Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber

So, the semester is well underway, you have a heavy load of coursework to do, a full time job, a blog you need to update, a woman you’re attempting to woo, a library to volunteer at, all in addition to the normal errands and chores and unforeseen tasks to do. It’s a lot, so how do you deal with so much work? Obviously, you dive into the sprawling 40+ hour campaign of Ogre Battle 64: Person of the Lordly Caliber, the best game of its era and, for me, the best of any era – with one massive, almost game-wrecking caveat, which we’ll get to shortly.

I’ve touched on the Ogre Battle franchise a couple times previously in talking about the two Tactics Ogre spin-off games, Let Us Cling Together and The Knight of Lodis. In those reviews, though, I mentioned that I preferred the gameplay of the main series. It’s an RPG/Strategy hybrid, where the player forms units of highly customisable characters and in each stage uses them to capture strongholds and beat an enemy boss character, then repeat the process in the next stage. The overall flow of each mission isn’t terribly different from many strategy games, but what makes it interesting is the interaction between two levels of army customisation in the characters and units they’re part of. There are a few dozen character classes to choose from, each of which can equip different items and grow in experience like most RPGs, but in addition to this one must consider how each character complements others in the same unit, and how those combinations fare against different enemy formations. Though it is possible to build just a few super-units and overpower everything, it is, of course, most satisfying to play the intended way, and the mechanics give the game a lot of replay value despite its length (my last play-through took about forty-three hours, without doing much in the way of side-quests).…

Read More Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber

Confession Made Easy

There are two ways to make something “easy.” One is to provide a brief overview of a subject, the other is to cover every aspect of it so that the student has no questions left by the end. Fr. Fructosus Hockenmaier takes the latter approach in his 696-page Confession Made Easy.

Despite its intimidating length, Fr. Hockenmaier’s book does, in fact, make things easy by explaining the Sacrament of Confession in layman’s terms, and giving his book a practical focus. He begins by providing some reasons to attend Confession regularly, answers some common objections, cautioning against scrupulosity (which a book of this kind could easily engender), explaining the difference between mortal and venial sins, going through the Decalogue and Seven Deady Sins, and finally discussing how to approach the Sacrament itself. In the final part of the book he provides many prayers and devotions.

Now, Fr. Hockenmaier assumes that his reader is already Catholic, so he does not provide an apologia for the Sacrament, nor does he spend a lot of time discussing the theology of it. For example, some of the objections to frequent Confession he answers are simply excuses that people use for not going, such as not having time, having nothing to confess, or being too embarrassed by one’s sins. Of his explanations and advice, only a few illustrations are needed. From his discussion of Sixth and Ninth Commandments:

It is with this sin as with sin in general that the principle “Beware of the first step” is to be applied. For in matters of holy purity one most easily falls into mortal sin, from seeking the danger. No sin so quickly begets an intense habit as the sin of impurity, a habit which is often found to be incurable.

Confession Made Easy received its imprimatur in 1910, and one can tell that it’s an old-school Catholic book by the seriousness and clarity of passages like the above. One problem that many Catholics seem to have is not only recognising what things are sinful, but what are not. The vice of the 21st Century is indifference to or denial of sin, but there are those who run to the opposite extreme of scrupulosity, or sometimes just uncertainty. For example, while offering instruction in how to distinguish mortal and venial sin, Fr. Hockenmaier says this:

The same is to be said of persons who suffer from involuntary thoughts and illusions. What are illusions? They are representations to the mind, originating from bodily ills, especially nervous diseases, and such illusions are forced upon the minds of such persons, altogether against their will, now for a short time, now for a longer period. They should remember that no thoughts or illusions can be sins, when they do not invite such thoughts or illusions.

What about cases when we aren’t sure if something is sinful or not? In such cases, Fr. Hockenmaier repeats many times to consult with one’s confessor.

Such a long book represents a significant time investment, so is Confession Made Easy worth the effort of reading, or is a pamphlet as one often finds online or laid out near a church’s confessional sufficient? For those who are well catechised, having a good guide for an examination of conscience is probably enough. For those who did not have the fortune of a good religious education, though, or who simply want as thorough a guide as possible, Fr. Hockenmaier is excellent. Though not everyone needs it, Confession Made Easy accomplishes its task perfectly.…

Read More Confession Made Easy

The King of Sports

The biggest surprise I’ve ever given my parents was last year when I told them that I was getting into professional wrestling. My online presence here and on Twitter reflects my real-life interests and hobbies closely, and as you can tell from a scan of my article and review index most of what I read and watch leans toward high culture. I’ll dip into popular culture with things like Devilman now and then, but overall I’m more likely to be reading French poetry or something. I have little interest in sports generally, and most guys who are into wrestling started watching when they were young. I remember several friends in middle school talking about it, but I had little interest. So what happened?

