Thursday, February 28, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Hidden (Skjult) (2009)

Well, here's a movie that had a lot of promise, but ultimately gave up very little. Movies like this suck to review mostly because they have the POTENTIAL to be very fun rides, but end up being less than they should be. And it's not like they're terrible either. They're just okay. Mediocre. In some crazy middle ground between amazing and awful. Sometimes it's a bad script, sometimes it's a bad plot, a bad actor, a poorly thought-out character, a director who has no idea what they're doing, and sometimes it's simply how things work out. Hidden (or Skjult for Norwegian readers) is exactly a movie that should be more. It has so much going for it: a very well-done premise, good actors, a compelling story, and a plot heavily hovering in the realm of psychological horror. It's a movie I should LOVE, but instead I find it incredibly mediocre. Maybe it's simply that I've seen this all before and have become cynical. The movie feels lazy. And that's the problem.

Hidden begins with a car accident. A boy's parents are killed in the cold open. The boy survives (maybe), but the reason for the deaths of his parents is another boy running across the road and causing a semi truck to crash into the parents' car. You get the feeling that the first boy (who seems to be Peter) is going to be our lead character, but that turns out to not be the case (I think). The protagonist of our story is KK (Kai Koss), the boy who had run across the road and caused the accident. Apparently Peter disappeared after the accident and was called dead after shoes were found near the scene and underneath a waterfall long after.

The problem is that KK looks EXACTLY like what Peter would look like when he grew up. The boy has long blond locks. KK has the same. While the young KK has a shaved head. The older Peter (if he is Peter at all) has a shaved head as well. It's weird. I feel like it was probably done on purpose, but I can't say for sure it was. It's a movie that explains very little, which I like a lot, but the things it does explain turn out to have really idiotic explanations (I think). And that's the problem. The movie did do a lot very good, but other parts were baffling. I personally think that the original KK was killed by the abusive and disturbed mother after he escaped. Eventually Peter, who later became KK, in this case the second KK, after the mother caught him, came back to the town after his "mother" died. I mean, that's what I think, but I can't say anything for sure. The movie doesn't hit you over the head with it, so it's really up to what you want to think.

You can see my confusion here. I'm sorry. Parts of this movie made little sense. There is a dark-haired woman who I'm pretty sure isn't real. I don't know if she's a random singer or something? I'm told she speaks in Swedish, but I have no idea what that means. Maybe she was the original mother of Peter? Or just an actress? Or maybe she was just an imaginary friend he made up for company in the darkened hole he lived in for years. Again, I don't know.

The funny thing is, while I wasn't happy with the ending of the movie when I first saw it, it's something I'm liking more and more as time goes by. I actually like the movie more now (a few days later) than when I had originally watched it. Maybe I'm the crazy one. I still don't like how KK and Peter are somehow the same person and the murderer, but I'll probably get over it someday. (Read: I will never get over it. It's really dumb. I disliked it, and it should have been better.)

I found parts of the movie interesting. Why was KK looked at with such scorn by basically everybody? Only Sara seemed to like him and give him any benefit of the doubt. And she seemed to like him a lot. All of the men in town hated his guts. Why? Did I miss something? Was there some kind of history there? I have no idea. It was weird. I have no reference for anything and have no idea how to interpret it.

I mean, KK is the killer. It's obvious. Maybe that's why nobody likes him.

Sorry, did I say that too abruptly? It was abrupt in the movie too. KK is said to be the killer. Some kind of weird fugue state probably. Maybe he dissociates? Maybe he knows he's doing it? I have no idea. It's probably brought on by his old house. But man, it makes no sense. Maybe it's not supposed to make any sense. I would've preferred if he weren't the killer... but maybe it makes the movie better if he's both Peter and the killer. I don't know. I just don't know. I don't so, but maybe I'm not who this movie was made for.

