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Quantified Sports Suffering in Buffalo vs. Cleveland: The Ultimate Battle!

Quantified Sports Suffering in Buffalo vs. Cleveland: The Ultimate Battle!

Buffalo and Cleveland could be twins. Their locations are similar, their histories are similar, their lifestyles, vital statistics, and living costs are all similar. Hell, the two even share their sports pain with each other, at least to such a point that fans in the two cities frequently root for each other’s teams unless their own teams are compromised in doing so. The sports fans in Buffalo and Cleveland have both suffered more than any fans in proximity to the Boston Red Sox or Chicago Cubs ever have. And yet, it’s Cleveland that seems to be getting all the publicity for how bad their fans have it, even though Buffalo arguably had it worse over the years. They’ve built such a brand name on hard losses that you wonder if any of the teams there really are interested in winning, just because a feel-good story would ruin the bad voodoo. Perhaps they think all the non-Clevelanders who follow Cleveland’s teams – and there are a ton of them, far more so than for any of the teams in Buffalo – would pat themselves on the back, compliment themselves for sticking it out, and bounce off to different teams.

A little movie called Draft Day was released this week. It’s about the GM of the Cleveland Browns and his fight for the year’s coveted draft pick, a guy who will uplift the city and its fans and relieve everyone of all their suffering. Buffalo has a small stake in this because Draft Day was dangerously close to revolving around the Buffalo Bills. After Cleveland stepped in and offered better incentives to Hollywood to make Draft Day about their football team, it was an instance of Buffalo getting nationally lowballed in accounts of its sports suffering yet again, and I asked myself: Which one of these cities really has it worse when it comes to professional sports? So let’s do this! Quantified sports suffering in Buffalo vs. Cleveland. One day, I’ll learn.

Past Glories
The thing about record books is that they’re there to preserve things. The histories of your sports teams are something you want to hold onto, because sports are part of popular culture, historical culture, and the entertainment industry. And once something happened to your sports team, it can’t be erased, and when a moment of real significance happens – whether it’s good or bad – it becomes something that helps define the team. This applies double to both championships and last-place finishes. When it comes to the defining moments of the past, Cleveland shines: Although the Browns never made the Super Bowl, they did win four NFL Championships which are their forever. If we extend the history back through the AAFC – which we should – that number is ramped up to eight, with the four titles Cleveland won in the four years the AAFC existed. (In the 1948 AAFC Championship, the Browns whomped the original Buffalo Bills 49-7.) Although the Browns stopped winning titles after the 60′s, they had plenty of huge moments after that, and they were also coached by one of football’s greatest innovators (Paul Brown) and fielded the greatest football player in history (Jim Brown). Of course, the original Browns are now the Baltimore Ravens, but for the sake of consistency, I’m going to play the same game with them the NFL does and pretend the team just “suspended operations” for two years and consider the brand new team the same team. In baseball, the Cleveland Indians won five Pennants and two World Series titles. Even a 1954 World Series loss became iconic to baseball lore when the Tribe became arguably the best team to ever lose the Series – they won 111 games that year; they were also one of Bill Veeck’s teams, and were the first AL team to integrate. The terminally bad Cavs even made a significant impact on the NBA when they drafted LeBron James, who became the league’s best player and took the Cavs to their only NBA Finals, an unwinnable series against an invincible San Antonio Spurs team. As for Buffalo, glory came in fleeting moments at its best. The AAFC Bills made the aforementioned title game in an otherwise resoundingly average existence before the AAFC/NFL merger stomped them out. The current Bills were one of the original AFL teams in 1959, and they reeled in dominant repeat championships in 1964 and 1965 and played in the game in 1966. The 1966 game is a big question mark among Bills fans regarding what could have been because winning it would have catapulted them into the first-ever Super Bowl (where they would have gotten trashed by Vince Lombardi’s Packers). After that, they experienced decency for a brief stretch in the 70′s with OJ Simpson, but were mostly terrible with an occasional average year thrown in to tease the fans. Even in the 80′s, when the Bills finally became legitimately good, they lost four straight Super Bowls. The Sabres have won three Conference Championships and one Presidents’ Trophy, but before today’s record losing became a problem with them, the Sabres made a habit of having a great season and watching it go to waste when the Boston Bruins would inevitably steal the division title and the Sabres would get knocked out of the first round of the playoffs. Buffalo’s strongest point right now is its lacrosse team, and while the city was once one of the richest and most important cities in the world, it somehow never had a professional major league baseball team – in fact it lost several bids for one.
Winner
There are those who might argue that Cleveland should get this, since it fell so much further. But my thoughts about that argument were explained when I mentioned records. I’m not doing this by ignoring any parts of a team’s past just because it didn’t happen in my lifetime, and past glories beat no glories any day of the week. Therefore, Buffalo is the so-called winner here.

National Embarrassment
This isn’t an on-field embarrassment I’m trying to cover now – every team has those, even the Yankees. For this category, I’m covering something that transcended what happened on the field and worked its way into national consciousness. And both cities provide very easy choices: For Cleveland, it was The Decision. In case your memory is geared toward the short term, here’s what happened: Cleveland had LeBron James, the NBA’s most transcendent and gifted player since Michael Jordan. However, he became a free agent, and some media prick decided his decision about where he was going to play was a big enough deal to warrant an hour-long TV special on ESPN. There was speculation about James everywhere, and the show was little more than waffling for an hour until decision time came and James publicly humiliated his devoted Cleveland fanbase by saying he was off to the Miami Heat. It wasn’t the actual decision that sparked outrage in Cleveland so much as it was airing it on national TV. Rust Belt people are a prideful group who believe in their cities, no matter how poorly reputed, and are always willing to do their part in trying to bring them back from the dead. James failed to understand that he was putting a viable face on Cleveland, and The Decision flew right in the face of a city trying to pull itself back together and positively promote itself. So when the Cavaliers owner told James off in a public note and Clevelanders started burning James in effigy, it was an effort to spare their own pride. Another group of people who failed to understand Cleveland’s mentality were critical theorists – who, notably, in my experiences, all say with great pride that they don’t care about professional sports (unless they’re griping about someone’s insane contract, an issue which I think unites everyone) – who couldn’t resist the urge to apply their favorite label to Cleveland by calling fans racists. Buffalo’s greatest embarrassment was so terrible and so wrong that calling it an embarrassment is being way too soft. In the 70′s, Buffalo had a star running back named OJ Simpson, who was comparable to LeBron James for everything. Simpson didn’t bounce from Buffalo, either – although he lived in California, he was always very proud to represent Buffalo, never said anything bad about the city, and was a regular at Bills games after retiring. And then in 1994, he was accused of murdering his wife, and while the law said he wasn’t guilty, the evidence was more than strong enough for the people to be very convinced otherwise. Simpson turned out to be a public projection presented in the place of a private scumbag. In 2007, Simpson robbed a Las Vegas hotel, and received a disproportionately long sentence of 33 years which many people believe was the law making up for what it didn’t do in 1994.
Winner
Buffalo. Although people in Cleveland will certainly try to use a metaphorical argument, no one was killed in regard to The Decision. In fact, after the initial anger period, Cleveland’s basketball fans are starting to act like they would welcome him back if he ever returned to the Cavaliers. While James himself had image problems in the immediate aftermath of The Decision, he’s also conducted himself in a way which laid them to rest, and even he now admits he sees why The Decision was a bad idea. By all accounts, James is a good man and a class act. Buffalo sports fans are actively trying to remove themselves of any connections to OJ Simpson, and have passed around several petitions asking for his name to be pulled from Ralph Wilson Stadium’s Wall of Fame.

