Review — Jukebox the Ghost

I really don’t talk about music often. For the most part, I just have a list of three hundred (ish) songs that I play on shuffle, with wildly different genres mixed in. When I’m not listening to that playlist I’m listening to podcasts or just straight video game soundtracks (as in literally a three hour YouTube video of title song to credits song).

But some time ago, a friend of mine showed me a new band. This wasn’t irregular for him, he always has a new band for me to listen to. It’s mostly garbage, I don’t know how he calls half his playlist music, but the most recent time we hung out he introduced me to Jukebox the Ghost. It got me thinking: how often do people genuinely listen to and appreciate others’ music? I’m certainly not the type to enjoy anything except for the stuff I already have.

And yet, I’ve listened to Jukebox the Ghost almost exclusively for about a month straight. With no sign of stopping, even. I tried listening to my old playlist, and thought about adding some JtG songs to it, but then I thought, “Nah, that would make me hear less of these new songs.”

So, enough of the backstory. Now for the review from the guy that has no idea what he’s talking about.

According to Wikipedia, Jukebox the Ghost is an indie pop/rock band from the most recent decade. It’s a piano-centric band with clear and energetic vocals. In brief, I would say they are a new-age Billy Joel, if he was trying to be Queen at the same time. Maybe the other way around, as the case may be in some songs. On the JtG Pandora station at my work, it also plays lots of Mika (whom I have never heard of and still have no interest in), Death Cab for Cutie (whom I can enjoy), and some late 90’s to 00’s alternative classics (which I am also fond of). This also proves that Spotify is a better radio—I don’t have to listen to stuff I don’t want to, I can just listen to Jukebox.

The weirdest thing that happened with my exposure to this band was that I only liked about three songs when I started listening to them, and as soon as I was apathetic enough to leave others on, I started liking them, too. Now I really like basically all of their stuff, save for a few strange exceptions. I don’t like any of their slow, quiet stuff, because as far as Mood-congruence theory goes, it’s off-putting. I don’t want to feel happy listening to energetic songs and then suddenly have a slow, quiet piano for three or four minutes. I’m sure I’d enjoy those songs in a different mood, but that mood would basically require me not to be listening to that band. (It’s worth noting that they have a Solo Piano version of a lot of their songs, and I hate all of these versions for the same reason.)

They’re a good band. They might have even hit my Top 3 Favorites already. They still have weird things that I don’t like (in a few of their songs, they have Buddy Holly-esque ‘hiccups’ I don’t care for), but overall they know what they’re doing. I don’t have a favorite song exactly, but “Adulthood” is a strong contender.

Going to Portland, Oregon (Part Two)

I talked about my general experience of my few days in Portland this past Saturday. I didn’t give any specifics, though, so here’s my travel log!

Friday:

Okay, well, the plane landed around midnight, so mostly the four of us hung out with each other before going to bed. Not much to say there.

Saturday:

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The entire city is just built around crazy architecture like this. It astounds me that this is just normal.

The first thing we did the next morning was go see the Saturday Market, which is right next to the Columbia River. There’s all manner of shops for handmade rings and pendants, dyed shirts, various mediums of art, and of course, food. I was pretty impressed by a couple of street performers, though. Their whole shtick was hyping up somebody jumping over random audience members, but they were funny and charming while they did it. It reminded me a lot of the shows you can see at some of the Renaissance Faires I’ve been to. What astonished me most was that they didn’t ask for volunteers, they just pointed at people and pulled them out of the audience and into the performing area. I found that very interesting.

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At the Market I found one shop of this guy that does amazing art. His name is J. Slattum, I recommend you go check it out. I had a hard time picking which painting to buy. I decided to go with the one that initially caught my eye.

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All three of us surreptitiously took a picture of the other two in this spot, which I think is really funny.

The Saturday Market also has an amazing view of the Columbia River as it looks out into the other side of the city. I’d say the picture below does a good job in describing how I feel about Portland. It’s just a wide, green, flat, and much less dense San Fransisco. As a result, absolutely gorgeous.

