Friday, October 30, 2020

Map of Ysaerga and Its Neighbors

 I could possibly get a dozen or so stories out of this map, if I find the motivation to write them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Commission by lulu (FurAffinity)


NaNoWriMo Announcement

I won't be starting a new story for NaNoWriMo this year, but I will be working on the latest iteration of my novel, which I've titled The Runechasers (doubling as the series' name).

Sons of the Oak

 144113. sy475  

The fifth entry of author David Farland’s The Runelords series opens with Asgaroth sending his consciousness across the universe, ultimately finding what remains of the One True World and coming before his master, Shadoath. The main text mostly follows the primary protagonist Fallion, son of the Earth King Gaborn, and is alongside his mother Queen Iome Sylvarresta in mourning. Fallion and his companion Jaz prepare to embark upon a journey, with the former being certain to bring along his pet ferrin Humfrey. Fallion embarks upon a ship, the Leviathan, which needs repair for most of the book.

Fallion also hones his fencing skills with Borenson, and notices a black ship during the voyage, headed by the Pirate Lord Shadoath. Fallion finds himself tempted by a flameweaver termed Smoker, and Captain Stalker ultimately finds his nephew, whom Fallion had at one point rescued, missing. Fallion and Jaz are captured and tortured briefly, and spends the latter part of the narrative in healing from his wounds. Shadoath had been seeking Fallion for five years, taking endowments for an eventual confrontation, and at the end, Fallion makes it a point to know his father better.

In the meantime, King Anders of South Crowthen gives himself to a locus, a creature of the netherworld, and is lost to darkness, and Rhianna also spends a sizeable chunk of the text at sea, for several chapters turning into a sea ape that still has verbal communication skills. All in all, I definitely enjoyed this story, which is generally more straightforward than many of its predecessors given its great focus on Fallion, although some readers might take surprise at the time leap since the previous novel in the series. Regardless, I definitely don’t regret reading it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Commission in Progress by JackOrJohn

 I have a strange obsession with the Donald Duck cartoon this poster parodies.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance HD

 Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD - Kingdom Hearts Wiki, the Kingdom  Hearts encyclopedia

Both Sides Now

Square-Enix and Disney’s joint Kingdom Hearts series has come along way since its inception in an elevator meeting between executives from both companies, although it would have a weird narrative direction where, between official numbered entries, there would be various side-games to fill in the storyline gaps between the titles, and it would be well over a decade before the “official” sequel received its conclusion in a “third” game. Among the games bridging the gap between the second and third numbered titles is Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance HD, its prior version originally released on the Nintendo 3DS, which provides an experience on par with other entries.

3D opens with Keybladers Sora and Riku’s summon to Master Yen Sid’s tower to take the Mark of Mastery exam to deal with the impending threat of the villainous Master Xehanort, which entails that both visit “sleeping worlds” that reveal a bit of backstory to the series. While the narrative is slightly more bearable than in other entries, the scenes with cartoony characters such as Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are somewhat excruciating, and given the inability to skip voiced text, the plot feels forced in the player’s face, and is middling overall.

The translation is mostly legible, with no visible spelling or grammar errors, although there is plenty of cliched dialogue involving hearts, light, and darkness, not to mention a bit of redundancy and loads of unnatural battle quotes such as Sora and Riku shouting the names of the spell elements they’re using, or in the former case say things such as “Faster!” and “Light!” However, the localization team actually did a fairly decent job of having voiced dialogue fit characters’ lips, with only some inconsistencies in this regard, but the writing itself is ultimately average.

3D evolves the franchise’s Keyblade-based combat, but not all for the better. In this entry, allies come in the form of Spirits, friendly versions of the main antagonistic Dream Eaters, which the player can create through raw materials gained from combat. Each Spirit has a development grid somewhat similar to, but not exactly like, the stat-increasing system of the tenth Final Fantasy, with Link Points obtained for the two active and one passive Spirits acquired through fighting. Some of these abilities can be surprisingly useful, particularly Leaf Bracer, which forbids foes from interrupting Sora or Riku’s healing.

Similar to Birth by Sleep, Sora and Riku each have command lists, with abilities consuming either one or two slots, and each ability needing to recharge after use. They can also primarily attack with their respective Keyblades, in addition to being able to utilize their environments in Flowmation abilities, but this can sometimes have adverse results, especially if the player is trying to get away from enemies to heal. The mentioned system also has occasional glitches, such as one I encountered that made one part of the final boss battles unwinnable and necessitate a reset. The gameplay generally does have good ideas, but the execution isn’t always good.