Lost Team
Unfortunately, while the record books say the Cleveland Browns “suspended operations” for two years, records and ownership are very different things, and so the shared history won’t nullify the fact that one of the proudest NFL cities in the country was robbed of its team. Yes, they got them “back,” but the Browns being taken at all was no small thing. The owner who committed the robbery, Art Modell, is more hated in Cleveland than LeBron James ever was. We’re talking about a rabidly nutty fanbase here, and a very extensive one – Browns Backers Worldwide is the most extensive fan organization in the United States, and branches can be found in every major US city. (The largest is in Phoenix.) They also have an enormous foreign presence on US military bases, as well as proper foreign countries including Egypt, Australia, Japan, Sri Lanka…. And even the McMurdo Station in freaking Antarctica! Their two largest international chapters are in Alon Shvut, Israel, and Niagara Falls, Canada. The latter chapter is saying something because Niagara Falls is a clear encroachment in Bills territory. Bills Backers International is no slouch either, but how does a group as huge and devoted as Cleveland lose its team in the first place? Buffalo also has a serious lost team in its past: In 1970, the NBA oversaw the foundation of the Buffalo Braves, an exciting, run and gun team which featured coaching legend Jack Ramsey and MVP center Bob McAdoo. The Braves did manage to catch a base of hardcore fans, including current Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, a New York City native who chose the Braves as his team over both the Knicks and Nets and attended college in Buffalo because of his respect for them. The NBA is one of the most visible and ubiquitous sports leagues in the country. Its stars tend to be the most popular, because they’re the most versatile in regards to the way the sport is played (unlike baseball or football) and the ones who spend the most time in the game (unlike hockey, where stars get shifts of a few minutes and play maybe 20 minutes, a great basketball player can spend 35-40 minutes of a 48-minute game on the floor).
Winner
Cleveland by a distance of at least three states. They lost a team in the country’s most popular sport, the one whose championship game is seen as almost a national holiday. While no one could ever argue the popularity of the NBA, first of all, the NBA is the youngest pro sports league in the country, and the Braves existed before it morphed into the juggernaut it is today. The Braves left in 1978; the league was seriously cash-strapped right through the early 80′s, and moving teams was still fairly common when the Braves were on the outs. Hell, even the NBA Finals were usually shown on tape delay, if they were shown on TV at all. There’s also the impact of what the teams became after leaving. The Browns became the Baltimore Ravens, two-time Super Bowl champions. The Braves became the San Diego Clippers, then became the Los Angeles Clippers six years later, and they still haven’t won anything. Hell, they’ve been the poster boys of losing basketball, and it’s not until just now that the Clippers are giving their fans the kinds of successes they enjoyed as the Braves (who were consistently good for several years). Also, this can’t be understated: Cleveland got a team back, and that team was given the right to say it was the old team! While the loss of the Braves undoubtedly hurt, that’s nothing on losing a world class NFL franchise.

The Title that Got Away
Buffalo and Cleveland both have moments of pain quantified by the fact that they were a hair away from winning the league title when karma snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. In both cases, the events happened in the 90′s, long enough for the title draughts to have really sunk in by then. The Cleveland Indians had been in the dumps since the trade of Rocky Colavito, but in the 90′s, they were finally dominant again. They brought home two Pennants during the decade, and as for what happened during the World Series, I’m fairly sure the 1995 loss to the Atlanta Braves team no one was expected to beat is forgivable. In 1997, though, it was different: The Tribe played against the Florida Marlins to a seventh game, and they were one run up in the ninth inning with two outs left when close Jose Mesa – one of baseball’s best – spaced out. Long story short, the Marlins made up the run, the game went to extra innings, and the Marlins pulled it out. The Indians haven’t gotten that close since. The Bills played the closest Super Bowl in history against the New York Giants. Behind 20-19 with eight seconds left, their kicker shanked a 47-yard field goal try to the right.
Winner
I’m calling this a draw. It’s disgusting the Bills lost to the Giants in such a way – while revisionist NFL commentators like to say now the Bills couldn’t have won, they ignore the fact that the Bills weren’t playing like themselves. They were making mistakes and errors all game against a Giants team playing at its absolute, peak best. Had the Bills been doing the same, the closer score of that game would have been about 38-10, Buffalo. As for Cleveland, yes, they were fielding what was pretty much an all-star team too. However, what everyone conveniently forgets is that they were also playing against an all-star team. Florida won by spending big on guys like Al Leiter, Gary Sheffield, Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla, Kevin Brown, Robb Nen, and Luis Castillo. That’s not what you would call light makeup. Jose Mesa was an outstanding closer, just as Buffalo’s Scott Norwood was an excellent kicker, and both blew it when they couldn’t afford to.

Signature Losing Streaks
This is a tougher and more significant contest than you might expect. A nice long streak can say a lot about a team. I guess the logical place to start with Cleveland would be in the NBA, where the Cavaliers have managed to reel in 26 losses in a row on more than one occasion. Everyone knows that. The more significant streak, though, is the brief run of appearances the Browns made in the AFC Conference Championship back in the 80’s. How much of a streak this really is depends on interpretation, but the Browns appeared in three AFC Championships in the 80’s, all against the Denver Broncos. They lost all three. Then, of course, there’s the Buffalo Bills and their two very famous losing streaks. They made it to the Super Bowl an unprecedented four years in a row, and are still the only team to ever do that. They also lost all four, as if anyone in Buffalo needs reminding. Known as well in Buffalo, however, is that back in the terrible 70’s, the Bills also managed to drop 20 games straight to the Miami Dolphins. You think they have it bad with their recent losing streaks against the Belichick/Brady Patriots? That was nothing compared to what Schula’s ‘Phins did to them every year for ten straight years.
Winner
Buffalo. I take nothing away from Cleveland here, but both of Buffalo’s major streaks were in the country’s major sport, and one of them involved, you know, losing the damned Super Bowl every year! Also, the Bills have a streak of playoff-free years that dates all the way back to 1999. The Browns have a similar streak, but it “only” goes back to 2002.

