Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Betrothal

The Betrothal (The Seven Kingdoms #4)The Betrothal by Cordelia Castel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fourth entry of Cordelia Castel’s Seven Kingdoms series opens with protagonist Cendrilla, Rilla for short, taking shock at hearing her birth mother is alive, with her promised husband Lord Bluebeard having more details, except is lifeless, with a kiss necessary to bring him back. There’s some good backstory on the Snow Queen, along with details on Rilla’s lineage, with Rilla further seeking to relocate witches in the Steppe, since the United Kingdom of Seven executes those with magical capability. Rilla surprisingly shows a caring side for Lord Bluebeard, contrary to their antagonism in prior books.

Rilla finds out that her hand in marriage had already been promised before Lord Bluebeard to another, King Rhinoceros of the Glaciers, although she can potentially nullify the marital contract if she is victorious in battle against him, consequentially seeking training in the art of swordsmanship. Another element potentially helpful to Rilla in her quest to weasel her way out of marriage to King Rhinoceros is the revelation of the location by Rumpelstiltskin of the monarch’s disembodied heart, and she seeks other allies in the forthcoming conflict as well, with the fated battle ending the book.

All in all, while I felt that this series was in a bit of a decline after reading the third book, the revelations about Rilla’s lineage definitely refresh the literary franchise, and the battles contain good action and description, with the fourth entry like its precursors scarcely being shy about its fairytale inspirations. There is a slight bit of confusion at times, for instance, regarding some elements such as one of the characters being turned into a cheek-rat, but I would definitely recommend this entry to those who enjoyed its predecessors, and the series still holds interest for me.

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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Dune: The Battle of Corrin

The Battle of Corrin (Legends of Dune, #3)The Battle of Corrin by Brian Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Authors Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson dedicate the third and final installment of their Legends of Dune trilogy to “Renaissance” editor Pat LoBrutto, with the acknowledgements singling out both authors, who are analogized to the Navigators in the Duniverse. The tertiary entry opens with fictitious quotes from various Dune characters such as the initiator of the Butlerian Jihad, Serena Butler, who says that the billions slaughtered by thinking machines in the Great Revolt shouldn’t be called victims or martyrs, but rather heroes. Princess Irulan further states that the gravest error one can make is considering one version of history accurate, with other quotations opening the countless chapters.

Nearly a century has elapsed since the Butlerian Jihad began, the time being 108 years before the establishment of the Spacing Guild, with the robot Erasmus helping to engineer a disease to decimate the human population. Meanwhile, Vorian Atreides has twin sons with Leronica Tergiet, and retains his youth with a combination of mélange and the cymek life-extension treatment his father Agamemnon effected on him. On the war front, the Army of the Jihad seeks to wrestle Honru from the thinking machines, with a massacre on the world near the start of the conflict being a blight in the Great Revolt. Furthermore, Titans such as Beowulf rebel against Omnius.

Norma Cenva is addicted to melange, while Aurelius Venport seeks to establish spice operations on Arrakis, although sandworms sabotage his work. A rift also arises between El’hiim and his stepfather Ishmael on the desert world, with a sandworm duel towards the end of the novel. In the meantime, Erasmus tests his retrovirus on unfortunate humans with the help of human traitor Yorek Thurr, although the robot doesn’t want his adoptive son Gilbertus infected, nicknaming him Mentat. The swordmaster Istian also wanders the islands of Ginaz, renewed with rainforests threescore after their devastation, with his sensei robot Chirox.

The mentioned retrovirus, identified as the Omnius Scourge, devastates the human population, killing about two-fifths of those infected, with several worlds quarantined, although the spice melange proves promising as a cure. Moreover, Rayna Butler uses aggressive means in her own personal crusade against the thinking machines, attacking even those without sentience, and Abulurd Butler, unashamed of his grandfather Xavier Harkonnen, adopts his surname. The humans fight a battle on the Synchronized World of Corrin, and the Jihad is proclaimed officially over, though this is but the novel’s halfway point.