3D’s control also has an equal number of things going for and against it, with the former including helpful maps that the player can open and enlarge for once (at least outside battle) to get a better view of the area, and easy menus. However, dialogue during the many voiced cutscenes is skill unskippable, sure to alienate hearing-impaired players, and for some reason, the developers made the in-game clock more difficult to view, only when saving the game. It’s also annoying for NEW indicators to be flashing in the menus once the player gains new items or advances the plot, but things could have been worse.

One of the high points of 3D is its aural presentation, with the voicework largely being good and fitting the various characters, though the cartoony voices of characters such as Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, as with before, create a total dissonance, and the near-death alarm is still annoying, not stopping until the player is above critical HP. That each world has its own battle theme rectifies the typical JRPG issue of repetitive battle music is as with before nice, and the public domain music of the Fantasia-based world, Symphony of Sorcery, is nice. Ultimately, a decent-sounding game.

The visuals are by no means bad, but definitely have their rough spots. While the colors and environments mostly look good, aside from some occasional blurriness and pixilation when the scenery comes close to the camera, the framerate difference between the gameplay and narrative portions is very noticeable, the camera itself can be problematic at times in combat, and there are occasional reskins of Spirits and Dream Eaters. All in all, an average-looking game.

Finally, the interquel is just the right length, somewhere from at least twelve hours (if the player lucks out) to up to twenty-four, a New Game+ allowing for subsequent playthroughs with Spirits retained, although the slight frustration, even on Beginner mode, may discourage additional playtime.

In summation, Dream Drop Distance does have plenty of good ideas in combat such as the Flowmation mechanics, along with a good soundtrack and some lasting appeal, but the execution of the gameplay leaves something to desire, given the potential frustrations even on Beginner mode and rare glitch, not to mention the control issues, some of which 3D bequeaths from the game’s chronological predecessors, the inconsistent tone of the storyline, and the graphical presentation. It’s by no means a bad game, but as younger audiences seem to be the main audience of the franchise, the potential hiccups in the gameplay might alienate even them.

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

The Good:
+Keyblade combat and grinding Spirits can be fun.
+Good soundtrack.
+Visuals get the job done.
+Some lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Can be hard even on Beginner mode.
-Issues with control.
-Story has inconsistent tone.
-Graphics could have been better.

The Bottom Line:
Not bad, but not great, either.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 5.0/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 5.0/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 7.5/10
Graphics: 5.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 7.5/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 12-24 Hours

Overall: 6.0/10



Apocalypse Eventually

Having mostly experienced Japanese roleplaying games, I’ve made a point to delve into Western titles in the genre, and years ago, I bought a deal on Steam for the first two titles in the Fallout series with Tactics. I tried the very first game in the franchise, Fallout, but didn’t experience the masterpiece critics made it out to be, to the point where I didn’t even bother with its sequels, and didn’t technically beat the initial entry. A few years later, my failure to actually beat the game lay heavy upon me, and I gave it another shot with a guide; while the game certainly has its flaws, I don’t regret playing.

The first game occurs in a post-nuclear doomsday setting, with the player’s blank-slate protagonist at first tasked with retrieving a water chip for their vault within a hundred-day-plus timeframe, after which is a more open-world experience that culminates in a confrontation with a religious leader known as the Master. The story isn’t anything spectacular, although there are occasional colorful characters and some decent backstory. Regardless, the direction of the narrative is unclear at best, and while the plot isn’t thrown in the player’s face, it could have used more development.

When creating their protagonist, the player can set their various stats (which they can only sporadically improve through means such as surgery) and grant bonuses to innate abilities such as increased proficiency with small/large firearms, or improved speech capability, among others. Fights themselves trigger whenever the player’s character draws near hostiles, with the player granted a number of action points, and things such as moving, opening the inventory, or attacking consuming a certain number of them. When the player runs out of action points, all enemies take their actions, which largely mimic those of the main character.

The player can find the rare AI-controlled ally, but luckily, at least if the player discovers certain secrets such as the most powerful weapon in the game (which comes in a random encounter on the overworld and depends on luck to trigger), the player can mostly fight solo. When all hostiles in an area are gone, the player gains experience for occasional level-ups, in which case they can invest points into their skillsets and, every three levels, pick a perk that can provide benefits such as increased base stats. The battle system generally works decently, at least with a guide, though contemporary features such as being able to skip enemy turns would have been nice.

While the keyboard and mouse controls are easy to get a handle of, there are issues such as the player’s limited inventory space, the lack of descriptions for item effects, the lack of organizational capabilities, and the like. There’s also weak direction on how to advance the central storyline, although as with most Western RPGs, the player can record their progress most of the time anywhere (and keep multiple save slots, to boot), and there are few actual dungeons where the player can find himself or herself lost. All in all, Fallout doesn’t always interact well with players, but things could have been worse.

As with most RPGs originating outside Japan, the soundtrack isn’t anything particularly special, although the rare music is occasionally good, the sound effects are fitting, there’s good ambience, and the voice performances are generally well-done.

