Fire Emblem: Awakening, Pokémon LeafGreen, and the Unfortunate Consequence of Playing Better Games

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In major parts of November and December, I played through and thoroughly enjoyed Pokémon Platinum, which was particularly surprising considering I didn’t think I liked the fourth generation of Pokémon. Upon its release roughly seven months ago, Fire Emblem: Three Houses destroyed my social life and ended up being my 2019 GOTY. Both would have a profound impact on my experience playing games from their respective franchises that came before: Fire Emblem: Awakening and Pokémon LeafGreen, both of which I had previously completed and enjoyed. Said impact, unfortunately, did not end up positive. Continue reading “Fire Emblem: Awakening, Pokémon LeafGreen, and the Unfortunate Consequence of Playing Better Games”

Entry #14: Ghost Stories (English Dub) (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended, once again, by this cheeky bastard.)

The story is infamous, but I’ll go over it for anyone unaware. In 2005, ADV Films acquired the rights to make an English dub of Ghost Stories, a harmless, episodic anime involving kids encountering ghosts in their daily lives. Instead of taking what was already there and translating it, ADV decided to write a completely different script, only retaining basic storylines and the characters’ names. The end result became something of a tall tale, as nothing has ever been done like it since, despite positive impressions from “fans.” In the end, the Ghost Stories English dub became known for its abrupt vulgarity, offensiveness, and constant references to pop culture. Allow me to share some lines one can expect when diving in:

“Imagine a black guy chasing you!”

“[Talking to a young boy] You shouldn’t be worried about drag queens. Watch out for priests.”

“When a girl bunny and a boy bunny love each other, the boy bunny sticks his penis into the girl bunny’s vagina. Then the girl bunny acts like she owns the penis.”

“[Incoherent screaming]”

Admittedly, Ghost Stories has made me laugh more and harder than any anime I have ever seen. It is precisely because the humor is by no means “anime” that it has managed to do so. That’s actually pretty sad. At the same time, it becomes difficult to really rate this when the original form has been changed so drastically, but still has some semblance of his former self sticking through. On one hand, I could rate this as a comedy, but then what about the anime’s serious attempts at family bonding and the threat of each episode’s ghost(s)? I can’t take that seriously. I could rate it as an episodic series, but the comedy ends up taking out all the context and one can only use established clichés to fill in the void. With my hands tied, I can only go with what I feel is stronger of the two, which is obviously the comedy, while still stringing along what it shows outside of it.

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As stated above, this is the funniest anime I’ve ever seen. My preference for humor is a controlled chaos/dark hybrid that’s really hard to find, but Ghost Stories does it fairly well. Never was there a dull moment (outside of the serious moments) when each character were allowed lines to vocalize. They also did a phenomenal job of making clever inputs about what was originally shown and how they had to sacrifice the translation for the sake of making sense. Almost as though the English translation really were the true form, but in an amateur-ish style that’s campy fun. Though, when the anime turns to its darker scenes, the comedy runs dry and the audience has no reason to care anymore. Some episodes have less of these scenes than others, with the humor feeling a little repetitive in bits, bringing various episodes down to forgettable parody.

Another great is vocal performance. Indeed, one of the few anime I can praise the voice acting is when the voices are English. Irony is funny. Each of the main characters, and even one-off characters, have a great control of their vocal roles and what they wish to convey within the context of their character’s stereotype. A whiny, high-pitched Jewish stereotype, a calm, soft-spoken Christian stereotype, the rowdy, aloof playboy, and the ordinary tomboy. Oh, and of course, the shrieking terror of the five-year-old crybaby. These voices will forever be embedded into my soul, and not just for what they say, but how they say it.

Everything else is forgettable. And that’s the major issue with the work. The comedy is typically good, if not great, and the vocal performances are just as well. Everything else, however, is mediocre, or not even taken into consideration. Characters are whatever, art is whatever, plot is whatever—lots of whatever. The only thing that sticks is the presentation of comedy. And if one can adore this series simply from that, so be it. For me, I need something a little more, something that’ll tie it all together, so that by the end, I feel as though I worked off some calories rather than held my breath for three hours. A worthwhile experience one, maybe two times around, but nothing more.

Personal Score: B-

Critical Score: C-

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Review

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The Shantae series is one that has recently gained steam among the gaming community as a quality franchise of spectacular platformers. This was shown by the development of their most recent game, funded almost entirely on Kickstarter, amassing around $750,000. With three years and nearly a million dollars, WayForward was tasked to make a proper sequel to the acclaimed Pirate’s Curse, and for a while, the hype leading up to the game’s release (following a three month delay) seemed to encourage something spectacular in the making. Its release marked a pivotal moment in the franchise’s history, establishing itself as a potential powerhouse with four games—and likely more coming—under its belt. It’s been a long time coming for Shantae, but its late season renaissance is as magical a run as one would expect from a half-genie hero.