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Even the normal train offers amazing views. You can see Mt. Hood in the distance here!

We went swimming in Lake Oswego afterwards. None of us had been swimming in a long time, and it was freezing, but we all immediately decided to swim to a buoy and back as practice. Well, the agreed upon buoy was about 200 feet away, and against the

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We were at a public park (that, unbeknownst to us, was closed at the time) in the middle of a bunch of way too expensive houses.

current. I’m not a strong swimmer, and my costochondritis meant that the cold affected my ability to breathe more than it would most, so I’ll admit I did get scared on the way back. I was so tired I could barely swim, and I never learned how to float on one’s back. I considered asking for help, but they probably weren’t much better off. I didn’t go back in the water after that, my legs ached so bad.

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Pretty sure this is a bald eagle, which I have never seen before. It hung out with us all day. Super neat, and even from this distance it was clearly so much bigger than the average crow.

After the lake, I was really tired. Both of the friends I was with are very extroverted people. They cannot get enough of sightseeing and talking and being social. We planned on going to a bar where a friend’s band was playing, to which I requested to stay home at the apartment. Upon my insistence, they left me alone and I got some writing in, as well as some much needed rest. I have never experienced anything like this trip before. Being so far away from any family and not having any time to recharge hit me harder than I expected, and for the first two days of the trip I was emotionally drained.

Sunday:

Sunday morning I was excited because that was the anticipated hike day. As much as I love going on walks and hiking, I don’t do it in Southern California because if I go outside I’ll start melting (and yes, before you comment, I have been to Arizona, and yes, I do hate it). I was excited about this hike because it would be going through national forest, and it was up near Pittock Mansion, too. Incredible nature scenery and majestic architecture? Yes, please. (As a side note, it didn’t rain at all while we were there. I’m both slightly disappointed, because I love the rain, and also relieved, because it would have made sightseeing a lot harder.)

As you can imagine, I took a ton of pictures here. I won’t talk about them, I’ll just leave them here for your viewing pleasure.

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Apparently a famous sign, but I’d honestly never heard of it.

After the hike, we went into downtown to explore. We mostly walked around and did some sightseeing, from going to Killer Burger, to walking by some landmarks, to going into Powell’s (a 5-story bookstore of which I took zero pictures), to getting donuts at Voodoo Donuts.

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I’d imagine that Portland is a great place to film a great many types of things, from fantasy to noir to everyday sitcoms. At least, it would be a great place if there weren’t always so many people walking around all the time.

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Even the car ride home in the middle of the night was beautiful.

Monday:

IMG_20180604_084402637 (Monday Bricks)

Monday morning I had a breakfast date with my grandpa, because he lives in the area and I don’t get to see him very often. (And, to be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a genuine one-on-one conversation with him.) Getting up as early as I had to was about as difficult as I expected it to be, but the quiet atmosphere and a good chat was nice. Some familiarity in such a foreign world was a treasure to have.

On Monday and Tuesday our two “native” (they’ve only been here a little while) friends had work, so it was up to me and my travel buddy to find places to see and explore. It didn’t occur to me until Monday that everything in Portland can get away with being made of bricks, because there’s no fault line right under it. I know it’s probably stupid to you, but I thought it was interesting that everything is made of bricks here.

IMG_20180604_132858423 (Monday Park)

Monday was mostly walking around the city, because we honestly didn’t have much of a plan of where to go. We walked through a park multiple blocks long, right in the middle of downtown, which was cool.

At some point we visited Pioneer Square (in the day this time), and we grabbed some brochures of interesting places to visit for tomorrow.

After that, we went through some suburbs. I think some of the best pictures of the trip came from there. I would kill to live in a place that looked like that.

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On this walk, attached to the gate in front of somebody’s house, was a little box with some books inside. It was one of those “leave one, take one” situations, and I found it fascinating. Inside it was a copy of the first book of the Mistborn series, which made me really sad because as much as I wanted it, I had no book to trade. My travel buddy convinced me it would be okay to take it, just for the story of how I got it.

