Pokémon Black & White 2: Ten Years Later, Still One of the Series’ Best Main Installments (A Retrospective)

I’ve been playing Pokémon for a while (*understatement*). My first game was Pokémon Platinum (which I certifiably sucked at). But as good as that game is, it wasn’t until Pokémon Black and White 2 that I started to become a devout Pokémon fan. I know that people like the first Black and White better, but I definitely prefer Black and White 2 for a number of reasons. Since these games actually turn ten this year, I might as well do a retrospective on them. I have played through this game several times since I first got it in 2012, but this playthrough is the first time in at least one and a half years. I always had a copy of Black 2 so I wouldn’t have to nuke my original White 2 file. But you know what… I think it’s poetic to nuke that file now, just to showcase how much I’ve changed as a person.

When it comes to the second installment of a given generation, it’s usually a remake of the first with new content. Not here. Black and White 2 are—to this day—the only main game sequels. They take place chronologically after the events of the first Black and White. Everything starts off nice and campy, but the return of a new—and eviller—Team Plasma is afoot. Time to once again beat up criminals with our pet animals!

Pokémon Black and White are generally considered the best installments in terms of story. And, well, yeah… I can’t refute that. It’s a rare time where one of the main antagonists really builds a relationship with the player, and the ethics of Pokémon training are put into question. This time, it’s pretty standard. The new Team Plasma, led by the one-dimensionally evil Ghetsis, is bent on world domination. But instead of beating around the bush and manipulating the emotionally insecure N by sheltering him and crap, he just magically has the post-game Legendary from the previous game, Kyurem, and shoots ice lasers at cities.

So yeah, it really does stink. It’s not bad, but it’s a start to the wildly varying quality of Pokémon plots moving forward. There really was no one in this series quite like N, or the rivals from the previous Black and White. The gym leaders also lose the presence that they had before. You don’t really get to know them at all outside the gym, and there isn’t that awesome scene where they fight Team Plasma together. That scene with Elesa isn’t here either (and for the record, it’s not THAT great of a scene, but that’s probably because I’m an emotionless, un-altruistic monkeybutt). They also add Marlon, a gym leader with a very weird sense of neutrality, that ends up not being explored at all.

While we’re on the subject of characters, I might as well bring up the whole cast. The main character is, well, unchanged, but that’s not a surprise given their nature. Your rival is basically the Sinnoh rival, but instead of being constantly happy, he’s constantly angry. He gets less angry later, but I couldn’t—to this day—tell what changes him. Maybe it’s the power of Pokémon? 

Team Plasma has gotten a downgrade, but it at least introduced one of my favorite characters in Pokémon: Colress. He’s a scientist who’s as enigmatic as his hair. He’s also one of those neutral characters who will only side with knowledge, and that means he actually respects you as a person.

The Pokémon League isn’t too great either, and that’s for both games (fun fact: I never found the League members to be particularly great until Gen 7). As per usual, you NEVER see them until the actual fights (with the exception of a brief encounter with Marshal in the sequels). It’s a shame, because this League has some of the cooler designs. One of them is actually someone from the Battle Frontier in Sinnoh. 

Since the gameplay of Pokémon is expected to be understood when reading a spoiler-filled retrospective, let alone a review, of one of its main installments (also, it takes a while to explain it), the gameplay section will moreso be an evaluation of the games’ structure, as well as the capabilities of the Pokémon introduced during this generation. And the first thing to bring up is that Black and White 2 starts SLOW. It’s still faster than most games, but it doesn’t feel that way compared to the “superior” first games, where you get the starters IMMEDIATELY. Also, as the last game where the starters don’t have their first stab move immediately, it becomes an even harder sell. The first gym, being Normal-Type, is uncharacteristically difficult no matter which starter you pick. The only good way to do it is to find Riolu in Floccesy Ranch, and it happens to be a rare spawn. The starters of Unova are all more geared to defense and setup, making it a button-mashing game at the beginning, even with their stab moves. Oh, and even when you beat the first gym, you are forced to do the first segment of PokéStar Studios, which is painfully tedious (and an area that I—for the sake of this review—gave an honest college try to complete for the first time in my life). 

In fact, the definition of “slow burn” doesn’t just describe these games, but most Unovan Pokémon. A lot of level-up evolutions do not trigger until super-late into the story, some of which are even post-game at the earliest. This problem isn’t as bad in Black and White 2, since levels are much higher by the Pokémon league. One of the most notorious examples is Unova’s pseudo-Legendary: Hydreigon, evolving from Zweilous at LEVEL 64. Even with the better level scaling in the sequels, you will still not be getting this thing through level up until the post-game, or just before the Pokémon League at the earliest. The only way to straight-up catch it before the Pokémon League is for the infinitesimally small odds of a dust cloud in Victory Road spawning it. Of course, if you can get it, it’s a freaking BEAST. Hydreigon was at its prime in Gen 5, before the Fairy-Type gave it a nasty quad-weakness. 

Another Unovan powerhouse is one of its Fossil Pokémon: Archeops. Insane Attack and Speed, but an ability that hampers Attack and Special Attack if its HP goes below half. To be honest, it’s almost always going to go first in battle, and if its opponent survives and attacks, and Defeatist activates from the hit, the opponent should have low enough HP for the next attack to finish it off. And since Defeatist doesn’t lower Speed, Archeops will still go first and deliver the finishing blow. It also evolves from Archen at a very reasonable Level 37. Archeops is still one of the most powerful physical sweepers, but like with Hydreigon, it was also at its prime in Gen 5 thanks to the unique Gem items. These Gems each represent a Pokémon Type, and they get consumed as held items to boost their respective type of move once. When using the move Acrobatics, and consuming a Flying Gem, the game counts that as not holding an item. Thus, Archeops can benefit from the Flying-Type damage bonus as well as the 110 base power from not having an item when using the move. I wanted to use its defensive cousin, Carracosta, for the first time, but the Fossil guy isn’t in Relic Castle in the sequels. In fact, Fossils aren’t available until the post-game!

Unfortunately, not every Unovan Pokémon is as great as they could be. One example is Garbodor, who’s still a hard sell even to this day. It evolves at a reasonable level, is a great tank, with an equally great physical attack stat. The rub is that it doesn’t learn a single physical stab move through level up. Scratch that, it doesn’t learn a single physical stab move, period… with the exception of Gunk Shot. It has a respectable Special Attack stat, but it’s the principle of the thing. 

Another great Pokémon that can be handicapped is Golurk. It’s all around a great physical Ghost-Type, with a cool design and lore to boot. The thing actually has rocket feet, which is a detail that’s acknowledged by allowing it to learn Fly despite not being a Flying-Type. The problem with it is that it can either have the great ability Iron Fist—perfect for its punch-based movepool—or Klutz… an objectively awful Ability that prevents held item use. There is nothing more heartbreaking in Pokémon than having a Pokémon with the best possible nature, but not the preferred Ability. Sadly, due to Black and White 2’s structure, the earliest opportunity to get it is Victory Road.

On a better note, another great Pokémon is Bisharp. It hits like a truck, and is very scary to deal with thanks to its Defiant Ability; any stat reduction will be countered with a free +2 Attack buff. On the other side of the coin is one of Unova’s best special sweepers: Chandelure. Its awesome design isn’t for show; it hurts, plus it can learn Energy Ball to counter Water-Types.

Two more interesting Pokémon that I have never used and, sadly, can never use are Escavalier and Accelgor. They are evolutions of Shelmet and Kerrablast, obtained by trading one with the other (hence my lack of having them since I don’t have friends). Escavalier has the risky Bug-Steel typing, with great physical Defense to boot. On the flipside is the glassy Special sweeper, Accelgor. It has next to no defenses, but has unsurpassed Speed, moreso than Archeops. 

Unova also has two version exclusive birds: Ruflett and Vullaby, which evolve into Braviary and Mandibuzz respectively. Like most Unovan Pokémon, they take forever to evolve, and you can’t even encounter them until Victory Road. Fortunately, the sequels have a static encounter with the evolved form very early on, plus that encounter has its Hidden Ability. Fun fact: Braviary with Defiant is a good thing.

I suppose I should talk about the starters, right? Like I said before, Emboar, Samurott, and Serperior are some of the chunkier starters in the series. Emboar is the most brute force of them all. It learns Flame Charge very early on, and its guaranteed Speed buff is a great setup for sweeping. Samurott is the most well-rounded, and learns some unexpectedly great moves like Revenge, and an assortment of powerful Bug-Type moves. Serperior has powerful Grass-Type moves and the great setup move of Coil to boost its Attack, Defense, and Accuracy. Unfortunately, it has the weakest move pool, only able to learn Grass and Normal-Type moves. It’ll serve you well against pretty much anything except a Steel-Type… well, once it gets Leaf Blade.

If you didn’t think this game had any more tanks, don’t worry; there are more. Druddigon and Ferrothorn are particularly rude, because they both have an Ability that inflicts contact damage on opponents. And like with any Pokémon with those Abilities, the effect stacks with the Rocky Helmet equipped. Just be wary with Ferrothorn; being a Grass-Steel physical wall, one good special Fire-Type move will end it.

Last but not least are the Legendaries. The main two, Zekrom and Reshiram are—to my knowledge—the first and only plot-relevant Legendaries who cannot be caught until the post-game (at least in the sequels; in the originals, you catch your boxart Legendary right before the final boss). They are all around great Pokémon, bolstering strong attack and bulk. Kyurem, who’s also respectably strong by itself, is able to fuse with either of Zekrom or Reshiram. This replaces its signature move with a powerful two-turn attack that can inflict Paralysis and Burn respectively.

There are also the Swords of Justice, who are notably all obtainable before the post-game. They have VERY powerful attacks, but the best one defensively is Cobalion. It’s Steel-Fighting, which is awesome before Gen 6 nerfs Steel. There are also the Mythical Pokémon Victinni, Meloetta, Genesect, and Keldeo. Unfortunately, since those are Mystery Gifts that need to be obtained through an event during a specific time, I have only ever obtained Genesect and Meloetta. Genesect is basically a watered-down Arceus; a cool-looking Bug-Steel Type whose signature move changes based on the type of a hold item called a Drive that it holds (and I’ve only ever been able to find one anyway). Meloetta is a special attacker that alternates between Normal-Psychic and Normal-Fighting through use of its signature move.

Let’s get back to the actual structure of the game. Unova was already a very chunky region in the first game, but Black and White 2 has a LOT more. A LOT MORE. It has a whole bunch of new areas, and a much wider variety of Pokémon than in the previous venture (even if the Unova-only Pokémon idea was pretty fun in Black and White 1, and much appreciated compared to the more recent games where newer Pokémon tend to be rare). However, there wasn’t exactly much I didn’t remember, since I—you know—remember so much from loving these games to death.

When it comes to starting in earnest, I’d say that Black and White 2 opens up after the third gym. Route 4 is when you start getting a lot of interesting Pokémon, and get to explore a pretty big area with the Desert Resort. Unfortunately, there is some padding even still. While you aren’t forced to do the tutorial for the musical place (which… we’ll get to later), you are forced to do the Pokémon World Tournament after the fifth gym (in addition to the aforementioned PokéStar Studios). I don’t know if you have to win to advance, but it comes down to already knowing what your opponents have (fortunately, they’re always the same). There’s also a very late point in the game where you have to fight someone with four Roggenrolas. Since this is before they could have Weak Armor… you have to fight four Roggenrolas with STURDY. It’s stupid and pretty much impossible to lose; it’s just there to be annoying.

