Saturday, December 16, 2017

How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Paragon

I know. I haven't posted in almost a year but I sort have lacked the inspiration to blog lately. Plus, I've been driving right along a private writing project.

But Wonder Woman brought me back here. I just watched the movie this morning and suddenly the inspiration struck. First of all, this is one of the best superhero movies I've ever seen and I'm not that much into the DC universe. Most of all, the story's message and themes seemed to align with how I've been feeling a lot lately about everything. Lately, I have found myself entering the next chapter of my life, further enough into my adulthood that I can be retrospective in a truly meaningful way of how I was when I first became an adult.

I love when Diana is fish out of water

For one, back when I was a teenager and into my early twenties, I favored the anti-hero or at least the hero with a bad attitude. The Iron Mans, the Wolverines, the Dr. Houses. I think what attracted them to me was I had this cynical view of the world and I think I felt somehow better about myself that I could say that "the world is dark and bleak and no one really understands this except a few people, myself being one of them." It is the self-centered nature of youth, the driving thought process of hipsters everywhere. You want to be different and you got it all figured out. I think everyone goes through a version of this phase. It is a way to feel like you have some control over your life when you understand that life is much harder when you're out actually doing it.

I'll always love Spidey

20 year old me would probably have mocked Captain America and Wonder Woman (and to a lesser degree Superman but I still dislike him). I used to make fun of paladins all the time as too restrictive and uninteresting. I would have argued that those characters are not deep enough to be interesting or not gritty enough. Because life is pain.

Now, as I turn 36 in a month, I have adopted a different way of thinking. I still have a cynical streak. I don't think that will ever go away, however, I like to call myself cautiously optimistic or a hopeful optimistic. I came to realize, cynicism and pessimism are not as comforting as I led myself to believe. It takes a lot of energy. I also came to understand that being optimistic or kind are not weaknesses. It is much harder to be either of those things. I'm not perfect at either but I strive everyday to become kinder and more optimistic and just a better person with varying degrees of success.

Yeah this still happens a lot

And that is another epiphany I have come to realize too -- Perfection is really a myth because we as humans are complicated people and well-written paragons are too. What perhaps matters is you work hard each day to strive to be kind and to see the good, to be the good. You won't be perfect but you're trying and you are better than yesterday. I think that is the most you can ask of yourself.

I still inwardly feel like this some days -- okay most days. And sometimes outwardly

This is what brings me to Wonder Woman and how I have come to love the paragon. Wonder Woman and my superhero spirit of choice Captain America are both heroes that are complicated and still learning what it means to be a hero but they strive to be better and still strive to help the world despite all its flaws. The scene in Wonder Woman, besides the fantastic no-man's land battle, that really made me realize my own evolution as a person was the climax. You have Trevor telling Diana that everyone was responsible for this. That humans are dumb messy beings. Diana doesn't really understand until the end what he means. This is after Ares shows her an alternative history without humans does she realize that yes, humans are big stupid warlike animals. But that does not mean they shouldn't be saved or to give up on all attempt doing so.

Roy is a Paragon too but one in Sheep's Clothing

I feel this very encompasses my frame of mind of where I'm heading in life now and how I've become to admire the paragon -- at least the well-written one. Not to say I don't love myself a good anti-hero. But I find myself growing more and more to admiring paragons than I ever had.  The paragon strives to be a better person and to make the world better even if they realize they may not win the biggest battle to save humanity. It is the small battles that count. A well-written paragon is one that moves forward, fully aware of the limitations of their actions, but they make the effort anyway. And that is what I hope to be.

Paragons All of them

Friday, January 27, 2017

Mary Gets Political Again -- Tear Down This Wall

"Locks keep honest people honest." - One of my High School Teachers

Man, there is a lot of talk about walls lately. Really expensive walls. Aggravating walls. Walls, I wish wouldn't be built because it logically and morally does not make any sense. I have a bone to pick about the urge to build walls. Sure, they can look cool and make a statement, sometimes a very bad statement, but at least a flamboyant statement. My biggest problem is walls don't work, at least not for long. If there is a problem, the problem adapts. And at the proclamation that you made something "big, believe me", a metaphorical iceberg comes out of nowhere and ruins everything. 

Well, the wall looked good as it lasted.

Usually, walls are built to keep out supposed bad stuff, that is the theory anyway, but it often keeps out the good stuff too. You can confirm the good stuff will stay away because good people take the hint that they're clearly not wanted here. Bad people? No, they take that wall as a challenge. 
I mean, how dare that wall walk so seductively
If people really want to go over a wall, they will. Whether it is because they are, as certain politicians say, criminals, or people who are looking for safety and stability, if you feel you need to get over that wall, you will get over. That wall is not impassable. As one Syrian refugee said, "A mother wouldn't put their child in the water if the land was safe." Let that sink in for a moment.