The visuals look good, with an isometric and realistic style where all characters have good anatomy, along with well-designed scenery and colors that very well reflect the post-doomsday disposition. Granted, the FMVs contain a great deal of blurriness and pixilation and haven’t aged well, and the game doesn’t clearly indicate interactable objects. Regardless, Fallout is far from an eyesore.

Finally, the first game is fairly short, with a straightforward playthrough, especially with a guide, potentially taking as little as twelve hours, although the large amount of extra content and potential differences when starting new playthroughs can bump it up to more than that.

In the end, Fallout isn’t quite the masterpiece many videogame critics have made it out to be, although it nonetheless started a successful franchise, and admittedly does have plenty of things going for it such as its strategic turn-based tactical battle system, save-anywhere feature, and strong aspects such as part of the visuals. However, it has many of the pitfalls of open-world Western RPGs such as the poor direction with regards to the narrative and control, not to mention the unmemorable soundtrack. Despite its flaws, I definitely don’t regret the time I spent with the game, and would gladly play its successors to see how the franchise evolves.

This review is based on a playthrough of a digital copy downloaded from Steam.

The Good:
+Half-decent turn-based tactical battle system.
+Save-anywhere feature.
+Visuals have good aspects.

The Bad:
-Poor direction on how to advance.
-Scant story development.
-Unmemorable soundtrack.

The Bottom Line:
Not the best start to the series, but I don’t regret experiencing it.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PC (Steam)
Game Mechanics: 6.5/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 5.0/10
Graphics: 6.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 8.0/10
Difficulty: Variable
Playing Time: 12-24 Hours

Overall: 6.0/10

Friday, October 23, 2020

War Mage

 War Mage (The Magitech Chronicles #4) 

This entry of author Chris Fox’s Magitech Chronicles opens with Skare about to meet a Guardian, before the action changes to Aran, who steps onto a fabled vessel known as the First Spellship, continuing to question his loyalty towards the Confederacy. Sure enough, Aran starts his own band of mercenaries, and interrogates Kheross about various matters. Aran ultimately plans a large operation, aiming for military bases such as Fort Crockett and battling rival vessels, and has a personal battle with Arkelion, the results of some of his missions made known in the news.

Nara, in the meanwhile, deals with a Wyrm attack, and is reluctant to meet Eros. She controls the vessel Talon, and yearns to visit a Zephyr research facility. Voria receives a significant amount of focus as well, becoming friends with Ikadra, the Krox in the meantime invading the New Texas colony. Thus, Voria seeks to familiarize herself with the controls of the First Spellship. The last few events in the story occur in Ternus space, with Nara glad to be in their captivity, and Nebiat ascending to godhood through supernatural means.

All in all, this entry definitely isn’t one of the finer moments of the Magitech Chronicles series, and stumbles often with regards to its slight character and perspective fatigue. I found it difficult to imagine the appearances of the various characters, particularly the draconic ones, as well. The mixture of science-fiction and fantasy definitely doesn’t work as well as it does in franchises such as Star Wars, it’s somewhat difficult to remember the important events of the novel, and I would only recommend this entry to those who truly enjoyed its precursors.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Lair of Bones


The fourth installment of author David Farland’s Runelords series opens on the fourth day of the month of leaves, with Raj Ahten’s caravan arriving at the Palace of the Elephant at Maygassa, with his servant Wuqaz wanting to go to Ghusa. Ahten follows through the Great Salt Sea, with another of his supporters, Feykaald, bringing him stolen treasure from the Earth King’s camp. Meanwhile, Averan learns of the way to the eponymous Lair of Bones, with King Gaborn reluctant to allow his consort Iome to join his expedition into the Underworld, location of the titular area.

Furthermore, Sir Borenson and his wife Myrrima flee the village of Fenraven, reaching the ancient city of Batenne and encountering the Inkarrans, who are held in disdain. South of the city, they visit the camp of the wizard assassin Pilwyn Coly Zandaros, who attempted to murder Gaborn, who in the meantime descends into the Underworld, where there are signs of reavers, who quickly attack. Averan knows the way through the reaver tunnels, and engages in battle with the villainous Consort of Shadows. Within the Underworld, they encounter the abandoned residence of Erden Geboren.

On the fifth day in the month of leaves, the Consort of Shadows captures Averan, drawing close to the Lair of Bones. As this occurs, the Inkarrans hold Sir Borenson and Myrrima prisoner at a mountain fortress, bringing them before the Storm King, with the latter experiencing a poisoning. A minor subplot involves Uncle Eber telling his pregnant niece Chemoise that Gaborn commanded them to take refuge, with the Darkling Glory coming. High in the Hest Mountains, Raj Ahten escorts his army with an intended conquest of Mystarria. Erin reaches Raven’s Gate, with King Anders mustering his forces.

