Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Collision of Grief and Gratitude Spotlight

Book Details:

Book Title: The Collision of Grief and Gratitude: A Pursuit of Sacred Light
Author: Rosanne Liesveld
Category: Adult Non-fiction, 468 pages
Genre: Self-Help, Death & Grief, Grief & Bereavement
Publisher: Illuminatio Press
Release date: May 16, 2017
Tour dates: July 16 to Aug 10, 2018
Content Rating: PG (The subject of loss is explored and some of the emotions may be too raw for young children.)

Book Description:

Day 209
"And so each day goes; the grief and the gratitude fighting for the bigger spot in my heart. The tug of war between these emotions exhausts me most days. If you see me in the grief mode, you'll think I'm a wreck. But if you see me in gratitude mode, you'll think I m doing well. Neither is 100 percent true. I am what I am most days, leaning toward finding more gratitude than grief as the days turn into weeks and the weeks into months."

After the unexpected death of her husband, Rosanne Liesveld felt a desperate need to communicate gratitude to those who helped her through the shock that death left in its wake. The day of Curt's funeral, Rosanne wrote a Facebook post expressing how, in the midst of profound grief, she found a space in her heart for gratitude. The next day, she wrote another post; then another.

Rosanne's daily posts throughout her first year of widowhood attracted hundreds to follow along on her journey. Her words inspired those who were not only grieving in some way, but those who wanted to build stronger relationships or live life with more intention and gratitude. It was messy. It was raw. And it was healing.

Rosanne's posts have been compiled into this 366-day journey and are accompanied by beautiful photos taken by Curt.

To follow the tour, please visit Rosanne Liesveld's page on iRead Book Tours.

Buy the Book:

Meet the Author:

After the unexpected death of her husband, Curt, Rosanne Liesveld went on a year-long quest to find a glimmer of gratitude each day. She posted her daily journey on Facebook. Those posts become her book, The Collision of Grief and Gratitude: A Pursuit of Sacred Light.

As a coach and teacher for more than thirty years with the Gallup Organization, Rosanne has helped people discover and lean into their strengths. She now speaks to groups about how to build stronger relationships, and live life with more intention and gratitude.

Connect with the author: Facebook

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Doesn't really do anything that hasn't been done before in sci-fi, but is a decent film.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei

In the 1980s and sometime beyond, North American gamers were largely in the dark about the various roleplaying games franchises that originated in Japan, such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, with U.S. players lucky if they even got certain entries in those particular franchises, albeit with cut content due to American videogame censorship regarding things such as religious themes, mature content, and coarse language. Among the franchises whose initial installments remain in Japan to this day was Atlus’s Megami Tensei (colloquially MegaTen) pantheon, early entries published by Namco’s Japanese branch.

It would take a few console generations for North American gamers to receive introduction to the franchise with spinoff titles such as Revelations: Persona, during a time when videogame localizations were still largely unrefined. A compilation of remake of the very first two games released in the franchise in Japan, titled Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei (“Goddess Metempsychosis: The Old Testament), was also overlooked for localization, the first entry in the collection, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, actually proving an important title in the history of roleplaying games.

The in-game story is simplistic, focusing on a genius computer programmer named Akemi Nakajima who develops a computer program to summon demons, although it spirals out of control, necessitating that he and his female companion, Yumiko Shirasagi, visit the demon world to combat Lucifer and his generals. MegaTen doesn’t seem to have any more story than its original Famicom incarnation had, given the lack of further development and backstory throughout the game, even towards the end, the concluding cutscenes being brief, inexcusable given the game’s basis on a series of novels.

That leaves the gameplay to fill the void left by the plotline, and fortunately, MegaTen does fairly well in this regard, its original version in its time the pioneer of the monster-collecting subgenre of roleplaying games, predating the likes of Dragon Quest V and Pokémon. When starting a new game, the player assigns bonus stats to Nakajima and Yumiko, with this reviewer able to advice players not to give the former any extra intelligence given his complete lack of MP-consuming abilities, after which the player begins in the top floor of the initial first-person dungeon, Daedalus, where they can buy equipment, save the game, and fuse demons once they’ve gotten at least two to do so.

