A Look Back at Suikoden II (1999)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from playing Suikoden II (English version, released in 1999) and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

Even though I have not played that many Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs) on consoles over the past several years, I am really excited about the upcoming RPGs that will be released on Xbox Series X and the future JRPGs I am looking forward to are Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes and Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising developed by Rabbit & Bear Studios (led by Yoshitaka Murayama).

Who is Yoshitaka Murayama? He created the memorable Suikoden (AKA Genso Suikoden) RPG franchise during his time with Konami, specifically the first three games. I myself played and finished Suikoden on the original PlayStation in 1996 and it was a lot of fun thanks to the combined efforts of Murayama (who did the scenarios and game direction) and his teammates such as Junko Kawano (who did the design), Miki Higashino (who did the music along with four other teammates) and some others.

Then in 1999, the sequel to Suikoden was released and I can never forget the day I bought it at a local game store and rushed home with a lot of excitement to start playing it on our then aging PlayStation console.

So you must be wondering…how did I find the sequel? Was it an improvement over its predecessor? Did Murayama and the key creators do better than what they did in the first game? You can all find out in this look back at Suikoden II, published by Konami for the PlayStation (PS1).

The cover of the North American version of Suikoden II.

Early story

The story begins with two youngsters – Riou (your character whose name can be modified) and Jowy – who are close friends since childhood now serving the Highland Army as members of their youth brigade. They spend time in a military camp in the forest as a peace treaty between two great forces is pending (note: Highland has been in conflict with the City-State of Jowston).

As some soldiers expressed desires to go home once the peace has been finalized, Riou and Jowy are ordered by their commanding officer Rowd to go back to their tent and sleep. However, a surprise attack happened which alerted them. As soon as the two close friends left their tent, they are shocked to see parts of the camp burning. Their officer Rowd informed them that their enemy is responsible for the attack and deliberately broke the peace agreement. Riou and Jowy are told to take the mountain path to the east and save themselves before it is too late.

Fearing that they might get ambushed in the woods, Jowy tells Riou that they should return to camp. Upon returning, they quietly witness the unexpected presence of Highland prince Luca Blight who gets briefed by Rowd. As it turns out, the attack on their camp was not committed by the opposing forces but rather it was all a self-inflicted operation by Highland. Rowd’s instruction to some of their selected soldiers to head east was a set-up. What happened was all part of a plan by Highland to escalate the conflict by blaming their losses on Jowston. Luca Blight expressed clearly that a peace treaty with Jowston and its states was not needed, and he strongly believes in the power of Highland to conquer them all.

Jowy and Riou (upper-right corner) quietly witness the conversation between prince Luca Bright and the captain.

After learning the shocking details, Riou and Jowy decide to leave for the cliff to the north as a way of escape. At the cliff, Rowd catches up to the two. Fortunately, Riou and Jowy were successful in defeating Rowd’s soldiers and pave the way for their escape. Before fleeing, they marked a rock and promised to return to that same place if ever they get separated.

Riou and Jowy jumped off the cliff and get separated. Some time later, Riou wakes up and finds himself in the presence of three men. One of them identifies himself as Viktor, the leader of an army of mercenaries and an ally of Jowston. Another member of the mercenary army in blue arrives and he is Flik.

Being powerless, Riou marches with them to the headquarters of the mercenary army…

Quality

Luca Blight (with sword) is a lot more than just being evil as the game’s main antagonist.

Having played Suikoden a lot in 1996, I got familiar with the game design, the varied battle systems and other features that made it a solid RPG on its own. As for Suikoden II, I can clearly say that Murayama and his creative team built up on their foundation (in the first game), expanded the fantasy concept dramatically and ultimately made an extensive series of improvements and additions over each and every aspect of the sequel!

I’ll start first with the storytelling and writing. Compared to its predecessor, I found Suikoden II to be deeper and it took great advantage of the fact that the plot took place just years after first game and by this time the established world, the cities, tribes and geopolitical concept have been developed so much – backed with solid writing – they all become a lot more believable. In the middle of the great conflict are the three main characters Riou, Jowy and Nanami whose exploits and portrayals are pretty rich and lively to follow. It’s kinda like following the love triangle of Hikaru, Misa and Minmay through the war in the classic Super Dimension Fortress Macross anime TV series, except that you – the player – get heavily involved as Rious by making decisions that affect yourself and others, leading missions, building up a community (and force) of over 100 members, and overcoming challenges related to the conflict between Highland and Jowston.

The great news here is that the Riou-Jowy-Nanami emotional arc was written to be dramatic, engaging, intriguing and sentimental which ultimately will make you feel for them just as you make your way through the many events and twists of the war story. Beyond these three key characters, it should be noted that the scenarios are excellently executed and really showed how lively the fantasy world of Suikoden II really is. I’m talking about the portrayal of the many, many supporting characters and the interactions you have with them as the plot moves forward. Remember how lively your troops were in welcoming you back after winning your first army battle? Such a scenario was well directed and scripted, and the supporting characters you recruited really had their moments of participation which make sense within the narrative. I also should mention that the opposition figure of the game – Luca Blight – is still a powerful and complex villain in JRPGs even by today’s standards. Luca Blight is not evil for the sake of being evil, but if you pay close attention to the details about his background as the game’s story goes on, you will realize he is quite a complex character whose evil made sense within the narrative. Very clearly, the writing and storytelling done by Yoshitaka Muraya is not only greater than in the first game, but also very inspired.

Viktor, who also appeared in the first game, continues to be an important supporting character in this sequel! He is one of several characters from Suikoden who returned.

On the gameplay and design, Suikoden II’s exploration of the world, towns and locations uses good old 2D graphics. The big difference here is that the 2D visual elements are more varied in terms of detailed sprites for non-playable characters (NPCs) and interactive characters, and visually the sprites as well as the art used for the in-game environments looked more polished (clearer, smoother and less pixelated). The controls are responsive enough for my taste, and it is also nice that my character moves faster while exploring. More on exploring, I do confirm that there are indeed more locations to visit (including those that are part of the quests related to finding the 100+ characters) and the art made for the locations are more varied as well.

More on the gameplay, two types of battle systems from the first game are back but with refinements. First to talk about is the party battle system in which players get to control a group of up to six members who face off with enemies by group, or a single powerful boss-type enemy. During the party battle, you get to pick options as to what type of action each member of your party will do – Attack, Magic (note: this involve Runes), Item or Flee (note: if your party is much stronger than the opposition, Bribe or Let Go options will appear).

The party battle system is a lot of fun and not too stressful.

The way the battles are designed, as in the first game, is smooth, very visually appealing (thanks to the dynamic camera and fine level of detail of the sprites and animation) and fun to watch. Adding further depth to the party battles are the combined attacks involving at least two characters. Take for example Flik and Viktor doing the cross-attack, or Riou and Nanami performing a series of combo attack moves in strong coordination with each other. These combined attacks are not only fun to perform and see, but also encourages you to experiment by mixing up characters (specifically combatants) and paying attention as to which characters they can do combined attacks with. This alone will encourage you to complete the 108 characters of your force.

The use of Runes has been improved a lot in this game as the combatants now have three slots to equip Runes (note: these slots gradually open up as characters’ levels go up). Runes are essential to use magic spells in battles and the improvement of the Runes – plus the Run Affinity system – add more variety in the battles.

The 2D sprites are very visually appealing, especially when you watch the characters perform varied forms of action during the party battle.

Compared to other Japanese RPGs, the party battles here are much less stressful even though a random encounter system is used. There is also the option for automated attacks, which spares you from having to choose options for each member of your party to perform when fighting the enemies. Granted, I went through lots of random encounter battles and some challenges, but ultimately the stress level and tedium were very low. Doing party battles is fun overall.

The 2nd battle system inherited from the first game is the duel. Duels happen the least throughout the game but each time they happen, they can be quite engaging to do. As the one-on-one battle between your character and an opponent begins, you will see them in a 3D realm with the dynamic camera capturing the action. Your options are mainly Attack, Wild Attack and Defend, and before you can pick an option, you must pay attention first to the clues (note: taunts) from your opponent which can help you anticipate his/her/its next move. While the visuals are clearly improved, the duel is pretty much the same as in the first game.

Duels happen in a 3D environment with the characters still presented as 2D sprites that are not only highly detailed but also are smoothly animated.
Like in the party battles, duel sequences also have a dynamic camera system complete with zoom during the action.