So, we’ve gone over a number of side areas with unique mechanics. Well, there’s still more. One of my favorites was always Join Avenue. Every day, you’d boot up the game and talk to NPCs walking along the street, where you’d either have them open a shop or recommend them to an already opened shop. This place sucked so much of my life away ten years ago, and it’s worth it. The raffle place has a Master Ball for the grand prize, and I—to this day—have never obtained it (if Chugga ever plays these games for his channel, he will probably get it very easily). The antique shop is a great place to obtain a lot of random and useful items (get ready to have a new hate for Hard Stones). There are also places to raise base stats, friendliness, and EVs. 

Full transparency here: I did some of these side mechanics in my copy of Black 2, since I already had grinded up some other Pokémon for post-game stuff. PokéStar Studios… I gave it half an hour before I gave up on it (yes, that’s more than I ever gave it). I like it, but even when watching Twitch in the background, I found it emotionally draining and mechanically stupid. In PokéStar Studios, you choose one out of a staggering number of movies to shoot. You are provided rental Pokémon and a script to follow. You generally want to follow the script… but the problem is that you’re actually encouraged to find a very obtuse and specific combination of deviations to make something more avant garde. Since Bulbapedia, the most trustworthy source of Pokémon info on the Internet, didn’t have a guide for this to my knowledge, I gave up pretty quickly. As much as I love the unusual scenarios it puts Pokémon in (which I would’ve loved to see done in the main games more often), it’s just too much.

And honestly, I didn’t really want to do the musical studio either. The fun part is dressing up your Pokémon in ridiculous ways with various props, and that’s about where the fun ends. On stage, you perform a number that takes about five whole minutes, and you’re supposed to have more pizzazz than the other performers. Sadly, I have no idea how it’s measured. I know that hand-held props can be used as one-time flourishes, but I—to this day—have never had any clue on the best timing. Also, you have to do this a massive number of times to get everything out of it, and there are not enough dances to select from for variety’s sake. It’s the kind of repetitious grinding that can drive a completionist insane.

To add to the unprofessional-ality of this retrospective, I couldn’t do the competitive battle areas for crap either. The Pokémon World Tournament starts off weirdly easy (at least it was for me). You go through a cup where all eight Gym Leaders of Unova are thrown in as contestants. If you win, you unlock similar cups featuring Gym Leaders from Gens 1-4. While this is no doubt really cool, it’s also really difficult. I just can’t wrap my head around the insanity of competitive Pokémon-ing. The Battle Subway, which features different types of battle gauntlets against random trainers, is more forgiving, but it’s also less exciting.

When it comes to overall difficulty, Black and White 2 can be nasty if you don’t know the series’ mechanics REALLY well. Levels tend to hike up when it comes to gyms, creating a lot of walls if you don’t have specific Pokémon to account for them. I enjoy playing Pokémon slightly underleveled, since knowing the mechanics tends to outweigh pure stats, but man, not having the Gen 6 and onward Exp. Share is… hard to go back to. And for anyone who thinks that particular mechanic in Gen 6 makes things too easy, well… I’ll elaborate on that if I ever do a 10th Anniversary X and Y retrospective next year. I don’t really know how hard mode is, but according to Bulbapiedia… yikes.

In case Black and White 2 didn’t seem long enough to you, then get ready for its massive post-game! This opens up a ton of new areas: the northwest and southeast corners of the map (i.e. the areas around Icirrus City and the starting area of the first games). It also opens up Clay Tunnel, where you can obtain the Regis. The thing is… they’re all in the same room, and require the Key System setting to change the room to accommodate each Regi. These Keys were obtained by beating the game and doing other stuff, and had to be shared with other versions of the game. One set of keys is a difficulty modifier, however, I don’t know if you can have it to where you start a new campaign with one of those keys right off the bat (I kind of wanted to play the game on hard mode). In any case, you need both versions to obtain all three Regis, and unlock Regigigas as well. There was also a mechanic that allowed you to see N’s past, and randomly spawn Pokémon formerly owned by him into the wild. However, I don’t remember much of that mechanic nor how to do it.

It also opens up the version-exclusive Black City and White Forest. The former represents corporate greed and is really miserable and ugly, while the latter is quaint and happy. However, unlike the previous games where White was objectively better, both areas are more balanced in Black and White 2. Both of these areas have a unique challenge dungeon. Each set of floors has you go through a procedurally generated dungeon, fighting random trainers for hints on where the gatekeeper trainer is. Beating the gatekeeper trainer opens the door to the boss. Items cannot be used, but levels aren’t fixed either, so you can theoretically grind to level 100 and have an easy time. In any case, making progress opens shops in Black City and White Forest, each with unique items, and beating the final boss gives you a Shiny Gible and Shiny Dratini respectively. There is also an area that opens up after completing the Unova Regional Pokédex, but to this day, I have never managed to get it, especially since this game doesn’t have two rivals to register all three starters with (and it’s not Sinnoh where it’s programmed to make Regional Dex completion easy). 

And here’s the cherry on top: the Medal system. This is technically not post-game content, but it is part of getting to rate these games as 100% completed in your book. There are Medals for everything, from basic stuff, to completing everything in the side areas such as PokéStar Studios. This also includes completing a Pokémon League run with a single-Type team for EVERY Pokémon Type (fortunately, dual-Types count as long as one Type matches across the board), as well as a run with a single Pokémon (shouldn’t be too hard for those very first fans who just used their starter for the entirety of Red and Blue as kids because they didn’t know how the game worked). It’s a tad bit excessive.

Some of this stuff seems like it requires monumental grinding, and it does. Fortunately, Unova is by far the best generation for this sort of thing. Every day, stadiums in Nimbasa city spawn trainer battles (as long as it’s the right time of the day, otherwise they’ll be closed off). By the post-game, there are TONS of battles, enough to take at least half an hour total. In addition to this is a fight with your rival, a tag-team battle involving the trio of Gym Leaders from the first game’s Gym, and a fight with Colress (if you’re willing to go through two routes to get to him every time). ALL of these respawn daily. Furthermore, a rare Pokémon named Audino can spawn in any light-colored Pokémon grass, and that thing drops a LOT of XP!

Generally, I consider Unova to have excellent design in terms of layout and stuff to do (especially the latter), but I do have one qualm with it: seasons. There’s a reason that this only occured in Gen 5, because it’s handled stupidly. Basically, the game will track the date and time on your DS, and dynamically change the overworld depending on the seasons. While this is a nice detail, it results in some areas that cannot be reached except on specific seasons. And what’s worse is that autumn and winter are—to my knowledge—the only ones that really matter in terms of gameplay. 

For this passage, I need to make something clear: for some reason, I really love the world of Pokémon. It does have questionable ethics (and a lack of law enforcement), but I always loved existing in it. It always felt like a lucid dream to me (which is ironic since dreams are a theme in this game), and Unova always felt like one of the dreamiest. Pretty much every town has some sort of personality that makes it stand out, and a lot of them have my favorite atmospheres in the series. One such example is Village Bridge, which is an area that you just go through, with no plot relevance in either games. As a result, I always felt like it was a place removed from the rest of society, and it had a sense of quaintness to it.

I also love the visuals of Gen 5. This was the first generation where the POKÉMONS’ NAMES WEREN’T ALL CAPS, and more importantly, the first where their sprites were animated, showing off their full bodies in battle. The 3D is also much more intricate than Sinnoh’s, and the games run better as well. It’s also the first game where Abilities have a flashy visual that appears when they are activated.