The best part of the movie are the psychological scenes though. They're not scary, but their simple weirdness is enough to enjoy by themselves. The phone calls, the odd scenes of KK just by himself and thinking or whatever, and the weird interactions between characters- these are all reasons to see the movie. Just expect to find yourself baffled if you do watch it. I mean, I put a halfhearted recommendation out there. If you REALLY live for psychological horror/thriller, then watch this. Otherwise... it's not required watching, but it's not bad either. I enjoyed most of it. Just remember, it's not scary. There's very little gore. In general, I would think of this flick as much more of a suspense or thriller with psychological elements than anything else. And those always seem a little "eh," I guess.

Pål Øie directs, and does a pretty decent job. I think the long periods without dialogue are some of the best pieces of the film. They work incredibly well. They add to the confusion, but those long moments of suspense and confusion could be small beautiful movies on their own. The dialogue and the writing are mostly not as good. And this being an indie horror film from the After Dark Horrorfest 2010, I was expecting good things. I usually enjoy them, although they usually have some issues. See my review of Autopsy for details. 

Honestly, I liked the film, didn't love it. Kristoffer Joner as KK, Karin Park as Miriaim, and Cecilie A. Mosli as Sara are the breakouts here. I tend to like these Eurpoean horror movies. They do a good job at hitting what I like. This one wasn't quite as great as some, but I was okay with it. I wish I could say more, but I don't really have anything else to say.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Brick (2005)

Here I go away from horror movies again, and this time I'm into something a little different for me. I guess you could say I've been in a different phase of late, trying new things and having a good time all around. Now, I know Brick is a relatively obscure movie. I certainly had never heard of Brick before, or of Rian Johnson, the film's director. Now, if you recognize that name at all, you probably recognize it from Looper, a  recent movie I haven't seen but have heard excellent things about. The problem is that Brick was Rian Johnson's directorial debut, and what a debut it was. I say "the problem" because I will never remember Rian Johnson for Looper, no matter how good it may or may not be. I will instead remember him for Brick, forever and always.

Brick is an incredibly interesting film, basically a high school drama/thriller with some comedic elements done in the style of 1940s era film noir movies. That's not saying the movie looks or acts like a film noir, not exactly. Instead the movie is a little inconsistent (This is not a bad thing.), with dialogue and characters very reminiscent of film noir, but situations and settings consistent with an entirely different movie, something more like a teenage drama, comedy, or thriller (if the teenage thriller genre even exists, which I'm pretty sure it doesn't). I love early film noir, stuff like The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and basically anything and everything that starred either Humphrey Bogart or John Garfield in that era of film. These movies defined that era, defined an entire age, and became the centerpiece of what a male, a hardboiled male, really was. I know it's a gender role and whatnot, but man, how can you not like to watch Humphrey Bogart being snappy with dialogue and cool with women? And how can a man not want to emulate that? I know I did/do. It's hard to see a more masculine man, to me at least.

But Brick is different, very different, WHOLLY different, from those kinds of films. It fits a little bit better as a neo-noir, but even that is a tough place to define it. It takes the genre apart certainly, but it also stands absolutely brilliantly on its own, simultaneously showing the hardships of high school life and the relative ease and childishness of it as well. It nearly compares a high school kid's problems to that of a tough no-nonsense detective, and the results are... interesting to say the least. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition between those two very different kinds of people. I enjoyed how Brendan, our protagonist, went about solving his problems in both a straightforward and highly convoluted manner. He simultaneously made things more difficult for himself while also doing the very best he could to determine the best outcome available to him. The movie had all the regular tropes of a film noir: the femme fatale, the antihero detective, the intelligent and informed friend, the boss of some kind of shady organization, a wrongly accused person, being set up, and manipulation all over the place. All of these things help make this movie more enjoyable with every moment you watch it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt shines as the main character Brendan Frye. I've always liked the man as an actor, and he doesn't disappoint here, bringing full life to this character and to the situations of the story. He is believable and works well as a person both resourceful and intelligent. I don't know if I've ever seen another performance by him that I've liked anywhere near as much. And I've liked him in a fair few roles. The fact that he states the dialogue, often very noir-ish dialogue, with such conviction is a point in his (and this movie's) favor. The humorous, and often unsettling, thing about this movie is that despite the dialogue, the characters act very much like high school kids. Despite what they do, what they say, and everything else, there is a constant reminder that they are young, with Brendan telling his friend "Brain" important information all while dancing around and balancing on top of a wall. Or an important meeting happening over a drug kingpin's mother making cookies and giving Brendan something to drink.

