Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Man in the High Castle (TV series)

The Man in the High Castle (TV title).png

An alternative dystopian history show based on the novel of the same name by Phillip K. Dick where the Germans and Japanese won the Second World War, with the former occupying the former United States east of the Rocky Mountains as the Greater Nazi Reich and the latter controlling the lands west of the Rockies and dubbing them the Japanese Pacific States. The titular character is minor and played by Stephen Root, and created a series of films depicting real-life history called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, in contrast to the alternate-alternate history novel within Dick's book.

The characters aren't terribly memorable, but this reviewer definitely thought the series created a good atmosphere, although he somewhat prefers the version of Grasshopper within the novel depicting a superior history where FDR only served two terms as President, one of his brain trustees, Rexford Tugwell, succeeding him, entering World War II prepared and ending the conflict early, with other elements such as the Soviet Union prematurely collapsing and Jiang Jieshi (or Chiang Kai-shek depending upon your preferred style of Chinese) staying in control of China, America resolving its racial problems early too and getting into a civil cold war with the British Empire.

It probably wouldn't have made much of a difference who was the American President during the Second World War, since the U.S. for the most party pretty much remained neutral up until the day of the Pearl Harbor bombing, and the Nazis were defeated first and foremost by the Soviet Union, who destroyed an overwhelming percentage of their forces on the eastern front of Europe as opposed to the western front, with things such as D-Day occurring less than a year before the war ended. The third season of the show sees a growing resistance to America's occupiers, and ends with a forthcoming fourth season in the future.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sword of Mana

Sword of Mana.jpg

Square-Enix’s Seiken Densetsu, or Mana, series, began as a spinoff of the Final Fantasy franchise, although story connections were minimal at best, as was the case with each mainline FF, before developing a life of its own. North American gamers would only miss out on the third entry of the Seiken series when a remake of Final Fantasy Adventure, entitled Shinyaku Seiken Densetsu (“Legend of the Holy Sword: A New Testament”), hit the GameBoy Advance, retitled Sword of Mana for non-Japanese players, which is a mix of the old and the new that in many instances works, but it’s certainly not without its problems.

When beginning a new game, the player can choose to play from the perspective of the primary male protagonist or the main female one, which makes the game replayable at least once, at least story-wise. Regardless, the plot itself stumbles frequently and very much puts quantity over quality, with many hackneyed story elements such as the hero’s desire to avenge his deceased parents at the hands of Prince Stroud, who dons a party mask and wants everyone to address him as “Dark Lord.” The translation doesn’t help, with weakly-translated lines such as “Will you pray to Mana Goddess?” and “Blast it! BLAAAAAAAAAAAAST IT!” In the end, players shouldn’t expect a well-written narrative.

That leaves the gameplay to shoulder the burden, and for the most part, Sword of Mana actually does fairly well in this regard, with the chosen character able to level various weapons they obtain throughout the game except, in the hero’s case, the staff, or in the heroine’s case, the sword. Elemental spirits also abound, with various encountered enemies having strengths and weaknesses, an in-game journal mercifully tracking antagonist stats. What burdens combat, however, is the frequent need to navigate the menus to change weapons and spirits, not to mention the terrible ally A.I. that renders companions virtually useless. All in all, battles remain generally compelling.

Although the Mana series pioneered the ring icon-based menu system, the remake takes things to a new low, because instead of having separate interfaces between which to toggle, it instead features many submenus that take forever to navigate, which can make simple tasks such as changing weapons or spirits and using items cumbersome. Furthermore, while the overworld has a map, dungeons do not, a step down from Final Fantasy Adventure, with some players possibly needing to reference guides to figure out how to advance at times. Access to the Hot House where players can perform functions such as forge more powerful weapons is also limited at times, and overall, the remake could have definitely been more user-friendly.

Kenji Ito’s remixed soundtrack, however, remains a high point in Sword of Mana, with a mixture of old and new tracks, the former sounding somewhat different than they did in the original game, although the quality at some points leaves something to desire.