Nineteen years elapse, and humans begin reconstruction of their civilization, with all former Synchronized Worlds except Corrin being uninhabitable. Quentin Butler feels guilt at the use of pulse-atomics against the Synchronized Worlds, given the collateral human casualties, and a stalemate exists between the human and machines on their core world of Corrin. Miniature piranha mites, not to mention occasional resurgences of the Omnius Scourge, occasionally threaten the human population, hitting hard worlds such as Rossak.

The final showdown on Corrin occurs, along with the treachery that antagonizes the Atreides and Harkonnen clans for ten millennia, with the House of Corrino established as well in commemoration of the titular conflict. Overall, this is an enjoyable conclusion to the Legends of Dune trilogy, which one could consider a modern War and Peace with a science-fiction milieu. It does continue to bear its resemblance to other sci-fi franchises such as Terminator and The Matrix, although Frank Herbert, forefather of the Duniverse, likely had the ideas before his decease. Those that enjoyed its predecessors will enjoy this concluding entry, with those new to the series obliged to start from the beginning.

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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Gaming Update, 9/18/2021

Currently Playing

Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel - In the middle of the Jefferson mission, where I have to destroy the generators. Taking it slow and easy.

Tales of Phantasia: Cross Edition - Sort of playing this with a translated script to aid in my quest to study Japanese, and can recognize a lot of the kanji though the font makes it hard at times. The game is definitely good, though.

Backlog

Baldur's Gate & Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Editions - Low priority right now.

Dragon Quest (Nintendo Switch) - Don't know when, but I will get to this this year.

Tales of Phantasia: Narikiri Dungeon X - Will play after finishing Phantasia: Cross Edition.

Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress - There's a decent chance this will be the next game I start.

Ultima III: Exodus - Will of course play after the second game since I paid for it and its precursors.

Zack Snyder's Justice League

 

Sort of overstays its welcome, but is definitely better than the original theatrical version, and gives more depth to the DC superheroes that weren't covered in prior films.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD

 

More Hellbound than Skyward

Let me preface this review by saying that I do not care much for Nintendo’s big-name franchises such as Mario and Zelda, particularly regarding the three-dimensional iterations of either series, which to me don’t quite carry the spirit of their 2-D brethren. There are installments of the Legend of Zelda franchise that I did enjoy such as Link to the Past, albeit largely due to getting too good at the game through repeated playthroughs during my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. One of the entries I had missed out on was Skyward Sword on the Wii, although it would receive a remaster on the Nintendo Switch, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD.

When beginning a new game, the player can choose motion controls similar to the Wii version or button-only controls that would rather prefer them, and as the former was one of the chief complaints with the original version, I opted for the latter choice. The game itself features the backstory of the Demon King Demise laying waste to the land in want of the Triforce, with the goddess Hylia leading the survivors into the sky so she can war with the demonic deity, with the existence of the Surface ultimately forgotten among the inhabitants of the sky island that comes to be known as Skyloft.

The backstory is good, although the narrative itself is fairly derivative, the initial skybound world above a surface somewhat filched from Final Fantasy III, a storyline twist later on resemblant of a plot element of Lunar: The Silver Star, and the concept of time travel done to death. The plotline ultimately delves into the cliché of Link rescuing Zelda, not yet a princess, from the forces of evil, and is generally a disappointment. As well, while the translation is certainly legible, the localization team made some irritating dialogue decisions such as having the spirit of Link’s sword, Fi, speak in a robotic tone talking of calculations and probabilities and such, making the plot and writing overall a detriment.

Furthermore, even with button-only controls, the general game interface takes a lot of getting used too, with many needless complications regarding things such as throwing and rolling bomb flowers. The swinging of Link’s sword in different directions via use of the bottom-right joystick does work at times and adds strategy to some battles against standard enemies and bosses, most of the former mercifully optional, but there are a great many negative gameplay tropes such as having to go stealth a few times (with the “silent realms”, where Link has to gather fifteen nodes and need to start from the beginning if attacked by a guardian spirit, qualifying among one central instance).