Well, over the last few years I’ve noticed that a lot of people in my Twitter circles are into wrestling. Though hardly as visible as the Anime Right, Right-wing Pro Wrestling Twitter is surprisingly big even if its members tend to mask their power level. I had a few friends in particular who enjoyed it and when they gave an open invitation to watch an upcoming NXT event I figured I’d see what it’s all about. Needless to say, I enjoyed it, watched a few recommended matches from yesteryear, joined in with almost every group-watch this group of friends has done since, and eventually subscribed to NJPW’s (New Japan Pro Wrestling) online streaming service.

It’s sometimes difficult to explain why we enjoy the things we do, but for pro wrestling I can point to a few things. A big one is the social aspect, which is largely what got me to watch that first event. It’s fun watching something with friends and talking about a shared hobby. As for the wrestling itself, I love the athletic performance. Yes, it’s scripted, but so are most things on TV so who cares. These guys are doing incredible things in the ring and it’s great fun to watch.…

Read More The King of Sports

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore’s “Rendez-Vous”

For the sake of both practising my French and reading something I’m interested in, I’ve started reading through a book straightforwardly titled French Poetry of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Elliott M. Grant and first published in 1932 (my copy is a 1950 reprint). I haven’t worked through much of it yet, but I have a learned a few things about French poetry generally and now know a couple fine poets I hadn’t previously even been aware of.

One of those is Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, an actress who had a pair of intense but short-lived romances early in her life, which inspired some of her poems, before settling down with Mr. Valmore, another actor. Her first poems were published in 1813, with the poem below, “Le Rendez-vous,” appearing in 1825.…

Read More Marceline Desbordes-Valmore’s “Rendez-Vous”

The Happy Game of Mahjong

It’s hard to remember, but I’m pretty sure I first learned about mahjong (not mahjong solitaire) in the same way I’ve learned about most things in my life, Japanese cartoons. It looked interesting so when I saw a mahjong set for sale at a Half Price Books years ago I went ahead and bought it, got a book on mahjong, and never learned how to play. I didn’t know anyone who played and the mahjong software selection is bad enough now and was even worse then.

My interest was rekindled a few months ago after playing gin rummy for a while and one of my Twitter friends mentioned that he’d learned the basics of mahjong by thinking of it as essentially a rummy game. After all, the premise is that you’re forming tiles into sets, either sequences (e.g., 1-2-3 of the same suit) or three or four of a kind to form a winning hand. I re-read my book, managed to find a decent mahjong iOS app to practice with, and even found a group in my area to play with IRL.

Read More The Happy Game of Mahjong

What’s the News, Where ya Been?

Yes, there is wind left in my soul, though I am growing old. If you’re wondering about the lack of updates, it comes down to what I talked about last May. I’m working full time, going to grad school part-time, and through May had an internship at a local library, as well, and am still volunteering there once per week. Of course, I also have hobbies outside of blogging that I enjoy keeping up with.

Frankly, I also haven’t had as much to write about recently. Most of the books and movies I’ve watched over the past few months have been James Bond material, which I don’t have a lot to say about though I may do a write-up on my take on the series so far. I’ve also been playing mahjong and watching wrestling and I don’t have the experience and expertise to turn this into a mahjong or wrestling blog, though I’ll likely write a little about them at some point.

So what to do? My idea is to do a short write-up for each of these things I have been doing, but my only reservation is that for years now this has been a review blog, and this move would basically turn it into The Pillow Blog of Cheshire_Ocelot, something of a personal journal. That would be a sharp turn in subject matter, but it’s either that or not having any updates at all for a long while. So, we’ll see how it goes.

Read More What’s the News, Where ya Been?

Moby Dick: The Picture Book

‘Of course’, said Queequeg. ‘Man want to die, nothing can save him. Man want to live, only God can kill him – or whale or storm, maybe’.

Recently, while shelving books in my library’s children’s section, I noticed a picture book with an especially striking cover and was somewhat surprised to see the title, Moby Dick. Herman Melville’s Great American Novel is hardly something I expected to find on the kid’s fiction shelves, but I was curious about how it would be adapted so I checked it out.

