Three Awesome San Francisco Movie Theaters

Before I moved to San Francisco, I didn’t think I’d have a “favorite” movie theater apart from whichever one had the cheapest student tickets. After all, my college town didn’t have a ton of theaters that weren’t owned by giants like Regal or AMC. After being here just over six months, I’m still happy to catch a flick at one of the multiplexes, but I’ve fallen in love with three small theaters near me. If you’re looking to have a better movie experience in San Francisco, you should definitely try them out.

Sundance Kabuki
I’d never been to a Sundance cinema before I saw From Up on Poppy Hill at Kabuki, but I’ve been coming back ever since. Kabuki has super comfy seating with big armrests, and when you buy your ticket, you reserve a seat at the same time. That means no more trying to beat the crowd into the screening room because everyone has assigned seats anyway. They even have showings later at night that are 21+ only because you can buy alcohol. Haven’t taken advantage of that yet, so I can’t speak to the quality of the cocktails. Kabuki has multiple screens and shows blockbuster films, too.

New People Cinema
I’ve only been to New People a couple of times because their films are usually around for a day or two at most, and tickets sell out quickly. I caught Wolf Children there last year during the Japan Film Festival, and though I did have to get there early to make sure I got a seat, it was worth it. The chairs are comfortable, and since the New People building was built to showcase Japanese culture, they show anime and live action Japanese films. On the ground floor of the New People building, there’s also a cute little place called the Crown & Crumpet, which I recommend for chilling out over some tea.

Clay Theater
I went to this great little indie theater for a midnight screening of Akira. The sound was a bit loud, but hey, the place was run by two people so late at night, so I didn’t mind too much. The seats at Clay are decent, but I think the nicest part of the experience was having the super nice concession guy tell us to wait a few minutes while he made fresh popcorn so we wouldn’t get the last dregs of the previous batch. I don’t know if this is unique to midnight showings or not, but we also didn’t get pelted with advertisements before the film started; they just ran a black and white movie with interesting music over the dialogue and some trippy visualizations. Clay does midnight showings of The Room (Spoons!) and Rocky Horror Picture Show regularly, so I’ll have to check those out. Oh, and they show stuff during the day, too. :)

Did you spot the pattern for these places yet? Well, I found them because I’ll jump at any chance to watch anime on the big screen. I rarely got to do that before moving here, and as an anime fan, it’s awesome to have so many opportunities now.

New People is the only place on this list with a focus on Japanese film. So, if you’re just looking to check out a current film in a great theater, I highly recommend Kabuki. If you want a quirkier indie place that mostly shows older stuff, definitely give the Clay Theater a try.

Visual Novels on Steam

I’ve been on a bit of a visual novel kick for the last…couple of years? Suffice to say, whenever I discovered the genre, it pulled me in pretty effectively, and I’ve been addicted to a happy fan of the things ever since. Unfortunately, a lot of the supposed “best” ones originated in Japan and haven’t been officially translated for English-speaking audiences. I’m not a proponent of pirating something that’s not out of print (even if there is a fan patch for it), so a lot of these have remained out of my reach. Hey, imports are expensive!

Since Aksys released games like 999, Virtue’s Last Reward, Hakuoki, and Sweet Fuse (seriously, love you guys!), however, it seems like all-ages and otome visual novels are gaining some ground among the bigger companies. Jast USA finally got their hands on a license to Steins;Gate, and NIS America is bringing over the Vita version of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. Both are slated come out in the first half of 2014.

But most of those games are on handheld consoles. What if all you have is a computer? At least Steins;Gate is going to come out on PC, but what if you want more visual novels? (And what if you want them sooner than “sometime in 2014″?) You can buy some great VNs online, but you really have to know what you’re looking for already or be willing to do your research, especially if you’re trying to avoid hentai.

Enter Steam.

