Sunday, October 21, 2018

Commission by Moodyferret


PhoneL
by jmg124 on DeviantArt

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Assassin's Creed

Assassin's Creed.jpg

After he finished working on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time for various platforms in 2003, videogame developer Patrice Désilets commenced work on a sequel, intending it to release on consoles of its time, unaware of the capabilities of next-generation systems. However, his efforts ultimately turned into an open-world game feasible on newer systems, with the title still envisioned as a Prince of Persia game. As next-gen consoles came out, though, the game would ultimately become a Divorced Installment entitled Assassin’s Creed. Does it hold up today, or does it show its age?

The franchise’s first installment follows a bartender, Desmond Miles, subject to experiments on the Animus, a system allowing him to go back in time to assume the role of an ancestors, an assassin named Altaïr, active during the Third Crusade during the twelfth century, with his guild opposing the Templars, both antagonistic factions seeking peace through conflicting means. The story is easily one of the game’s highlights, given its basis on reality, but many intertwined narrative/gameplay clichés, such as having to do favors for people in order to get information from them and advance the plot, easily bog it down.

Altaïr’s main goal is to assassinate nine individuals to regain his stature in the Assassin Brotherhood, the game largely following a methodical structure where he gathers information in an Israeli city through means such as eavesdropping on conversations whilst sitting on a nearby bench, stealthily assassinating targets assigned by a non-player character (in which case detection by soldiers forces players to redo all such killings), pickpocketing certain individuals, or following an orator after one of their speeches and beating information out of them. Assassination sub-missions tend to be the most annoying, although luckily, players don’t have to see through all such tasks to advance the storyline, with scenery scoping from the top of tall buildings sometimes opening more advancement opportunities.

Occasionally, due to the difficulty of remaining wholly covert, Altaïr will have to fight guards, most combat sword-based, the assassin largely alone in his efforts to resist, although harassed citizens whom he rescues will sometimes open up help from vigilantes, the hero himself able to eventually return to secretive disposition by staying in hay piles or rooftop shacks for a few seconds. Combat against multiple adversaries can be somewhat difficult, made even more so by the lousy targeting system, although mastering the eventual ability to counterattack can make such battles more manageable.

While advancing through the game somewhat opens up Altaïr to more health points and ways in which to defend himself, the game systems feel generally unrewarding, tedious, and repetitive, although as long as players don’t exit the game, there are some instances where he can retry certain mission objectives from checkpoints, and while exploration can sometimes be fun, the gameplay ultimately loses its luster. This player, furthermore, didn’t find much use for Altaïr’s ability arsenal aside from counterattacks, given that attacking normally fails around nine-tenths of the time. Overall, the gameplay does have things going for it, but often becomes a chore.

Control, however, fares significantly worse, given some loose aspects such as the traversal of rooftops and ease of unintended actions such as Altaïr kicking away from walls into enemies, not to mention the hit-or-miss nature of the mentioned counterattacks. There are also some instances where a more detailed mini-map during standard gameplay would have been helpful, particularly during the time-sensitive seek-and-kill missions, the player needing to go into the main interface to view streets and buildings. The lack of manual saving is also a burden, with the occasional autosaves not always keeping Altaïr’s current location, and there are redundant traversals of the game’s world from the assassin headquarters with each new story mission. Ultimately, interaction could have been far better.

The voicework in Assassin’s Creed is mostly good (although hearing-impaired gamers definitely won’t appreciate the lack of subtitles), but the game barely tries in terms of its soundtrack, with very few, if any, memorable tracks.

The franchise’s initial entry also falters with regards to its visuals, given a choppy framerate, inconsistent camera, dull grayish hues, bland textures, and so on, although there are some cutscenes where the player can change the view.

Finally, finishing the main quest can take from half to a full day, and the game actually has some lasting appeal, given tasks such as finding hidden flags and killing all official Templars.

In the end, Assassin’s Creed is a game that had strong potential, given the mild entertainment of its exploration and open-world gameplay, solid voicework, enjoyable narrative, and reason to come back for more, although there are many areas where it falters, particularly with regards to its repetitive combat and hackneyed play elements, loose control, unmemorable soundtrack, and unpolished visuals. It definitely shows as the first title in its franchise, yet would nonetheless spawn a vast media franchise consisting of many sequels, spinoffs, and even a movie. Regardless, it’s certainly not the best diving board into the series, with many other games implementing what play elements it has better.

The Good:
+Gameplay can be fun.
+Good voicework.
+Enjoyable story.
+Some lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Repetitive combat.
-Wonky controls.
-Forgettable soundtrack.
-Glitchy graphics.

The Bottom Line:
Not a great start to the series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 6/10
Controls: 3/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 5/10
Graphics: 4/10
Lasting Appeal: 8/10
Difficulty: Annoying
Playing Time: 12-24 Hours

Overall: 5.5/10

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

TheLionWitchWardrobe(1stEd).jpg

Author C.S. Lewis dedicated the first Chronicles of Narnia book he wrote, and the second in its chronology, to his goddaughter Lucy Barfield, who was undoubtedly the inspiration for one of the protagonists of the same name, who joins her brothers Peter and Edmund and sister Susan in being vacated to an old professor’s manor during the air raids on Britain during the Second World War. During a game of hide and seek, Lucy enters a wardrobe and stumbles into the world of Narnia, encountering a faun named Tumnus, with whom she dines before returning home, finding that not a whole lot of time has elapsed within her homeworld.