Throughout his quest, Link has to solve many puzzles, most utilizing the tools he receives, and sometimes use them against bosses. Things at first are fun, although there are a great many portions that led me to reference the internet repeatedly, which is not something anyone should ever have to do when playing a videogame. Link’s ability to hold reviving fairies and healing potions in bottles can take the edge off at times, although the camera can be awful, with the absolute lack of a radar/minimap hurting as well. In the end, the game mechanics become a chore far more than anything else.

The controls, as one could assume, don’t help. Skyward Sword ditches the series’ save-anywhere feature for save points, but autosaving does occur at critical instances; regardless the spacing of hard saving opportunities is at times inconsistent, and a suspend save would have been welcome. There’s also an in-game measure of playtime, although one has to converse with Fi to view it, rather than the developers just saving the time and annoyance by displaying the clock in the menus. The puzzles driving players to repeatedly reference guilds, walkthroughs, and in some instances diagrams, don’t help either, and all in all, the game is one of the most user-unfriendly I’ve had the displeasure of playing.

The soundtrack is full of old and new tracks, Zelda’s Lullaby among the former and some sweeping themes such as the flying theme among the latter, and is one area where the game doesn’t fall flat. The sound effects are good as well, although the voices consist mostly of grunting that can get tiring after a while, with Link’s vocals in particular being irritating, and the near-death alarm is annoying as always.

The remastered visuals look decent for the most part, with well-proportioned character models, fit coloring, and some good environs, though these show some blurriness and pixilation up-close, and the camera can mar the experience.

Finally, the game is one of the longer Zeldas, taking somewhere from twenty-four to forty-eight hours to finish, with a Hero Mode accessed upon completion, although frankly, subsequent playthroughs would be nothing short of excruciating.

In summation, I really, really wanted to like Skyward Sword HD, but it just didn’t love me back, given issues such as the lousy controls, even when selecting the option of making them button-only, the weak narrative and writing, and the middling aural and visual presentations. There are rare cases in which the game is slightly enjoyable at times, but it winds up to be one of the far weaker installments of a franchise that has its share of good and bad (in my opinion, mostly the latter) titles, and there are far better Nintendo Switch games out there.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy borrowed by the reviewer.

The Good:
+A few gameplay portions passable.
+Some of the music is good.
+Graphics look okay.

The Bad:
-Even button-only controls are horrid.
-Incredibly-weak narrative and writing.
-Puts quantity above quality.

The Bottom Line:
One of the far weaker Zeldas.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 1.5/10
Controls: 0.5/10
Story: 0.5/10
Localization: 2.0/10
Music/Sound: 2.5/10
Graphics: 3.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 0.0/10
Difficulty: Artificial
Playing Time: 24-48 Hours

Overall: 1.5/10

Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Witch-Hunt

The Witch-Hunt (The Seven Kingdoms #3)The Witch-Hunt by Cordelia Castel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The third entry of Cordelia Castel’s Seven Kingdoms series opens with Cendrilla “Rilla” Perrault following a procession to the interrogation room where the captured trolls, among them being Olga, with Prince Armin still under her enchantment, are being held. Despite being instrumental in their capture, Rilla is denied questioning them, and they ultimately escape, with Rilla and a few companions, among them being perpetrators that had a hand in attempting to kill her, going after them, in the meantime seeking two sorceresses who have prices on their heads for witchcraft, Rilla wanting to save their lives.

As with before, Lord Orson Bluebeard continually seeks to affirm his impending marriage to Rilla against her will, and wants to ensure she is kept alive. Rilla and her companions have several misadventures including a trip to the Well of Wellness, whose guardian is reluctant to provide its water, and some backstory regarding Princess Freida abounds, having successfully escaped from an arranged marriage. Rill and company visit frigid lands home to beings termed Snowmen (although they seem to be yeti-like), with giant hailstones precipitating and offing many of them during a critical battle.

The third entry ends with a troll vessel approaching and a cliffhanger that naturally ties into the next book in the series, and while the tertiary installment does have its positive qualities, not being shy about its fairytale influences, it sort of marks the beginning of a slight slump in the series, with readers needing to have remembered the events of prior books in order to enjoy this one, along with the difficulty of keeping track who is who, with a few characters going by different names that can confuse some readers. Regardless of quality, I’ll definitely continue reading these books until the end.

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