The 3rd battle system – army battles – is clearly the most revised part of the game as it is radically different from the army battles of the previous game. This time the army battles involves the heavy use of a tactical map (where you move units in a grid-like system). Your units – composed of mainly characters you recruited, including the non-combatants – can be moved on the map to counter an enemy unit. Then a short, animated battle sequence will commence and based on the statistics of each unit, the winner and loser of the sequence will be determined. Take note that in events of defeat, recruits can die permanently. As such, it is important to pay attention to not only the statistics but also the types of troops you have such as archers, healers, knights, and foot troops. When controlling units on the map, your options are Attack, Wait and Rune. It is also very entertaining to see how the characters react (with dialogue, no less) to the battles. Overall, the army battle system here is clearly much deeper and more strategic than what was used in the first Suikoden.

The army battles in this game are more tactical than what was presented in the first Suikoden. This is also the main map used for such battles.

Battles aside, there are also lots of things to do related to exploration. For one thing, there are these fun-filled mini-games the game creators set up such as fishing (note: not as boring as it may sound), the whack-a-mole game, rope climbing, Chinchirorin (dice game in a bowl) and, the most exciting and deepest of them all, the cooking contest game. When you fully invest your time into each of these mini-games, you will not feel relieved from the stress of battles and exploration, but also have a lot of fun free of stress. I enjoyed these a lot myself.

If you enjoyed building up your fortress in the first game, you will experience that here also! Building up your stronghold is related to your recruiting of people and some of them have certain talents that will establish key parts of your place like a store, a Rune shop, aa tavern, a restaurant, an armor shop and even a detective agency to name some! It may take an effort to have all possible establishments get realized in the game but I promise you, they are all worth it and you will feel thankful that you got to recruit lots of people. The other reward of building up your fortress is the establishment of a thriving community of people!

Your party members can take a bath and even use the collected artifacts as decorations. This is one of the many side activities you can do at your stronghold.
The cooking contest mini-game is easily the best in the game! This alone will encourage you to keep searching for recipes during your adventures!

With regards to continuity with the first Suikoden game, the game developers implemented certain content (locations, dialogue, story and characters) that get unlocked by having your preserved Suikoden saved game content successfully loaded with Suikoden II running on PS1. I’m talking about being able to meet and even recruit Suikoden hero Tir McDohl, plus meeting even more characters from the first game. Very clearly, this is a clever presentation of fan service done by Murayama and his creative team who paid attention to the feedback of the first Suikoden.

The music done by Miki Higashino and Keiko Fukami are very varied and many of them reflect the places you get to visit, the emotional scenes you witness and the epic moments that happen. The great news here is that each and every tune in the game was made and performed with special care. This game’s soundtrack really stands out high among Japanese RPGs of the 1990s and even by today’s standards, it still is a great soundtrack to listen to.

If there are any flaws in this great game, it is the English translation itself as there were typographical errors, mistranslations and even NPCs with lines of dialogue that made absolutely no sense. Clearly there was a rushed job with the translation.

Conclusion

The political aspect of the game’s story is simple and never overwhelming.

I really love Suikoden II and very clearly, it is a major improvement over its predecessor (which itself was a solidly good RPG). Suikoden II is a labor of love done by Murayama and his creative team and the result is a true epic RPG that has so much enjoyable stuff and high replay value for gamers. Its quality is still great and by today’s standards, Suikoden II is indeed a classic RPG that gamers should play even though Konami itself does not care to make it more accessible in this modern age of gaming.

Given the legacy of Suikoden II and the fact that Konami showed no signs of reviving the Suikoden RPG franchise, now is the time to look forward to Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes which Murayama and his team are developing for release in 2023 for Xbox consoles, Xbox Game Pass and other platforms. Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes clearly has strong Suikoden vibes and the distinct combination of 2D sprites with 3D polygonal environments, plus its party battle system strong resembles that of Suikoden and Suikoden II!

Overall, Suikoden II is highly recommended!

Now if only Konami would change its ways to make Suikoden II more accessible (go way beyond the PlayStation online store and ecosystem) to gamers by releasing it digitally through Xbox LIVE, Steam, Xbox Game Pass and other online stores or ecosystems. Paying hundreds of dollars for a legitimate hard copy of the game is simply too much.

There is nothing like building up your stronghold and seeing your recruits become part of its development as well as your campaigns.

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Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

Classic game Zombies Ate My Neighbors plus sequel coming to Xbox on June 29, 2021!

Yesterday, I learned about the most surprising news related to my personal interest of Xbox gaming. It’s not about the reported new game of Bethesda (which has been fully acquired by Microsoft) and not about The Coalition’s latest developments.

Rather it’s about a pretty notable game (plus its sequel) from the 1990s that I completely missed out on. The big surprise to me was that it will be released soon for Xbox One and Xbox Series S and X owners to enjoy.

That game is none other than Zombies Ate My Neighbors and its sequel Ghoul Patrol. Both games from the 1990s will be released for Xbox on June 29, 2021 for $14.99!

For those who are not familiar with either game, here is an excerpt from the Xbox.com article written by Ken Humphries (Senior Producer on the two games)…

Zombies Ate My Neighbors

The 2-player function is a popular feature of the game.

Hey, where’s that scary music coming from? Yikes! It’s Zombies Ate My Neighbors, where you appear in every demented horror flick ever to make you hurl ju-jubes.

What are Zeke and Julie, our two wholesome teenage stars doing in a 16-bit game like this?! Trying to save the nice neighbors, cheerleaders, and babies from a fate worse than polyester!

Who could put this slice of suburbia in such goose-pimply hysteria? Zombies, relentless chainsaw maniacs, mummies, evil dolls that just won’t die, lizard men, blobs, vampires, giant ants, martians, and more.

One of many levels in this game.

Will these crazy kids survive the night? Find your way through 55 horror-filled levels like a grocery store gone bad, a shopping mall awry, a mysterious island and your own back yard. Don’t miss “Weird Kids on the Block,” “Mars Needs Cheerleaders,” and “Dances w ith Werewolves.”

You can fend off the freaks with a virtual candy counter of weapons like uzi squirt guns, exploding soda pop, bazookas, weed wackers and ancient artifacts. Also grab power ups-o-rama like secret potions and bobo clown decoys. Does this game ever end?!

Ghoul Patrol

Nothing like facing an over-sized enemy in Ghoul Patrol.

Zeke and Julie, our intrepid teenagers, visit the Ghosts and Ghouls exhibit at the city library, where they find an old treasure chest containing an ancient spirit book. Naturally, they cannot resist reading it. Suddenly, a horrific snaggle-toothed spirit emerges.

Now, this snarling phantom and his dastardly minions are infesting Metropolis and slithering their way into the history books, where they plan to rewrite history with their spooky ways. Only you have the power to go back in time to de-spook an encyclopedia of zombified historic dudes.

Were you able to play this game back in the 1990s?

Terminate, with prejudice, using crossbows, ping-pong ball machine guns, Martian “Heatseeker” guns, and more.

Vaporize garbage can ghosts and ninja spirits, rescue bug-eyed librarians and wigged-out pirates, dodge flying books and adolescent-eating plants!

The features for Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol are as follows…

NEW FEATURES

Save Feature: Quickly save your progress in either game and continue your adventure wherever and whenever you want

Museum Features: Watch a video interview with one of the original Zombies’ developers or explore numerous galleries containing game art, previously unreleased concept images and marketing assets

Soundtrack: Listen to the entire soundtracks for both games in the included music players

2 Player Mode: Play the game with two player local co-op

• Achievements: Track your game progress with a set of achievements covering both games

To put things in perspective, Zombies Ate My Neighbors was released in 1993 published by Konami (game developed by LucasArts) for the Super NES (SNES) and the Sega Genesis. It was not a big commercial success but it proved to be a hit with the critics of the time (plus the writers who published their reviews of it years later). Zombies Ate My Neighbors gained a cult following as it not only had enjoyable gameplay, its visual style was appealing, it had lots of visual elements related to pop culture (notably horror genre elements), a memorable soundtrack and more.

In a 2006 article published by IGN, Zombies Ate My Neighbors was described by Lucas M. Thomas as “a comical 16-bit template for the new Xbox 360 release, Dead Rising. And like that game, this one arms you with a pretty bizarre arsenal. Weed whackers, exploding soda cans and flying silverware all make an appearance to help you, or you and a friend, put a hurt on these living dead.”

