Pop Culture

“That” moment in Samurai Jack

Spoiler warning for people who have not seen Samurai Jack season 5 episode 2.


The stakes in Samurai Jack have never been higher. A broken man at the end of his rope, Jack struggles with his inner demons to the point of self-destruction.

This episode struck a chord with me as the opening ass whooping Jack took at the hands of the Daughters of Aku was only reprieved by Jack’s contemplation of suicide. I was certain it was at this moment that we would see Jack at his darkest. And then they drop a bomb by the end of the episode.

Jack has destroyed countless machines in his quest to rid the world of Aku. “They are just nuts and bolts” he tells himself as the Daughters of Aku prove to be one of his toughest fights yet. But the moment he slices one of the daughters in the neck we see how far Jack has fallen. While not intentional, Jack has taken a life and in very brutal fashion. It is punctuated by the horror in Jack’s face and the breaking of the daughter’s mask to show the human underneath the heartless exterior.

There generally is a running joke in pop culture when childhoods are ruined by pointing out some adult joke in a kids show or showing how truly awful cartoons are when we remember them fondly. Samurai Jack does so in the most brutal and violent way possible. Within 2 episodes we as the viewer now have a true grip of the stakes. This confrontation will only end one way, with blood.

And as we watch Jack draw blood for the first time, we also watch him at his most vulnerable physically. Also bleeding, it is a moment of uneasiness as we watch the image of an invulnerable Jack fade away and be replaced with that of a man who can and may potential die by the end of this series. And maybe that is for the best.

He has blood on his hands. Both physically and metaphorically with the past being his responsibility. He can never cleanse himself of that sin ever again. The only way forward for him now is through a pile of bodies. If he cannot regain his honor then there should be no harm in driving that honor deeper into the ground.

Perhaps Jack had lost the sword long ago in a distant land, but at this point I’m not sure he is worthy of it anymore.

But it remains to be seen at how far Jack will fall. Despair can be a very dark place people find themselves in, but so long as there is a small ray of hope anything can happen. For Jack that is what the sword represents. Without that sword Jack is lost and living for the sake of living. But if he could somehow recover the sword he may still have a chance.


I cannot put Stardew Valley down

There are so many great games out. Horizon Zero Dawn has some of the most engaging story I have played in awhile. Breath of the Wild is one of the best open world games I have ever played if not the best. Platinum games have gone back to form with Nier: Automata.

And yet despite all of that I find myself going back to Stardew Valley.

Something about that game has hooked me like a fish and has not let go. Everyday I feel like I have a plethora of things to do and never enough time or energy to do it. I have to go into the mine, I have to fish, I want to make friends with the townsfolk, I want to woo Abigail, I have to make sure I am repairing the community center, you can see where this is going.

The game dangles a carrot in your face. It leaves you satisfied at the end of the day, but urges you to continue with its game. Undoubtedly as I played I saw the Harvest Moon formula rear its head. The energy system is just a pain in the ass to deal with. The cyclic nature of the game means it is not for everyone. Interaction between NPC characters have not been great. Yet despite some of the flaws of that formula I still could not stop playing. Because we have not had a Harvest Moon game truly in a long time.

Unlike Harvest Moon, I find the combat system of Stardew to be refreshing change of pace. While it is not overly difficult events that happen on the different floors either have me running for the nearest exit or fighting desperately to not faint.

As I am writing this Story of Seasons Trio of Towns will have been released. And while I have yet to play that game, I can already picture myself falling into the same trappings that Stardew Valley has caught me in. And I can’t wait to pick it up.


A sleepy short about Breath of the Wild (spoilers)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild continues to amaze me as I traverse the world Nintendo created. I had to share an experience I probably will never experience in gaming again.

There is a particular puzzle in Breath of the Wild that requires you to maneuver a ball through a maze. I will say at this point that the motion controllers are downright awful. They are way too finicky and react to extremely slight movement. Unless you have steady hands motion puzzles will always shake. As a result I could not keep my hands steady and was about to give up the maze. As I threw the controller towards my side the maze spun around wildly. And then I noticed something.

The maze could be turned upside down. The other side of the maze was flat. I turned my controller upside down in excitement to see that the maze turned upside down as well. From there it was a simple flick of the wrist, the ball was out of the maze and onto the pedestal I needed it to go, and off I went. The amount of variance one can go about clearing puzzles is staggering. This moment of clarity was so eye opening I had to shut the game off once I had cleared the puzzle entirely. It easily was one of the most rewarding and creative ways I have ever finished a puzzle.

Now if only the motion controls didn’t suck so much.


