Game Review: Knights of the Round

Given my repeated (and likely obnoxious) posts regarding the ways that oriental culture is badly translated by occidental culture for entertainment purposes, I figure that the same scrutiny aimed in the opposite direction is in order.

There's plenty of material for this, especially with the recent release of Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django and Kim Ji-Won's The Good, the Bad and the Weird, two films in which the hoary trappings of the Western are now populated with Asian actors. Furthermore, there are probably a bazillion Anime that either adapt western literature or use European period settings, such as the influential Shojo anime series "The Rose of Versailles." Plumbing the dusty archives of my memory for all of the video games I've wasted my time playing over the years, however, I recall a Capcom developed, Final Fight-esque brawler developed for CPS2 hardware and originally released in Arcades (but that I first played as an SNES port) titled Knights of the Round.

It is as it sounds: a brainless side scrolling beat-em-up coin muncher based on Arthurian legends in the most inappropriate and superficial ways. And as it probably sounds: I love it.

So I fired up Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 2 with the intent of coming up with funny things to say about a game in which Franco-English-Germanic myth is reductively pasted onto a generic model of a brainless early nineties side-scrolling arcade game. The funny moments are unfortunately few, to be honest. There is a certain amount of humor to be derived from the haphazard way that about five centuries worth of arms and armory has been assembled for use by the enemy armies. Rapier wielding acrobats fight alongside Zweihander swinging warriors dressed in full plate armor, while bosses range from a mechanically operated suit of armor to a Japanese swordsman in red named Muramasa. At no point in the work of Malory nor in the romances attributed to Chretien de Troyes have the knights quested to the far eastern lands of Japan. Same goes for the ending, in which it turns out that in the course of quelling rebellions throughout the British lands, Arthur, Perceval and Lancelot were also looking for the Holy Grail, which was sitting in a castle of a local Italian warlord named Garibaldi. Who knew?

The game itself is Final Fight. An attack button and a jump button are utilized, and the three characters are differentiated between power (Perceval) and speed (Lancelot) with Arthur being the most balanced of the group. The controls work fine, the graphics are bright and attractive, and the difficulty is absurd. Arcade games are not known to be fair to the player - their goal is to eat as many quarters as they possibly can, and that means that the player has to lose, and lose often. The SNES cartridge gives you nine credits, the PS2 Capcom Classics Collection gives you unlimited credits. Items can be attacked, splitting them and allowing a second player to take half. The horse riding mechanic is unimportant. The characters also level up, but truthfully, the only differences are cosmetic.

Honestly, there's a lot to like if arcadey action games appeal to you. In spite of the fact that it's connections to Arthurian myth are minuscule and the characters betray a certain non-chalant lack of concern for historicity or believability or aesthetic principles of the medieval age, I love this game. It's simple gameplay done well enough that occasionally I'll play through it with unlimited continues and laugh at the insanity of a saber wielding, excessively feminine Lancelot fighting off a prancing fop named Phantom of Nightshade or King Arthur beating fat guys and vaguely semetic wizards with an oversized sword in the middle of the night surrounded by Japanese lanterns. It's that non-malicious though still inconsiderate treatment that makes the game less grating than it is delightful in spite of itself.


Blogs suck.

Blogs suck, and so does blogging. I've considered the possibility that all people who blog - or at least do so regularly - are afflicted with either extreme narcissism or a ridiculous amount of time on their hands. How else would they have so much time to post "lolcat" pictures and whine about their girlfriend/boyfriend's extreme paranoid-manic episodes that resulted in them being kidnapped in Turkmenistan for a few hours?

That's one of the reasons blogs suck; how can people with such extreme self-loathing manage to write thousand word entries on themselves without realizing how completely full of themselves they really are? God knows - I can already tell it, and I don't care to continue reading until the authors figure it out for themselves. However, setting aside the attention whores, the mouth breathing furries, those who opened blogs after an emotionally crippling ban from Deviantart, and pretty much all of livejournal.com, what are we really left with?

There are film review blogs and video game review blogs; there are personal blogs and travel blogs; there are religious blogs and blogs that advocate secularism/atheism; there are political blogs and music blogs; there are obscure shit blogs and even more obscure shit blogs. Almost all of these are useless. There are too many of these damn pages and too few of them provide any actual content.

Is this rant going anywhere? Am I announcing my retirement from the "blogosphere" (Lord help me, I hate that term too)? Did I write this with the sole intention to write as many repetitive rhetorical questions as I felt? No, it's a simple observation. Print media is dying; "Electronic Gaming Monthly" - a publication that drove much of my literacy as a younger person - is going to be printing its final issue in February. I don't play new video games. As a matter of fact, I rarely have the time to play older ones. But as I read the online entertainment software editorials on sites like GameFAQs and watch the videos of amateurs (of varying degrees) on Youtube, I find myself with an opportunity to whine about the impending death of prosaic composition and style, and contemplate how I've actively contributed to it.

