The Good(?) Life

So I just finished playing The Good Life, the most recent game by indie developer Swery65 and his studio White Owls. If you know anything about Swery games, one word probably comes to mind: quirky. He’s best known for Deadly Premonition, a thinly veiled love letter to Twin Peaks and all things David Lynch, and D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, an episodic — and unfinished — adventure game originally designed to be played with the Kinect.

Swery games typically come with a healthy dose of jank. They’re tonally all over the place, graphically unimpressive but still somehow interesting, and consisting of mechanics that somehow work despite their clunky implementation. I’ve played Deadly Premonition, and it mostly just felt like a sillier Twin Peaks, but it was charming in spite of itself. It remains one of my favorite games to watch other people play, even though I’ll probably never revisit it myself, simply to see their reactions and watch them slowly fall in love with the game despite so many indicators telling them not to.

I went into The Good Life with zero expectations. I vaguely knew that the game had been funded via Kickstarter, after an original failed attempt at funding via Fig, and that you played as a woman who could transform into a cat or dog at will. Aside from that, all I really knew about it was that it was a Swery game. Thus, I was expecting a janky but delightful romp through a goofy Lynchian story accompanied by some weird mechanics, and that’s basically what I got. Then, after finishing the game, I fell down a youtube rabbit hole and discovered what could have been, and boy was I disappointed.

If you look at the game’s Kickstarter, you’ll see a cute, stylized game with lovely visual effects. You’ll also find lots of promises surrounding what basically would amount to a Swery-fied Animal Crossing, where you can take on multiple jobs (including a casino dealer!) to pay off your crippling debt while snapping photos in the charming village of Rainy Woods. I’m not here to detail all of the things that were promised to players and analyze what we ultimately got. That’s already been done by the wonderful Hikikomori Media, whose video about The Good Life I highly recommend watching. Suffice it to say that the final product was vastly different from its original Kickstarter promise. For some reason, all of those jobs, minigames, and even visual effects were removed from the game before release, and what ultimately came out was a shell of its former Kickstarter self.

What I am here to do is talk about how our expectations can temper things, and how The Good Life is the ultimate proof of that for me. See, I actually enjoyed my experience with The Good Life. Sure, there were some frustrations over the tedium of fetch quests and collecting items for crafting, and at how long it took me to transform between cat, dog, and human forms. But ultimately it was the kind of thing I expected from an open-world life sim by Swery. I had no idea that he had made all of these promises beforehand, some of which were even included in a prototype demo during the Kickstarter campaign.

I ran around Rainy Woods doing tasks for people, I rode around the countryside on my shteed (sheep steed), I upgraded my house and garden, and I finished the main storyline. It was just as janky and weird as I expected, and even though it was nowhere near game-of-the-year status for me, I had fun with it for what it was. I appreciated the unique characters and the fully realized world of the game. I wanted new clothes for Naomi, the upgraded house, and garden decorations — and by the gods, I got them, even if it took me playing some badly controlled minigames to get there. It was only after I started watching youtube videos about The Good Life that I realized how disappointing it truly was.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m trying to say here — I guess just that it was a good reminder of how much our expectations can affect our experiences, and after 25 hours in the game, I wanted to say something about it. Mostly, though, I feel really bad for all of the people who stuck with Swery through the Kickstarter — and played that gorgeous little prototype demo — only to come out the other end with a lifeless imitation of what they expected. As for myself, I enjoyed my time with The Good Life, but I’m kind of sad I missed out on being a casino dealer.

GOTY Contender – Resident Evil 4

Where to even begin with this one? This is a game I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time, ever since the idea of a remake was merely a rumor. Finding out that my favorite game developer, Capcom, was going to be remaking one of my favorite games of all time was a pretty big moment for me, as I’m sure it was for many other fans of the series. While I adore the original game and it was groundbreaking in its time, there’s no question that it’s now dated. The over-the-shoulder gameplay has gone on to become an industry standard, inspiring countless games after it, including the remakes for Resident Evil 2 & 3. And while the original game is full of fun camp, some of the jokes just don’t land anymore.

