Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Death's Mistress


I never found Nicci of the late Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth saga to be a terribly-memorable or even interesting character, although the deceased author evidently loved her to the point of giving the former Sister of the Dark her own series, following chronologically from the Children of D’Hara sequel stories. The first entry of the sequel series opens with Nicci in the Dark Lands joined by Nathan Rahl in a world where prophecy is no more, and the latter ages normally as a human. Both are exploring the expanded D’Haran Empire at the behest of Lord Richard Rahl, the two visiting the witch woman Red.

Nathan and Nicci seek the city of Kol Adair in the Old World, traveling south through D’Hara, where citizens are largely unaware of the Lord Rahl’s rule. Nicci saves a young man named Bannon Farmer, who becomes an important character in the first entry of Goodkind’s Nicci Chronicles, and contains excellent development, given his troubled past that included an abusive father, wisely caring about self-defense by purchasing a sword. Nicci, Nathan, and Bannon set sail on the Wavewalker, at sea encountering the merfolk known as the selka and consequentially finding themselves shipwrecked.

The company aids the citizens of Renda Bay, continuing to seek Kol Adair and encountering an adversary known as the adjudicator. They eventually encounter the community of Cliffwall that sits near a desolate region known as the Scar, with another opponent, the Lifedrinker, dealt with, along with a woman who fashions herself as “Life’s Mistress,” drawing power from a sentient jungle. Battling Life’s Mistress necessitates the retrieval of a dragon’s rib, with the characters encountering an antediluvian gray dragon, and the book ends with Nathan and Nicci arriving at the metropolis of Kol Adair.

All in all, I definitely enjoyed this Sword of Truth sequel novel, with the chronologically-preceding Children of D’Hara somewhat, but not completely, filling in the gaps between both literary franchises. Those who hope for a continuation of the story from Children of D’Hara will likely find disappointment in this novel, although the change of perspective is definitely a breath of fresh air, and the book definitely stands well on its own, with little knowledge of the Sword of Truth books necessary to enjoy it. With the author’s passing, I believe I have definitely found the right time to experience the Nicci Chronicles.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Editorial: Ten Commandments All Videogames Should Follow

 Having spent a little over three decades of my life as a videogamer and a little under two as a reviewer, I think I’m more than qualified to say what games in general do right and wrong. I’ve found fault even in the most revered titles, and have seen good in certain games that mainstream videogame critics didn’t care much for. I’ve constantly evolved my review style and gone through games I had once experienced again so I could update my opinions on them in sync with my evolving style, and definitely feel strongly about certain areas of the titles I’ve played. Here’s a list of a few minor and major things that all videogames in my opinion should feature.

Ease up on the startup screens.

In early console generations, most cartridge-based games didn’t have loading times to worry about, and the degree by which players could enter a game for the first time or reenter the game was largely instantaneous. However, many companies would develop egos that would for some unfathomable reason force players to sit through several-second-long appearances of logos from every company responsible for a game’s production. A particularly bad offender is the Sly Collection on the PlayStation 3, where the player has to sit through company logos preceding the collection itself and each game in the trilogy. Probably the only game I’ve played where company screens are fully skippable is Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity on the PlayStation 2.

Have adjustable difficulty that’s meaningful.

When it comes to the degree of challenge in videogames, one size does not fit all. For some reason, there is intense debate on this question, with mainstream videogame reviewers sometimes gushing over difficult games such as those in the Soulsborne series, whilst simultaneously damning easier, more accessible titles. A simple solution to this issue is simply to have a spectrum of selectable difficulty settings, preferably changeable on the fly within a game rather than fixed from the beginning of a playthrough. Some games handle difficulty in interesting ways, such as The World Ends with You, where higher difficulty settings allow for better rewards from combat.

Have an accurate, easily-viewable in-game clock.

I know this is a rather insignificant feature, but one of the aspects of my videogame review scorecards is the potential range of playtime, since length can at times be a hot-button for certain gamers, and as I conservatively budget my playtime, I like to keep track of how much time I’ve invested into certain games. For some reason, however, certain games make viewing total playtime tedious, such as the Sly Collection on the PlayStation 3, which necessitates the player add all time spent on specific episodes to formulate total playtime. Accuracy is also a necessity, and things such as pausing the game need to stop the in-game clock, and things such as menu navigation require temporal tracking as well.

Let the player pause the game.

This seems like a laughably-simple feature, yet the number of contemporary games that lack this capability is surprising, among the primary offenders being the Soulsborne games, with the player having to quit the game in the middle of a session to “pause.” Even those games that do have a pause feature don’t implement it universally, such as not during standard exploration (the Kingdom Hearts series), during battle with real-time elements (the Xenosaga trilogy), not during cutscenes (Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, and so forth. No player should have to choose between things such as missing an important cutscene, missing a critical phone call, or deciding when to relieve himself or herself.

Have frequent checkpoints and save opportunities.

The save systems of videogames is also a hot-button at times, with most Japanese RPGs utilizing save points that restrict when and where players can record their progress. They’re not so bad when they have consistent spacing, preferably every couple of minutes or so, and another solution some games have implemented aside from standard save points is the suspend save, such as that utilized by Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. Starvation of save points can bear the potential of having players waste potential hours in certain games due to them having unceremonious Game Over screens that come as a result of death. Probably the most ideal save system is found in Saga Frontier 2, which allows players to permasave anywhere, in addition to an easily-accessible quicksave system.