It's almost surreal in a way, certainly comparable to The Third Man, which I often cite as one of the oddest movies of this type from the film noir era. Brick moves at such an odd pace, but never feels bad. You never question the quality, even if the situations are almost ridiculous- or are certainly ridiculous.

I have to mention Zora Zehetner's performance as Laura Dannon, the classic film-noir woman, as being one of the highlights of this film. She simulteously makes you hate her and love her with her performance. There was never a moment I didn't enjoy her on screen. Her acting was brilliant from beginning to end. The last few scenes she's in with Brendan are some of the very best, if not the very best, of this movie, if not almost all other neo-noir films in general. I don't think I've ever felt so sorry for a high school girl character before while despising her in the same breath. Noah Fleiss as Tug is amazing as well, really showing a performance worthy of praise. He has a look in his eyes the entire movie that shrieks DANGER to me as the viewer. There was never a single moment I trusted his character, but I loved the way that character was portrayed. He was sympathetic even if he was also despicable and terrifying. I also very much enjoyed the performances by Meagan Good as Kara and Noah Segan as Dode. Both characters added a great deal to the movie and character motivations. Kara, especially, becomes one of the best nearly sociopathic characters I have ever seen in a movie. And the sad thing is, when I was in drama club back in high school, I knew girls just like her, girls who would do nearly anything to get ahead. Dode is also a wonderful character, showing yet another social clique in the high school environment and representing that very well.

And that's one of the best things about this movie, while a film noir, it shows high school cliques and groups as well as any movie I've ever watched before. The accuracy of that depiction, despite the dialogue, is astounding. Honestly, the characters, social moments, dialogue, and settings are really the high points of the movie. The plot is pretty well done also, but never quite reaches the upper pinnacle of storytelling. It is well done, sometimes predicable, but also has elements of surprise to it. I kind of wish Emily, Brendan's ex-girlfriend, wasn't shown to be dead in the opening of the movie, which occurs in medias res. I think it would have been more surprising to see her show up dead without pre-knowledge of her death and more impacting besides. That being said, the way the movie is structured is clearly referential to earlier film noir, so it's not something I can complain about all that much.

This movie is literally brilliant from beginning to end. It's a movie for somebody who's looking for something different: great acting, an obviously indie film, and mostly a really good juxtaposition between ideas that don't usually go together. I can't really say much else. I recommend that everybody check this out. I also have to say that I wouldn't have ever even heard about this movie if not for seeing a fantastic preview trailer for this film before I watched Doom. It's pretty rare that a trailer makes me want to watch a movie, but Brick's trailer was so amazingly well done, I had no choice but to find this film at any cost and watch it. I suggest that anybody can watch this film an enjoy it. It doesn't have a lot of gore, no nudity, a few blood stains and such, but nothing really all that terrible. The dialogue alone is worth the price of the movie, and the performances are worth even more. While it's a bit of an oddball movie, it's one that really needs to be watched. It's deconstruction of both high school and noir is a pleasure to behold.