Honestly, if visual novels are going to take off among the masses, just getting more of them on Steam would be a huge step. It would likely be a pretty good filter, and then the visual novels would be easy to find and buy. There aren’t a ton there right now (heck, there aren’t even a lot of games with visual novel elements on Steam right now), but there are a few, and you should support them if you like this type of game. Some are even going to be on sale for the next several days as part of the winter sale! In any case, here are a few that you can pick up right now that I’d personally recommend.

Analogue: A Hate Story — In this sci-fi story, you’ll play as the pilot of a one-man spacecraft trying to figure out what happened on board a now-derelict generation ship, which was trying to establish a colony on another planet. You’ll interact with a couple of the ship’s artificial intelligence programs, read the logs of the people who lived on board, and try to figure out why they died. Also, be prepared for a serious commentary on pre-20th century Korean society. There’s also a sequel out, called Hate Plus.

Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos — Okay, so I haven’t played this one yet. But! I did play Dischan’s excellent free visual novel, Juniper’s Knot (I believe that one’s only available on iOS), which I’d also highly recommend. So, I’m expecting it to be good. In any case, this one follows a girl named Winter Harrison, who is trying to learn to mediate problems between chaotic worlds. I’m not sure what that means, but I can’t wait to find out!

Long Live the Queen — This probably only barely qualifies as a game with VN elements, but it’s on the list anyway because it’s damned good. If you’re into raising sims or tabletop games, you’re going to love it. The idea is simple: keep young Princess Elodie alive long enough to be crowned queen of her realm. Of course, various rebels, assassins, magic users, and even fantastical monsters lurk around every corner, ready to end Elodie’s life. Teach her the skills she needs to survive, or die an adorable, pink, chibified death.

If those aren’t enough for you, then head over to Steam Greenlight and vote to get some more visual novels in the store. Long Live the Queen and Dysfunctional Systems are actually recent Greenlight success stories, too. Here are others some you might consider voting for:

Backstage Pass — If you like otome games, then first go download and play Re:Alistair++, and you’ll know why you should vote for this. It’s not available yet outside Steam, but Sakevisual definitely knows how to put together an amusing story, so it has my vote already.

 

Higurashi When They Cry — This one is a classic supernatural murder mystery/horror tale from Japan. You might have even seen the anime already! It’s been translated and you can actually buy it from places like JList and Mangagamer, but really, this thing needs to be on Steam.

 

Flower Shop: Winter in Fairbrook & Summer in Fairbrook — Okay, so this is another romance game. But it’s also a rather addicting farming sim. I’ve only played Winter in Fairbook, but that one had a super cute story and nice art. Hey, Ayu Sakata of Sakevisual wrote the stories for these too, so I’d expect no less. They’re already available through Winter Wolves’ site and on Android. But we’re talking about bringing a whole genre to mainstream gamers here.

Welp, hope you enjoyed this little list, and I hope you’ll check out some of these visual novels. If you’re already a fan of this sort of game, what are some of your favorites?

Starting a San Francisco Nintendo Meetup Group!

When I was still in the good old college town of Gainesville, FL, I was part of a sweet Nintendo group. The regional Nintendo rep there is an awesome lady. She would let us know when she’d be in town for demos, and we’d all go meet her at the game store for freebies and hangout time. And StreetPasses…lots of StreetPasses.

Of course, we also got together for non-demo hangouts, too. A bunch of us that went to the Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses concert in Orlando wound up meeting for dinner beforehand, for example. We were also regulars at the food court in the local mall, though I don’t know how the other patrons felt about a bunch of geeks playing 3DS games and hogging a few tables. (Hey, we’d buy food, too, so we weren’t just loitering!)

That’s all to say, I’ve missed my Nintendo group since moving to San Francisco. Believe it or not, it’s still hard to find people to StreetPass here, and I don’t know that many gamers personally in SF as it is. When I get a Wii U, I also want to have people to play Nintendo Land, Mario Kart, etc. with. (Seriously, Nintendo Land is so much fun with a full complement of players, especially when a party atmosphere is involved. It turns into “Chase Me!” pretty quickly. If you already know about “Chase Me!” then why the heck didn’t you tell me you were reading my blog?)

