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

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition


Good Times with Weapons

I’m normally wary of Western RPGs, given their basis in complex pen-and-paper roleplaying mechanics, although there are occasional titles that break the mold, such as Borderlands, which combines RPG and shooter gameplay. I originally played it on my PC, although there were plenty times when my computer couldn’t handle the game, although it had a place in my heart. Several ports to consoles would come, among them being Borderlands: Legendary Collection on the Nintendo Switch, sporting the definitive version of the first game, Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition, which feels right at home on the hybrid system.

The game is set several centuries in the future, when mega-corporations seek to control various planets across the galaxy and mine them for their mineral wealth and resources. Prior to the first game’s events, one of said companies, the Atlas Corporation, uncovered an alien Vault with advanced weapons technology, another found on the planetary setting of Pandora. One of four playable characters seeks the Vault and its key, with various colorful personas encountered throughout the game and good backstory accounting for a satisfying narrative experience, although whichever protagonist the player chooses doesn’t seem to affect events.

Fortunately, solid gameplay backs the storyline, with the player’s character initially limited to two equipped weapons between which they can swap at any time, a shield generator, and a grenade modifier that determines the attributes and strength of throwable grenades. These limits eventually increase to four equippable weapons along with a class modifier with boosts to various attributes of the character’s skill tree, into which they can begin investing points at level five, with one skill point gained per level after that. The first ability the player will unlock is one native to their class, with Mordecai, for instance, able to send out his pet avian to attack the enemy, necessitating a recharge time afterward.

There are several different weapon types, some characters having affinity for certain ones, such as Mordecai with pistols and sniper rifles, although any character can wield most any weapon as long as their level is high enough, and repeated use of specific types gradually levels the player’s proficiency with them, sort of like Secret of Mana with an emphasis on firearms. Characters can also execute a melee attack when enemies are close, though these tend not to be the difference between victory and defeat, with only a handful of skills on each character’s ability tree able to increase their effectiveness.

Odds are, however, that most players will stick with weapons, the player able to purchase new ones at vending machines along with shield, grenade, and class modifiers through money gained from killing foes, containers like safes, and by selling unwanted armaments. Killing enemies also grants experience for occasional level-ups, with proportional distribution dependent upon the player’s current level, foes too having levels whereas killing those with higher levels than the player give more experience than lower-level ones, and in the case of low-level adversaries, the player can mostly get away without having to fight them.

Unlike many JRPGs, moreover, Borderlands has a check against wasted playtime in the form of a near-death mode triggered whenever the chosen character loses all health, where the player has a timer during which they can kill an enemy to resurrect with some HP and continue their crusade. Should the timer expire, the game takes players to the last checkpoint, reviving at the cost of less than a tenth of whatever money is held at the time of death, definitely a step up from the harsher penalties of popular Japanese RPGs such as the Dragon Quest series.

Ultimately, the gameplay is definitely enjoyable, with some additional quirks such as the experience obtained through completing story and side missions, although there are a few instances where the player might find themselves dying without an enemy nearby to kill, but fortunately the death penalty is more than generous, and wasted playtime is minimal. Those not skilled with first-person shooters, moreover, might have a difficult time keeping steady trigger fingers, but the game is definitely more than playable, the mechanics a surefire boon to Borderlands, the skill customization augmenting the mechanical appeal.

The first game mostly has clear direction on how to advance the main storyline, given the in-game maps and associated waypoints towards mission objectives, although there are occasional side missions such as those scavenging parts for specific types of firearms that might lead players to look on the Internet. There are other issues such as the lack of an in-game clock, not to mention a limit on inventory space only increasable by helping robotic claptraps get back on their wheels, as well as occasional glitches such as getting caught by treasure chests some foes may drop. Regardless, things could have definitely been worse in terms of control.

Most Western RPGs tend to feature solid voicework, and Borderlands is no exception, with some humorous banter from enemies occasionally littered with profanity, and one Russian-accepted character having a memorable dialect, along with realistic sound effects. Some of the music such as the ending vocal theme is also good, although most, as with most titles originating in the West, is fairly unmemorable, with a greater emphasis on ambience, although the aurals help more than hurt.

The visuals too help Borderlands more than hurt it, with a nice cel-shaded style for the character models, the environments, and the enemies, although there is rare inconsistency in the framerate, and occasional blurry and pixilated texturing for the scenery.

