Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Celestial Toymaker (1966)

After the Doctor becomes invisible, the TARDIS materializes in the middle of a vast empty room. Dodo begs that they leave, but the Doctor remarks that he’s also intangible and can’t operate the TARDIS. Elsewhere a man dressed like a Mandarin sends two clowns to greet his “guests.” Back near the TARDIS, the Doctor deduces that they’re in the realm of the Celestial Toymaker. The man himself appears and causes the TARDIS and then the Doctor to vanish, leaving Dodo and Steven alone with the clowns, who begin to play harmless pranks. The Toymaker reappears and says he’s taken the Doctor to play a game, and Dodo and Steven must play several games on their own. If they win, they’ll be given a TARDIS (which, the Toymaker adds, might not be the real one). If they lose, they’ll be trapped in his world for the rest of their lives. Plus they’ll have to win their games before the Doctor wins his or they all lose.

At the Toymaker’s house, the Doctor accuses the Toymaker of luring people into his realm and literally turning them into toys, which the Toymaker doesn’t deny. However, he admits that he’s become bored and wants to make the Doctor into his “perpetual opponent.” He tells the Doctor that if he and his companions must win all the games they may leave and the Toymaker’s world will be destroyed. He then challenges the Doctor to a very complex version of a Tower of Hanoi game that will require 1,023 turns to win. Back at the room, Steven is challenged by the clowns to a grueling version of a Blind Man’s Bluff with an obstacle course. The Doctor uses the Toymaker’s communication device to warn them that the game is more dangerous than they think, but the Toymaker quickly retaliates by making the Doctor invisible again. The clowns win the game, but Dodo and Steven find out that the clowns were using a fake blindfold, allowing them to challenge the clowns to a second round, which they win. After the victory, the clowns transform into dolls and a TARDIS appears, but inside they only find a written riddle.

Following the clue, they find themselves in two rooms with seven thrones and a group of human playing cards, a King, a Queen, a Joker, and a Knave. Once again the Doctor manages to warn them to be careful, causing the Toymaker to make him mute as well. From the riddle Dodo and Steven deduce that six of the seven thrones is dangerous and they’re supposed to sit on the safe throne. They also find seven mannequins in some cabinets. The King and Queen approach Steven and Dodo and tell them that they’re not inventions of the Toymaker, but people who have also been made into prisoners. The cards and the companions play together by placing the mannequins on the chairs, which offer up an assortment of death traps, but the strategy fails when they find that the cabinet with the last three mannequins has suddenly become locked, leaving three thrones. Dodo accidentally sits on one of the chairs and slowly starts to freeze; Steven is barely able to pull her away. Abandoned by the Joker and the Knave, the King and the Queen sit on one of the chairs together and are “killed” (actually transformed into playing cards), which at least leaves Dodo and Steven free to pick the right chair. Unfortunately, their only reward is another fake TARDIS and another riddle, along with the Toymaker’s taunts that the Doctor is going to win his game before they win theirs.

Finding themselves in a Victorian kitchen, Dodo and Steven encounter Sgt. Ruggs and Mrs. Wiggs, a stereotypical Victorian army commander and working class matriarch respectively. Realizing that they have to find a key in the kitchen, they rummage through the room, watched by an increasingly irate Mrs. Wiggs. Wiggs’s anger erupts into a fight between her and Ruggs, giving them the opportunity to find a key inside a pie Wiggs is working on. After they flee the kitchen, the Toymaker appears and lectures Wiggs and Ruggs, ordering them to get to the TARDIS before Dodo and Steven. In the next room, they find themselves before a dance floor where three mannequins are dancing and then stop. Across the floor is what appears to be the TARDIS. Steven tries to cross the floor but finds himself dancing involuntarily while the mannequins approach him. Dodo ends up on the floor too while Ruggs and Wiggs try to reach the TARDIS before the pair. Dodo and Steven beat the puzzle by managing to dance toward each other and making each other their dancing partners. Of course, “our princess is in another castle” and it’s yet another fake TARDIS. Back at the floor, Wiggs and Ruggs are stuck dancing mindlessly like the mannequins.

