Wednesday, October 28, 2020
The fifth entry of author David Farland’s The Runelords series opens with Asgaroth sending his consciousness across the universe, ultimately finding what remains of the One True World and coming before his master, Shadoath. The main text mostly follows the primary protagonist Fallion, son of the Earth King Gaborn, and is alongside his mother Queen Iome Sylvarresta in mourning. Fallion and his companion Jaz prepare to embark upon a journey, with the former being certain to bring along his pet ferrin Humfrey. Fallion embarks upon a ship, the Leviathan, which needs repair for most of the book.
Fallion also hones his fencing skills with Borenson, and notices a black ship during the voyage, headed by the Pirate Lord Shadoath. Fallion finds himself tempted by a flameweaver termed Smoker, and Captain Stalker ultimately finds his nephew, whom Fallion had at one point rescued, missing. Fallion and Jaz are captured and tortured briefly, and spends the latter part of the narrative in healing from his wounds. Shadoath had been seeking Fallion for five years, taking endowments for an eventual confrontation, and at the end, Fallion makes it a point to know his father better.
In the meantime, King Anders of South Crowthen gives himself to a locus, a creature of the netherworld, and is lost to darkness, and Rhianna also spends a sizeable chunk of the text at sea, for several chapters turning into a sea ape that still has verbal communication skills. All in all, I definitely enjoyed this story, which is generally more straightforward than many of its predecessors given its great focus on Fallion, although some readers might take surprise at the time leap since the previous novel in the series. Regardless, I definitely don’t regret reading it.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Sunday, October 25, 2020
Both Sides Now
Square-Enix and Disney’s joint Kingdom Hearts series has come along way since its inception in an elevator meeting between executives from both companies, although it would have a weird narrative direction where, between official numbered entries, there would be various side-games to fill in the storyline gaps between the titles, and it would be well over a decade before the “official” sequel received its conclusion in a “third” game. Among the games bridging the gap between the second and third numbered titles is Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance HD, its prior version originally released on the Nintendo 3DS, which provides an experience on par with other entries.
3D opens with Keybladers Sora and Riku’s summon to Master Yen Sid’s tower to take the Mark of Mastery exam to deal with the impending threat of the villainous Master Xehanort, which entails that both visit “sleeping worlds” that reveal a bit of backstory to the series. While the narrative is slightly more bearable than in other entries, the scenes with cartoony characters such as Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are somewhat excruciating, and given the inability to skip voiced text, the plot feels forced in the player’s face, and is middling overall.
The translation is mostly legible, with no visible spelling or grammar errors, although there is plenty of cliched dialogue involving hearts, light, and darkness, not to mention a bit of redundancy and loads of unnatural battle quotes such as Sora and Riku shouting the names of the spell elements they’re using, or in the former case say things such as “Faster!” and “Light!” However, the localization team actually did a fairly decent job of having voiced dialogue fit characters’ lips, with only some inconsistencies in this regard, but the writing itself is ultimately average.
3D evolves the franchise’s Keyblade-based combat, but not all for the better. In this entry, allies come in the form of Spirits, friendly versions of the main antagonistic Dream Eaters, which the player can create through raw materials gained from combat. Each Spirit has a development grid somewhat similar to, but not exactly like, the stat-increasing system of the tenth Final Fantasy, with Link Points obtained for the two active and one passive Spirits acquired through fighting. Some of these abilities can be surprisingly useful, particularly Leaf Bracer, which forbids foes from interrupting Sora or Riku’s healing.
Similar to Birth by Sleep, Sora and Riku each have command lists, with abilities consuming either one or two slots, and each ability needing to recharge after use. They can also primarily attack with their respective Keyblades, in addition to being able to utilize their environments in Flowmation abilities, but this can sometimes have adverse results, especially if the player is trying to get away from enemies to heal. The mentioned system also has occasional glitches, such as one I encountered that made one part of the final boss battles unwinnable and necessitate a reset. The gameplay generally does have good ideas, but the execution isn’t always good.