An example from history, although not a traditional wall, is that of the Maginot Line during WWII. France, worried about Germany invading them, created a rather large trench filled with explosives and artillery on the border they shared with Germany. The Germans just went around and Paris fell in 1940. 

Pretty accurate

Another historical example is look at Hadrian's Wall in the UK. Or for my geeky readers, the Wall in the North in Game of Thrones. The wall was built to keep the Picts/Wildlings out. But the Romans acknowledged the Picts/Wildings scoffed at it and went where they wanted. Wait, what is the real life equivalent of the White Walkers? The... Hebrides?

Yeah, I don't trust that Puffin. I bet he'd ignore Hadrian's Wall too

But that is the weakness of walls. There is always a way around them. There are boats, airplanes, tunnels, fake IDs, Seige engines if you're playing CIV 6. There are cheaper ways to stop criminals. And more effective. Criminals will adapt and not follow the wall's statement much like they wouldn't listen to a lock.

The titans in Attack on Titan eventually learned how to destroy walls

Another problem walls create are divisions within communities and create isolated cultures. You don't have to look far to see that the Berlin Wall created a divide between a people causing them to slightly diverge culturally. North Korea and South Korea face a similar problem if they are ever *ahem* united. 

One day I will not use a comparison to Avatar the Last Airbender, but that is not today. But a fictional example of divides created is the city of Ba Sing Se. In Avatar, it is a city that has a large wall around it and mini-walls inside that divide the classes. People in the city are forbidden to acknowledge that a war is going on outside the walls. Walls breed ignorance in this case. 

I mean... bear???
Also, worth mentioning Iroh probably could have destroyed the wall had he not had a breakdown. And the wall did not stop Azula from infiltrating. 

Walls are largely symbolic of power, especially now when there are things called airplanes that can fly over them. I am not against proper border security nor do I think we should let everyone in willy-nilly. Just this idea of a wall is not well thought out, is mostly symbolic, and will cost more money than it would to make sure the people of Flint have clean drinking water. 

So let's build bridges rather than walls.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Thoughts on Final Fantasy XV in Vignettes

So I just beat Final Fantasy XV and I have a lot of thoughts and feelings. During my adventure with Prince Noctis, I kept on hoping a theme I could expound upon in an entry would present itself so I could write a review entry. That didn't happen as it turns out there was a lot of little topics I wanted to talk about.

Spoilers of course. You have been warned.

First, to address the elephant in the room.

Here's a Baby Elephant
Earlier this year, Hajime Tabata made a controversial statement in regards to the fact that the four characters in FFXV would all be male. And it would focus around a car that he called the fifth character. He then went on to say that a female character would have ruined the dynamic as men cannot be honest around women (?! Insulting for men and women equally!), that the story would have to  become about love because that is all what bitches care about amirite! Okay, I paraphrased the last comment. His statement felt like something out of Mad Men and felt like a huge step backward from characters like Lightning or Yuna.

Can't be honest around women because I sleep around!

I mean, a story about a bromance and a road trip is not a story that needs to be told. We have so many stories about this. Seth Rogan wouldn't have a career without the bromance formula.

I felt a little frustrated when I first heard this. And when people said they didn't plan on playing it, I toyed with it in my mind. But then, I decided while the statement was problematic, I wouldn't turn away and give it a chance at least. What Tabata said was ignorant but not malicious. And everyone is allowed to have problematic faves. This may be one of them.

While I do not blame people who choose to skip this one, I'm really glad I gave this game a chance. Not only did the developers step outside their comfort zone and went open world for most of it, they developed a unique battle system that could entertain experts and novices alike. And the story, while it borrowed from other source materials, put many interesting spins making the world its own.

After completing the game, there is a bit of irony to Tabata's statement. Noctis and Lunafreya's intertwined fate and love for one another is a major driver of the plot. The real ending is the two of them finally wed either in the hereafter or an alternative universe. Noctis's impression then appears on the FFXV logo. In other words -- love as well as duty is what motivates the main character.

This is seriously how it ends. No love my ass.

Also a bit ironic too is that the lesson Noct learns is one of sacrifice. He's a man of privilege who must sacrifice himself to help the world and bring back light and end the cycle of kings. And this isn't a fake sacrifice like in Harry Potter Deathly Hallows. No, Noctis dies. And he's not coming back.