The next riddle warns Steven and Dodo about the next challenge: a darkened corridor where they meet the Knave, who is now dressed in a schoolboy uniform and is calling himself Cyril. They’re challenged to the next game, hopscotch with a twist: an electrified field between the squares. Also Cyril proves to be a rather bratty opponent, using a slingshot and other tricks to cause Steven and Dodo to break the rules or almost fall into the field. Cyril is on the verge of winning but ends up being killed by the electrical field due to one of his own traps. This time the TARDIS they win access to turns out to be the real one. The Doctor, however, refuses to make the last move, realizing that when he does so the Toymaker’s world will vanish, along with them and the TARDIS. From inside the TARDIS, the Doctor manipulates a recording of the Toymaker’s voice to make the last piece install itself, destroying the Toymaker’s world and giving them the opportunity to escape. The Doctor muses that, since the Toymaker is an immortal being, they might fight again, but he is happy to celebrate this one victory with some candy Cyril gave Dodo before the hopscotch game. As soon as the Doctor bites into the candy, he starts to feel pain…

Continuity Notes

The Doctor is completely aware of the existence of the Celestial Toymaker and recognizes the signs of his handiwork right off the bat. There’s as good a starting point for a “lost adventure” as any.

At the end, the script basically takes over the Doctor’s mind and promises the viewer that the Celestial Toymaker would be back (no, really!). It didn’t happen, at least not in the show. He was supposed to make an encore appearance in 1986 with The Nightmare Fair (whether or not Gough was intended to reprise the role I haven’t been able to find out), but it was canceled to make way for “Trial of a Time Lord”, but more on that much later.

Comments

To follow up on my earlier comments about Dodo, I like that the writers here went out of their way to illustrate that Dodo isn’t stupid, just that her mind works differently. For instance, it was nice that she figured out what Steven couldn’t, that the characters they encounter were just conjured up by the Toymaker. Unfortunately, it never really effects the plot the way you think it would (or should), and at a guess I’d say it was just included at all in order to justify Steven not trying to help their opponents.

There are three things this serial is known for: it stars Michael Gough as a deranged god-like being, and it’s one of the episodes with the least amount of footage and even set photographs. Also it has a reputation as the serial that isn’t nearly as good as you hoped, and for the most part it’s true. Gough does go a long way; his part isn’t written as well as you might expect, but he runs with what little he has and plays the Toymaker like a classic pulp villain. From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, there’s just something about this serial that captures the spirit of mid-twentieth century “pulpy” fiction.

Fun as it is, it’s flawed for two reasons, one of which is completely the showrunners’ fault, the other of which isn’t. The one that isn’t is the fact that today the only way you can experience this episode is as an audio recording or as a “recon”, which is basically the audio recording cum stills and the very minute scraps of surviving footage. This is a tremendous problem, even more so than in the other “lost” serials, especially for the first and last episode, which involve characters engaging in a complex series of actions. Try as the narrator, Peter Purves (“Steven”), might, he can’t fill the gaps left by the absence of the visuals. The other problem which could have been helped is the absence of William Hartnell for two whole episodes, covered up rather clumsily with the explanation that the Toymaker made him invisible and mute. I admit it is the sort of thing you kind of wish people could still get away with in most modern television shows, but you have to wonder why they couldn’t wait for another serial where the Doctor could be kidnapped or something for most of the episode. Part of what makes this serial work is the sight of the Doctor verbally sparring with a rival mastermind, but we only see this in the first and last episodes (putting aside the second episode, where we have a very unconvincing “invisible” Doctor). Imagine “The Time Meddler” with the interactions between the Monk and the Doctor cut down to a bare minimum.

It still works, especially in the last two episodes, which carry the surreal and “anything can happen” tone of the serial the best, marred just a little by the fact that you can’t actually see (beyond stills) the closing “hopscotch-to-the-death” game. The first two episodes are a wash, with dull – and more than occasionally obnoxious – adversaries and Steven and Dodo constantly talking about what to do without actually doing anything. Plus Clara the clown’s voice has such a perfect ratio of “annoying” and “creepy” it deserves a new word: creepoying or annopy, I suppose. My verdict is that it’s not quite as bad as what its reputation might say, but its well-known flaws are unavoidable.

