The Impact of Napoleon Dynamite

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You wouldn’t believe it just by looking at him, but this guy was the face of a generation! For at least 2-3 years.

The early 2000s was a pretty odd era for cinema. Sure, you had the start of brand new series, like the Spider-Man, Lilo and Stitch, and Lord of The Rings film franchises. Unfortunately, it was around this period in time that the film market became over-saturated with sequels and reboots. A lot of people still complain about this even in modern day, but this wasn’t as big of a problem back then.

A fair amount of sequels were pretty decent, though there was lack of a original releases for a while. What changed the market for a while was the release of “Napoleon Dynamite”. I often argue that ND is one of the most influential films to come out of the 2000s. I’m not saying it’s an amazing, perfect, or jaw-dropping film. What it did do was be an entertaining romp with a strange and bizarre protagonist.

Napoleon Dynamite came out in 2004 and focused solely on its titular protagonist. Napoleon is a high-school student, one who is often socially awkward and a bit of an outcast. No one generally seems to like him all that much, and he just kind of awkwardly stumbles about and says goofy things.

Being a person who grew up with Asperger’s, I always found myself relating to Napoleon’s bizarre behavior and mannerisms. To a lot of people, this kind of behavior was “out of the norm”. I was different, I deemed Napoleon’s behavior as “relatable”. The thing is that just because Napoleon is relatable, doesn’t really make him a great person. Napoleon comes off selfish, full of himself, and kind of a jerk.

As a character though, general audiences find him very likable. What he does and says is actually really funny, and he’s the source for a lot of the film’s jokes. The movie uses it’s eccentric protagonist to show us how weird high-school life was, rather than show the black-and-white sides of it. Often high-school life is depicted as being fulled with bullies, or being stuffed to the brim with fashionable trendy teens.

While there are bullies in this film, they bully primarily because of the protagonist. Napoleon’s behavior and general mannerisms make him a target, and something he has to overcome. This eventually leads into Napoleon performing a rather awesome dance in front of the whole school, which helps his friend Pedro win class-presidency. By the end of the film, Napoleon doesn’t become a better person.

Sure, he helped his friend make the school a better place, but he’s still a socially awkward misfit.┬áNapoleon’s Uncle Rico, his brother Kip, and his best friend Pedro seem to get more development than he does. The biggest change to Napoleon by the end of it is that he has a girlfriend and can actually dance now.

Napoleon Dynamite was a film that sounds like it would be a failure, at least on paper. Films centering around “social outcasts” had been done to death in both the 80s and 90s, so ND seemed like it would be a retread of those concepts. However, ND ended up becoming a surprising hit. A lot of this comes down to the film being so quotable and memorable.

Even people who don’t like the film can often remember phrases and jokes from the film, which is where the movie really excels. While some of its characters aren’t the best, they make up for it with some really weird and quirky humor. A lot of the surrealist elements of the film really helped bring it alive, and serve as the main crux of the movie.

No joke, I had seen ND so many times on DVD that I’ve memorized every single line in it. The film was such a success that it’s still talked about today. It also helps that the DVD release of Napoleon Dynamite came out around the same time Youtube was starting up, allowing a larger audience to get exposed to it. Heck, they even recently announced a sequel! Took them long enough, it’s only been 14 years since the film came out.

Napoleon Dynamite also got a short lived cartoon, which only lasted 6 episodes before cancellation. This isn’t too surprising, as it came out in a time when the franchise was all but forgotten. So, will the sequel fair any better? If it’s good, I can imagine it doing well and being a hit again. The internet culture at large has developed a love and passion for absurdist humor, so something like Napoleon Dynamite would fit right at home.

People haven’t forgotten this series, despite the cancelled cartoon adaptation. ND still has legs to stand on, and the creators are going to keep trying to make it marketable again. It was the film that pioneered the “weird absurdist Indie film” crazy after all. ND was a fixture of the early 2000s original film craze, and it’s something that’s still talked about today. If you still haven’t seen this monumental Indie film, I suggest you give a watch.

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Mass Effect Retrospective: Mass Effect 2

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Miranda: The most inappropriately dressed woman in space.

Ever play a game that you found to be so amazing that you ignore all the other titles on the market just to give it a shot? For me, that game would be Mass Effect 2. It’s hard to put into words how much I love this game. It improved upon the world and characters of this sci-fi world so much, while providing a story that is almost as good as the original! Without further adieu, let’s dive into this amazing game!