Finally, the first game in the series is just right in terms of length, from one to two days’ total worth of playtime, with plentiful side content and things such as in-game achievements (which also net additional experience for the player when fulfilled) and the different protagonists enhancing lasting appeal.

Overall, the Switch port of the enhanced edition of the original Borderlands is a fun looter-shooter RPG, given its fun game mechanics, the endearing narrative, the superb voice acting, the pretty cel-shaded visuals, and the endless lasting appeal. Granted, it does have issues with regards to its control aspect not to mention some blemishes in terms of the mostly-unmemorable soundtrack and occasional graphical anomalies, although even these weaker areas have plenty of things going for them, and in the end, I definitely relished to chance to play the definitive version of the game on my Nintendo Switch, and would definitely recommend it to those in search of a solid Western RPG.

This review is based on a playthrough as Mordecai, with the game purchased by the reviewer.

The Good:
+Great RPG/shooter mechanics.
+Clear direction on how to advance game.
+Endearing narrative.
+Superb voicework.
+Pretty visuals.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Some issues with control and glitches.
-Not enough memorable music.
-A few graphical impurities.

The Bottom Line:
A great looter-shooter.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 9.0/10
Controls: 6.5/10
Story: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 8.0/10
Graphics: 8.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Just Right
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 8.5/10



The eighth installment of David Farland’s Runelords series opens with a sunrise at the ruins of Barrensfort, with Sir Borenson taking solace in watching his daughters. In the meantime, a new character, Crull-maldor, is able to use the mind of creatures such as crow to see things towards which she is otherwise blind. Rain labors amidst recent disaster, with wizardry sapping her family’s vitality, and Sir Borenson and his companions salvaging a shipwreck. Crull-maldor ultimately finds herself in the wyrmling’s citadel at the Fortress of the Northern Wastes, observing their actions.

The Borensons continue to get the ship, eventually termed the Borrowbird, free from being stuck, whilst they also throw freeloading squatters out of their camp. They eventually begin a voyage on the ship, with Draken taking occasional turns navigating it and encountering occasional stormy weather and wyrmling fleets. Draken questions his father Aaath Ulber about specific strategies in attacking the wyrmlings, with their empire in the balance towards the book’s end, and Myrrima thinking of herself as the Water Warrior. Wulfgaard also seeks his beloved, with tragedy in the final chapter as well.

All in all, I enjoyed this installment of the Runelords series, given plenty of fantastical action and creatures, and while the collection I had purchased on Amazon doesn’t mark both the beginning or the end of the series, I probably wouldn’t yearn to go through the books again, with this particular entry having a satisfactory ending on its own. There’s also occasional lack of clarity as to what species the various characters are, although I would imagine that the wyrmlings are dragon-like. Regardless of its flaws, I would recommend this book to those who thoroughly enjoyed its precursors.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth


Two Rights Make a Wrong

For me, crossovers of different franchises in the entertainment world are usually a mixed bag, especially when they expect audiences to take them seriously, akin to the Kingdom Hearts series, which still has its share of positive aspects. When Atlus announced a crossover between the Etrian Odyssey and Persona subseries of the greater Megami Tensei franchise, I naturally leaped on the chance to experience a fusion of both franchises, having especially enjoyed many contemporary titles in both Atlus brands. Combining the strategic turn-based combat of the Persona games with the exploration of the Etrian series, what could possibly go wrong?

Upon starting a new game, the player can choose to focus on the casts of the third and fourth games of the Persona subseries, with different introductions for each but generally the same narrative for both teams, who ultimately join to explore various labyrinths during a festival at an alternate version of Yasogami High School in Inaba. Aside from some slight narrative different between the two teams and some solid interactions, the story isn’t much to write home about and doesn’t add much to the general mythos of the Persona subfranchise, with several recycled RPG tropes including the power of friendship, amnesia, an ancient god, and so forth.

The localization is easily Atlus’s weakest effort since the original Persona on the Sony PlayStation, given obvious Engrish such as the dungeon named “You in Wonderland,” the messages “Player/Enemy Advanced” when encountering preemptive or surprise enemy encounters, and some occasional inconsistences such as the mentioned dungeon’s sign being in English in some perspectives, but in the original Japanese in other views. As in the third and fourth games, moreover, the translation team left in the Japanese honorifics for the characters, which makes the dialogue sound horribly unnatural. There is a deficit of spelling and grammar errors, and the plot makes sense, but there’s absolutely no excuse for the abominable nature of the writing, given Atlus’s other superior efforts within and without the series.