Enter the Resident Evil 4 remake in all its glory, a fully updated take on a classic, and an impressive one at that. The remake doesn’t necessarily do anything innovative itself, instead relying on its predecessors, the original RE4 and the recent RE remakes, to guide its mechanics. But that’s okay! It doesn’t have to. This is an update of a game we’re already familiar with, and at that it excels. Environments from the original remain mostly intact but are updated to look and feel so much better. The village becomes more of a cohesive whole than it felt like before, and the RE Engine provides so much detail that I often found myself just looking around and admiring everything before moving on.

The characters feel like fleshed-out versions of their core selves. Whereas characters like Luis and Krauser didn’t have much time to shine in the original, they’re now fully realized people with compelling motivations, three-dimensional personalities, and banter. Luis in particular really benefits from the added screentime, becoming an ally to Leon in a way that he never did in the original. Ashley is a welcome change, as well, as the game truly illustrates her growth into a hardened survivor and has her quipping right alongside Leon by the end. And Leon himself feels like a multi-faceted human, no longer simply a badass full of one-liners. His trauma from Resident Evil 2 is deftly woven into his character, but the quips we’ve come to love from him are still there.

The knife parry is a welcome addition — you can parry almost any enemy attack with your combat knife. This does affect its durability, which means you have to pay for repairs at the merchant (yes, the much-loved merchant is back and just as helpful as ever!), but I appreciated that detail. It adds to the overall feeling the game has of constantly being on the edge, giving you just enough resources to progress without making you feel invincible. Standard mode was a challenge for me, really testing my ability to manage resources and make heated decisions in the middle of battle. There’s a distinct flow to the combat in RE4, to the point where it feels like a dance.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that I loved everything about this game. I loved being able to go back and explore each environment through side quests after finishing the initial run through hordes of enemies. The RE Engine really puts in work, making each photorealistic environment a joy to simply be in. There are so many little moments from the original game that come through beautifully in the remake, and everything flows together so well from chapter to chapter. I honestly don’t have any complaints. Even the few things that weren’t kept in from the original didn’t feel missed, now simply relegated to the past — and hey, the original game is still always there. Now to get back to my hardcore run!

Things I’ve Been Up to Lately

I thought I’d do a little post that’s more personal than some of the other stuff I’ve written lately. So here are some things that have been going on in my life over the past few months, with plenty of photos included!

BrickUniverse LEGO Convention

At the end of January, I went to the BrickUniverse LEGO Convention in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My partner and I went with my cousin for his birthday. It was fascinating to see all of the pieces of art that people made using LEGOs, often in ways you wouldn’t expect. The amount of detail on each piece was impressive, some of them taking hours, days, weeks, and months to complete.

We had a great time viewing everything at the convention, but my favorite part was definitely the construction pictured above. If you look closely, you can see runes on the building and a cipher at the bottom. We used the cipher to translate the runes, and we ended up winning a robot dog to build ourselves as a prize for being the ones who were able to decipher the most before the time ran out.

Continue reading “Things I’ve Been Up to Lately”

GOTY Contender – Season: A Letter to the Future

This is the first installment of a new series I’m beginning on this blog called “GOTY Contender.” I’m planning on playing a lot of new releases this year, and this will hopefully help me keep track of my favorites. At the end of the year, I’ll pick my top game of the year from this list and do a special post on it.

It’s not often that upon finishing a game I turn around and immediately start playing it again from the beginning, especially if it’s a narrative game. Season: A Letter to the Future is a notable exception and already a contender for my personal game of the year. I wasn’t ready to let it go. I still had some unfinished scrapbook pages, more of the world to explore, and ultimately, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.

In Season, you play as Estelle, a young woman who’s leaving her home village for the first time. In the world of the game, prophetic dreams hold weight and meaning, and Estelle’s best friend has experienced such a dream. This leads Estelle on a journey to document the end of a season, or era of time, and take her findings to a museum archive in a faraway city. She’s equipped with a bicycle, a scrapbook, a Polaroid camera, and an audio recorder. She uses the latter three to document everything she finds as she explores Tieng Valley, a culturally significant place that will soon be flooded and lost to time.

Season is a meditative game, as you spend most of it riding your bike around, exploring, and listening to Estelle’s thoughts on the world around her. You meet a few people along the way, those who are clinging on to the last vestiges of the Valley before they must evacuate. It excels at environmental storytelling, relying on your exploration to learn about the world and its seasons instead of spoon-feeding you exposition.