The soundtrack is also one of my favorites in the series, with awesome overworld and battle themes. People generally love Route 10 from the first game, but as great as that song is, I also love the Route 23 that replaces it in the sequels. Colress also has one of my favorite boss themes in the series, but Ghetsis’ ominous, minimalist theme gets a remix in the sequels which kind of kills the impact of the original. One thing that Gen 5 does that is never revisited until Gen 7 is dynamic themes. Gym Leaders play an alternate theme when on their last Pokémon, but it doesn’t stop there. Certain NPCs in towns can play music which adds to the actual town’s theme. The most prevalent example is the aforementioned Village Bridge, which becomes a fully composed song complete with lyrics after you talk to all the NPCs involved.

~~~~~

After All These Years: 9/10

I love Pokémon Black and White 2, but since then, Game Freak has greatly streamlined gameplay. It’s just really nice that the newer games are programmed so that all your Pokémon will be fairly balanced for each challenge as long as you fight every regular trainer battle. Oh, and those side mechanics… ew. Since the DS is kind of dead, I obviously can’t recommend these games whatsoever. But hey, if you somehow have copies lying around that you bought ten years ago and never played, then I think you should play them.

Disney’s REAL Edgiest Animated Feature: Treasure Planet Retrospective

The turn of the 21st Century wasn’t the worst era of the Walt Disney Company’s history, but it sure was one of the strangest. Following their Renaissance Era in the 1990s, they did some weird stuff. First off, they made a lot of cash-grabby, low-budget sequels to existing I.P.s that nobody asked for. In addition to that, any new I.P.s were serious departures from their classic formula, and it wouldn’t be until Princess and the Frog that they went back to the way things were. That era came with cult classics like Atlantis: The Lost Empire (which I covered on its twentieth anniversary last year), The Emperor’s New Groove (which I’d do a retrospective on if I didn’t have it memorized), and… an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island. For the latter, they changed the genre to science fiction, and named it Treasure Planet, which I had not seen in over fifteen years until watching it for this post. Oh, and by the way, being someone who doesn’t read classic literature, I never read Treasure Island, so don’t expect any intellectuality whatsoever here.

Just in case you’ve somehow never heard of Treasure Island, allow me to give you a run-down. A boy named Jim Hawkins finds a map and is like, “Wow! Treasure Island!” He goes on a pirate expedition to find the place. And since the novel is super-old, the product description now spoils that one of the pirates, Long John Silver, is secretly the main antagonist. Treasure Planet is pretty much the same, except he has no dad, and his house burns down because it’s Disney (oh, and it’s in space).

There ended up being a lot more to say about Treasure Planet than I thought initially going into it, and it’s pretty much impossible for my train of thought to not go all over the place. What immediately stands out is that this is probably the edgiest core animated feature Disney has ever put out, even more so than Big Hero 6. This was the early 2000s, and everyone—even Disney—was embracing full edge culture. And as we discuss the various components of the movie, you’ll see just how edgy it is.

One thing I do remember as a kid is how much the setting blew my mind, which isn’t saying much, of course. To be honest, though, Disney was pretty creative with a lot of aspects of the movie. One example is a spaceport that’s literally in the shape of a crescent moon. Also, in trying to blend the pirate and science fiction themes, they ended up inadvertently predicting NASA’s Lightsail project. Just keep in mind that they do some things that require major suspension of disbelief, like when they survive a supernova and escape a black hole from well within the event horizon. The movie has some intense action sequences, in case you couldn’t tell from the aforementioned supernova and black hole. They are some of the most violent in Disney’s animated films, more so than in Atlantis.

Again, I have no idea what Treasure Island was like, but Treasure Planet definitely has some of those beloved Disney clichés. One of the worst is the case of Jim Hawkins’ father, who isn’t dead, but missing. It’s definitely different from Disney’s usual emotional hook of killing the parents, but it feels half-assed here. For starters, his dad doesn’t appear at all at the beginning when Hawkins is a toddler (before he left), so it’s kind of just thrown at you when he turns into an angsty teen. They also never explain what happens, which can technically be construed as something to leave up to interpretation. It’s possible that he tried to go to Treasure Planet on his own, or that Long John Silver could be his father. Since I don’t like to psycho-analyze and retcon Disney movies, it’s one of those things that has to be glossed over. There’s also some other silly hiccups, such as the death of this one red-shirt guy. He’s murdered by a lobster dude, and they pin it on Hawkins, which is later just overlooked (it’s as if that guy was killed for shock value). Lobster guy gets away with the crime, leaving Hawkins to have an abnormally easy time getting over what he thinks is him committing involuntary manslaughter. Other than that, Treasure Planet is pretty straightforward. They go to the titular planet, find the treasure, escape before it blows up, and learn that the real treasure is the friends they made along the way. That last part is quite literal, because the bread and butter of this movie is the relationship between Hawkins and Silver. Due to how I like to do things, we’ll get to that when we discuss the characters.

The worst part of the movie is probably the soundtrack. I don’t remember a single song in the movie, and that’s saying something for Disney. What stands out in Treasure Planet’s soundtrack is its one musical number. Remember ‘Immortal’ from Big Hero 6? That wasn’t the first edgy alt-rock song by a hired band for a core Disney movie, but the second. They have a montage/backstory for Hawkins, and just like everything in the early 2000s, it’s a sad and moan-heavy punk rock ballad that doesn’t fit at all with Disney, even more so than ‘Immortal’. Whatever this song is called, it’s now my least favorite Disney musical number of all time. 

Treasure Planet has a rather wild cast of characters; and unfortunately, a lot of them are now my least favorite Disney characters of all time. Jim Hawkins, for example, has become one of my least favorite—if not, straight-up least favorite—lead protagonists the company has ever put out. He’s brash, whiny, gullible, has no shortage of sarcastic comments, and has a frat-boy’s dream hairstyle. Disney tried way too hard to make an edgy teen protagonist, and I didn’t like him whatsoever. At the very least, one unique quality is that he’s a lead protagonist who gets no romance.

However, that doesn’t mean there is no romance in Treasure Planet at all. This movie’s lucky bachelor is a scientist named Dillbert who is stupid rich and associated with the Hawkins family for some reason. The fact that he’s rich means that he could’ve paid to have Mrs. Hawkins’ inn rebuilt, but he really wanted an excuse to go to Treasure Planet. Thankfully, Dillbert ended up being the best character in the movie. He comes off as the hoity-toity type, but he’s got an unexpectedly large amount of character that made him more fun than the actual comic relief characters (more on those two later). 

His wife ends up being… er… Look, I did a good job remembering the cast of Atlantis last year, but they literally use the lead female protagonist’s name once in the whole movie. And that’s because she’s the captain of the ship, and insists on being referred to as Captain or Ma’am. Whoever she is, imagine Mary Poppins as a pirate and that’s basically Captain Ma’am in a nutshell. On another note, she has either become more or less controversial over the years (I honestly don’t know which) because she’s a cat-girl. So uh yeah, if you’re offended by that kind of stuff, then this movie is not for you. 

Usually, Disney has a good track record of making cute characters who exist for gags, but Treasure Planet has two of my least favorites in that category. The first one is a blob named Morph. Imagine Figment but ten times more annoying. He shapeshifts and stuff, but that’s about it. Most of his attempts at being funny come off as incredibly annoying, and if I had ever found him funny as a kid, then shame on my house and my cow. 

Additionally, there’s B.E.N…. who isn’t much better. Fun Fact: for all this time, I had thought that this guy was voiced by Robin Williams. He has a spastic, spontaneous personality, much like the characters that Williams has played. However, B.E.N. is actually voiced by Martin Short, which was a huge mind-f*** for me. I must say… as much as I like Short, he was pretty screwed with this role. B.E.N. is just very boring. I don’t know, but none of his lines felt funny, even though Short tries his damndest to make them funny. One standout thing is that B.E.N. is a fully CG character among a cast of hand-drawn ones. For 2002, he moved better than something like RWBY, which is both impressive and sad. 

The problem with both Morph and B.E.N. is that they do that thing where they inadvertently work against the protagonists simply because they’re stupid. Well, the former was technically working with Silver, but it’s the same basic idea. Morph constantly busts Hawkins’ chops and steals the MacGuffin, while B.E.N. constantly gets the bad guys aggroing on Hawkins. I can’t really say anything else about them. They just really suck by Disney standards. 

At the very least, they have one of the most subversive—but tragically forgotten—Disney villains of all time: Long John Silver. I have no idea how Silver’s character arc is in the source novel, but Treasure Planet’s Silver is (I presume) the one Disney villain with a redemption arc. He pretends to give a crap about Hawkins, but then actually gives a crap about Hawkins, and years later, someone (probably) writes a long article about how the two are secretly gay for each other. Silver isn’t particularly interesting, and only stands out when compared to Disney villains. As a small side note, if this was how Silver’s character arc originally was, then I hate him because that probably makes him responsible for the whole “villains must be complex no matter what” stigma that everyone thinks is an absolute rule in storytelling. Thanks, Stevenson!

I always discuss visuals last for some reason, and the visuals in Treasure Planet are stunning. This thing has CG everywhere, and it’s aged pretty well. It doesn’t look as jarring as you’d think for something that turns twenty this year (eighteen as of when I actually watched it for the post). And as you’d expect, the characters have that Disney attention to detail which makes them feel alive, even if none of them are particularly interesting.

~~~~~

After All These Years: 8.6/10

Other than a few dumb plot contrivances (and lackluster soundtrack), Treasure Planet is a tragically underrated Disney movie that deserves a bit more love. If you’re one of those people who only follows Disney because they own Star Wars and Marvel (which Disney didn’t ruin, because they were already ruined well before being bought out OOOOH SNAP), then Treasure Planet is an easy recommendation. Just don’t think you can use it to write a book report on Treasure Island without reading it.

When Disney Decided to Dig a Little Deeper: Princess and the Frog Retrospective

Well, I kind of cheated with this one. Basically, I got to rewatch Princess and the Frog during a movie under the stars event in Disney and decided to write a retrospective on it, in advance of its twentieth anniversary. However, I got impatient and instead decided to post it now. In any case, this review was written after watching the movie for the first time in over two years, so I should be able to break it down pretty impartially.

In Princess and the Frog, a girl named Tiana dreams of opening a restaurant in New Orleans. But since it’s Disney, her father dies early on and she gets screwed out of a vacant property right when she saves up enough money. What’s worse is that she runs into Prince Naveen (*smack* of Maldonia), a strapping prince who happened to be visiting the States, and the two of them turn into frogs.

Princess and the Frog was the start of a new trope for Disney’s female leads. They would no longer be damsels in distress who were swept away by some hunk. In fact, a lot of these Disney women would start off on bad terms with their husbando-to-be. Princess and the Frog also starts a trend of Disney lessons that are practical to real life, unlike previous ones which were like “If you cry hard enough some magic grandma will come save you.” The movie shows you the line between wants and needs, as well as work and play. I hate saying that something is good solely from being relatable, but Princess and the Frog is really easy to relate to, whether you’re some greedy hoarder, a workaholic, or anything in between. Heck, it’s something I still need to learn while juggling this blog and a full-time I.R.L. job.

But as far as the story itself, Princess and the Frog is about as straightforward as any mainstream Disney flick. The bulk of the movie is Tiana and Naveen goin’ down the bayou to reach Mama Odie, who supposedly has the ability to turn them human again. And of course, when they get to her, she’s all like “stuff Mufasa said probably” and sends them back to New Orleans so Naveen can make out with Tiana’s BFF. As you can expect, she gets the best of both worlds in the end. 

Fortunately, if you like classic Disney, then you’ll find Princess and the Frog to be one of their best. All the personality and Disney magic is still present, even though the behind the scenes for this movie has one of the producers saying “the world had grown too cynical for fairy tales” (which is more true now than ever thanks to social media and, well… last year). It’s lighthearted, funny, emotional, and bursting with color and heart.

The characters are among the most likeable in Disney’s repertoire. Tiana and Naveen aren’t that interesting by themselves, but it’s their relationship that brings out the best of them. They are two extremes; with Tiana being extreme work and Naveen being extreme play. To my knowledge, this is the second time in Disney history with a tsundere Disney Princess (the first being Belle). But unlike Beast, who saves Belle’s life and gives her Stockholm Syndrome as a result, Tiana and Naveen’s values clash in some bizarro way that results in the true wuv that we all care about (and them learning how to properly manage their lives).

Like I said in my Disney rant, people don’t care about the leads as much as the other characters. Louie the crocodile is your typical comic relief character. However, as lovable as he is, he’s not that funny. The most hilarious part about him is the sheer concept of a crocodile who wants to play jazz with the big boys, and the only funny bit is him not knowing “the geography and the topography” of the bayou. Of course, people (and myself) love Raymone to bits and pieces. The interesting part is that he’s one of the few Disney protagonists to die towards the end of the movie, as opposed to the parents who don’t even live for half an hour (such as Tiana’s dad). As desentized to Disney deaths as I am, I admit that seeing him be reincarnated as a star right next to his waifu in the sky is pretty moving.

A sadly unutilized character ends up being Best Girl Lottie. She’s loaded thanks to her father, John Goodman. Being a rich girl, her deep friendship with a low-income girl like Tiana could arguably inspire hope for  kids to this day. Regardless, she’s hilarious in every scene she’s in, even if those are low in number.

The antagonist, Facilier, is—to my knowledge—the last true Disney villain. After him, they would get less and less presence in the movies, and now, they pretty much don’t exist. With that in mind, what a banger to end on! He’s become a modern fan-favorite for a reason, and it’s because he’s constantly oozing charisma. He’s really intimidating for such a skinny guy, and his death is perhaps one of the scariest out of the Disney villains.

Being a Disney Princess movie, Princess and the Frog has a phenomenal soundtrack. I don’t like jazz at all, but I’m always surprised by how many different atmospheres and moods that they can convey with the genre in this movie. Also, Facilier’s number is probably one of the best villain songs in Disney history.