Make all dialogue and cutscenes skippable.

For me, the ability to skip through dialogue in videogames is a must, since I don’t really enjoy sitting and waiting for characters to finish speaking when I would rather just get back to the main gameplay. With the advent of voice acting in videogames, many titles would adopt cinematic styles where the voiced dialogue in cutscenes is totally unskippable, such as in the Kingdom Hearts games. This is very unfriendly towards hearing-impaired gamers who can’t appreciate unskippable voiced dialogue, and the cutscenes too need to be fully skippable so that players don’t have to sit through them again after things such as losing a critical boss battle after a story sequence, akin to later Kingdom Hearts games, and even minor things such as tutorials and repeated dialogues developers should allow players to skip.

Make grinding fun and easy.

This mostly applies to roleplaying games with leveling systems, and “grinding” involves investing time into supplemental battles for want of higher levels and more money to purchase new equipment and consumables. Even some revered games such as Skies of Arcadia offend in this regard, that particular title having a portion where the player has to acquire a lot of money in order to advance the central storyline, and the potential length of battles in the game can make grinding a chore. Happily, some games such as many later Megami Tensei titles make battles a snap, and remasters such as Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age include a turbo mode that makes grinding significantly easier and thus make them preferrable to prior incarnations.

Do not force repetition upon the player.

Most games with save points like most Japanese RPGs offend in this regard, but even some Western games such as the Sly Cooper games take this to ungodly levels, with several lengthy minigame and boss sequences that force the player to start from the beginning if they screw up. Luckily, some games such as the Kingdom Hearts series have retry modes that minimize wasted playtime, and titles such as Tales of Phantasia feature puzzles and minigames that are completely skippable after a few tries. Other games such as The Legend of Heroes’ Trails in the Sky trilogy and Riviera: The Promised Land allow restarted battles with lower difficulty in case of death. Particularly in RPGs, repetition can be a hot-button, so developers definitely need to find ways to make their games less repetitive.

Make your game beatable, regardless of the situation.

There have been rare instances in which I found myself totally unable to see a game to completion and view the ending story scenes and credits, and thus had to start from the very beginning in order to take precautions as to not make the same errors that made the game unwinnable for me in the first place. The Fire Emblem series was a particular offender in this regard for me, although I did beat Shadow Dragon and Echoes in secondary playthroughs. There are other games that can potentially become unwinnable such as the SaGa Frontier games, which feature dreaded points of no return that can screw players out of winning either game easily. Regardless of how averse certain gameplay situations become, developers should make sure any player can see their games to completion.

Make sure your game actually works.

Perhaps the most important thing a game needs to do is to be actually playable, and be free of game-breaking bugs, freezes, and others that can potentially cause players to waste their time and have to repeat certain portions of a game in hopes they don’t experience what caused the game to crash in the first place. This especially goes for physical versions of console games, since not every player will have the capability to update them with patches that make them more playable, and since some gamers might not be able to update their games at all, there may be certain points where they’ll find themselves totally unable to advance and finish a game. Developers, remember always to test your games thoroughly before releasing them to the general public.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Wonder Woman 1984


Had some rather-questionable narrative decisions, but was alright with some good effects.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Anvil of Dawn


I Got a Rock

I’ve been a gamer as long as I remember, and have a semi-eidetic memory with regards to certain titles, and spent a sizeable portion of my youth gaming on the variations of PCs my family has had. However, I had limited experience with regards to computer RPGs, although several decades ago, I discovered a game installed on the computer called Anvil of Dawn, of which I only played a smidgeon, and given its somewhat quirky title, making me think of a Looney Tunes cartoon, it remained engraved in my memory. However, it would only be recently that I got the chance to play the game to completion, accessing it through Good Old Games, and it’s definitely a unique experience despite its flaws.

Anvil occurs in the world of Tempest, where an evil warlord has overrun civilization, and the forces of good hold out, with one of five different playable characters tasked with saving the land. It’s a typical “save the world from evil” plot, but has some decent backstory, with potential variations depending upon the chosen protagonist, although none of them contain a particularly-high degree of development. There are also potential differences in the ending, although one needn’t go through the game all over to see them. The plot certainly isn’t a repellent, but isn’t great, either.

The game plays strictly in the first person, with the chosen protagonist able to equip armor, weapons, and an amulet, with enemies occasionally encountered in the many dungeons, the player able to hack away at them repeatedly, although foes get their own chances to deplete the player’s health. The chosen character also obtains a variety of mana-consuming spells. Offing enemies with weapons gives the player weapon experience, and using spells gives magical experience, a certain number of points allowing the player to invest one skill point into a type of weapon when they achieve a level, and a point into different magical elements after achieving one magic level.

The gameplay never becomes terribly complex, which isn’t a bad thing, and there is room for error, with symbols allowing the player to restore health and mana at special shrines found in most dungeons. Enemies also don’t respawn most of the time, so odds are if a player kills an enemy, they’re gone for good. Foes may occasionally drop items, with treasure chests also providing various goods, although there is no standard shop where the player can pawn unwanted items, with a battle penalty for exceeding a certain weight limit. Battles are generally fast, and an interesting quirk is that there is no final boss battle, and while the mechanics have issues, they work decently.