Edmund too finds himself in Narnia, encountering the primary antagonist, the White Witch and self-proclaimed Queen of the country, who tempts him with sweets before heading off. All four siblings ultimately go to Narnia together, where they dine with a beaver husband and wife who tell of Aslan the lion, purportedly “on the move.” With the White Witch having tempted him, Edmund abandons his siblings, believing good to be in the Queen, although he comes to regret his choices. After the siblings meet Aslan, battle for Narnia ensues, the story ending on a high note.

Overall, this tale of Narnia is definitely enjoyable, with this reviewer having fond memories of it in his youth, and found that reading it secondly after its chronological predecessor, The Magician’s Nephew, yielded many continuity nods, and the occasional breakings of the fourth wall adds some humor. Granted, there are some instances where Lewis could have given specific characters actual names, such as the aforementioned beaver patriarch and matriarch, and there is a smidgeon of specism regarding the composition of the opposing forces (though certain races aren’t entirely black and white), but younger audiences will be sure to appreciate this classic.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Legacy of the Devil Queen

Legacy of the Devil Queen by Joe     Jackson

The fourth entry of author Joe Jackson’s Eve of Redemption series opens with Earl Clyde Pendergast, nicknamed “Iron Clyde,” receiving reports of the razed town of Saffsburgh, traveling there and finding demons to be responsible for its destruction. Lady Karian Vanador, the pregnant baroness and head of the Demonhunter Order, hears this news and mulls how to handle the threat to the south whilst perpetually dealing with an alleged mole in the Order. A minor subplot involves Kari receiving an estate as a gift from the Duke of Sutherland, and planning a wedding with her mate Grakin, having had a son out of wedlock with him.

Kari sends Erik and his siblings, known as the Silver Blades, to deal with the demonic threat, joined by a paladin named Gabrius Tevone. In the meantime, the divorced patriarch of the Silver Blades, Corbanis, first visits his future daughter-in-law, after which he leaves to find his children, ultimately joining them in the fight against the main adversaries, the Demon Prince Taesenus among them. A veteran of the Apocalypse, Atauridar, the Silver Blades capture on their journey, his fate settled towards the end, along with a double marriage and Kari’s ultimate childbirth.

Overall, this is another fine addition to Jackson’s series, given its deep mythos and anthropomorphic draconic characters, with the author acknowledging Advanced Dungeons and Dragons as one of the franchise’s influences in his acknowledgements section, further thanking his religious faith, editors, and fans. Granted, some occasional reminders and kennings related to the appearances and species of the characters would have definitely been welcome, and some confusion arises later on regarding the various names of the antagonists, but those who enjoyed the book’s precursors won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan

Hisone to Masotan First Visual.jpg

A somewhat-original anime occuring in Japan in a world where dragons are real, although their existence is unknown to the general public due to things such as being disguised. Hisone is a pilot in Japan's Air Force who is assigned an Organic Transformed Flyer (OTF), a dragon named Masotan, who in public is disgused as an Air Force plane. To pilot disguised dragons, the dragons first have to swallow their pilots, who wear protective clothing, and who pilot from their stomachs. Some of the female voices are grating, but it was still an enjoayble anime. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Romancing SaGa



Close, but no SaGa.

Square-Enix’s SaGa series, the brainchild of developer Akitoshi Kawazu, who started work on Final Fantasy II is the eccentric sibling of the company’s other franchises, given offbeat mechanics, learning curves, and high difficulty. While most of the games got positive response in Japan, reception of the series beyond the country has been less forgiving, leading Square-Enix’s North American branch mostly not to bother with translations. One entry that got foreign release was the PlayStation 2 remake of Romancing SaGa, which is more or less what one can expect from the oddball franchise.

When beginning a new game, the player can choose from one of eight different characters, each with their own starting points and stories in the game’s world, which ultimately opens up to players with a greater number of quests completed. Ashen avatars representing different enemy types indicate enemy parties to encounter, with all taking notice and charging the player’s chosen protagonist regardless of their party’s strength, a step down from the vastly-superior visual skirmish systems of past RPGs such as EarthBound. Should other encounter models be nearby when the player contacts one, they will need to fight multiple enemy parties with no rest in between, and no ability to escape.

While proficiencies players can learn from non-player characters in towns grant two skills with which to evade visible monsters, remembering which of them work against which types is difficult. Battles themselves, however, have many things going for them, with the player’s party of up to five characters squaring off against foes, players able to outfit them with up to four usable items, including weapons having limited durability (in most cases except with those whose menu icons have square borders recoverable at inns), a first-aid kit also with finite replenishable uses, or medicines with single uses.