An incredibly strong Q1 for gaming in 2017

Resident Evil 7, Nioh, Nier: Automata, Horizon: Zero Dawn, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Gravity Rush 2, Mass Effect Andromeda, Yakuza 0, and Persona 5 will all have been released within the first quarter of 2017. While it remains to be seen if Mass Effect Andromeda will live up to expectations, it should be fair to say that for the first quarter of 2017 triple A titles have been some of the strongest we have ever seen in any quarter of video gaming ever.

Perhaps this is a sign that triple A gaming is making a resounding resurgence. Big developers have come out of the gate swinging this year, and while not all games hit the mark (cough* Wildlands) most do their part to cater to the gaming audience at large. Something to note of that list above is many are from overseas. It may be a sign that Japanese developers have started to find their place in a niche market once again, or that they have found their groove lost long ago. In any case it is a welcome sight to see so many games coming out of Japan exceeding expectations and delivering top notch performances.

However we should not be hasty in assuming this year will be all sunshine and rainbows. With the release of Persona 5 and Yooka-Laylee in April we may be heading into a quiet second quarter as a result of a strong first. It begs the question of whether smaller mid tier gaming (such as Fire Emblem and Crash Bandicoot) and indie gaming will be able to fill the void of the second quarter, or if the gaming industry will slump in preparation for the titan that is Shadow of War.

In any case, we should celebrate the start to a strong year. Because I know these games will tide me over well into the summer and fall.


2016: Best games

This is the list for my best games of 2016. It was a fairly strong year for video gaming, but some attracted me more than others. Here it is.


10. Bravely Second: End Layer


A lot of people swept this game under the rug. And I would agree that the game released was a murmur rather than a buzz. Despite the lack of fanfare or hype Bravely Second did what Bravely Default did for me; revitalized my interest in turn based RPGs. The combat system returns from the first game with the ability to ‘Default’ to stack BP for more turns in order to unleash a powerful turn or go into negative BP and are forced to wait while you recover. It really drives home the risk and reward strategy they had implemented in the first game. However this game is high on the list because it does not try anything new. You could get a similar experience playing Bravely Default, and while the story is better in relation to Bravely Default’s latter half the story is forgettable. Still more Bravely Default was welcome in a world that is lacking dangerously in turn based combat.


9. Final Fantasy XV


The fact that it came out and wasn’t an absolute disaster was a huge surprise for me. A Final Fantasy game had not captured me since FFX and this game was no different. Yet despite my general misgivings about real time battle in my Final Fantasy games FFXV was the closest to capturing the feeling of Final Fantasy since X. The battle system felt very fluid as I zoomed around the battlefield and gave me a real sense that I was unstoppable. Of course that is until enemies ramp up near the middle portion of the game and every battle after feels like your hacking into a pound of flesh. The story did not completely draw me in, but still left me satisfied with the conclusion I had long since been waiting for nearly a decade. And I cannot speak enough praise about the other three members of Noctis’ entourage. The motivations and drives of these three help to keep the story together and contrast the sullen Noctis to great effect.


8. Stardew Valley


I wish I had more to say about this game. If I put more time into it the game would be higher on my list. Still for the limited time I have spent on Stardew Valley I was impressed. It is clear from the end of the first day why this game became the indie hit of the year. There is so much to do every day and it never feels like I have downtime to relax and take in the accomplishments that I had achieved. When a crop finishes growing two more need to be planted, a mini mart needs dismantling, women need wooing, and mines needs exploring. All these systems feed together much like how the systems of Harvest Moon worked in tandem yet despite that my day never felt repetitive. I was always doing something new, building something different, and meeting new characters when it was almost overwhelming. But having not put enough hours into the game I could not bring it any higher. Otherwise it could have threatened the number one spot.


7. Enter the Gungeon


This game will inevitably be compared to Nuclear Throne in many ways. However while Nuclear Throne failed to draw me in, Enter the Gungeon had me shaking by the end of my first run. Tight top down shooting with an arsenal of weapons and a dodge roll that felt snappy and absolutely necessary the bullet hell that is Enter the Gungeon was some of the best I had played in years. So much so that I cleared the roguelike within twenty hours and had all the achievements within 100. While I generally do not feel compelled to play a roguelike after I unlocked everything there is to unlock such as Binding of Isaac, this game had me coming back throughout the year. By the year’s end I had finally burned out, but my time with Enter the Gungeon was some of the best I had with a roguelike this year.