I thank her immensely for the permission to do that. I would have left it and regretted it if she hadn’t been there.

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We came across an old thrift store of lamps & furniture called “Lounge Lizard”. Awesome place, and it reminded me of the singing improv game of the same name. She had never played it, so I showed it to her on the way back home. As much as I don’t like singing in the presence of others, I rather enjoyed it.

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We headed back into town to have a late lunch at the Old Town Pizza Company, which was a restaurant that was repurposed from an old hotel. Apparently, the booth where you order food is the same concession stand from the original establishment in 1880, which is insane. I didn’t take any pictures of this place, because it was super dark, so enjoy this picture stolen off the internet. We actually almost sat in this booth, but decided to eat upstairs because… well, upstairs.

At about that time our friends were getting off work, so we headed back home, then went back into town to get ramen before playing a drinking game to Disney’s Hercules. It was a great conclusion to an awesome day.

Tuesday:

Tuesday was very similar to Monday, except this time we had a plan for places we wanted to visit. I’m sorry to say I didn’t take many pictures of Tuesday because I was a bit jaded,

We headed into town, ate fries in a park while listening to live violins, then went into the city proper.

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We stumbled across the Church of Scientology, which was… interesting. My friend convinced me to go in and check it out, and boy. They showed us a machine that could “read your thoughts”, which really just detected the presence of electrical signals when you think. The fact that the lady advertised it as borderline magic was insane to me.

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“Psychiatric drugs: Take one!”

After that, we went back to Powell’s, because it was on the way to a place called the Cookie Dough Cafe. Imagine an ice cream shop like Baskin Robbins, only they have vats of raw cookie dough instead of ice cream. (Okay, they also had ice cream, but mostly it was cookie dough.)

It was so thick, that a $3 single scoop of cookie dough was almost too much for me to finish, even though I had eaten very little that day.

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Our last stop for the trip was a brewery called Steven Smith Teamaker. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was lovely. They had a selection of nearly fifty different kinds of teas, and you could buy a flight to try any four. I did this with the resolution to buy the best one, and while I don’t really like green teas, I was surprised when it turned out to be my favorite.

Tuesday Tea

Portland was magical. I learned a lot about the world and myself, and made lots of memories I’ll cherish forever. The day I got back I was hit with a severe… homesickness? I’m sure lots of people are familiar with that feeling, but I had never felt that before. I’m glad that emotion didn’t persist, because it made the following Wednesday and Thursday pretty hard.

Going to Portland, Oregon (Part One)

I went on my first official vacation a few days ago. The plane landed late Friday night and I went back to California Tuesday night. So I thought it would be fun to talk about the trip. In the interest of going to bed at a reasonable hour tonight, I’ll split this post into two. Part One will cover my general experience, and Part Two will be the specifics of what I did.

Side note: Get ready for a long post with lots of pictures. I took an uncharacteristically abundant amount of them. Almost 300 in just 4(ish) days. From the time between the first and last picture I took, my rate of picture taking was around .25 per hour (or 1 every 4 hours depending on how you want to frame that ratio).

IMG_20180603_143148248_HDR.jpgIt’s worth noting right off the bat that I’m very introverted and basically don’t ever leave the house if I don’t have to. Having said that, I wanted to make 2018 memorable by making big changes to my behavior. I don’t like Southern California (it’s just way too hot), and down the road I want to move away from the desert, but I don’t want to move too far to require a plane to see family. Basically, this just means going north to Northern California or Oregon, so visiting the state seemed like a good place to start.

I’ll just tell you right now, I loved it. I only spent time in the Portland area, but the whole place is gorgeous. There are more trees in the densest portions of downtown than there are in some of the parks I live near. To sum up my experience of what Portland “is” in three words: “weird, green community”. And yes, that’s a double entendre.

IMG_20180602_141234693 (Saturday Market).jpgPortland is weird, because people just… talk to each other. In Southern California, conversations with strangers only happen when they’re obligatory, and it’s literally the same conversation every time. If an alien was teleported into LA with no understanding of the English language, I would give him a list of about 5 words/phrases and any surface level conversation would sound normal: “Hi”, “How are you?”, “Good”, “Have a nice day”, and “Thanks”. He could pretty much dictate those phrases at random to a stranger and they probably wouldn’t notice.