Supposedly, there is such a group in SF already, according to the StreetPass Network, but I checked it out and it really hasn’t done anything for a while. Posted to their Facebook page, and I never got an answer…except from others wondering if they were having any events.

So, in the interest of meeting geeks, making friends, and (in all honesty) figuring out who in this town uses StreetPass, I’ve started up a Nintendo group on Meetup. Enter the SF Bay Area Nintendo Network! (And yes, I’m aware that’s a long, long name.)

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We all put our 3DSes in a circle and took a picture at our first meetup, so I turned that into a logo for now.

I’m in touch with our Nintendo rep, and I’m trying to make sure I know when he’s demoing stuff so I can spread the word to folks who are interested. Meanwhile, we had a great inaugural hangout day earlier this month in Japantown, and we’ve got some other Meetups planned before the end of August.

Everyone really seemed to have fun at that first Meetup, which is encouraging. I have this thing about creating communities wherever I go; it’s really important to me. Throwing anime parties back in Florida was always so much fun, and I’d like to think I actually helped a lot of other geeks connect. Hopefully, I can make that happen here in SF with the gamers in this group.

One thing I’m really trying to figure out is how we can have multiplayer console gaming sessions in public spaces. It’s easy to just get a bunch of people together to play 3DS games–just find a food court or park and start playing. But not everyone has a 3DS, so I want to find places that will let me set up a console and a TV (or just a console, if they have a TV) so we can play Smash Bros. and other stuff.

In any case, it’s great to be connecting with other gamers in the area, and I’m excited to be heading up this group. If you happen to live in or around SF and want to meet some other folks who like Nintendo games, check us out!

The True Ending of Persona 4 Kinda Stinks

In case the title didn’t give it away, spoilers! If for some reason you’re as late to the Persona franchise as I am, here’s a picture of a Junes Bomber for your trouble–now go read some other post. :)

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I guess this is a thing that I do when a video game ending leaves a bad taste in my mouth somehow. At least, I had to jump on here and rant at the end of FFXIII-2, and now I’m doing it again, though I’m not really ranting this time. I’m not even really upset about this one; just a bit disappointed.

Anyway. I’ve been thinking about this off and on since I finished Persona 4 Golden a few weeks ago, and the more I ponder, the more I feel like the so-called “true ending” to P4 is just annoying.

Note: Bear in mind as you read that I finished my first playthrough of P4G without doing any of the new social links. So I saved Marie’s social link for NG+, which I still haven’t done yet.

In case you didn’t know already, P4 has two “good” endings, but only one is the “true” ending. That’s fine, I guess. But you actually have to go out of your way to find the “true” ending, and if you don’t know it’s there at all, you probably won’t even be able to guess that it exists.

In the normal ending, after you solve the murder mystery and go confront Adachi in Magatsu Inaba, you face what you’d probably think is the final boss for the game: Ameno-sagiri, Adachi’s shadow and a creature that controlled the detective to try to cover the world with fog, reflecting mankind’s desire to hide from the truth. The whole game had a theme of “reaching out to the truth” (heck, it’s in the name of the main battle theme), so that’s not so surprising. Ultimately, you clobber the thing, it decides to lay off, Adachi gets arrested for murder, and everything goes back to normal. You can spend some time running around to finish up social links, and finally, your last day in Inaba approaches.

On that last fateful day, you can run around and say your last farewells to your social link buddies, all set to some poignant music. Once you’ve spoken to the last person, you are given the option to go back to the Dojima residence to get ready to leave. You’d probably think, “Well, there’s really nothing left to do at this point besides sell off my weapons and stuff for NG+ money, so I’ll just do that and then go home.” Cue animated cutscene, lots of feels of not wanting to leave Inaba, and credits with awesome music.

However, if you go straight home after talking to all your social links, you’re missing out on the game’s final dungeon. You can actually go back to Junes and call the Investigation Team back together. If you do that, everyone will suddenly realize they still have no clue what was really happening throughout this case. Why did the protagonist, Adachi, and Namatame have the power to enter the TV in the first place? What created the Midnight Channel? Just what is the world inside the TV? What if something goes crazy again and tries to release the fog?