When ready, the player can head into the floors below, randomly encountering battles (with the rate of encounters seeming especially high whenever passing through doorways) consisting of one or more enemies of the same type. Before fighting, the player can negotiate with the monsters for possible recruitment, the system of doing so being somewhat simpler than in future MegaTen titles, although most foes are somewhat uncooperative in this regard, mostly due to not speaking Nakajima and Yumiko’s language or inviting them to draw near, in which case they always take the two by surprise.

If negotiations start successfully, the player can “soothe” the enemy by smiling, putting away their weapons, or approaching the enemy, and if they succeed, they can bribe the foes with money or healing jewels to get them to join, although they may bail out at the last minute, wasting the player’s investment into negotiation. When the player does get an enemy to join, they can summon it with Nakajima’s COMP at the cost of Macca, the game’s currency, and navigating the many labyrinths with summoned demons requires Magnetite, gained from killing enemies impervious to negotiation, with none of this material in stock meaning that active demons will take HP damage with steps taken.

As such, Megami Tensei somewhat suffers from early-game hell in this regard, although towards the end when fused demons have high HP, not having any Magnetite isn’t a terrible burden, and early on, the two human protagonists can somewhat handle fights on their own, with the autobattle feature making fights a breeze. Should both heroes die, the player takes a voyage on the River Styx, where Charon offers to revive them at the cost of half their money, and if demons joined them in death, the player must pay healers to resurrect them, again accounting for more potential early-game tedium, although these costs are largely inconsequential in the endgame.

Nakajima can carry up to seven demons in his COMP at any time and summon up to four into battle, accounting for a total party size of six characters, and can fuse them at Cathedrals of Shadow into more powerful incarnations, symbols fortunately indicating which combinations will produce more powerful demons, Nakajima needing to be at least at the same level as a fused demon in order to create it in the first place. Overall, aside from the bit of early-game hell and occasional annoying enemies that can cost either human protagonist experience levels (from which this reviewer simply ran), the gameplay definitely serves the first MegaTen title well, and was ahead of its time in the Famicom era.

Control, however, doesn’t fare as well, given a vague sense of direction at times that may necessitate the player to revisit certain areas in the game’s massive interconnected dungeons that the in-game maps, while somewhat useful, don’t clearly indicate, and revisiting older locations can be a burden, with the sky city of Bien able to convey players among three points, but isn’t foolproof transportation. There’s also no indication when shopping for new equipment with how prospective gear will raise or lower current stats, and the equipment screens don’t show attack and defense power. Ultimately, the developers could have certainly rectified these issues.

Perhaps the high point of Megami Tensei is its soundtrack, with just about every piece being good, different areas having varied themes, notable tracks including that which plays in the first dungeon, Daedalus, although the sound effects are limited.

The graphics are decent as well, though to a lesser extent, with nice first-person dungeon and enemy designs, although the player never gets to see the playable protagonists, and there are occasional palette-swapped antagonists.

Playing time is indeterminate due to the lack of a game clock, and there’s little reason to replay the game given the lack of sidequests or things to pad playtime other than leveling.

To conclude, the original Megami Tensei was definitely ahead of its time, being the pioneer of the monster-collecting roleplaying game subgenre, its take on this mechanic being generally solid in spite of early-game hell, alongside nice music to accompany the player’s experience. Being a remake of an early game in its genre, however, it does have issues regarding things such as the difficulty without using a guide, the minimalist storytelling, the strict first-person nature of the visuals, and lack of reasons to replay. The game is by no means a masterpiece, although it definitely stands as one of the most important RPGs in the history of the genre that warrants a look.

The Good:
+Solid demon negotiation and fusion systems.
+Excellent soundtrack.

The Bad:
-May require a guide.
-Minimal storytelling.
-Graphics remain in first-person.
-Little lasting appeal

The Bottom Line:
An important game in the history of RPGs.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Super NES
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 5/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 4/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: No in-game clock.

Overall: 6.5/10

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

A large crowd of men and women standing on a wooden pier.
A so-so romantic comedy, but mostly a good musical, with plenty of other tracks by ABBA. Cher's role in the film was sort of played-up in the advertising, but it was still an enjoyable film.