Half-Genie Hero does little to deviate from traditional formula within the franchise. Shantae wakes up to encounter an ominous conflict. Risky Boots stirs up trouble and leaves Shantae with the brunt of the blame from the town’s goofy mayor. Adventures ensue with key items to find scattered around the land. It’s a game that reuses and enhances the experiences that made the Shantae franchise what it is and rolls with it. That in mind, it’s simple to its very core, whether in regards to story, characters, or artwork, as all are fairly straightforward and easy to register. It’s almost disappointing to see so much change with the transition from in-game spritework to fully-blown drawn animations without much regard for any other aspect of the game. Still, one could say that the results are within the level of enjoyability that made the Shantae series as lovable as they are.

Upon loading the game, what becomes immediately apparent is the extravagantly minimalist art design. Gone are the sprites that made the game so deliciously retro. Half-Genie Hero exerts a fashion sense that speaks to modern times with its near chibi-like, colorful cast. Eyes are long and pointed, color is hued to the most vibrant of hues, and every character gets an HD-esque upgrade from previous games. It’s definitely a stark change for veteran players, but newcomers will likely prefer the change and find it hard to go back to the spritework (shame as that may be). Aside from characters, the backgrounds and aesthetic environments are all vastly detailed and well-defined within their settings. Back are the “one-type” levels that have a main theme, whether it be “swamp level” or “spooky level.” There is some variety to them, but not much to really distinguish them outside of a single word. A small nitpick, but some sky environments feel a little too “brushstroked.” Clouds feel like a simple sway and swish from a brush. There’s minimalist, then there’s too minimalist. Despite this, the artwork and design are all splendid and very easy to immerse oneself in. It’s the context of it all that makes it feel a little empty.

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It’s a common perception of the most, ahem, “dedicated” critics to identify trends and how they equate to the quality of a specific subject. One trend I’ve found to be quite prevalent (though not necessarily new) is that when something shows to be completely fresh and new in one aspect, the other aspects tend to remain within the realm of their own comfort. This is a nice way of saying that they’re not up to par with the expectations set by the single, extraordinary aspect. With Half-Genie Hero, the art and design of the game takes center stage, awing the crowd with its grandeur. Unfortunately, not everyone is so taken by the outer exteriors and wish for something more ambitious deeply below. Where the art shines and the gleams of radiance bedazzle some, the story, the writing, the level design, the soundtrack, and the character hijinks are all far below the expectations set by Pirate’s Curse.

At first glance, there’s a clear emphasis on making the levels feel more streamline, more left to right (usually) and beginning to end. Almost like games such as Mega Man. While this isn’t necessarily a fault on its own, one might miss the balance of this type of streamline and the exploration of more typical Shantae games from Pirate’s Curse. It makes Half-Genie Hero, in comparison, feel a lot more linear in its progression, something most Metroidvania fans loathe. To re-open this same wound, as past Shantae games allow you to re-explore former areas at your own pace, Half-Genie Hero requires you to go back to previous stages almost immediately after beating the level after it in order to advance the game. Not only is the player pushed back into levels they’ve already played that are still fresh in their mind, but it causes said areas to lose their essence of individuality as they become a dump site for all sorts of things one couldn’t get going through the first time.

The structure of these levels also cause some concern for veteran fans of the series, as there’s almost nothing to them. While the puzzles and the constant use of a number of Shantae’s transformations make the areas easy to maneuver and fun to traverse, there’s so little of it that one could beat it in under ten minutes, should they know what they’re doing. Previous games had overworlds that harbored a theme and played it out to extreme levels, then provided a dungeon that served as the “meat” of the meal. Here, the meat is ripped into tiny pieces and scattered around a single plate. Again, the linearity makes these areas feel too much like levels in a game than environments worth getting immersed in. The constant use of going back to previous levels to grab random items conveniently needed to advance the “plot” is padding at its finest and bumps up the total runtime to twice as much as it probably should. There’s an achievement one can receive on Steam for beating the game within two hours. Two hours.

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There’s this odd phenomenon in writing within this game that a lot of (typically random) characters embellish. The short, quick sentences that serve to prolong the point. Something that’s meant to make a character seem paranoid and somewhat crazy? Kind of like this. Y’know? Always mumbling. Never really saying anything. Whatever and such. Yeah. With an occasional character, it’s fine, but there are a good number of characters (including established characters) that have a bit of this added in for whatever reason. The writing seems to have taken a turn for the quick to add in both the wit and parody present in most games while getting to the point (or prolonging it for comedy). Otherwise, dialogue consists of the one-shot personalities of the characters. Sometimes charming, sometimes not. A far cry from what it was in previous installments, but still enough to satisfy most.