Each weapon characters equip typically have minimal skills to start other than standard attacks, although, mostly when fighting powerful foes, new skills may instantly “spark” and execute. Some of these learnable abilities consume the weapon’s durability points, usually maxing out at thirty, weapons able to break if all durability expires, although, except for the mentioned armaments with square-border menu icons, sleeping at inns for an additional cost can repair them fully. Once the player has inputted commands for all characters, they and the enemy exchange commands depending upon speed, fights ending when all enemies are dead or all characters have run out of hit points.

Should an ally fall in battle, they lose one of about a dozen or so life points (with some skills such as a few martial arts abilities also consuming LP), also replenishable at inns, although fortunately, standard HP-recovering spells and items can bring them back into the fight. Speaking of magic, eight different schools of spells, four opposing the others (the player unable to wield sorcery of antagonistic classes simultaneously), are learnable for a cost, characters unable to share spells, and typically cost one or more LP, although investing skill points, always earned whether in small or large quantity from combat victories, into certain classes can reduce or eliminate cost.

Battle Points, each character having fixed starting and maximum amounts that can gradually increase also through winning battles, dictate which skills they can execute during a turn, each ability other than standard attacks costing BP, although after each round, BP increases for each character by a fixed amount, meaning that characters can defend to both reduce damage and accumulate points to execute more powerful attacks, some of which can form more powerful combination attacks, although unlike the second Frontier game, there is no in-game tracker of combos, nor are there any charts indicating learned and unlearned abilities.

Back to LP, when a character loses all, they become unable to be healed or fight again unless the player sleeps at an inn. Once battles have ended, the participants receive random stat increases, maybe some money (a scarce resource throughout the game, with the bulk of finances coming from quest completion and selling excess items), and skills points players can invest into various classes in towns to increase skill proficiencies. While all characters fully recover HP after battle, this by no means makes the game a cakewalk, and the difficulty is generally above-average, some mechanics possibly necessitating the use of a guide, something no player should really have to do when playing a game.

While combat certainly has its foibles, control fares much worse, one issue being the terrible direction on how to advance the main storyline, which is more or less nonexistent, although there is luckily in-game tracking of quests players may receive at times. Another high point is that the player can quicksave 99% of the time outside battle, and reload this save should they quit the game, die, or soft-reset. A further problem with control, however, is that the voiced dialogue during story scenes is almost always unskippable, certainly a burden for hearing-impaired players, with no scene-skip option, either. The final dungeon also forbids players from backing out, and too is a problem given scenes outside that occur as they trek to the final boss, although standard saves at towns at inns ensure that, most of the time, regardless of the situation, the game is beatable. Even so, the developers could have very well given interaction a once-over.

The overall narrative in Romancing SaGa only fares marginally better, and while characters early on receive some sort of story, maybe even twists in a few instances, the general plotline somewhat fails to unify the game, although there is some sort of backstory to the game itself, and an ending of modest length. The translation doesn’t really hurt the game, although it pales compared to other efforts of Square-Enix’s North American branch, given some rather questionable names for characters such as Eule (spoken as “oi-lay”) and places such as Kjaraht (oddly pronounced “koo-juh-rot” in voiced dialogue). In the end, the plot falters significantly, but isn’t a total writeoff.

An aspect that does significantly better is the soundtrack by Kenji Ito, which has a variety of tracks encompassing different genres, such as the rocky battle theme (which can, though, get somewhat repetitive with the endless fighting the player will do), each character having their own different theme, and the game itself having a central tune with several remixes. The English voicework, however, misses more than hits, although some of the performances are okay. All in all, while the voice acting might not win awards, the music definitely deserved to do so in the game’s time.

Neither great nor bad is the game’s visual style, with character models having cel-shading and bearing slightly-unrealistic proportions similar to early Japanese roleplaying games, which gave the graphics a sort of distinction compared to other PlayStation 2 titles of the title’s time, although the environments largely appear rusty, with blurry and pixilated texturing, and the camera is totally uncontrollable, sometimes affecting the gameplay in regards to the encounter system. There are rare CG full-motion videos, although a few cutscenes make the odd decision to narrate the story with static shots of the in-game graphics. On the whole, an average-looking game.

Finally, completing each character’s quest can take one to two days’ worth of playing time, the player able to undertake repeated New Game Pluses to view all eight allies’ plotlines, with some aspects from prior playthroughs carried over.

Overall, the PS2 remake of Romancing SaGa is, like most of its brethren within the franchise, an odd duck. It definitely has many things going for it such as the general good ideas behind the battle system, the liberalized saving system, the largely-competent translation, the excellent soundtrack, and plentiful lasting appeal. Conversely, one can levy many strikes against it such as the many foibles of combat stemming from the subpar encounter system, interaction issues such as the unskippable voiced dialogue and poor direction on how to proceed with the plotline, the need to play the game more than once to get the most out of the story, the weak voice performances, and graphical follies such as the camera. The game certainly won’t make believers of the franchise nor is a repellent from the series, given its arguable inconsistent quality, but there is some minor entertainment to have.

This review is based on a playthrough starting as Claudia.

The Good:
+Combat is fun sometimes.
+Liberal save system.
+Mostly-good translation.
+Great soundtrack.
+Replayable.