Ownership Problems
You don’t get a bad team without a bad owner, and the owners of the Browns and Cavaliers have proved that many times over throughout the years. Bad as the new Browns are, though, they all still take a backseat in Cleveland to Art Modell, who sinned against Cleveland when he moved the Browns to Baltimore. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Cavaliers fans have had to deal with Ted Stepien. While Stepien was only there for a few years, he left a mark. He was Jerry Jones before Jerry Jones was, interfering with the running of the team’s operations to such an extent that the NBA had to instate a rule specifically to prevent him from drafting first-round picks in consecutive years. Buffalo’s ownership problems have also been apparent, but the Bills were owned by Ralph Wilson for 54 years before Wilson died last week. The Sabres have had a more eclectic ownership history which involved the Knox family, the NHL, and Tom Golisano before Terry Pegula took them over and wimped out when it came to making the necessary changes of guard.
Winner
Cleveland. Ted Stepien was just too vile of a human being, and Art Modell screwed the city out of a champion football team. Whatever can be said about Wilson or Pegula, they were truly committed to their area and were class acts and fans of the teams they owned, for better and worse. 

Bad Draft Picks
In Cleveland, Tim Couch, Luke Jackson, and Brady Quinn aren’t lacking for haters, but I don’t even have to do any research to know their worst draft pick, ever, across any sport: If your starting quarterback is a rookie who is already 29 years old, you fucked up. With competent coaching, poor Brandon Weeden could have been a nice placeholder for a year or two until their guy finally came to town, but we can’t allow ourselves to go very far beyond that. There are a few Buffalo players in history who could qualify as the worst – John McCargo, anyone? Say what you will about the Bills’ bad picks, though, but they all at least signed contracts. Barrett Heisten, the 1999 first round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, never did that. Although that might have been a blessing in disguise, because Heisten played ten NHL games in his entire career, all with the New York Rangers, and his points column has a big fat goose egg in it. Six picks later, the Ottawa Senators got Martin Havlat.
Winner
Cleveland. Brandon Weeden was in the more popular sport, with the more visible team, and the media never let anyone forget the Browns were staking their future on a first round quarterback who was about to hit the wrong side of 30. Either the team was trying to outsmart itself or it stopped giving a shit years ago. How the hell does a general manager mess up like that?

Signature Losses
Both cities are steeped in the lore of bad losses. Cleveland has incidents like The Fumble, The Drive, The Shot, and Red Right 88 to live down. All of those were playoff losses, and two of them involved the Browns in the AFC Championship. The Shot, we can say, wasn’t too bad because the Cavaliers were in a lower playoff round playing against the Jordan Bulls, and it was Jordan who made The Shot. The Drive is sort of the same – John Elway was being John Elway, and the incident didn’t win the game for Denver, but took it into overtime. The other two, however, are inexcusable. Buffalo is still living down The Drop, No Goal, the Music City Miracle, and The Bounce. Buffalo likes to blame bad refereeing, and makes the claim about No Goal and the Music City Miracle. The Bounce was a wild act of physics that happened to defy Dominick Hasek’s spine. The Drop, like The Fumble (running back Ernest Byner fumbling at the two yard line) and Red Right 88 (the Browns making a desperation pass that failed when a field goal would have worked), just inexplicably happened when it shouldn’t have. The Music City Miracle, though, was entirely legit. It was a great play made against bad kickoff coverage, and no amount of griping about the refs being under someone’s belt will change the fact that science and math have both proven that amazing play was either backward or straight to side side, at the very least. 
Winner
This one is a tie. Even though No Goal happened in the Stanley Cup Finals and gave the Cup to the Stars, the Sabres could well have lost anyway even if it had gone in their direction. Cleveland’s gaffes cost them more than one trip to the Finals, so those are just as evil. The Drop and The Fumble are very similar – almost comical robberies of surefire game-winning touchdowns. So how about Buffalo and Cleveland meet in a nice sports bar over this and cry into our Great Lakes and Brooklyn Brewery microbrews together?

Signature Athlete Who Gave the City the Finger on the Way Out
Poor Cleveland. LeBron James came, and we all believed he would be a Cavalier forever. For seven years, all basketball aficionados were Cavs fans to at least some extent. When they made the Finals for the first time in 2007, I think nearly everyone was rooting for him to defy the odds and lead Cleveland to a stunning upset over the Spurs. Then in 2010, James briefly became the enemy of NBA followers everywhere with The Decision. Although there was more subtlety to it, Buffalo got a whiff of what this might be like when the Bills used their first 2002 draft pick on Willis McGahee. McGahee sat behind Travis Henry for a year, and when the Bills turned the corner in 2004 – their only winning season of the millennium – it was largely because McGahee was given the keys. McGahee played brilliantly for the next couple of seasons, but he also took his complaints about Buffalo to the media. Buffalo had loved McGahee, and he decided to turn around and spit right in the city’s face. Buffalo is one of those places where insiders can trash the place as much as they please – when we do it, it has a lot to do with frustration over how the city isn’t using its full potential. When outsiders do it, it’s because they never made the effort to get to know the place. McGahee was shipped to Baltimore. When he found that out, he apparently ran screaming around his house.
Winner
Cleveland. A fiasco like The Decision will get a tortured sports city pretty far when it comes to athletes sticking up their fingers.

The so-called winner in the tortured sports pantheon truly is Cleveland. You have to admit, though, Buffalo made it a hell of a fight.

A Voter’s Journey

A Voter’s Journey

I hate politics. I never wanted to be in a position where I ever had to follow them, but a nationalized incident in 2002 involving a personal friend of mine being used as war propaganda dragged me kicking and screaming into the Potomac muck, never to return to dry land. I tend to look at them a lot with a very defeatist attitude, and if I were to ever run for a public office, maybe two or three of my friends would vote for me; it’s hard to blame them, since my election campaign would be concentrated more on sensationalism and seeing how much I could upset accepted election protocols than telling everyone my policies. Of course, that’s partly because I would make up my term as I went along. Despite this, though, I do try to keep up with the surrounding world, and I tend to frequently make the common mistake of taking polarized views of a lot of complex policies.

Political books tend to boil my blood, so I’ve been avoiding them lately, but then again, A Voter’s Journey by Bill Lewers can’t quite be classified as a political book. It’s more or less an autobiography told through the thoughts of someone who enjoys following national politics and is fascinated by them. Lewers is a registered pro-life Republican, which puts him at very direct odds with nearly all of my own viewpoints, but A Voter’s Journey doesn’t go into the depths of the policies he believes in. He merely writes about the road that led him in his directions, the politicians that he liked and was fascinated by during his lifetime, and some very brief thoughts on them. A Voter’s Journey is completely devoid of propaganda, and at a certain point Lewers almost completely stops writing about politics as politics and starts concentrating on his involvement with the system as an election officer.

If there’s a theme to A Voter’s Journey, it’s politics through the eyes of someone whose direct involvement in the system begins and ends at the polls. We’re not dealing with an author who goes on TV to scream at the top of his lungs every night or into a fancy Capitol office every day. We’re dealing with someone who just hasn’t yet gotten jaded about his right to have a say in who represents him in the government. Lewers does write a little bit about why he voted for some of the candidates he did; I would imagine that’s unavoidable given the subject material. Usually, though, his arguments relegate themselves to a sentence or two before going on. The most political chapters in the book are where he gives his generalizations for the decade – a short paragraph or two of where he was himself in the political sense, and a quick list of his favorite and least favorite politicians, both Democrat and Republican. The balance is probably helped a little bit by the fact that Lewers has been formally registered to both parties during his lifetime.