That leaves the gameplay to shoulder the burden, but unfortunately, the crossover doesn’t fare any better in this regard. The player ultimately gets a chance to assemble a five-character team, with three front-row slots and three back-row slots, from the third and fourth Persona games’ casts, each character effective in the front or back. Given the total inability to fill the sixth slot with any special abilities, being able to use six characters total would have been nice, what with the massive cast of playable heroes, and throughout my playthrough, I experienced an odd case of almost entirely having three front-row allies and two back-row, with the latter queerly seeming to level faster.

As players travel through the first-person dungeons, a colored indicator gradually changes hue to indicate how close they are to encountering enemies, an encounter naturally coming when it reaches the red zone. In battle, the player can input commands for the five chosen characters, including attacking with their equipped weapon, defending to reduce damage, using a consumable item, changing battle formation (with this luckily not wasting the player’s turn), attempting to escape (which naturally doesn’t work all the time), or executing an SP-consuming ability. The player also has a gauge that fills up to five levels that allows them to execute leader skills, such as gradual HP recovery.

As with most traditional turn-based RPGs, Q requires a bit of foresight in regards to the execution of the player’s commands, whereas they and the enemy exchange actions based likely on speed, and some typical negative tropes of the combat style playing part such as the occasional waste of a healing spell or item on an ally that ultimately dies in a round before the heal occurs. Some bosses and enemies also cheaply gain secondary turns, sometimes occurring at different stages throughout a combat round. Fortunately, the player can easily view the strengths and weaknesses of enemies while inputting commands, with the two becoming known once they’ve attempted a skill of a certain element or attack type including cut, bash, or pierce.

When a character exploits an enemy’s weakness, they “boost,” with their SP-consuming abilities becoming free, and they can possibly exploit another weak point to continue the cycle, but it stops whenever a character takes (which will happen frequently) or doesn’t exploit a foe’s negative affinity. When exploiting a foe’s weakness, there is a rare chance that the skill will stun them for the round, although this seems incredibly rare, and enemies more often than not stun the player’s characters when taking advantage of their own weaknesses. The random number gods are also oftentimes cruel when it comes to letting the player execute all-out attacks similar to the third and fourth Persona games, with no apparent fixed formula to this.

Defeating all enemies nets all characters who are still alive experience for occasional level-ups, in which case their native Persona might obtain a new ability, although these may overwrite lower-level skills and increase SP consumption in combat. Characters can also equip secondary Personas whose skills the player can luckily customize once they level alongside the protagonists themselves, and fuse these at the Velvet Room to obtain higher-level Personas whose skills are also customizable. Later on, the player can sacrifice Personas to extract skills and customize one of four of the characters’ native Personas’ available ability slots, but this can be fairly expensive.

Money is perpetually a problem throughout the game, with the main means of acquiring cash being the selling of parts that enemies drop from battle to make no consumables and equipment available at the shop, akin to the Etrian Odyssey games. Unless the player plays favorites in terms of which characters to use, outfitting all of them throughout the game can easily be a great financial burden, and the nurse’s office outside the labyrinths is early on an additional, sometimes unaffordable expense that increases with levels. Grinding and regularly upgrading equipment are constantly necessary to keep up with the endless difficulty spikes throughout the game.

Adding another layer of difficulty are visible, powerful adversaries in dungeons bequeathed from the Etrian Odyssey series known as FOEs, which are virtually impossible to vanquish when first encountered without executing a continue to fully restore the player’s party available only on the lowest “Safety” difficulty. While the game high recommends avoiding them at all costs when first encountered, Q lamentably leaves almost no room for error whatsoever without doing so, and I frequently found myself having to struggle through FOE battles just to get through the various labyrinths. Admittedly, they do oftentimes give decent rewards such as materials and more powerful Personas than average.

Even on the Safety difficulty, one could very easily describe Q’s difficulty as lopsided, given the spikes in challenge between regular enemies and FOEs, not to mention the drawn-out endgame, which would be an absolute nightmare to experience, alongside the FOE engagements, above the Safety setting. Generally, the game mechanics do contain some decent ideas such as the ability to use skills for free after exploiting enemy weaknesses, although there’s just too much random chance with regards to things such as when powerful all-out attacks will execute, not to mention an astronomical miss rate for physical attacks and HP-consuming skills, and things just don’t work out.