I also get the feeling that the movie might leave a few confused. Don't be. It's relatively easy to understand. A girl, Emily, is seeking help from her loner of an ex-boyfriend. She trusts him to look after her even if she doesn't love him anymore. She asks for help, and he does what he can even after she tells him to leave her alone. He is committed to helping her in anyway he can because he still cares about her despite himself. She shows up dead at a meeting place, and Brendan, our protagonist, hides the body and starts investigating anybody Emily could have been involved with, eventually leading him to a drug lord called "The Pin," a gang leader called "Tug," and a high school girl who has her own motives by the name of Laura. The central point of the film is for Brendan to find who killed Emily and to get even. He eventually learns that she was set up, being implicated in stealing a brick (of the title) of heroin from "The Pin." He also learns that Emily was with a bunch of different guys, Tug and Dode included, and that she was more than likely pregnant, which was the reason, on top of other things, why she was killed. The last moments of the film are spent on Brendan getting even with the person who ultimately set Emily up in the first place, and it is an amazing scene. I'm not giving spoilers out. Go watch the movie if it sounds interesting and you haven't seen it yet. It's good enough to not be spoiled.

And... yeah. That's about it. It was a wonderful movie, far outside my expertise in reviewing, but also really a great watch. It is probably one of the very best films I've seen in quite a long time, and easily the best non-horror/non-franchise film I've seen in quite a while.

Check it out. Seriously.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Doom (2005)

While I can see exactly why Doom, directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak, has gone down in history as a pretty bad video game movie (and a pretty disregarded movie in general), I'm going to express my disapproval with that assessment. Yes, this movie has mostly negative thoughts thrown around about it (with good reason). Yes, the acting is never really all that good. Yes, the story is fairly terrible to say the least. And yes, the music is downright awful. There are many more negatives I could say, and will say, about this film, but those are the starters before the main course. The visuals never really look right, seeming very much like an action film trying very hard to be a horror film in both visuals and tone. The problem is that the film never elevates itself. It never grows to a better level of movie. While there is a lot to enjoy about this film, there is very little to objectively like. It had its heart in the right place: no CGI monsters, prosthetics, practical effects, and some decent actors. But the movie just wasn't all that well done anyway. See, I still enjoyed it even with its obvious flaws, but I do not begrudge anybody who thinks that this film is garbage.

None of those things, those problems, make it a bad movie. It's simple. It's quick. And for some unknown reason it is one hell of an entertaining flick. I was engrossed by it, taken in by the simple story, the simple characters, and the simple premise. Sure, I (admittedly) have a soft spot for movies like this. I can't say I don't. But whatever my feelings about movies like this are, I still found this one compelling enough to enjoy and halfheartedly recommend for enjoyment purposes.

There are many more things wrong with this movie than right with it. The characters are one-dimensional, all introduced quickly, without fanfare. The audience is just expected to know the characters and like them. The story moves at a breakneck speed, never slowing down for a moment, even if parts of the story make no sense whatsoever. Maybe that's why it moves so quickly, so it can lose the audience to intense scenes, flashes of light, and blood. I was taken in. I can't say I wasn't. So, I guess it might have worked for me at least if that was the intent. While it is a terrible adaptation of the video game Doom, a terrible horror movie (if it was ever trying to be one at all), and too fast -paced for itself, it still is a good action film with some genuinely thrilling moments, and some wonderful expressions from The Rock.

Karl Urban and Raz Adoti, playing John "Reaper" and "Duke" respectively, are the only good actors here. They both do such a great job in their roles that their performances really helped make this movie an enjoyable experience for me. Karl Urban especially has always been one of my favorite relatively unknown actors. He gets great parts and always seems to give every role his all. I really hope he goes somewhere. He seems to be getting somewhere slowly and surely. I hope it continues. He really is a gem of an actor. His performance in this movie was excellent, probably the only truly genuinely "good" thing about this movie. Raz Adoti as "Duke" was just fun to watch. I was hoping he wouldn't die in the end. Obviously, he did. He had a truly excellent personality, and his scenes were genuinely thrilling and suspenseful.