Gaborn continues to race through the Underworld, facing reavers as well as the scavenging ferrin, his consort Iome ultimately finding a shortcut through the subterranean tunnels. The imprisoned Averan attempts to connect with the green woman Spring, although the olive maiden actually doesn’t play much of a role in the fourth entry. Borenson and Myrrima eventually flee Iselferion with the Inkarran Days Sakra Kaul as their guide, with the others of the hostile tribe giving chase. In the hills west of Carris, Raj Ahten gathers his forces, and Chemoise queues herself to give an endowment, although she has her unborn child to consider.

Borenson, Myrrima, and Sarka Kaul ride away from the reaver forces, with Erin Connal in the meantime heading to war in the retinue of King Anders. The One True Master ultimately confronts King Gaborn, and Averan works on creating magical seals critical to victory. In the end, I definitely enjoyed this entry of the Runelords a little more than its predecessors, with a glossary at the end defining some of the common terminology native to the series. There are many areas where the book’s editor didn’t do their job well, but I would definitely recommend this novel to those who enjoyed its precursors.

Ringing Bell


My memory is somewhat weird, and I would consider it semi-eidetic, and while it was only recently that I heard about this anime film from the late seventies (which I watched on Amazon Prime), I remember distinctly its cover art from well over two decades ago. It centers on a lamb named Chirin whose mother the Wolf King kills, and thus Chirin wants vengeance, showing shades of Stockholm syndrome by having the very lupine who killed his mother teach him. It's a bit of a commentary of the futility and emptiness of revenge, and I can definitely empathize. There is a bit of artistic license with regards to the animal designs, but the music is actually memorable, something I rarely give attention when watching Western cinema. It also had one of the better localizations of early anime, and I can understand where future anime would get some of their ideas from.

Thursday, October 15, 2020


 38658185. sx318

The third entry of author Chris Fox’s Magitech Chronicles series opens with Kaho talking to his brother Tobek and his mother Nebiat. Meanwhile, Aran and Nara are among redwoods when the antagonistic Krox attack. Moreover, Voria is reinstated into the Confederacy, and an assassin confronts Aran over his recent dragonslaying. Voria is asked to impart her knowledge of magic to cadets, and Nara receives the task of finding the Wyrm Father, assuming command of the spaceship Talon. Aran receives introduction to a strange metal vessel, while Voria wants to open a Fissure at the Umbral Shadow.

In the meantime, Frit loves Nara whilst thinking her on the wrong side of the war, with Voria thinking that her trap within the Umbral Depths is a punishment. Voria seeks to forge an alliance with the Void Wyrms, and Aran is allowed to embark on an expedition known as the March of Honor, which intends to punish Outriders. The third installment makes a distinction between dragons and drakes, the latter being beasts of burden, and Aran ultimately finds a gathering of them. As this occurs, Nara seeks the eponymous spellship, and Voria chances a mountaintop party held by the Wyrms.

Still on the March of Honor, Aran fights Krox, not to mention hatchlings, with Virkonna ultimately holding him hostage. Nara returns to her temple, continuing to seek the magical signature of the fabled spellship, awing Wesley with her magic and anticipating a Krox attack. Nara encounters spell-eating serpents, and while he is in the darkness, Aran meets Rhea, the last Outrider of the last dragonflight. Nara also meets the Shade of Inura, and the Wyrms seek a magic staff. The third book ends with Nara dreaming and not thinking her friends are safe around her.

All in all, I enjoyed the third Magitech Chronicles book decently, having from reading its predecessors acquired a good sense of the mythos and terminology native to the series, although there are still some asinine literary decisions such as use of the word “Tender” to describe certain characters, with no explicit definition of the term. The franchise as a whole seems like an enjoyable fusion of elements from both the science-fiction and fantasy literary genres, given the relative importance of magic to the central storyline, not to mention space dragons, and I would gladly continue reading the series.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Final Fantasy II


Dark Shadow Over Palamecia

Squaresoft, now Square-Enix’s, ironically-named 
Final Fantasy on the Famicom / Nintendo Entertainment System saved the developer from financial ruin, naturally encouraging them to turn it into a franchise with its first sequel on the Famicom. The Big N’s North American branch had initial plans to translate the game with the subtitle Dark Shadow Over Palakia, although this was towards the end of the NES’s lifespan, and the localization was canned. It wouldn’t be until Final Fantasy Origins for the Sony PlayStation that Final Fantasy II would receive a legal English version, and given the changes in the sequel, it’s understandable why it wasn’t translated in the first place.