The Four Main Characters Could Have Just Been Archetypes, But Weren't.

I'm not going to lie. I like bromance stories. I'm sure part of it falls on the fact that I am straight female. But also it may be because I like stories about friendship and bromance is a subset of that.

Even though the bromance aspect of what I read and saw before the game came out didn't deter me from playing it, I did kind of make fun of the character designs because they looked so typical. Oh, there's the brooding prince, the badass tough guy, the happy dumb one. And there's Ignis who looked to me was created in a board room in which someone piped up with, "You know what the kids like now? Black Butler."

Yas but can he cook?
The game could have held up with those archetypes, but each character was very distinct. I cared about them by the end, I didn't even realize it until something bad happened to them in the plot. Not in game play because GODDAMNIT PROMPTO! I JUST GAVE YOU A STUPID HIGH POTION!

Noct has a moment of clarity -- Chocobos!

Noctis could have been a bratty prince. Or moody. Noctis's primary characteristic can best be described as bored. He sleeps a lot, kind of has his head in the clouds, is a bit naive, but he's not a mean person. unless you choose the mean interaction options, that is. Noct doesn't really understand what "duty" is. And that is his story and what he learns throughout the adventure.

I really like Prompto's freckles
Prompto is the happy idiot character, sure. However, you get flashes into his past that gives him surprisingly a lot of depth. You see bits of it at certain points in the game, that part of him that wants to belong, that wants the group to be together. Sure, the happy person with a dark past is nothing new, but Prompto could have just been the comic relief. Instead, he reminded me so much of Vivi from FF9. Also, I looked forward to see what he caught on his camera during camping!

Ignis just said something very British

I really liked Ignis. He was so Team Dad. Also, I have to admit, I like the idea of a Battle Butler. Even though his defining trait is his loyalty and stiff-upper-lip, I like that we get glimpses of him faltering. And when he goes blind, you sense his pain at the loss of agency, of being in the position forcing others to help him, but it is done subtly and in line with his high brow deposition. Out of all the characters, I wish I could have seen more about him during the 10 year skip. He went blind just as the world went dark. He had no prince to serve and now people saw him as helpless. Also, cooking is super fun!
He really likes noodles
 Gladio was probably the least developed of the four main characters, however, he still surprised me in many ways. For one, he is a laid back guy except he is the only one that is willing to call out Noctis. Ignis may do so but in a kind, diplomatic way. No, Gladio tells Noctis to stop being an ass. That part of his personality is the most interesting to me.

They did have a great dynamic. I cannot deny that at all. It felt reminiscent of Final Fantasy X-2.


The Female Characters Were Varied.

I liked Lunafreya but I will even admit it kind of annoyed me how her entire motivation revolved around Noct. Granted, it was pretty mutual. Even so, Luna had this whole background plot in which she just was so badass and had a lot of rough choices to make herself. Glad the movie covered that a bit more. Luna reminded me of Yuna in terms of both of them having a great inner strength. That is what I liked about Luna. I also really liked how she took care of Noct and both of them had very sweet moments.

Despite Lunafreya falling into this pit of doing what she did for a dude -- not saying she didn't have a good reason to help Noct, she understood her destiny as much as Noct understood his at the end -- the game provided us with female characters who were different from Luna and two of them joined your party for a little bit.

First off, there is Gladio's little sister Eris. She definitely fits into that container with Yuffie and Selfie and Rikku. However, what I liked about her, sure, she definitely is the tagalong sister type, she had agency. She was a nice addition to the team when she came along. While she crushes on Noct, she definitely wants to make a name for herself which we find out, she eventually does. I was kind of disappointed that we never see Eris the demon hunter.

I love how Eris is so amazed by the damage of my firaga spell

 Second off, we have the dragoon character Aranea Highwind. I wanted to know more about her. She pops into our team. She makes snarky comments. She turns into a freedom fighter after her time with the empire. She and Iggy have a thing (I can't help but ship them -- to hear them talk to each other, I just like the idea of the two of them together. SHUT UP! It's MY FAN FICTION!). Then she leaves your party. I really want a spin off game a la Rogue One. But what is great about Aranea is the same as of one of the few things I like about FF12 -- she's a character with a motivation outside the main plot that doesn't revolve around the main character. However, she sticks around because it continues her story -- we just don't get to see most of it.

OMG! It is an actual legit ship! (credit to:

I hear the DLC coming out this year, Aranea, Eris, and Luna will all become playable. I sort of wish they were in the party more to begin with.