Read More Moby Dick: The Picture Book

Dante: The Story of his Life

I like to style myself a literary omnivore, but one genre I’ll admit I seldom touch is biography. I’ve read one on Robert E. Lee, and back in high school and college I read some biographies of various rock bands, but I preferred those that focused primarily on their music and secondarily on the musicians’ personal lives. A recent review, of The Printed Homer, included some biographical speculation, but ultimately one can’t really write a biography of a man about whom we know so little for certain that we’re not even sure if he was one dude or multiple dudes.

Marco Santagata stands on firmer ground in his biography of Dante Alighieri (translated from Italian by Richard Dixon), titled simply Dante: The Story of His Life, though he did run into some difficulties of his own. Typically I like to start reviews on a positive note, but any biography of Dante will have two significant problems to deal with, and though Santagata’s book is quite good overall one does need to be aware of them.

First, Dante’s life is inextricably tied up with Florentine politics. Readers of his Divine Comedy will undoubtedly have noticed how many contemporary political figures appear, and multiple works after La Vita Nuova, such as Convivio and Monarchia, at least touch on political theory or practice in some way. This means that a huge portion of Santagata’s book is spent discussing the ins and outs of Florentine political theatre and that of Italy more broadly. For those keenly interested in Italian history or who are just political junkies this won’t be a problem at all, but anyone expecting a sort of “real life novel” style of biography will find themselves skimming pages at a time of explanations of shifting alliances, ideologies, and political manoeuvring.

Read More Dante: The Story of his Life

Go Nagai’s Devilman

Go Nagai has long been an artist I’ve been aware of and was interested in perhaps checking out someday, but I only got around to doing so recently. My interest was piqued last year when I watched Yuasa Masaaki’s anime adaptation of Nagai’s comic Devilman, titled Devilman Crybaby. Yuasa is always excellent and this anime was no exception, and as soon as I saw that Seven Seas had published the first half of the original in an omnibus edition I picked it up right away. They released the second and final omnibus late last year and I recently finished it and, though it’s been a while since I last reviewed a comic, I figured I’d share a few thoughts about it.

The protagonist is high schooler Fudo Akira, who isn’t exactly a wimp but definitely doesn’t have much backbone. His friend, rich genius Ryo, asks for his help with something and takes him to a rave crazier than a Chick tract, where crap happens and he ends up merging with a demon, making him part-devil and part-man, Devilman. So, now that he has awesome powers (and a far more aggressive personality) Ryo explains that demons are roaming the earth seeking to destroy humanity, and asks for his help in stopping them. Those who’ve seen Crybaby will know what’s up, and those who are new to Devilman are in for a hell of a ride. As one may expect from only two omnibus volumes, the story is short and keeps up a brisk pace throughout. The first 2/3 or so is more-or-less episodic, with most chapters using action scenes to nudge the plot forward, though a handful of time-travel themed chapters are, frankly, just filler and Crybaby was right to exclude them. The last third is by far the most intense, with betrayals, characters dying left-and-right, and leading up to a contender for the bleakest ending I’ve ever seen in a work of fiction.…

Read More Go Nagai’s Devilman

The Printed Homer: A 3000 Year Publishing and Translation History of the Iliad and the Odyssey

Philip H. Young’s The Printed Homer: A 3000 Year Publishing and Translation History of the Iliad and the Odyssey is an odd book to recommend to laymen because about half of it will be useful only to a very focused class of specialists. The other half, though, is of interest to any Classicist, professional or amateur, and is enough to justify buying the whole package.

The specialist half can be dealt with very briefly. Young has compiled a comprehensive list of every known printing of Homer’s works (including those spuriously attributed to him, such as the Hymns) from the first example in 1470 to 2000. It’s an impressive undertaking and I’m sure it’s very helpful for historians who specifically study historical interest in and treatment of the Homeric texts. For laymen such as myself, though, I find it hard to imagine a plausible scenario where this part of the book might be useful.

The rest of the book, though, discusses a range of material that I found fascinating and enlightening as an introduction to the Homeric Question, how the texts were created and transmitted, and how Homer was received, interpreted, and admired from ancient Greece to modernity, as well as Young’s own defense of why Homer is worth studying. I’ll just give a sample of each chapter.…

Read More The Printed Homer: A 3000 Year Publishing and Translation History of the Iliad and the Odyssey