There’s an evil empire. There’s a rebellion. There’s a character with questionable allegiances. Check your friendly neighborhood Star Wars for details on how the plot will turn out, with the three initial playable protagonists, Firion, Maria, and Guy, having scant development, and the party’s fourth member subject to frequent change until the endgame. One scene where a giant airship pursues a smaller one directly rips off A New Hope, and it’s fairly obvious that the scenario writer watched a little too much of the science-fiction franchise. The translation isn’t bad, aside from Guy’s pidgin caveman speech, but the storyline is easily the game’s nadir.

As would be the trend in future sequels for the Final Fantasy series, the second entry eschews its predecessor’s mechanics in favor of revamped gameplay, with no experience system and instead a character development system that would influence Square’s oddball SaGa series. Actions performed during combat, and damage taken, affects how characters develop after randomly-encountered turn-based battles, with each character able to attack with their equipped weapon, use MP-consuming magic, use a consumable item, defend, or attempt to escape, with the last option at times rarely working, but luckily, the save-anywhere (outside battle, that is) feature minimizes wasted playtime.

The player faces a maximum of eight enemies, the first two two-character rows able to execute melee attacks, although the remaining enemies in rows behind may cast ranged magic, some of which can be somewhat annoying, such as confusing your characters, and regardless of how much the player has grinded their characters or what equipment they have, some foes can still do massive damage at times. The damage that the player’s party can deal in return is also heavily subject to the random number gods, although one spell, Berserk, when cast repeatedly, can increase damage threshold.

However, most stat-buffing magic is useless at lower levels, and spells reaching genuine effectiveness takes a lot of grinding. The player teaches any character a magic spell by using its respective book, although much magic is useless, and finding the ones that are truly helpful such as Osmose, which siphons MP from enemies, can be difficult without a guide. There is, however, an occasional bit of strategy where certain enemies are vulnerable to specific elements, although there is no scan magic available, necessitating the player memorize what they’re strong and weak against.

The player’s characters also gain physical prowess with weapons through repeatedly attacking, with different ones available such as swords, bows, axes, staves/maces, and the like, although there is again the wild unpredictability of how much damage they’ll deal against certain foes. One constant, however, is the acquisition of money from all successful battles, and the high threshold of how many consumable items the player can have available in battle, an improvement over the Famicom and PlayStation versions that restricted them, with the player not needing to worry about running out of inventory space. Overall, the battle system does have some bright spots and exploits, but doesn’t always work.

Aside from the save-anywhere feature, control doesn’t fare much better. While the menu system is easy, direction on how to advance the central storyline is often poor, and the keyword mechanic during dialogues with certain characters doesn’t help. Maps for dungeons, some of which are labyrinthine, in addition to that which exists for the overworld, would have been welcome as well, and Final Fantasy II has an odd mechanic regarding doors leading the player’s sprite to the center of an empty room with an astronomical encounter rate. Ultimately, the game doesn’t always interact well with players.

Inarguably the high point of the game is composer Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack, with plentiful standout tracks such as the rebels’ theme, the battle music, dungeon themes, town music, and so forth. There are some weak tracks such as the boss battle theme, and more diversity in the standard combat music would have been welcome, with the further issue that it often loops, given the length of some battles. The sound effects are good, though, and in the end, the aurals serve the game well.

The visuals, however, don’t show any marked improvement over those in the rerelease of the first Final Fantasy, although it does have strong points such as the color scheme and character artwork. Regardless, the chibi character sprites don’t show much emotion, the enemies in battle are inanimate and just flash when executing commands, the player’s characters don’t contact their adversaries when performing melee attacks, and so forth. All in all, the graphics could have easily used improvement.

Finally, a straightforward playthrough can take players a little less than a day’s worth of playtime, and while there are features to enhance lasting appeal such as bonus dungeons, the sequel isn’t enjoyable enough to warrant supplemental play.

In summation, one can easily understand why Final Fantasy II initially didn’t receive translation outside Japan, given its offbeat and occasionally-frustrating game mechanics, hackneyed storyline, middling graphics, and general lack of lasting appeal. Regardless, it does have its redeeming aspects such as the decent ideas behind the battle system, the save-anywhere feature (a major improvement over the Famicom and PlayStation versions that the Game Boy Advance version had as well), the competent translation, and enjoyable soundtrack. Regardless, the first Final Fantasy sequel certainly isn’t a bucket list game, and players definitely aren’t missing much by skipping it.

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

The Good:
+Some good ideas.
+Save-anywhere feature.
+Competent localization.
+Good soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Gameplay can be tedious.
-Hackneyed storyline.
-Middling visuals.
-Not fun enough to replay.