The Bad:
-Battle system has issues, stemming from encounter system and beyond.
-Many interface quibbles such as unskippable voiced dialogue.
-Multiple playthroughs necessary to get most of story.
-Weak voicework.
-Camera and visuals have problems.

The Bottom Line:
Has some good ideas, but somewhat falters in execution.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 6/10
Controls: 3/10
Story: 4/10
Localization: 7/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 5/10
Lasting Appeal: 9/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 6/10

Monday, October 15, 2018

Joy to You and Me (At Work!) Spotlight



Book Details:

Book Title: Joy to You and Me (at Work!) by Amy Thornton
Category: Adult Non-Fiction, 179 pages
Genre: Self-help, Business
Publisher: Tell-Tale Publishing Group, LLC
Release date: June 5, 2018
Tour dates: Oct 1 to 19, 2018
Content Rating: PG (This book is for ages 16+, so there is the occasional "damn", "hell", and "ass" thrown in as far as language, but nothing worse than that.)

Book Description:

Are you one of the 48% of employees worldwide who doesn't like their jobs? Do you feel constantly stressed at the office? Or maybe you're just feeling "blah" about your job and want to bring some life back into your workplace. If you talk to anyone about their careers or jobs these days, most of the time you won't hear positive stories or excitement. You'll probably hear words like "busy", "stressed", "exhausting", and "mind-numbing." And with the good old 40-hour workweek becoming a distant memory for many of us, this reality is just plain sad.

Joy to You and Me (At Work!) helps turn these situations around by giving the reader easy tips they can implement quickly to start making a positive difference in the workplace. Being joyful isn't just a "fluffy-cutesy-nice" thing to do each day - it actually increases productivity and is good for any company or organization. The book helps anyone learn how to:

- Be a more joyful person
- Bring joy to co-workers
- Bring joy to customers
- Bring joy to networking

This fun, easy-to-read guide shows people of all ages and personalities how to make a difference immediately to make not only themselves happier, but to spread that happiness throughout the workplace - and beyond!

By sharing stories from the author's 25+ years of making a joyful difference in the workplace and examples from truly kick-ass companies, Joy to You and Me (At Work!) is a life-changing, fun read for anyone who wants to improve their work life.

Buy the Book:



Meet the Author:



Amy Thornton Shankland, GPC, has been bringing joy to her workplaces for over 25 years thanks to her innate enthusiasm. She is a former Dale Carnegie instructor, has been a grant professional for 17 years, is a former columnist for the Noblesville Daily Times, and is a current board member of Noblesville Main Street.


Connect with the Author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

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Ends Oct 27, 2018



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Toukiden: Kiwami



Many videogame companies have a bad habit of releasing “enhanced” versions of titles they developed after their original versions’ releases, with Square-Enix coming to mind with so-called “International” incarnations that ironically and rarely leave Japan. Omega Force is another offender in this regard, having released expansions to its Dynasty Warriors series, although the company occasionally produced original content such as Toukiden: The Age of Demons for the PlayStation Portable and Vita, only the latter version receiving localization. Unsurprisingly, they followed the original release with an enhanced version, Toukiden: Kiwami, released exclusively on the Vita in North America, and while it’s easily the definitive release, it does have some niggling issues.

Kiwami features a methodical gameplay structure stemming from a hub town after the player has created their custom character, the player able to save their game in the village, send their pet to a certain period to procure materials used in the synthesis of new equipment alongside money acquired from completing missions and quests, upgrade mitama (with a max of three or less depending upon the player’s current weapon) to acquire new skills, and so on. In the guild hall, the player can take on requests, with some necessitating the acquisition of certain materials, and others taking them to different battlefields in various eras of Japanese history with an objective to kill enemies and bosses.

Combat in the game is action-based, with the player’s character able to equip a variety of different weapon types, and take up to three A.I.-controlled allies on missions, each with fixed weapons and classes. Killing foes acquires experience for mitama, although the player can only advance their levels at a facility in town when acquiring the necessary points, the player also able to spend money to increase mitama ranks. Mitama each have a certain type and era, with the equipment of three of the same type and/or era granting battle bonuses such as increased offensive power or immunity to certain status ailments such as poison.

After killing enemies, the player can “purify” their cadavers to obtain materials, with a maximum of different types the player can keep at their home in town that occasional quests can increase, this reviewer experiencing a ceiling of five hundred varieties that necessitated selling low-level items. Repeated purification rituals somewhat mar an otherwise quick combat pace, and assuming the stance is necessary to use mitama skills, four assigned to the Vita’s face buttons, having effects such as health recovery, increased attack power, gradual HP regeneration, and so on, with a charge time after their execution necessary before players can reuse them.

Especially if the player wishes to complete every mission optional and story-based, they can expect to fight the same boss types repeatedly, with these affairs consisting of severing their appendages after enough damage, which players can purify for materials, although after a certain amount of time the antagonist will recover the severed body part. Aside from the acquisition of materials, this mechanic seems somewhat pointless, especially since bosses are still fully functional even with indicative transparent phantom appendages, and will on occasion completely regenerate them even if the player succeeds in purifying all their parts aside from their perpetually-intact main bodies.