Dungeon exploration, like combat, is strictly third-person, with the game luckily having automaps for each area, and the player can type notes on the map if needed. Anvil’s main puzzles come in the form of pressure plates the player needs to weigh down with rocks, which can easily tax their inventory weight limit. Certain items are also necessary to advance the central storyline, and as there is no fast-travel feature among visited areas, the player can potentially spend a lot of time backtracking if they miss a critical plot point. The inventory can also become visually chaotic, and overall, the game doesn’t interact with players as well as it could have.

Much of the music in Anvil of Dawn is actually fairly enjoyable, unusual for a Western RPG, although most of it is rather unmemorable, with a lot of silent portions and occasional glitches regarding the audio. The sound effects are good, and while the voice acting probably didn’t win any awards, it’s somewhat bad in an enjoyable fashion, and the game is moderately easy on the ears.

That the game remains strictly in the first-person is the main strike with the visuals, alongside the aforementioned issue with the graphical chaos of the inventory system, although the art direction is largely good, and there are occasional advanced three-dimensional effects such as the overworld in between dungeons. There’s also a lack of reskinned enemies, although there is plenty of pixilation, and while the game isn’t an eyesore, it could have used more visual polish.

Finally, the game will last players somewhere from one to two days’ total playtime, with some lasting appeal in the form of the different playable protagonists with divergent playstyles and variations in the plotline, although there’s no New Game+.

In summation, Anvil of Dawn was a good game for its time, with serviceable gameplay, some good music, and significant lasting appeal, although it really doesn’t excel across the board, given the issues with the mechanics, the repetitive pressure plate puzzles, the unmemorable plot, and the lack of polish with regards to the sight and sound. Despite its flaws, I definitely don’t regret playing the game, which one could consider a classic among computer RPGs, and the lack of influence from tabletop roleplaying games is certainly a boon, and it’s worth a glance, if nothing more.

This review is based on a playthrough as Daganoth.

The Good:
+Gameplay gets the job done.
+Some good music.
+Significant lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Weak control.
-Unmemorable plot.
-Sound and sight don’t excel.

The Bottom Line:
An okay game for its time.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PC
Game Mechanics: 6.5/10
Controls: 3.5/10
Story: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 6.5/10
Graphics: 6.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 8.0/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 6.0/10

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Final Fantasy III


The Light Warriors’ Last Crusade

The 8-bit gaming era was a bit of a dark age for Japanese RPGs outside their homeland, with North Americans missing out on many titles, at least until generations later, such as the second and third Final Fantasies, with the fourth and six entries for the Super NES retitled II and III for Anglophones. Visually-uplifted rereleases would come for the first two games for the Japan-only handheld WonderSwan Color that ultimately saw ports to the PlayStation 1 in the collection Final Fantasy Origins, and a remake of the third title Square-Enix planned for the mentioned handheld, although it turned out to be vaporware, and said remake of Final Fantasy III didn’t come until the following generation on the Nintendo DS, with ports to other systems such as PC and iOS.

The third installment follows four orphans who discover their destiny as the Warriors of Light to vanquish darkness from the world. There is some decent backstory, although the playable characters are largely interchangeable, and the similarity to the narrative of the first Final Fantasy is noticeable. The translation contains plentiful polish, however, as one would expect of a contemporary Square-Enix game, with legible dialogue and an absence of spelling and grammar errors. There is occasional awkward dialogue, although the localization otherwise doesn’t leave room for improvement, with the plot itself neither hurting nor helping the game overall.

The player starts with one character, four ultimately acquired, the job system unlocked once they receive the power of the crystals. There are a variety of occupations, each with various strengths and weaknesses. When a character changes jobs, their stats endure a penalty for a certain number of random encounters until they settle in to their vocation. The rate of random battles is mercifully neither too high nor too low, with a turn-based system where the player inputs commands for each character, and they and the enemy, of which only three can appear at a time in combat, interchanging orders.

The typical flaws of traditional turn-based combat come into play, with character and enemy turn order sometimes varying, and foes don’t decide their commands until they reach their turn, accounting for occasions where the player revives a character only for them to die again the same round. Phoenix downs, the series’ signature revival item, are also in finite supply, although one can possibly obtain magic that revives at low HP or with all HP. On the subject of magic, the remake, akin to the original, has a system similar to the NES and PlayStation versions of the first game where spells are of varying levels, and each use of a spell consumes one point from its respective tier.

Victory results in acquired experience for all characters still alive for occasional leveling, with each gradually increasing proficiency in their current class, along with money to buy new equipment, magic spells, and consumable items. Battles generally don’t take a long time, especially with the iOS version’s turbo mode that can make fights go by quicker. With regards to bosses, they usually can execute multiple commands per round, and the death of all characters results in all progress made in a dungeon lost, permanent saves available only on the overworld, with the endgame a particular offender in this area. Regardless, the gameplay is fairly competent in the end, but not spectacular.

The stingy save system is also the biggest issue with the remake’s control, along with finnicky touchscreen capability on an iPad, alongside other issues such as the ability to view total playtime only when saving the game, the lack of maps for dungeons, and occasional poor direction on how to advance the central storyline. There are some bright spots such as the general ease of the menus and suspend save, but otherwise, the game doesn’t interact with players as well as it could have.