Most of all, Season feels deliberate. There’s a moment toward the beginning of the game when Estelle says she’s going to think about what kind of visitor she wants to be, and the game seems to have a message about tourism and what it means to enter another place and adhere to its customs, to remain an observer and chronicler without altering or ogling. And Tieng Valley is especially important for visitors at this moment because it will soon be no more. Its last residents open their arms to Estelle, giving her permission to capture their home as it is, as they have always known it, and as they hope to remember it.

The game also has quite a lot to say about memory and remembrance. There are three gods of Tieng Valley: Din, Void, and Tide. They are the gods of memory, forgetting, and sleep, respectively. People pray to these gods in hopes of remembering things they’ve lost, forgetting painful memories, and experiencing restful sleep or good dreams. Estelle is documenting the world around her in hopes that it will be remembered and preserved for future seasons, and she discovers other people’s memories during her journey in the form of magical flowers that capture memories and replay them over and over again. The game hints at diseases that can cause people to lose their memories or become trapped in time. This theme about what kind of things we’re desperate to hold on to, and what we want to forget, is woven throughout the experience of Season, making the game feel almost nostalgic for something I’d never known, and that feeling is largely why I went back to it so soon after finishing it.

The scrapbooking aspect of Season feels deliberate as well, giving you reason to pause and spend time with each place you visit as well as Estelle’s thoughts. I had so much fun placing the photos and drawings and stickers, and it was even more fun on my second playthrough to see what I could do differently on each page. Scrapbooking made me slow down and reflect on everything I had just taken in, giving me a real sense of place and appreciation for Tieng Valley as a whole. I loved flipping back through my scrapbook at the end of the game, seeing all of the beautiful, colorful pieces I had created and reflecting on the journey I had taken, realizing that my own mind was now full of memories of this incredible game.

I highly recommend Season if you like narrative exploration and you’re looking for a rich world in which to lose yourself for a while. It kept me captivated enough to play it twice, back to back, and I still can’t stop thinking about it.

Music Spotlight: VOLA

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these! Today, I want to share a bit about one of my favorite bands: progressive metal/rock group VOLA.

I’m honestly not sure where I first discovered VOLA. I do know that the first album I heard was Applause of a Distant Crowd, which means I must have discovered them in or after 2018, so I would wager I’ve been listening to them for about five years.

VOLA is a four-piece originally from Denmark, with their latest drummer, Adam Janzi, hailing from Sweden. The other members are vocalist/guitarist Asger Mygind, keyboardist Martin Werner, and bassist Nicolai Mogensen. They’ve gone through a few lineup changes over the years, but their sound has remained mostly consistent, although it’s become gradually more melodic and experimental as they’ve progressed.

They’re notable for the fact that they feature a keyboardist in Martin, which is something that’s fairly uncommon in metal, at least enough to comment on. Bands like Dream Theater, Dimmu Borgir, and Nightwish come to mind, but it’s personally always nice when I discover a metal band with a keyboardist, like an extra little treat hidden in the keys and synth lines.

Just this past year, in November of 2022, VOLA came to the US for the first time and I was lucky enough to see them live. It was an intimate venue, and my boyfriend and I snagged two spots right in front of the stage. We got to headbang with Asger and everything. It was a fantastic, unforgettable experience.

Favorite Song

As VOLA are one of my favorite bands, it’s unsurprisingly difficult for me to choose a favorite song from them. There are so many that I love off of their previous albums, but their latest album, Witness, stuck out to me so much that I have to choose a song from it, and that song is “24 Light-Years.”

It’s one of the more mellow songs on the album, but with Asger’s ethereal vocals and the bright musical tones, it’s just too gorgeous not to choose. There are some wonderful synths running through the back of it and some downright beautiful guitar riffs. But one of my favorite things about the song is that Martin, the aforementioned keyboardist, released a classical piano composition of it to go alongside the full band release, and it emphasizes just how beautiful the musicality of the track is.

I’ve watched this video way more times than I care to admit at this point.

Favorite Album

I spoiled this in the previous section, but my favorite VOLA album is their latest release, Witness. Don’t get me wrong, I love Inmazes and Applause of a Distant Crowd as well as their EPs, but Witness just really does it for me because it’s really where they elevated their sound, and with an album as exciting as it, I can’t wait to hear what they’ll do in the future.