Should the player’s character lose all health, they fall facedown, with their allies coming to the rescue also through the ritual of purification, a circular gauge gradually depleting the longer the fainted protagonist is down, although if the gauge regains all its points, the player will revive with a minimal amount of health, with certain mitama abilities supplementing hit points. The more times a boss knocks them out, the fewer points the circular meter will have, with total expiration reviving them with full health at the era’s initial battlefield, up to two deaths allowed in this manner before mission failure.

Although the player can ultimately run out of skill usages, there are fortunately miniature obelisks where they can completely recover ability uses, some of which might just be invisible, revealed by pressing the select button, which also serves to view a boss’s remaining health and maybe occasional oni or materials unseen by the naked eye. Successful completion of a mission nets the player a monetary reward and triumphant trip back to town to perform whatever functions are necessary and maybe view story scenes before the next quest, with each of the twelve main chapters having a dozen or so missions in this regard.

The gameplay is generally enjoyable, with forgiving, but not necessarily easy, difficulty, although as mentioned, the ritual of purification necessary to obtain items from enemies definitely spoils the fast flow of combat, especially since some other action RPGs grant item drops from defeated adversaries the player can instantly pick up, and re-fighting the same bosses can be tedious. There are also many gameplay elements that receive lousy explanation, with this player, for instance, not discovering that he could feed his item-searching pet until late in the game when experimenting with button presses, and the constant color changes of bosses somewhat confounding. Even so, the general game mechanics are far more than functional.

As also mentioned, the gameplay structure is linear and methodical, virtually ensuring the impossibility of losing oneself within the game’s world, exclamation bubbles above characters indicating the advancement of the narrative whenever necessary. Voiced dialogue is also skippable most of the time except in CG Full Motion Videos (with hearing-impaired gamers unable to appreciate the voicework). There are some minor issues, however, regarding the need to quit the game to view total playing time, not to mention the lacking in-game help on certain mechanics (since Toukiden, as with most Vita titles, lacks a physical instruction manual), but otherwise, the game interacts well with players.

The narrative is one of the highlights of the game, in spite of a largely blank-slate protagonist, although all the dozens of mitama have some backstory and likely basis on actual figures from Japanese history, the hero or heroine’s allies have background and development of sorts, and despite the presence of an epilogue chapter, the plotline before ends satisfactorily.

The translation doesn’t hurt the storyline, although there are some minor foibles regarding things such as one character addressing the protagonist as “mentor” (in which case the Japanese equivalent, senpai, would have been welcome seeing as the game occurs in Japan), most players won’t be able to make sense of the three-letter-long mitama type abbreviations aside from ATK and DEF, and most of the Japanese voicework in battle receives no subtitles.

Kiwami features an excellent oriental soundtrack that fits its various situations, and the localization team as mentioned left the voices unlocalized, accounting for a largely-authentic Japanese videogame experience. Aside from a guild hall theme that oddly resembles “When You Wish Upon a Star” and many players likely not being to understand the non-subtitled voices, the aurals definitely don’t disappoint.

The graphics also show a surprising amount of polish on the Vita despite the games’ basis on a PlayStation Portable version, with believable realistic character models, animations, and nice nuances such as different equipment affecting the protagonist’s appearance, alongside colorful scenery and battle effects and character portraits during story scenes varying in emotion. There are occasional blurry pixilated textures and flat environmental objects, but otherwise, the visuals shine.

Finally, the game can be lengthy despite its linearity, even longer if the character completes the large amount of side and post-game content, somewhere from two to three days’ worth of total playing time.

Overall, Toukiden: Kiwami is for the most part a solid action RPG that hits most of the right notes in regards to its diverse gameplay options, tight control, excellent story, superb aurals, polished visuals, and endless side content. It does, however, stumble in areas such as the repetitiveness of the gameplay, some mechanics receiving poor in-game explanation, a few localization foibles, and especially how it tends to overstay its welcome. Toukiden is certainly by no means a gold standard of action roleplaying games, although it definitely has plenty going for it, is worth a look from Vita owners, and is another feather in the cap of the portable system’s largely-solid RPG library.

This review is based on a playthrough with knives as the protagonist’s primary weapon.

The Good:
+Solid gameplay with endless variety.
+Near-impossible to get lost.
+Superb story.
+Excellent soundtrack and voicework.
+Pretty visuals.
+Plenty lasting appeal and post-game content.

The Bad:
-Can become repetitive.
-Some mechanics not explained well.
-A few minor localization issues.
-A little long.

The Bottom Line:
A great action RPG.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 9/10
Localization: 8/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: 2-3 Days

Overall: 8.5/10

Friday, October 12, 2018

Lord of Chaos

WoT06 LordOfChaos.jpg

The sixth main Wheel of Time novel, much like its predecessors, opens with a poem that “inspired” its title, and a prologue where Demandred holds prisoners from the Borderlands at Shayol Ghul. The preface gives time to other characters such as Nynaeve, who has lost her ability to channel the One Power, and, absent from The Fires of Heaven, the newly-married Perrin and Faile. The main chapters commence with the same wind motif opening the book’s predecessors, with the wind in this case flowing through abandoned settlements in Cairhien, along with mention of the White Tower’s divided Aes Sedai.