Princess and the Frog hasn’t aged a day, despite its use of traditional hand-drawn graphics. It’s a visually stunning film, with both nostalgia and modern flair. They make New Orleans look just about as fantastical as any Magic Kingdom, that’s for sure. The behind-the-scenes said that they’d occasionally like to return to hand-drawn graphics every now and then, but they still have yet to do it. WHY?!

~~~~~

After All These Years: 9/10

Princess and the Frog is really damn good! There’s nothing else to say besides that. If you like Disney, then you should have no problem with this one.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire — Twenty Years, and It’s Still One of Disney’s Most Unusual Films

Preface: I was going to post this sometime in June, when the movie would actually hit its twentieth anniversary. However, I feel like my posts have been getting awful lately. I’ve been running out of steam, and have been considering a hiatus. In other news, the Attack on Titan anime is slated to end before the manga. And since it looks like it’ll end with exactly one chapter left, Hajime Isayama will probably just tell MAPPA what happens, making it so that the anime will be one of the first to end before the manga while still being faithful all the way through. As such, to avoid spoilers, I will likely take a hiatus, not just from the blog, but from the Internet. It’ll be in early March, after whenever I publish a review of Raya and the Last Dragon. Well, with that out of the way, let’s get to the actual post!


The early 2000s was when I grew up, and as a result, a lot of Disney’s… er… projects at the time ended up being among my first impressions of the company. I mainly watched Disney Jr. back when it was called Playhouse Disney (nostalgia!), but I also watched some of the classics… sequels. Look, I was a kid, okay?! Fortunately, they didn’t solely focus on straight-to-VHS sequels. In fact, they followed-up their renaissance era of the 1990s by pulling a xerox era and COMPLETELY abandoning their typical formula. This led to what are considered the company’s biggest cult classics. I did say I was not going to do a retrospective of 2001’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire in my Three Musketeers retrospective, but you know what, it did turn twenty this year, so… Yeah. It’s been about three years since I last watched it, but to be honest, I’ve changed a lot even since then. So let’s see how it holds up (btw, unmarked spoilers abound in this one!).

In Atlantis: The Lost Empire, a nerd named Milo Thatch has had it rough. He’s been dead set on the idea that the waterlogged city of Atlantis is definitely real (which it is, since they show you a whole opening sequence of it sinking). Unfortunately, no one cares. Well… no one except for this old coot and his team of explorers who happen to be going on an expedition to find the place. 

Trying to do a fair review of this movie is hard, mainly because I have a lot more nostalgia for it than Three Musketeers. Even if I hadn’t last seen it three years ago, I would nonetheless have a dangerous amount of nostalgia going into it now. I rented Atlantis so many times from Blockbuster, I distinctly remembered a large number of scenes to this day, from Milo’s unique way of starting up a boiler, to Cookie making Rhode Island dance. I’m not a scholar, so all I can do is write about my experience at face value.

But where do I start? There’s a lot to say about Atlantis, mainly because of how different it is from most core Disney animated movies. It’s one of two with a heavy science fiction theme, plus it has no musical numbers, and it’s much more violent than most in the company’s filmography.

Despite that, Atlantis still has some of that Disney magic. It’s got high production values, charming characters, and a great sense of humor. It has one of the best feelings of pure adventuring spirit that I have seen in any Disney movie to this day, even if you know who’s going to survive due to a classic case of Red Shirts vs Not Red Shirts. The music is also great, with a main theme that actually gets played on the Walt Disney World status update channel on the resort room TVs, which is one of two times Atlantis has been acknowledged in Disney Parks (the other instance, unfortunately, no longer exists).

Of course, a consequence of having Disney magic is having those same old Disney tropes. As a kid, the movie felt as deep and layered as Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels. But as an adult, Atlantis is not only straightforward, but lightning fast. A lot of character arcs are rushed, to the point of being glossed over, and the same almost goes for specific plot points. 

For example, in the part when they get to Atlantis, Kida shows Milo around the city, and it looks pretty alright at a glance, but she goes on and on about how the city is dying. You don’t really get a sense of how much is at stake without her telling the audience, which is a case of the good old “tell don’t show”, instead of the more time-honored “show don’t tell”. It seems that the spinning face machine (a.k.a. the Heart of Atlantis) works perfectly fine as long as it’s in the city at all, whether in space or underground, since you don’t see Atlantis actually lose power until after Rourke takes it away. But even then, the fish planes still function perfectly fine (compete with lasers). Other than that overly-analyzed aspect, most of Atlantis‘ other flaws are minor logic hiccups. From the forced romance between Milo and Kida, to the fact that the entire population of Atlantis somehow becomes master pilots of machines that they never used before for convenience’s sake, there are a lot of those little things that you kind of have to laugh off. Perfect with some friends, pizza, and booze!

The cast of Atlantis is rather interesting for a number of reasons. Milo Thatch is one of the few male lead protagonists out of the core Disney lineup, and I still love him to death. He’s similar to Quazi Moto from Hunchback of Notre Dame in that he’s not exactly a strapping young man such as Prince Eric. But unlike Quazi, who is honestly the same overly ideal Disney man personality-wise, Milo is a lot more flawed. In his mock presentation at the beginning, where you see him struggling to lift a shield, getting chalk all over his shirt and having to make a funny pose to fill in the image on the chalkboard, it is readily apparent that he is one of Disney’s most socially awkward main protagonists, if not THE most socially awkward. As someone who is both lanky and socially awkward, I did relate to Milo as a kid. Because of that, I can’t tell if my continuing love for his character is impartial or not.

The female lead is Kida, who is technically the most forgotten Disney princess of all time. Introducing the female lead protagonist over halfway into the movie is an unusual move for Disney, which is yet another reason why Atlantis stands out. Unfortunately, this does make her the most forgotten Disney princess for a reason. She doesn’t exactly do much outside of a few charming interactions, and she’s not even present during the climax on account of turning into a cryogenically frozen Super Saiyan. With her late introduction, her romance with Milo is even more rushed (fortunately, they don’t have a gross kiss at the end). Disney was not yet at their ongoing feminist Disney princess phase, so Milo still has to save the “damsel in distress”.

Oh, but they aren’t the only characters, not by a long shot. At this point, I’d only have to go over the antagonist and the marketable comic relief character, but not with Atlantis. The rest of the crew that joins Milo is one of the largest in Disney history (and—for the sake of today’s era of P.C.—one of the most diverse). Fun fact: I’ve seen this movie so many times, but it took until I watched it for this retrospective to be able to commit their names to memory. Since there were so many of them, I could never remember them all as a kid.

Every single one of them, from Audrey the tsundere to Vinny the pyromaniac and Best Girl Mrs. Packard, all have personalities as distinct as their character designs. Unfortunately, there was no way to develop a cast this big in the timeframe of a typical Disney movie. As a result, their backstories are given a very rushed run-down during a camping scene (likely made for that specific purpose). Plus, the way they warm up to Milo is way too instantaneous. And of course, them magically going to Milo’s side after Rourke’s Top Ten Anime Betrayal is one of those “because Disney” things that you have to laugh off.

And speaking of Rourke, let’s talk about that sumbitch. Similar to Hans from Frozen, his antagonist role is introduced incredibly late into Atlantis. But unlike Hans, Rourke’s has much more impact because he’s someone who Milo actually bonds with throughout the journey. They go through the same obstacles with the rest of the crew, and it’s heartbreaking to see him betray Milo later.

…Is what I would be saying if it wasn’t an incredibly predictable character arc. I’ve seen a lot of people say that something was “mind-blowing to them as a kid” as if that’s supposed to showcase how good the story is. But honestly, I find that statement to prove the inverse true. Kids are pure and sweet, but very impressionable and gullible. So me saying that Rourke’s betrayal scene—one of my first introductions to a plot twist in my life—blew my mind as a kid means nothing. You don’t even need experience to tell. Veterans would likely figure it out by looking at him, but there are two dead giveaways that he’s bad: Helga telling him “There weren’t supposed to be people here” (which implies that he planned to yoink the spinning face machine right out of Atlantis), and a cutaway to his men arming themselves with shotguns (pretty self-explanatory). Furthermore, the fact that he goes from mourning the men lost to the lobster robot to not hesitating to throw Helga off of a hot-air balloon makes him come off as over-the-top. I don’t want to be that guy who says that “more human” antagonists are objectively better, but they kind of squandered that opportunity with Rourke. It’s a real shame, because he’s pretty up there with Hans for most lacking charisma out of all the Disney villains.

If you still aren’t convinced that Atlantis is one of the most unique Disney animated features, check out the visuals. The characters are much more angular in design than in other Disney movies, and it is very heavy on CGI. Like I said before, sci-fi is unusual for Disney, and there are a lot of setpieces that you do not see often.

~~~~~

After All These Years: 8.6/10

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a cult classic for a reason. It might be nostalgia talking, but I think this might be in my Top Fifteen (or Ten?) Favorite Disney movies of all time. It’s got a lot of personality and very unusual choices which make it stand out from the rest, especially in the current era of soul-searching stories that they’re doing. I’d recommend it to people who don’t like Disney, and also to Disney veterans who want something different.

Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers is a Needle in a Haystack of Straight-to-DVD Cash-Grabs (Retrospective)

The early 2000s were not Disney’s best era. A lot of it was plagued by the notorious, straight-to-home-video sequels. Fine, I’ll admit that I loved them as a kid (my whole generation did probably), but nowadays, they are generally accepted as guilty pleasures at best. But among those sequels was something that I held near and dear to my heart. It was an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ novel, The Three Musketeers, with a slap of Mickey on it, simply titled Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers. I NEVER hear this one brought up, AT ALL, making it one of the more remote and obscure projects to feature Mickey Mouse in Disney history. Nonetheless, I loved it as a kid. However, both my DVD player and the DVD broke around 2005-6, rendering me unable to watch the movie for all time. At least, that’s what I thought, until it plopped into Disney+’s catalogue completely unannounced. As of the writing of this post, I hadn’t watched it in FIFTEEN YEARS. It’s time to see if it’s an underrated gem or if it deserved to be discarded!

…Is what I would say if I didn’t have some concerns writing this post. Normally, a retrospective is written under the assumption that the person reading has seen the media and knows it well. That’s why I was able to spoil the crap out of March of the Wooden Soldiers when I covered it. But despite Mickey Three Musketeers being well-within the “Okay you can spoil it because everyone knows the story already” range, I’m pretty damn sure that next to NO ONE knows this story. As a result, I’m going to color any spoilery parts as white, leaving you to spoil yourself by highlighting them. Oh, and for the record, since I’m both a millennial and an uncultured swine, I never actually read the source novel, so I’m not going to be evaluating this movie from an adaptation standpoint.

Following an arbitrarily meta opening sequence, we enter a France of yesteryear and focus on three plebs named Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. After being saved at a young age by some local Musketeers, they slave away as janitors with hopes of being able to achieve glory as Musketeers themselves. Well, they get a good shot at it when Captain Pete plans to mousenap Princess Minne, that’s for sure.

The standout thing with Mickey Three Musketeers is that it’s very much an homage to the classic cartoons from the very beginning of Walt Disney’s career. This excited me because I always thought that the ones that starred Mickey, Donald, and Goofy as a team, such as Clock Cleaners and Moving Day, were the absolute best. Furthermore, this is the last piece of media featuring all three characters as major protagonists that I know of (and Kingdom Hearts doesn’t count because they’re accompanied by a bunch of anime turds in that). In any case, the humor and hijinks of the classic cartoons ring true throughout this movie, and they were a very welcome treat for me.

Another thing done old-school is the music. Much like cartoons of the past, background music didn’t just create mood, but sound effects as well. It had a lot of energy that most movie soundtracks lack these days. Unfortunately, in the case of the musical numbers, there is a drawback to doing the music old-school. I had no recollection that this movie had them, and for good reason; they are among the most forgettable in Disney history. They’re all arrangements of classical pieces; which are fitting for the period, but wholly unoriginal. The only one that I enjoyed was when Goofy—of all people—becomes a lady killer and seduces Clarabelle.

Since this is sort of an ode to the classics, you must keep in mind that there are no such things as stakes in Mickey Three Musketeers. I recalled this being like a Tolkienian epic when I was a kid, but through the wizened eyes of an adult, it was short, straightforward, and predictable. There’s even a part where Mickey almost drowns to death (the one scene I remembered distinctly after all these years), and I didn’t even bat an eye at it. Any sense of drama is resolved in mere minutes, typical of most mainstream Disney flicks sure, but still an important thing to mention nonetheless.

You’d think I don’t need to do any character passages, but for the sake of completion, I will anyway. These guys have been the United States’ best ambassadors for almost a hundred years, and there’s a good reason for that. Mickey is arguably the first ever Gary Sue (until you watch the last segment of Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas and realize that he’s just as capable of being a temperamental piece of sh** as Donald), but he’s pure-hearted and legitimately hard to not love. Best Boy Goofy is as perfectly derpy as always, nothing more to say there. My least favorite character, in the case of this movie, ended up being my boy Donald. For some reason, they give him a character arc where he starts off as a complete wuss. He’s a detriment to the plot, and he just magically changes into his regular self two-thirds into the film like nothing ever happened. I don’t know why they did that but I also don’t know why they made so many low-budget sequels to their classic films at the time.

Fortunately, good ol’ Pete shows why he is one of the most enduring Disney villains of all time (with his legacy ending on a poor note in Epic Mickey: Power of Two). He’s a perfect combination of being funny and pure evil, and—dammit—I miss the sumbi****! Appear in more things, Pete! Anyways, the most pleasant surprise was the aforementioned Clarabelle. She’s the sexy secretary who ends up getting reverse-Stockholm Syndrome for Goofy, and she was real fun for her brief amount of screentime in the movie.