The Bottom Line:
You aren’t missing much.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: iOS
Game Mechanics: 2.0/10
Controls: 3.5/10
Story: 0.5/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 7.5/10
Graphics: 3.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 3.5/10
Difficulty: Unbalanced
Playing Time: < 1 Day

Overall: 3.5/10

Sunday, October 11, 2020



The third entry of David Farland’s Runelords series opens on the second day in the month of leaves, beginning with a prologue where King Anders entertains guests in South Crowthen, and wants to kill Gaborn’s queen. Meanwhile, Gaborn and Raj Ahten are at each other’s throats, and Myrrima receives training as a sorceress. The Domains of Man diagram present in previous installment plays some role in the third book, with several battles occurring through the text. The enigmatic reavers also return and serve as antagonists, the book ending with Gaborn wanting to break sacred seals.

All in all, the third book of Farland’s series is moderately enjoyable, although a list of dramatis personae, descriptions of the various characters, and plot synopses for prior novels would have certainly been welcome, given the relative complexity of the plotline. Even so, the battles are well-described, and there is fairly decent mythos, and while there are maps prior to the text, more throughout the story, maybe a few illustrations of the action, would have been nice as well. Ultimately, only those who earnestly think well of the book’s predecessors will definitely enjoy the third installment.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Child of Light: Ultimate Edition


An Austrian Went Rhyming

The year 2014 saw the original release of the Ubisoft-developed Child of Light for various consoles, giving gamers the ability to experience the Western RPG in most cases without regard to whomever gamers gave their console loyalty. The game was decently-received, despite Ubisoft’s relative inexperience in developing RPGs, and the Nintendo Switch would ultimately prove to be a pioneering console with the ability of its players to play on their televisions or portably. Child of Light: Ultimate Edition would be among the many games to see a rerelease on the console, definitely being one of the stronger Western RPGs I’ve ever played.

In Austria in 1895, a princess named Aurora is born to a Duke and his enigmatic wife, who ultimately dies, causing her husband to remarry. On the eve of Easter, Aurora dies in her sleep, transported to the ethereal world of Lemuria, where a speck of illumination named Igniculus guides her, and she meets several colorful characters during her quest. The narrative is generally enjoyable, with the twist of rhyming dialogue and plentiful development, with expository scenes occurring typically after obtaining a new character after fights, and story-wise, Child of Light is what Eternal Sonata should have been, with meaningful resolution as well. There are some occasional errors in the text, but otherwise, the plot functions well.

Fortunately, solid gameplay backs the experience, with Aurora quickly receiving the ability to fly, and the player able to move Igniculus around the screen so that he can temporarily stun enemies so that, when they recover and the princess contacts them, the player’s party gets the advantage in battle. Two of the player’s many acquirable characters face off against up to three enemies, with all appearing on a Grandia-esque turn order meter where speed determines how fast an ally or adversary takes their turns. Characters have many moves available such as attacking one (or later on, all) enemies with a physical strike, using a consumable item, or executing MP-consuming magic.

There’s a shorter gauge before a character or enemy executes their turn, and if anyone from either side of combat attacks the other while they’re on the rightward portion of the gauge, the executed command will, with a few exceptions, interrupt their turn and push them back on the leftward section of the turn order meter, akin to cancel attacks in the Grandia games. One twist is that the player can move Igniculus around the battle screen and hover over an enemy, in which case they can push a button to slow the enemy’s movement on the turn order meter.

Likewise, the player can also hover Igniculus over one of the two active characters and press the same button to heal them in small increments. A meter limits how much Igniculus can perform such actions, although usually in battle are illuminating plants that the player can move the sentient speck over to recover light power and occasionally partially recover the HP and MP of whichever two characters are on the battlefield then. When characters reach their turn, they can exchange places with a backup ally, in which case the player’s turn doesn’t go to waste, or swap out the other ally with another.

Defeating all enemies results in every member of Aurora’s party acquiring experience for occasional leveling, in which case their HP and MP completely restores, and the player gains a point they can invest into their skill trees for stat increases, additional active and passive abilities, and the ability for physical attacks or offensive/defensive spells to target everyone on either side of combat. Enemies tend to have weaknesses that the player can exploit, and there is a fair bit of strategy in that some foes are resistant to physical attacks, and may counter interruptions of their commands.

Throughout the game, moreover, the player acquires differently-colored gems that the player can fuse and equip on each character, one on their weapon, which may change their element, and two for miscellaneous stats or elemental resistance. Overall, the battle system works pretty well, with most battles having an agile pace, and unlike in the Grandia games, the player doesn’t need to keep in mind the positions of characters or enemies in battle, which are fixed. There are also no shops, with all consumable items and gems acquired from treasure chests or fights, and while there is some minor foresight necessary in the command interruption system, the gameplay is generally fun.