While not usually a large factor to my impressions of a game, the soundtrack for Half-Genie Hero is almost as forgettable as Risky’s Revenge‘s. Only a few tracks really stand out to me, while most serve their purpose for the setting of the environment. There’s an impressive amount of variety in music, however, as the levels change rooms, which gives a lot of music to listen to in general. The sound seems to be a sultry mix of a variety of different instruments, combined with electronic doo-dads and just a touch of dubstep (which I don’t personally care for). Classic themes return in the form of remixes, and there are a large number of new tracks (or other remixes I simply can’t recognize) for new players to listen to. Very few really evoke any tension or weight to a particular area, but its upbeat fashion is sure to get some head bobs out of some.

I realize I’ve been comparing this game to Pirate’s Curse quite a bit, as I feel I should be. Pirate’s Curse established a course for the Shantae series that lit the fire in such a tremendously positive burst that I couldn’t help but feel enthusiastic as to how far they’d take it. Everything just felt right; the characters, the depth of the story, the writing, the structure of the world. Half-Genie Hero struggles in a lot of these areas, however there is one thing in particular that I’ve yet to really address: the gameplay.

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If not for the art, gameplay would be the biggest benefactor of Half-Genie Hero. Controls are tight and fluidly responsive. Controls are mapped to comfortable, attainable locations and everything worked to impressive degrees. Except for hooks. Hooks are evil. Enemies and battling and platforming are all present in the highest quality, along with a variety of different things to do in-between. The difficulty of puzzle-solving is a tad simple, but a few managed to add some genuine thought to the environment of the level. Along with puzzle-solving, the overall difficulty of the game is, again, a tad simple. Bosses aren’t exactly hard to figure out (some are simply susceptible to hammering the attack button), while the only degree of difficulty one could probably have is solving how to collect all the miscellaneous items. Running through each area has its own challenges, but with how short each area is, one likely won’t have a lot of trouble with it. If nothing else, it’s fun. A kind of fun one could have with a large number of games without that lasting impression that a few special games have, unfortunately.

Everything about this installment feels rushed, rushed in the sense that everything is too straightforward and simplistic. The characters only serve specific purposes and little else, the levels are quick, left to right gauntlet runs, and the story is a typical good vs. evil narrative of world-threatening proportions, on top of a treasure hunt. A review I read while editing this post referred to the title as a “Soft reboot,” which I think fits the style of the game well. Though, I wouldn’t call it a “reboot” as much as I’d call it “soft.” It’s similar to that of The Legend of Zelda’s Skyward Sword, a game whose quality is divided among the fanbase for being “too linear” and “sticking too close to the script.” Half-Genie Hero is similar in that regard, as it takes a lot of what made the previous Shantae games great and blends it into a simple, easy format that everyone can be accustomed to. Not everyone will appreciate it, though.

From an objective angle, there isn’t too much about Half-Genie Hero that hampers its quality to horrid status, something that remains fickle to many critics alike. It is the context that makes the game less than meets the eye, as those who have played previous installments know that the game is capable of so much more. These subjective qualms add up to create an asteroid of complaints that drag the game into the depths of mediocrity. With three years and $750,000, WayForward gave birth to a purring kitten; cute and cuddly, but will never obtain the ferocity paved by Pirate’s Curse‘s lion-esque presence.

Final Score: 5.5/10

The rating for this title and more can (eventually) be found on MyVideoGameList.

Quick Thoughts on Hazuki Kanon wa Amakunai.

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After reeling over the fact that Sekitou Elergy will likely never see a finished translation in the future, I beckoned myself to quest for something—anything—of similar value. What does Sekitou Elergy have that sets it apart? Of course! A delinquent girl! With a strangely fierce determination, I scoured MyAnimeList for a manga that featured a delinquent girl and a decent number of chapters. Not overwhelming, mind you, just decent enough to quench my thirst for cuties with a bite. It was here that I found a bit of an odd premise, a premise that would lead me into reading a manga called Hazuki Kanon wa Amakunai.

It features a delinquent girl, odd characters—one in particular that enjoys filming everything, including sleeping delinquent girls—and a high school setting. The manga cover was cute and it was finished with a chapter count near forty. I was set. For the first twenty-something chapters, I was entranced with the delinquent girl and her misadventures with developing her relationship with others. I found the manga cutesy and sweet and entirely enjoyable, only to have the scanlation stop just three chapters before it ended. Time had passed and my mindset had changed by the time I had gotten back to it. As of last night, I finished the manga in a quick spurt before shoving off for my third-shift job. It was then that I realized something:

This manga is kind of bad.