Unfortunately, the other women suffer. Minnie (and—to an extent—Daisy) are breathing MacGuffins and nothing more. They offer no resistance to assault, which can trigger some… people who respect women as individuals. If they could criticize Hamilton for being historically accurate, then they can criticize this movie, too.

Last but not least, the visuals. It’s a straight-to-DVD, but it’s enough. The film isn’t gorgeous, but since it feels like a cartoon, it’s okay. Because of this, they were able to go hog-wild with all of the noodly limbs and such. The art is simple and bright, making it easy for the young’uns to comprehend.

~~~~~

After All These Years: 8/10

Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers is great, though it’s nothing compared to 21st Century cult classics, such as The Emperor’s New Groove. But you know what, it’s reminded me that Treasure Planet is on Disney+ and that I haven’t seen it in just about as many years as this. I might do a retrospective on that… by next year at the earliest (don’t expect it honestly). As far as this movie is concerned, I recommend it if you want some old-fashioned cartoon hijinks, and don’t have the priceless Walt Disney Treasures DVDs to experience it the vintage way.

Xenoblade Chronicles X Retrospective

Here’s my background on the Xenoblade Chronicles series. I remember back when they had the article on Xenoblade Chronicles for Nintendo Wii in an issue of Nintendo Power. It looked like the raddest game ever, but I was too intimidated by JRPGs (which, you know, would end soon enough; it IS my favorite genre) to give it a shot. Fast forward to when I watched Chuggaaconroy’s YouTube series on the game, and I realized what I had missed out on. I completely agree with his stance on it being the greatest videogame of all time. Beautiful setpieces, amazing combat, godlike music, and REYN TIME… what’s not to love? So, when I got the opportunity to play Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Nintendo Wii U… I had mixed feelings. But despite the trauma I initially had with the game, I had a hankering to play through it again. So, since it turns five this year, let’s rethink whether or not it was as big of a blemish on the franchise as it seemed at the time. This review is oozing spoilers!

But in all honesty… what spoilers? The plot for Xenoblade Chronicles X is practically nonexistent. Some aliens blow up the earth, and so what’s left of humanity flies off and settles on a planet called Mira. That’s all you get for premise, and most of what you get for narrative. I’ll explain why later, but let’s just discuss what IS there. The narrative of Xenoblade X explores a lot of sci-fi and cyberpunk themes, such as the question of the self. A big turning point in the story is when you realize that everyone is a robot, being remote controlled by their real bodies, which are stuck in the big MacGuffin of the game: the Lifehold Core. You gotta find it before a ragtag team of aliens called the Ganglion do. 

Xenoblade X just ends up being one of those generic “humans are bad” things that motivate the Ganglion, who I believe to be the weakest antagonists in the series. A lot of very arbitrary twists pop up at the end, such as the Ganglion’s motives being entirely because humanity’s ancestors blew up their people, and the fact that Elma is an alien who helped humanity for some reason. It all feels forced, and it’s boring to watch. 

In addition to that, Xenoblade X’s narrative leaves a lot of loose ends. For years, I thought I had actually gotten a bad ending, until in this playthrough, when I confirmed on the wiki that it wasn’t the case. There’s so many holes, I could spend an entire separate post ranting about them; the crap with Lao, or the fact that the Lifehold Core had already been ransacked since the beginning despite everyone being alive. All these loose ends make me think that Xenoblade X is meant to be a spin-off series to tide us over for each subsequent core installment, with a potential X2 coming out next instead of a Xenoblade 3. Lin does imply that the Earth is still out there, and that they’ll return to it someday. That sounds like perfect groundwork for a sequel to me!

So, why is there so little story in Xenoblade Chronicles X? Well, that’s because they tried something really “ballsy”: make the game an MMO and a JRPG all at once. For some reason, they tried to pander to the crowd of gamers that enjoys playing with strangers over the Internet and likes photorealistic graphics, all with a console that wasn’t even remotely powerful enough to handle it. In fact, they had to release DLC that came with assets preloaded that significantly reduced load times from their Sonic 06-like lengths (fortunately, it was free). Since the Miiverse feature is down, there’s a good chance that the servers themselves will follow suit. Going into this, I was actually glad for that, because it gets rid of Squad Missions, my least favorite mechanic in the game. I was actually able to do some Squad stuff at a limited capacity. In case the servers are still up while you’re reading this, I’ll clue you in on the absurd levels of grinding that the game expects from you in order to complete it.

Squad Missions were regularly occurring missions where multiple players on the server had to accomplish shared goals for Reward Tickets, which is what you redeem for most of the nye-impossible-to-obtain materials that you need to craft the best equipment. It was tedious to do, and you needed to do it for hundreds of hours in order to be able to 100% the game. This mechanic is what ultimately led me to feel burnt out in the later parts of the game, but of course, I still tried to do it because I actually wanted to try out the Superbosses. 

In order to accomplish Squad Missions, you had to defeat the specified amount of enemies or collect the specified resources, as shown in the HUD (use L and R to check for what exactly they are). The problem is that you only get an hour of real time to accomplish them, making them impossible to complete early game. You will need a full team of Skells in order to optimize the process. The worst versions of these missions are the ones that require you to defeat Uniques over and over again, which are a pain because you need to skip travel repeatedly to make them respawn. The worst set is one that’s all unique monsters, and one of the bosses in it is only accessible in a no-Skell cave that’s guarded by a bunch of enemies that are impossible to avoid (and you need to fight it six times, at night). 

But no, completing these isn’t enough. Finishing one of the scavenger hunt missions unlocks new ones that you access from the console in the Barracks, and you must complete all of THESE in order to truly complete the whole set. The missions range from easy to annoying, and you will need at least one other person active in the server to possibly be able to finish all of it. The best part is that they give you a bunch of enemy materials to save you from some of the grinding. Just be wary that they send you to places all over Mira, which is guaranteed to spoil later locations. Completing all the missions, in both the field and barracks, gives you a butt-load of tickets.

BUT NO, this isn’t enough either. A lot of the stuff you need will require tons of materials from story bosses as well. That’s why they have Time Attack Mode at the barracks for you to refight infinitely. Good thing that they aren’t guaranteed to drop the crap you need! Yippee! Oh, and add to the fact that the story bosses aren’t exactly the easiest enemies to take down. Good thing all this crap is optional…

At least they took offline playing into account. After beating the game, you unlock support missions, which you can play to grind specific types of rewards. They are pretty useful, but they don’t give reward tickets. Also, the best one for gaining experience and BP is stupidly tedious because you have to fight ten enemies, but only three spawn at a time, and you have to wait a FULL MINUTE for them to respawn and you need to this one the MOST to max out your avatar’s arts and skills and- *huff huff*

With this much grinding, Xenoblade X really does feel like an MMO, and as a result of the MMO-ness, the story is made even worse than it already was. Since they needed to make it into a monster-of-the-week formula in order to structure around the MMO-ness, the plot progression is about as disjointed as Octopath Traveler’s. Normally, I don’t mind the story being bad. In fact, the story being like this makes the game incredibly explorative. If you’re really skilled and stealthy, you can probably explore the whole planet once you get to the third chapter. Back to the negatives, though. I know that the following is a nitpick, but while I don’t need a good story, I want it to be a certain structure. I like a good, arduous journey in a JRPG. I tended to explore before doing a story mission, and as a result, I did most in places I’ve been to before, which kind of took out the enjoyment out of it. However, for a reason I’ll mention later, I recommend that you primarily explore in between chapters.

Although designed around an MMO premise, the story and what the game expects of you clash at times. There’s one cutscene toward the beginning of the game (I don’t remember which one it is; I think I skipped it) where Elma says that humanity needs to live with the land on Mira, and only kill when necessary, such as when something directly tries to attack the town. However, the heavy grinding involved in the squad missions, and in general if you want to actually level up, contradicts this a lot. Maybe it’s done on purpose for thematic purposes, but what’s not done well is the nonexistent tension in the narrative. A giant tower in the town shows a big fat percentage representing how much energy the Lifehold has left, and it only goes down in every chapter. An MMO- scratch that, any RPG in general- encourages you to take your time and do as much side stuff as possible before going on with the story, and the sheer amount of side stuff, plus the aforementioned grinding, make it all feel very inconsequential. Furthermore, due to the fact that side missions never expire (thank God), appropriate things need to be given plot armor and red shirts. You can easily tell that Lao will die or turn on you (the latter of which he does) late in the game because they require you to do certain quests with him before making story progress, as well as the fact that his Heart-to-Hearts suspiciously don’t contribute to 100% map completion. 

The exploration is a blessing and a curse. I didn’t give Mira enough credit back in the day. When I crawled out of that stupid rainy swamp area at the beginning, walked out into Primordia, and was welcomed by its natural splendor, I felt that Xenoblade whimsy all over again. Sure, it’s not shaped like an animal or humanoid, but it’s still an incredible world. There are so many nooks and crannies, gorgeous viewpoints, and an immersive atmosphere to boot. There aren’t enough purely sci-fi-themed JRPGs (that I know of), and Xenoblade X is one of the best in that specific category.

However, they let you know that Mira is a dangerous place. Like in the first Xenoblade, there are enemies of all different levels living together everywhere. In fact the Level 81 gorilla that gives newbs their first game overs is on Mira, in the first area, like in the previous game (and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 shows that he’ll likely remain a staple). But unlike the two core installments, where stronger enemies are designed to discourage too much exploration, Xenoblade Chronicles X demands you explore that high-level territory anyway. In fact, one REQUIRED Affinity Mission makes you infiltrate a Ganglion base FULL of Level 50+ enemies when you are NOT EVEN CLOSE to that level. I’ll admit that I don’t mind it that much in most cases, as the cruel enemy placement really sells the theme of survival on a truly alien world. It also encourages thinking outside of the box, requiring you to utilize the environment and know just how much attack range you have, in order to get out of some crazy battles. In my first playthrough, I remember one mission where they make you fight a really hard enemy in a cave that Skells couldn’t get into, and I beat it by telling my friends to enter their Skells, which they teleported into, and it caused the enemy to aggro to them. But since they were still outside the cave, it just got stuck in a wall, and I waited twenty minutes while my auto-attacks whittled it down to nothing. It was annoying, but it was also fun to think of such a solution in the first place. 

But sometimes it’s too much. A lot of stealth missions placed Target items DIRECTLY WITHIN ENEMY LINES OF SIGHT, and since you can’t pick up stuff while you’re engaged in battle, I was screwed. Also, there are really cheap ambush enemies that don’t show up on your minimap, some of which are Unique Monsters. There’s even a specific cave where a Unique is programmed to spawn in DIRECTLY BEHIND YOU after you walk in and get your bearings. What’s worse is that these enemies don’t ignore you when you’re higher leveled, so getting through places like Sylvalum that’re full of ambush enemies is not fun.

Let’s discuss the different regions. Primordia is the starting area, and it’s a nice, green biome that’s basic but still fun to explore, with most enemies docile to ease you in. Noctilum is my favorite area in the game, and has tons of variety in its biomes. Oblivia is a desert that has tons of mountains to scale (and that big wheel thing). Sylvalum is super pretty, but it’s my least favorite region in the game, for it’s split into an overly large frozen lake with nothing on it, and an overly large plain with nothing on it. Cauldros is loaded with tough enemies and tough platforming (rightfully so), and since it’s the most compact, it doesn’t have much in terms of scenic vistas. My only complaint with the region as a whole is that some of the enemy designs aren’t very inspired. While I certainly remembered them very well, they are mainly your typical, “let’s take earth animals and tweak them a bit, maybe add some extra limbs” designs that pepper the sci-fi world.

Nestled on the southern shores of Primordia is New Los Angeles, the hub. Normally, I don’t like it when JRPGs have only one town, for going into new towns is one of my favorite parts of those games. But NLA makes up for it in growing and developing more than most other JRPGs’ entire assortment of towns. It is a super-bustling area, and as you do more sidequests, it grows into a cultural melting pot, full of bizarre friendly aliens. I still loved running around this place, even with the memories of that stupid lobster bomb sidequest still burnt onto my brain.

Fortunately, the map makes full use of the Wii U Gamepad. While the maps themselves only show a shoddy satellite photo of areas in Mira, everything is divided into honeycombs. Once you unlock honeycombs, one tap will clue you in on stuff within that honeycomb, including Unique Monsters, future sidequests, and treasures. Fast Travel is also incredibly easy as well, thanks to this feature. They also tell you if you’ve completed a honeycomb, but I wish that they kept the specific icons instead of changing it to a gold medal, so it’s easier to know where everything is.

You also use the map to plant Probes. These unlock Skip Travel points and provide you with various perks. Mining Probes give you valuable Miranium and Ores at regular intervals, and Research Probes give you money. Storage Probes let you hold more Miranium, Combat Probes give helpful effects, Booster Probes enhance the others, and Duplicator Probes copy the effects of its neighbors. Each specific site has varying levels of what Probe does better, so read the info box before you plant them in. There are also Combat Probes, that can grant effects throughout the entire region they’re planted in (good luck rearranging all of FrontierNav each time you fight a tough enemy in a different region). I didn’t use any until the postgame just to test them out. Even with the highest effect I could get, it didn’t seem to help whatsoever, but maybe I’m just bad. They’re probably instrumental to fighting the superbosses.