Inarguably the strongest aspect of the remake is Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack, with a number of standout tracks such as the overworld theme, crystal dungeon music, the militaristic Saronia piece, and so forth. The sound effects have plentiful diversity as well, although the iOS version has occasional aural glitches, and tracks such as the main battle theme don’t last a long time before looping. Regardless, the game is fairly easy on the ears.

Perhaps the high point of the remake’s visual presentation is the opening FMV, although it’s the only one in the game, the rest using fully three-dimensional graphics with chibi character models, which reflect the quirky noseless character designs, and scenery that has a noticeable degree of pixilation. Battles also have the player’s characters and the enemies telekinetically exchanging blows similar to other early games in the Final Fantasy franchise, and while the remake could pass for a PlayStation 1 RPG, it’s not wholly an eyesore.

Finally, the remake will last players around a day in terms of playtime, with minimal lasting appeal in the form of mastering every job and an extra dungeon and boss; otherwise, the game isn’t fun enough to go through again from the start.

Ultimately, Final Fantasy III for iOS devices is at best a serviceable remake, with strong points such as its job system, localization, art direction, and especially its soundtrack. However, it does have serious issues that players need to consider before purchase and play such as the stingy save system that could potentially lead to a significant amount of wasted playtime, the weak control, and the general lack of graphical polish. While it’s a faithful remake overall, there are definitely better titles out there within and without the Final Fantasy franchise.

This review is based on a playthrough of the iOS version on an iPad Pro.

The Good:
+Decent job system.
+Polished translation.
+Excellent soundtrack.
+Good art direction.

The Bad:
-Player can only save on overworld.
-Weak control.
-Could pass for a PlayStation 1 RPG.
-Visuals lack polish.

The Bottom Line:
A serviceable remake.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: iOS
Game Mechanics: 5.0/10
Controls: 2.5/10
Story: 4.0/10
Localization: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.0/10
Graphics: 6.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 4.0/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: ~1 Day

Overall: 6.0/10

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Five Fortunes


This Fred Patten-edited anthology of anthropomorphic fictions marks perhaps the first time I’ve purchased a book based on its cover, and I’ll admit I’m largely involved in the furry fandom due to the art, and to a lesser extent the literature. The main theme of the collection is fortune, which can mean wealth or luck.

The cover art comes from the first story of the collection, “Chosen People” by Phil Geusz, with the lapine narrator Juniper Lawkeeper Rabbit sworn in as a sheriff in a Nevada town populated by Lapists.

The second story, “Huntress” by Renee Carter Hall, focuses on Leya, an aspiring hunter in a village populated by anthropomorphized lions.

The third story, “Going Concerns” by Watts Martin, is set in a steampunk world, following a wolf named Annie who serves as an investigator.

The fourth, “When a Cat Loves a Dog” by Mary E. Lowd, takes place in a future where humans have abandoned Earth to dogs, cats, and otters, opening with a cat and a dog tying the knot and facing adversity as they attempt to procreate.

The last story, “Piece of Mind” by Bernard Doove, deals with the problem of telepathy among the Caitians and R’Tarmarra, who cannot turn off his own telepathic powers.

All in all, I definitely enjoyed this collection, although some of the stories have odd stylistic choices such as “Piece of Mind” using the pronouns “shi” and “hir,” which wouldn’t make much sense to audiences unversed in gender terms. I probably liked “Chosen People” the best, and am interested in the other works of the featured authors.

Thursday, December 17, 2020



The third and final entry of author Terry Brooks’ High Druid of Shannara trilogy opens with the rogue Druids catching up to Pen and his companions, with the former disguising the tanequil intended to rescue his aunt Grianne from the Forbidding upon his capture. The rogue magicians interrogate Pen about his mysterious staff, although he manages at first to disguise the talisman’s true nature. His parents, Rue Meridian and Bek Ohmsford, are also in captivity, with the leader of the Druid order, the rogue Ard Rhys Shadea, still seeing Grianne as the antagonistic Ilse Witch that she was in the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy.

Several conflicts between the Elven forces and the Federation occur throughout the book, with Shadea maintaining her ties with its sinister Prime Minister Sen Dunsidan. Meanwhile, Grianne still finds herself stuck in the Forbidding, escorted by the Ulk Bog Weka Dart, as she awaits her salvation at the hands of a boy fated to cross dimensions. Pen does eventually cross into the Forbidding in search of his aunt, with Weka Dart wanting to join him and Grianne in their return to the Four Lands. The third book ends with a final conflict between the rogue Druids and their enemies at the Druid’s Keep Paranor.

All in all, I definitely relished reading the High Druid of Shannara trilogy, given its continuation of the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara books and close interval proximity to those particular stories. Granted, it’s not perfect, given the ambiguous nature of the Federation, and one can occasionally find it difficult to keep tabs of what races to which the various characters belong. There are also some occasional odd stylistic choices in the text, with occasional redundancy, and better descriptions for a few of the characters would have been welcome for readers to better imagine the story. Regardless, I would definitely recommend this book and its precursors to Shannara fans.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity


The Dawning of the Age of Calamity

Let me begin this review by stating that I am scarcely a fan of Nintendo’s fabled The Legend of Zelda franchise, firmly believing that the adulation it receives from its fanbase and bootlicking critics is in many cases undeserved. I did somewhat enjoy the Nintendo 3DS Musou spinoff Hyrule Warriors, given my positive experience with the Dynasty Warriors games, but wouldn’t exactly consider it a masterpiece, and thus, when a canon prequel to Breath of the Wild entitled Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity suddenly came out in 2020, I was apathetic, only playing the game because I had the opportunity to borrow it. Does it fare any better than other entries of the series?