Art by anime.cosplay.builder

1532968324.anime.cosplay.builder Sketch15327089413 by jmg124

Art by CameronHops


Sunday, July 29, 2018


Incarnation by James Todd Lewis

This novel by James Todd Lewis begins his Beyond Thuria series, a sequel franchise to his Thurian Saga, although reading those particular stories are somewhat necessary to make the most of what goes on in this entry. It begins with Vanarra feeling her tenure as a Grand Matriarch is coming to an end, with a potential successor to her house being Acosta. Reports suggest that Van’s friend Sahnassa committed suicide by leaping into the deep crevice of an ocean floor, with Van having occasional telepathic experiences throughout the story, dreams playing part for various characters as well.

A twist early on in the story affects Van’s view of her world, with the mixed-blooded one having occasional substories such as escorting the young heir apparent of the Tentalian Homogony from the political haven of Regas Nine to the Tantalian homeworld. Van also immerses herself in Thurian society, having not been on the world for a while, visiting the Pinnacle Academy, finding herself both fascinated and disappointed by Thurian life. She also serves as a volunteer at the hospital Shanandrae Commons, helping various troubled patients.

Central to the plot later on in the novel is religious conflict between sects with Van and Sahni as their figureheads, and the book ends with talk of the de Allarrae. Overall, this was an enjoyable start to Lewis’ sequel series to his original Thurian Saga, although those who haven’t read its predecessors will undoubtedly be lost, and this entry doesn’t do much to really stand out on its own. As with prior entries of the franchise, Incarnation too would have benefited from analogies to actual Earth animals, but even so, fans of the author’s original series will enjoy this beginning of a trilogy.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Dragon Quest Monsters: Terry's Wonderland 3D

When Nintendo’s DS system first made itself known, some of the best news for American gamers was the localization of the previously-unreleased remakes of the fourth through sixth entries of the Dragon Quest franchise following the success of the eighty entry, Journey of the Cursed King on the PlayStation 2, the series’ resurgence outside Japan partially due to the merger of Square and Enix. Lamentably for non-Japanese Dragon Quest fans, sales would suffer due in part to lack of advertising for various games in the franchise, and when the 3DS came around, many spinoff games in the pantheon such as the remake of the original Dragon Quest Monsters, entitled Dragon Quest Monsters: Terry’s Wonderland 3D, would remain untranslated, a shame given its polish.

Terry’s Wonderland 3D is story-wise a prequel to the sixth Dragon Quest title, focusing on sibling characters Terry and Milly, who are disturbed by mysterious happenings in the middle of one night, with the latter kidnapped and the former following her into the Great Tree Kingdom on a rescue excursion. However, Terry’s quest to find his sister never seems terribly urgent, with some rehashing of events from mainline Dragon Quests at the end of most dungeons, although there are a few late-game twists and post-game addition to the main narrative. Despite its quirks such as occasional humor, the plot doesn’t really take on a meaningful life, but is hardly a distraction from the experience.

That leaves the gameplay to shoulder the burden, and fortunately, Terry’s Wonderland 3D does pretty well in this regard, even slightly better than mainline Dragon Quest titles. The Dragon Quest Monsters subseries focuses on monster collection and training, and while some may condemn the remake to be a Pokémon clone, the Dragon Quest franchise actually contained the feature years before the Big N’s monster-collector franchise, albeit after the unlocalized Megami Tensei titles. The game is by no means a MegaTen clone, either, given its twists on the RPG subgenre formula.

One improvement over the original Dragon Quest Monsters on the GameBoy Color is that the player now has four slots for monsters to fight on the frontline instead of three, in addition to four backup slots for spare monsters that fortunately don’t squander the player’s turn when switching formations. However, larger monsters can take two or three slots in either lineup, although such monsters typically have quirks that compensate for the usage of space, such as one or two extra random commands during a turn of battle, or normal attacks affecting all antagonists.

The recruitment system comes from the Joker subseries, where the player can have all their active monsters strike an enemy to increase a gauge by a certain percentage that ultimately decides the chance of recruiting the monster. If unsuccessful, the player loses their turn and all enemies attack, although in these cases, the player can reattempt to scout a monster; types of meat can increase the percentage by a certain amount. However, if a player is unsuccessful too many times, all the enemies get a round of tension and attack, with no more recruitment ability available for the rest of the battle.

If successful, however, the player can send the recruited monster instantly to the Monster Farm or place them in their frontline or backup parties immediately. Winning a battle normally nets all participant monsters, frontline and backline, experience for occasional level-ups, which may come with the acquisition of skill points the player can invest into various skill sets to learn new abilities, innate and MP-consuming, similar to the systems present in the eighth and ninth mainline Dragon Quests. Players also acquire money for the purchase of consumable items and weapons monsters can equip.