The other actors were pretty bad. No, they weren't historically bad, but none of them were good. Most of them were simply mediocre. I enjoyed Richard Brake as Portman and Dexter Fletcher as Pinky, though neither of them precisely "acted" in a traditional sense. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson should have been good, even could have been good, but his hammy performance, although fun, was probably the worst of the entire movie. His eyebrows helped make the movie memorable, at least. That's saying something.

I have no idea what else to even say. There is a lot wrong with this movie. The first-person sequence towards the end of the film, although kind of fun, was also so very cheesy. The whole plot about how the "demons" came to be was also pretty stupid. Genetic research? Really? Why make the plot so complicated when all the filmmakers had to say was that these were demons from hell? Why bring pseudoscience into this? It's absolutely bizarre, but in the movie the science and discovery are treated like something the audience should already know everything about. It's such an odd thing, the pacing, the way the story is told. I can't for the life of me think of any other standalone movie that has the same strange breakneck pace in introducing its own characters and premises. Maybe Aliens? No. Even that movie had a pretty lengthy prologue. This film literally expects you to know these characters before they're introduced, to sympathize with them before you have a chance to know them.  It's weird, almost as if this movie were a sequel to another that had introduced them first. It's the only way I can explain it.

Anyway, I kind of wish they had ditched the story about the genetic research. That was truly very stupid. As a person who has more than a cursory knowledge about genetics (I went to school for it as a matter-of-fact.) they really should have stuck with hell and demons. Those are very simple to understand.

But, for all the many negatives, I still enjoyed this movie. It was a fun "turn-your-brain-off" kind of flick. It was as entertaining as I made it. And that's really what it all comes down to. I liked many of the sequences after the lightspeed introduction, and that's about all there is to it. The main monster was well done, the dark scenes in the sewers were actually harrowing. I loved the medical autopsy scenes as well. They actually gave the film some character of its own beyond the mindless space marine plot. The actors seemed like they were having fun for the most part too- well, all of them but Rosamund Pike playing John's sister Samantha. She had an expression of surprise on her face the entire movie, and her acting was literally painful to watch most of the time. As one of the few females in the movie, and the only one with significant screen time, her performance was pretty pitiful and rarely enjoyable at all. While she did get better the longer the movie went on, her first few scenes made me wince every time she was onscreen. She looked like she was not having a good time at all in the first half of this movie.

So, yeah, I'll recommend this movie for a good time. Don't expect anything, and it will probably surprise you. Expect a lot, and you'll be incredibly disappointed. Have fun with it. Don't take it seriously. I know I didn't, and it was a truly fun experience, even though the movie was not great.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Video Game Assessment: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (2013)

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is an interesting game. While game reviewers and critics alike have mostly been giving it a pass as a wonderful and beautiful game in the style of classic and hardcore JRPGs, I'm going to have to disagree. Just slightly. Ever so slightly. This game is beautiful, gorgeous, and any other synonym that you can think of in that vein. It has wonderful gameplay, a great story, and great characters... but, look, I'm NOT a fan of JRPGs. I really don't like them very much. Sure, I can see the influence on this game from older JRPGs and newer ones, I suppose, but calling it only a game for hardcore JRPG-lovers is belittling this game so much. Honestly, any reviewer that says that this game is only good for those who love or are nostalgic for JRPGs should be ashamed of themselves and give up their reviewer status.

I can't even believe that people would overlook this game, this wonderful, unique, and beautiful game because critics and reviewers go and say stupid and inane crap that is LITERALLY UNTRUE like this game is only built for hardcore JRPG fans or that this game is a GRINDFEST or that it relies too much on the POWER OF FRIENDSHIP TROPES.

You know what? I'm going to go off script a little here and say something I don't usually say in my reviews: Screw you, you pieces of garbage, for going and belittling one of the best new IP games to come out in a good few years. Screw you for calling this a game only for hardcore JRPG gamers. While, yes, those JRPG game players would probably enjoy this game very much, this is a game for basically anybody. Any person who likes any genre can pick this game up and enjoy it. Oh, you like games because of story? Well, this is the game for you. Oh, you like games for tight gameplay? This is the game for you. Oh, you just want something intelligent to pass the time? Play this game. Seriously, if you have the ability to play this game and you pass it up because some piece of crap game reviewer went and said it isn't the game for you, then shame on you for listening to those idiots, shame on them for saying it in the first place, and shame on you AGAIN for not giving this game the chance it deserves.