IMG_20180605_142405103.jpgIn Portland it’s different. I’m not used to just chatting with cashiers about my cool shirt or Steven Universe or, well… anything. It’s small talk, yes, and I thought I hated small talk, but there’s something about the easy and simple connection strangers are allowed to have that is amazing. We got into a literal argument with some guy over which of us was next in line, because everyone involved was trying to be polite and have the other go first. Spoiler: the guy ended up storming off to force us to go first, so he won. The next day, we walked by homeless people getting tattoos done on the sidewalk, and the people I was with at the time struck up a conversation about fashion. It just boggles my mind, and yes, before you ask, that circumstance made me very uncomfortable.

The city is also very transportation friendly. $5 will get you an all day train ticket, and you can use the trains to get anywhere in Portland within an hour. I got the sense that, depending on the traffic, it can actually be a lot faster than driving, especially since you don’t have to worry about parking or gas. Most of the time, the trains weren’t even that busy, my friends and I almost always had a row of seats available.

IMG_20180603_212008967 (Pioneer Square Night).jpgPortland is also amazing in that everywhere you stand, you can take a great picture. You’re also within an hour of both downtown and giant national forests, even if you’re right in the middle of the city. Plus, Mt. Hood is always in the distance, and having seen a genuine mountain, I now understand that feeling of “I wanna go there and do that”. Another thing to note: living in Earthquake Land also makes me unaccustomed to actual architecture of brick and stone. I’ve seen pictures, but man, the older buildings in the city look incredible.

So, in conclusion: Portland is incredible, and I’m going back someday.

 

Review — The Count of Monte Cristo

You know, the Review portion of this blog is pretty much meant to get me to watch, read, or play something new every week. Ideally it would be me talking about “the new thing I did this week”, but I’m really bad at that. The most recent movie I watched was a month ago for a film class, but it was a very political movie and I don’t like getting into politics.

So, instead, let’s talk about the best movie ever made: Count of Monte Cristo. (The 2002 film. There may or may not be other feature length films of the same title.)

I’ll start with the qualification that, as a rule, I don’t like re-experiencing things. Very often, it feels like a waste of time. I don’t want to reread the same story, watch the same movie, or play the same game when there’s an unquantifiable amount of things to experience. My life is one of productivity and efficiency, which is contrary to that whole idea.

Count of Monte Cristo is a rare exception in my world because I feel like I’m watching a different movie every time. I’ve probably seen it half a dozen times by now, and with every new viewing I catch things I hadn’t noticed that re-contextualize character motivations. This movie is a masterpiece in a lot of ways, though as always, I do still have a few gripes. Spoilers ahead, though, so if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a classic.

Before I get into my nitpicks, let me provide some context (if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t care about spoilers). It would be an injustice for me to attempt to explain the plot in just a paragraph or two, but I’ll try anyway. Our hero, Edmond Dantes, is a simple and poor young man is given a lucky break and promoted to Captain of the merchant ship he works on. Powerful people around him are consumed with varying levels of jealousy, contempt, and fear, and Edmond, though apparently innocent, gets thrown into a high security prison, and his family is told that he died. Years go by, he breaks out, finds riches and then the last third of the movie is basically an elaborate scheme as he exacts revenge on everyone who wronged him.

As I already touched on, this movie does an amazing job at establishing depth. Everyone who betrayed him had different reasons for doing so, and all were compelling and believable. Jealousy seems simple until you see that it comes from a rich man coveting the happiness his poor friend has. Even lesser characters have very clear and understandable wants, which is no small feat. Nobody in this movie is a plot device, not even Napoleon Bonaparte, who was basically written in to be a plot device, as he is only in the first few scenes of the movie. I will say though, this comes at a cost. With how much subtle context and layering everything has, you won’t catch everything if you only see it the one time. Points off for that, but as long as you’re not confused as to the main plot, it’s more or less fine.