Witness not only focuses on the things that already made the band great on previous albums — Asger’s soaring vocals, djenty riffs contrasted with bright synths, and Adam Janzi’s ever-interesting drumming — but it also experiments with those things to truly incredible results. The most evident example of this is the song “These Black Claws,” which features a hip-hop backbeat and rapper Shahmen, whose words combine with the band’s heavy riffs to beautifully intense effect.

I lost my mind the first time I heard this.

Getting to meet Martin at their show in Columbus, OH, was a highlight of my life, especially after listening to his piano rendition of “24 Light-Years” so much that I would’ve worn it out if it wasn’t in digital form. They’re one of the first bands that I turn to when I’m having a bad day, knowing that the smooth beauty of their music will lift me up without fail. This is my tribute to VOLA, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Goals for 2023

It’s been a while since I’ve paid attention to this website or this blog, and this year I want to change that. Regardless of the audience, I want to start blogging again, for me. Previous updates have been sporadic, only once or twice a year or so, and many of the older posts have been reverted to draft form because I simply don’t care for them anymore. It’s hard to believe I’ve had this site for over a decade, but here we are! This post will just be a simple overview of things I want to do with this blog moving forward, along with the general goals I’ve set for myself this year.

Book Reviews and Music Spotlights

I want both of these features to remain. One of my goals this year is to read 24 books. That may not seem like much, but I’m a lapsed reader. I used to read voraciously, but for the past several years I’ve hardly picked up a book at all, instead turning to narrative video games for stories or reading articles for non-fiction and to keep up to date with things going on in the world.

This year, I want to take steps to change that, but as is usually best with these things, I’m taking small steps to begin with. I’m allowing graphic novels as well as novels, and I’m starting with shorter books, around 200 pages or less. So far, I’ve stayed on top of my goal as I’ve finished three books in January, and you can see them at my Storygraph, which I’m using to track my progress through the year.

All that said, I want to keep writing my small book reviews here, in part because it’s a fun writing exercise and also because it’s just a nice way to talk about my experiences with reading this year. My first review is up, of Tokyo Ueno Station by Miri Yū. I won’t review every book I read this year, but I do want to try to review as many as I can, particularly if it stands out to me in some way.

Another type of post I’d like to continue with here are the music spotlights, of which I only have one posted thus far. This was an older post, but I really enjoyed spending time with one of my favorite bands through writing it, and I hope to do more of those in the future, so look for that coming up soon!

Other Personal Goals

Honestly, there isn’t much else that I’d like to do on this blog, aside from just writing more personal posts and maybe covering my favorite pieces of media that I enjoy throughout the year. I do have a small list of personal things I’d like to accomplish this year, and I’ll share that below:

  • Learn to crochet amigurumi
  • Learn to embroider
  • Write a short story
  • Bake once a month
  • Get into an exercise routine (preferably biking)

Perhaps at the end of the year, I can revisit those goals and see how I’ve done with them. For now, I’ll end this before it gets too long. Here’s to 2023 and hoping, like the rabbit, it will be high-spirited.

Just for fun, here’s a photo of me now, and at the end of the year I’ll add another to show how/if I’ve changed:

Tokyo Ueno Station by Miri Yū

This is very much one of those books that I feel a person should experience for themselves, so it’s difficult to write a coherent review for it. It’s a book that should be felt firsthand.

Tokyo Ueno Station follows the story of Kazu, a Japanese migrant from Fukushima who spends most of his life working away from home in Tokyo. He typically works as a physical laborer, laying ground for new projects like the Olympics sports fields, and sending the money he earns back home to his family, who he rarely sees in person. The book is divided into two types of narrative: one, Kazu’s present observations as he drifts through Tokyo’s Ueno Station and Park, and two, ruminations on his past and his life before he ended up where he is now.

And where is Kazu now? Well, according to the back of the book, he’s a ghost, but before he became a ghost, or perhaps still, he was homeless. There is a distinct parallel between being homeless and being a ghost that the book does a good job of illustrating through the fact that you’re never quite sure which Kazu really is while he reflects on the people and things he witnesses throughout Ueno. The book also has a lot to say about society and homelessness in Japan, as it juxtaposes Kazu’s life of hardship with the seemingly easy life of the Japanese imperial family, who Kazu encounters on multiple occasions.