It is a rare game that will give out FREE DLC, and an even rarer one that OFFERS to give out free DLC without people complaining. The people involved in this game, and the decision of offering the free DLC should be commended to the fullest. So, thank your lucky stars for Studio Ghibli, Level-5, and Namco Bandai for actually having the gonads to stand up to current gaming market politics and greed and do something that actual makes the cynical gamer within me smile. I don't care if the DLC is basically nothing or if it's just a simple thing. It is the thought that counts in the case. You don't see Electronic Arts offering that kind of free DLC without being prodded to do so by an angry public, nor do you see Activision, Square Enix, or any of the other big publishers even thinking about it. So, yes, this needs to be mentioned, and all of those involved with making this wonderful game should be thanked for being able to take the risk. Thank you, all of you, for doing this, and for making this game in the first place. I really hope that this game both sells well and does well. It deserves it, and it is also one of the few games that I truly do think deserves that honor. If more games like this existed the world, and the gaming community as a whole, would be a better place. I have no idea how games could be blamed for violence when this is one of the games that people are looking at.

I know a lot of my comments up there were probably unnecessary in reviewing this game, but I needed to air out my opinions. I get that there are a lot of people who will probably dislike this game because it is a JRPG in their minds, but seriously, if a person is going to be that close-minded, then just stop. Stop playing games. Stop reading this review. Just stop, because you are not making anything better with that kind of attitude. I had that kind of attitude once, and it shut me off from a great deal of things I could have enjoyed, and did enjoy much later. So, seriously, stop with the annoyed stubborn hatred, and just play a wonderful game. You'll thank me if you read this and listen to me... which I doubt many people will, but I guess I'll never know until I post this, huh?

So, anyway, let's get started. Ni no Kuni is, simply stated, an amazing and wonderful game from start to finish. The plot is nearly pitch-perfect. If you've ever watched a Studio Ghibli anime you already know what to expect. It definitely takes pages out of the books of almost all of their different anime, but reminded me the most of Spirited Away. The stories, although both are very different, seem to hit similar notes, even if this game is about thirty times longer than that anime. Ni no Kuni finds a perfect tone throughout the story, evoking both laughter and tears as the plot progresses. It might not seem like much, but the cute world that Ni no Kuni resides in makes those tragic moments even harder to bear. And the funny thing is how those tragic moments can turn into sweet moments so easily... and how one second you can be wondering how such a cute game can make you cry, then the next moment you can be laughing at a clever pun that the game makes. There is a mood dissonance there, but it works, and it works so well that it is amazing to behold.

There is also something else I have to compare this game to. Have you ever heard of The Talisman (and Black House) by Stephen King and Peter Straub? The Talisman is VERY similar to Ni no Kuni, especially at the beginning of both stories. They both share similar elements with each other, like the idea of shared souls between two worlds and a story about a boy trying desperately to save his mother. Honestly, the stories were so close that I have to wonder if The Talisman has any influence at all on Ni no Kuni. Probably not, but still, the similarities at the beginning of both stories are difficult to ignore.