When the player’s monsters reach level ten, the player can breed male and female incarnations of them, both retiring both used monsters and creating a new one in their stead, with the player able to see which new monsters they can reproduce. During breeding, the player can select skill sets for the new monster to inherit, either three or four depending upon the monsters. Monsters produced this way start at level one, although it’s not terribly difficult to level them up to ten to procreate some more, the game indicating reproductions producing new monsters, which is advantageous since uncovering certain numbers of monsters can open high-level grinding spots to make leveling easier.

Advancing the story is a matter of progressing through randomly-generated dungeons with a certain number of floors and beating their bosses, with the player able to acquire a skill that instantly allows them to visit their penultimate floors. Unlocking new dungeons, furthermore, necessitates that the player participates in tournaments where the player can only issue general AI commands for their monster party and not issue specific commands or use items like in normal battles (in which case item use gets first priority regardless of turn order).

The gameplay systems work very well for the most part, with the priority of item use and general consistency of player and enemy turn order being advantageous, alongside the general quick pace of combat, not to mention fun and ease of grinding and breeding monsters. Since issuing specific commands repeatedly, however, can be tedious, the player will likely want to stick to AI commands in normal battles, with the artificial intelligence being with a few exceptions competent, and in the end, combat is very much a boon to the remake.

Dragon Quest titles tend to have issues with their control schemes, although Terry’s Wonderland actually does better in this area than mainline titles, with the ability, for once, to save progress most anywhere, not to mention the lack of repeated dialogues when shopping for new items, and ability to teleport among specific facilities in the Great Tree Kingdom. The monster breeding interface is very user-friendly, as well, players can see how new weapons increase or decrease a monster’s attack power, and aside from some minor quibbles such as needing a monster in the player’s frontline or backline party to manage them, the remake is incredibly user-friendly.

Series composer Koichi Sugiyama, as always, does a wonderful job with the soundtrack, with standout tracks such as “Terry’s World,” and some dabbling into other musical genres such as rock in the case of the Starry Shrine theme. There are some recycled tracks from previous Dragon Quest titles, however, alongside some points with only ambient noise, but otherwise, the game is pleasant to the ears.

Terry’s Wonderland 3D is pleasant to the eyes, as well, with well-proportioned character and enemy models fleshing out designer Akira Toriyama’s art style, in spite of some occasional palette swaps, not to mention some environmental blurriness with regards to texturing.

Finally, finishing the main quest will run players one to two days’ worth of playtime, with plenty of postgame content enhancing lasting appeal.

Overall, Dragon Quest Monsters: Terry’s Wonderland 3D is for the most part an ideal remake that North American gamers unfortunately missed out on, given its highlights such as superb gameplay systems, excellent control, nice audio, good graphics, and plentiful replayability. It only suffers with regards to its weak narrative and some recycling from mainline Dragon Quests but is otherwise perhaps one of the high points of the monster-collector subgenre of roleplaying games, and one of the best spinoffs in the series. Fans longing to play the game in English will be happy to know that a complete translation exists for the game.

The Good:
+Solid monster-capturing and battling mechanics.
+Superb control.
+Nice audio and graphics.
+Plenty post-game content.

The Bad:
-Minimalist storytelling.
-Some recycled tracks from previous Dragon Quests.

The Bottom Line:
A great remake Americans definitely deserved.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 9/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Easy
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 8.5/10

Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle

Godzilla Anime 2 Poster.jpg
The second in the anime trilogy, focusing on the continued fight against the eponymous monster. Like its predecessor has a pretty visual style, but somewhat suffers from sequel slump.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Mamma Mia! The Movie


I somewhat love old-school musical groups like ABBA, whose themes feature prominently in this musical, which, while having a few campy moments and ending ambiguously regarding the central plotline of the protagonist learning the true identity of her father, definitely struck the right note with me.