As mentioned, the prequel game occurs during the Calamity that serves as the main backstory for Breath of the Wild, with Link, Princess Zelda, and their various companions seeking to eke out the doomsday event. The background is generally enjoyable, with endearing characters, although there are occasional hackneyed elements such as time travel, the main antagonists contain scarce development, and given the inability to skip through voiced text, the plot feels forced down the player’s throat. As with prior Zeldas, moreover, the localization is an admirable effort but somewhat falls flat, given occasional unrealistic dialogue.

Fortunately, the gameplay compensates for the narrative shortcomings, with a combination of elements from the Musou and Zelda games, several different luminaries from the latter franchise acquired and playable, which mostly keeps the gameplay fresh given their playstyles. Characters gain experience from killing enemies in real-time combat, with the player able to string weak and strong attacks and use other abilities such as elements, bombs, magnesis, and so forth. Each mission occurs on a vast battlefield, with the player needing to fulfill certain objectives such as capturing specific outposts to proceed.

There are also missions where the player controls Divine Beasts, although their controls feel somewhat awkward, given the need for controller motion. Sidequests number plenty and are generally quick and easy to accomplish, providing things such as additional life hearts, lengthened attack combos, and so forth. There are also facilities where the player can spend rupees to increase a weaker character’s level and fuse weapons to create more powerful incarnations. The mechanics generally work well, with the ability to heal and adjustable difficulty leaving room for error, although a suspend save would have been welcome, given the length of some missions, and the camera can be poor at times.

Age of Calamity is largely devoid of puzzles and is playable and beatable without referencing the Internet, and the game has the honor of being the very first Zelda title I’ve played that actually tracks total playing time, although time wasted on losing missions or missions withdrawn from are oddly not considered. There are also long stretches without being able to make permanent saves, and the dialogue during most voiced cutscenes is unskippable (though scenes are fully skippable), along with the mentioned lack of in-mission saving. Interaction isn’t deal-breaking, but could have been better.

The audio presentation is another of the game’s high points, with Age of Calamity actually having music, most of which is enjoyable, although there is a dearth of memorable themes aside from the iconic lullaby of Princess Zelda. The voice acting is top-notch, especially compared to that in the “unholy Triforce” of Zelda CDi games, and the sound effects are good, although they largely tend to drown out the music, which accounts for much of its unmemorability. Regardless, the sound is well above average.

However, Age of Calamity proves that looks can deceive in terms of its visual presentation. While the cel-shaded style for character and enemy models looks superficially pleasant, and the color scheme looks nice, there are a handful of issues such as the overuse of reskinned adversaries, the choppy framerate, and as prior mentioned, the irritating camera. The graphics definitely aren’t terrible, but so too could have they been far better.

Finally, the game is just right in terms of length, with players possibly able to breeze through it in somewhere over twelve hours, although the sheer amount of side content can easily boost total playtime well beyond that intervention.

Overall, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises of the year 2020, given its largely-successful fusion of Zelda and Musou elements alongside its canon nature to the storied Nintendo franchise, in fact sometimes more enjoyable than even mainline entries of the series, not to mention its good aural presentation and sheer amount of side content. However, it does have some issues that one needs to consider before purchase and play, such as its lack of a suspend save, the various points of its plotline, and the technically-weak visuals, but those who have enjoyed Dynasty Warriors and Zelda games will most likely appreciate this game.

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

The Good:
+Enjoyable hack-and-slash gameplay with Zelda elements.
+Great soundtrack and voicework.
+Plenty of lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-No suspend save.
-Some plot elements cliched and underdeveloped.
-Visuals technically weak.

The Bottom Line:
A decent canon Zelda spinoff.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 7.5/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 5.0/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 7.0/10
Graphics: 5.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 9.5/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 12-72 Hours

Overall: 6.5/10

Sixes Wild: Echoes

In the first sequel to Tempe O’Kun’s Sixes Wild: Manifest Destiny, which he dedicates to Sophie “for courage” and Megan “for the sass,” the perspective remains in first-person, ping-ponging between two of the protagonists and narrators of its predecessor, the bat sheriff Jordan Blake and the rabbit gunwoman Six Shooter, the latter finding a lead to treasure in the Arizona desert, which leads to the acquisition of an engraved tortoise idol. The two celebrate their find with fornication, with plenty of it occurring throughout the book, which, while unnecessary, is well-described.

A lead on the lion Hayes, who stole the companion firearm to one of Six’s guns that once belonged to her father, takes the bat and the rabbit to the middle of nowhere in California, where they find Fort Calico and obtain a little more information about the location of the hare’s stolen armament, which she vows to retake. In the sequel, as one can probably infer, Blake and Six intensify their flourishing romance, with the two heading to Texas to catch an Italian opera from the seventeenth century starring bats, which, while to her incoherent, does give a little insight into the habits of the flying foxes.