Ghoul Patrol was released in 1994 for SNES, published back then by JVC (Japan Victor Company) with the development done by LucasArts. Like its predecessor, I never got to play it back decades ago. In addition, I never even saw a copy of the sequel at retail during those days.

As I never got to play Zombies Ate My Neighbors back decades ago, its upcoming release for Xbox is a very delightful surprise for me personally. I will order this (along with Ghoul Patrol) very soon.

If you are interested to order in advance Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol for your Xbox One or Xbox Series console, click here.

In ending this piece, posted below is a video retrospective on Zombies Ate My Neighbors published by GamerThumbTV plus a retro review by Cinemassacre. Be mindful of potential spoilers.

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Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back at V: The Original Miniseries (1983)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from watching V: The Original Miniseries and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

Way back in 1983, I was fortunate to watch the 2-episode sci-fi mini-series on television titled V: The Original Miniseries. Because there was no Netflix, no YouTube, no Internet access and no DVD at the time, getting to replay the said mini-series as well as its sequel V: The Final Battle was really hard. Replays of them on local TV rarely happened.

Then in 2001, V: The Original Miniseries was released on DVD format and I got to watch it all over again with a good amount of enjoyment. In recent times, I purchased the Blu-ray release and replayed the original miniseries in high-definition at last!

You must be wondering if the original mini-series aged well through the decades, and is it still good to watch by today’s standards? While I will comment about its overall quality below, what I can say is that its theme about people fighting to be free from fascism, oppression, terrorism and dictatorship remains relevant to this day.

For his part, star Marc Singer stated: “I think themes of what holds society together and what tears society apart, those themes are universal themes and I think they’re always going to be relevant. I think there’s going to be a necessity for things like V to be revisited in order that society remember what it is that’s cohesive and coherent about it and why is it that we should all stand together and treat each other well.”  

With those details laid down, here is a look back at V: The Original Miniseries, written and directed by Kenneth Johnson. The first episode was broadcast on television in the United States on May 1, 1983.

V: The Original Miniseries

Early story

The story begins in El Salvador where camera operator Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) and his companion Tony risk their lives capturing footage of an armed conflict. As the two tried their best to move away from the heat of battle, a helicopter of the enemy tracks them and corners them. Just as hope seems lost for Mike Donovan, the helicopter suddenly flies away. He turns to the other direction and witnesses the presence of a huge, floating saucer-like space ship coming his way. He begins to record footage of it.

Soon enough, several other space ships arrive and float above many other cities around the world. In America, medical student Julie Parrish (Faye Grant) and her colleagues carefully watch the TV news coverage. In a nice neighborhood, several residents – including Robin Maxwell (Blaire Tefkin), Eleanor Dupres (Neva Patterson), Daniel Bernstein (David Packer) and his grandfather Abraham (Leonardo Cimino) to name a few – marvel at the sight of a space ship above them. At another location, the research of scientist Robert Maxwell (Michael Durrell) and his colleague got interrupted with the arrival of a space ship.

The Visitors formally begin their new relationship with the people of Earth.
Diana of the Visitors played by Jane Badler.

Some time later, the Visitors make verbal contact with the people around the world using varied languages of Earth. In a special arrangement held at the top of the United Nations (UN) building in New York closely viewed on TV by the general public, the Visitors reveal themselves represented by John (Richard Herd) who expresses their message of reaching out peacefully to the people of Earth, seek their help and, in return, share with them their advanced technologies that could help humanity a whole lot for future generations. The Visitors are human in appearance but speak with very distinct sounds.

As a result, the governments of Earth agree to the offer of the Visitors and establish ties with them. Symbolically, a large group of Visitors’ engineers led by Diana (Jane Badler) and security chief Steven (Andrew Pine) arrive at a refinery to formally begin collecting chemicals and minerals.

Then things start to turn bad…

Quality

I can clearly declare that the writing and directing done by Kenneth Johnson remains great, and for many reasons why. On storytelling, Johnson (who was inspired by the anti-fascist novel It Can’t Happen Here and made an adaptation of it before finally coming up with V) clearly took his time on establishing the core concept stage-by-stage, and he also found efficient ways of explaining details to viewers by using in-story news reports and videos and retrospective as effective tools of exposition (these helped cut down the reliance on expository dialogue).

As the story goes on, Johnson carefully introduced the many characters on-screen (including the use of quick introductions of some characters who are located away from others they are connected/related with), established who they are and, most notably, showed how the events that took place affected them.

The Visitors (and one member of their youth auxiliary movement wearing brown) posting propaganda material to condition people’s minds they are friendly and trustworthy. These posters are familiar to many Nazi propaganda materials used in Europe decades earlier. Prior to the release of the Original Miniseries, a real-life marketing campaign of putting up such posters happened in real life.

Johnson also used symbolism which reflects what happened decades ago in Europe with the rise of the Third Reich. The Visitors’ symbol resembles the Nazi Swastika while the persecution of scientists (as well as their families and associates) resembles the Nazi persecution of Jewish people, and the scene of Daniel Bernstein joining the Visitors through their “Friends of Visitors” movement recalls memories of the Hitler Youth. I should state that Earth citizens who chose to collaborate with the aliens from space (strongly symbolized through Eleanor Dupres), images of the armed Visitors watching several helpless Earth people being taken away from their homes and the dominance of propaganda over the free press also reflect what happened back in World War II when the Nazis occupied many parts of Europe. The fact that Johnson used alien humanoids as the Visitors make them a more universal antagonistic force that viewers can relate with.

When it comes to the cast members and their respective performances, there is a whole lot to enjoy here and I can confirm that the quality of dramatic performances is pretty good and adds a whole lot of believability to the story. The most notable performer here is none other than Faye Grant who believably portrayed Julie Parrish on her in-depth transformation from a promising medical student to a reluctant organizer of a movement of freedom-loving people called the Resistance. Faye Grant excellently portrayed emotions and even showed the fragile side of Julie as she struggles to strengthen herself to lead her fellow people who seek freedom and survival. Julie also is the most charismatic and likeable character in my view.

Marc Singer’s Mike Donovan is the closest thing this miniseries has to an action hero. Donovan is not a soldier, nor a policeman, nor a combat specialist. He is a hard-working media employee who has covered a lot of armed conflicts overseas and along the way he learned how to fight. As he is not a fighting machine, Donovan was portrayed to be vulnerable and really ends up struggling a lot. In a way, Donovan symbolizes people who take action once they realize what is wrong and what lies they have been fed with. It should be noted that before Bruce Willis wowed audiences as the vulnerable hero John McClane in Die Hard, Marc Singer’s Donovan was the vulnerable and struggling action performer realized ahead in time. On the dramatic side, Donovan’s talk with his mother Eleanor is a great scene to watch, and his contrast with Kristine Walsh (Jenny Sullivan) must be seen! If you ask me, Mike Donovan is Marc Singer at his best!

Faye Grant’s portrayal of Julie Parrish is highly believable complete with a good range of emotions. Her character development all throughout the Original Miniseries is very believable.
Marc Singer as Mike Donovan.

The other most notable role is none other than the Visitors’ commander Diana excellently played by Jane Badler. Diana was played to be charismatic, powerful, and sadistic at the same time. She is not a mere evil figure nor is she your typical pure evil antagonist. In fact, she is the powerful extension of an unseen high authority of the aliens and this alone makes her worth your attention. Also, through her interactions with her fellow aliens Steven and Brian (Peter Nelson), you will see very interesting traits of Diana’s personality. I should state that Jane Badler’s eyes and expressions really gave her character a very commanding presence on-screen. Even though her screen time is not dominant, Diana’s impact remains very strong.

As for the other cast members and their contributions in the film, I can state that Robert Maxwell was excellently portrayed by Michael Durrel to be the very caring father striving to protect his family even as society has been manipulated to demonize scientists like him. Daniel Bernstein is clearly the traitorous Earthling who has gotten so involved with the Visitors, and I am confident that David Packer will get on your nerves. Willie is the good-natured Visitor who tries to fit in with the people of Earth and his friendship with Harmony Moore (Diane Cary) is very symbolic. Given the reputation of Robert Englund as a horror icon, his performance as Willie is a must-see!