But what astounds me the most about this movie is that it isn’t really structured like most stories. The entire last third of the movie is the main character just getting what he wants. There’s a climax, yes, but it isn’t really filled with conflict. When he is given everything, you are no longer watching to see if Edmond will get his revenge, you’re merely watching to see what the revenge turns out to be. It doesn’t contain nearly as much suspense, and nothing to the degree of the chase scene as he resists arrest and is betrayed by a friend, or when he hatches his plan to escape from the Chateau D’if.

I would compare it to a torture film, actually, where all the people are getting their just desserts. Only, in this movie, the torturer is our main character and is doing it in the name of justice, and it feels great. In all my years of schooling and whatnot, I myself still cannot wrap my head around the exact reason this movie works. Maybe I just need to watch more soap operas. (Not that Count of Monte Cristo is overly dramatic, it’s just… opulent.)

So, nitpicks. As I said, the amount of layers it has does sort of detract from it for me. I honestly did not love it the first time I saw it. A good film, to be sure, but it probably wasn’t my all-time favorite movie until I had seen it three or four times. I mean, Edmond has plotted his revenge meticulously for years. But when he’s going through with his plans, you won’t catch the nuances of how and why the first time, because at no point does he tell the audience “first, I’m going to kidnap his daughter and frame his uncle for murder etc etc”. No, you just know he has plans and then watch as they unfold.

Also, I didn’t realize I had this problem until writing this, but Luigi Vampa, the Captain of the pirate ship Edmond becomes a crew member of after he finds himself a free man, isn’t in the movie enough. JB Blanc does an amazing job with his character, and it’s a shame he’s only a minor part. It isn’t often I see a gentleman thief character done to my satisfaction.

Overall, the best movie. Solid period piece, even if it isn’t 100% faithful to history, awesome character development, good subtly, and a really interesting plot progression. Also Henry Cavill is in it.

(P.S. to prove how many layers of character depth this story has, here’s a character sheet, though I think it’s from the book, not the movie. So simplify it by like 15%.)

 

Review — Story Break

In my quest to get caught up on all the podcasts I want to listen to (5/9 done!) I’ve been listening to a lot of Story Break, RocketJump’s podcast where three screenwriters try to adapt a famous or unadaptable concept into a TV series or movie. Throughout each one-hour episode they take a concept and flesh out what the narrative of that story should be. Each episode is basically a huge brainstorming session as if they actually had the rights to these properties.

Their second episode is about giving Jar Jar Binks his own movie, and their first rule was that they wanted to make a movie that redeemed the character instead of it being one of those trash movies people pay to see because it will be so bad.

I’ve watched roughly two-thirds of the episodes that have aired so far, and I love the podcast for two reasons. The first is their primary goal—very often, they (seem to) do a really good job and plot out a movie I would love to go watch. Obviously a screenwriter’s vision isn’t necessarily what ends up on the big screen, but you get the idea. Their knowledge of the narrative structure is pretty solid, so it isn’t a question of whether they can forge a good plot, it’s whether or not they can hold true to the original ‘feel’ of the thing they’re drawing from. If they’re making a movie about Monopoly, they aren’t just plugging in the keywords, they’re trying to make something that feels like a live action game of Monopoly. They don’t always knock it out of the park, but the constraint of staying true to the origin is admirable.

The second amazing thing about this podcast is the side effect (intentional or otherwise) of drawing the audience into the brainstorming session by drawing from media and concepts that they are already familiar with. It means that I can have my own ideas spinning around in my head and be ecstatic when they get to the same ideas, or I can be amazed when they come up with this idea or plot thread I hadn’t thought of. It isn’t as though they’re making things up because they’re drawing from established “universes” (if you can call the collective Kellogg’s brand cereals an EU).

I’m really enjoying the podcast because brainstorming and pulling together plots is something I love doing. I won’t get into it here, but it taps into that strange contradiction where I hate outlining my own stories but love plotting in general. Seeing these guys have fun doing it is an inspiration, and it is a good foundation for what outlining plot is. In later episodes they also act out elevator pitches (with sound effects and… acting… and everything).