Mass Effect 2: Collector Boogaloo

In 2009, Bioware came out with their newest game, which was known as “Dragon Age: Origins”. DA:O was a return to the formula of their Baldur’s Gate games, but in a fully 3D world in a vein similar to Mass Effect and Neverwinter Knights. After coming out with DA:O, Bioware would go on to release yet another game a few months later: Mass Effect 2. This was a game so universally loved, that it’s still talked about even to this day.

With this sequel, Bioware thought to expand ME’s universe, while also fixing issues with the combat. What they put together could only be described as one of the most ambitious RPG/TPS hybrids ever made. Mass Effect came out in 2010, and continued the story of Commander Shepherd. This time, he dealt with an all new alien menace: The insect-like Collectors. The Collectors are going around and abducting people, forcing Shepherd to form a partnership with the mysterious “Illusive Man”.

On top of having to deal with both The Collectors and the Illusive Man’s hidden agenda, Shepherd also had to tangle with the ever-looming threat of “The Reapers”. All these threats, mysteries, and intrigues lead to one of the most engrossing game plots of all time. I wouldn’t say the story here is as good as the first game’s, but it definitely goes all out when depicting how things have changed.

Former allies no longer want to join you team, the galaxy has become a far more dangerous place, and there is an even greater need for Shepherd than there had been previously. After being declared deceased for two years, Shepherd returns with a slightly altered body and an unquenchable desire to help the galaxy. After achieving the impossible and coming back from the dead, Shepherd makes it his mission to set the galaxy right again.

The story is overall pretty solid, though it doesn’t pack quite the same punch as the first game. While the first game’s narrative was more concrete, a lot of the story for its sequel are based on side-content. More often than not, you’ll find yourself doing “loyalty missions” to improve your standing with your squad.

This wouldn’t be a bad thing, if it didn’t leave the plot feeling so disjointed. There were so many times in the game where I was forced to go out and recruit people, instead of doing something more crucial to the overall narrative. Shepherd already had a solid and strong team by the end of the first game, but now they are mostly replaced by a bunch of new characters. Certain characters like Tali and Garrus return, but sadly they haven’t really evolved as characters.

Garrus is still your best alien friend, and Tali is still that one alien chick that helps you on missions. They haven’t changed all that much since Shepherd’s supposed death, and them finding out you’re alive lacks the punch it really should. Now, those are just the plot and characters. What about the game’s biggest draw: The gameplay and combat?

I’d have to say that the combat is one of the best things about this game. While it plays like your typical squad-based shooter, it factors in the various abilities and skills you acquire. You still use your biotic powers to toss enemies around, but said abilities aren’t as overpowered as they used to be. You are no longer able to lift your enemies for an elongated period of time and smack them around like pinatas.

The game is now more balanced, now that Biotic powers have been taken down a notch. Unfortunately, weapons also received a huge reduction in usefulness as well. You are no longer able to customize your gun, or even choose what kind of ammunition you’d prefer to use. In the first game, you could custom your shotgun so that it can poison enemies. Unfortunately, the sequel lacks this same level of creativity with weapons. Each weapon does a specific thing, and there’s no customization to be found.

Surprisingly, armors have received a rather large change. In the first game, each armor had a specific look and you can upgrade them with different items. In this game, the armor is fully customizable and can be tailored to fit your preference. You could change the color, design pattern, or even the parts that make up your armor at your ship.

While custom armor is a pretty cool idea, the fact that several armor parts are only available if you buy the various DLC packs is annoying. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention this, but ME2 is way too overstuffed with Downloadable Content. EA bought Bioware shortly after the release of the first game, and around the time when they were trying to push DLC into their games.

As a result, so much extra content ended up as DLC. A lot of it ties back into the story, to the point where several pieces of it feel like they should’ve been included in the main game. I’m not against having DLC in a big game, but having too much of it can get problematic. It gets worse once you realize that to get the rest of the DLC that isn’t included with the season pass, you have to SHELL OUT 25 BUCKS for the rest of it. Yes, EA is expecting people in 2018 to pay 25 bucks for extra content from a game that was released in 2010.