The most notable of all the supporting cast members here is none other than Leonardo Cimino’s Abraham Bernstein who is a Jewish man who went through the Holocaust and survived to establish the family in America only to see evil return in the form of the Visitors. His dramatic scene of protecting a certain family is a must-watch, and most likely it will stir your emotions.

This scene shows the contrast between Abraham Bernstein (Leonardo Cimino) in the background and his grandson Daniel (David Packer) in the foreground. Abraham is an old Jewish man who went through the Holocaust and lived on. Daniel, who is 17-years-old, willingly joined the Visitor’s youth auxiliary movement which parallels that Hitler Youth.

In addition to being successful with telling the story, spreading the details and getting solid performances from the cast, Kenneth Johnson also proved to be really crafty with the way the camera captured images and how the very important moments were presented to captivate viewers. Johnson’s work here is clearly a labor of love. As for the music, Joseph Harnell did a good job overall. His style gives V a distinct aesthetic on tunes and I noticed his music becomes more lively late in the 2nd episode. Harnell also knew how to add musical excitement when the narrative needed a boost of energy or speed.

People of Earth, including children, are helpless under the Visitors.

Last but not least, I want to talk about the action and visual effects here. The action is, for the most part, raw and believable to watch. The action performers dressed as the Visitors never looked like they were trained but at least their ways of positioning themselves to fire their laser weapons made up for it. The hard action has that raw aesthetic which I actually liked because the action performers – including Marc Singer himself – were convincing with the way they exerted efforts. In this modern age of wire works and digital effects, seeing raw action and real human effort combined with risk taking is refreshing to watch.

More on the action scenes, I should state that the concept of showing the humans using conventional guns against the laser-armed Visitors was done in a satisfying and believable manner on-screen. Such concepts could have turned out bad had Kenneth Johnson and his team lacked talent and precision. As for the visual effects, they resulted a mixed bag as far as quality and artistry are concerned. While the laser blasts still look very good (and their impact was felt thanks to excellent timing with the on-set explosions and fireworks), the huge motherships really look dated as they were matte images (not miniatures), and in a few shots the matte lines were clearly exposed in high-definition which broke the immersion for me. The smaller space crafts that were shown flying also had that similar, out-of-place look (note: they did not match the lighting of the live-action footage). Still, the practical effects used are good to see and the matte paintings used for two key shots in the 2nd episode were photo-realistic.  

Conclusion

The free and righteous praying to the Lord.

As it is clearly still great and engaging to watch, V: The Original Miniseries (1983) certainly aged well, it remains essential to watch even by today’s standards and most of all, its theme about the conflict of freedom and dictatorship makes it completely relevant to this day. It is a reminder about what your part in your society is, who you are, what your values are, and why you have freedom in your local society which can be destroyed by an alienating force once your fellow people refuse to resist it. As mentioned earlier, the cast is great and I am confident that you readers will find a character or two to relate with.

The focus of this miniseries on fascism invading the lives of the free people easily reminds me about how, in this modern age, sinister influences like Marxism, socialism, Communism, unrestrained political correctness and fascism poisoned the minds of millions of people through the academic system and turned them into social rebels, domestic terrorists, looters, rioters and new criminals who are so determined to go against their fellow people who do not share their beliefs. In modern-day America, the ongoing movements of Black Lives Matter, Antifa, SJWs, the anti-Semitic BDS movement, the rabid LGBTQ+ movement, the so-called democratic socialists and other agents of Satan have been harming patriotic Americans, attacking their values, taking the innocence of the youth and children away, destroying businesses and tearing down societies as we know it. The 1983 mini-series will remind you that from time to time, social order will be pushed hard by the invaders (be it people or be it influences so alien to the society) and the people who are righteous can choose to restore the said order as well as their respective lives.

Seriously, if you value your freedom, your culture, your values, your people and your faith in the Lord, you certainly would not want to submit yourselves to a foreign people who intend to destroy you.

No matter what happens, people should never lose faith in the Lord and they must look up to Him for deliverance. The Lord will punish the wicked and make ways happen to lift up the faithful. Clearly, V’s theme about the fight for freedom is truly universal.

Symbolism and socio-political relevance aside, V: The Original Miniseries (1983) also comes with a good amount of spectacle that make sense within the narrative. Do not expect to see extensive, over-the-top action scenes of modern-day cinema/television here but I assure you that the spectacle (note: even with the flawed matte imagery of the visual effects) in this production paid-off nicely in relation to the build-up of events throughout the story.

I strongly recommend you acquire V: The Original Miniseries on Blu-ray while it is still available. Watching it in high-definition is a great experience on my part.

Overall, V: The Original Miniseries (1983) is highly recommended! That being said, I strongly encourage you to buy it on Blu-ray disc format while it is still available and affordable. If you want more of Kenneth Johnson’s other work related to V, I suggest you to look for his book V: The Second Generation. Don’t forget to visit Johnson’s website at http://www.kennethjohnson.us/

+++++

Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

For more V-related writings of mine, check out my retro comic book reviews of the V comic books (published by DC Comics) issues #1, #2, #3 and #4.

A Look Back at X-Men Adventures #2 (1992)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from reading the comic book and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

Having read lots of X-Men comic books, I should say that I always find the Sentinels (first appearance in The X-Men #14 in 1965) to be more memorable as enemies of Marvel’s mutants. On face value, they only look like oversized, human-like robots but I always find them to be formidable opponents of the X-Men. These machines are not only built with sophisticated technologies, they are able to push the X-Men to their limits during battle.

These anti-mutant robots, by the way, were ranked by IGN at #38 in their Greatest Comic Book Villains chart. Long before that, the Sentinels were the featured anti-heroes in the classic X-Men comic book storyline Days of Future Past and it was no surprise that they were also featured in the 2014 movie X-Men: Days of Future Past.

And then in the early 1990s, the Sentinels were shown in the first episode of the X-Men animated series on television. The said series was also adapted into an “as seen on TV” comic book series by Marvel called X-Men Adventures.

This brings me to this look back at X-Men Adventures #2, published in 1992 by Marvel Comics with a story by Ralph Macchio and drawn by Andrew Wildman.  

The cover.

Early story

The story begins with Morph suffering from a nightmare. As he emerged from the vision, he finds himself with Storm, Beast and Wolverine. Together they work to infiltrate a federal government facility which houses the Mutant Affairs Department. Outside the walls of the facility, Rogue Gambit and Cyclops watch from a distance. Cyclops fires his optic blast at the vehicle that just dropped reinforcements that he believes were sent to stop their teammates.

Storm and her teammates break through a door instantly pushing off the security personnel followed by Beast knocking an additional guard. At the room containing the computer, Beast begins to access key information their team has been seeking…

Quality

The Sentinels and the X-Men!

Let me start with the storytelling. As an adaptation of one of the early episodes of the animated series, this comic book does a fine job of recapturing its essence complete with a nice balance between plot, exposition and spectacle. Considering the fact that the animated series was aimed for children, it’s quite intriguing to see the TV episode carrying really heavy themes – apart from the prejudice the mutants suffer from – like top federal government operations, expensive defense and weapons programs, government intrusion into people’s private lives, attempts to require minorities to get registered, etc. Those themes also made it in this comic book which made it feel like it was part of the mainstream X-Men comics of the time.

Compared to the first episode as well as its literary adaptation, this one emphasizes the Sentinels as tools of the government as part of their very expensive program to seek and monitor mutants among their citizens. Mutant Affairs director Peter Gyrich is clearly the villain who has no super powers but has the resources of the federal government and their authority to take action on mutants he perceived to be dangerous.

On the visuals, Andrew Wildman performed a solid job making each page look interesting and detailed enough. While his drawings made each character recognizable to me, it is in the spectacular scenes where he really shines. Wildman’s drawing of the Watcher on the final page of the comic book, however, looks laughable.

Conclusion

Andrew Wildman’s dynamic drawing of the X-Men in action.

While X-Men Adventures #2 is not exactly a literary classic, it is indeed a very solid adaptation of one of the earliest episodes of the animated series of the 1990s. It succeeded on telling a compelling and enjoyable story even though it emphasized the above-mentioned serious themes. As for the iconic Sentinels, this one succeeded in explaining what they are and their place in Marvel’s universe is.

If you are seriously planning to buy an existing hard copy of X-Men Adventures #2 (1992), be aware that as of this writing, MileHighComics.com shows that the near-mint copy of the regular edition costs $8 while the near-mint copy of the newsstand edition costs $26.