Xenosaga Episode I

I had an initial negative impression of the game when it came out over a decade ago, given the somewhat cheap nature of its battle system and minimalist musical presentation, although Yasunori Mitsuda's soundtrack actually isn't bad at all, and even has a central theme with several remixes. Definitely worth a listen.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp poster.jpg
Probably Marvel's funniest film, and was a great sequel overall, with the mid-credits scene tying into Infinity War.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters

Godzilla anime design reveal.jpg
Rewatched this since the second film came out, and it was a pretty decent cel-shaded animated film, which I wish I saw more of in mainstream film.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

On the Fault Spotlight

On the Fault by Ronald J. Wichers

Book Details:

Book Title:  On the Fault by Ronald J. Wichers
Category:  Adult Fiction,  474 pages
Genre:   Fictionalized biography
Publisher:  Outskirts Press
Release date:  March 13, 2018
Tour dates: July 2 to 27, 2018
Content Rating: PG-13

Book Description:

“The heart of the planet is broken and the world is bleeding. We come out of the broken-hearted earth and try to mend it.”

True grit mixes with true wit in this tragic, yet strangely triumphant tale of how much one man can lose. Following the Vietnam War, life proves bittersweet as Joe Hearns learns that sometimes finding happiness means changing the definition.

For Joe Hearns the horrors of combat give way to those of daily life upon return to the States; a life burdened by an odd curse that seems to hover over the heads of anyone who fought in that otherwise magical land. He discovers that courage takes on a whole new meaning when coping with a world moving at a different pace – the pace of friendship and love. But, in the end, this proves the way out from under the curse of the war no one wanted.

When it comes to this soldier’s story the word fearless comes to mind.

Buy the Book:
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Ronald J. WichersMeet the Author:

Ronald J. Wichers was born in Lake Ronkonkoma New York in 1947. He attended Catholic School until 1965, studied History and literature at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas until being drafted into the United States Army in 1970. He was assigned to a rifle company in the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam and, after sustaining severe wounds in a gun battle, including the loss of his left am, was awarded the Purple Heart Medal, the Army Commendation Medal for Heroism and the Bronze Star Medal.

He later studied theology full time at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley California. He has published several short stories about the Vietnam war. The Fear of Being Eaten: A Biography of the Heart is his fifth novel.

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

Naked Empire

Naked Empire.jpg

In the eighth main entry of author Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series, Richard and Kahlan are traveling through the Old World with their new companion Jennsen and her goat Betty, with avian creatures known as races in service to Emperor Jagang tracking them. During their trip, Richard is in the process of translating an ancient text, and in the meantime, his grandfather Zedd wanders the deserted streets of Aydindril after the recent attack by the Imperial Order. Richard and company ultimately enter the titular nation, the Bandakar Empire, where he is poisoned and must race against the clock to find a permanent antidote.

The Imperial Order also capture Zedd and his fellow magician Adie, the Emperor exhibiting them as nadirs among those crusading against his oppressive rule. Richard and friends also deal with one of the primary antagonists of the story, Nicholas the Slide, who specializes in soul-stealing and desires to become an Emperor himself. The action intensifies towards the end, accounting for another satisfactory story in the series, although the author sometimes diverts between perspectives within the same chapters, of which there are many, and gives no map of the Old World. Even so, those who enjoyed the book’s predecessors will likely enjoy Naked Empire.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Rurouni Kenshin

Image result for "rurouni kenshin"

A good historical (albeit with some fantasy elements) anime, focusing on the eponymous ex-samurai Kenshin, once known before the reformation of the Meiji Era as Battousai the Manslayer, and he copes with life when the feudal system of Japan is abolished. Kenshin is more pacifistic, wielding a "reverse blade sword" and not killing whatever enemies come in his way. He takes up shelter at a dojo where a few others live, with the anime dealing with occasional issues such as politics, and all in all being an good ride.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Liberty Landing Spotlight

Book Details:

Book Title: Liberty Landing by Gail Vida Hamburg
Category: Adult Fiction, 344 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Mirare Press
Release date: March 2018
Tour dates: July 2 to 20, 2018
Content Rating: PG-13 + M (This book contains love scenes, one explicit love scene, and some profanity)

Book Description:

Liberty Landing -- a 2016 Finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction -- narrates the American Experience of the 21st century through the lives of a polycultural cast of natives, immigrants, and refugees in Azyl Park--a town in the Midwest.

