots for each level. It also comes in White, Black and Grey varieties. Some job classes might not be able to use all colours, some might not be able to use any. In VIII, you draw magic from draw points or enemies, and you can plain cast it in battle, but there’s more benefit to “junctioning” it to various character statistics, such as Hit Points, Strength, and a bunch of others. VII, various materia (including magic), you link with slots on your weapons, to make your fighting more effective.

Summon creatures are treated differently by different games as well. A lot of them recur, but some appear only in one game. And they’re referred to differently in different games as well. In VI, they’re called Espers, and they actually have a good reason to help you. In VIII, they’re “Guardian Forces”, GFs. In IX, they’re Eidolons. Most games, as I recall, you give the command to summon them, when you tell the characters what to do, and then they appear when it’s the character’s turn to take the action. In VIII, after you tell the character to Summon, their HP counter gets replaced with the GF’s, for a countdown period before the GF appears. Therefore, the GF is vulnerable to attack and the character isn’t.

In trying the X demo, obviously there’s only so much of the game that they’ll show you, which is fair. They don’t give you much of an idea about the story. They show you the opening movie, and two game segments, the first of which has a bunch of FMV. I couldn’t, as far as I could tell, have a look at equipment screens, and see what you could fiddle around with there. Unsurprisingly, they don’t just let you wander around the world map. In the areas they give you access to, there’s minimaps with indicators of where you are, and where you’re heading to.

The second sequence showcases different battle styles. One battle tells you to use a summon creature, here called Aeons. There’s a big innovation here, the summon creature appears, replacing your whole party, and you give the Aeon commands instead of your party. You basically control it for the rest of the battle, and of course it is vulnerable to attack during this time.

I thought that was a pretty neat idea, and a logical progression from VIII.

They also showcase straight battle, and the use of magic in battle, which aren’t that different to previous games. There are special abilities which you can use for a limited time, after a certain amount of battle: more like the Trances from IX than anything else. But without the characters glowing purple.

The other big innovation, which also seems like a good idea, requires some more background that I haven’t given yet.

Some of the earlier games have 4 characters that you use for the duration of the game. I and III are like this, II has 3 that stay, and the fourth is variable. Most of the other games have a large roster of characters, whom you pick up as the game progresses. In these games, you are given the opportunity to switch which ones you’re using, sometimes at specific points in the game, and for some segments you can change them at any time.

In these larger cast line-ups, in the final battle, if you lose a character, they might be replaced by another. The VI finale is like this, you can choose the order you want your characters to appear in. This is about the only time when your lineup changes during a battle.

In the second playable segment of the X demo, there’s a point where it tells you how to swap out a character mid-battle. One imagines technical limitations have prevented this before, but it seems like a great idea. I wonder how it changes the dynamics, because you could not worry about healing mid-battle, just swap out characters until the battle’s done, then Tent everyone better (assuming that mechanic remains).

I know I’m late to the party on this, and I was recently drooling over the VII Remake trailer for PS4, and have been following the long, long development of XV (also PS4, neither released yet). And watched the trailer for the X HD remake. Probably be very late to the party on all these, as well. Never mind, I like retro, one day these things will be, too. for no, that was a nice, brief excursion into slightly-less-retro-land.