The biggest complaints I've seen are about the JRPG aspects of the game and the level grinding, both of which I'll talk about here. First, while this game is a JRPG and shares similarities to early Final Fantasy games and other early JRPG games, it is also fairly different from them. I have played a fair few JRPGs, and if you don't include some of the early Pokemon games as JRPGs, I have never actually finished a single one of them. My favorite TRUE JRPG had been Final Fantasy IX, a game that shares many similarities with Ni no Kuni. There are some pretty deep similarities, for instance how the map is traveled (although this is probably pretty standard for games of this type). The characters are also pretty similar and hit similar points, and the world is not too far off between the two games. But there are discrepancies. While Final  Fantasy IX is a wonderful game with stellar characters, it does have some pretty cruddy plot moments. Even some of the characters are not amazing, with certain party characters being much less there than others. Freya springs to mind in this case. Or Amarant for most of the game. Or Quina. What the hell did Quina ever even do? I know they all have their moments, and I am by no means dissing this aspect of Final Fantasy IX, rather I am elevating Ni no Kuni past that. There are NO BAD CHARACTERS in Ni no Kuni. None of the main characters are badly done, with each having their moments, and each having a reason to continue on. None of the antagonists are one-dimensional cackling evil-dudes either. Each has a story, a character, and a reason. And that's a huge reason why I find this game so alluring. There is depth here that is lacking from many JRPGs (in my opinion), and for that reason alone it should not simply be thrown into the bargain bin JRPG label.

I also have to say that the two main antagonists of the game: the White Witch of the title and Shadar, the Dark Djinn, are both brilliant characters with a lot to offer. Their stories as well as the stories that surround them are some of the high points of the game for me.

The second complaint is level-grinding and I'm simply going to say one word: "Toko." Seek out the Toko genus of enemy familiars. If you do that (and it's not that hard to find them) you can level up incredibly quickly. In about fifteen minutes of "grinding" I leveled up about fifteen levels. And just a bit more "grinding" brought me all the way to far beyond a level I could easy dominate the rest of the game. Look, I usually hate grinding. I hate it in Pokemon, and hated it in Final Fantasy IX. I hated it so much in that game that I'm literally stuck right before the final boss because I refuse to go and grind twenty levels so I can be ready to fight. It shouldn't have to be like that. A game should never be designed to where if I want to progress in the plot I have to grind for hours to get to that "level." Ni no Kuni bypasses this, offering an easy way to level your character and familiars up without the need of heavy grinding. It is simple, quick, and without any real downsides. Usually you have to fight the enemies anyway, specifically if you want to catch them (like Pokemon, and since Familiars are basically Pokemon anyway the comparison stands), so what's so bad about looking around for a fairly easy to find enemy to level up quickly? It seems that anybody who mentions what a "grind" this game is never mentions how easy it actually is to level up. Maybe they never found the little enemies that level you up quickly. I found one simply by exploring the world. The first time it ran out of battle I was intrigued, then started pursuing them until I finally gained its mighty experience. It was as easy as that. And the experience surprised and thrilled me enough that it convinced me this was the easiest way of leveling up. AND IT WAS. How a reviewer can review a game without exploring the world and finding as much as possible is beyond me. I will never understand it. I love that most of them gave this game wonderful scores, but I HATE HATE HATE how many of the reviews I read through also seemed to have to mention grinding and JRPGs, both of which belittle this game to no end and turn off customers who might have bought this if not for those labels.

Look, reviewers who probably will never read this blog or this review, let's get something straight. Your JOB is not to go and review a game as quickly as possible, hitting the plot notes but forgetting the game. Your JOB is to give a thorough and well done review, a review for people who MAY be interested in the game, a review for those who ARE interested in the game, and a review for people who HAVE NO IDEA what the game even is. But you can't cut corners. Yes, there are time limits, but a good reviewer learns everything about a game, learns that there are ways to level up quickly, learns to not just label a game as a JRPG without realizing what an implication that is to game players like myself who largely dislike that genre of game. See, I took a chance with this game, despite the reviews I read. I was turned off by those reviews. I was willing to wait, willing to not pick this game up because it didn't seem like something I would enjoy. Then I thought something to myself. My thought was as follows: "I took a chance on watching Spirited Away back in the time period where I absolutely hated everything to do with anime. I took a chance to watch it because the story sounded interesting, and I was interested in trying something new. I wasn't expecting to like it. Hell, people were basically telling me I wouldn't like it because I don't enjoy anime. But you know what? It blew me away, becoming one of my favorite movies of all time. It was brilliant and beautiful, and I was almost so close-minded that I could have missed out on something that literally changed my life. I took a chance on Studio Ghibli, and they didn't let me down. They've never let me down, from Castle in the Sky to Ponyo I have fallen in love with every movie I've seen by them. Each has left a mark on me that I cannot remove. They've proven to me time and again that they can make quality, and I have to have faith that this game will be the same."