Child of Light also interfaces well with players, and while there are no in-game maps aside from the overworld diagram that allows the player to revisit past areas, dungeons are generally straightforward, with little room for getting lost, and the current narrative objective being crystal-clear. There are also occasional puzzles that luckily won’t drive players to use a guide, with Igniculus largely being the chief actor in solving said riddles. The menus are also easy to navigate, and the game autosaves after things such as battles and acquiring items, and aside from the lack of an in-game clock, the game is very user-friendly.

The soundtrack is also enjoyable, with rare voice acting in the rare narration of certain events, within and without Lemuria, and the sound effects are never out of place. Some of the music is mildly-subdued, but the game certainly won’t drive players to listen to other tunes as they experience this game.

The visuals are also pretty, with smooth animation, pretty environments, and good combat effects, although there are occasional reskinned adversaries, and characters and the enemy execute commands in battle from fixed positions instead of moving around the battlefield.

Finally, the game is fairly short, with a straightforward playthrough taking somewhere from nine to fifteen hours, with plentiful lasting appeal in the form of a New Game+ and extras such as finding all treasures in each area, “confessions” that reveal supplementary plot, sidequests, and, of course, leveling all characters to acquire all skills possible.

In the end, Child of Light is definitely a high point of Western RPGs, given its quick, enjoyable, strategic combat, tight control, endearing narrative, great sound, pretty visuals, and plentiful lasting appeal, and easily one of the highlights of my videogaming career. There’s very little, if any, room for improvement, and Switch owners in particular will relish at the chance to experience this title. Given its similar storytelling, as well, in my opinion it’s what the Japanese RPG Eternal Sonata should have been, and the game in general avoids the common pitfalls of Western and Eastern games in the genre, being a bucket-list title regardless of system.

This review is based on a playthrough of the physical Switch version included alongside Valiant Hearts, purchased by the reviewer..

The Good:
+Does the Grandia battle system better than the Grandia games.
+Tight control.
+Endearing narrative with rhyming dialogue.
+Great sound.
+Pretty graphics.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Minor issues with the visuals.

The Bottom Line:
What Eternal Sonata should have been.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 9.5/10
Controls: 9.5/10
Story: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 9.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 9-15+ Hours

Overall: 9.5/10

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Star Trek: Lower Decks

 Star Trek LD logo.svg

The second Star Trek animated series, occurring on the U.S.S. Cerritos a few years after Nemesis, sort of a lighter take on the Trek universe. Definitely enjoyed it and would gladly continue watching it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Void Wyrm

 36290352. sx318

The second entry of Chris Fox’s Magitech Chronicles opens with the cosmic dragon Nebiat swimming through space, following which are several chapters devoted to Voria being put on trial by the Confederacy, along with Ree giving strenuous training to Aran as a war mage. One particularly confusing aspect of the first sequel is the use of the term “Tender” to describe certain characters, which somewhat sounds asinine and doesn’t receive clear definition. There is occasional humor regarding things such as the chapter names, but overall, only a niche audience will appreciate this book.

High Score

 High Score title card.jpg 

Netflix docuseries about the videogame industry, with some specific episodes dedicated to genres such as RPGs and first-person shooters. Sort of gets political, especially with regards to the RPG episode, and I think going through this series once was enough for me.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Genroku Legends


I can honestly say that the Vanillaware-developed Muramasa Rebirth was easily one of the high points of my videogaming career, to date the only game I’ve given a perfect 10/10 score. I certainly don’t judge all other action roleplaying games against it, since I believe that most RPGs are unique and, in many cases, incomparable to others. Sometime after the port’s release on the PlayStation Vita did downloadable content entitled Genroku Legends become available, which I initially ignored due to wanting to move on to other RPG experiences, although certain circumstances would lead me to download the game to my system along with the DLC, a decision I definitely don’t regret.

The DLC stars four different characters: Okoi the nekomata, Gonbe the insurgent farmer, Arashimaru the ninja, and Rajyaki the Oni girl, each occurring in the same universe as Muramasa Rebirth. Each story is fairly enjoyable, deeply rooted in Japanese mythology, with the only real issues being that they barely intertwine, and don’t have a whole lot of noticeable links to the main plotlines of the duo serving as the base game’s protagonists. The translation contains a lot of polish and pushes the game’s T rating to its limit, with little if any errors in the text.

Each character has three different fighting styles, generally following the same rules as those of the two protagonists of Muramasa, with the ability of each to “break”, become significantly weaker, and need to recharge, necessitating that the player switch to a different mode, a transitory woosh damaging all enemies on the screen if the style switched to is at full capacity. Consumables that provide different effects such as healing provide combat some room for error, and while there are occasional tough spots even on the easiest difficulty, particularly regarding Gonbe’s plotline, it’s nothing a little grinding can’t counter. Regardless, the game mechanics generally serve Genroku well.

