Mike’s Prattle


Joe R. Lansdale – Vanilla Ride, Joe R. Lansdale – Bumper Crop, Star Ocean: The Last Hope

Posted by Mike on October 1, 2009

I go through weird phases in my reading and I’m realizing that one of the best things I can do to start a new phase is by reading something that’s easy to read. Lately I’ve gotten about 100+ pages into Alastair Gray’s Lanark, but its very Kafka-esque feel to it has left me cooling towards the book despite its set up of an intriguing mystery and out of order narrative structure and ultimately cooling me down on reading.

So I found out that finally after a good eight years or so Texan maestro Joe Lansdale has finally released a new Hap and Leonard book, Vanilla Ride, and sure enough I finished it in a good three days. After all, the classic banter between the two tough guys, a liberal white straight man and a Republican black gay man, is just a lot of raunchy fun and in Vanilla Ride it’s not only this duo that returns but several ancillary characters all of which are well drawn enough to welcome back. Anyway it rips right on through, one of the friends’ own friends needs a favor for the two to go rescue a relative from the clutches of hillbilly cocaine dealers which leads them straight into a mix up with the local mob and FBI, as the former ends up sending groups of assassins after the guys after they end up rescuing the unwilling relative and leaving embarassed low lives in their wake. As usual it’s a solid read, amusing, dirty, graphic, violent and a hell of a lot of fun, and I’m pleased to hear Lansdale has got a follow up in the works, it’s a series I’ll never want to end.

Bumper Crop, on the other hand, is a short story collection that doesn’t quite measure up to the brilliant High Cotton, or at least it’s chock full of 3-4 page stories that are often pastiches or quick set ups. Fun yes, but very few of them had the brutal and fascinating impact of the longer work found in other collections. In fact the several longer ones, such as the opening “God of the Razor,” are definitely the more interesting stories in the batch. But I will say that even at their least impressive, they always manage to be quickly readable. Anyway these two quick starts have helped kick off another reading binge, so I’m finally starting to make more significant dents on my pile, but more about that later.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope is the latest game I’ve been playing on the Xbox. My first attempt at the Japanese Role Playing Game with Lost Odyssey had me hanging the game up for a while after disc 3 of 4, after getting dreadfully tired of the game’s tedious combat system. Star Ocean has a more visceral and live combat system that’s a lot more interesting, necessary when such a thing gets infinitely repetitive in such a game. It also doesn’t hurt to have Motoi Sakuraba riffing away on a Hammond B3 substitute most of the time, he’s definitely still pushing out the progressive rock tracks for the soundtrack here.

Like most of the JPRG’s I’ve read about or even Lost Odyssey you’ve got an overly melodramatic, young male lead as the protagonist who is quickly joined by his childhood friend and likely later romantic interest. The plot is basically nuclear war on earth sends a bunch of spaceships out searching for new planets and such, only for the protagonist’s ship to be pushed off course by a mysterious meteor crashlanding them on the first of many planets. Graphics are pretty amazing all around, certainly evocative and like Lost Odyssey the game progresses through cut scenes, some of them as much as 30 minutes in length often making one’s heart move rapidly wondering if one will make it to the next save point before a freeze or electric malfunction happens. These cut scenes, while well done and fairly fun to watch are also dreadfully cheesy, particularly as you progress through the game adding new characters to your party for a total of eight in the latter stages of the game.

Unfortunately if you want to get a lot out of the game you really do need a guide for assistance as there are so many secrets in the game that I found myself realizing I had missed a ton of them just by realizing this later in the game before I decided to use one. Resources are mostly gathered via mining and harvesting points, of which you realize you have to go back to over and over and over again to complete side missions or create important items of which there are literally hundreds. Often even large side missions remain hidden until you return to a place you wouldn’t even normally think of except for the handy guide including a large cave section outside the town on one of the universe’s main planets. I honestly can’t imagine the time it took for the people who write these guides to eke out all these secrets, not to mention the many personal interactions between the crew that are sussed out by talking to certain characters at the right place and time.

But not only all this but you realize by the time you get to the end of the game and the final boss section and subsequent 40 minute end cut scene that it’s really not the end of the game, oh no, there’s actually a secret dungeon that can be opened at the end (by a ring that also sends you, yet again, all over your known universe opening chests for new equipment that you could never get during the actual game itself) that’s intensely more difficult than any in the game and then, apparently, there’s one after that that holds the game’s uberboss that’s somehow even more difficult to the point that one needs to amp up all their characters to 200 levels, when the natural game, even when grinding like crazy, only gets you to say the 70s and 80s. You have to give to the creators that for those who love this game they’ve really given you plenty to chew on (not to mention a massive Colloseum system that also can’t be beaten until after the end of the game). Personally I find there’s diminishing returns at this point as instead of intriguing missions, cut scenes and such really all you’re left with is the never ending combat system, which as fun as it is I’m not sure it quite will last long enough for me to stagger through unsaveable, difficult later dungeons.

But overall, unlike Lost Odyssey (so far perhaps), Star Ocean was fun enough to get me through the main game and certainly it was a lot of cheesy fun while it lasted. I did miss a lot though, including not being able to fulfill a lot of side quests on a certain planet that, shall we say, doesn’t last in its current condition throughout and not understanding the on ship private action system to trigger more than one of the final character scenes, but I bet I could find those on youtube were I interested enough. Overall though, I’m not sure the JPRG is quite my style, certainly there are some aspects I like but I definitely go for the Bethesda or Bioware styled RPGs more, probably because the character interactions aren’t quite so eyerollingly embarassing at times. Then again while maybe 40 minute cut scenes are really pushing the envelope I think there’s something to be said for getting to the movie segments as they definitely add more story to it. Unfortuantely in Star Ocean’s case it wasn’t anything more than the usual fantasy inspired space opera motif at work, but hey occasionally I’m a sucker for a huge battle in space or dramatic pre-boss spectacle so it overall was worth the effort. But even though I’ve still got a couple JRPGs on hand to play (not to mention the two in question here that still have more plan on them both), I feel it’s unlikely I’ll need to buy anymore.


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