Final Fantasy XV is an Interesting Take on the Christ Allegory

Don't look at me like that, Jesus

Like bromance road trip tales, there is nothing new about these Christ Allegory stories. They're older than Christ himself. However, there is always this loneliness about those tales. The Christ figure is a person who sacrifices himself for the world and loves the people in it, but he is usually alone.

Don't get me wrong, Noctis IS a lonely figure. He's one of those people who just has a hard time connecting with others. But he DOES with Luna, Prompto, Gladio, and Ignis at different levels. They make him feel less alone. Even as he heads to the throne of self-sacrifice alone, he brings their spirits with him in the form of the photograph you choose.

That is something that always interested me about Jesus's story and how this story reflects that. Jesus had 12 apostles. Yeah, you hear about Judas as his bff, but he still was surrounded by his followers that people never really look to. Noctis has his friends and yes two of them are servants. At the end, of the game, you see the last camp fire and Noctis tells them that he has to die to save the world.

"I made peace with it," he says as tears roll down his cheeks. Then in the biggest bromance moment ever says his appreciation of his friends for being there.

It was such a point of humanity that I don't think I will ever forget.

Don't look at me like that, Prompto

There are also more on the surface comparisons. Noctis is the last one in a line of kings. He is reborn and comes out of a cave. He even says, "It's finally over" which reminds me of , "It is Finished".

Not to mention he faces off with a man who became a demon basically because he thought it would help mankind... which leads me to...

Man! What a Villain!

The moment Ardyn shows up on screen, I was already drawn to him. I think it was his crazy red hair and his hat.

Definitely the hat

But also, it is because he didn't really feel like any other Final Fantasy villain. Sure, Luna's brother Ravus fits the mold more closely to a typical one. He has a serious Sephiroth Vibe. But I felt like the writers knew this and wanted to bait and switch the players. I REALLY wish we knew more about Ravus. It's heartbreaking what we do see.

Man, such Sephiroth vibes

Anyway, there are a lot of Kefka allusions to Ardyn. Noctis calls him the jester a few times. Ardyn does dress colorfully and very much fits the archetype of trickster. He kind of reminded me of a fox. I couldn't help but liked Ardyn, though. He wasn't slimey like Seymour or Kuja. He was too much of a joker to be a Sephiroth. Not brash enough to be Jecht.

Heck, even when Ardyn taunted me, I still liked him.

True to Final Fantasy form, Ardyn did have a sympathetic backstory. And like I alluded to in the paragraph before, it fit in nicely with the whole idea of Ardyn being Lucifer. He did what he did claiming to help humanity but it ended up poisoning him instead. Made him a little bit twisted.

This is a great video about what is amazing about Ardyn

That Was Some Creepy Shit, SquareEnix

Final Fantasy always had these creepy moments that make you feel a bit unsettled. However, Final Fantasy XV took creepy to almost Silent Hill Levels. First off, the demons were enough for me to make sure I made camp before sunset.

Second off, Nifelheim level. Never had I felt so on edge and creeped out. I screamed out loud at least twice, scaring my cat. It didn't help that you had very few attacks at your disposal and hiding from the demon infused soldiers was terrifying enough. What was even worse, but great game play, you can hear them before you go around the corner.

It was an experiment that paid off.

Paid Homage to Past Final Fantasy Without Being A Retread

There were a lot of shout-outs. Luna's association with flowers and how she died (Aeris). Soldiers that were experimented on (SOLDIER in FF7), Ardyn being called the Jester (Kefka, FF6). A road trip with friends (FFX). But it never overwhelmed with those references.

The easiest comparison is Noct to Yuna in FFX. Both put an end to a cycle except Yuna didn't have to sacrifice herself while Noct had to. Both characters had to learn something different. Yuna learned that there is a 3rd way. Noct learned that as someone who many sacrificed for, that he would have to give his life. 

Some Missteps.

Like I mentioned above, I sort of wished we could have had more of certain characters like Aranea.

I also wish that 10 years later had the option for open world and you could have Demon Hunter Eris in your party.

Also, while I liked Prompto's backstory, I wish there was a bit more. Like I wish Ardyn maybe somehow activated in Prompto the demonic stuff that was implied to be put in him in the first place and you'd have to fight him. But then the ~*~ power of friendship ~*~ broke him out of it.

His blood could then become one of his talents but maybe there is a drawback. Like sometimes it makes him confused.

I Wanted More

This game was so packed filled with goodies. Like you could seriously form infinite amount of strategies to play this game with the battle system. I would replay it purely for that reason. There were so many side quests. I had so many questions about characters and the lore but in a good way. The characters' special abilities was another neat addition.

This game is replayable.

Lastly, I Really Like This Song

I had this like on repeat in the car