Overall, it’s a great podcast. It’s a weekly, hour long podcast just like everything else, but they do a great job on an episode-to-episode basis. The one thing that I don’t like, and there probably is no fix for, is that when they fail to come up with a good story I’m really disappointed, and I feel like I’ve wasted that hour of my time. Trouble is, there’s no way to know beforehand if they fail, so you can’t just skip those episodes.

That doesn’t happen a whole lot, though. Maybe four times out of the forty episodes I’ve listened to.

Review — The Wind Rises

Sometimes I think that the part of my brain that should have emotions is missing. This was especially true when I was younger—I never got sad because nothing was sad, it was just stupid. Marley & Me? I mean, sure I understand why it was supposed to feel sad, but I felt nothing. This isn’t so much of a thing anymore; as I’ve come into adulthood I’ve found that I’m actually pretty normal in a lot of ways, especially as far as my emotions go.

And oh boy, did The Wind Rises give me emotions.

(Because this movie is relatively new, I’ll write the first half of my review spoiler free, and I’ll make it clear where the spoilers start. Keep in mind that the thing I loved most about this movie is a spoiler, so there’s that.)

I’ll say it now to get it out of the way: the animation is incredible. You knew that, it’s a Studio Ghibli film. That said, this movie is great in a lot of ways. It’s color palette is fresh and inviting, and in a way provides a very liberating feeling. The vibrant blues and greens do a great job at shedding optimism in a world at war.

The movie also does a great job with its characters. It’s strange, because I don’t perceive the protagonist to have any character flaws whatsoever, and the film is very much about him. But there is no bad part about himself that he is working to overcome, he’s just trying to be an artist while the rest of the world is using him for his genius. He’s very personable and the fact that the movie revolves around him is just relaxing in a way I can’t quite describe. It’s the same feeling the colorful and carefree color palette provides.

The other characters are great, too. I’m terrible with names, and since it’s been a week since I’ve watched it I already can’t tell you the love interest’s name, but she and Jiro’s bosses characters were also really well done. Miyazaki tows a fine line between stereotypes and archetypes here, but in the end he does a really good job with making these characters more than who they are to the plot while also making them easily accessible by making you think they’re stereotypes before you get to know them.

My one critique is that early on there are a lot of time jumps. Three, I believe. I’m much better with faces than names, but since the faces kept changing, it took me a while to get a hold on who was going to be important throughout the movie. I’m also still a little lost about what the love interest’s dad’s involvement with everything was. I’m sure it would be obvious if I rewatched it, but that was one thing that did not stick once I’ve had distance from the film.

Overall, great movie, a work of art in a lot of ways, you’ll probably cry.

Okay, spoilers ahead.


I don’t usually like romance plots in any movie, main or subplot. They often feel cliche or convoluted to me, or unrealistic (which is the worst). I have a hard time relating to most of them, which makes it hard to even enjoy any. This one, though. This one got to me.

Jiro runs through the garden because he’s worried his fiancée is sick. When he finds out she’s okay, he says “Sorry, I’ll use the front door next time.” She smiles and tells him the garden is faster, to which he replies “Garden it is.”

This moment does a lot, but most importantly it subtly shows that they truly love every split second they have with each other, to a point where they want as many of those split seconds as possible. That’s really heartwarming. The two had many interactions like this throughout the movie, but this one was my favorite.

The Wind Rises has several themes going on at any given point in time, and it juggles them well. I find it fascinating that the main plot of this film deals with Jiro’s life as he contends with what is the hardest, most productive, most loved, most cherished, and most heartbreaking years of his life all at once. He sought to make an amazing plane, and he did, but they were all taken from him. He met the girl of his dreams (literally), and nothing stood in his way, but did they live happily ever after? Well… well, no, not at all.