Time to split up again, gang! That’s right, you’re back on the case to figure out…stuff…Oh, all right, let’s just play along.

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My sentiments exactly, Chie. To this image, and to the true ending.

In case you don’t remember that creepy gas station attendant from way back at the beginning of the game, apparently she’s Izanami, the game’s true antagonist. She awakened the power to invoke a persona in the MC, Adachi, and Namatame…as an experiment. She wants to bring happiness to mankind, and somehow, she decided that humans want nothing more than to escape the truth, so now she wants to turn the whole world into mindless shadows. Of course, MC isn’t having any of that BS, so after losing all his friends and getting dragged into the underworld, he gets some power from his social links, summons a souped up Izanagi, and blasts Izanami’s true form with one last attack.

I’m Izanami! I’m going to turn the whole world into a bunch of shadows. Problem? Oh, you don’t want that? But…cousin Nyx said…oh, oh well. Just defeat me and I’ll leave you alone.

I was worried at this point that the game was going to rehash all of the ending to Persona 3, but at least it didn’t go quite that far. After you defeat Izanami, everything pretty much plays out the way it did at the end of the normal ending. Cue cutscene, feels, and credits.

The whole thing really did feel like a last ditch effort to make the plot more “epic” than it needed to be. Sure, the team in P3 saved the entire world from Nyx, and sure, it made huge statement about people not wanting to accept responsibility for anything, but would it have been so bad for P4 to just be about saving Inaba? All of P4 is so much more light-hearted and focused on the character arcs that I would never have asked it to take itself more seriously. I promise.

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Besides, there’s no way I could take it any more seriously after stuff like this.

If it was all for the sake of a plot twist, then that’s almost worse. I’ve never been a fan of throwing in a “true” antagonist right smack at the end of any story, video game or otherwise, unless the writers do it well. In this case, it feels random and unplanned, and it really doesn’t fit into the plot. It’s just jarring.

It’s also just kind of disappointing that you’ll never know the true nature of the TV world unless you randomly decide to go to Junes instead of ending the game. Turns out, the whole place really is a reflection of human hearts, and it’s actually quite a beautiful sight to behold when Izanami’s rotten personality isn’t stinking up the place with fog and crazy shadows. Turns out there’s some hope for all of us after all, if a place that nice can exist within us.

I guess I can try to play devil’s advocate to myself here…If you think about it, the true ending (at least, the new info about the world and the extra dungeon, minus all the Inazami silliness) could be a reward for the people who, like the MC, don’t want to leave Inaba. Maybe you want to get one last look at all the locations in the game because you got attached, so you go back to Junes along the way, and that’s how you’re supposed to discover it. Then, it might be a pleasant surprise to find that there’s more gameplay to be had, more personas to pick up, and more time to spend with the Investigation Team.

Admittedly, more dungeon time is nice, because at least in P4G, it means more funny costume quotes from the team.

Admittedly, more dungeon time is nice, because at least in P4G, it means more funny costume quotes from the team.

You could also say that in the normal ending, the team is just confirming Izanami’s idea that people don’t want the truth by not seeking out all of the answers behind the case…

Eh. Naaaah. I still think it’s a pointless ending that feels tacked on for no good reason other than trying to make the plot have a global scale again. What about you?

(All that said, holy crap I love this game so much! So good! Started NG+ right away, which is how I found out about the true end while I was looking at a guide. Secret cheevos people. Cheeeeev-ohhhhs! ;))

Road Trips Are Awesome

Seriously, they are. And I’m someone who loathes driving. It turns out that all I hate is driving on city streets. (I use the term loosely; it’s not like Gainesville is really a city, but I do know I’d hate driving in SF.) Driving down the highway can be pretty amazing, though.