I should probably chalk it up to my insane desire to fill the void that Sekitou Elergy left me upon reaching the end of its scanlation, but Hazuki Kanon is a pretty bland story with semi-likable characters. It takes advantage of every trope that manga enthusiasts look for in their 100% innocent, totally unperturbed rom-com high school fodder. The term “delinquent” has a lot more meaning than having a gruff attitude and skipping classes and “getting into fights (that are never shown).” If anything, Sekitou Elergy is the only manga I’ve ever read to really get a “delinquent girl” right. All others try to angle them to be a misunderstood, justifiably shut-off pity case who just want a friend/romance. Why can’t delinquents just be cranky and violent for the sake of being cranky and violent, with their caring emotions showing from more than a cute boy greeting them? I suppose the idea of having the main characters being as squeaky-clean as possible is too much to overcome.

The manga is mediocre in almost every aspect; art, humor, character development, and especially story. It’s cliché to the accented “e,” and never shows any interest in setting itself apart, except for perhaps the absurdity of the characters. Then again, a lot of characters in comedies are absurd now. It’s a harmless read, which is the biggest compliment I can give it. If not for Sekitou Elergy (which I feel I’ve brought up more than the actual subject of this post), I would have never read Hazuki Kanon. Whether this is a blessing or a lazy excuse to add more to my completed manga list is up in the air.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

An Ode to “Weird Al” Yankovic

Weird Al Yankovic at arrivals for BAD TEACHER Premiere, The Ziegfeld Theatre, New York, NY June 20, 2011. Photo By: Desiree Nava

Have you ever seen the Transformers animated movie back in the ’80s? The one with Saturday morning cartoon-like animation and the occasional swear word? Do you remember the soundtrack to that film? I do. Aside from Stan Bush’s The Touch, the other song that stuck out from the bunch was Weird Al Yankovic’s Dare To Be Stupid. Which, in hindsight, was a really odd choice for an action-oriented robo-series such as Transformers. I watched Transformers when I was about five or six years-old, and that was the first time I had ever heard a song sung by the infamous Weird Al. It wouldn’t be the last.

Over the course of my life, Weird Al’s name would pop up sporadically in random places. My music classes in elementary school featured a few songs of his. MySpace had his song White & Nerdy playing on just about every person’s profile. Random Youtube browsing had me stumble upon a few more of his songs that I had heard in other places. It seems that Weird Al has creeped up on my life enough times for me to be convinced that he’s stalking me, instead of thinking rationally that he’s quite popular and his influence simply spreads due to his talent as a writer and musician. But I wouldn’t think rationally until the beginning of my teenage years.

Listening to Weird Al’s songs, I really enjoy the range he has with his voice. His normal voice sounds very zany and nasally, insinuating the parody that his music intends. But he has a tendency to surprise me with the way his voice reflects perfectly with the tone of the song (which, admittedly, is typically silly). He can scream, he can rap, he can sing in all sorts of tones. Am I the only one who thinks the incorporation of sound effects in his songs are kinda charming?

Many people who are familiar with Weird Al’s music knows that he tries very hard to be funny. His songs are silly (usually kid-friendly), with breaking expectations as his main tool of choice. Who else do you know that will create ten-minute-plus songs about being stuck in Drive-Thrus and a random day in Albuquerque? Gangsta Paradise becomes Amish Paradise, Beat It becomes Eat It, Another One Bites The Dust becomes Another One Rides The Bus. Making songs about trivial things as if they have any importance at all is how Weird Al plays the game. A game he probably cheats at all the time.

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From Weird Al’s “Trapped In The Drive-Thru” video.

Some of my favorites among his tracks include Trapped In The Drive-ThruThe Alternative PolkaAlbuquerque, The Night Santa Went CrazyWhite & Nerdy, and The Saga Begins. Not a huge fan of Smells Like Nirvana. Thought he played the joke out too long for that one. And that’s kind of the essence of parody: taking a common complaint, flaw, or cliché from a subject and turning it on its head. Weird Al has a tendency to perform this flawlessly, but not always. His use of parody has a keen sense of humor and flair that makes his songs all the more enjoyable, even if his voice can come across as too stark for some.

I think I can relate to Weird Al to some degree because parody remains one of my favorite genres in, well, anything. Comedy, music, movies, video games; all of these things and more I’ll immediately gravitate to as long as there’s a promise of parody to some degree. Even anime/manga tend to have a soft spot within me so long as they’re silly and making fun of others. Maybe I’m just conceited. Maybe. I’ve always been fond of the ways people can parody various things, and Weird Al has been the standard for parodying songs since the ’80s.

A bit short for a post, but there isn’t much more I could say about a guy’s music aside from speaking of the guy himself. And I don’t know the guy. All I know is that he makes some pretty good music. Some of that is borrowed from other classic titles, but I’m willing to excuse it for the sake of parody (and comedy). Mr. Yankovic is still going at the age of 56, and I, for one, am willing to hear what he has to say until he hangs up the accordion for good. And so should you. He’s pretty good.