The same goes to control, with a linear structure for all stories keeping players moving in the same direction, and maps available for each area that largely prevent them from getting lost. Fast travel among visited areas doesn’t become available until post-game, but otherwise, the DLC interfaces well with players.

The soundtrack is more or less the same as it was in the main game, which isn’t a bad thing, as pretty much every track is nice, but there isn’t a whole lot of standout music. The voicework left in Japanese definitely creates an authentic feel for the Japanese-themed game, which is all in all easy on the ears.

As is expectant of a Vanillaware title, Genroku is, like the main game, eye candy, with bright, vibrant two-dimensional art direction that contains occasional 3-D effects with regards to some of the scenery during movement. The character sprites contain good anatomy and show plenty of emotions with moving lips during voiced scenes, and the environments are gorgeous. Aside from a bit of choppiness during combat, the DLC is a visual treat.

Finally, each character’s quest takes around three to four hours to complete, with plentiful lasting appeal in the form of trophies and post-game content such as bosses from the main game.

In the end, Genroku Legends is an enjoyable set of DLC that like the main quests of Muramasa Rebirth hits most of the right notes regarding the diversity in combat styles among the four playable characters, the tight control, the well-told narratives, the superb sound, and beautiful visuals. There really isn’t a whole lot of room for improvement, save perhaps the lack of fast-travel until post-game for each character, although exploration is definitely enjoyable, and those who enjoyed the main quests definitely owe it to themselves to play this supplemental content.

This review is based on a playthrough of downloaded DLC alongside the main game.

The Good:
+Four different characters with engrossing battle styles.
+Tight control.
+Great stories.
+Superb sound.
+Pretty visuals.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Fast-travel not available until postgame.

The Bottom Line:
A great set of downloadable content.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 10/10
Controls: 9.5/10
Story: 9.5/10
Localization: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 9.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 3-4 Hours per Character

Overall: 10/10

Artwork by GeekyAustin

Brotherhood of the Wolf

The second entry of David Farland’s Runelords series opens with the beginning of the festival Hostenfest beginning at the Castle at Tal Rimmon in northern Mystarria, and continues the “book” numbering from its precursor with Book 6 occurring on day 30 in the month of harvest. King Gaborn Val Orden rides towards Castle Sylvarresta on the last day of Hostenfest, and Chooses the child Verrin Drinkham for the Earth. Meanwhile, Roland visits an inn in the village of Hay in the midlands of Mystarria, with a girl doting on him there. Additionally, Myrrima wakes said that the Earth chose Bonny Cleads, and feels uncomfortable in the King’s presence despite being friends with Iome.

Baron Poll and Roland ride towards Carris, with Akhoular the far-seer anticipating a battle there. Myrrima, in the meantime, practices archery, with her husband having slain King Sylvarresta under the orders of King Orden after the battle of Longmot. King Gaborn refuses the service of the High Marshal Skalbairn, with a female known as the green woman playing a sizeable role in the second book. The maiden Averan is angry at her graak being dead, and on the last evening of Hostenfest, Gaborn goes to the village of Twynhaven. The sixth book ends with news of enemies known as the reavers.

Book 7 occurs on the thirty-first day in the month of harvest, with Bessahan being high in the Brace Mountains, with King’s Wits, men who endowed King Mendellas Draken Orden with use of their minds, allowing their skulls to be vessels to others’ memories. Meanwhile, Raj Ahten finds himself to be the Earth King’s cousin by marriage, with Iome thinking about her mother’s murder, and Binnesman wanting her to flee danger. Roland finds the ride down from the Brace Mountains into Carris to be surprisingly easy, although he is unsure about what to do with the green woman.

King Orden visits a hostel on the Durkin Hills Road, with Gaborn sensing danger, and Raj Ahten rowing to the Blue Tower. Borenson loses his endowments, with Gaborn witnessing a Darkling Glory drawing light from the sky into a funnel of fire and seeking prey. Erin Connal ultimately reaches Castle Groverman on the banks of the Wind River, but finds little celebration, with Erin doubting Gaborn’s skills as a strategist. Borenson is jealous of Raj Ahten’s love for Saffira, with Gaborn lauding Myrrima’s deeds with earthen power, Myrrima afterward headed to the Dedicate’s Keep. The seventh book ends with Gaborn given a decision on whether to Choose a boy.

Book 8 occurs on the first day of the month of leaves, with King Anders distraught from years of worry. Averan finds himself in a shallow grave, Myrrima is restless and distrusts Sir Hoswell, and the green woman, who ultimately receives the identity of Spring, fights reavers. Several battles terminate the first Runelords sequel, the consequence of which is the foundation of the eponymous Brotherhood of the Wolf. Ultimately, I found this a deep, interesting read, and the internet helped me get a slightly-better grasp on the terminology, but it’s a tad convoluted, and only those who earnestly enjoyed the first book will like the second.