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The Simpsons

The Simpsons, Season 1, Episode 2: “Bart the Genius”

So it came to my attention that, around the time I started doing my “Simpsons” write-ups, Onion AV Club writer Nathan Rabin has been doing his own reviews. This was kind of discouraging, since one of the reasons I do pop culture write-ups is to make a desperate shot in the dark toward getting a paid writing gig. And while I’m just some random person on the Internet, he gets paid for writing for a major website, which in the light of the Internet’s hierarchy means that I’m a groveling peasant and he’s a bejeweled archbishop.

I honestly did think about giving up this series before I even really began it, but it occurred to me that I’m not writing these as strictly reviews but as a reflection on a show that I literally grew up with. Also I said that I would try to generate more substantial content in this space to try to get you all to throw some change my way, and so here we are.

At least most of the first two seasons of “The Simpsons” are built around Bart’s perspective, so it’s no surprise that the earliest big target of Simpsonian satire is the American public school system, if not the entire modern concept of education. If the entire city of Springfield is an American dystopia, then Springfield Elementary is a greater dystopia within dystopia. The teachers have been broken down and drained bone-dry of any idealism they started off with, the administrators are more concerned with appeasing the almighty budget or enforcing arbitrary rules than with pedagogy, a budding genius like Lisa is at best left perpetually underengaged or at worst is encouraged to become a careerist and view her education as little more than a series of hurdles, and a problem student like Bart is just treated like a nuisance who has to be ignored for the sake of the “smart” kids. Now, in what is the first post-pilot episode to hit the air, little of this is evident just yet, but the grim and all too real portrait of Springfield Elementary does start to surface here.

After being ratted out by Martin Prince, in his gloriously fey debut, Bart gets into trouble for spraypainting a caricature of Principal Skinner (leading to the first uttering of the immortal line, “Eat my shorts”, against Martin). The day only goes downhill when in class Bart has to take an aptitude test, which Mrs. Krabappel describes in a line that is just so depressingly true: “Now I don’t want you to worry, class. These tests will have no effect on your grades. They merely determine your future social status and financial success…if any.” For some mysterious reason, the letters S, A, and T immediately sprang to mind when I heard that line. I have no recollection of how my much younger self reacted to this depiction of school life, but I know got another sense of deja vu and a chill as Bart struggled with one of those horrendous and purely evil math word-problems. His earnest try at solving the problem through visualization (after Mrs. Krabappel silences his attempt to working through it by running through the question aloud) only results in chaotic frustration and jumbled imaginary numbers. A lesser show would have all but spelled out that Bart’s class clown persona is because he is overwhelmed by school, but here the screenwriters take the chance to show without outside comment Bart’s genuine struggles with schoolwork. It’s something that gets much further developed later in “Bart Gets A F,” but it’s something else that injects an uncomfortable piece of realism into the proceedings. Back to the plot, seizing an opportunity to kill two birds with one slingshot, Bart gets his revenge on Martin by switching his test with Martin’s.

This triggers a series of events that sees Bart mistakenly identified as a child genius and sent (with the help of Principlal Skinner who one suspects must know something is up but just wants to get rid of someone who has always made his already barely bearable job even worse)to a special school for geniuses. I think here we have the first real sign that “The Simpsons” is a cut above other satires; it’s easy enough to mock the public school system, especially at a time when it was fashionable to do so among both conservatives and liberals, but it really shows commitment to “take no prisoners” satire to also skew well-meaning and suburban liberal-approved alternatives to traditional education. At the “genius school” Bart finds himself in, the students are blessed with free rein and are not even told to “Take a seat” but to “Discover your desks.” It is a step above the spirit-chewing system that is Springfield Elementary, but it also becomes clear that the students are not really challenged, but instead are just allowed to wallow in the fact that they already belong to a precocious aristocracy of the mind (the kids are even made to see comic books as a relic of the unwashed masses, which Bart learns when he comes across a Radioactive Man comic that the class used “as a prop in a film about illiteracy”). In a way, it mocks the all too easily mockable “unschooling” movement before it even exists, kind of like how “Homer Badman” was disturbingly prescient about the contemporary state of the American media.