Starting up Xenoblade Chronicles X made me remember one of its worst features: that the text was ludicrously small. “You need basic reading ability to fully enjoy this game,” my foot! You need 20/20 vision, man! This didn’t make the hour I spent in character creation any easier. You could spend a long time deciding who you want to be (the right answer is, of course, a thicc, sexy lady, since the shortest height is too tall for a loli). Fortunately, you can unlock a mechanic to redesign yourself, just in case.

But man… playing this again, I realized just how hard Xenoblade X is to get into on your first playthrough. I elected to skip a lot of cutscenes, especially tutorial stuff, which I think is one of the worst in all of videogames. To compare it to other installments of the series, Xenoblades 1 and 2 let you fully explore the first hub areas, and even had mini-dungeons, all while naturally easing you into the mechanics. Xenoblade X locks you into a specific route, and really infodumps the crap out of you. It’s overwhelming. One of the biggest offenders is when they show you a whole bunch of different terminals at a point where you can’t use them yet, which I believe is really dumb. Xenoblade X is definitely a “teach yourself” game with its mechanics, which there are a LOT of. To add insult to injury, there are tutorial pop-ups that appear well after you’re expected to know how those mechanics work, such as with Overdrive. 

They also have the Division mechanic, which is where you select a job class, and earn rewards from performing that Division’s tasks. This mechanic is awful for multiple reasons. They do acknowledge that it’s a dumb mechanic in the story, but it does little to justify it. The reason why these Divisions are dumb is because some Divisions only have a finite amount of tasks, making them objectively bad picks. Furthermore, picking one doesn’t affect what you’ll do in the story. You could be a Mediator, who focuses on helping people in town, and yet be the hero who saves the Lifehold Core in the end. Furthermore, the Skell exam is to do tasks of all eight Divisions at once anyway (and apparently, you don’t need to build actual driving skills or anything. That would be unrealistic), which further shows how dumb the system really is.

Let’s discuss characters next. As is expected with the MMO-ness, your avatar is by far the weakest main protagonist is the entire Xenoblade Chronicles series. You don’t speak in cutscenes, and you rarely show emotion. What’s worse is that supporting you is a harem called Elma and Lin. Xenoblade Chronicles X has, like, twelve playable characters, and these two are among my least favorite. Elma is sometimes a badass, or a cold-hearted b****, and I don’t really enjoy her in either states. Lin is kind of just a moe-blob mechanic who likes to cook Nopons. “Well, if you don’t like them, don’t play as them,” you suggest. Um, let me tell you one of the dumbest aspects of the game: The main story FORCES you to have those two on every story mission, leaving only one spare slot for someone else (thank goodness this game has four slots). And here’s the clincher, all other party members are OPTIONAL. While the girls are among the best party members in the game (Elma’s Ghost Factory is a lifesaver), I suggest exploring Mira using these other characters, so that when you do the story mission, you can just go straight there with the girls, and not gain excess Affinity, because the game also expects you to juggle all of the party members around in order to jack up their Affinity (and level ups. Get used to hearing people’s death cries a LOT when you decide to play as that one person you didn’t use for fifty hours). I like juggling a lot of characters, but when they make you use two of them so often, it gets tough to build Affinity with everyone without doing a lot of grinding.

And grinding Affinity in this game SUCKS. There are three ways to do it: battle, sidequests, and heart-to-hearts. Battle is self-explanatory, but it takes the longest. In sidequests, it’s not so simple. Every party member you’re with gets an Affinity up when you complete it, sure, but they also get Affinity ups depending on how you respond in certain cutscenes. The problem is that EVERY character has a DIFFERENT reaction to each and EVERY possible response in the game. I imagine that if you know these characters really, REALLY well, you could intuitively guess what they’ll like, but it would require note-taking and multiple playthroughs to know them THAT well (and if you did, you’d have a helluva lot of party shuffling to do). They also feel inconsistent. One example is Yelv’s first Affinity Mission; the guy’s a Reclaimer who’s looking for his friend’s missing pod, but when prompted to decide on a mission type, picking the Reclaimer mission makes him happy, but DOESN’T increase his Affinity. Do you need to know SOCIAL SKILLS too or something?!

On top of that, Heart-to-hearts are the worst in the series in Xenoblade X. Basically, you have to NOT have the person in your party, then go to the appointed area AT THE APPOINTED TIME, with only random NPCs giving you clues on where and when. Oftentimes, you will just simply try to recruit them to your party, find that they went to their heart-to-heart, and not know where they are. You also need to reach certain Affinity levels to even view most of them, so you’d still have to grind anyway. You will probably have to look them all up online to save yourself a headache. And to top it all off… there’s no gifting items in Xenoblade X! It’s almost as if they WANT you to grind in an MMO-like setting…

Of the other party members, the best of the best is L (not from Death Note). This guy is a weird alien who is not fluent in human language, and therefore minces his words a lot. His soul voices, such as “We’ll put a sock on them!” make him my favorite party member in the game. Other interesting characters are Boze, H.B., and Murderess (eff her quests, though). A lot of the best post-battle flavor text involves having parties consisting of these optional side characters.

Unfortunately, a lot of their character arcs leave much to be desired. Like with the main story, these guys don’t really get much closure when you do all that you can with them. Sure, Frye and Phog, as well as Hope, are exceptions. But a lot of it ends off on unfulfilled promises that further tease the possibility of a sequel, like H.B.’s journey to become BLADE commander, Murderess’ journey to restore her family name, or whatever in SAM HILL happened to Yelv at the end of HIS arc. Some people don’t even get a real arc, such as with Irina, whose arc ends with a mission that has nothing to do with her, or Doug; you do one mission with, he tells you about his dead dad, and never hear from him for the rest of the game.

Additionally, there aren’t as many likeable NPCs. Tatsu is the Nopon protagonist of Xenoblade X, but he is the weakest Nopon protagonist, for he doesn’t join your party and ultimately doesn’t even do much. One of the military commanders is Old Man Vandham, and he’s great. Oh, and he’s identical to the Vandham in Xenoblade 2. Hopefully, this indicates that there will be an instance of him in every future Xenoblade, kind of like Final Fantasy with Sid. 

But as I mentioned before with the Ganglion, they’re the least likeable antagonists in the series so far. The leader, Luxaar, has a lot of holes in his motives, such as how some random mech sitting in a pit on Mira is connected to some being he worships. His minions are just typical JRPG villain-minion tropes reworked as aliens: the thicc Goetia, the brawn-over-brain Dagahn, the bi***y Riiz, and the hyper-honorable Ga Jiarg (who, of course, becomes a good guy later).

Enough with characters already! So, sidequests are a thing. There are three types of sidequests: Basic Missions, Normal Missions, and Affinity Missions. Basic ones are accepted at a certain terminal, and respawn daily. Normal ones are your typical JRPG sidequests. Affinity Missions are more complex sidequests dedicated to character development, with a full arsenal of cutscenes to boot. You need to have specific Affinity levels and story progress to unlock them. Fun fact: most of the actual plot of Xenoblade X is in the sidequests. Additionally, most of the aliens you meet in the game are entirely optional, such as the sexy, shapeshifting Definians, or those tall things that give birth by splitting in half. There’s a whole B-plot involving racism that you’ll miss entirely if you don’t do the sidequests! Also, Affinity Missions don’t just explore most of the most interesting characters, but also some of the more interesting themes in the game, and really make it feel like you’re living in something more than a town of NPCs.

Just be careful which one you pick. Although they don’t let you do one unless it’s legitimately doable, doing one too early can be really bad, and since you can’t do any other Affinity Missions or the Story until the current one is finished, you can force yourself into some heavy grinding situations. One early struggle I had was Lin’s first Affinity Mission, The Repair Job. I didn’t recall struggling with this one in my first playthrough, but it took me over five hours to do it this time because it required resources you get from the Mining Probes. And for some reason, it just took forever for them to pop up, even though the ore is common, and I had Probes in three sites that had it.  Alexa’s first Affinity Mission is rough too, because there is an optional harder enemy you can fight, but it’s very powerful, and uses Spikes, which you can’t defend against at the point in which you’re able to do the mission. If you decide to fight this thing, then save, you’re not continuing the story until you kill that thing with the limited early game equipment you have.

That one’s not close to the truly ASS Missions that are in Xenoblade X. My least favorite sidequest is the Red Lobster Bomber thing, where you have to find 99 (technically 98) bombs in NLA, which only spawn in batches, and at specific times of day. I ultimately chose not to do it this time (I somehow did it without a guide in my original playthrough) because the reward is crap, and if I couldn’t 100% the game then, when I only had to go to high school, then I definitely can’t 100% it while I have a full-time job AND a blog to do. In fact, I left a number of quests unfinished, which is a bad sign for me, as someone who loves to do side stuff. I basically got sick of the game, just like I did five years ago.

Xenoblade X has one of the rarest things in all of JRPGs: postgame set chronologically after the final boss. This only unlocks some new quests and Skells, but it’s still neat that there’s a postgame at all. If you played it while the servers were still up, you probably spent the postgame grinding. Unfortunately, the story had to be written around this design choice. In my first playthrough, I had predicted the “soul-crushing” reveal in chapter 12: that you were never remotely controlling the robot bodies from your real ones in the Lifehold Core. The human race WAS completely wiped out, and the robot bodies just contain each person’s memories. It’s a common cyberpunk trope, but it’s super arbitrary when it only serves to have the idea of a postgame make sense. “Well, you could just have the same missions but in your real bodies,” you argue. But like I said, sidequests never expire, so they need to be contextualized so that they can be done at any time without contradicting story elements. They also have to keep all Ganglion bases and enemies in operation, justifying it as “Ganglion stragglers” for the same reason.

Holy crap, how did I go so long without talking about the aspect of videogames that I find most important, which is gameplay?! Well, let’s do it now. Xenoblade X has a run button, which I was sad to have seen removed in Xenoblade 2. It helps a lot, especially since the world has a lot of ground to cover. Combat is also very different from core games. Oh boy, I should start a new paragraph for this.

The basics of Xenoblade are pretty much the same. You have auto-attacks, which go off automatically, and Arts, which are what you will come to rely on. One thing I noticed in Xenoblade X is that you can auto-attack while you move, which is REALLY nice, and something I would’ve liked in Xenoblade 2. But the big difference is Soul Voices. If you use a specific type of art when prompted, you will have amazing bonus effects, from big damage, to big heals, to even brief invincibility. This starkly contrasts from core games, where you kept staring at your Arts as you waited for what seemed like an eternity for them to cooldown, but now expects you to save them for soul voices. It’s not always necessary to be compulsive with Soul Voices, however. Sometimes you’ll want to use an Art like normal. Look at the prompt at the bottom to see what the effect will be before you use it!

There are some problems with soul voices, though. One is that the A.I. spams Arts and wastes TP, and the commands you can give them with + are very limited. It definitely feels like a mechanic that works better in multiplayer, since you’d (supposedly) form groups with human players who don’t suck (too bad that’s pretty much impossible now). But nope, your allies are about as unreliable as ever.

The other issue is the game’s own issue of its voice acting. I think Xenoblade X has the worst voice acting in the series, or at least in the case of the dub (too bad you can’t set the Japanese voice acting in this installment… ). While there are exceptions (like L), the cast overall sounds really corny and annoying. The Xenoblade Chronicles series always had a bad issue of voice clips repeating themselves ad nauseum in battle, such as “You’ll pay for your insolence!” but it’s ramped up to fifty in this game. It feels like they tried to make every voice clip into a meme of its own, but with how incessantly you’ll be hearing all these clips, it’s more so something that sticks with you like that annoying pop song you can’t get out of your head, and not like something genuinely enjoyable. 

Also new to the game are appendages. These are cool, because they’re parts of the enemy’s body that you can target by pressing in the right analog stick, and destroy after dealing enough damage. These lead to some of the best soul voices, such as a free opportunity to inflict Topple. Speaking of Topple… man, it’s hard to go back to an old installment from Xenoblade 2, which showed the duration of the Break statuses and stuff on the HUD, and added the Launch and Smash combos to the deal. Anyways, while destroying appendages is fun, it can also make the enemy super pissed, and even unlock some seriously powerful attacks from them.

As great as the combat is, there are some issues, with the TP stat being one of them. TP is MP. It fills up on auto-attacks and by using certain Arts and soul voices, and it fills up too slowly. You need at least 1000 to do anything with it, and characters can only hold 3000, without equipment to increase the amount. Certain Arts need TP, and these Arts are really important to your strategy. When you die, you lose all TP, which means that you gotta waste time fighting random mooks to grind it back up. The stuff just doesn’t come fast enough. In my first playthrough, the only way I could consistently gain TP was to alternate between True Stream Edge- an AOE attack that gives TP per hit if you have morale (which you can get easily by successfully hitting B prompts to make your own Soul Voice)- and Last Stand- which at its max level, expends 1000 of your TP to give 2000 to your allies- constantly in battle. It took no skill, and I felt like I wasn’t properly understanding the game. What’s worse is that it takes 3000 to revive a party member, which is the equivalent of the ENTIRE PARTY GAUGE in core games. This doesn’t make using Overdrive any easier. 