Six also helps Blake with occasional odds and ends such as fighting the Pine City Marten Gang, trying to retrieve gold bars from king scorpions, and attending a stag dance in Prescott, which the author indicates was a prospective capital of the Arizona Territory. A meeting with the territorial governor comes as well, along with a meeting of Arizona’s indigenous coyotes, concluding with an enigmatic narrator, likely a rabbit due to description, in the epilogue, indicating the story of Six is not finished. Overall, this is a good anthropomorphic story, with little confusion as to the species of characters, and is recommended to adults who enjoyed its predecessor.

Saturday, December 12, 2020


The second entry of author Terry Brooks’ High Druid of Shannara series opens with Sen Dunsidan, Prime Minister of the Federation, meeting with engineer Etan Orek, whom he has develop a deadly weapon to use against the Federation’s enemies. Shadea a’Ru still rules as the Ard Rhys of the Druid order, getting a note of a character’s death and doubting Bek Ohmsford as a threat. Meanwhile, a shadowy creature infests the airship Skatelow, with the Elfstones and tar pondered as possible counters, and Khyber ultimately confronting the entity. Pen and his companions also travel to the Trolls’ homeland in search of Kermadec.

Pen and his companions also battle mutens, Troll-like creatures, when the reach Rock Troll country, although battle forces them through perilous mountains. In the meantime, Grianne still finds herself trapped in the shadow world known as the Forbidden, awaiting her salvation and interacting with the Straken Lord. Pied Sanderline, Captain of the Elven Home Guard, also follows his ancestors’ legacy of defending an Elven royal family. Pen ultimately reaches the tree from which he can procure the eponymous tanequil necessary to construct the darkwand needed to free Grianne, although it comes with some sacrifices.

The second book ends with Pen at a ravine with Druids finally reaching him, and is generally an enjoyable romp through the post-doomsday world of Shannara, with plenty of fantastical action and occasional politics. The constant alternation between the perspectives of characters will undoubtedly throw some off, along with some explicit violence later on in the story, and some additional description as to the appearances of specific characters would have been welcome. Regardless, I definitely enjoyed the novel, given its importance in the Shannara mythos, and very much look forward to reading the conclusion to the trilogy. 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Sixes Wild: Manifest Destiny


Author Tempe O’Kun acknowledges his editorial team and others in the creation of this American Western / anthropomorphic novel, opening with a prologue where one of the primary protagonists and narrators, Six Shooter, has lost one of her trustworthy guns to a lion, and misses her love, the lawbat Jordan Blake. The bulk of the main chapters occur before the prologue, with Six still narrating and having both her matched guns, and chancing a saloon, through whose walls she hears whispers after ordering herself a beer to drink. The whispers belong to the lion Tanner Hayes, another narrator in many chapters, and his minions.

A tertiary narrator is the love interest of Six, the bat Jordan Blake, who is witness to rowdy Fourth of July celebrations, and confides in various friends such as the fox Doc Richards and his canine deputy Harding among others. A store that Hayes owns is robbed, part of a more complex plot by the lion, with occasional backstory revealed for Six and Blake, such as the latter’s uncle being a sheriff as well. The two sporadically have sexually-explicit romantic encounters, although they do cooperate on particular missions such as infiltrating a dynamite plant and the mine Hayes owns, recently closes, many of its employees unaccounted for.

Blake and Six also infiltrate a celebration held at Hayes’ manor in want of incriminating evidence, with the action intensifying somewhat towards the end along with an indication that although the fate of a battle has been settled, a war has but only begun. The author rounds out his novel with a description of the process through which he created it, such as specific software, and includes synopses of the story from the three chief protagonists’ points of view. All in all, aside from occasional odd and awkward stylistic choices, this is an enjoyable furry Western that fans of either genre will likely enjoy.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Jarka Ruus


The first entry of Terry Brooks’ High Druid of Shannara trilogy occurs a score after the voyage of the Jerle Shannara in the chronologically-preceding subseries, and opens with the leader of the Third Druid Council, the Ard Rhys, at the time Grianne Ohmsford, formerly the Ilse Witch, yearning to leave the Keep at Paranor with the Rock Troll Kermadec. They do ultimately depart, although certain circumstances lead to the Ard Rhys’ quick return, and in the meantime, the insurgent Shadea a’Ru plots rebellion against Grianne, holding council with her supporters within the cellars of the Druid’s Keep.

The Prime Minister also has involvement in the plot against Grianne, with a potion known as liquid night key to the plot to overthrow her, and she consequentially goes missing. In the meantime, the Ard Rhys’ nephew, Penderrin Ohmsford, learns about the Druid’s disappearance, meets the King of the Silver River, and visits the Elven village of Emberen. The mentioned liquid night traps Grianne in a shadowy realm known as the Forbidding. Pen’s airship also lands at Emberen, where Ahren Elessedil instructs his niece Khyber in magic, the Elfstones necessary to rescue Grianne.

The Rock Trolls are dismissed from their service to Paranor given their partial blame in the Ard Rhys’ disappearance, with Shadea summoning a deadly weapon known as the Stiehl. Ahren Elessedil and company set off on horseback in search of the tanequil, key to rescuing Grianne, and storms plague their progress during several chapters. They do find themselves on an airship again commanded by Gar Hatch, whose blind daughter Cinnaminson serves as his navigator, and with whom Pen has romantic attraction, much to Gar’s disdain, and the captain himself shows wavering loyalties, given his disposition as a Rover interested in money.