Thoughts on Excalibur: World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Private Server

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World of Warcraft, at one point, was my favorite pastime on any given day. I had discovered the massive MMORPG back when I was only thirteen years-old upon recommendation from a former friend. By that point, the game was popular, but by no means was it as big as it is today, or was back before Cataclysm was released. It was a simpler time back then, both for me and WoW, and it was arguably some of the most enjoyable parts of my early teenage years.

Fast forward about five years, some months before Mists of Pandaria was released. WoW had begun to dull for me. The game had become easy and leveling was a cinch. The amount of jokes and “silly quests” had overtaken a once more serious and somber mood that the world of… World of Warcraft used to embed within itself. Blizzard was incorporating more spectacle and more flash, but not nearly enough ambiance to suit my tastes. The release of MP was the final straw: pandas? That learn martial arts? After the release of a very successful movie called Kung Fu Panda? This expansion is “panda-ring” to an audience I want no part of. That was it. I was done. I quit the game that absorbed years of my time. Cold turkey.

Fast forward again about three and a half years; November of 2015, to be precise. I had heard things about “private servers” in the past, but never really looked into them until I had a discussion with my brother, who had recently downloaded a private server of his own. It played almost exactly like the WoW of old, had features to allow you to play the game at any pace, and to top it all off, it was free. How could I turn that down? I could relive the days before Blizzard began mutilating its own game with money and stupidity in mind! To play the game at its peak of quality! All for free! (And a two hour download.)

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I’m back. . .

Needless to say, the first few days upon downloading Excalibur, I was in full-nostalgia mode. Everything was drenching me in a tsunami of recollections and unbreakable mirth. Every sight was wonderful. Every action was amazing. I’ve come back to a game that once meant so much to me, and I could’ve been doing this for free for years now! (Current version of Excalibur‘s server has been running since mid-2013, according to their site.) It was great and the experience is great and… and…

Y’know, the appeal to this game runs sorta thin once the nostalgia wears off.

But that’s a criticism of the game itself, this is my thoughts on the private server providing it, Excalibur. Now, before I downloaded it, I had looked into what people recommended was the best Burning Crusade server available (via Youtube, Google, Reddit, etc.). I got a variety of answers, but Excalibur seemed to be one of two names that always popped up. I heard a lot of good things about the lack of bugs and the GM assistance that the server has and the relatively high population count. With all this in mind, I decided to give it a shot, and, short version: I’m not disappointed.

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One thing to know going into Excalibur, however, it this: GM assistance is varying. From the time that I’ve been on, very rarely does a GM make themselves known to be on. There’s a certain forum to ask for GM assistance within the game, but I’ve never used it, so I have no knowledge as to how helpful they really are. However, what I do know is that the World Chat, the chat where anyone can freely say anything (like a giant chatroom, essentially), is typically ridden with trolls (not the WoW species), baiters, spammers, and kids trying to be as offensive as possible, especially at night (U.S. timezones). This is almost never combated as the GMs never seem to be on at that point, leaving people to say whatever they like whenever they choose. Very rarely do I ever see a GM respond; to take action, even rarer. For those with thin skin or a desire to not involve themselves in offensive topics of discussion or outright verbal attacks, I’d recommend you not /join world.

Another thing to note is that this game isn’t completely functional. It even says right on their website, “Most escort quests working!” and “XP-rates: x2 (To make things smooth, so you don’t need to care about a few bugged quests!)” There are times when quests won’t register as complete or following animations and/or dialogue won’t pop up, either. From my own experience, these are typically with quests that require you to “explore” a certain region or area. Like it says above, not all escort quests are totally working, either. However, I wouldn’t fret too much about the quests, as I’d say about 97% of the quests I’ve tried are at least completable. You just may not get the full package of dialogue or the context before a follow-up quest is all.

A more noticeable issue with Excalibur is the NPC physics. Many times throughout my days playing I’ll go up against enemies that are floating in the air, sticking through the ground (which allows them to evade all of my attacks), or are remaining still when they’re supposed to be patrolling the area. It’s not a substantial issue, but it breaks the immersion of the game and is a general annoyance to those trying to take the game seriously. It’s kinda funny to see, though.

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See: floating skeleton

What is by far the most annoying and infuriating issue that Excalibur has is the population on the server. While questing around other people and the social aspect of the game is fun and all, it also bogs down the level at which the server can work, causing several rollbacks throughout the day, resulting in a player disconnecting from the server, unbearable lagging, long loading screens, and loss of progress. This has caused me (and I’m sure many others) unwanted deaths, having to re-do parts of a(n annoying) quest over, and time wasted running back and forth between areas to turn in quests. When the population is low (between roughly 6 P.M.-2 A.M. CST), the game typically plays a lot better. Not well enough to not see bugs throughout the game, but well enough to have a long stretch of gameplay without fear of being disconnected.

