Sunday, March 9, 2014

Life update: I've been solving murders and buying a car

See, I figure that if I'm not updating this blog regularly enough, then that kind of beats the whole point of creating it in the first place, which was to keep my writerly muscles flexed even when I'm not under obligation. In my defense, I've been busy lately. Ha. That segues me rather succinctly into my discussion topics, wouldn't you say?

The first thing that's been sucking up my time is that I've had to buy a new car, but that'll actually be the second thing, since this is primarily a gaming-centric blog and thus probably not what anyone reading this would want to hear about.

Games, then. Just last weekend, I decided to punch through Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the first time in quite a while as a continuation of my recently fixation on Metroidvania games, following Guacamelee!, Dark Souls and two actual Metroid games. (Also to be blamed: the talk surrounding the recent Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, which I have not played and which is still relatively low on my to-do list despite getting some surprising praise from people I trust.)

It's still good. Great, even. Though I will express some confusion over every 2D Castlevania to follow this one being regarded as so second-tier. While I do respect that Symphony was the game to shape the modern formula for this series and co-inspired the "Metroidvania" designation, I'd say that several of the Game Boy Advance and DS follow-ups easily match it for quality in design and layout, in addition to adding their own flourishes - the Sorrow games had one of the coolest collection-and-reward systems I've ever seen, and Circle of the Moon had the decency to be challenging (as well as getting better with time, since the game's notoriously dark visuals are a non-factor on any even remotely modern hardware).

Still, playing Symphony on Vita was a delight - it looks great, and I've developed a preference for playing Castlevania on handhelds, anyway, since pretty much every worthwhile game in the series to follow Symphony was on a handheld. I actually did try playing the game on my Xbox 360 a while back, which was an absolute nightmare with that d-pad, what with Alucard constantly ducking when I didn't want him to. Returning to this one was a smart detour in a crowded release season.

Speaking of which, I've been playing Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.

Ha! No. It's still collecting dust on my coffee table, because I've been preoccupied sinking my teeth into DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc at the suggestion of what feels like two-thirds of the video game critics on my Twitter feed. I just completed the third murder moments ago, and so far, the game (if you choose to call it that) is unquestionably living up to the hype.

I'll try to limit what I say since I plan to review this one when I'm done, but it should be said that DanganRonpa is the latest in a series of cracks in my long-standing argument that video games must serve as an interactive medium first and foremost. The game is basically a straightforward murder mystery in which your only real input, aside from walking from one scene to the next, is to participate in painfully out-of-place mini-games during the trial process, lending some actual stake to what is really a linear narrative. These interactive bits are dumb, and truth be told, I'd kind of rather have experienced DanganRonpa as a simple manga than as a "visual novel" as Wikipedia calls it, and yet the whole thing is so darned well-written that I'm fully invested nonetheless.

It's kind of a cruel experience in a very Game of Thrones-esque way in which the writers aren't afraid to punish characters who don't deserve it or make you hate some of the people who will likely drive the story to important places. But it's also devilishly crafted, to the point that I was in awe of the complexity of the third murder care even when I saw the verdict coming a mile away. It's also both too stylized and too funny to ever become oppressively bleak despite dealing with some very dark subject matter. This is usually not my sort of game at all, but it's so good at what it does that I can't help but recommend it. Hopefully the rest of the game isn't a disappointment.

Finally, let's talk about the thing that has really been sucking up my time recently.

A little over a week ago, I lost my Saturn SL-2, which I've owned since before I even got my license (about seven years ago), in an accident. It was, unfortunately, my fault. I was rushed and rear-ended someone while driving down Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia. The damage wasn't terrible, all things considered - I was still technically able to drive the car with no performance problems - but one of the headlights was destroyed, the hood was contorted and some addition damage was dealt internally. The car wasn't worth much, and since Saturn is out of business, parts were becoming increasingly hard to find (an issue that I'd encountered before). My insurance decried that it was time to say goodbye to this very important staple in my life.

This meant buying a new car, which was a very new experience for me. Since my Saturn was bought when I was still learning to drive and still a child, my parents essentially handled the process for me. This time, while my dad did come to town to shop around with me and offer plenty of passive advice, the hunt was entirely mine. I tracked down all of the cars that I was interested in, I tested them out, and I ultimately decided on what I'll be driving for the foreseeable future: a silver 2002 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

Honestly, for my price range, I thought I'd be settling for something functional but (for lack of a better word) lame. Most of the cars in my search that matched my criteria (which basically just consisted of a price ceiling, several select Asian manufacturers and a manual transmission) fit that description, and yet I now have a sporty roadster sitting in my garage. The thing is twelve years old, but the thing only has 62,000 miles and is in beautiful condition. It's also a convertible, so I kinda can't wait for the weather to get warmer now.

My decision ultimately came down to either this or a 2010 Hyundai Accent. Both were literally five dollars apart in price and had roughly equal mileage, so it really just came down to personal preference, after which it was obvious: the best-selling roadster of all time, or a dorky hatchback. The Miata is significantly less practical than I'm used to; the trunk is smaller, there's no back seat and soft top lends much less visibility out of the back. But it's a damn cool car, one that was bought from a very reputable dealer at a more than reasonable price. I never thought that at the meager age of 23 (or 24, starting a couple of hours ago), I'd actually own a vehicle that makes me giddy to drive, yet here we are. It's been a thrilling experience, and hopefully it'll remain thrilling for years to come.

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