Overall, X-Men Adventures #2 (1992) is recommended.

+++++

Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back at SOS (SNES)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from playing the video game and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

Back in the 1990s when cable TV was not yet popular in the local community I lived in here in the Philippines, I got to watch on free TV a late night showing of the old movie The Poseidon Adventure. That movie, which included Gene Hackman and other stars, was about a huge passenger ship that got capsized as a result of a huge wave that hit it so hard. The survivors in that film had no choice but to band together and find their way out through countless obstacles.

That creative concept was reused by game developer Human Entertainment for a video game I played on the Super NES (SNES) a few years later…SOS (titled in Japan as Septentrion).

Released for the SNES in 1994 by Vic Tokai, SOS was an adventure game that had players take on the role of one of four characters (each with a different story plus different endings) who must escape the ship within sixty minutes in real-time. Along the way, the player must avoid obstacles, get to the hard-to-reach places and escape the ship before time runs out.

How good or bad the game is, you can find out in this look back at SOS.

The misadventure begins on the Lady Crithania with the disaster.

Early story

The story begins in the luxury passenger ship called Lady Crithania. Depending on which character you choose, Capris is an architect who has a sick sister; Luke is a crew member of the ship whose superiors don’t take his warnings about harsh sea conditions seriously; Jeffrey is a doctor who is traveling with his wife and Redwin is a counselor who is traveling with a family.

A cut scene emphasizing the story of one of the characters.
This is what the ship looks like after the disaster. At this point, the struggle for survival truly begins.

Regardless of which character was selected, a massive wave hits the Lady Crithania so hard it got capsized. The interiors suddenly turned upside down causing lots of damage and deaths. The protagonist is challenged with the chaotic interiors, obstacles, interacting with some survivors and reach the boiler room to survive.

Gameplay and Quality

As it is a 2-dimensional (2D) game, SOS is a side-scrolling adventure with some platform gaming elements mixed in. You can have your character move and jump most of the time with the occasional action of helping passengers (by means of reaching) travel with you (with some commands to communicate with them). While the design made sense, playing SOS always turned out to be a tiring chore and a test of patience due to the lack of precision when it comes to control response.

Adding further to challenge is the occasional shift of the capsized shift which changes the angles of the interiors which instantly alters the difficulty on moving around and jumping to the essential platforms (to progress to the next place). The shifting was visually done using the SNES’ Mode 7 feature. For the newcomers reading this, Mode 7 is the graphics mode unique to the SNES which enables scaling and rotating of the background image. While the sprites and 2D art in this game lacked punch, it is the Mode 7 feature that really added some quality to SOS’ visuals temporarily.

The more survivors you help and take with you to the very end, the better the ending will be.
You can also swim through flood sections.

More on the difficulty, the artificial intelligence (AI) programmed for the survivors that you can choose to rescue is pretty low which leads to a lack of response whenever your character calls them to follow you to get to the next level and survive. Not only were there times the other characters did not respond, some got even stuck in tight places.

As this game has 1-hour countdown in real time, making a mistake is costly. For example, you jump but fail to reach a crucial platform and fall down into the abyss and die will lead to your character respawning but with a noticeable amount of time reduced. Considering the lack of precision on controls and other factors, this made SOS challenging and frustrating to play.

If only the other survivors were more responsive to your calls…

And then there is the challenge to get the best possible ending you could by means of rescuing as many other survivors as you could and reach the very end with them. To put it this way, if you decide to be completely self-centered, disregard all the other survivors and make your way to the end without them, will result a really bad ending. You rescue more and make it alive with them, then the ending will get better.

Conclusion

If you fall and die, your character will respawn but with an amount of time reduced.

SOS has a very nice concept of adventuring that focuses mainly on survival and involves no combat and certainly no clear enemies to encounter. It is just too bad that the flaws of this game made it more frustrating to play and very few people will actually get to enjoy it.

If you own a working SNES and you are thinking about buying an existing copy of SOS, I do not recommend buying it with your precious money. Better rent it instead.

+++++

Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back at Total Recall (1990)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from watching the movie and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

I miss the old days when an R-rated action-packed science fiction movie can be passionately made with exceptional directing, clever writing, great camera work that’s consistently steady, solid performances from the actors, action that was not too choreographed, and visuals that heavily utilized practical effects and optical effects.

I’m talking about Total Recall, the 1990 sci-fi action movie that starred a much younger Arnold Schwarzenegger supported by Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Rachel Ticotin and Ronny Cox. Directed by Paul Verhoeven (who directed the 1987 classic RoboCop) with a screenplay (based on the Philip K. Dick short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale) by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon and Gary Goldman, Total Recall was a tremendous hit in the cinemas grossing more than $261 million worldwide with a production budget of over $60 million. To date, the film remains a favorite not only with fans of Schwarzenegger but also with people who love action movies, sci-fi movies, movies of the 1990s and geeks.

But before looking back at this movie, it is important to take note that Total Recall took several years of development before it finally got produced. The very first screenplay was written by O’Bannon and Shusett in the 1970s (after securing the film rights to Philip K. Dick’s short story when the author was still alive). Eventually prolific movie producer Dino De Laurentiis took the project for development. Years later, De Laurentiis’ company collapsed (due to failed projects) which provided Schwarzenegger the golden opportunity to get Total Recall by persuading Carolco to secure the rights for a few million dollars. After many screenplay drafts written and the hiring of Verhoeven as director (note: Schwarzenegger approached him personally) plus Gary Goldman, the rest became history.

Screenshot_20200524-002827_YouTube.jpg
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside and Ronny Cox in a memorable scene.

Now, here is a look back at Total Recall.

Early Story

The story begins at the surface of planet Mars where a man and a lady (both wearing space suits) travel on foot. Suddenly, the man slips down and breaks the frontal shield of his helmet exposing himself to Mars’ air. It turned out to be an intense nightmare for Douglas Quaid who was in bed with his beautiful wife Lori. Lori asked him about the unidentified woman who appeared in his dreams, but Quaid expresses his love for her. On his way to work, Quaid saw a TV ad inside the train about Rekall, a company that sells holidays and adventures in the form of memories. At work, his fellow construction worker discouraged him from availing of any services from Rekall. After work, Quaid visits Rekall and decides to avail of an ego trip as a secret agent. Just as the memory trip was about to start, Quaid wakes up violently…

Quality

This movie is still great to watch. Let me start first with the creative team of Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Screenshot_20200524-002229_YouTube.jpg
A great action scene about to start…

When it comes to the synergy between the director and the lead player, Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger make a great creative team that made this movie very special! When asked during an interview what it was like for him to work with Schwarzenegger, Verhoeven said:  Arnold is great. Switching from Rutger Hauer to Arnold is not that big a step. It’s strange to say that, because he’s this crazy Austrian, with an accent—but, for me, Arnold is the American Rutger. I think if I did a few movies with Arnold, I could do as much with him as I did with Rutger. Now, this movie was the wrong thing . . . But I think you can do much more with Arnold, explore more possibilities, than was necessary for this movie.

Screenshot_20200523-235159_YouTube.jpg
Sharon Stone as Lori.

Now, it is a fact that Schwarzenegger lacks versatility when it comes to acting. Even so, Verhoeven succeeded in getting a deeper-than-expected performance from the star in this movie. Sure, we get to see Schwarzenegger fight bad guys with really rough action, fire guns, run and jump around here but what really stood out here was his portrayal of a man who discovers that the life he knew was all a lie and goes on to find the truth about himself. This role remains a standout role of Schwarzenegger’s among all the characters he played in his many other action films. What is also notable with Douglas Quaid is that the protagonist is always in danger and never invincible, very similar to how Bruce Willis played John McClane in Die Hard. If you watch this film after seeing Schwarzenegger play his invincible icon in the Terminator movies, you will feel his pain, tension and curiosity here! As if that was not enough, there is also the other role Schwarzenegger played in this movie that you should see.

Of course, Total Recall also drew greatness and depth from Verhoeven who also got strong performances from Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Rachel Ticotin and Ronny Cox. Sharon Stone is the beautiful wife who will shock you. Michael Ironside is the henchman who will make you root for Schwarzenegger even more. Rachel Ticotin is the brave woman who is believable with the cause she is involved with.

Screenshot_20200524-002035_YouTube.jpg
Rachel Ticotin as Melina.