I bought the game, not because of any reviews, not because of anything I had heard about the game. Yes, I had been interested in it for a while, but there was never a guarantee I would buy it, certainly not at a $60 price tag. But Studio Ghibli had proven to me how amazing they were. And I bought it because of that. And it was one of the best games I've ever played. It gave me everything I could have wanted: wonderful characters like Mr. Drippy, a Welsh Lord High Lord of the Fairies, and Oliver, the main character with an absolute heart of gold who never deserved the rough hand he was dealt. It had a plot that was literally tragic and beautiful all at the same time, with the antagonists being so much more than I could have ever hoped for. No, I won't spoil anything, but I never expected such brilliant and beautiful stories from faceless antagonists... but then again I should have remembered No-Face and what he meant in Spirited Away. And then there's the gorgeous world, a world that looks more beautiful than almost any other game I have ever seen or played. It's rivaled only by the best of the best in Skyrim, Mass Effect, Half-Life, and Silent Hill. Other than those series (or games) nothing else comes close to the beauty and wonder of the visual of Ni no Kuni. The sound is also fantastic, with music by Joe Hisaishi, a long-time collaborator with Studio Ghibli. He has made such memorable and beautiful music for this game. I have to give special mention for the music while riding the dragon, the main theme, and some of the background music when certain late plot points are happening. They are integrated beautifully into the game, and  they work to make it have one of the best all around soundtracks in a game since Nier.

And you want to know something? This game compares favorably to Nier. Keep in mind that Nier is one of my all-time favorite games and you might just be starting to think how much I truly fell in love with Ni no Kuni. I'm glad it has gotten a lot of love so far. I only wish the reviewers hadn't stuck it in a genre without any thought or foresight. I also wish they wouldn't say such terrible things about a leveling system that works quite well and never needs to be "grind-heavy."

I want to say so much more. I want to spoil the game wide open and scream to the world why I think this is one of the best games ever made. I want to say how it improves upon the Pokemon formula (for it indeed does essentially have the gameplay of a 3D Pokemon game, although that is also simplifying things quite a bit). I want to say how much I love all of the characters, all of the plot, all of the everything about this game. I want to say how one twist in the game legitimately brought me to tears, me a manly bearded man, tearing up at a game that could easily be played by any given child. I can't even remember the last game I truly was brought to tears by. Maybe it's never even happened before. I have no idea. I can't remember. But this game did it. The happy moments made those tragic ones all the more biting. And those tragic moments made the happy and carefree ones all the more poignant. It's a world I could live in for the rest of my days, playing and playing until I lose myself in that other world forever. But sadly, while Oliver's adventures with Esther, Swaine, Mr. Drippy, and the rest continue in the story that I feel has no real end, my days of playing it are over for now. I only wish I had the time to relive the experience all over again... but the real world calls, and I have to be off.

My final words about Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch are that it should be played by everyone. It deserves that much. It's very sad that this game is only available to PS3 owners, but I also have to hope that EVERY PS3 owner will go and buy this game, and maybe the game will even convince people who don't have the system to go buy it for this game. It's worth it, let me tell you. This is a game that (while worth $60) has no real monetary value when it comes to what it's TRULY worth. It's priceless in its storytelling and characters. And it is priceless in what it now means to me. Do yourself a favor and either go play this game right now or go watch a Let's Play of it at the very least. It deserves to be known if only because it is that good.