As in the Etrian games, Q tasks the player with detailing features of the in-game maps such as secret passageways and treasure chests, with an option luckily mapping walls automatically to spare the task of drawing them oneself. The game menus are generally easy to get a handle of, although there are some issues such as the ability to view total playing time only in the save menu, accessible only at the end of labyrinths and in the main school hallways. Other questionable design choices include the need to exit to the facility menu when traversing to the shops and nurse’s office, and the constant removal and equipment of secondary Personas from characters to equip them on others can be tedious as well. All in all, Q doesn’t interact with players as well as it could have.

The crossover, however, actually has some decent music, although much is forgettable and there are some recycled tracks from the third and fourth Persona games. What really hurts the aural experience, however, is the absolutely abominable voice acting, with the fact that actors without a drop of ethnic blood voice the Japanese cast cause enough for alarm. The voicework is at its absolute worst in combat, where like in P3 and P4 either Fuuka or Rise narrates everything that transpires, and the localization team made some questionable decisions such as having characters address and refer to the chosen protagonist as “leader.” This was actually a rare case where I played an RPG with the voice volume muted (which one has to do to mostly silence the voices, since the on/off option for voices doesn’t work universally), since the voices were absolutely painful to hear.

The only remotely-passable aspect of the game is its visual presentation, with a nice color scheme serving the experience well, and while Q showcases dungeon navigation and combat mostly in the first person, there are occasional breaks in this such as visible characters traveling through doors the player opens, not to mention a visible party when they take the enemy off guard. Granted, there are some areas where the graphics designers didn’t seem to care, in particular the completely-asinine dodge animation of enemies reused from other MegaTen titles, and not all will appreciate the chibi characters.

Finally, the game is fairly lengthy, taking from two to three days’ total playtime for a playthrough of one of the casts, and while a New Game+ can allow players to carry features to subsequent games, Q quite frankly isn’t fun enough to want to go through again.

Overall, Persona Q is a disappointing crossover title that has some good ideas, particularly in its battle system, and the visuals are passable, but the game mechanics are incredibly lopsided, with a playthrough above Safety difficulty having the potential to be borderline impossible, and there are plenty of other issues with regards to its control, narrative that puts quantity above quality, rushed translation, and the absolutely horrible, whitewashed voice acting. While the ability to focus on the casts of either the third or fourth Persona games theoretically adds lasting appeal, I couldn’t stand a singular experience, and am glad I sold my copy of the game’s sequel without opening it.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy digitally downloaded by the reviewer, played with a focus on the cast of Persona 3.

The Good:
+Some good ideas.
+Graphics passable.
+A little replay value.

The Bad:
-Lopsided mechanics.
-Irritating control.
-Excruciating story.
-Rushed localization.
-Horrible voicework.
-Way too long.

The Bottom Line:
A disappointing fusion of the Etrian Odyssey and Persona series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 2.0/10
Controls: 4.0/10
Story: 0.5/10
Localization: 2.0/10
Music/Sound: 2.5/10
Graphics: 5.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 4.0/10
Difficulty: Very Hard or Impossible
Playing Time: 2-3 Days

Overall: 2.5/10

Monday, November 23, 2020



The final entry of Chris Fox’s Magitech Chronicles begins with Nebiat opening a void pocket whilst fearing rejection by her son. In the meantime, Nefarius tests her new body, having gotten used to being a dragon, and Aran translocates to the Crucible as Kazon works on his mecha. Krox cautions Nebiat about bowing before Voria, whilst she bargains with Pickus, with Krox ready for war and wielding the mystical spear Worldender. Nefarius spirits to Colony 3, flush with new magic, and knowing Xal will eventually return for a final conflict.

Crewes needs a void mage created, with Voria and Frit ready for battle, and Ikadra serving as a conduit for worship. Nefarius digests Krox’s magic, with Virkonna talking to her child Kheross, who believes that the war is lost. Nefarius gazes into her deceased sister’s mind, with Kheross fearing Aran, while Nebiat gathers spirit and urges her followers to overthrow the gods. Aran expects a high death toll in the coming war, while the Skull of Xal is encountered by Nara, with Xal being necessary to defeat Nefarius. Aran and Kazon partake in the blood of Xal, with the god’s memory playing out.