More notably, Ronny Cox is the all-powerful and ruthless executive who will get on your nerves and make you root for Schwarzenegger a lot, very similar to how his villainous role in RoboCop made moviegoers root for the cyborg policeman. It should be noted that the evil executive-henchman duo of Cohaagen (Cox) and Richter (Ironside) here is a directorial trademark of Verhoeven’s and it should bring back memories of the other evil duo in RoboCop. More than that, Ronny Cox succeeded in selling the concept that Cohaagen really had been the administrator of the colony in Mars exploiting the resources and the people for a long time.

More on getting the most out of the actors, Verhoeven and his team crafted a memorable hand-to-hand fight scene between Lori (Stone) and Melina (Ticotin) actually taking part in the action and stunts. Sharon Stone clearly got athletic in this movie and her efforts paid-off nicely, complete with another fight scene with Arnold Schwarzenegger (she actually even threw two high kicks at Schwarzenegger’s head) early in the film. Beyond the hard battle with Stone, Ticotin went on to take part in further action scenes in the film and she sure is believable as an action performer. To put things in perspective, Stone and Ticotin are not action stars but they excelled nicely in their work here and this also made Total Recall special.

When it comes to storytelling under the direction of Verhoeven, Total Recall moved at a medium-to-fast pace and there was never a single moment of rushing, nor a single boring moment at all. The film just kept going smoothly complete with true unpredictability which results lots of twists and surprises. I should also state that the dialogue from the finalized screenplay is still excellent, and they were nicely delivered by the actors. Verhoeven also added depth to the film by using mystery while also getting good performance from Schwarzenegger as Doug Quaid finds out that life is not what it seems. I should state that the sci-fi elements of altering (and adding) human memories with the use of computers and the business of selling virtual holidays and ego trips were strongly emphasized. These also add to the film’s mystery which should engage you to wonder and analyze as the story moves on.

Screenshot_20200524-003106_YouTube.jpg
The best view from an office on planet Mars.

On the spectacle, Total Recall is heavily loaded! The action is violent, plentiful and carries that particular aesthetic that only director Verhoeven has. It’s hard to explain in words but once you watch the action in this movie (plus comparing it to RoboCop and Starship Troopers), you will realize it. Even so, the action never turned this movie into a brainless affair. The action worked nicely to balance the mystery and suspense.

The visual effects here were mostly done by practical and optical ways. Special effects specialist Rob Bottin, who famously worked in John Carpenter’s The Thing and worked also with Verhoeven in RoboCop, came up with very memorable animatronics to simulate facial and physical changes on characters on key sequences involving sci-fi elements. The team also crafted really freaky looking makeup works on the Mars mutants, which really gave this film a strong sci-fi look. I also like the use of miniatures and physical sets that visualized the colony in Mars. By today’s standards, this movie’s visual effects still look great and I can only wish that filmmakers today would rely less on computers and go back to using practical effects (note: physical stuff) and, on certain occasions, optical effects.

Screenshot_20200524-000149_YouTube.jpg
Really great movie makeup work by Rob Bottin.

When it comes to the physical environments, this movie was filmed a lot in Mexico, specifically on key locations and on the sound stages in an established movie production studio there. Years ago, when I first learned for the first time that the trains used in the film were real-life trains that actually operated in one of Mexico’s real-life transportation systems, I was astounded! Paul Verhoeven himself confirmed that the train sequences were not only shot on location with real trains (note: monitors were added by the filmmakers to achieve a futuristic look) but the place’s architectural design were very unique and fitted nicely with the sci-fi concept of the movie.

The Mars colony set does not look fake to me. In fact, it really looks like it has long been lived in by people and the filmmakers nicely designed it. The Venusville set looks very convincing and, within the story, it got decayed due to long-term businesses, constant vehicular traffic and people who always flocked the place. The Mars hotel meanwhile has that cleaner, nicer look with tourists who paid good money for pleasure and discovery.

I should mention that the cinematography here done by Jost Vacano is excellent. The set-ups of the camera to get great angles of the actors is special, and the same can be said about the capturing of the spectacle that happened on-screen. The flashback of Mars inside Quaid’s mind had great, floating views of the location complete with perfectly smooth movement! Vacano also worked with Verhoeven in RoboCop.

Finally, the musical score by the late Jerry Goldsmith is very memorable and this is my favorite among all his works. The music provided gave this movie a strong sci-fi feel and when suspense plays, the tunes added nicely to it. The most memorable music tracks here are the opening credits music (which is immersive) and the foot chase between Quaid and Richter on Earth (the music really keeps the pace high).

Conclusion

Screenshot_20200523-233244_YouTube.jpg
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid in a key scene.

Total Recall is a true, adulterated sci-fi action classic and easily it is still is one of the best ever movies I’ve seen from Schwarzenegger, Verhoeven and Stone. A few visual elements did not age well but its highly engaging story (combined with the strong performances and spectacle) remains its key selling point. There is a lot of ambiguity throughout the film and it will keep you wondering if the story (or at least portions of it) was reality or all a dream in Quaid’s mind. The way the story is structured combined with the excellent spectacle, this is a movie that is worth watching again and again! It remains an effective viewing experience for me until now.

As it contains the directorial trademarks of Verhoeven mixed with Schwarzenegger’s own style of expression and hard action, Total Recall is a very unique move of its own and it’s impossible to replicate nor match. Keep in mind that the 2012 remake of this movie was badly made (even though it had a big budget and highly advanced visual effects involving the use of computers) and ended up being a complete failure.

To put it short, Total Recall is more than just an action-packed thrill ride. It is also a mystery film that will keep viewers on the edge as the search for answers continues. Total Recall also explores the theme of what would you do when you realize that the life you remember turned to be an exceptional lie, and that you are literally caught in the middle of a web surrounded by dangerous, powerful people. I could never forget how my mind got motivated as I focused on the narrative the first time I ever saw this great movie decades ago. Total Recall was a sci-fi viewing experience like no other.

Overall, Total Recall (1990) is highly recommended! I urge you, my readers, to buy the movie on Blu-ray disc or watch it via streaming.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back at Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from watching the movie and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

Considering how long the Friday The 13th franchise of horror movies lasted throughout entertainment history, there were indeed chapters that proved to be good, bad or simply satisfactory towards its fans and other moviegoers.

Having seen ALL the Friday The 13th movies myself, I can say without hesitation that the most defining films of the franchise were the first four films (released 1980 to 1984) which eerily reminds me of the early stage of James Bonds movies released in the 1960s (read: Sean Connery and Albert Broccoli struck cinematic gold with 1964’s Goldfinger).

As I mentioned before, Friday The 13th Part 3 was indeed a fun horror movie and marked the time when the film franchise and its featured villain Jason Voorhees really started to take shape. It was the film that saw Jason wearing his now iconic hockey mask, and improved the creative formula (examples: Jason’s stalking and eliminating people, his encounter with the surviving protagonist or the final girl). In other words, Part 3 ended on a very strong note and high fun factor, setting the stage for the inevitable sequel Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (AKA Part 4).

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This dangerous stunt will always remain memorable.

Before starting this retro movie review, it’s important to take note of what happened in Hollywood that led to the creation of the 1984 movie.

Background

After Friday The 13th Part 3 rode the 3D movie trend and made a lot of money on ticket sales alone, Paramount Pictures perceived that the slasher horror genre was waning with moviegoers and decided that the Friday The 13th franchise should end. Eventually Joseph Zito was hired to write and direct The Final Chapter. The funny thing was that Zito secretly hired Barney Cohen to write the screenplay, going as far to take phone conferences with one of the producers, share details with Cohen to produce the pages (Zito and Cohen collaborated on the script in a New York apartment) which were sent to the producer (who would go back to the director).

Because it was clear that the film was supposed to end the franchise, Zita wanted the film the be about the death of the newly masked Jason and this explains why The Final Chapter opened where Part 3 ended…at the Higgins property which Jason’s body in the barn. The director told Cohen to focus on developing the characters (as opposed to emphasizing kills). Of course, this did not stop Zito from ramping up the kill count, the gore and nudity. With the cast hired, veteran stunt performer Ted White hired as Jason and movie makeup specialist Tom Savini rehired (note: he worked on the 1980 Friday movie and created Jason’s look as a youth), Zito really wanted to end the franchise with a bang!

With those details already recorded in history, here now is my retro movie review of Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter.

Early story

Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter opened with a recap of Jason, the killings and how things turned out in the first three movies, cleverly using Part 2’s camp fire scene in which Paul told the camp trainees the legend of Jason.

