Well dang. 2020 is finally over. After a year of things being a huge pile of doo-doo, and 2021 being already off to a rocky start, I hope we can finally start to see some light at the end of the tunnel sometime soon.
For me, 2020 was largely about focusing on grad school and navigating ways to keep myself from going crazy from lack of adequate social interaction. As quiet as I can be sometimes, I really am a huge people person and when I can’t be around friends (or strangers, even) it’s hard!
Having a year without conventions has really made me appreciate them a lot more, even all the stuff I like to complain about. I will say that I’ve watched more movies and logged more video games hours this year than probably most normal years added together, so here is a list of a few things that brought me sanity and, more importantly, joy.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
If you remember from last year, I put The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker on my list because after many years of false starts, I was finally able to connect with Zelda game. Well, I’m happy to say that my love for Wind Waker walked so that my love for Breath of the Wild could run.
Once I decided to approach BotW on it’s own terms, without letting myself get too overwhelmed by the amount of places to go and things to do, I was able to thoroughly enjoy what it had to offer. Navigating the vast landscape, challenging game play mechanics, and creative puzzles became like second nature, and there were times when I just couldn’t put it down! I even grew to not hate sword breaking because I just started buying any and all arrows I came across. Even guardian fights became fun after a while (shooting them dead in the eye is SO satisfying). Certainly the cherry on top was the plethora of awesome characters that you get to meet and interact with throughout Link’s journey. When the new Hyrule Warriors came out, I made sure the grab up all the Guardian amiibo I didn’t have yet. Everyone is just so COOL!
I said last year that Wind Waker entered my top favorite games of all time, but I think Breath of the Wild has surpassed even that. I’ve already started playing Age of Calamity and I can’t wait to get into it more, after I finish some other games first (holds head in hands).
Not for Resale
In a year like 2020, a documentary about gathering together in physical spaces to celebrate fandom in close community with others just seems like salt in a wound. But that aside, I cannot recommend Not For Resale enough.
Not For Resale is a documentary about two separate but inextricably related topics; mom & pop video game stores, and the decline of physical media in a increasingly digital landscape. The filmmakers traveled all across the U.S. and Canada to interview game store owners about the blood, sweat, and passion they pour into what many may perceive to be a dying method of entertainment delivery. From Portland’s iconic Pink Gorilla to our very own Lost Ark Video Games in Greensboro, North Carolina, the interviews capture the stories of game enthusiasts across the North-Eastern hemisphere who have turned their passions into careers and, as one store owner quipped, gotten into the business of “selling your memories back to you.”
While going on an exciting road trip to see these vibrant mom & pop stores across the country is a treat unto itself, the deep dives into discussions of the changing landscape of gaming is equally fascinating. The documentary prominently features interviews with people and organizations working to preserve the artistic and cultural impact of games for generations to come, as well as those on the cutting edge of pushing gaming into the future. Frank Cifaldi and Kelsy Lewin of The Video Game History Foundation, the Library of Congress’ Video Game Librarian, David Gibson, and the co-founder of the National Video Game Museum, Joe Santulli, are all featured heavily, discussing how their unique projects seek to honor video gaming as the important historical and cultural institution that it is. Contrarily, the creators of Rocket League are interviewed about how games such as theirs, that could only exist in a digital landscape, push the medium forward and expand gaming to more people than at any point in history.
If you love games, physical media, cultural anthropology, and exploring the intersection between hobbies and community, do not miss this documentary. It’s inspiring to be reminded of all the amazing people out there doing amazing things and building relationships through shared passions… just like what our podcast tries to do!
Mobile Suit Gundam the Origin
I finally did it! I found a Mobile Suit Gundam thing that finally clicked with me. Just like with Zelda, I’ve spent many years false-starting with Gundam, jumping from entry to entry without finding something that truly resonated with me. This time, something finally broke through, and it was Mobile Suit Gundam the Origin.
Origin is based on a manga series written by iconic Gundam character designer, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (a.k.a. “YAZ,” ), that serves as both a prequel and a retelling of the original Mobile Suit Gundam (1979). The anime is an adaptation of the prequel content, beginning with the murder of Zeon Zum Deikun, the philosophical figurehead of what would eventually become The Principality of Zeon, and lasting up to the events that happen in the first episode of Mobile Suit Gundam (1979).
Much like when I watched Fate/Zero a number of years ago, I had no real familiarity with the characters and the world beyond knowing a few character names, but this was able to grab me instantly with an excellent blend of character writing, world building, and feature-film-level polish. The series is paced briskly and focuses on characters that later play large roles in the story of MSG. I started watching the Gundam Movie Trilogy after Origin and I will say that I definitely connected more with characters like Sayla and Char because of how much care was put into telling their story in Origin. I can’t speak for what a veteran Gundam fan might tell you, but I’d recommend checking out Origin before MSG0079 precisely for this reason. Plus, it’s a darn good story on its own even if you don’t watch any more Gundam going forward.
The Haunting of Hill House
Never has a work of horror fiction made me jump out of my seat from fear and physically sob from emotional rawness within a matter of minutes.
The Haunting of Hill House is about a family who move into the titular Hill House with the intention of re-modelling and flipping it, but the house and the spirits residing there end up re-modelling and flipping them instead. To be less cavalier about it, Hill House is a true masterwork in using horror to tell a deeply resonant human story about loss, regret, denial, coping, and trauma. The visuals are unforgettable and the acting is superb, even from the ensemble of child actors that play the young versions of the main characters. Considering how much I enjoyed Hill House and his other film Doctor Sleep, I’ll be following director Mike Flanagan’s career from here out, which includes The Haunting of Bly Manor which I need to get around to.