The graphics are pretty, as well, with colorful environments that appear lifted from the equally-pretty Legend of Mana and character sprites that mostly resemble their character portraits, with almost all named characters having portraits during cutscenes. Granted, there is occasional slowdown when the screen is crowded, some foes are reskins, and said portraits, along with their respective sprites, don’t show alternate emotions, but otherwise, the remake is easy on the eyes.

Finally, the remake is short, ranging from half to a full day’s worth of total playtime, with endless sidequests to pad out playing time.

Ultimately, Sword of Mana is for the most part an enjoyable remake that hits many of the right notes regarding its addictive and strategic gameplay, enjoyable soundtrack, pretty graphics, and the choice of protagonist making it replayable at least once. It does, however, leave room for improvement in the areas of its lousy A.I., cumbersome interface, and histrionic storyline and dialogue. Final Fantasy Adventure would eventually receive a second, more faithful, remake entitled Adventures of Mana, although the first remake is different enough from its original incarnation to warrant its own playthrough.

The Good:
+Leveling weapons and spells can be fun, with occasional strategy in combat.
+Nice soundtrack.
+Pretty visuals.
+Replayable at least once.

The Bad:
-Artificial idiocy by allies and enemies.
-Clunky interface.
-Story puts quantity above quality.
-Hackneyed dialogue.

The Bottom Line:
Not a perfect remake, but is still enjoyable.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: GameBoy Advance
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 4/10
Localization: 5/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: 12-24 Hours

Overall: 7/10

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Alycat and the Friendship Friday Revised Pricing

Alycat and the Friendship Friday will be on sale for $1.99 today Saturday, Oct 27 only!

Book Description:

It’s finally Friday, and Alycat is excited to go on a field trip with her friends. But when she doesn’t have anyone to sit with on the bus, Alycat feels left out. Can she use her creativity and imagination to help everyone feel included?

Alycat and the Friendship Friday will teach readers that making new friends isn’t as scary as you might think.
Get your copy today:

Check out this original song from the newest Alycat book!

Get your $1.99 eBook on Oct.27th. One Day Only!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Alycat and the Friendship Friday eBook Sale

Alycat and the Friendship Friday will be on sale for $0.99 today Saturday, Oct 27 only!

Book Description:

It’s finally Friday, and Alycat is excited to go on a field trip with her friends. But when she doesn’t have anyone to sit with on the bus, Alycat feels left out. Can she use her creativity and imagination to help everyone feel included?

Alycat and the Friendship Friday will teach readers that making new friends isn’t as scary as you might think.
Get your copy today:

Check out this original song from the newest Alycat book!

Get your 99¢ eBook on Oct.27th. One Day Only!

The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House.jpg

A supernatural horror series about a family that moves into a haunted house and experiences the paranormal and tragic loss. Fairly enjoyable, with some good scares.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


Like its predecessors, author R.J. Amezcua dedicates the final entry of his Mantis Force Trilogy to his wife and editor Sheryl, and focuses the third installment mainly on the enigmatic Rediquin, who arrives at Ausertane One while the Necropis government seeks the saboteurs of the battlefield known as Stadageo. Rediquin wants two of them, Mirinda and Orisa, for the money, and ventures through a warzone in want of their bounty. She visits a residential complex known as Musterion, meeting an old friend named Magula Siban, albeit only briefly, and has an audience with Grand Dukar Droden Namtar.

Meanwhile, Zeta Three and Fay, aboard the vessel Rekullah, finds that the captain of a mining ship, Gwenara, along with the vessel’s crew, are sick due to radiation poisoning, and that patrol ships around th world of Letalis seem absent, due to the planet’s distraction by civil war. Back to Rediquin, she has an important duel with an adversary named Crexex Voordesh, during which Varkrato League ships visit Necropis in hopes of terminating the aforementioned military conflicts.