Bart quickly finds that his situation at the “genius school” is even worse than the one at his old school. The other students quickly figure out that he’s no genius and start right away to take petty advantage of the discovery while his old friends (even Milhouse!) reject him for being an uncloseted nerd. At home Marge, who has not quite evolved yet past her persona as the quiet housefrau, feels guilty that she never noticed Bart’s “gifts” before and makes a bid for lost time by subjecting the entire family to opera and arthouse cinema. There is one bright spot for Bart; Homer, beaming with pride, is actually connecting with Bart, who wants to fess up but knows that after he does his relationship with his father goes back to its dysfunctional and borderline abusive normality. It’s not hammered in by the plot really, but watching this again I was a bit depressed by the implication that a ten year old boy is fully aware that his father’s love for him is totally conditional. Even more depressing is that Bart is absolutely correct. Once he inevitably confesses out of guilt driven how Homer has been doting over him, Homer curses him and chases him through the house, causing Lisa to grimly comment to Marge that things really are back to normal. Who knew that the “reset the status quo” nature of the sitcom could be used to put a bit of tragedy into the proceedings?

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Uncategorized, Video Games

Final Fantasy Retrospective Part 7: The Golden Age

There are roughly two types of Final Fantasy fans:  people who think VI was the best game in the series, and people who think VII was.  Needless to say, the latter should be strung from barbed-wire fences and beaten with sticks until they sincerely repent.

Kidding!  As I’ll get to sooner or later, despite being an old-school snob about Final Fantasy I’ve grown to like VII, but, still, it’s a fact that VI is the pinnacle of the series.

VII gets pointed out – or, depending on your perspective, blamed – for steering the franchise away from its traditional JRPG, medieval European origins.  However, in reality it starts with VI, which blends together eighteenth century France, Renaissance Europe, and Fascist Italy into one beautiful, cohesive world.  With all the advancements in graphics technology that have taken place in the last couple of decades, the gorgeous, painted look of Final Fantasy VI still stands out to this day, from detailed overlooks you see as your party climbs and fights its way through mountains  to the character portraits on the menu screen that retain a handpainted quality.  Generally people didn’t speak about video games as an art form yet in the 16-bit era, but VI, if only for the care its designers gave to its graphics, was a step in that direction.

Then there’s the story.  Who would have expected, right after with its evil, demon-possessed tree trying to take over the world, that we’d have a tale where the villain wins and puts the world through an apocalypse – and that’s just the halfway point.  The game begins with an emperor using soldiers infused with magical beings, obtained through brutal genocide against a race of mystic entities, to carry out his plans for world conquest.  One amnesiac soldier, Terra, escapes, and joins a motley resistance headed by a thief…sorry, treasure hunter Locke; a kung fu student/bodybuilder Sabin; and a king who specializes in building death-dealing tools, Edgar.  Unfortunately, the emperor is betrayed by his own deranged general, Kefka, who triggers the apocalypse and makes himself the mad god of a dying planet, and of course only your party has a slim hope of stopping him and salvaging what’s left of the world.  It’s been more or less forgotten now, but VI really did take the series into a darker direction, and in a way that retained what had made the series great thus far.

One of the things about this game that VI takes from IV and runs with is the idea of a cast that’s diverse in terms of both story and gameplay.  You join forces with a gambler who fights monsters with cards and dice, an abandoned orphan in a vast veld who can learn the abilities of monsters, a little girl who can paint living clones of enemies, an old wizard who can learn monsters’ spells, a female general of the empire condemned as a traitor, a paid assassin with a mysterious past, an honorable knight whose entire kingdom is wiped out by Kefka, a mime who can copy any of its teammates’ powers, a Moogle who can control the weather through dance, and finally…a yeti.  The fact that different characters react to different scenes with their own unique dialogue, and that the post-apocalyptic world is a rare example of open-ended adventuring (for the most part) in a Final Fantasy game, does give the game a bit of replayability you wouldn’t expect.  It achieves the perfect balance between a good story and a solid game;  it gives you a vast world to explore and characters to interact with independently, while at the same time draws you into an unfolding narrative.  Many contemporary video games still try to achieve that balance – and not all succeed, to say the least.