Do NOT watch this before bed though as it DEFINITELY gave me nightmares. Even so, no regerts.
There was a lot of Final Fantasy happening around the virtual Third Impact Anime household this year, and I was certainly not immune to that. Obviously the most prominent thing was the release of Final Fantasy VII Remake, and the fact that it was actually awesome? As I write this, I have shamefully not finished it yet, but the good 15 or so hours I put into it really reinforced the immense love that I have for the world of VII, especially the incredible cast of characters that are so well realized in this new interpretation. Not to mention the catharsis of playing as a group of an-Tifa rebels fighting against a fascist mega-corp that is destroying the planet for power and profit. Tale as old as time.
The invigoration I felt by playing Remake inspired me to pick up the Switch port of the original game again, and I got further into it that I had when I played it as a kid. The QOL improvements certainly helped with that, AND because sticking with one thing at a time isn’t in my vocabulary, I also played a good chuck of VII, X, and even XIV! To the dismay of many of my friends, I don’t play XIV as often as I should, but the 40 or so hours I put into it this summer was a joy.
Final Fantasy is awesome and I plan to fill 2021 with even more of it, in as many forms as I can.
Girls’ Last Tour
Watching Girls’ Last Tour in January of 2020 was weirdly prophetic in a way I have not and will not come to terms with. A series about two girls facing the perils of intense loneliness in a world ravaged by disaster is, well, need I say more?
This series is really beautiful in how it doesn’t highlight the tragedy of Chii and Yuri’s existence as much as it focuses in on their celebration of the little things in life like a delicious snack, taking pictures, a hot bath, or finding a mochi-snake-thing with a weird face. They don’t let the reality of the despair around them dampen their struggle to keep on pushing forward, to keep on living. There’s a lesson here for everyone, and it’s just a darn good show. The Song of Raindrops will stay in your mind forever.
Games Done Quick
If you’re reading this blog, you probably know what GDQ is, but if you don’t, it’s basically a series of events where people play video games really fast for charity. That’s really it?
GDQ made it onto my list this year because, when you’re spending a lot of time at home, it’s good to occasionally have something to pop on in the background while you’re cleaning or trying to go to sleep, and GDQ was that thing for me in 2020. I rarely watched any of the live events as they happened, but I got hours and hours of mileage out of their YouTube replays.
Not only is speed-running really entertaining to watch, but knowing that these events have raised literally millions of dollars for charity is one of those things that soothes my anxiety, jump-starts my heart, and clears my skin. I love GDQ and maybe one day I’ll get to go to an event in person.
I couldn’t tell you a favorite speed runner, but obviously I love watching the runs of any Kingdom Hearts or Ratchet & Clank game.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory
Yes! Kingdom Hearts finally came to the Switch! While Melody of Memory isn’t the port collection many fans were pining for, being able to finally have some Kingdom Hearts content on the system at all is a joy in of itself.
Melody of Memory is a rhythm game in the spirit of Square Enix’s previous Theatrhythm games that celebrate the musical excellence of the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series’. However, MoM sought to match the 3D nature of Kingdom Hearts by developing a brand new 3D style of rhythm gaming with “combat” mirroring how the base games play out. You play as a trio of iconic Kingdom Hearts trios, trans-versing various Disney and game-original worlds from every entry in the franchise (yes, even Re:Coded), while Kairi narrates the events of the series up until the post-Kingdom Hearts III present.
While Nomura couldn’t resist including RELEVANT STORY CONTENT in his RHYTHM GAME, the standout feature of KH:MoM is the joyous gameplay paired with the equally excellent franchise music of Yoko Shimomura. The inclusion of bonkers story content doesn’t take away from the simple joy of beating Heartless senseless to the beat of the “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse March.”
Seeing the franchise take a breather with some lighter fare after Kingdom Hearts III is welcome, and MoM doesn’t give the impression that Square is dragging their feet, unlike some previous KH side-games. It’s fun, it’s casual, it’s a wonderful celebration of the series’ fabulous music, and I loved it.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons – While I’m not nearly the Animal Crossing stan other people are, I felt like I had to give it a mention here. As you’ll likely remember, Animal Crossing: New Horizons released at just the right moment when we all needed it. It was towards the beginning of the lockdowns necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and people really needed an outlet for relaxation, socialization, and generalized de-stressing as the world continued to burn. I was hesitant to pick the game up after really not feeling New Leaf, but I’m glad I did. I needed those 75+ hours of catching bugs, fishing, and decorating. Who wouldn’t in these trying times?
Dorohedoro – Recency bias here but, man was Dorohedoro a really fun time! The daily lives of a kicka** gyoza shop owner and her himbo Lizard-man friend in a world full of blood, dirt, mushrooms, and sorcerers? Need I say more about why this show is awesome?!
Sayonara Wild Hearts – All credit goes to Tobias for introducing me to this rhythm game that is 100% my jam. Sayonara Wild Hearts (from Anapurna Interactive) is a trippy synthpop rhythm game about a melancholic girl’s battle to find herself again. Oh, and it’s narrated by Queen Latifah. If you like rhythm games, short games, and bands like CHVRCHES or Daft Punk, play this game.