Probably at least half the book doesn’t contain the author’s political viewpoints at all. To understand just how little about politics it can be, understand that in the penultimate chapter, he works as an election officer called a “rover” – a special election officer who circulates out around about a dozen precincts, providing supplies and occasional assistance where it’s needed – on the day of the 2012 presidential election. The whole chapter is about how his day doing his job went. Barack Obama is only mentioned once, and not even by name but by title – Lewers tunes into a broadcast to find out what’s happening in the BIG election that year, and writes that it “sounds like the president is doing well.” Mitt Romney isn’t mentioned at all.

“Growing up a political geek” is a good way to describe A Voter’s Journey. Lewers begins the narrative when he’s a small boy, writing about his family and neighborhood politics on Long Island and how the Republicans had a solid grip in the area. During the 70′s and 80′s, he writes about his personal conflicts between his democratic and republican ideals. A lot of the millennium is centered around his actions as an elections official – not a person running for any kind of office, mind you, but one of the desk sitters who greets the people who are going in to vote on Election Day, taking their names, and showing them how the voting machines work. The personal stories about his election experiences start to outnumber his watching of politics. There’s a page-long chapter about Sarah Palin, and it’s not so much about Palin herself as it is the author’s thoughts about who she was and what she was doing when she was thrust into the spotlight during John McCain’s presidential campaign. (Chapter can be summed up as follows: Palin had the makings of a great governor in Alaska, but was badly unprepared for the scrutiny of a presidential campaign, although that hasn’t stopped her from finding a new career as a media celebrity.)

We can call A Voter’s Journey a real outsider book, primarily because Bill Lewers has no feet in the proverbial political door. But that’s what makes everyman books like these important. Sure, it’s nice to have your favorite pundit reinforcing everything you think you know about the people, but this is a book from an honest to god regular hardworking (well, retired) American. We need occasional reminders that the American people are more than simply us against them because the news media exists for a macabre form of entertainment which gives us things in a narrative that’s been working for a long time. It takes communication with people from the proverbial other side sometimes to dislodge us of the us against them mentality. This book is a good start.

Communicating with regular people of other viewpoints can also yield some interesting and unexpected views. The infamous Joseph McCarthy is mentioned in A Voter’s Journey briefly, and we’re told McCarthy didn’t have any real significant meaning in the Lewers household, and that’s that. The Republican the author’s folks really loved was Theodore Roosevelt. (A favorite historical character of mine.) Lewers also has thoughts about the oddballs (Lyndon LaRouche), the doggedly determined (former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer), and politicians unknown to all but the biggest politics buffs (Marshall Coleman). The views are written in a manner of not so much “I liked” or “I hated” as they are “this was something that was interesting to me, and here’s why.” Lewers knows exactly what he’s writing about, too. He knows his politics quite well and appears to be an avid political book reader. One of the chapters is a list of his favorite books about politics, and other chapters in which he really gets to flex his political knowledge are a brief summary of the vice presidents; and a March Madness-like contest between the presidents (it falls to a showdown between Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham “Showtime” Lincoln; it also inspired my own video game character bracket).

Lewers seems most at home writing about his election day work, which makes sense – he clearly takes pride in being a part of the democratic process and he makes that clear from the first page, being the kind of person who has written to his congressmen pretty frequently. Reading over the later chapters, it’s hard to not gain an appreciation for just how big and complex an election can be. Lewers writes about what the wrap-ups are like and why voting areas can be so precise, and even gives us the pros and cons of certain voting machines. (I have to make a note here for his shout-out to the old-fashioned lever machines, which were what I was taught to vote on. I remember walking into my first Illinois election, seeing what they used there, and asking for assistance. Apparently the Buffalo area finally made the switch when I was away. I miss the lever machines.) Tiring work, I would conclude, for for Lewers, it’s all part of a process which he considers a duty to perform. Therefore, the chapters tend to be a bit more personal. One is about an Election Day earthquake his area experienced, a few are about memorable voters who came in while he was on duty. It made the biggest impression on me because he came off as truly able and willing to throw any partisanship away to let everyone have a say in a democracy.

While I try to pay attention to politics, I’m always looking with a grain of salt, having been jaded since my activism with a Chicago group in 2006-2007. (I had a REALLY good reason for walking away, which I’ll try to write about in the future.) It’s nice to have occasional reminders of just what it means to be able to vote, and having a word.

My Take on the How I Met Your Mother Finale

My Take on the How I Met Your Mother Finale

Well, we know two things were promised in the finale of How I Met Your Mother: A mother would be met, and it would be legendary.

We can grant that both promises were kept. What can also be granted is that there’s a reason the show isn’t called How I Met Your Mother and Lived with Her Happily Ever After and the fact that something that fades into legend won’t necessarily earn that title in a good way.

There’s little doubt the finale of HIMYM will be compared to the finale of Seinfeld, the disappointment that ruined TV in the 90′s. Most video game fans watching, though, already know the more apt comparison. Any gamer worth his weight in silicon is familiar with the legend of the ending of the Mass Effect trilogy, an RPG series which presented gamers with an unprecedented amount of control over the events of its universe with the promise that the endings could be altered and character fates totally changed. The characters were well-written, believable, and three-dimensional, and the plot worked within a universe created to contain it instead of the other way around. Then, in literally the final 15 minutes of Mass Effect 3 – the final game of the series – every ideal and development gamers worked literally hundreds of hours into three games to discover was junked for a cliched twist ending that betrayed every ideal, theme, and philosophy promised by the series. Fan outrage reached such a point that the developers released a refurbished ending which still didn’t tie up all the loose ends. As I only just started playing the first Mass Effect game, I’ll hold off my commentary on the finale for a year or two, but I’m going into Mass Effect knowing that any fan contrarian enough to declare the ending a good fit or (gasp!) defend it outright isn’t in any hurry to step forward.

Fictional story endings don’t have to be agreeable, and hell, we can even stretch that out a little bit by insisting they don’t even necessarily have to be good. But they do have to make sense, and ultimately, that’s what creating closure for a work of fiction is about: Making a mite of goddamn sense! I’m still going to try to eventually play the Mass Effect series through to its conclusion to see what all the hubbub was about, but after the HIMYM series finale, I think I understand exactly what it feels like. The finale was one of those dealies that splits fans into a faction of contrarians – all citing reason X for why it was great – and a faction that is right. Unfortunately, unlike Mass Effect, How I Met Your Mother isn’t an interactive adventure which invites art aficionados to come take a look inside the world and preside over the characters’ actions while pretending to be Apocalypse God from the Torah. We’re stuck with this.

Okay, we get that the show was never really about the mother (her name was Tracy McConnell), but there was still nine years of buildup and maturation before the big reveal which made the mother a character as real to the audience as Lily, Barney, and the rest of the gang. Maybe the big reveal scene where we finally got the name was a little cliched – there was rain, for crying out loud – but it was touching in that Ted Mosby romantic idealist way. We culled the name, and a scene or two later, the conspiracy theorists were proved right. Ma croaked six years prior to the frameup device and the kiddos give him the express permission he needs to start gunning for Robin again. Poor Tracy McConnell turned out to be as disposable as a razor, to be used to hold up Ted’s ideals until someone better came along, and the show truly cheaped itself out when that someone better turned out to be Robin. The very woman he had dated in the pilot episode and the woman he went through several on-again-off-again romances with and – this is key – the woman whose circle was supposed to have been effectively tied up in the penultimate episode turned out to be the one true love. She did get married to Barney in the last episode, right?