The story begins on the evening of Monday the 16th. For some weird reason, the local police and other emergency personnel arrived at the Higgins property (note: this was the very same California location where Part 3 was filmed at) at least twelve hours after Part 3’s lone survivor Chris Higgins was picked up by the police during the morning.

After picking up the dead bodies and examining the venue for evidence, the medical personnel brought Jason’s unmoving body to the local medical center with his mask and clothes still intact. Some time into the night, Jason (Ted White) discreetly gets up and kills two medical personnel before leaving for the great area of Crystal Lake.

The next morning, Tuesday the 17th, Mrs. Jarvis (Joan Freeman) and her daughter Trish (Kimberly Beck) jog together in the woods heading towards their country home which is located some distance away from Crystal Lake. Inside the house is the young son Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) who is a geek and collector of special stuff. The family is already aware of the killings Jason caused over the past few days (refer to Part 2 and Part 3) and Mrs. Jarvis referred to him as the psycho.

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Remember the good old days when print media journalism was much more credible and not too politicized?

Meanwhile, a new group of teenagers riding a car are on their way to the Crystal Lake area for a group vacation completely unaware that Jason is on the loose. Their destination is a vacation house located very near the Jarvis home…

Quality

Even though the production team had a low budget, this film had improved production values which is literally only the tip of the iceberg. The real indicator of this movie’s quality is with the overall execution in terms of directing, storytelling, characterization (yes, there is character development here) and horror spectacle. The good news is that Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter’s overall quality is pretty good.

For starters, the creative team took the bold approach of having a family and a group of teenagers as targets for Jason’s killing spree. The presence of a likable family like the Jarvises made the Friday The 13th formula feel fresh since the old approach of having teenagers (and a few adults) getting killed off has gotten repetitive. Having good natured characters like Mrs. Jarvis, Trish and Tommy should remind you of the likable families living in your neighborhood. As such, the Jarvis family in the story will make you get concerned for them and despise Jason for the evil icon he truly is.

The new batch of teenagers in this film is an improvement over Part 3’s teenagers (which by the way are more likable than those in Part 2). Among them is Jimmy (Crispin Glover), a troubled young guy trying to achieve something important in his life. There is also Sara (Barbara Howard) who is sweet and appears reserved for Doug (Peter Barton). The pretty twins (Camilla More and Carey More), who just appeared into the film encountering the rest of the youth, added nice variety to the romance potential among them. On the other hand, Ted (Lawrence Monoson), is the stereotypical unlikable and pathetic guy meant for viewers to despise. Samantha (Judie Aronson) is the lady craving for sensual love with Paul (Clyde Hayes).

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Ted: Hey, could you please pass to me a copy of that fake news-oriented local community print media publication? The tabloid, not the broadsheet.

What this movie clearly had in bringing some of the above-mentioned characters to life is character development. Director Zito and team succeeded in making the Jarvis family worth caring for. Jimmy is the teenager that moviegoers would relate with and also root for him to succeed. The other cast members, notably the teenagers wanting fun and satisfaction (skinny dipping and partying, anyone?), were made to be interesting and were clearly not merely disposable. Sara is likable and she looks like she could rival Trish in terms of who would be worthy to be the film’s final girl, not to mention who would be more worthy of the care from the viewers.

In terms of presentation, this film has a more serious tone. Other than Jimmy’s ever memorable dance, the approach to humor is noticeably weaker when compared to Part 3. At the same time, the killings of Jason are executed and made to really look visceral. When Jason kills a character who is likable or at least interesting, you will really feel bad or sorry, and then despise Jason. Speaking of Jason, the filmmakers made him look scarier with the visceral approach to killing on-screen and the fact that Ted White avoided speaking to the other cast members in between takes.

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The memorable Crispin Glover dance!

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One of many hard-hitting stunts in the movie.

When it comes to the stunts, the film crew really went all-out and it involved a lot of pain on the part of the actors because of the lack of safety and stunt performers as a result of the low budget. The stunts in this movie were executed with a lot of intensity and when each stunt ends, you will feel something. Take note that Ted White is a veteran of stunt performing and even doubled for Clark Gable long ago.

Remember the traditional stunts of having a human body thrown into the house through the ground-floor window? Such a stunt in this movie had a lot more impact than what was shown in the first three films. As for the stunt involving the very young Corey Feldman, that one was real and there was a huge risk of injury due to the lack of safety measures. Regardless, the stunt was performed and Feldman’s surprise and shouting were genuine. Here’s a video clip for you to enjoy.

The presentation of the on-screen kills and stunts here are the absolute best of the Friday The 13th franchise. The scare factor is also much stronger.

As for the music, Harry Manfredini returned. His musical score proved to be excellent in terms of bringing life into the scenes complete with precise timing.

Conclusion

I declare that Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter is the best and the most definitive movie of its franchise. It’s also one of the best and most defining horror movies ever released in the 1980s. It’s not worthy of awards for film excellence but it still is a major standout among all horror movies of the 1980s. It should be noted that this movie implemented a twist to the final-girl-versus-Jason formula of the first three movies by having a key character involved during the climax.

Believe it or not, Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter actually had a lot of tension between the director and actors during production (Note: Ted White stood up for the younger actors who had to endure physical pain due to lack of safety, and this put him into direct conflict with the director. And then White was very annoyed with Corey Feldman who in turn was allegedly badly treated on location by Zito).

Even so, the movie turned out to be its franchise’s biggest highlight, the best of it all! Apart from the final results made by director Zito and his crew, Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter owes part of its success to Friday The 13th Part 3 since that movie (a clear improvement over Part 2) helped set the stage for the fourth movie on a creative manner.

At the same time, it was in this fourth Friday The 13th movie where Jason truly became a horror icon as well as one of America’s pop culture icons. Director Zito, Tom Savini and Ted White combined their efforts on making this the most definitive story of Jason Voorhees who was not a zombie but a living human killer who simply won’t stop due to the evil in him. This movie’s Jason is clearly a dramatic improvement over Part 3’s Jason (which in turn was a dramatic improvement over Part 2’s Jason-with-a-potato-sack-for-a-mask) and each time the villain was on screen, you can sense his evil force. The mere fact that Trish got frightened by Jason at different stages of the chase between them proves how intimidating and scary the masked killer really is.

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This is the best Friday The 13th movie ever!

Overall, Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter is highly recommended. For the best viewing experience and story immersion into Friday The 13th, I recommend watching Part 3 and this movie back-to-back.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back At Freex #7

If there is any particular superhero comic book title I could compare Freex of the Ultraverse with, it’s Marvel’s famous X-Men. Similar to the mutants of the big M, Freex is a team of teenagers who each have different super powers or special abilities while struggling with being social outcasts. What makes them different is that the Ultraverse teenagers have no mature adult to look forward to for guidance. They don’t have a mansion to live in, and they have no choice but to move around constantly and survive the best way they could.

I took a look at the other existing back issues of Freex in my collection and what caught my attention was Freex #7.

CoverFreex7
The cover.

Let’s now take a look back at Freex #7 and see what makes it unique (if not special).

Early story

The story begins with the Freex hastily stealing clothes from a store in city. While the others are desperately grabbing what they could (note: the store’s glass window was shown smashed already), Angela/Sweetface looks scared. One of her male companions tell her to be tough like Valerie/Pressure.

Just as they start leaving the store behind, the alarm system goes off. The sudden rush only adds pressure to them, causing Lewis/Anything to confront Michael/Plug only because the latter said something about team leadership. As Angela separates Michael and Lewis using her fleshy tentacles, Valerie loses her cool when Ray/Boomboy calls her by her codename. Valerie hits Boomboy with a blast of plasma. With their momentum disrupted by division and tension, Lewis tries to calm his teammates down but Plug won’t have any of it as he desires to find out about the source of all of their powers referred to as Wetware Mary. Plug finds a telephone booth and instantly transfers himself into it in the form of energy.

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Division between members of Freex is common.

As the Freex remain divided, a local resident living nearby watches them from a distance.

Quality

The story written by Gerard Jones is pretty engaging mainly due to characterization (as opposed to storytelling and structuring). Through the dialogue, you can really sense the thoughts and emotions of each member of Freex, especially Valerie since this particular comic book focused on her origin. Without spoiling Valerie’s background, her origin was efficiently emphasized and never, ever felt dragging. By the time her origin story concluded, I got to understand Valerie better and why is she so mean. After the conclusion of the Freex’ story, there is also an Aladdin Datafile on Valerie who turned out to be 16-years-old, 5 feet and 9 inches tall, and even has a low threat assessment by Aladdin.