Of course, before there was Cloud and Aries we had Celes and Locke.  It was arguably the first time the series tried at real in-depth character development.  And before players got embarrassed getting emotional over seeing Aries being stabbed to death, there was a mini-game that had Celes pretending to be an opera singer, and the entire opera itself being a metaphor for Celes and Locke’s nascent love affair.  And if that didn’t get you, there’s Celes being left alone in an island in a post-apocalyptic world, believing that she and the old man Cid were the last of the human race, and, depending on the player’s actions, her facing the death of Cid with suicidal despair…

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Ark (1966)

Dodo frustrates Stephen by being clueless to an almost surreal degree, hopping out of the TARDIS without hesitation into a jungle and thinking she can just hop on a bus back to London. The Doctor actually agrees with Dodo – at least insofar as he thinks they actually are still on Earth somewhere. Dodo, who is at least knowledgeable about animals, notes that the jungle is filled with different species from across the world while the Doctor discovers that there is no sky but a metal roof. The mystery unravels when the Doctor and the others are taken to a group of humans by alien beings, the Monoids. They are told that the ship is a futuristic Ark, taking the human race and samples of all its species away from an Earth that’s slowly being destroyed by an expanding sun to a new world much like Earth, a journey that will take 700 years. The Monoids are an alien race that migrated to Earth long ago from their own dying world and “offered” to become servants in exchange for their new home. Most of the human population has been reduced to a microscopic state and placed in stasis until the ship finally arrives at the new planet, while the humans left active are Guardians, who, along with their descendants, are expected to protect the ship. After figuring out the Guardians’ understanding of time, the Doctor deduces that they’ve wound up 10,000,000 years past the twentieth century.

While most of the Guardians are willing to trust the Doctor and the others, things quickly become tense when a cold Dodo has spreads to the Guardians and the Monoids, who have no resistance because the common cold had been wiped out for millennia. When the chief Guardian is struck down by the illness, the deputy chief, Zentos, has the Doctor and the others arrested and puts them on trial. Zentos accuses them of being sent from the planet they are traveling toward, Rathusis, to sabotage the mission. His paranoid arguments win the day and the Doctor and the others are sentenced to be ejected into space. However, the chief Guardian intervenes and, seeing that Steven is also sick, orders that the Doctor be given a chance to cure the illness but only if he uses Steven as his test subject. The Doctor essentially reinvents the flu vaccine, which stops the plague and of course allows the TARDIS crew to leave as heroes.

However, next they end up landing again in the Ark’s jungle. Dodo finds that a statue the Guardians had started when they left, which was intended to portray a human being, instead depicts a Monoid. They determine that they’ve ended up about 700 years from where they left and that the Guardians are now serving the Monoids. Soon enough, they are captured by the Monoids, who explain that there was a revolution. The Monoid leader, believing that the Doctor was the same one who came centuries ago, goes further and tells them that the flu virus mutated and weakened the Guardians enough for the Monoids to take over. The Monoids force the Doctor and Dodo to go as an advance scout to Rathusis, to see if the Rathusians are hostile. Meanwhile a Guardian discovers that the Monoids are planning to destroy the Ark, with the entire human race inside, once they have a chance to leave the ship with their own people. On Rathusis, the Doctor figures out that the Rathusians are incorporeal beings who welcomed human settlement to the point they actually built cities for them. The Monoid keeping the Doctor and Dodo at gun’s length is killed by the Rathusians, who are needless to say unimpressed by the Monoid’s attitude. Although the Rathusians are concerned, the Doctor convinces them to wait a day for a Guardian uprising against the Monoids before they take “defensive measures.”

Back on the Arc, Steven helps head a Guardian effort to find and defuse the bomb. Luckily, a civil war between the Monoids – those who want to stay on Rathusis despite the danger versus those who want to take the Ark and move on – gives the Guardians a chance to discover that the bomb was hidden in the Monoid statue. The Rathusians are able to remove the statue without causing any harm to the Ark itself. Even after all the trouble, the Rathusians still allow the human race and the Monoids to settle the planet, on condition that they make peace. The Doctor agrees, concluding that the Monoid revolt was driven by resentment at how they were treated like servants by the original Guardians. Later, as the TARDIS flies off, the Doctor disappears, even though Steven and Dodo can still hear his voice, and warns, “This is some form of attack!”