That’s certainly what I remember. It was only last week! Well, 20 minutes into the finale, they divorced. Robin and Barney were the most rewarding characters on the show to stick with as they developed. In the beginning, they were the most flawed and childish; Robin was a commitment-phobe who didn’t like kids, and Barney womanized so serially that he came off as a borderline rapist at times. These two characters were perfect for each other, because both of them were forced into maturity and sacrifice of their longtime essences when they finally got together and fell in love with each other. After that ridiculous multi-year sequence of events which defined their relationship, they decided that, nope! Ain’t worth it, they have to keep being immature postcollegiates after all. How convenient for Ted and Robin. Barney revealed that old douche side of himself again which made him an endearing character in the show’s early years, which was nice, but it also made him look pretty pathetic. In fairness, that might have been the point. This wasn’t classic suit up Barney Stinson, stealing scenes and being the life of every party. Ted was committed to Tracy now, while Lily and Marshall are still Lily and Marshall. It was more like mid-life crisis Barney, broken of his aura of cool, now desperately trying to recapture the magic of his earlier and more daring years and coming off as pathetic. I could have excused this, but even then, Barney couldn’t be let alone. He took a bet that he could have a perfect month, having sex with a different woman every night, and is forced back into maturity when the last one gets pregnant. That’s the key term: Forced. He doesn’t willingly decide he’s fed up with his whole Bro Code schtick, he gets into it after knocking up a girl. While Barney apparently does transform into a loving and devoted father, we’re still not freed of the old Barney Stinson, which Lily even tacitly acknowledges when she expresses that Number 31 – Barney’s baby mama – is eventually going to need a name. Thats right, the show never names her. I will give credit where it’s due, though: Neil Patrick Harris is wonderful in the delivery room scene, when he promises everything to his new baby girl.

Robin’s side of the divorce was, ironically, the most truly believable part of the episode. Save Tracy – who didn’t join the show until the final season – Robin was the last of the main characters to work her way into the inner circle of main characters. She only met Ted in the pilot, and she turned into Lily’s best friend. Now in her rush to make up for the recent hole in her heart, she’s becoming a world-famous reporter and jet-setting everywhere, distancing herself from the other characters while Tracy takes her place. Cobie Smulders breaks a lot of hearts playing this role; one of the other great scenes in the finale is a sorrowful conversation between Robin and Lily in which Robin acknowledges that their friendships are changing for the worse. She’s feeling left out, and leaves Lily to question how close the two of them really are in a scene where the two characters clearly haven’t seen each other in a long time. It’s unexpected and poignant, and it also retcons the shit out of the show. Didn’t the pilot take a special pain to introduce her as Aunt Robin? And didn’t Ted’s narrator keep calling her that?

The very end of the show was shot in the first couple of seasons in the show and kept in a vault, which means this is how the show’s creators decided to constrain themselves. They kept pushing toward an inevitable Robin/Ted get-together, despite the characters all maturing to reach the point where they all clearly accepted the fact that real life is fairly devoid of fairy tale romances, and for at least seven years, ignored all opportunities to correct any course which would have made the very end plausible. The characters got mature to an extent that made even Ted/Robin shippers accept the fact that it was never going to happen, but the writers clearly didn’t, so they found a way to cram it in there.

What’s upsetting is that there were so many wonderful shout-outs to longtime fans – the cockamouse returned, the slap bet was finally tied up, the yellow umbrella made the appearance we all knew had to be there, and the blue french horn even came back! – and moments which, taken individually, were beautiful. Ted introducing himself to Tracy on the train platform was perfect. Robin drifting away from the gang was handled excellently. Barney evoked a few awws when he first met his daughter, Ellie, in the delivery room. Even the series-closing scene between Ted and Robin with the old blue french horn had touching, emotional vibe about it. (It helped that Smulders and Josh Radnor nailed this one too, even without any dialogue.) Unfortunately, this show isn’t the sum of all those potential-filled scenes. Played out naturally, this finale could have been one of the greats, right up there with Breaking Bad. Instead, something feels soggy about it. In one scene, Lily proposes a toast to Ted, praising him for all the heartbreaks he went though. That now goes double for everyone who ever got caught up in this show now.

Here’s the clip of the final scene from Youtube:

My Problem with Final Fantasy VII

My Problem with Final Fantasy VII

My favorite game in the Final Fantasy series is Final Fantasy IX, and it was somewhat jolting to learn how many gamers didn’t like it. It had the most cohesive group of characters and plot-driven gameplay since Final Fantasy IV, which was another popular game in the series and one which, like Final Fantasy IX, was set in an outright fantasy world and stripped down to basics. You would think the contingent of gamers constantly bitching about Final Fantasy’s abandonment of its roots for the Philip K. Dick emo festivals the two previous games were made into would have been satisfied by the only real fantasy offering since IV, V, and VI rocked the role-playing realm, but the internet had become the world’s most importantly ubiquitous celebrity by then and was lighting up. Apparently gamers were loving the new tales of Final Fantasy hipster characters, so after IX, Square returned to the series 32-bit roots and has been tinkering with them ever since. 

There are two camps of Final Fantasy fans: The Before Crowd and The After Crowd. The before and after in question requires no introduction. It’s Final Fantasy VII, that great Playstation juggernaut which captured a slew of people who, before then, would have beat up anyone who described a favorite game as an interactive silicon book. The advertising blitz for Final Fantasy VII didn’t quite reach the highest level – I’ll still insist that Super Mario Bros. 3 will always hold that record because a full-length, live action feature film, The Wizard, was made for the sole purpose of making sure people knew about it – but it was unprecedented for an RPG. RPGs were the video games of choice for the most outcast of the outcasts back then, which was my social class. When Final Fantasy VII began showing up in TV ads and display features, people took notice, and being a geek became a little bit easier. All the cool kids who had been obsessed with the fighting game wars just a few years before were standing with the geeks, openly wondering what secrets Cloud’s past held and wondering if the death of Aeris was a designer ruse or for real. Aeris’s sudden murder is one of the greatest pieces of video game lore; it captured imaginations to such an extent that even today – 17 years after the original release of Final Fantasy VII and long after rumors of any shot at bringing her back within that particular game have been denied by developers and obliterated by every gamer fool enough to try – new rumors continue to pop up about this or that absurd, far-out method of resurrecting her. 