These are a few hundred words in which I've expressed my self-loathing, and yet still, a hundred words written about myself, by myself.

Yeah, blogging sucks.


Bias... in this case my own

I won't avail you, dear reader, with tales of my New Year's Eve. Suffice to say, they were sufficiently unusual for myself, as traditionally, New Year's for me has not normally included the drinking of Mexican beer before drunkenly crashing parties and attempting (more or less successfully, most surprisingly) to make out with strange women whom I had known for less time than it took me to drink myself into oblivion.

A successful night, by my counting. And I got to hang out with a friend who - for the purposes of keeping this blog more or less anonymous - I call Pilgrim.

But I'm not posting about that. Instead, I'm posting about something that occurred to me not long after my hungover subsided, as I was watching the (more or less) recently released An Empress and the Warriors the newest film from Director Tony Ching Siu-Tung. The initial hype (for myself, at least) came from the literal English translation of the title "The Kingdom and the Beauty" which lead me to believe it would be a remake of the 1959 Huangmei Opera film from Li Han Hsiang of the same name. It was something that sounded perfectly bizarre, pairing a couple of pop stars (Kelly Chen and Leon Lai) with Donnie Yen for what I assumed would be a kung fu musical with the sort of action that could be seen in the director's own films from times past: The Sword, Duel to the Death, and A Chinese Ghost Story.

Granted, it turned out to not only be a non-musical period film, but a non-musical that felt as by the numbers and lack luster as much of Hong Kong's recent genre cinema. It was, however, mostly inoffensive, and occasionally, earnest and fun. That isn't to say anything in favor of the film as genuine cinematic craft or art; the narrative drags, the acting is amateurish (especially from the female lead) and Ching Siu-Tung's direction seems to have been cobbled from scenes out of other films. The sword being thrown and sticking from the ground scene - as seen in Braveheart is there, as is a set that looks suspiciously similar to either the planet Endor or the Forests of Sherwood if you've witnessed the turd known as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Not coincidentally, there's a poorly inserted romantic sub-plot that was more than slightly reminiscent of the recent Harlequin romance-esque treatment of Tristan + Isolde, another movie by director Kevin Reynolds (aka Ridley Scott's bitch). And how could they forget the ever cliche "woman needs a wound dressed but is too shy/fussy to undress in front of a male doctor" scene? Well they didn't; there's more than one.

However, it's this sort of sillyness that made many historically set "wuxia" films of Hong Kong's past so enjoyable. Films that I fully enjoy - Dragon Inn, Kung Fu Cult Master etc. - have just as little concern for historicity, for coherent plotting or the integrity to put decent acting ahead of physical appeal. Compared to some of the movies I admit I enjoy, An Empress and the Warriors really should come out looking rather favorably. It's got a nice, expensive, color-corrected look with some killer production design (the detail on the armor, each individually crafted, is incredible) and there's a nice homage to Chang Cheh towards the end, wherein Donnie Yen leaves a thorougly unlikely number of people dead before he finally gets stabbed, at which point he bares his chest and ties his shirt around his gaping belly to hold his guts in, and continues fighting.

It has all the things I like, and yet I don't really like it that much. What's wrong with it? What's wrong with me? Have I fallen into the internet nerd-critic trap - liking things for incomprehensible reasons relating to seventies exploitation movie practices and comic book references and disliking them for arbitrary notions of commercialism and genre? Would I like the some of my favorite movies if they had been released in theaters this week, instead of having seen them for the first time after hunting for obscure, out-of-print DVD's?

I don't know how much of that is true about me. All I know is that I like Dirty Hairy, but I don't like Gran Torino. I'd rather watch a movie starring Steve Reeves than one starring Vin Deisel, and when it comes to tasteless cinema, CAT III smut, 70's Pinku-eiga and 80's slasher flicks will always beat out Japanese horror remakes, Misty Mundae's direct to dvd skin flicks, and Eli Roth in my book.

Godzilla > Cloverfield.

Truth be told, much of this stuff is subjective. I fully envision my current indulgence in bad taste coming back to haunt me in the future, with my children bringing Van Helsing or BloodRayne into my home, and giving perfectly defensible reasons for how much they enjoy the crap that even I found too heinous to sit through when it first came about. However, I'm still absolutely correct about everything I say. That's the power you can pretend to weild after admitting that you're horribly biased. In my case, I'm biased against everything. I'll find a way to hate anything, even the things that I like. Surely we can all admit that that's pretty awesome.

Godzilla > Cloverfield. I like that. That might become the new title for my blog, although I'm considering revising it to Cloverfield < Godzilla, just to make it a fully negative statement.