6. Superhot

It’s short. It’s sweet. It’s Superhot. The game only lasted one weekend. But by the end of that weekend I was floored. For those of you unfortunate enough not to hear about the marvel that was Superhot, it is a game all its own. An FPS game (which are generally not my cup of tea) Superhot innovates the formula in such a fashion that each scene has you imagine the solution and dares you to execute your plan. That is because of the game’s focus on time. Time is frozen until you begin moving and as a result the quick paced combat of FPS games is replaced with carefully thought out strategy and snappy decision making in order to clear each scene of enemies. Then you get to watch your masterpiece unfold in real time once the level is over. It takes a highlight real everything you did and makes you questions how you had the abilities to do these things. Cutting up mutliple bullets, throwing my sword at a guy, grabbing the sword and throwing it at another guy, grabbing his gun and shooting the last guy; and thats just one level. The whole game does that. I wish it was longer because it truly was some of the best FPS gaming I had this year. Yet surprisingly it wasn’t the best.


5. Doom

And that is because Doom was the best FPS game this year. To get it out of the way, the multiplayer was not good. It was decent at best. That being said I regret not buying Doom when it first released because I would gladly would have dropped 60 bucks had I known the campaign would be THAT. Within the span of 30 seconds I already had a weapon. Within the span of 10 minutes I was already hooked. It is everything you wanted from a Doom game in the modern era. Fast FPS killing, no cover or reload system, a desperate scramble for resources, and an interwoven soundtrack that screams Doom rounded out just a few of the things Doom got right. FPS games have gotten very stale over the past 10 years and Doom was just a breath of fresh air. Seriously FPS games have been killing it this year. Just look at this opening.

Holy. Shit. This game should have sucked. It really should not have been this good. It was great. Now if only that multiplayer was better…


4. Fire Emblem Fates: Revelations

A lot of people who I knew played this game stated this game was not as strong as that of Fire Emblem: Awakening. In certain ways, Fire Emblem Fates: Revelations falls short of its predecessor. The characters are generally not as charming as the characters of Awakening. The story’s high notes were not as impactful as the losses one had accrued  in the story of Awakening. And overall the game probably would not stand the test of time that Awakening will. That said, Fire Emblem Fates: Revelations takes many more chances with its gameplay that Awakening does. Each map has a variety of objectives and stipulations that keeps the formula of grid based combat fresh and ever changing. More so than Awakening, Revelations manages to throw one new thing after another making sure that you were never playing with the same rules on any given map. New units also helped to bring out new life into the game such as the ninja class. I debated placing this game higher on the list, but the amount of time and content I had spent on this game and the sister titles Conquest and Birthright convinced me that this game was still a blast to play.

3. Dark Souls III

I would call you a liar if I told myself earlier in the year Dark Souls 3 would be nothing short of number 1. It is still difficult to rationalize this spot as I am typing this out. The refinements to the Souls series have been evident since Dark Souls was released to critical acclaim. Dark Souls 3 continues these refinements and caps the end of the trilogy with a bang. The ever looming presence of death is strong in this game and Dark Souls 3 always has you on your toes. Gone are the open and safe environments of Dark Souls 2; claustrophobic hallways and walkways remain. Never a dull moment, Dark Souls 3 moves you from one intense battle to another without any respite. And when you finally reach the bonfire with one estus flask remaining you realize how far you come along and how much you achieved. However unlike the previous Souls games, Dark Souls 3 keeps you moving in one direction for the most part. Rarely are you allowed to stray from the boss order unlike Dark Souls 1 and 2 (with one early game exception that I would not recommend to most casual players). As a result you feel yourself moving towards an objective rather than exploring and unknown world.  And it shows in the context of the game. Midway through the game at certain portions if you look to the background you can see the point at which you started the game. And then you get a true understanding of the distance you traveled and the bosses you murdered. The creators do a great job of making you feel accomplished by game’s finale. And while the game does not lend itself to its story in any way, die hard Souls fans will be happy to know that a story is present if you find yourself willing to dig deep enough. Yet despite everything this game did right two other games were stronger in what they set out to achieve.


2. The Witness

I’m going to compare this game to another puzzle game that came out this year, Inside. Limbo did not have much going in terms of story, Inside somehow took a step back like the developers tacked on a story to mechanics of the game they had created. As a result of this half-assed story, puzzles felt to easy and a roadblock to the conclusion. It never challenged enough to make you think more than a second. The Witness however had a puzzle mechanic I never noticed until near the conclusion of the game. That very mechanic changed what I thought was the conclusion to a sudden realization that I was no where even close to finishing. After seeing lines for hours upon hours I was just about done with the Witness. Wait… is that a line on the windmill? I came to a shocking realization. Everyone may have experienced this revelation differently but once you had seen it you could not stop seeing it. It was at this moment that I realized that The Witness had been training you throughout the entire game and kept training you until you saw what the game creators wanted you to see. And that moment easily overshadowed many of the spine chilling moments I had playing Dark Souls III. It was such a powerful revelation I had to turn off the game and mull it over for a week before returning and finishing. It truly was when I witnessed what they wanted to see that the game showed how intelligent it was and how smart it knew core audience it was catering to. The Witness did puzzle gaming like no other game had done this year.