3D’s control also has an equal number of things going for and against it, with the former including helpful maps that the player can open and enlarge for once (at least outside battle) to get a better view of the area, and easy menus. However, dialogue during the many voiced cutscenes is skill unskippable, sure to alienate hearing-impaired players, and for some reason, the developers made the in-game clock more difficult to view, only when saving the game. It’s also annoying for NEW indicators to be flashing in the menus once the player gains new items or advances the plot, but things could have been worse.
One of the high points of 3D is its aural presentation, with the voicework largely being good and fitting the various characters, though the cartoony voices of characters such as Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, as with before, create a total dissonance, and the near-death alarm is still annoying, not stopping until the player is above critical HP. That each world has its own battle theme rectifies the typical JRPG issue of repetitive battle music is as with before nice, and the public domain music of the Fantasia-based world, Symphony of Sorcery, is nice. Ultimately, a decent-sounding game.
The visuals are by no means bad, but definitely have their rough spots. While the colors and environments mostly look good, aside from some occasional blurriness and pixilation when the scenery comes close to the camera, the framerate difference between the gameplay and narrative portions is very noticeable, the camera itself can be problematic at times in combat, and there are occasional reskins of Spirits and Dream Eaters. All in all, an average-looking game.
Finally, the interquel is just the right length, somewhere from at least twelve hours (if the player lucks out) to up to twenty-four, a New Game+ allowing for subsequent playthroughs with Spirits retained, although the slight frustration, even on Beginner mode, may discourage additional playtime.
In summation, Dream Drop Distance does have plenty of good ideas in combat such as the Flowmation mechanics, along with a good soundtrack and some lasting appeal, but the execution of the gameplay leaves something to desire, given the potential frustrations even on Beginner mode and rare glitch, not to mention the control issues, some of which 3D bequeaths from the game’s chronological predecessors, the inconsistent tone of the storyline, and the graphical presentation. It’s by no means a bad game, but as younger audiences seem to be the main audience of the franchise, the potential hiccups in the gameplay might alienate even them.
This review is based on a playthrough on Beginner mode of the version including with The Story So Far.
+Keyblade combat and grinding Spirits can be fun.
+Visuals get the job done.
+Some lasting appeal.
-Can be hard even on Beginner mode.
-Issues with control.
-Story has inconsistent tone.
-Graphics could have been better.
The Bottom Line:
Not bad, but not great, either.
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 5.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 7.5/10
Playing Time: 12-24 Hours
Having mostly experienced Japanese roleplaying games, I’ve made a point to delve into Western titles in the genre, and years ago, I bought a deal on Steam for the first two titles in the Fallout series with Tactics. I tried the very first game in the franchise, Fallout, but didn’t experience the masterpiece critics made it out to be, to the point where I didn’t even bother with its sequels, and didn’t technically beat the initial entry. A few years later, my failure to actually beat the game lay heavy upon me, and I gave it another shot with a guide; while the game certainly has its flaws, I don’t regret playing.
The first game occurs in a post-nuclear doomsday setting, with the player’s blank-slate protagonist at first tasked with retrieving a water chip for their vault within a hundred-day-plus timeframe, after which is a more open-world experience that culminates in a confrontation with a religious leader known as the Master. The story isn’t anything spectacular, although there are occasional colorful characters and some decent backstory. Regardless, the direction of the narrative is unclear at best, and while the plot isn’t thrown in the player’s face, it could have used more development.
When creating their protagonist, the player can set their various stats (which they can only sporadically improve through means such as surgery) and grant bonuses to innate abilities such as increased proficiency with small/large firearms, or improved speech capability, among others. Fights themselves trigger whenever the player’s character draws near hostiles, with the player granted a number of action points, and things such as moving, opening the inventory, or attacking consuming a certain number of them. When the player runs out of action points, all enemies take their actions, which largely mimic those of the main character.