Back in the spirit world, Grianne encounters the shade of Brona the long-deceased Warlock Lord, who ironically plays a role in leading the Ard Rhys around the eponymous Jarka Ruus. In Shannara, rain impedes the progress of Gar’s airship, and Ahren Elessedil doesn’t return from an errand for several hours. The vessel encounters shades attacking from a lake, with Khyber during a battle tasked with using the Elfstones, a major character in the story meeting their end. The country of the Rock Trolls becomes the party’s next destination, and the book ends with Grianne still awaiting rescue.

All in all, I definitely enjoyed this entry of the Shannara series as much as I had its predecessors, given its heavy degree of fantastical action and mythos, with occasional twists in the mix. Granted, there are certain details that are a bit ambiguous, such as the races of specific characters, with reminders at times having been welcome, and occasional long stretches without dramatis personae being referenced by name, even at the start of certain chapters. Regardless, those who enjoyed chronologically-past Shannara books will definitely enjoy this fun start to another subseries within the franchise.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Sixes Wild: The Bluff


This is a short comic by Tempe O’Kun, with illustrations by Sidian, where the rabbit protagonist Six Shooter, in a version of the Old West populated by anthropomorphic characters, makes enemies with wolves during a game of cards and gets into a fight with them, with the bat Sheriff Jordan Blake coming to her rescue, and incarcerating her until the lupines leave. The two have romantic affections for one another, and conclude the comic with coitus, hostilely refusing a visitor to the sheriff’s office. I definitely liked this comic tie-in to the Sixes Wild books, and would recommend it to those seeking to dive into the main stories themselves.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Evermeet: Island of Elves


This standalone Forgotten Realms novel opens with a fictitious letter from the bard Danilo Thann, who writes Athol of Candlekeep, his master, regarding the gathering of elven history, with other characters communicating with the minstrel as well at certain intervals in the story. Each “book” into which the novel is divided is preceded by a prelude, the first of which, beginning in the year 1371 Dalereckoning (compressed to just DR), focuses on a silver dragon flying above the Trackless Sea, noticing ships sailing for Evermeet containing elves that seek the overthrow of the island’s queen.

The first book tells of the Godswars, before time began, before the fabled realm called Faerie started to descend towards twilight, an elven pantheon known as Olympus holding sway led by Corellon Larethian, whom the orc lord Gruumsh pursues. The elf Araushnee knows that new races are on the rise, and meets one of the primary antagonists of the story, the Beast Lord Malar. Before dawn one day, the gods of the Anti-Seldarine coalition traverses the forest around Arvandor, with the elven and invader deities battling one another, with Aerdrie Faenya surveying the damage afterward.

The second book of the novel opens in the time of dragons, when the elves of Tintageer are decimated, and a flood necessitates their evacuation. The elf Sharlario Moonflower expresses concern about the red dragon’s return to wreak disaster, with the Abyss where the dark goddess Lloth rules erupting, her minions preying upon the children of Corellon. The High Magi plan a Tower where students will be instructed in magic, and the elven people rebuild from war. The island of Evermeet suffers several invasion attempts, with Malar considering no wild lands beyond his domain.

The novel occasionally goes to the distant past of the Forgotten Realms universe, one time to -9000 DR, when elven nobles from all over Aber-toril gather in the forests of Cormanthyr for the ceremony of the claiming of king-making swords, with special moonblades disintegrating those they deem unworthy. Millennia later, the elven student Amlaruil is believed to have potential, and eventually becomes queen of Evermeet, having several children and suffering many tragedies in the latter portion of the story, ending with one of her sons, Lamruil, and his love Maura, have one final conversation.

All in all, I definitely enjoyed this Forgotten Realms novel, given its depth and elaboration on the history of the elven island of Evermeet, and focusing on various periods of the world’s backstory. There’s also plenty of politicking in addition to fantastical action and occasional adventure, with the religion of the Forgotten Realms somewhat touched upon as well. The author for the most part did a good job distinguishing the novel from others within the fantasy genre by mostly using original names, although Olympus definitely brings to mind Greek mythology. Regardless, I would recommend this as a good diving board into the Forgotten Realms franchise.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Deep Look: Kingdom Hearts - The Story So Far

Disney and Square-Enix’s Kingdom Hearts series began as a result of an elevator meeting between executives from both companies (when the original was still Squaresoft), with their resultant franchise enjoying plentiful success to the point where they turned it into a franchise by releasing the Game Boy Advance title Chain of Memories to tie into the second numbered game that would see release a few years later, and over a decade passed before the third numeric entry released, with Square-Enix content to release endless HD remasters and ports. Among the latest collections is Kingdom Hearts: The Story So Far for the PlayStation 4, which combines prior HD releases leading up to the third official game. Is it a worthwhile experience?

The Story So Far combines the collections numbered I.5, II.5, and II.8, with playable remasters of Kingdom Hearts Final MixRe:Chain of MemoriesKingdom Hearts II Final MixBirth by Sleep, and Dream Drop Distance, along with the mini-game 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A fragmentary passage. Also included are HD versions of the cutscenes only for side-games 358/2 Days and Re:Coded, along with distant backstory for the franchise entitled Back Cover. Given that I more enjoyed the narrative of some of the minor titles like 358/2 Days, I would have preferred it to be playable instead of just having the cutscenes, but oh well.