Fallout New Vegas also still sells its DLC separately, but at least each DLC is worth the price you initially pay for it. A lot of ME2’s downloadable content content are just small additions on the pre-existing game, so it’s kind of annoying that are charging 25 bucks for it nearly a decade later. I apologize for my rant on this game’s DLC, it just drives me up the wall when I see developers and publishes shoving too much unnecessary microtransactions into their game.

The last thing I want to touch on is the game’s graphics and sound. The game looks fantastic, with HD visuals that still hold up to this day. Characters are nicely detailed, and the upgraded graphics really allow the designs to shine. The soundtrack is as solid as ever, and has some amazingly catchy songs attached to the various worlds you visit.

To make a long story short, I love ME2. While it sucks that they got rid of open-world exploration, simplified the game, and ditched a fair amount of RPG elements, it still holds up as a very well-constructed game. While I prefer ME1 for its story, characters, and world, I I prefer ME2 for pretty much everything else.

Comparing the first game to the second is like comparing “Tron” to “Tron: Legacy”. They are both entertaining entries in a series, each have their own advantages and disadvantages when compared to the other. To me, Mass Effect 2 was amazing, and a sequel that stood on its own. It’s linear, oversimplified, and way too overstuffed with DLC, but it’s got a lot of heart to it.

 

The Problem With Elder Scrolls’ Villains

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It’s everyone’s least favorite prince of order!

One of my favorite things about role-playing games is the escapism. I love delving into a world I am unfamiliar with and making my own character to traverse said world with. I love to play the role of a hero in these games, so it makes sense to have a good villain to face off against! However, some game series have problems introducing interesting and meaningful antagonists. A good example of this is the Elder Scrolls games, which is an RPG series that stretches back all the way to the mid 90s.

Within this time frame, Bethesda released a rather obscure title called “The Elder Scrolls: Arena”. It sold rather poorly and few people bought it, despite its ambitious nature. However, the idea of a truly open-world RPG eventually became enticing to a lot of people over time. Despite its low initial sales, Elder Scrolls became a cult classic and sold a fair bit of copies over its lifespan. From there, the series ballooned outwards into having a ton of sequels and spin-offs, most of which were insanely ambitious.

Now, the quality of some of these games are often debatable. While I enjoyed Oblivion and Skyrim, I won’t deny that they had some serious flaws. However, there’s a bigger problem with those games, one that affects the franchise as a whole. I’m of course talking about the really bad villains that litter this franchise.

When it comes to any form of medium, I feel a good hero deserves a good villain. So, why is it so hard to find good villains in this franchise? To answer this question, let’s go back to the first game: Elder Scrolls Arena. Arena was very unique for its time, an open-world RPG that essentially let you go anywhere.

Due to Arena’s procedural generation, it’s open-world was much larger than almost any game in the series that came after it. After all, you had access to ALL 9 of Tamriel’s provinces. For an adventure so grand, you’d think it would warrant a truly memorable villain. Instead, we got Jagar Tharn. Jagar was your generic mage villain, he just wanted power and to rule over all.

Tharn basically had this all-powerful magic staff, one that he shattered into pieces so you couldn’t foil his plan. His in-game sprite looked identical to most mage enemies, and his evil plans didn’t progress much past his pursuit for power. Jagar came off as being a ripoff of Jafar from Aladdin, though without all the nuance and campy behavior that the character brought to that film.

In Daggerfall, you dealt with two undead threats: Mannimarco and the Underking. These villains didn’t have fully realized motivations, but their designs were memorable enough to make them at least somewhat interesting. After Daggerfall came out, we would eventually get the spinoff game known as “An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire”. Unfortunately, this game introduced an annoying trend for villains in this series, one that still permeates the franchise.

You see, the villain in Battlespire was the Daedric Prince known as “Mehrunes Dagon”. What is a Daedric Prince? They are basically demon gods, most of whom love to toy with mortals and cause mass genocide. You see, you defeat Mehrunes Dagon by the end of the game, but he hasn’t fully been defeated. Under normal circumstances, you can’t kill a Daedric Prince.

Mehrunes Dagon is the closest thing to Satan in this franchise, so it would stand to reason you can’t kill him. This means that all you’ve really accomplished is stalling him for now, temporarily kicking him out of this plane of existence. All you’ve managed to do is delay the inevitable. Keep this in mind, as it will come into play later.