Tokyo Ueno Station is not an easy read. It’s short, but it’s contemplative and disjointed and tragic. As Kazu explains the circumstances that led him to homelessness, he also recounts a conversation between women in an art museum viewing paintings of roses, or he reiterates the Japanese history lessons that his friend Shige gave him about the shrines and statues throughout Ueno Park. Sadness is interspersed with mundanity. Kazu’s life history is interspersed with the history of Japan. And through it all, we learn not just about Japanese society and history, but about what it is to be a human ghost in Tokyo.

Bottom line: Evocative and wholly touching, this is one of those books that’s nearly impossible to explain and therefore which I can only say to read, read, read and experience for yourself.

In the Woods by Tana French

In the Woods

In the Woods is not a murder mystery. It was marketed as one, and it’s hailed as a preeminent example of crime fiction. But if you read this book expecting to solve both of its core mysteries or feel good about yourself for picking out all the baddies within the first few chapters, then you’re going to be disappointed.

What Tana French has done here is create a psychological character study disguised as a crime novel, and it’s one of the most brilliant books I’ve ever read. I’m already reading her latest, The Witch Elm, and I’ve picked up two more of her books.

In the Woods is the first of the Dublin Murder Squad series, each of which has a different protagonist. In this book, we’re thrown into the mind of Detective Rob Ryan, who’s the definition of an unreliable narrator. He even admits as much upfront. He’s a skilled liar, and his life has been irrevocably affected by an incident he experienced as a child. In the ’80s, he went into the woods in his hometown of Knocknaree, Ireland, with his two best friends. Several hours later, he walked back out with his shoes soaked in blood and his friends missing. In an attempt to perhaps protect him from breaking down completely, his brain has eradicated all memory of what happened in the woods, but when a new case forces him to revisit Knocknaree, things begin to crack open in much the way you would expect.

Except that nothing is really what you would expect. I can’t say too much without going into spoiler territory, but Rob is not a particularly likable protagonist. He lets his preconceived notions take over, and they’re often unjustified and unfair. He slips up on the job and devalues his relationships with people. His partner, Cassie Maddox, begins to wonder what’s going on in his head. I spent most of the book wanting to yell at him for being an idiot, but in the end, I realized that Tana French had spent over 400 pages expertly making me understand him, and that’s so much more complicated and ultimately satisfying than simply disliking him.


Continue reading “In the Woods by Tana French”

Music Spotlight: Poets of the Fall

I love music, and I have this intrinsic need to share the music I love, so I thought I’d do a series of posts to highlight some bands and musicians who may be lesser known but feature prominently in my music collection. The hope is that whoever comes across this blog might be introduced to a new band or musician they like, and I can spread the love far and wide. Or at least as far and wide as this little blog goes, which is not much due to lack of self-promotion and an affinity for solitude, but I digress.

First up are the gods of Nordic rock, Poets of the Fall.

I discovered Poets of the Fall back in 2010 when the video game Alan Wake was released. The band members are good friends with the game’s creator, Sam Lake, who tapped them to record a couple of songs for it under the pseudonym Old Gods of Asgard.

Alan’s encounter with members of the in-game band Old Gods of Asgard

Old Gods of Asgard also feature as memorable side characters in the game. They’re an aging metal band whose music plays a pivotal part in helping the protagonist and player move forward, and there’s one scene in particular that easily places in my top ten favorite gaming moments. If you want to watch the scene, this is a really good YouTube video of it, but I highly recommend playing the game if you haven’t and experiencing it for yourself. One of the best things about the scene is that it’s surprising, organic, and enjoyable in the moment. It’s fun to watch someone else play it, but it’s even more fun to experience it for yourself.

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Adventures in Baking: Maple Pumpkin Pie

On October 27-31, The Long Dark held an in-game Halloween event titled 4 Days of Night. I was excited to see my favorite game do an event for my favorite holiday, so I made time on each of the four days to settle in with a cup of hot cider and bask in the spooky nighttime atmosphere of 4DoN, and I’m beyond glad I did. It exceeded my expectations. I took a ton of screenshots, which I may post at a later time, but for now, this post is about baking.

On the 31st, players were treated to pumpkin pies that had the affect of keeping us warm to help combat the intense blizzard that also descended upon that fateful day. Being a baking enthusiast, I loved the look and idea of the pies, so I decided to whip up a real one on Halloween night.


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