Lieutenant Davidson is tired of war, questioning the allegiance of the Krox, with Aran practicing linking to his mecha in anticipation of the final conflict. Kazon is reluctant to leave his own mecha, knowing not how to take full advantage of his magic, and he visits the tomb of a demon prince, from which nobody has ever emerged. Nara in the meantime has a vision of a coliseum hosting a play, with an individual named Enoch guiding her through an ancient city. Beings known as the oni play a significant role in the book’s narrative, wishing to revive their god, whilst demons lay waste in combat.

Sabra introduces Aran and Nara to her husband Jerich, afterward taking them to Malazra, with Kazon seeing the oni gather, telling Graal the time is near for war. Aran looks over a map of Xal’s heart, with Crewes ordering Bord to open a Fissure. Nefarius visits the Crucible, vowing retribution against those who would dare betray her, and Enoch prepares for his first journey in a million years, having witnessed and experienced much. Aran succeeds in recruiting the oni, with the Skull of Xal materializing, and Aran speaking to Xal’s demons.

Frit observes Nebiat’s form, yearning to create a religious order, and Kaho arrives for a council meeting, with Administrator Pickus suggesting that he and the others are hostages. Crewes lands near the Temple of Shi, attempting to make contact with it, and Kaho pities his genocidal mother. Kazon knows an official leader is necessary to stand a chance against the demons, with most of the characters ready for war, and Frit professing her love for Kaho. Aran spends several chapters fighting Nefarius, keeping his mecha’s tactics in mind, with the war ultimately ending.

Overall, I enjoyed this final entry of the Magitech Chronicles, given plentiful science-fiction action and colorful characters, with some occasional commentary about religion. The various battles are well-orchestrated, and the characters receive decent development and evolution throughout the novel. Granted, one can occasionally have trouble keeping track of the various plot arcs and dramatic personae, with a list of the characters and better descriptions apt to help those readers who might easily get lost in the plotline. Regardless, I definitely don’t regret experiencing this series, and would recommend it to those looking for a decent hybrid of fantasy and science-fiction.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

 Loh6 The Legend of Heroes Trails in the Sky.jpg

The Whereabouts of Light

Nihon Falcom’s Legend of Heroes franchise first began as a series of two spinoffs from their larger Dragon Slayer series, before eventually becoming its own thing with a trio of titles termed the Gagharv trilogy, although the trilogy received different numbering in North America when translated by Bandai. Localization duties would eventually fall to XSEED Games, who took a while in their translation process before releasing the first installment of the following trilogy, unrelated to its predecessors, entitled The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, released on PC and the PlayStation Portable, the latter version this review covers.

The first Trails game focuses on Estelle Bright and her adopted brother Joshua, who travel the laughably-named Liberl Kingdom whilst performing jobs to become full-fledged “bracers,” occasionally finding new companions and finding themselves involved in political upheaval. The worldbuilding is easily one of the game’s strongest suits, with a well-developed and likeable cast, as well as the aforementioned political overtones, although the protagonists’ search for their vanished father rarely seems urgent, and there is occasional deus ex machina. The translation is good, although given the time necessary to translate the game, there are aspects that could have been better, particularly regarding the asinine names for people and places at times and rare text overflow.

Trails sports a turn-based tactical battle system, with the player’s party of up to four characters, their formation adjustable in the game menus, squaring off against a number of enemies, which are visible in dungeons and transport the player to separate grid-based battlefields once contacted on fields in between towns or dungeons. A step down from the Gagharv trilogy is that no matter how high the player’s characters’ levels are, enemies, upon noticing their visible party, will still charge them, although fortunately, contacting them from behind to get a surprise attack against them isn’t terribly difficult.

In combat, characters and the enemy take their turns depending upon agility, with a turn order meter luckily showing who goes when. Upon reaching their turns, the player’s characters can move and execute a physical attack, simply move to another square, use a consumable item, use EP-consuming Arts, execute CP-consuming Crafts, or attempt to escape. Craft Points gradually accumulate up to a maximum of two hundred, with special limit breaks executable at a hundred, although using them at two hundred will maximize effectiveness and even grant bonuses depending on the skill.