Fortunately, aside from the glaring technical issues, Excalibur is a well-enacted replay of World of Warcraft‘s former glory. Aside from some bugs in NPCs and quests, the game plays very well. If you enjoy observing overtly offensive and trollish behavior (as I do), World Chat will be a blast for you, but there are still a large number of helpful people who aren’t GMs available to aid any question you have. Hilariously enough, in an almost ironic twist of fashion, auction house prices on this server are almost as outrageous and overpriced as they are in the actual game! It’s like I never left! I’ve enjoyed my time with this server, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for old-fashioned World of Warcraft. Just don’t expect a perfect model.

NFL Pick ‘Ems (Week Eleven; 2015)

STL @ BAL

St. Louis at Baltimore

  • Favorite: Baltimore (via NFLPickWatch.com)

Case Keenum is starting to shape up like Ryan Fitzpatrick: starting every season for a different team when they weren’t supposed to be. But with how ineffective Nick Foles has been (especially after seeing evidence of it last week), the change is definitely warranted. Case Keenum has won 100% of his starts as a quarterback since 2014. It was only two games, but c’mon! 100%!

Baltimore seems to be getting the short end of the stick lately. The officials inadvertently enabled Jacksonville to beat them on the final play of the game last week, which shouldn’t have even been run. To be fair, if they were the team they wish they were, they would’ve blown out Jacksonville at home. And for that, I think it’s hard to give Baltimore the edge here.

Case Keenum is a bit of a wild card here. I can’t really say if he’s an improvement over Nick Foles or not, and I can’t say that St. Louis would take care of business here if Nick Foles were starting. I think the defense (granted it plays okay) of St. Louis is the deciding factor here, along with the reason I think St. Louis will prevail.

Winner: St. Louis

WAS @ CARWashington at Carolina

  • Favorite: Carolina

Carolina is the favorite here, but a few are staking claim that Washington could upset them on the road this week. Carolina has to lose sometime, right? Peeking at the rest of their schedule, they have four divisional games in the last five weeks of the season, along with facing a Romo-led Dallas team on the road and New York (Giants). There are some teams in the mix that has a chance to upset them. Could Washington be the first?

After all, Washington just came off a 47-14 romping of New Orleans. Kirk Cousins has been playing better as the season goes on. Washington’s defense has been better than anticipated. They’re not a bad team by any means. But against a 9-0 team at home? I doubt it. But hey, I’ve been wrong before (many times).

I like the idea of an upset here, but I think Carolina will lose to a more complete team. There are still some question marks with this Washington offense, despite their last win against an atrocious defense. Carolina will take care of business.

Winner: Carolina

DEN @ CHI

Denver at Chicago

  • Favorite: Chicago

A match-up almost as intriguing as St. Louis at Baltimore. Peyton Manning has been ceremoniously benched in favor of longtime back-up Brock Osweiller, who will make his first career start versus Chicago on the road. Y’know, I remember the last time Chicago went up against a team that had a one point back-up starting in favor of an injured star. All the way back in 2012, when they got throttled by Colin Kaepernick in his breakout game for San Francisco. Will Osweiller do the same? The situations are certainly similar.

Though, one could make the argument that Lovie Smith was still the head coach at that point, and the defense was on the decline. Now, Chicago looks to be a revitalized team under John Fox and co. Oh, and John Fox also coached Denver between 2011-2014. He has a little motivation for this game.

I’ll pick this game the same way I picked the game between San Francisco and Chicago back in 2012: with Chicago winning. Again, I don’t know what to expect of Osweiller, as this is his first career start. All I know is that Chicago’s been playing well recently, and Denver’s defense is starting to crack a bit. No Alshon Jeffery, no Matt Forte, no problem. Chicago will find a way to win.

Winner: Chicago

DAL @ MIA

Dallas at Miami

  • Favorite: Dallas

Dallas fans, take in a collective breath. Tony Romo is back in the line-up.

This should be an interesting match-up. Tony Romo is back from breaking his collarbone in what seems to be the 700th injury of his career. Will he play well in his debut game? Or will the rust of sitting on the sidelines handicap him? All I know is that Dallas can’t afford to play catch up. It’d most likely be better to ease Romo into playing again with a balanced offensive attack of quick passes and bruising runs. Kinda like last year, but with Darren McFadden rather than DeMarco Murray.