Role-playing became mainstream. Hallelujah for Final Fantasy, right? I guess, except for the little detail of Final Fantasy VII not being the best game in the series for miles. A grand survey of folks who were playing games before 3D was an accepted norm reveals that VII was outclassed by almost every other game in the series, with the possible exception of the first. You can usually tell what kind of Final Fantasy fans gamers are by asking them about Final Fantasy VII. The Before Crowd will give it a vicious verbal thrashing before stating a case that one of the earlier games – mostly likely Final Fantasy VI – is the absolute pinnacle of gaming perfection and you’re not a gamer if you think otherwise. The After Crowd lavishes its endless affection on Final Fantasy VII and claims it a revelation that turned gaming on its head. Somewhere in the middle of this weird war of magi, though, is a third crowd that just wishes they could nuke the other two into their morning coffee.

I’m a member of this third crowd, and it’s a constant oddity because being there means constantly fighting with everyone about the commercial and artistic merits of Final Fantasy VII. For every greatest game ever list FFVII tops, every best hero/villain list topped off by Cloud and/or Sephiroth, every wish for a chocobo race simulator, every Gamefaqs tournament ending with Cloud or Sephiroth in the final, and every petition to rename Las Vegas “Gold Saucer,” another little motor unit inside me fries to death. I want to champion Final Fantasy VII, but that’s impossible because doing so against anyone means going extreme in the opposite direction since concessions mean you automatically lose the debate. Unfortunately, the perceived infallibility of FFVII has gotten to be too much to bear, so even though I like the game a lot, I find myself beating it up more and more as more people born after the 16-bit era come of age and regard FFVII as their greatest seminal experience in video games. 

I don’t get the character attachments. When the game begins, you take control of Cloud, the main character and an acting mercenary for a group of eco-terrorists. Cloud is only looking after himself through the first segment of the game. As is the won’t of Final Fantasy, though, Cloud does make his presto chango, but it comes a wee bit too early and with too much convenience to character for a guy who spends a lot of the game supposedly grappling with himself. It’s too easy to lump him up with Squall, the insufferable lead of FFVIII, but Cloud does manage to change, overcome his personal demons, and become a headstrong leader in the end of the game, so that much I can give him. Unfortunately, his past is laid out and scattered in such a way that one of the side quests – the visit to Gongaga – is of utmost importance if you’re to figure out the significance of this Zack guy to him, and even then, you’re still forced to piece it together like a jigsaw even after Tifa’s visit to his head. 

The most inexplicable story decision, though, is trying to figure out the villain. To their credit, the writers managed to envision one of the most pointlessly cruel, hateful, hostile, spiteful, inhumane, and just plain evil villains of all time…. Only to place him on the side to an anime porn prettyboy named Sephiroth. Anytime there’s a new FFVII-related form of media saturation, Sephiroth is guaranteed to be a part of it. Poor Hojo, meanwhile, was there and killed and never seen again. While Hojo was a by-the-book mad scientist most of the time, his strength as a villain came from his lack of redeeming qualities. He was like Kefka in FFVI in that at the conclusion, you wanted him gruesomely tortured to death with his head mounted on a nice plaque in your study. There’s a weird dynamic at play in RPG world savior scenarios because when the villain is humanized, the need to differentiate between good and evil is blurrier, even though you still know in the end that he’s trying to destroy the world and will have to kill him rather than redeem him. It kinda nullifies the whole point of one or the other. Sephiroth, after all, turned out to be more or less a de facto bad guy whose mommy issues would blow up Sigmund Freud’s brain. Hojo was evil to the bone, and no other bad guy in the game held the importance he did. Who was as terrible as him? Certainly not Sephy. Rufus Shinra? He was almost a complete nonfactor once Cloud made it out of Midgar. Even the game didn’t consider him important enough for the party to kill, leaving the dirty work to Diamond Weapon…. After Hojo shot Diamond Weapon with the Sister Ray. The Turks were easy battle victories and hired hands. Heideggar and Scarlet were clear graduates of the Dr. Claw School of Henching. Dyne wasn’t around for very long. Yuffie was theoretically one of the good guys.

Speaking of Dyne, his good guy counterpart Barrett opens about ten barrels of worms people don’t want to point out. Barrett is one of the first characters we meet in the game – he even enters the screen right before Cloud, and is on your side for the entire game. He has a gun for an arm, a violent temperament, a short fuse, and a high level of melanin. Now, Square deserves a ton of credit for doing something which had almost never been done before in creating a minority (black) hero in a video game who played a significant role and never got corrupted or killed. But there’s almost certainly a larger picture or idea that can be introduced about society – our society – by merit of his bad temper, tough demeanor, and gun arm, and I’m fairly sure it isn’t good. The fact that his daughter, Marlene, is white probably helps reinforce said picture or idea. Elaboration, I’m sure, can be found in the writings of sociologists and psychologists who study critical theory professionally, but I can point out that Barrett reinforces an awful lot of negative stereotypes which he never quite sheds in his journeys. I don’t think I’m in the wrong by holding a spotlight to Cid, either, and his borderline abusive way of treating Shera. 

The most famous scene is easily the death of Aeris, and that’s for a damn good reason. Not only is the death done in a very powerful way which solidified the idea that CG cutscenes have a place in video games, but absolutely no one was expecting it. Aeris was the main love interest and the last member of a race that was being exploited, which made her something of a big deal to Hojo and therefore a major plot point. Her death was an emotional moment for most of the people who played the game, and it was a shock to everyone who played it. It was also an evasion. Aeris flirted her way through through her parts of the game and never seemed to show a whole lot of concern, and one strategy guide I read had the idea that there was some kind of hidden meter in the game that showed how much she liked Cloud. Although I haven’t been able to confirm that, it fits her character. When she finally does realize the gravitas of the situation, she bolts from the party, thus freeing the writers from having to develop her, and when the party catches up in the Forgotten City and she threatens to have to grow a third dimension again, she’s conveniently rubbed out. To their credit, the death and sendoff and haunting, emotional, and beautiful, but they’re still a way of getting around having to write her more. To think, these are the same writers who whipped up a silly character named Cait Sith who joined the party for a ridiculous reason, wiped him out, and immediately replaced him with a Cait Sith II (yes, that’s exactly what he called himself in the game), and nobody gave another thought to it.

You can breed chocobos in FFVII. Now, if you weren’t reading a strategy guide, how would you ever know that was even possible? Breeding them is important if you’re to grab the most powerful spell in the game, Knights of the Round, a devastator which totally cuts through everything the game can throw at you, including the last boss. Unfortunately, it involves knowing little insider details the game doesn’t tell you, like the difference between the highest level chocobos. I love thinking outside the box in video games, but this is thinking outside the marble containing our universe. Knights of the Round is mentioned casually by a lot of sources giving you ways to beat the game, but chocobo breeding requires virtually turning your life over if you’re starting from no knowledge. The summon spells also take forever to cast because the animations are long and can’t be skipped. Knights of the Round is a well-known culprit, taking over a minute.

It’s not that I don’t have problems with the other games in the Final Fantasy series. I do – Final Fantasy VIII is as bad as they come, and I even have a problem with the way the “infallible” Final Fantasy VI basically castrates itself in the second half, forcing players to figure out everything about where to go and what to do in a brand new world. Those two don’t annoy me as much as FFVII, though. Final Fantasy VIII is acknowledged as a terrible game in a lot of places, and FFVI doesn’t have the amount of saturation and hype as FFVII. My problem with FFVII isn’t the fact that people love it so much as it is the fact that it’s so fiercely beloved and defended that everyone pretends the flaws don’t exist. It’s like The Beatles.