The last scene. I have explained it to two people, and the first time I got choked up and had to stop talking because I almost started to cry. (I’m not a “manly man” that hides his emotions, but the only time I’ve actually cried in the last three years was when my cat died.) You know a movie does a good job when you can’t even talk about it without getting emotional.

The movie is just a work of art. It’s beautiful in every way—animation, sound design, plot construction, voice acting—everything.

She was beautiful. Like the wind.

Review — Hollow Knight

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed anything other than a movie. You may have noticed that I’ve been posting my weekly essays for my film class as the review posts the last several weeks, as they spoke more formally and about more specific topics than I usually address.

Well, that class is over, so let’s talk about a new game I’ve recently played through: Hollow Knight. It’s worth mentioning that I knew almost nothing about this game before I played it. All I had was: the art is cool and it was very well received by the community. I didn’t even know it was a metroidvania style game. (For those of you that don’t know, the metroidvania genre is basically characterized by a 2D platformer where you fight bosses and they give you new abilities, like dashing or wall climbing, that allow access to previously restricted areas.)

I don’t really play metroidvania games. They aren’t really my cup of tea for the most part, because the gameplay is often so linear. You explore one area, kill the boss, and you gain an item that allows you access to the next area and so on. Hollow Knight is very much a classic game in this genre. In fact it sits in a very strange part of my head for one very specific reason: it offers nothing new to the genre (outside the cool art and music), and yet gets too difficult for inexperienced players to enjoy to its full potential.

That’s the entire game in a nutshell, really. It’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong. I played it for 30 hours and I’ll still probably go back to it to challenge extra bosses I couldn’t beat the first time. It feels fluid and it does everything right, with a few exceptions. But it doesn’t enthrall me with a compelling story, impactful player choices, or, well, any reason to play beyond the challenge of difficult foes.

Alright, here are my three main issues with this game, and they’re admittedly pretty small. The first is that the compass—your position on the map— is treated as something special. The only way you can use the compass is by devoting a precious charm slot for it, and these charm slots are precious because you only get a few and they are the core method of varying your playstyle.

My second gripe is the strange NPC interactions. There are tons of NPC’s in this game, and most of them offer nothing more than a few strings of dialogue. There is no way to tell if they are actually important or if they’re just randomly placed throughout the game, and it’s frustrating to meet somebody that sounds important and never find out whether they are. This is mainly a Kickstarter issue. I think a lot of this comes from people being inserted in the game arbitrarily because they funded money during production.

The last thing is that it is impossible to tell where to progress. You can explore endlessly, but there’s no way to know which areas are more locked than others based on abilities you do or don’t have, and this lack of direction is frustrating for me personally. You have no health bars outside of your own, so you can’t even tell whether the monsters in X area are more powerful than the monsters in Y area. This genre also obviously has a lot of secret areas, so by nature of its construction, parts of the map might be restricted because you’re supposed to come back to them when you gain a new ability, but you can’t know if that part of the map is just a simple secret pile of money or the path to a new boss. Also, I’m a completionist, so I hate leaving things like this for later because I know I’ll miss some when I go back to look for secrets.

Bad stuff out of the way, this game is great. The soundtrack is awesome, the art style is distinctive and unique, and the gameplay mechanics are intuitive, yet challenging. Bosses get tough, which makes the feeling of finally beating them very rewarding. Also, you can brag to your friends when you say “I beat the Path of Pain“, which is an insanely difficult platforming challenge. (Which, I’m proud to say I did beat, though it probably took me an hour or so.)

So, is the game worth buying? Well, I’ve been thinking about my brothers’ $1/hr rule of justifying games. I’m thinking I should start being more strict with that, because $15 for 15 hours of entertainment doesn’t seem great to me, especially when online games provide hundreds of hours of entertainment for free*. Hollow Knight is $15, but it also comes with a bunch of free DLC (which is downloaded and automatically integrated into the game), so with my 30 hours, I’d say $15 is more than reasonable. As I said, it’s nothing remarkable or revolutionary, but it’s a very solid game with some good music. If you’ve never played a metroidvania and you are interested in the genre, Hollow Knight is a good one to start with.