After Angeline Lalande, a journalist and historian, unearths the real meaning of the name, "Azyl," conferred on the town in the 1800s by immigrant-hating politicians, the town elders begin the act of renaming it. During the course of the renaming, we meet the intriguing denizens of the town--survivors, strugglers, and strivers of every race and nationality, see the intersection of their lives, and the ways they find home, heaven, and haven in each other. We learn about the singular journeys that brought them to Azyl Park--a place that both transforms them and is transformed by them.

The larger story of the American Experiment is told through the personal story of Alexander Hamilton, the essential immigrant among the Founding Fathers, as Angeline writes a book about him. By the end of the novel, after Azyl Park is renamed, each of the characters has lost or found something essential.

Liberty Landing is about the personal and the political, family and loss, memory and migration, finding new love and a new home, and about history and the American Experiment. Seminal moments of the American Experience figure in this literary and historical fiction. Inspired by John Dos Passos' USA Trilogy about early 20th century Americans, Liberty Landing is a sweeping, lush, layered saga, set in a vibrant community, with a cast of Americans marked by neuroses, flaws, secrets, unspeakable pasts, humor, warmth, vulnerability, and humanity.

Liberty Landing is Gail Vida Hamburg's love letter to the American Experiment--the first in a trilogy.

To follow the tour, please visit Gail Vida Hamburg's page on iRead Book Tours.

Buy the Book:

Watch the trailer:

Meet the Author:

Gail Vida Hamburg is an award-winning American journalist, author, and museum storyist. She is the author of The Edge of the World (Mirare Press, 2007), a novel about the impact of American foreign policy on individual lives. A nominee for the 2008 James Fenimore Cooper Prize, it is a frequent text in undergraduate post- colonial studies, war studies, and creative writing programs. Born in Malaysia, she spent her teens and twenties in England before migrating to the United States. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Literature and Creative Writing from Bennington Writers Seminars at Bennington College, Vermont. Liberty Landing, the first volume in her trilogy about the American Experience, is her love letter to the great American Experiment.

She lives in Chicago—the setting for Liberty Landing, a finalist for the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

A good Star Wars quote (somewhat political).

"There is a point at which pacifism, while seeming good, can serve the dark side ... when pacifism becomes evil. If beings are capable of protecting others but refuse to take action to preserve their own sense of peace, they are being selfish. They place themselves and their sense of peace over the peace of others, and so they defend a philosophy instead of lives. In this way, they fail everyone."
―Jedi Knight Ylenic It'kla, to fellow Knight Aayla Secura, one week after the Battle of Geonosis, from the short story "Elusion Illusion" -- Star Wars Insider #66, by Michael A. Stackpole

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)

I just wonder what Calamity GANON’S up to!

Many videogame franchises, like movie series, tend to be of inconsistent quality, although critics may extol some to the point where finding legitimate dissenting opinion tends to be tedious at best. Nintendo’s fabled The Legend of Zelda franchise is one such pantheon, with mainstream videogame critics lauding its first three-dimensional entry, Ocarina of Time, as one of the greatest games of all time and a beacon in an otherwise-lackluster Nintendo 64 lineup. In 2017, the Big N released the latest entry of the series, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, on the Wii U and Switch, again garnering near-universal praise, but is it justified?

Breath of the Wild opens with yet another incarnation of series protagonist Link awakening after a century in cryostasis with no memory of the time before, with a main quest focusing on visiting various locations indicated by photographs in a Sheikah Slate of which he comes into possession so that he can see memories of his past with Princess Zelda’s crusade against an antagonist force known as Calamity Ganon. With this setup, players can be forgiven for experiencing some trepidation, given that many other videogames have done amnesia plotlines to death, and this entry certainly doesn’t do it any better than other titles with the trite narrative device. The goals of rescuing Zelda and defeating Ganon have, too, been done plentiful times.

That leaves the gameplay to shoulder the burden, with Breath of the Wild sporting nonlinear open-world play that starts Link off in a vast explorable world, with the mute hero quickly obtaining all tools necessary to solve whatever puzzles may come in Shrines liberally spread throughout the world whence he can obtain Spirit Orbs, four of which he can exchange for either an extra heart container (Link starting with three) or a hint of stamina necessary to climb obstacles from which he falls when running out of it, although players might want to hold out on the latter since sleeping at some inns in the world can net him a temporary extra stamina ring, and maybe a few extra maximum hearts.