There’s only one reason why Final Fantasy VII is as popular as it is: It was the My First RPG for an enormous contingent of people who either didn’t realize the genre existed until then or spent a lot of spare time bullying the people who did play RPGs. Yes, it’s wonderful to finally be able to play RPGs openly and not be poorly judged, but it certainly cost a lot of the genre’s integrity. Final Fantasy used to set standards. Now, because people loved Final Fantasy VII, Square found its commercial breakthrough, and so Final Fantasy is merely standard.

The March Madness Video Game Tournament Finals Round

The March Madness Video Game Tournament Finals Round

Final Four

Master Chief vs. Dante
The thing about Dante’s matches is that he really hasn’t been, ahem, challenged just yet. Now he’s facing off with a first seed who wears a suit of armor specifically designed to repel a lot of his attacks, and the person wearing it is a genetically enhanced, super-trained soldier capable of absorbing his melee attacks. Dante’s Devil Trigger is a limited mode, and it’s not going to be strong enough to knock off Master Chief in a single round. Given this, it’s easy to imagine Dante taunting Master Chief in the early goings of the fight, but Dante’s best attacks are his melee attacks, and he’s going to drop his act pretty quickly after approaching Master Chief only to get socked in the face. Master Chief’s armor is going to repel a good number of Dante’s more dangerous ranged attacks, which sucks for Dante because with melee combat being a last resort and Master Chief being a range fighter, that’s how Chief is going to make Dante beat him – at range. Although Dante is very capable of fighting at range, it’s melee combat which is his greatest strength, and so what Dante is stuck with is a choice between frying pan and fire: Use his now-unreliable ranged attacks or try to rush up to fight melee with Master Chief shooting bullets and energy weapons in his face. The Son of Sparda is going to be forced to fight off the mistakes of a guy who’s trained to never, ever make mistakes, and he’s going down.
Winner: Master Chief

Samus Aran vs. Vectorman
A battle of attrition is going to commence between Samus and Vectorman, and it’s going to be an ugly match. Vectorman can turn into a bomb, and Samus can morph into a ball which plants bombs along the ground. Both know the importance of multidirectional aim. Hell, they even both use basic weaponry stored in their arms! Although Samus is armed with the mighty Screw Attack, it’s going to be tough to be able to get into a fully safe area where she can activate it. Samus is eventually going to take a final gamble using her Speed Booster, which allows her to move at supersonic speeds which are lethal to her enemies. She’ll get an opening in Vectorman’s line of fire, charge up as fast as she can, and launch at Vectorman in Shinespark mode, which throws Vectorman off his bearings. After that, Samus launches every ranged weapon she has at Vectorman while he’s down.
Winner: Samus

Championship Match

Master Chief vs. Samus Aran
Two stars of first-person shooting games wearing protective biological suits. Sadly, this isn’t going to end up being the legendary final matchup we hoped for – after all, Samus has a lot more in her arsenal, and items other than guns which allow her more functionality beyond just protection while killing everything in sight. She can move around and do more to avoid Master Chief’s attacks. The big difference-maker, though, is going to be Samus’s Ice Beam. Although Master Chief’s armor provides protection against the elements, its makers probably never viewed a beam capable of freezing up the armor from the inside as a real threat. It would be almost too easy, actually, and after Master Chief is frozen, it’s time to unleash the rocket launcher, or perhaps the Screw Attack or Shinespark, since there’s no real guarantee using the rocket launcher against Master Chief, who’s probably equipped to survive a close-by explosion.
March Madness Video Game Character Tournament Champion: Samus Aran

And The First Lady of Video Games takes the top prize. Was there ever any doubt?

The Microsoft Bracket Face-Off

The Microsoft Bracket Face-Off

Round One

Commander Shepard vs. Ryu Hayabusa
Both combatants in this match are extremely well-armed. Shepard has a ton of new-age weaponry, as well as a nice selection of biological abilities. Ryu uses a lot of standard ninja weapons, but if we’ve learned one thing from Shinobi, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and all those other staples of ninja pop culture, we know ninja-tech can take high-tech to the bank very easily. Shepard, however, can take damage surprisingly rapidly, and is also slower on the draw. By the time Shepard realizes what’s going on and pulls a gun, Ryu already killed Shepard at least twice.
Winner: Ryu

Desmond Miles vs. Rayman
Desmond is like Solid Snake over in The Sony Bracket: Has a lot of primary abilities based on evading enemies rather than engaging them, unless of course they happen to be victims. This could play to his advantage, but it sort of gets cancelled out by his little pickings in ranged weapons. That’s not going to do a whole lot of good against an opponent whose own fists themselves can act as ranged weapons.
Winner: Rayman

The Prince vs. Pitfall Harry
Yes, Pitfall Harry has a slingshot and a pet jaguar, but he just can’t do a whole lot with them. The Prince uses melee weapons as his primary arms, which would ordinarily turn this into a David vs. Goliath fight, but The Prince is also an acrobat who can get the most out of heightened areas in the room, even if those heightened areas are nothing more than plain old walls. This is a closer match than anticipated, but it’s still going The Prince’s way.
Winner: Prince

Sam Stone vs. Nightmare
An FPS character vs. a fighter character. Yes, Nightmare’s fighting styles are described as “The Memories that Stain His Armor,” and “What the Sword Desires,” and yes, it’s safe to assume the sword desires victory. But desire isn’t quite as powerful a weapon as a good, trusty shotgun. I told you fighter characters weren’t going to fare very well in this tournament.
Winner: Sam

Round Two

Master Chief vs. Sam Stone
What happens when an FPS character fights another FPS character? In this case, you would figure Sam would have the advantage over a guy who can only carry two weapons at once. In this case, though, Sam isn’t cybernetically enhanced with more strength and unbreakable bones or equipped with a suit that repels a lot of weaponry and recharges itself. Without that nice advantage, Sam is a walking duck in a shooting gallery.
Winner: Chief

Marcus Fenix vs. The Prince
Now The Prince is in deep shit. Yes, he’s equipped with a complete armory, same as Marcus is. Unfortunately, Prince’s armory is literally medieval when compared to Marcus’s futuristic armory. His only hope is to keep dropping onto Marcus from above to hit hit, then running away and repeating. Marcus is going to figure that out, though, and Prince will be a sitting duck on the ground.
Winner: Marcus

Rayman vs. Ryu Hayabusa
The most interesting match of The Microsoft Bracket. Both have a lot of power when compared to the other, both can use ranged supernatural powers of sorts. Ryu has power developed beyond human nature while Rayman isn’t actually a human. Ryu does have an edge, though, with his ninja sense. It gives him a knack for knowing just when he’s about to get socked with something, and he undoubtedly has the developed reflexes necessary to jump out of the way and toss a knife at Rayman in return. For awhile, Rayman will no doubt be able to hold his own, but eventually he’s going to get worn down against a ninja who knows exactly what’s going to be thrown at him and when it’s getting thrown.
Winner: Ryu