Rand al’Thor, the prophesied Dragon Reborn, grants amnesty to a few false Dragons such as Mazarin Taim, in fact training him to be faithful warriors and wishing to intervene in the Aes Sedai civil war, with the voice of the long-deceased Lews Therin continuing to haunt him. Elaida vows to reunite the White Tower under her rule, and Nynaeve attempts to recover her ability to channel magic. Gawyn, in the meantime, blames Rand for the death of his mother Morgase, and Egwene receives a bit of a surprise concerning the leadership of the Aes Sedai.

Several conflicts and a Feast of Lights end the novel, which is very much on par with its predecessors, weaving a complex tale of fantastical war, although the sheer number of identified characters, and abundance of unique terminology, might prove cumbersome for a few readers who prefer simpler fantasy tales. Thus, a list of important dramatic personae prefacing the text would have certainly been welcome, although the glossary at the end of the book is somewhat helpful in this regard. Jordan was also obviously a fan of Star Wars, given elements such as the One Power, but even so, those who enjoyed the book’s precursors will likely enjoy Lord of Chaos.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Decimation



The second installment of author R.J. Amezcua’s Mantis Force trilogy, which he also dedicates to his wife and editor Sheryl, opens on the world of Letalis, which is underdoing the transition of the battlefield known as Stadageo’s ownership to the Letalis government, with Nia Xongol and her sister-in-law Taona Xongol executing their revenge and blacking out the City of Perrapenta. On the planet’s moon, Victoria Maja wrestles with guilt at the tragedy which unfolds, with she, Tola, and Em making religious discoveries. Nia and Taona also find themselves performing sacred duties, although they necessitate the two separating.

Meanwhile, a trio of wayward sisters, Fay, Mirinda, and Orisa Sotasen plant explosives on Stadageo, being rogue elements of the Marium Kahnet in the Malgavatta galaxy which had supposedly established formal ties with the Krauvanok Alliance. Orisa is interrogated about possible terrorism, which she denies, and her companions are rescued by operatives from the nefarious organization known as Choshek. Rumors of civil war abound on Necropis, with vast numbers of the Varkrato League and Tartarus government workers erecting massive multiphasic barriers south of the Omsook mountains to protect the hundred million citizens of Magiathep from Cremindraux radiation.

Rediquin gets her own chapter, with the aforementioned Cremindraux radiation impacting her vessel, and she visits a secret trading post to meet Zeta Three. The story ends with the deaths of two characters whom a Muak’Xod agent finds, with his superior informed, wanting to use the cadavers as leverage. Overall, this is an enjoyable sequel, although some sort of synopsis of the first novella’s events would have been welcome, and the absence of Jazrene from the story’s events is somewhat disappointing, although the sequel is very much on par with its predecessor and worth a read, with those new to the trilogy likely wishing to start with the first book.


Book Details for Decimation:

Book Title: Mantis Force: Decimation (Marium Kahnet Book 2) by R.J. Amezcua
Category: Adult Fiction, 200 pages
Genre: Sci-Fi, with elements of fantasy
Publisher: Quentorex Studios
Release date: October 18, 2017
Tour dates: Oct 1 to 31, 2018
Content Rating: PG + M (No explicit sex scenes or bad language)

Book Description for Decimation:
Led by Victoria and Balese, the rogue sisters of the Marium Kahnet have successfully completed their life-long quest for revenge against the sorcerer’s guild. Now a new mission has begun, one of survival, as their enemies seek their lives with a vengeance. As planned, the sisters who managed to survive the destruction of the testing facilities have joined their adopted family’s nefarious criminal organizations, plotting to escape with detailed plans of the Leviathan project to justify their actions to their home world of Ramah. But they are unaware they are being hunted by elite mercenaries hired by the sisterhood.


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Meet the Author:


R. J. Amezcua was born and raised in Silicon Valley, and is happily married to Sheryl. As a young boy, one of his favorite TV shows was Lost in Space. Being an entrepreneur and visionary by nature, he has begun his journey as an author and writer. Using his love for science fiction, he created the epic saga “Mantis Force,” which encompasses a vast universe.

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook


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Venom

Venom poster.jpg

Similar to how Krypton is a Superman show without the Man of Steel, Venom is a Spider-Man film without Spidey himself, focusing on the frachise villain/antihero Eddie Brock / Venom, which had been portrayed by Eric Forman Topher Grace in Sony's original Spider-Man trilogy, and is in this film played by Tom Hardy, with Brock being a journalist with his own show who gets terminated for not minding his own business, and ultimately becomes host to the alien symbiote that can change him into the eponymous character. The film exists in its own universe separate from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and one can argue it to be an Ashcan Copy given its inconsistent quality and wish for Sony to control the rights of Spider-Man characters, but it was still a fun ride.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Murder by Perfection Spotlight



Book Details:

Book Title: Murder by Perfection by Lauren Carr
Series: Thorny Rose Mystery Series (Volume 3)
Category: Adult fiction, 322 pages
Genre: Murder Mystery
Publisher: Acorn Book Services
Release date: May 31, 2018
Tour dates: Oct 8 to Nov 2, 2018
Content Rating: PG (mild violence and sexual suggestion)

Book Description:

Perfection can be a fatal endeavor.