Players can outfit Link with clothes and/or armor that provide heightened defense, sometimes resistance to hot and cold elements that is in fact necessary to fully explore Hyrule, not to mention weapons, shields, and bows to shoot arrows. The game restricts the amount of equipment the player can carry at once, and while sidequests can increase these limits, maximum load is hardly critical to success throughout the game. Weapons one or two-handed, shields, and bows gradually wear down and break after excessive use, although clothes remain intact, players able to increase its defense by visiting fairy fountains and consuming specific parts gained from killing most monsters.

Link can use some of said ingredients, in addition to meat gained from killing wild animals and other foodstuffs found throughout the world, up to five of which he can carry at once, to cook consumables that can perform duties such as granting temporary increase to attack and defense, resistance to hot or cold, and recovering hearts. Lamentably, Breath of the Wild doesn’t track recipes like so many other titles with similar item creation mechanics do, which augments the general artificial difficulty throughout the game. Keeping plentiful healing items tends to be critical to success against most adversaries, and fortunately, ingredients that formulate such consumables at least receive indication with heart icons.

Another main goal is to subjugate the four Divine Beasts at several corners of Hyrule, although the player can actually forgo this task and confront Calamity Ganon any time but doing so without meticulously exploring the world would be far more difficult. Beating the bosses possessing the Divine Beasts grants Link both an extra heart container and a special ability that has limited use and needs time to recharge after the player uses them. There are other quirks with combat such as Link being able to jump, especially effective when doing so from high up, and granting him the ability to slow time when using his bow and various kinds of arrows, making hunting and defeating some foes easier.

In general, the gameplay definitely has plenty going for it, with standard battles against foes allowing players to use the targeting system present in other three-dimensional Zeldas for more effective combat, although the trio of dimensions and the camera create issues that are otherwise absent in titles with 2-D gameplay. Some of the puzzles necessary to complete shrines and increase Link’s stamina and hearts are actually fairly enjoyable, even though some might necessitate a guide, a few being tedious such as one where the player has to guide a ball through a maze and launch it onto a slope. In the end, the general game mechanics are a positive.

Control in Breath of the Wild is, however, perhaps its low point, given the general lack of direction and need to reference a guide to make the most of the gameplay itself. The maps of the Divine Beast dungeons, moreover, are actually somewhat unhelpful, appearing as three-dimensional transparent models rather than as individual chambers with various floors like in Ocarina of Time’s automapping system, players needing to activate terminals indicated by dots before facing their bosses. The player can also expect to die often, and there is absolutely no excuse for loading times in a cartridge game, occurring largely during the teleportation to shrines and towers that unveil maps for Hyrule’s various regions. Ultimately, the developers could have certainly given interaction a once-over.

Zelda games tend to feature enjoyable soundtracks, although Breath of the Wild even falters in this area, given the general lack of music and overreliance upon ambience during exploration, although there are a few decent tracks, even if some existed in prior installments of the series. This entry is also the first mainline entry, not counting the Unholy Triforce of Phillips CD-i titles, to feature full voice acting during cutscenes, which is actually pretty good, even if the lips sometimes don’t match spoken words, and with pleonasms that the localization team could have compressed such as “past one hundred years” into “past century.” All in all, the audio too could have used more memorable music.

A high point of the game, however, is its visual presentation, sporting a style that bridges the line between realistic and celshaded, with believable character and enemy models, not to mention pretty scenery with realistic colors, although some of the textures appear blurry and pixelated at times, and there is occasional pop-up regarding things such as foes and wild animals. There also exist the oddity, within the game menus, of a model of Link appearing to eat invisible food whenever the player uses a food item or potion, although this is hardly a deal-breaker in an otherwise pretty videogame.

Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild definitely has some things going for it, such as its serviceable open-world gameplay, nice voice acting, pretty graphics, and enough reason to play on. However, like Ocarina of Time before it, it scarcely justifies the acclaim it’s received as one of the greatest games of all time, given many superior titles within and without the Zelda franchise, not to mention issues such as its difficulty without Internet reference, loading times, the generic plot, and minimalist audio presentation. In fact, had it been this reviewer’s first Nintendo Switch game instead of the vastly-superior Super Mario Odyssey, he would have been downright furious, although those who still own Wii U’s might find it a good time sink.

The Good:
+Serviceable open-world gameplay.
+Good voicework.
+Nice visuals.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Difficult without a guide.
-Loading times in a cartridge game…come on.
-Generic plot.
-Minimalist musical presentation.