Then comes Morrowind, which introduced a new villain named “Dagoth Ur”. Dagoth Ur is this god-like entity, one who is spreading a dangerous disease across the planet. His design was unique, his voice sounded epic, and he felt like a more fleshed out character overall. Sure, his goals were still involved obtaining as much power as he could, but he had a more detailed backstory than the villains that came before him.

Dagoth Ur was a step in the right direction for Elder Scrolls villains. The first expansion for the game was Tribunal, and featured the villain known as “Almalexia”. Originally, she was a god-like entity, but was corrupted by her own power. While Almalexia was a character structured similarly to Dagoth Ur, she did have ties to your own playable character.

This gave you more of a stake in the story, as your destinies both intertwined with each other. Unfortunately, Bloodmoon brought back the trend of having to face a Daedric Prince. Hircine, lord of the hunt, became the villain for this particular expansion. Like with Battlespire, fighting Hircine lacked a certain quality to it.

You can’t kill Daedric princes, nor can you do any sort of sustainable damage to them. Even if you beat a Daedric Prince, they’ll keep coming back. To be fair, Hircine isn’t some kind of world conquering threat, he’s basically just a god who loves his hunting traditions. Still, this didn’t stop the next game from dousing us with Daedric Prince villains.

Oblivion once again had us deal with Mehrunes Dagon. By the end of the game, Mehrunes is once again defeated and cast out of the mortal realm. This time, you don’t even get to fight Mehrunes at all! Instead, you lead Martin to a temple, where he’ll turn into a dragon, and proceed to easily defeat Mehrunes.

In the game’s second expansion had us deal with yet another Daedric Prince, though one that we haven’t even seen before. The lost Daedric Prince, Jyggalag, had finally revealed himself. Originally given a small mention in an in-game book back in Daggerfall, this Daedric Prince finally made his appearance as the final boss in the “Shivering Isles” expansion.

Much like with all previous Daedric Princes you fight, beating him doesn’t really accomplish too much. Sure, you saved the Shivering Isles from destruction, but it would’ve been remade eventually regardless. After you beat Jyggalag, he vanishes back into obscurity. Heck, he’s barely even mentioned in future games, nor does he ever appear again!

Then Skyrim came along, and gave us “Alduin”. Alduin is a dragon known as the “World-Eater” and is supposed to be this big badass dragon of the apocalypse. He has no real personality or backstory beyond wanting to destroy everything, and he’s not even really that powerful. By the time you get to him, he’s easily defeated!

You’ve most likely amassed enough powerful weapons and armor pieces to easily curb-stomp Alduin into Oblivion (pun intended), and still have enough health potions left to sink a ship. What’s worse is that when you defeat Alduin, only his physical shell is destroyed. You don’t technically get to kill him, he’s still going to destroy the world eventually!

So, I’ve complained a lot about the fact that most of the main villains in these games are rarely killed. Now, you may be wondering what the problem is with that. The thing is that the games make it clear you are constantly delaying the inevitable. The Daedric Princes will come back over and over again, until they eventually destroy Tamriel/Nirn.

Alduin will eventually return to destroy the world, and all you end up doing is just bump the erasure of the world by a few millennium. Tamriel is always under attack by some kind of world-ending threat, to the point of it being utterly ridiculous. All the evils you repel will eventually return and try to destroy the world again. Heck, Mehrunes Dagon has already attempted this TWICE!

Elder Scrolls Online takes this to the extreme, by having Molag Bal be the villain. Yet another Daedric Prince, Bal becomes more of a threat than previous villains. You have to deal with massive events, armies of Daedric demons, and delve into dangerous dungeons in order to best him. When you reach him, you fight him in a one-on-one fight! Yes, in a rather rare occasion for the franchise, you fight the Daedric Prince himself.

However, this repeats the process of you once again defeating an evil threat, but not really repelling him for good. While I still love the Elder Scrolls series, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get behind their villains. There are too many “Ancient Evils” or “Demonic Gods” and not enough memorable threats to really sink my teeth into.

The problem with the Elder Scrolls series comes down to the world always be threatened by some world-ending calamity. The villain is never some super strong bandit lord, some rogue mage who just wants to kill for fun, or some thief with a magical artifact of untold destruction. Villains in this series rarely ever personally know the hero, or are a mortal with just a lot of power.