Round Three

Master Chief vs. Marcus Fenix
Hey, a pair of top seeds get to fight against each other! There’s a problem, though: Master Chief beat Serious Sam in the last round, and Sam was an FPS character, which means he wouldn’t have held any particular advantages of Marcus Fenix. Maybe if he had a few genetic enhancements, like Chief does, it would make for a different and more interesting outcome, or at least if Marcus had anything different from the Generic Grizzled Space Marine from Doom who kick started the whole first-person shooting game craze. But he doesn’t, so this match ends the same as Master Chief’s last match.
Winner: Chief

Microsoft Bracket Championship

Master Chief vs. Ryu Hayabusa
Ryu looks like a formidable opponent for Master Chief, but there’s a reason The Covenant uses ranged weapons instead of blades against the SPARTAN Army that lands on planet Halo. Ryu’s primary weapons aren’t going to affect Master Chief very much, if at all. Engaging his Ninpo, Ryu starts throwing the elements out against Master Chief, but the elements are exactly why Master Chief wears the suit of armor he does – so he doesn’t have to worry very much about freezing to death. Even if Ryu resorts to time stoppage, we’ve already established the fact that there’s nothing he can do with a blade to hurt Master Chief. His only hope is to try to get Master Chief sucked into a vacuum, but the suit is probably a great defense against that, too. And when Ryu looks around, realizing he’s out of options, Master Chief is going to take aim with his most powerful weapon.
Microsoft Bracket Champion: Master Chief

The Sony Bracket Face-Off

The Sony Bracket Face-Off

Round One

Ratchet vs. Yoshimitsu
Yoshimitsu is better off than most of the fighting game characters who have been in this tournament so far, since he carries a sword. Unfortunately, that’s still not going to let him get anywhere near Ratchet, whose only true melee weapon can double as a boomerang, which would allow him to keep a safe distance even if he didn’t have all those guns going for him. We know Ratchet probably wouldn’t use the disc blade gun, since there’s an outside chance Yoshimitsu could knock them away with his sword.
Winner: Ratchet

Kratos vs. Spyro the Dragon
Kratos has strength and abilities beyond those of any regular men, but then again, Spyro isn’t a regular man. Both have ranged attacks, but Kratos has a bit of a problem in that he doesn’t have much in the way of defense. Kratos could try to rip Spyro’s wings off, but in the event he tries that, it’s easy to see Spyro just running him through with his horns. If Kratos tries to get within range to fight with the Blades of Chaos, it’s easy to see Spyro fending him off with either a charge or a well-aimed projectile, and while it might be tricky for him, it’s entirely possible that Spyro could force Kratos into fighting from a distance, where Kratos and his small array of ranged attacks would be susceptible since they take more time to cast while, even on the occasions that Spyro isn’t bearing down on Kratos with a barrage of elements and chi, he would still be able to move out of the way before Kratos’s attacks were fully prepared. Kratos could eventually be forced into using nothing but his bow and arrow, and if Spyro manages that, he walks out as the unlikely winner, giving us the biggest upset so far.
Winner: Spyro

Solid Snake vs. Dante
Solid Snake’s only real chance against Dante are his rocket launchers. There’s no way Snake wins a melee against the ultra-strong half-demon Dante, even trying to confuse him with a chaff grenade or put him down with the tranquilizer. Even the rocket launchers are a risky proposition, though, especially with Snake trying to fumble with his aim while Dante goes all Devil Trigger on his ass.
Winner: Dante

Cloud Strife vs. Duke Nukem
Cloud has a giant sword, limit breaks, and magic. Duke has lots of guns and machismo. There’s little doubt that Duke is more than strong enough to take a barrage of Cloud’s attack spells while returning fire with his guns. Unfortunately for Duke, Cloud is eventually going to figure out that he can get further by removing all of Duke’s biggest strengths. Since Cloud has access to all the blue magic in Final Fantasy VII, he hits Duke with a blinding wave of bad breath (yes, that’s what the spell is called) which leaves Duke blind, confused, poisoned, slow, and several other unwanted statuses. Then, if Duke hit Cloud often enough during the fight (and he’s Duke Nukem, so he did), Cloud initiates the Omnislash and wipes Duke off the face of Gaia.
Winner: Cloud

Round Two

Lara Croft vs. Cloud Strife
Maybe it looks like another crushing for Cloud like Duke, but Lara has a couple of advantages that Duke didn’t: Her speed and agility. Lara is quick enough to make everything Cloud throws at her miss. She wouldn’t be stopped or slowed by a movement-altering spell, and when Cloud finally decides it’s time to move in with more traditional attacks, Lara can duck and weave out of his way while returning fire from a distance with whatever gun she feels like wielding.
Winner: Lara

Crash Bandicoot vs. Dante
Let’s just say this is REALLY going to suck for poor Crash. He’ll be able to get by spinning and jumping his way out of Dante’s line of fire for awhile, but then again, it’s possible Dante was just playing with him like he does so many of his enemies. In fact, it’s probable, and when Dante gets bored, this entire “match” will be over.
Winner: Dante

Ratchet vs. Spyro the Dragon
Both of these guys have painful ranged attacks. When they get tired of dodging each other’s bullets, Spyro will try to take to the air to finish the job off. The thing with wings, though, is that when Spyro uses them to fly, he can’t duck for cover behind them. The thing with Ratchet is that his job allows him access to the occasional fighter jet, which gives him a full range of movements – he can hover, strafe, or go backwards, and doing all those things should give him a nice, safe way to finish off Spyro.
Winner: Ratchet

Round Three

Lara Croft vs. Dante
I’m starting to sense a pattern with Dante’s opponents. There really aren’t a lot of characters who could match him pound for pound in his abilities, either with technology or magic. Snake and Crash were both unprotected, and so is Lara. Lara is faster than anyone else, though, so she’ll be able to fight Dante back, going around all his normal attacks while returning fire with her own guns. It’s going to work for awhile, and by “awhile,” I mean “until Dante activates Devil Trigger.” Then Dante is going to have every advantage he could possibly have in this fight, and Lara is going to be finished off in pretty short order even if Dante decides to finish her off with his heaviest, most unwieldy sword.
Winner: Dante

Sony Bracket Championship

Ratchet vs. Dante
I have a feeling this fight is going to go a lot like Ratchet’s battle against Spyro. They’ll match each other at first, and Ratchet is smart enough to not let Dante get close enough to use his awesome strength against him. They’ll exchange fire for awhile, with Ratchet using every weapon he can pack, and Dante being whip-fast avoiding everything while exchanging fire with his own pair of guns. Eventually, of course, Ratchet is going to take to his fighter jet to try to finish off Dante, but this is going to be a major tactical error now because Dante has that nasty Devil Trigger, which will allow him to take to the air with more maneuverability than Ratchet believed was ever possible. Dante can fly free while Ratchet fumbles with a control panel, and while Dante’s bullets may have limited effect, he’ll eventually be able to get close enough to finish the job with one of his really powerful close-range weapons.
Sony Bracket Champion: Dante

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