1. Overwatch

I do not consider Overwatch to be the best FPS as I had stated earlier in the list. However it was by and by far the best multiplayer experience I had since my glory days of Dota 2. Prefacing this by stating I tend to play support characters for these kind of games, Overwatch was fun because of the various characters you are allowed to pick and choose from. They took the TF2 formula of class based FPS shooting and ramped that baby to eleven. They somehow made playing support characters fun in a way that TF2 never truly captured with the Medic. Getting a full five team revive with Mercy was one of the most gratifying experiences I had this year. Lucio moving at the speed of sound to heal teammates was always an adrenaline rush. Zenyatta’s well placed harmony and discord orbs meant you could jump into the fray and fight at the frontlines while also healing your teammates and hurting your enemies. A well placed biotic grenade and nano boost meant victory or defeat for any Ana team. And that is just the support roles. Multiplayer games are a cruel mistress. Some of the most toxic communities even spawned from the internet exist in these mediums such as League of Legends, Dota 2, and the Call of Duty franchise. Yet Overwatch never has that problem. Rarely have I had a toxic individual or whiny child. Generally I always felt welcomed and apart of something greater. While I should not reward a game based on social experiences Overwatch gave me some of the best multiplayer interactions I ever had in a video game. And overall it is such a well polished and graphically beautiful game. It is no wonder it is my game of the year.


Portfolio Cover Letter

Dear Portfolio Readers:

I was to preface this by saying that I am not a confidant writer despite the fact I am an English Major. I think that for many pieces of work I have, you can see a lot of passive voice in play, especially for the kinds of work that demands textual evidence. That being said, when I had came into this class I had a fairly good idea of the problems which have plagued my writing for a long time. I knew my writing went all over the place and really needed more focus, and I needed to adjust my writing in regards to the audience better. I knew these things because these are the worries that I had whenever I wrote a paper and were the cause of my insecurities as a writer.

This course has gone a long way towards ridding me of these insecurities. In particular, the problem piece that was asked of us shows a lot of improvements in the areas I needed help in. It correctly addresses my audience in a very active voice, it is surprisingly organized for a work that had very broad boundaries and structure, and overall I felt the entire piece was successful in conveying the message I intended for my audience. My last piece also showed much improvement from before this class, in terms of evidence and the tone and voice that is used for the audience. It certainly needed work, but it was still better than things that I had done earlier in my life.

And I attribute this to active engagement of what I was writing. The pieces of writing I had done for this class was not some procrastinated hack job done before class, it was something we worked on constantly and in great detail. Because of this I saw all of the common errors I made and with help I was able to fix said errors. Peer reviewing may be underrated, but it truly helped me understand how to organize my paper better, where to put in transitional sentences, where to start one topic and stop another, and so on and so forth.

I have already seen the fruits of this class’ work transition into my other writing. My comparative literature class is a great example in which I started the class with C papers, but ended with an A on my final piece. I have found myself actively looking over my papers and editing much earlier than I would have before this class, if at all. I am a realist however; I know that the success of my work only lasts as long as I put in the effort. And I know there is still much that can be improved on. I can still do better with organization at the individual sentence level and my evidence can still use better explanation and examination. Still it is quite the accomplishment to have improved so drastically in these aspects of my writing; I just need to put in more effort.

As an English major, I found that I did not put in the effort I wanted to for my college career. It certainly did not reflect in my grades for one reason or another, but my writing did leave me with a lot of doubt and made me question if I was cutout to be an English major or go back to Biology. This class has shown me however that if enough time and effort is put into writing, then the results will follow. The two pieces that I have chosen are a reflection of my work and the effort I had put to make my writing better. The problem piece successfully blends my creative strengths with my organization weaknesses into a broadly structured paper that helps to strengthen my piece through its style. By making it an article piece I was allowed the freedom to go as crazy as I had wanted to, but found myself more focused than ever before. And my research piece was the culminated efforts of my successes in this class. It is a show of the possibilities of my writing as long as I put the effort into it and remain focused.


To my Readers, a pleasure to write for you.

Dung Nguyen