The Bottom Line:
Not as great as critics claim, but far from terrible.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 4/10
Story: 5/10
Localization: 9/10
Music/Sound: 6/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Somewhat Artificial
Playing Time: No in-game clock.

Overall: 7/10

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What does God sound like? Spotlight

Book Details:

Book Title: What Does God Sound Like? by Bernie DiPasquale
Category: Children's Fiction, 34 pages
Genre: Children's Books, Values & Virtues, Christian Books
Publisher: Mindstir Media
Release date: September 14, 2016
Tour dates: June 25 to July 20, 2018
Content Rating: G

Book Description:

We tell our kids that God is everywhere. Pray and maybe He will answer. But if God is everywhere and has created all things, then He must be talking to us all the time. This is my short story to help my Grandchildren understand they can talk with God all day, every day, everywhere.

To follow the tour, please visit Bernie DiPasquale's page on iRead Book Tours.

Buy the Book:

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Meet the Author:

Bernie was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and now resides in Joppa, a small community just a bit north up the I-95 corridor. He has spent his entire professional career in Education and Financial Services. More importantly he is a Husband, Father, and Grandfather to a beautiful family.

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

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Ends July 28, 2018

Boy on the Beach Spotlight

Book Details:

Book Title: Boy on the Beach by R.D. Maddux
Category: Adult Fiction; 304 pages
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Publisher: Ezekiel 12 Publications
Release date: March 11, 2017
Content Rating: PG-13 + M (There are implied sex scenes but no graphic descriptions of lovemaking. There is one scene with some violence.)

Book Description:

Andrew Foster, a real estate developer in San Diego, is a man suddenly haunted by his past. Memories, like specters from his former life of sex, drugs and rock and roll have come crashing into his current world of business in this sunny coastal city. The ominous, repeated appearance of a black SUV at the beach where he meets his sister each week, has triggered fears that it’s payback time for a bad choice he made years ago.

To add to his frustrations, his hopes of a big breakthrough in the San Diego real estate market haven’t come to pass. He’s starting to wonder if his visions of success will ever come true when an investor offers to finance his dream project. Soon things start to fall into place for Andrew in business, life, and even love. He starts dating the beautiful and business-savvy Nicole but even with her at his side he can’t seem to shake the ghosts of his past. As the relationship with Nicole deepens, Andrew opens up to her about the many loves and adventures that have taken him from the crazy days of living in Big Sur and Joshua Tree to business success in San Diego. Her wise insights help him face the character flaws that have caused him to fail in his past relationships.

Rounding out his social life is his once-a-week task of assisting his sister with her nanny job watching a young boy named Chandler. They build sand castles on the beach and enjoy the beauty of nature together. But the now ominous weekly appearance of a strange car at the beach has awakened Andrew’s fears. Is the boy in danger? Or worse, has an enemy from Andrew’s past come seeking revenge and now Chandler’s caught in the middle?

A strange twist of events threatens to destroy Andrew’s dreams, but as he searches for answers, a sudden revelation offers hope of a future he never imagined.

To follow the tour and read reviews, please visit R.D. Maddux's page on iRead Book Tours.

Buy the Book:

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Meet the Author:

R.D. Maddux has story telling in his blood. Since he was young he’s always loved a good tale. He’s been writing seriously since he was in high school and college. His novels range from Mystery and Intrigue to Sci-fi/fantasy. With Boy On The Beach he’s set the story in modern America, to be exact, on the West Coast of California. He’s a native of the golden state and has been a resident of San Diego since 1987. Before that he grew up in northern California and lived in the Sacramento Valley and Bay Area with sojourns in some of the beautiful parts of our state.

Living in California for over 60 years he couldn't help but watch the way things have changed in our culture and the impact this coast makes on the rest of America and the world. So even though Boy On The Beach is fiction, like most serious novels, it is not without a context and comment on issues we all face in our changing world. It takes place in real locations that are very familiar to him and its characters, which are fictional, no doubt have their counterparts in the real world. Boy On The Beach is a story of intrigue, suspense, revenge, love and redemption with flashbacks to the era when sex, drugs and rock and roll set our culture on it's inevitable journey to our present day. This idea has been rattling around in his heart and mind for a decade and it's finally coming to the page.

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

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Ends Aug 25, 2018

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