Furthermore, Abaddon sends Khanon aboard his ship, the Aurgog, to the Fiero system while Letalis and Necropis are in the throes of the civil war, and he intercepts communication between several mines and the Langorra Regional Authority. Jazrene Vallo, a central character in the trilogy’s first novella, also returns, witnessing Mantis Alliance ships bringing materials to aid the restoration of the Monastarium, during which a Thrakonan Princess, Rishna Atharva, high priestess of the Order of Aggrevox, is forming her own religion order, Saurcine.

Jazrene’s sisterhood itself becomes part of the Grand Assembly, with the rogue sisters who were culprits of sabotage brought before Mantis Military Intelligence. Zeta Three also wonders if he should continue living as a mercenary or become fully committed as a Veth’Shar, during which Rishna Atharva, also a Queen Mother, readies to leave her home in the capital of Attomayo.

Important twists abound late into the story, which satisfactorily concludes the Mantis Trilogy, and is certain to please those who enjoyed its two precursors. Those new to the pantheon, however, will most likely want to start from the very beginning of the plotline with the first book, and given the slight fatigue of characters, one can find it difficult to keep track of them all and associate them with certain appearances. Even so, this reviewer would not hesitate to recommend this science fiction series.

Book Details for Rebirth:

Book Title: Mantis Force: Rebirth (Marium Kahnet Book 3) by R.J. Amezcua
Category: Adult Fiction, 260 pages
Genre: Sci-Fi, with elements of fantasy
Publisher: Quentorex Studios
Release date: May 31, 2018
Tour dates: Oct 1 to 31, 2018
Content Rating: PG + M (No explicit sex scenes or bad language)

Book Description for Rebirth:

It is a day of prophecy and celebration when Jazrene Vallo accomplishes her ordained task to refashion the Marium Kahnet, and witnesses them finally becoming representatives in the Grand Assembly of the Mantis Alliance. But the victory is soiled by reports of a faction of wayward sisters joining a necromancer Order, the Saurcine.

The rebels plan to bring forth the Krevomax, the seed of the Tisrad Dragon, to defeat the Mantis Alliance. To combat this new evil threat, in Jazrene Vallo’s last act as supreme leader, she activates the sisterhood’s elite warriors, the Criss Lumbra. Their mission: destroy the spawn of the Tisrad Dragon. Should they fail, it will mean the end of the sisterhood and all peace in the universe.

Buy Rebirth:

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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Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict

Camelot Software Planning has a history beginning with the Shining games on the Sega Genesis, the first the dungeon-crawling Shining in the Darkness, although its sequels would take a different route, with Shining Force being an tactical roleplaying title. Before the release of the second main Shining Force game, Sega released two side stories for the portable GameGear under the Shining Force Gaiden banner, the second seeing English release, although non-Japanese gamers would get the first as part of the collection Shining Force CD. During the transition between console generations in 1995, Sega released the last of the franchise’s gaiden games, Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict, which aimed to bridge the gap between the first and second of the series’ primary entries.

Rather than continuing the story of the Cypress Shining Force, Final Conflict instead opens with the leader of the original group, Max, chasing Mishaela, servant of the devil king Darksol, with Max’s trail ultimately going cold, his robot servant Adam receiving injuries and becoming unable to fight, although he survives to guide the newest Shining Force and its enigmatic leader Ian in search of the missing hero. The story was actually not bad for its time, being laden with Continuity Porn and having some good twists, although most Shining Force members receive scant development.

Final Conflict, more or less, features the same tactical gameplay as other entries in the Shining Force franchise, turn-based and grid-based, the player’s characters and the enemy taking turns depending upon the agility stat. Ian’s death results in a return to the last resting point and a loss of half the player’s money, although if things aren’t going in the player’s favor, Ian (and towards the end, another character) can cast the Egress spell to return to said rest area to perform tasks such as reviving deceased characters, cleansing them of status ailments such as poison, and promoting characters once they’ve advanced ten levels, granting them access to more powerful weapons.