Miami had a good win against a Philadelphia offense that couldn’t get anything going, especially once Bradford got hurt. Their defense played well and gave their offense about 20 tries to score points. I don’t know if that’s a compliment to their defense or an insult to Philadelphia’s offense. Nevertheless, Miami got the win, but it wasn’t all too convincing. Now they have to face off against an offense that isn’t as inconsistent, especially now with Romo in there.

Basically, I trust a Romo-led offense. I don’t trust Miami’s validity as a team. Maybe if they win here, it’ll turn the tides, but not a lot of people expect them to win. Except the people who believe in the “Hardy Curse.”

Winner: Dallas

OAK @ DET

Oakland at Detroit

  • Favorite: Oakland

Oakland’s the favorite here, but it’s a 71-29% divide, which puzzles me. Are people that confident in Detroit after taking down Green Bay on the road? I see it more as Green Bay being buried in issues as opposed to Detroit actually being a good team. After all, they didn’t perform well that game, either. It looked like two old injured dogs having one last scuffle before they kneel over and die.

Oakland came close to closing the gap against Minnesota last week, but two interceptions from Terence Newman ruined their plans. Minnesota’s defense is not to be trifled with. Detroit’s, on the other hand, will let you trifle, ruffle, and bombard them with touchdowns aplenty… assuming you aren’t a struggling Green Bay team.

For me, this game isn’t even close. Even if the game becomes close, I think Oakland will close the deal in the end. They’re a much better team.

Winner: Oakland

NYJ @ HOU

New York at Houston

  • Favorite: New York

Y’know, if you showed me this match-up two weeks ago, I would’ve picked New York in a heartbeat. With the way last week played out, however, I feel a little more hesitant. New York isn’t as stable as a team as I thought, and Houston seems to have some defensive talent. Then again, Houston’s defensive performance could’ve been attributed to Cincinnati’s awful offensive performance. Nevertheless, this is a tricky match-up reeking with upset, if you can consider Houston beating New York an upset.

FitzMagic just had surgery on his thumb a week ago, so that’s an interesting factor to consider. Houston is starting their back-up quarterback T.J. Yates, who has been there a total of less than a month (this year), which is another interesting factor. Brandon Marshall, as talented as he is, has dropped some easy passes this year (which led to an interception last week). DeAndre Hopkins seems to be the second-coming of Andre Johnson.

I think defense will be the deciding factor to this game: which defense will play harder? Cause more turnovers? I like New York’s chances more than Houston’s.

Winner: New York

IND @ ATL

Indianapolis at Atlanta

  • Favorite: Atlanta

Does everyone remember Atlanta losing to a Blaine Gabbert-led offense two weeks ago? Apparently not, because Atlanta’s an 87-13% favorite. Sure, Matt Hasselbeck is starting, but he played well against… Houston. Okay, I think I see the point.

Still, though, with as inconsistent as Atlanta’s offense is, despite having the league’s second-leading scrimmage yard holder on offense, it’s hard to imagine them blowing Indianapolis out. Their defense is solid, though, and should prove Hasselbeck’s first real test of the season. I don’t think Matt Ryan will struggle with Indianapolis’s defense, especially with Mike Adams out.

This game, along with New York at Houston, reeks of upset. Part of me wants to pick Indianapolis because I believe in Hasselbeck. But on the other hand, Atlanta looks like the better team on paper. If only they played like they’ve looked on paper. Don’t let us down again, Atlanta.

Winner: Atlanta

TB @ PHI

Tampa Bay at Philadelphia

  • Favorite: Philadelphia

Philadelphia is an 85-15% favorite here, but I could see this game going either way. Jameis Winston and co. have been playing good football in the past couple of weeks (excluding Mike Evans’ performance against New York) and the defense has been stout. It looked good against Dallas last week, but Dallas is Dallas. Anyone could hold them to 6 points… except Philadelphia.

This is my dilemma: I want to pick Philadelphia. I want to feel confident that Philadelphia will put this game away easily, but they’re starting Mark Sanchez against an offense that can score points when needed. Mark Sanchez starting is not a good sign. Philadelphia’s defense can only do so much. I would even argue that Tampa Bay’s offense is better than Miami’s. Their records may be the same, but in terms of Pick ‘Em percentage, this match-up not only reeks of upset, but screams it, too.

In the end, I still like Philadelphia to win, but only because I trust their defense more than Tampa Bay’s offense. Mark Sanchez may not move the ball much, but I don’t think he’ll make any major errors. Then again, Tampa Bay’s pretty good at forcing turnovers…. Mrmm.

Winner: Philadelphia

KC @ SD

Kansas City at San Diego

  • Favorite: Kansas City

After a five-game losing streak, Kansas City has won three in a row. Their defense is starting to become elite force and Charcandrick West is looking to be a fitting replacement for Jamaal Charles. Alex Smith just has to not play like Alex Smith and they’re golden.