Frustrated with their busy schedules, Murphy Thornton and Jessica Faraday attempt to find togetherness by scheduling a weekly date night. The last thing Jessica Faraday expected for her date night was to take a couple’s gourmet cooking course at the Stepford Kitchen Studio, owned by Chef Natalie Stepford―the model of perfection in looks, home, and business.

When Natalie ends up dead and Murphy goes missing, the Thorny Rose detectives must peel back the layers of Natalie Stepford’s life to discover that the pursuit of perfection can be deadly.

To read reviews, please visit Lauren Carr's page on iRead Book Tours.


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Meet the Author:



Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Now, Lauren has added one more hit series to her list with the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries. Set in the quaint West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, Ice introduces Chris Matheson, a retired FBI agent, who joins forces with other law enforcement retirees to heat up those cold cases that keep them up at night.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram


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Sunday, October 7, 2018

Persona 5-Themed Commission


Mission Accomplished
by BlueMario1016 on DeviantArt

The Dragon Prince



A fantasy series about two stepbrother princes in a world where humans and elves are in conflict, with the brothers finding themselves on the run and meeting an elven assassin that joins them, and has a weird accent somewhat a cross between Scandinavian and Australian. Still a good series for fans of the genre.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Serpents Rising



The third installment of Joe Jackson’s Eve of Redemption series opens with protagonist Karian “Kari” Vanador bathing on the campus of the Demonhunter Order, two promotions away from the group’s topmost position, the Avatar of Vengeance. Kari interrogates the captured demon girl Se’lucia Liria Alaristis, or just Liria, but fails to get any intel from her, soon making it a point to venture into the underworld, Mehr'Durillia, which elicits concern from friends and family. The netherworld’s monarch, King Koursturaux, who is ironically female, yearns for the vorpal sword from one of the book’s main adversaries, Taesenus.

After Kari’s business in the underworld, she and her companions visit the primitive village of Moskarre, where they recruit a new companion, Uldriana, who sort of becomes a magical mistress to Sonja. A character’s pregnancy plays part in the plotline, one character meets their untimely end, and with Danilynn Stahlorr, priestess of Garra Ktarra, Kari and her companions find themselves on the run. Kari eventually visits her husband Grakin and her son Little Gray back at home, after which she receives a new mission, to destroy a temple dedicated to Sekassus.

The novel climaxes at said temple and concludes with Kari getting a message from an adversary, with the third entry of Jackson’s series ultimately being enjoyable, given its anthropomorphic dragon characters and action, although like its predecessors, one can easily lose track of who belongs to which race, how the characters appear, and so forth. Even so, those who enjoyed the book’s predecessors will likely enjoy Serpents Rising, and those who haven’t experienced the niche franchise before would definitely do themselves well to start from the very beginning, else risk confounding themselves within the series’ world.

.hack//G.U. Last Recode



Not Very Grown-Up

From 2002 to 2004 in North America and Japan, Bandai released the CyberConnect2-developed .hack tetralogy on the PlayStation 2, with the serialized games having essentially the same gameplay and a continuous storyline, following the .hack//Sign anime chronologically. From 2006 to 2007, they released a sequel trilogy, the .hack//G.U. games, during the final days of the PS2. A decade after the final game in the G.U. trilogy released, Bandai Namco released within a few days in Japan and North America a collection of th G.U. games with extra content for the PlayStation 4 and PC, .hack//G.U. Last Recode, which is the ideal way to experience the games, but are they any good?

The G.U. games occur in an alternate Earth 2017, with an updated version of The World massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game, like its predecessor, causing players to go into comas. Cue anyone who has played the original tetralogy and didn’t are much for their narrative to roll their eyes and lose interest in the storyline, and this reviewer definitely doesn’t blame them, with the G.U. games focusing on a player character, Haseo, nicknamed the Terror of Death, who loses all his levels and has to start grinding from scratch whilst unveiling the continued mysteries of the MMORPG.

The main problem with the storyline is that it remains virtually confined to Haseo’s computer and The World, and while faux real-world news stories give some clue as to what’s happening in the real world, although much of it is irrelevant to the game’s storyline, such as the naming of a space station. Most of the player characters with whom Haseo comes into contact, and the protagonist himself, furthermore, are about as complex as Dudley Do-Right, with only vague clues as to their real-life owners and mostly irrelevant characteristics. There is some decent background to The World itself and maybe some actual meaningful development, but the plot overall is a definitely turnoff.