Overdrive is the replacement of Chain Attacks. Basically, you expend 3000 TP to make your selected character go into Overdrive (fortunately, your allies will follow suit if you have the proper soul voices). In Overdrive, you use Arts to score hits and gain bonus effects that get stronger as you combo stuff. Using Melee and Range arts in succession will boost the count, while other types will act as wild cards and enable you to follow up with the opposite type. The method is to gain back all that TP and click on the Overdrive button again to extend its duration as long as possible. In this playthrough, I was pretty good at using TP conservatively, but I could never get a longer Overdrive without those broken strats. I believe that maintaining maximum Overdrive (I knew I should’ve gotten the turbo…) makes the party in Xenoblade X the most powerful in the series.

Another issue that I had to remember was the horrid lack of an Aggro system. Well, that’s not entirely true. There is definitely an Aggro system, but the problem is that they got rid of the symbol to indicate who is being targeted. It really sucks because a lot of strategy is built around knowing who’s being targeted at any given time. For example, Yelv has this ballsy Art called Essence Exchange, which swaps his HP and TP stats. This can be really useful, but also put him on death’s doorstep in .05 seconds. It’s risky to use, but deciding could be made a lot easier if you knew at a glance if he was being targeted.

Spikes return to Xenoblade Chronicles X. This unwritten and notoriously BS mechanic involves enemies who inflict counterattack or proximity damage whenever they darn well feel like it. The only way to avoid it is to have the right augments, and the augments for it in Xenoblade X suck. The best anti-Spike gear in any other game will basically grant one party member full immunity or reduce the damage to 1. But here, the best augment is merely a 50% evasion of Spikes. So, to give your whole party Spike immunity, you need at least EIGHT of the best anti-Spike augments, and that’s not even including the entirely separate ones for Skells. There’s also the new reflect damage BS. In this case, an enemy will take zero damage from a given element, and you’ll take the full hit yourself (and since some of your attacks do thousands of damage, you will die in less than a second). Fortunately, the augments to make yourself immune to this effect are pretty easy to make, you just gotta make them for EACH and EVERY element, and at least FOUR apiece.

Whenever the game decides to put up a legitimately fair fight, it does feel like a true Xenoblade Chronicles game. But like with any JRPG, you need to be outfitted properly to come out on top. Unfortunately, the equipment in Xenoblade X is too damn convoluted! Xenoblade X characters equip two weapons- one melee and one ranged- a headpiece, a top, two sleeves, and pants, each of which can have any out of, like, a BILLION augments added to them. There are also a TON of stats: HP, TP, Melee Attack, Melee Accuracy, Ranged Attack, Ranged Accuracy, Evasion, Potential, and Resistances for Physical, Thermal, Ether, Lightning, Beam, and Gravity attacks. The stats on equipment vary wildly, especially with clothes making you more resistant to one element, and more vulnerable to another, with no definitive combination for all situations (and don’t get me started on the many enemies that have powerful attacks two elements to where a given piece of equipment is strong against one but weak to the other, such as with Ether resistant clothes being weak to Physical). On top of that, you gotta outfit all ten+ party members, and EACH OF THEIR SKELLS. Oh, and the fact that there are entire sets of equipment made specifically for better fighting in Skells, but suck otherwise. Furthermore, there are limited ways to sort through the various equipment you’ll pick up, which makes it extra painful to find the specific ones you want. The miniscule text is icing on the cake here. But the good news is that there is still a cosmetic slot for your kit, enabling you to put your girls in skimpy clothes without giving them bad stats. Seriously though, this game NEEDED an ability to save preset equipment sets, since everything is so situational to the point where you need to reoutfit everybody from the ground up to take on specific tough enemies, like Superbosses. Scratch that, you need to reoutfit everybody to take on ANY enemy. Sometimes you won’t even be capable of getting the resources necessary to optimize your outfit because the materials are ludicrous levels of stingy. The Arms Manufacturer mechanic makes it worse. While it’s cool that you unlock companies that specialize in different things (which also makes the world feel more alive), as a consequence you end up unable to buy equipment for certain types of enemies. The worst offender is Six Stars, which defend against Thermal, that you can’t unlock until after Chapter TEN at the earliest. Money also tends to be scarce, as you’ll find yourself buying new equipment to update your team until you get the “Ultra” equipment as drops from enemies that are level 60 and over. Even though I made a good point to pick up any high level equipment I happened upon, I still ended up not having good equipment or enough of a specific elemental resistance, and my money got sucked dry every time I had to buy stuff.

Classes make things even more complicated. These dictate what weapons you can use. Each weapon has its own set of Arts, and mastering the class lets you freely equip the weapons even without being in that class. This leads to some very interesting combinations once you can master some stuff. To make things simpler, only your avatar can change classes, and I kind of find it to be a blessing. I ended up stubbornly focusing on one path at a time, but it might be better to spread out. There were so many times when I was like “If only I had that one Art…” and it was because I stuck to one Class path at a time.

Now let’s discuss the part that every mecha anime would love: Skells. These mechs, once unlocked, can be freely customized with their own equipment kit, color scheme, and name. They make getting around and fighting easier, and even allowing you to damage small enemies by walking on them. I love them and dislike them. While they are fun, they kind of ruin the thrill of discovery on Mira. Later on, you get the ability to fly with Skells, which I don’t really like. I loved looking at high places and thinking, “How will I get up there?” only to realize that you just fly up there with the Skell, instead of being able to hoof it on foot. I’m definitely nitpicking here, though, as someone who sometimes likes the journey over the reward.

Skells in combat also spice things up. Skells have even more equipment than humans. They get the usual armor, as well as the usual melee and ranged weapons. But they also get eight OTHER weapons. Don’t worry, though; these weapons dictate the Skell’s Arts. Each Skell Art consumes fuel (which isn’t really that much of an issue, since they regenerate from being stationary), and they have a lot of cool animations and effects. It’s fun to slide into a group of enemies and press a single button to unleash hell on them. Among these Skell Arts are superweapons that you get lategame, take up four Art slots, and hit like meteorites. However, due to the MMO nature of the game, getting some of these is no longer possible… Crap. 

When fighting in Skells, everything is mostly the same. However, instead of Topple, you Bind enemies. One Skell (probably yours) will press the ZL and ZR buttons on a staggered enemy to lock it into place, which also regenerates a bunch of fuel. You have to complete button prompts to keep them trapped for as long as possible, but sadly, they’re pretty much guaranteed to break out after a set amount of time. There is also a random chance of the camera zooming in on a P.O.V. shot inside your cockpit, which is disorienting at first but instantly recharges all of your arts. Overdrive is much simpler on Skells; it gives you temporary infinite fuel and increases the chance of the P.O.V. effect occurring. However, the mechanic seems luck based, as it seems to decide to give you more time whenever it feels like it, and I don’t know what dictates it. Each Skell’s Overdrive is also different, and it only shows you the effects in the tiny text that appears on the HUD for one second before it goes away forever.

I never enjoyed fighting in Skells during my first playthrough and I still don’t enjoy it now. A lot of the Skell Arts are very uninteresting and boring, and it never feels like there’s any strategy with them except to use brute force. Whenever I fought with Skells, instead of feeling empowered, I felt like I was giving up. There are a lot of tough battles that are trivialized by Skells. I felt like I didn’t have to be any good at the game when in Skells. Sure, there are still some enemies that can wipe an entire party of Skells, and some that you can’t even reach without them, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about the whole thing.

But man, they do make navigating a dream. Remember that Affinity Mission that forces you to go to high-level territory underleveled? Well, I have no clue what convoluted path they wanted you to take to stealth through there, but with my Skell I literally did a Hail Mary flying leap directly to the goal, and used the cutscene to avoid fighting any enemies who saw me! Skells are great if you want to expedite tasks, but they sure aren’t fun.

Speaking of not fun, enjoy the choir that plays every time you fight in a Skell. You thought repetitive voice clips in Xenoblade were bad? Well, fighting in Skells is the worst it’s ever been. They didn’t even bother recording voice clips for them saying the name of each Skell Art; they only did one voice clip per character per type of Skell Art. So whenever you fight in a Skell, get ready for tons of “MUST POWER UP!” and “I’M POWERING UP!” and “ONE BLOW TO END IT ALL!” and “SHIELDS DEPLOYED! TIME TO SIT BACK AND DRRRRINK!” and “PLEASE! WHY WOULD YOU FLEE?” and more! These memes put Kingdom Hearts III to shame.

If there are any Skells that break the game, it’s the ones that you can craft after beating the main story. These Skells are at level cap, and all have positive resistances, even to Gravity. But the most broken of all of them are the Ares Skells. Modeled off of the Prog Ares that you fight in Chapter 11, these things will rip the planet a new one (the edgy black one is the more powerful of the two, of course). They take a ton of crap to craft, including some drops from a specific Superboss, but it’s worth it. Since I still had the Squad Missions system up, I was able to create it in this playthrough. Design-wise, you were probably meant to use the regular postgame Skells to fight them, and the Ares is the reward for going through that struggle, because this thing is practically a GameShark code incarnate. It comes with four unique Arts, including the Something-or-other-Cannon (I forgot the name). I don’t remember that attack being so stinking powerful. It’s pretty much guaranteed to one-hit most enemies in the game, including some Superbosses. As result, it helps grinding for the other Skells immensely, as you need to fight tons of Xe-Doms, which are these giant robots that will murder you in any other circumstances, and obtain many rare drops from them. 

Also, I HATE that max level is 60. This makes it so that about one-fifth of all the enemies are Superbosses. I don’t feel incentivized to defeat them since they wouldn’t even be Superbosses in any other Xenoblade game. Furthermore, the fact that Uniques respawn naturally makes it feel like you never accomplished anything.

So, for the first time in my life, I tried to beat as many of Xenoblade X’s Superbosses as possible before I inevitably got sick of it. I was not able to fight that many of them; only two, and they weren’t even above level 90. However, I seemed to discover a way to defeat them that’s even more broken than the True Stream Edge/Last Stand combo I discussed earlier. Having Elma or your avatar with Ghost Factory, you build up a bunch of TP (preferably with a lot of Max TP up augments equipped) beforehand, begin the boss battle, and use Overdrive immediately (preferably with Phantom Counter to give you a free 12 combo). Use Ghost Factory next. That grants Decoy, which makes a set number of attacks miss, to the whole party. At this point, spam Sliding Slinger or any move that builds TP for free (debuff arts give free TP per hit, maxing out at 1000 per hit) to build Overdrive up to max while regularly refreshing Ghost Factory. As long as you always have Ghost Factory, you’ll essentially be invincible. And once you get max, Ghost Factory will be fully cooled down in like a second. With this strat, all you need to do is build your usual Night Vision augments and stuff. Of course, this strategy isn’t perfect against people like Dadaan the Strongest Prone, who summons eighty guys when he’s at half health, but it definitely helped me complete Elma’s final Affinity Mission with almost no preparation. Seriously… the preparation you need in order to fight all of them… Yeesh.

Let’s talk about the most divisive part of the game next: its soundtrack. While I do think it’s the weakest soundtrack in the series so far, I still love some of it. The area themes, in particular, are great. Each area theme sells the sci-fi theme, while keeping true to the Xenoblade music feeling. The daytime theme of Noctilum is my favorite theme in the game; it’s epic, grandiose, and adventurous, and sells the alien splendor of Mira the best. Unfortunately, the battle themes are kind of infamous. When I first heard the regular battle theme, I was like, “Well, this is a sci-fi setting, can’t expect an orchestra,” but then… the hip-hop came in. Although it can be interpreted as funny and memeable, Xenoblade Chronicles is the one game I do not want cheesy songs in its soundtrack. And it doesn’t stop there. The classic You Will Know Our Names, the theme when battling against Unique Monsters, is now a cheesy, High School Musical-esque track. It was so polarizing to me, that I felt the closest thing to PTSD in my life when it played during the Elma fight in Xenoblade 2. The Skell themes are even worse. The battle theme, which should make you feel strong and powerful, is a crappy techno-pop song, and the flight theme, which should feel adventurous, feels like it’s right out of Sonic R, which is not fitting at all (also, due to how fast the jetpack is, you’ll have the first 30 seconds of it loop in your head for eternity because that’s all you’ll ever hear of it). Speaking of looping forever, get ready to here the other crappy techno-pop song for ten hours when you use Overdrive and try to maintain its duration!

Lastly, the visuals. There’s nothing much to say, other than the game has its ambitions written on its sleeves. Although I prefer the artsy, anime style of most modern JRPGs, Mira is still gorgeous in its own right. If I wasn’t trying to get through this before the release of Remastered, I would’ve spent fifty hours in scenic viewpoints instead of accomplishing anything. Unfortunately, even with the preloaded assets DLC, a lot of enemies and NPCs will take awhile to spawn in. In the case of the former, you can get cheaply ambushed just by people “materializing” into existence.