Our Future History

According to this serial, the Earth will be destroyed by the expansion of the sun into a red giant sometime around 10,002,000 AD. Current scientific theory instead posits that this will happen 5 billion years from now (I have no idea if the show’s estimation reflected the state of astronomical theory at the time or if it was a misunderstanding by the writers). The 2005 series episode, “The End of the World,” which likewise takes place at the time the Earth is to be consumed by an expanding sun, reconciles itself with contemporary research into stellar life-cycles by having the year stated to be circa 5 billion AD. The inconsistency between not only the years but the two serial’s similar but largely incompatible premises was actually addressed and explained by Paul Cornell, who basically said, “It was the Time War!”

The Guardians hint that there are other times when at least significant numbers of the human race had to evacuate the Earth. Interestingly enough, this can be taken as a “reference” to the plot of “The Ark in Space”, where humanity in the far future has been driven off Earth by massive solar flare activity, as well as the 2005 series episode “The Beast Below,” which is centered around a similar (and possibly the very same) event as “The Ark in Space.”

They also refer to something called the “Primal War”, during which a great deal of past scientific history was lost.

Continuity Notes

The idea that the Doctor and the others can transmit foreign diseases to other planets and times is brought up, but dismissed fairly quickly without explaining why it shouldn’t have been a concern in the past – or much of a concern in the future.

I’d also argue that this is the first serial that hints that the TARDIS isn’t teleporting at random at all, but is deliberately leading the Doctor to times and places in need of intervention, which has always been my pet theory (and finally spelled out in the 2005 series’ episode “The Doctor’s Wife”!).

Comments

Maybe it’s just the contrarian in me, but unlike seemingly every other Whovian familiar with the First Doctor era, I kind of like Dodo, especially the fact that she spends most of this serial wearing a medieval tunic absconded from the Doctor’s wardrobe. I have to admit I have a soft spot for ridiculously absent-minded characters, being a ridiculously absent-minded character myself, and I would argue in a court of law that the scenes of her reacting to the TARDIS and what it does with a perfect lack of comprehension are actually amusing. Still, even I have to admit that the problem with her is clear, that she’s basically a comic relief character shoved into a starring role. Also it’s a little too obvious that she’s an attempt to make the show appeal to the mod generation, which I can only guess would make her much more grating if I was even halfway familiar with the slang she constantly uses (incidentally, would this make her the Poochie of “Doctor Who”?). On that note, maybe this is me being much too fannish again, but I can’t be the only one who thinks it was out of character for the Doctor to constantly complain about and be so prudish about Dodo’s slang. This is the Doctor who freely admitted to being a Beatles fan, after all…

As for the serial itself, it has a good, fresh premise, both in the Doctor and the companions facing some very nasty consequences from unlimited space-time travel (even if the long-term implications are brushed aside in basically a three-sentence conversation) and in the TARDIS’ crew getting to see how events they helped trigger unfold. The problem is that it actually might have been a better, or at least more unique, serial if we had only the first plot and it had been stretched out to the length of the serial. The second half is basically a recycled version of the plot of “Galaxy 4”: the Doctor encounters tyrannical aliens and gains help from another set of aliens who are at first thought to be hostile but are actually endlessly benevolent (it’s really surprising to see the Doctor happily leave the last survivors of the human and Monoid races in the hands of powerful, bodiless beings who just give him their word that their interests are entirely selfless apart from just seeing bodied creatures running around again; would this have been considered a bit of a plot hole even then or have we become so jaded since 1966?). It all just feels so rote, and while the Doctor gives a speech in the end, pointing out that the Monoids were seeking revenge for the servile status humans had inflicted on them before, it’s too little and too late to inject some complexity and ambiguity into the story.

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Spiritual Warfare, Video Games

Spiritual Warfare Part 3: From Gangland to the ‘Burbs

This game suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks.