Adding further value to this comic book is a 2-page quick feature of Hardcase which shows a nice look back at his past before the establishment of The Squad.

Conclusion

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From the past of Pressure.

Freex #7 is a good read. The story about the teenage social outcasts of the Ultraverse is well balanced in terms of characterization and action. Anyone who is a fan of Valerie/Pressure or female superheroes who are mean, angry and rebellious will find a lot to enjoy in this comic book. A near-mint copy of Freex #7 is worth $4 at MileHighComics.com as of this writing.

Overall, Freex is recommended.

Meanwhile, check out my retro review of Freex #1 right here.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back at Action Comics #454

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from reading the comic book and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

Long ago in the history of American comic book publishing, there was a time when superhero comic book storytelling were not told as dramatic serials but rather as standalone stories laced with outlandish ideas.

For this retro comic book review, we go back to the year 1977 as we focus on a Superman story that would not be told again in this day and age. To say the least, its cover art is, by today’s standard, over-the-top in terms of presentation. kapiHere is my look back at Action Comics #454 published by DC Comics with a story by Cary Bates and visuals by Curt Swan and Tex Blaisdell.

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The cover.

Early Story

The comic book opens with a preview of things to come showing a weak Superman urged by a few people to fly and chase the Toyman.

And then there was the question: What good are super-powers without the stamina and endurance it takes to use them?

The story begins with the Toyman escaping after pulling off a bank robbery. As he flies higher, he sees Superman coming towards him. After using a trick to delay Superman, Toyman uses a special trick to twirl Superman at high speed and literally throws him away to an unknown destination. The villain escaped and, some time later, Clark Kent/Superman finds himself too tired and drained. Because of this, he becomes desperate to consume food and beverages just to keep going. This problem affects both his career and social life.

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When was the last time you saw Clark Kent so exhausted?

Quality

Action Comics #454 explores what would happen if Superman lacks energy and requires a lot of rest and many meals to stay active. To see him eat as many as sixty hamburgers per minute is quite funny to see.

Being weak puts Superman at a disadvantage when it comes to stopping the criminal Toyman. As the Man of Steel flies at high speed to chase the bad guy flying in a personal aircraft, the chase drains him a lot.

When it comes to storytelling, this one is pretty short lasting only thirteen pages. What I find impressive is that the creators managed to tell a standalone story of good-versus-evil as well as answering the question as to what caused Superman to be so weak in the first place.

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Superman flying tired.

Conclusion

To put it clearly, Action Comics #454 is definitely a very short literary escapade that still manages to be fun to read. It sure is outlandish and I strongly doubt DC Comics will want to put Superman through heavy eating in today’s age of comics. Is this comic book a classic? Not exactly but it sure is a satisfying, fun read from an era when outlandish superhero storytelling in comic books was the norm. If you are seeking this as a collector’s item, be aware that a near-mint copy of Action Comics #454 is worth $23 at MileHighComics.com as of this writing.

Overall, Action Comics #454 is recommended.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

 

 

A Look Back at Aerobiz Supersonic

When it comes to playing economic simulation games, I enjoy playing them on the personal computer (PC) using the keyboard and mouse. Back in the mid-1990s, there was one particular economic simulation that I played on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super NES or SNES) and found it to be very enjoyable and easily to play with using the console’s control pad.

That game was Aerobiz Supersonic, a simulation about the airline industry developed and published by Koei for both the Super NES and the Sega Genesis. Here is my look back at this old video game from the 1990s.

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The cover of the Super NES version of the game. Its art and style is really nice to look at.

Concept and Game Design

In the game, you get to play the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of an airline and your goal is to beat your rivals in the global air travel industry. How to achieve the goal and succeed? There are tasks that need to be accomplished such as buying commercial airplanes (that include such real-life companies like Boeing and Airbus) for use, establishing flight routes, securing slots in airports worldwide, selling tickets and filling up each flight with as many passengers as possible, achieve profitability and finish the game’s imposed time period ranking #1. Adding zest to the game’s challenge is the selection of a certain era of world history that include 1955-1970 (the dawn of jets), 1970-1990 (the Cold War era), 1985-2005 (the present era) and 2000-2020 (the age of continued flight advancement).

Within the game, time passes by means of clicking a certain on-screen button that ends the player’s current turn. Of course, before pressing that, the player has to set things in motion like sending a representative to a certain overseas airport to negotiate and secure slots (which takes months to complete), set the ticket prices, buy a new airplane or two, etc. The game even allows players to micro-manage their airline like adjusting internal spending (salaries) or adjusting the quality of their airplane and services. Also nice is the option offered for players to buy a hotel or resort, a theme park or a travel agency that can bring in additional revenue.

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The airport slots, local businesses, economic and tourism details per city displayed.

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Visit an airline and choose from one of many models of airplanes to buy.

There are other small details that need paying attention to such as the economy and tourism meters of each city displayed (note: a higher tourism score means the city is more attractive to travelers), the population, etc. Also noteworthy is the current state of relations between your home nation with the nation of the city airport you are trying to establish routes with which can affect your business.

When the turn ends, a series of events will happen showing what happened around the world, how your company fared in the competition during the lapsed time period, and, occasionally, a random event will occur that most likely will affect your business (examples: the Olympics hosted by a city helps draw in additional passengers or the 1970s oil crisis raises the cost of your operation).

Regarding the game’s imposed time period for competing with the artificial intelligence (AI) opponents, the period is twenty in-game years.

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This is part of micro-managing your business in the game.

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After the end of each turn, news and updates not only about your company but also your competitors are flashed.

Quality

Being used to playing simulation games on PC, I found Aerobiz Supersonic to be very enjoyable, addicting and easy and efficient to play (in terms of controls). Considering the above-mentioned gameplay options (buying an airline, sending a representative, etc.), they are pretty easy to adjust using the Super NES controller although there were a few moments when I accidentally pressed the button putting into motion a different option.

Gameplay aside, this game has a whole lot of charm with its visual presentation. You launch a brand new flight route, the game shows a short animation sequence of the jet taking off. You buy an airplane, you will see a short animation of it entering your facility once it arrives (complete with a visual design reflecting the model). You conduct a board meeting, your company’s officials are present making reports to you and you get a series of choices to make on what to do next. A historical event or a global development occurs, you get to see original art reflecting them (example: a nation joins the EU with people wearing suits and neckties together in a formal ceremony). You make a move to buy slots at an airport overseas, a company official will have his or her face shown talking to you. When looking at the regional map, you see lines connected between cities (highlighting the establish flight route you made) and there are icons of airplanes flying between them.

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Random tourist hot spots get highlighted as you keep playing.

More on the aspect of starting the game, I like the options offered for me to select which city shall serve as my airline headquarters. Among the many cities included, there are cities of my native Philippines namely Manila (the international destination) and the nearby city of Cebu. I still remember how delighted I was to see my native Philippines included in the game, complete with Asian character designs to reflect the company and its region.

Conclusion

Ultimately Aerobiz Supersonic (which was actually a sequel to Aerobiz) is a gem of a console economic simulation released at a time when 2D sprite gaming was still the standard and 3D polygonal gaming was just about to make an impact on the global video game console market. Back then, 2D side-scrolling action/adventure games, sports games and role-playing games (RPGs) were so common on the Super NES and Genesis combined and the idea of enjoying economic simulations on consoles was highly unusual. Aerobiz Supersonic is proof that economic simulations can come with a lot of depth, deliver a good amount of strategy and can be highly playable and enjoyable on consoles.

If you want to enjoy this game, it can be quite difficult to do because you need to acquire an existing copy of the game as well as a fully functioning Super NES or Sega Genesis. As of this writing, there has never been a re-release of Aerobiz Supersonic (note: in line with legitimacy, I will not consider those browser versions or file sharing of ROMs) and it is not even included on Nintendo’s Virtual Console. There’s not even a version made for smartphones.

Now if only the executives at Koei Tecmo Games would consider revisiting Aerobiz Supersonic with today’s consumers in mind.

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You can choose what kind of plane, how many planes, how many flights and how much you set the ticket prices whenever you start a new flight route.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com