The quality of the playable games included is also somewhat inconsistent, from the high of 0.2 to the low of Re:Chain of Memories. The original Kingdom Hearts, especially on its Beginner difficulty, is definitely a great JRPG for younger audiences, given its forgiving difficulty and bonuses on its easiest challenge setting, though I definitely preferred Kingdom Hearts II, given its more refined mechanics. Dream Drop Distance definitely had the potential to be one of the strongest entries of the franchise, although some glitchiness brought it down in the end, and I had encountered said glitches towards the end, which somewhat irked me.

In the end, while I wouldn’t call my experience with the Kingdom Hearts titles prior to the third numbered entry a waste of time, there are many issues that make me hesitant to recommend it to mainstream videogame audiences such as the general “kiddie” nature of most of the games in the franchise, not to mention the occasional frustrations of titles such as Re:Chain of Memories and the endgame glitches in Dream Drop Distance. A collection including all HD remasters and the official third entry has since released, so interested audiences would definitely be better off purchasing that, if still available.


Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A fragmentary passage-


Aqua: The Dark World

Since its inception in an elevator with a meeting between Square and Disney executives, their Kingdom Hearts series has captivated the world and seen strong sales. However, it would take an odd direction in the fact that alleged “spinoffs” are in fact central to the primary narrative, with the numbered sequels continuing from the so-called “side-games.” Before the release of the third numbered title, Square-Enix released a collection of the previous HD remasters subtitled The Story So Far, with one of the mini-games included alongside Dream Drop Distance in the II.8 subseries being Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A fragmentary passage-, which is a surprisingly sweet if short side-story.

At the Mysterious Tower, Master Yen Sid informs Riku, Kairi, and King Mickey that they must rescue Terra, Ventus, and Aqua, the last of which Disney’s rodent mascot saw in the Realm of Darkness, and sure enough, in a continuation from prequel game Birth by Sleep, she’s trapped in the bleak world and must find a way out. The story is surprisingly good, with the crossover elements that somewhat mar the narrative kept minimal, with plenty of links to most Kingdom Hearts games that will definitely appeal to hardcore fans of the franchise, and it left me wanting to play the third official numbered game to see how things proceed.

The localization is one of Square-Enix’s stronger efforts, aside from occasional dialogue on hearts and darkness, with the various characters such as those from the Disney realm sounding as they’re supposed to, a lack of spelling and grammar errors, and good lip-syncing for voiced dialogue.

0.2 combines many elements from other Kingdom Hearts titles in the gameplay department, with the series’ signature Keyblade combat back with a vengeance. Protagonist Aqua has HP and MP, the latter allowing her to cast magic accessible from the combat menu or shortcuts, with cure magic consuming all her MP and necessitating its gauge’s recharge before she’s able to cast spells again. She can also string together never-ending combos against enemies with her Keyblade, and the Shotlock command from Birth by Sleep returns as well. The mechanics are generally enjoyable, with camera issues virtually nonexistent, although there are minor issues with platforming during combat.

Control is perhaps 0.2’s weakest aspects, although it definitely has its share of strong points such as the easy menu system and control, not to mention the in-game clock, skippable cutscenes, generous save system, and beatability without the use of a guide. Pretty much the only major issues are those mentioned with platforming and the unskippable cutscene dialogue.

0.2’s soundtrack is mostly good, with plenty original tracks alongside returning themes, the only major issue in the aural presentation being the tonal dissonance the Disney characters sometimes create.

Rather than utilizing the visuals for most of the other HD remasters of the Kingdom Hearts games included with The Story So Far, 0.2 looks far more at home on the PlayStation 4, with photorealistic graphics that contain scarcely any blemishes aside maybe from some rare blurry and pixilated texturing and occasional framerate issues.

Finally, playing time is significantly shorter than other Kingdom Hearts games, with a straightforward playthrough taking somewhere from ninety to a hundred and eighty minutes, the meager length providing plentiful lasting appeal alongside different difficulty settings and achievements within and without the spinoff.

Overall, Kingdom Hearts 0.2 is what a spinoff game should be, with its game mechanics fusing the best aspects of other entries of the franchise, the control being generally tight, the story being surprisingly enjoyable and providing background to a few other games in the series, and the superb aural and visual presentation. Some may complain about its meager length, although its shortness enhances its lasting appeal, alongside things such as the achievements in and out of the game, with 0.2 very well putting quality above quantity, and providing an excellent prologue to the story of the third numbered Kingdom Hearts game.

This review is based on a playthrough of the version included with The Story So Far.

The Good:
+Refined Keyblade combat.
+Good control.
+Story links to main Kingdom Hearts games.
+Excellent music.
+Nice visuals.
+Short, with plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Minor combat and platforming issues.
-Cutscene dialogue unskippable.
-Some framerate issues.

The Bottom Line:
One of the strongest entries of the Kingdom Hearts series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 9.5/10
Controls: 8.0/10
Story: 9.5/10
Localization: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 9.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 90-180 Minutes

Overall: 9.5/10