Can I leave it at that?  No?  Oh, very well…

Last time, NotLink couldn’t make it past the warehouse area and was punished for walking into a bar (which wasn’t even a bar) by having his “Belt of Truth” taken away and put in the slums, which was apparently an area he was supposed to go to in the first place.  See, this is another way the lack of direction from the game itself is a huge problem.  True, The Legend of Zelda doesn’t give you step-by-step pointers on where to go either, not to the extent that a plot-heavy RPG like a Dragon Quest would anyway, but you are given an indication of what order the game expects you to go places.  Each of Zelda’s labyrinths are numbered like normal video game levels, so you can usually guess if you’re stuck because you don’t have an item you need to progress.  Here, though, you have no idea if you the special items you need.  To be fair, the game will give you a NPC  who tells you that you need something to move forward, but you don’t know that until you’ve already had to fight your way into hostile territory.

Despite needing my “Belt of Truth” back (apparently), I stopped by the suburbs first, or “Houses” as the game calls it.  It was a weird place, where you can run out into the middle of a busy highway and yet getting hit by the cars doesn’t effect your health (really)…

And spraypainters turn the sidewalks different colors…for some reason.  It doesn’t hurt you;  I think it slows you down, but since NotLink moves like he’s got an ice cube up his ass (that’s the opposite of having a fire up your ass, right?) it’s hard to tell.

Oh, and there are ninjas!  Well, actually, since it’s the Suburbs…I mean, “Houses”, I guess they’re supposed to be ski-mask wearing robbers, but I prefer ninjas, dammit.

While I did find yet another area I couldn’t access because I didn’t happen to have the right item, I did get a new and better weapon, the Pomegranate, which in the game represents “love.”  That it does, but in pagan European tradition it represents the sort of love that I don’t think the game’s designers were thinking about…as well as fertility.  Also, in a couple of versions of the Garden of Eden story the fruit that leads to the Fall is a pomegranate.   That brings a whole new dimension to the concept of “forbidden fruit.”

Besides getting the evil fertility fruit that I can whack people in the face with, there was also a church where a true miracle occurred, one that would truly bring faith to even the coldest of hearts.  That’s right;  the game actually gave me a hint about where to go.

While I’m grateful that I finally got some kind of damn direction, this only raises more questions.  Is God telling me to find the “Boots of the Gospel”?  Did the kid just glimpse at the Bible and the passage happened to say that?  If so, does that mean God gave some poor Jewish scribe in ancient Babylon this hint to put in the Bible?  Could the Book of Revelation be an elaborate if confusing FAQ for some future kid who has to go around hitting atheists with pieces of fruits?  So many theological questions…

Also, really, “Boots of the Gospel”?  What comes next – “The Revolver of Easter”?  “The Grappling Hook of the Book of Job”?

Anyway, after finding the church I hit another dead end, so I took off to the slums.   even though I had to go there because of the game programmers’ weird morality, the slums have been the highlight so far.  It looks like someone dropped an atomic bomb on Andy Capp’s home city, and that’s kind of awesome.

Of course, because this is Spiritual Warfare, there are a few things that are distinctly unawesome.  For one thing, NotLink can’t even climb through piles of trash, and you have to blow them up (although sometimes that doesn’t work either).  For another, you get attacked by dogs, and since dogs actually do not go to Heaven you can’t kill-convert (killvert?) them like everything else (the “bombs” don’t work either and, yes, I tried).  The whole slum is so disconcerting even creepy pedophile quiz guy is disturbed:

If the whole “cars not killing a small fleshy boy” counts, I think this brings the Programming Error Count up to two.  That’s high quality by Wisdom Tree standards!

Finally, the slums made me realize that this game’s idea of a “dungeon” is to put you in a room with a number of bombable and pushable obstacles.  I suppose they’re meant to be puzzles, but it always takes about two or three seconds to figure it all out.  Getting through them – especially since most of the time you have to go back through it and all the obstacles respawn – feels like it takes ten years, especially when one has to go through them just to get an item taken away from you.

However, the game did surprise me, and surpass all my very low expectations.  In the slums, you’re warned about a real gang war and soon come across them.  In order to progress, you must carry out a couple of missions, which the programmers made symbolic of the complex social and economic problems facing inner city youth…

Nah, just kidding;  you only whack them with fruit.

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