The playable cast is somewhat smaller than in other series entries, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it somewhat reduces the cost of maintaining the Shining Force as a whole, although characters of specific classes such as archer aren’t in great supply, with a gravitation towards swordsmen, many of which can fly and have great moving range regardless of the various battlefields’ terrains. The game lacks modern conveniences such as a turn-order meter, the player has to center area-affecting sorcery on enemies to execute it, and leveling weaker characters can be mildly tedious, although there are some quirks such as being able to adjust to lower levels of magic spells when they advance through leveling, and the gameplay is definitely a boon.

Another area where Final Conflict lacks modern conveniences, albeit to a larger degree, is control, although it does have some highlights such as the virtual impossibility of losing oneself, given the game’s rigid linearity, not to mention the ability to quit battles during the player’s characters’ turns and resume where they left off. Even so, the game bombards players with dialogue and confirmations when performing functions such as shopping for new equipment and items, consumables and magic lack in-game descriptions, and the player can’t see how weapons will increase or decrease power before equipping it. Regardless, interaction is by no means a total writeoff.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of Final Conflict is its soundtrack by Motoaki Takenouchi, much of which comes from the series’ second main entry, although the different sound quality of the GameGear prevents the tracks from being total rehashes.

The visuals also looked good for an 8-bit portable game, with important characters having distinct portraits and largely matching their sprites with occasional exceptions, not to mention detailed scenery, action, and models during the franchise’s trademark attack sequences, although things aren’t perfect, given occasional reskinned foes.

One can potential beat the game within a day, although there isn’t much reason to come back from more, with the player needing to consult the internet to unlock advanced difficulty, for instance.

Regardless of flaws within the gameplay and interface, not to mention the lack of lasting appeal, Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict was a great GameGear title that North American players unfortunately missed out on, given the general solid strategy system of the Force subseries, its straightforward nature, its enjoyable and franchise-adjoining narrative, its excellent soundtrack, and nice, colorful 8-bit visuals. It definitely ranks as one of Camelot’s strongest forays into the roleplaying game genre (and is far from the low of titles by the same developer such as Beyond the Beyond), and interested Anglophone players will appreciate the existence of an English fan translation.

The Good:
+Simple but solid Shining Force gameplay.
+Impossible to get lost.
+Good story that connects the first and second main games.
+Great music.
+Nice 8-bit graphics.

The Bad:
-No town access before some battles.
-Clunky, sometimes uninformative interface.
-Little reason to pay multiple times.

The Bottom Line:
A good gaiden game.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: GameGear
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 8/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 5/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: 12-24 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Art by Pidgopidgey

by jmg124 on DeviantArt

Props to whoever can tell the classic cartoon reference.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Alycat and the Friendship Friday Spotlight

Book Details:

Book Title: Alycat and the Friendship Friday by Alysson Foti Bourque
Illustrated by: Chiara Civati
Category: Children's Fiction, 32 pages
Genre: Picture Book, Friendship
Publisher: Mascot Books
Release date: Oct 23, 2018
Tour dates: Oct 1 to 27, 2018
Content Rating: G

Book Description:

It’s finally Friday, and Alycat is excited to go on a field trip with her friends. But when she doesn’t have anyone to sit with on the bus, Alycat feels left out. Can she use her creativity and imagination to help everyone feel included?

Alycat and the Friendship Friday will teach readers that making new friends isn’t as scary as you might think.

Buy the Book:

Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository

Watch the book trailer:

Meet the Author:

Alysson Foti Bourque earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and a Juris Doctor degree from the Southern University Law Center. After practicing law for six years, she traded in writing trial briefs for writing children’s books. She enjoys public speaking opportunities at schools, conferences, and festivals nationwide. She hopes to inspire people of all ages to follow their dreams and believe in themselves. Currently, she resides in Sunset, Louisiana with her husband and two children.

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

Enter the Giveaway!
Ends Nov 3, 2018

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Art Trade, 22 October 2018

Dave the Friendly Bork
by jmg124 on DeviantArt

Their half:

Bluth Germaine Sheffield
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


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.

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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