~~~~~

After All These Years: 9/10

I’ve been hard on Xenoblade Chronicles X. It has many, many, many issues, but at the same time, I still love it. I would 100% want to play a hypothetical Xenoblade X2 if one ever gets made. I recommend you give this game a whirl if the Wii U e-shop is still open, allowing you to download the pre-rendered assets (oh, and if you already have a Wii U as well). Also, if the online crap is down, you don’t have to worry about the hellish journey to 100% the game, because it’s no longer possible. Play it if you’ve got a hundred-odd hours to spare. But if you had to pick and choose, I’d still recommend Xenoblade 2, and hopefully Xenoblade Definitive, over this.

March of the Wooden Soldiers Retrospective

Promotional artwork for the movie (on IMDB)

Holiday movie traditions have been a thing since television. But over the years, I’ve come to question the quality of some of these “classics.” On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s take a modern look at a Laurel and Hardy favorite: March of the Wooden Soldiers (or Babes in Toyland, originally), a Thanksgiving tradition on the East Coast that started since 1963, when WPIX11 would broadcast this film every year since then. There will be spoilers.

So, the premise (even though we should all know it already). In the fantasy world known as Toyland (that was built right in front of the gates of hell. Great location, guys), the local tax collector, Silas Barnaby, is more than willing to evict the Old Lady who Lives in a Shoe from, well, her shoe, unless she sells her daughter, Little Bo Peep, to him. Well, not if Stannie Dum and Ollie- Ah, screw it, we never call these two by their character names. They will always be Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and they set out to stop Barnaby!

The movie starts out with Mother Goose singing the most cynical opening ever about how adults lose all semblance of childhood without exception as a big book opens up and introduces the cast of characters. The little video-pictures give a good visual clue of what each person is like, but it gets undermined by captions like “Barnaby’s the meanest man in town, just so you know, in case you were too stupid to tell from the fact that he’s an old hunchback creepozoid.”

Man, this movie was sure state-of-the-art for the time period. I’m sure the kids these days are watching this and being all like, “Wow, the CG was really bad back then!” Well, guess what, movies back then were filmed on “sets,” which means, a physically existing site, where they- yes- had to BUILT all of this crap. I always admired when people actually had to make magic with science back then, instead of just doing it on a fancy machine. I’ll never understand the appeal of those films that are done entirely with a green screen.

Watching this movie again really shows how unremarkable most of the actors are. Key Word: MOST. Similar to Hocus Pocus, we put up with all this crap (like that cringe-inducing Tom-Tom and Bo Peep subplot) just to see the actors that were on the poster, with this case being the irreplaceable Laurel and Hardy. Any scene that doesn’t have these two in it is really boring, but unlike Hocus Pocus, these guys are actually in most of the movie. It’s really amazing how well their humor holds up, with scenes like Laurel’s amazing pee-wee skills, to him dropping a rock on Barnaby and telling him to look out, and- of course- “So far, so good.” “It wasn’t so far!” “Goodnight Ollie.” “Goodnight Stannie- OOohhhhhhh…”

Out of the actors besides Laurel and Hardy, Barnaby’s actor really takes the cake. People were still coming out of the Silent Era, and this guy’s expressive mannerisms help make Barnaby a real conniving mo-fo. Well, okay, maybe there are better antagonists in more modern works, but he’s still a fun character (Side Note: The real bad guy is that stupid toymaker. Screw that guy).

Speaking of other actors, I wanna bring up the cat and the mouse. Screw the bogeyman; THESE are the stuff of horrors. The fur on the cat is just not fluffy enough, plus- GAH!- he still has his human eyes. Wh-why?! The less scary of the two is the monkey-mouse. This is perhaps the first instance of riding on someone else’s success that I personally have experienced in cinema. It was 1934, and Mickey Mouse was just starting his world conquest (with Snow White three years away from following suit). So, the most logical move for competitor M.G.M. was to take a monkey, dress it up as Mickey Mouse, and pander to the kiddies. Since the costume sucked, the creature looked just derivative enough from Mickey so that it wouldn’t violate whatever copyright laws existed at the time, but still looked enough like Mickey so that the kids would think it really was him. On a side note, the Three Little Pigs also look really creepy. The bogeymen that we were all scared of still look scary in a way, but nowadays it’s more of a “It’s scary that a design team actually gave the okay on such bad-looking costumes.”

Let’s also discuss the background music next. I think truly good background music had sort of died, with John Williams and the peeps at Disney seeming to be among the few who actually know how to make it work. The whole “sound” thing was still new, and at this point in time, music had to convey everything, and March of the Wooden Soldiers is no exception. I’m sure you still have an earworm playing Laurel and Hardy’s “doo-doo-doo-doo-DOO-doo-DOO,” or Barnaby’s “duuuuuuuuuh-DUH, duuuuuuuuuh-DUH, duh, duh-duh-duh-duhduhduhduh.” It’s such a good example of show-don’t-tell, but that’s also undermined by the captions in the picture book in beginning.

I’ve discussed a lot of the positives, but since the analytical process has skyrocketed to such heights in recent years, it’s impossible to not notice some issues in March of the Wooden Soldiers. It is a lot of small suspension of disbelief stuff, but it stacks. Why is the King such a dictator and an idiot? Why is the toymaker an ass? Why are there TAXES in such a peaceful kingdom? Why does attempted larceny result in ducking and banishment to Bogeyland, but kidnapping and murder- a far worse crime- result in just the banishment? And WHY IS BOGEYLAND RIGHT NEXT TO TOYLAND?! If it’s symbolism of the adult world (“Once you cross its borders, you will never return”), then- geewillickers!- this is such a dark movie! Other issues also include Tom-Tom and Bo Peep. Uuuuugh… I’m pretty sure nobody liked their chemistry, and it still sucks today (but hey, it’s still a better love story than Twilight). And why oh WHY did Tom-Tom think that falling asleep in that hellhole was a good idea (yeah, I know the sandmen did it but he started serenading Peep way before then)?!

But in all honesty, the movie’s biggest flaw is probably its age. The movie is still great and all, but the evolution of cinema and entertainment in general has transcended March of the Wooden Soldiers. I also don’t enjoy movies as much anymore; I’d rather read manga or play videogames. Also, the climax of the film isn’t really as cathartic to watch anymore, in comparison to something like an epic One Piece moment. It’s still a good scene, though, and it’s at least foreshadowed properly. The only real flaw is that it makes no sense that it showed the first soldier only being able to walk forward, while the others are perfectly autonomous golems that can easily fight off an army of hairy old men.

~~~~~

After All These Years: 7.5/10

March of the Wooden Soldiers is still a good movie, but it’s not an indisputable masterpiece. Heck, I don’t even think it’s the best Laurel and Hardy movie (that one’s called Way Out West). It doesn’t hit like a cannon full of darts anymore, but out of all Thanksgiving traditions, March of the Wooden Soldiers still beats that parade in New York by light-years (especially if you’ve seen a Disney parade, like me).