The player can find the rare AI-controlled ally, but luckily, at least if the player discovers certain secrets such as the most powerful weapon in the game (which comes in a random encounter on the overworld and depends on luck to trigger), the player can mostly fight solo. When all hostiles in an area are gone, the player gains experience for occasional level-ups, in which case they can invest points into their skillsets and, every three levels, pick a perk that can provide benefits such as increased base stats. The battle system generally works decently, at least with a guide, though contemporary features such as being able to skip enemy turns would have been nice.
While the keyboard and mouse controls are easy to get a handle of, there are issues such as the player’s limited inventory space, the lack of descriptions for item effects, the lack of organizational capabilities, and the like. There’s also weak direction on how to advance the central storyline, although as with most Western RPGs, the player can record their progress most of the time anywhere (and keep multiple save slots, to boot), and there are few actual dungeons where the player can find himself or herself lost. All in all, Fallout doesn’t always interact well with players, but things could have been worse.
As with most RPGs originating outside Japan, the soundtrack isn’t anything particularly special, although the rare music is occasionally good, the sound effects are fitting, there’s good ambience, and the voice performances are generally well-done.
The visuals look good, with an isometric and realistic style where all characters have good anatomy, along with well-designed scenery and colors that very well reflect the post-doomsday disposition. Granted, the FMVs contain a great deal of blurriness and pixilation and haven’t aged well, and the game doesn’t clearly indicate interactable objects. Regardless, Fallout is far from an eyesore.
Finally, the first game is fairly short, with a straightforward playthrough, especially with a guide, potentially taking as little as twelve hours, although the large amount of extra content and potential differences when starting new playthroughs can bump it up to more than that.
In the end, Fallout isn’t quite the masterpiece many videogame critics have made it out to be, although it nonetheless started a successful franchise, and admittedly does have plenty of things going for it such as its strategic turn-based tactical battle system, save-anywhere feature, and strong aspects such as part of the visuals. However, it has many of the pitfalls of open-world Western RPGs such as the poor direction with regards to the narrative and control, not to mention the unmemorable soundtrack. Despite its flaws, I definitely don’t regret the time I spent with the game, and would gladly play its successors to see how the franchise evolves.
This review is based on a playthrough of a digital copy downloaded from Steam.
+Half-decent turn-based tactical battle system.
+Visuals have good aspects.
-Poor direction on how to advance.
-Scant story development.
The Bottom Line:
Not the best start to the series, but I don’t regret experiencing it.
Platform: PC (Steam)
Game Mechanics: 6.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 8.0/10
Playing Time: 12-24 Hours
Friday, October 23, 2020
This entry of author Chris Fox’s Magitech Chronicles opens with Skare about to meet a Guardian, before the action changes to Aran, who steps onto a fabled vessel known as the First Spellship, continuing to question his loyalty towards the Confederacy. Sure enough, Aran starts his own band of mercenaries, and interrogates Kheross about various matters. Aran ultimately plans a large operation, aiming for military bases such as Fort Crockett and battling rival vessels, and has a personal battle with Arkelion, the results of some of his missions made known in the news.
Nara, in the meanwhile, deals with a Wyrm attack, and is reluctant to meet Eros. She controls the vessel Talon, and yearns to visit a Zephyr research facility. Voria receives a significant amount of focus as well, becoming friends with Ikadra, the Krox in the meantime invading the New Texas colony. Thus, Voria seeks to familiarize herself with the controls of the First Spellship. The last few events in the story occur in Ternus space, with Nara glad to be in their captivity, and Nebiat ascending to godhood through supernatural means.
All in all, this entry definitely isn’t one of the finer moments of the Magitech Chronicles series, and stumbles often with regards to its slight character and perspective fatigue. I found it difficult to imagine the appearances of the various characters, particularly the draconic ones, as well. The mixture of science-fiction and fantasy definitely doesn’t work as well as it does in franchises such as Star Wars, it’s somewhat difficult to remember the important events of the novel, and I would only recommend this entry to those who truly enjoyed its precursors.