For the plot to actually make some sense to the Anglosphere was actually surprising, considering how dismal the translation is. While the translators for the most part avoid spelling and grammatical errors, the dialogue itself hardly sounds natural, with lines such as Haseo, whenever he summons his plot-centric Avatar (whose name he shouts afterward is a spoiler), saying, “Come on! Come on! I’m right here!” Battles also naturally have terrible writing, with characters for the most part shouting the names of their skills, and in some cases random things that no Anglophone would ever say unless on drugs. In the end, the localization would have definitely benefitted from the touch of actual English majors.

Narrative foibles aside, the gameplay actually isn’t half-bad, being action-based like most MMORPGs The World attempts to simulate. In the hub towns, the player forms a party consisting of Haseo and two internet friends, before they explore dungeons indicated by three keyworks following a Greek letter indicating the current server. Unlike the swirling yellow portals of the original .hack tetralogy, all enemies indicating fights are visible, with encounters occurring when the player’s party draws near them, and a cylindrical barrier rising to limit the battlefield, largely reducing problems present in many three-dimensional action RPGs such as a bothersome camera.

The G.U. games’ targeting system is automatic when drawing near encountered foes unlike other ARPGs such as the Kingdom Hearts series, Haseo able to hack away at foes with ultimately-interchangeable weapons and use skills assigned to accessible shortcuts, a definite step up from the prequel tetralogy. Standard battles typically end within a minute, victory rewarding players with experience proportional to their characters’ current levels (with a maximum of 150 in the third game and its epilogue), money, and maybe items. New to the three main games and their epilogue is a Cheat Mode for each where players begin with maxed levels and equipment, ideal for those who wish to breeze through the games and experience their storyline (if one can call it an experience).

Avatar battles, however, require more skill that leveling doesn’t rectify, with Haseo’s god incarnation able to fire bullets at the enemy to deplete a gauge which, when empty, stuns the foe, quickly dodge antagonistic attacks, or slash the adversary to actually damage it. Terminating the foe’s HP gives Haseo the chance to Data Drain them, which too requires some skill and even has a time limit, although it mercifully isn’t a terribly taxing process. Overall, the gameplay is a definite step above the original .hack tetralogy’s, although it falls prey to common RPG tropes such as bosses with dozens of phases.

The G.U. games are largely linear, so it’s fairly difficult to get lost, the player able to access a memo clueing them in as to how to advance the primary plotline, although the operating system interface where players access simulated emails and whatnot is a bit needlessly flashy. Perhaps the biggest strike against control is that most voiced cutscene dialogue is unskippable, even during scenes that utilize the standard graphical style, with hearing-impaired gamers unable to appreciate (or not) the voicework. Save opportunities, moreover, don’t always come before tough battles, but interaction somewhat helps the games more than hurts.

A far bigger issue, however, is the voice acting, which ranges from acceptable to downright awful, with many female characters having voices that could shatter glass, made worse by the terrible writing. The translation team also didn’t bother with matching the voices with mouth movement during the rare scenes in which lips do indeed move, resulting in kaiju film-esque lip flapping during many story cinematics. The music is actually fairly enjoyable at times, if rather unmemorable, and ultimately, while the acting is of low quality, the aural themes certainly aren’t a total writeoff.

Despite allegedly being a “remaster,” the visuals contain a surprisingly-large amount of imperfections, one of the biggest being that during most voiced cutscenes, the characters’ lips don’t move at all, inexcusable since many other RPGs during the original games’ time, 2-D and 3-D alike, often didn’t suffer from this issue. Pop-up of distant objects is frequent when navigating fields and dungeons, furthermore, the environmental texturing frequently appears blurry and pixilated, and character model features such as clothes and skin often pass through one another. The CG cutscenes, particularly the cel-shaded anime movies in the epilogue, though, actually look good, but there’s no excuse for the other subpar graphics.

Finally, the first three games in the collection are beatable in a little under nine hours, with the epilogue episode taking a little under two, with abundant sidequests to pad playtime being one of the collection’s stronger aspects.

In conclusion, Last Recode, for the most part, is what a videogame remaster shouldn’t be, given many strikes against it such as common gameplay clichés such as many fetch quests and multi-phased boss fights, abundance of unskippable voiced dialogue, the abysmal narrative and writing, the horrible voice acting, and the lazy “remastered” graphics. The collection, however, certainly isn’t a total writeoff, given some positive aspects such as the general nature of the gameplay, the straightforward structure of the games themselves, some enjoyable musical tracks, some pretty CG cutscenes, and loads of side content. Even so, back in the collection’s “one game for the price of three” days on the PS2, it would have been a flat-out rip-off, but at its current discount price on the PlayStation 4, it isn’t a bad bargain; just don’t expect masterpieces.

The Good:
+One of the better anime-based games.
+Hard to get lost.
+Some decent music.
+A few pretty CG scenes.
+Tons of side content.

The Bad:
-Some common gameplay clichés.
-Most dialogue unskippable.
-Awful narrative and writing.
-Horrible voicework.
-Subpar “remastered” graphics.

The Bottom Line:
Not bad at its discount price, but most aren’t missing much.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 4/10
Localization: 3/10
Music/Sound: 6/10
Graphics: 5/10
Lasting Appeal: 9/10
Difficulty: Variable
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 6/10