When the BF and I moved from Gainesville, FL, to San Francisco, CA, we took 1-10 west all the way through Texas. We stopped in San Antonio along the way to see the Alamo and eat some tasty, tasty roadside barbecue. The barbecue place was just this random little gas station restaurant with a smoker out back, run by a guy with a cowboy hat and a handlebar mustache. If you’ve never stopped at a place like that, you’re missing out on a valuable life experience in the form of an amazing pulled pork sandwich.

If you see this place at an exit after San Antonio, just eat there.

If you see this place at an exit after San Antonio, just eat there.

After Texas, we stopped in New Mexico to see the Carlsbad Caverns; I highly recommend that national park to anyone who can even remotely appreciate cave formations. It’s the prettiest cave system I’ve even seen. We drove north to Roswell next, but unfortunately, the UFO museum was closed down by the time we got there, along with the rest of the town. There weren’t even any funky alien gift shops open! It was a shame, but at least we managed to snag an alien coffee mug at a gas station up the road.

Next we spent a few days in Arizona, a state I’ve decided that I love. The Painted Desert and the Grand Canyon were stunning, and Flagstaff was a great mountain town. The only downside was that we got to the Grand Canyon on Memorial Day weekend. It was packed to the brim with tourists. Without the canyon, I would have thought we were in Disneyland instead.

The Grand Canyon, in all its majesty. I'm not the best photographer ever, but hopefully you get the general idea.

The Grand Canyon, in all its majesty. I’m not the best photographer ever, but hopefully you get the general idea.

When we made it to California, we actually had to drive through an inspection point for the first time the whole trip. It was weird, but they didn’t actually search our car, so it wasn’t bad. I guess we didn’t have the agricultural parasites they were looking for?

We didn’t linger in southern California, and we ultimately finished the trip within a little over a week. Along the road, though, we saw some incredible sights. Watching the landscape change was one of the most interesting parts of the journey. We went from the lush, flat southeast to scrubby but hilly areas in Texas. Then, we moved into the arid desert, complete with dust spouts and tumbleweeds. (For some reason, I was giddy with excitement at seeing my first tumbleweed. It just really felt like we were in the desert then!)

Once we got into northern New Mexico, we found ourselves in the mountains, and the mountains stuck with us all the way to San Francisco. The mountains have always been one of my favorite things about California, and now I live in a city where I can see them pretty much any time. :)

Me after every visit I’ve ever made to California.

This journey wasn’t just awesome because of the scenery, though. I also learned a lot. For example:

  • Road trips don’t take as much planning as you’d expect. Apart from arranging to have the rest of our stuff moved, all we really did was pile into the car and drive. We didn’t even plan out our hotels beyond knowing we needed to stay somewhere that allowed pets.
  • Speaking of pets, a cat can actually be a great road trip buddy. Our kitty, Annika, was wonderful, and we never even had to put her in the pet carrier. She spent most of her time in someone’s lap or laying on top of our pile of stuff in the back seat.
  • Snapple Apple is hard to find, even outside the south, so if you see it along the way, buy it. (That stuff is addicting and tasty!)
  • You can get sunburned while driving if the sun hits you through the window long enough. So, kids, always wear your sun screen!
  • Keeping a captain’s log of the trip (times when significant things happened, your impressions of events, etc.) can leave you with something amusing to read later.
  • Taking pictures of yourself and making them look cool is tough. Fortunately, some people will be nice enough to help you out and take the photo for you.
  • Having the right company on a long trip makes all the difference.
Our kitty found lots of cozy places to snooze in the car along the road.

Our kitty found lots of cozy places to snooze in the car along the road.

Whoever said that it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts, must have loved road trips. This was only my first one, but I’d like to try another. Perhaps I’d want to try traveling a shorter distance, though, and take along a third driver. A whirlwind week on the road was exhausting.

As much as I enjoyed the trip, I am definitely glad to be in San Francisco. It’s an awesome city; now, it’s my city, too. I’m happy to call it home, and I can’t wait to find lots of nerdy things to do. (If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave ‘em in the comments!)