So, why does Bethesda always choose to make world-ending villains who can’t be killed? My theory on it is that Bethesda wants an easy out in case they want to end the franchise at some point. They can easily write in a villain managing to destroy Tamriel, which could facilitate the succeeding games to be set in a new continent. Again, it’s just a theory. It does make sense though, since they probably can’t keep the main Elder Scrolls series running forever.

To me, Elder Scrolls is in desperate needs of some fresh villains. The franchise (and the company who makes the games) have a lot of flaws and problems, most of which have yet to be ironed out. I feel like getting the framework for having better and more solid villains in future games would help iron some of those problems, such as the issues with bland storytelling and lack of narrative depth. That’s just my opinion on the matter, I’d love to hear what you guys think. Are you fans of Elder Scrolls villains? Do you tend to dislike them as well? Who’s your favorite or least favorite? I’m always happy to read all of your comments, so feel free to let me know!

Batman Ninja Review: The Silly Side of The Superhero

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Weird seeing Batman with a sword, but hey I ain’t complaining!

There’s no denying that Batman is one of the oldest and most well-known superheroes of all time. The Caped Crusader has appeared in over a dozen different animated series, received a couple extremely popular live action shows, an insane number of videos, and innumerable amount of films. So, what’s really left for everyone’s favorite Dark Knight to do? Go to Japan, of course!

Batman Ninja is an animated film that was released just recently, featuring the titular superhero in an entirely new setting. The film takes place in modern-day Gotham, where the evil ape known as “Gorilla Grodd” has unknowingly set off an explosion at Arkham Asylum. Batman, his various sidekicks, and the villains of Arkham are all sent back in time by the aforementioned explosion.

As a result, they all end up in Feudal Japan. Unfortunately for Batman, he got hit by the explosion too late, and ended up there two years after everyone else. Batman now finds himself in a different country, in a different time period, and without all his money and fancy tech. As a result, Batman needs to rely solely on his skills and abilities if he hopes to defeat the various villains of Gotham and return back to his own time period.

This was the selling point of the film for me, having Batman rely only on himself and his sidekicks. Speaking of sidekicks, this is the first and only Batman movie to feature ALL his sidekicks! Robin, Red Robin, Red Hood, and Nightwing are all in this movie! This is really the first time Batman has his entire entourage backing him up, which is pretty awesome.

Sadly, most of the sidekicks barely do anything. They gave Red Hood a scene where he tortures some dudes, probably because they couldn’t come up with anything else for him to do. This actually brings me into one of my biggest gripes with the film: Wasted potential. A big example of this is how the film treats Batman himself. The film puts Batman in a time period where he doesn’t have access to his limitless bank account, or high-tech Bat-cave.

You’d think that would make for some tense moments, ones involving Batman having to learn how to manage without his tech. The problem is that the film never takes advantage of this. There are only a few times in the film where Batman is ineffectual without his gadgets.

Most of the time, he’s just as deadly even without them. Even when Batman is fighting a bunch of giant robots near the end of the film, he’s still able to pull through without using a single gadget. I know Batman is like this canonically, but the film made a big deal out of it and did very little with the overall concept.

That’s not even bringing up the fact that Batman miraculously develops powers near the end of the film, which was just weird all around. Speaking of the movie’s ending, it was pretty darn ridiculous. I won’t spoil it, but I’ll just say that some super insane stuff happens in it. I don’t think the writers knew how to end the movie, so they just said “Alright, just throw all the anime cliches in there. ALL OF THEM!” and called it a day.

Something I want to touch on is the animation, which is actually surprisingly solid. Batman Ninja uses a CGI art-style, though there are a few sequences in the film that feature 2D animation. Overall, the film is rather pleasing to the eyes. Action scenes look amazing, and character designs are fantastic. The film is also rather colorful, despite its feudal setting.

It just looks nice, which is something a lot of CGI anime have problems doing. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s definitely one of the better DC animated films to come out in recent years. It’s energetic, with an interesting setup, and some great designs.

Just be warned that this movie gets REALLY stupid near the end. I think you’re in for a pretty crazy and entertaining film if you decide to watch though, but please temper your expectations. This isn’t one of the most well-written, darkest, or most poignant Batman stories ever written. It’s just a light-hearted and fairly goofy Japanese take on an American superhero. Nothing too spectacular, but nothing too terrible either. A fun watch, if you’re curious!