I feel bad for San Diego. I really do. They may as well change their logo from a lightning bolt to the Red Cross, because they have so many substantial injuries it’s ridiculous. Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, Johnnie Troutman, Chris Watt, Branden Oliver; all out indefinitely. At least they may be getting some starters in King Dunlap, Orlando Franklin, and Manti Te’o back from injury this week. That should help this struggling offensive line to a degree.

I expect to see a lot of Antonio Gates and Danny Woodcock in this game. Philip Rivers simply doesn’t have many else to throw to. And with Kansas City’s rising defense, I don’t see a very offensive game from San Diego. San Diego’s defense could allow 20+ points from pretty much anyone.

Winner: Kansas City

GB @ MIN

Green Bay at Minnesota

  • Favorite: Minnesota

A 52-48% favorite, might I add. This game has experts very divided, much like Denver at Chicago does. For me, with as badly as Green Bay’s offense has been performing in the last three weeks, I’m both surprised and not by how close people are picking this game. I’m surprised because Minnesota is clearly the better team at this point. I’m not surprised because this game will inevitably be a close-knit game between fierce division rivals, with Minnesota running and Green Bay throwing. It’ll be a test for both defenses to show what they got. I’m really looking forward to it.

One has to think that Aaron Rodgers will turn it around, right? He’s better than what the last three weeks have seen out of him, so what’s the issue? Well, recent reports say he’s injured. Others say that his receivers simply aren’t getting separation. His offensive line hasn’t been all too good recently, which is also affecting Green Bay’s running game. So, essentially, he’s become a lesser Philip Rivers in a much colder environment; the product of injury and a bad offensive line.

Minnesota, on the other hand, has no issue with Teddy Bridgewater, as he’s typically not a flashy number guy by any stretch of the imagination. Their offensive line is “eh,” okay enough to let Adrian Peterson be the league’s leading rusher (that may say more about Adrian Peterson) and to protect Bridgewater when it counts. Still, though, with Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, that’ll be put to the test quickly.

My favorite game this week. I’m picking the logical choice based on this year’s evidence for the outcome, which points to Minnesota. They’re at home, they have an elite defense, and they have Adrian Peterson. They look to take a two game lead in the division.

Winner: Minnesota

SF @ SEA

San Francisco at Seattle

  • Favorite: Seattle

Seattle is a 100% favorite. I would laugh really hard if San Francisco upset them, but I don’t expect that. Much like everyone else.

Seattle let the game get away from them last week against Arizona. Their defense can’t seem to handle offenses with high-powered passing games like they used to. Still pretty good against the run, though, which is basically 70% of San Francisco’s offense. The only thing is with San Francisco’s defense, which is okay normally, but teeters a tot on the road. Seattle’s offense can be okay, assuming they play a balanced game and let Russell Wilson attack the defense with both his arm and his legs. One can’t be very confident with their offense the way they’ve played throughout the season, though, even with Jimmy Graham.

In case you forgot, San Francisco is also starting this guy:

bwaine gabbert

  • 6-22 starting record
  • 25/26 TD/Int ratio
  • 53.4% career pass completion
  • 67.1 career quarterback rating

Winner: Seattle

CIN @ ARI

Cincinnati at Arizona

  • Favorite: Arizona

People don’t have a lot of confidence in Cincinnati after they lost horribly to Houston a week ago in PRIMETIMEI’m the same. Had Cincinnati taken care of business against Houston in convincing fashion last week, I probably would have picked them to beat Arizona this week. However, it would seem Cincinnati’s struggles at night continue to haunt them and are no longer favorites when it comes to big games like this. Oh well.

Arizona beat Seattle last week the way Cincinnati should’ve beaten Houston last week. There was always talk about Arizona only being good against teams with bad defenses, but they disproved that against Seattle on the road. Though, some are convinced that Seattle’s defense has softened considerably this season. Fact of the matter is Carson Palmer shredded the Legion of Boom for three touchdowns and 363 yards through the air. While I don’t expect the same type of game against Cincinnati, I expect him to perform well.

And that’s the only thing that’s preventing me from throwing all of my chips on the table in favor of Arizona: Cincinnati’s defense. They’ve played very well this season and can turn the tide. I don’t expect this game to be a blowout by any means, but unless Cincinnati’s offense plays the way it did last week, the combined score shouldn’t be much more than 40. A fascinating game, to say the least. This week’s slate of afternoon/evening games are all enticing (not counting Tennessee at Jacksonville).

Winner: Arizona

BUF @ NE

Buffalo at New England

  • Favorite: New England

New England is playing at home and they’re New England. Rex Ryan or no Rex Ryan. Julian Edelman or no Julian Edelman. Offensive line or no offensive line. New England doesn’t lose at home. I don’t expect them to this week. Or any week.

Winner: New England