EP basically dictates magical abilities in battle, with each character having an orbment grid into whose slots, unlockable by crystals obtained from winning battle, the player can place shards of differing elements (although for some characters, a few slots the game reserves only for specific types), with the strength of the shards allowing characters use of certain spells, an in-game guide fortunately cluing players in as to how they can access certain Arts. If the player plays their cards right, they can access some powerful abilities early on in the game that can make standard battles go by quicker.

One issue players may have with Arts, however, is that they may take a few turns to execute (with this period oftentimes varying), with some enemies, particularly some bosses, able to cancel their execution, and thus, foresight is sometimes necessary, although luckily, the player can conveniently view which elements foes are strong or weak against without the need for scan magic. Higher-level Arts may affect a certain area of the battlefield, although sometimes the player needs to center spells on specific foes to execute them, with other magic allowing free-range area selection. A few defensive spells can actually be handy, such as one allowing nullification of damage from one enemy attack.

Winning battles nets all characters who are still alive experience proportional to their level for occasional level-ups (which fully restores HP and EP), although these tend to rise fairly slowly. The player also acquires crystals of different elements they can exchange at shops for money, in addition to the occasional item. Another feature is the food system, with the player able to cook meals for the entire party to restore HP and maybe grant supplemental effects such as additional Craft Points, new recipes acquired from consuming food items, and raw materials necessary to concoct them.

All in all, the battle system has some good ideas, but the execution leaves something to desire, since especially during the endgame against the final bosses, fights can drag on, given unskippable animations, and there are plenty of annoying foes and ailments. Fortunately, if all the player’s characters die, they can restart the fight with all adversaries supposedly weaker, giving a fairer chance in the fight. However, a character’s death causes them to lose all acquired Craft Points, with these moves often critical in the toughest battles. In the end, the game mechanics could have used more polish.

So could have the control, although there are occasional bright spots such as the ability to record progress anywhere and anytime outside battles and cutscenes, and the general game interface is easy to handle and navigate, with players further able to see how equipment increases or decreases stats before purchase. However, there are some issues such as the oftentimes-poor direction on how to complete the game’s optional bracer missions, not to mention advance the central storyline a few times, and many dungeons except late-game sewers lack maps, making exploration troublesome. All in all, Trails could have interfaced with players better.

Falcom’s sound department did a nice job with the soundtrack, with some standout tracks such as the central theme, “The Whereabouts of Light,” which has a nice harmonica version Joshua plays at points throughout the game. All the town themes are nice as well, as is the music played in dungeons and the main battle theme, although more diversity with regards to battle music would have been welcome. One twist is that if the player’s party is close to death, the combat music changes, and while one can find annoying characters whining and crying when dying (with voices only present in battles), the players can mercifully mute voicework in battle. Overall, the game’s aural presentation is another high point.

Trails’ visuals feature three-dimensional and character sprites, with nice art direction in the form of the character portraits that accompany cutscenes, and the battles contain nice animation and ability effects. However, the scenery is often full of jaggies and blurry, pixilated texturing, and the sprites don’t show much emotion, with plentiful palette swaps of encountered enemies as well. All in all, the graphics are middling at best, but aren’t wholly an eyesore.

Finally, the game is of modest length, somewhere from one to two days’ worth of playtime, with sidequests in the form of additional guild missions and even a replay mode to start from the beginning with some things carried over, although Trails isn’t quite enjoyable enough to warrant additional playtime, and most players will want to move on to the second game if they liked the first.

In the end, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a competent but generic RPG, with many of its aspects having an equal number of good and bad aspects like combat, control, and the visuals. It does contain clear positives such as the worldbuilding and musical presentation, and while it has a replay mode, it isn’t fun enough to warrant more playtime, and those who did like it will likely want to move onto the sequel. Frankly, however, I’m definitely hesitate to go back through the second game again, and Trails and its successors definitely aren’t bucket-list RPGs.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy digitally purchased and downloaded to the reviewer’s PlayStation Vita.

The Good:
+Game mechanics have some good ideas.
+Save-anywhere feature.
+Great worldbuilding.
+Nice soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Annoying endgame with potentially-long battles.
-Completing jobs can be difficult without a guide.
-Not engaging enough to replay.
-Weak visuals.

The Bottom Line:
A competent but generic RPG.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Game Mechanics: 5.0/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 7.5/10
Localization: 6.5/10
Music/Sound: 7.5/10
Graphics: 5.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 3.5/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 5.5/10

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Wyrmling Horde


The seventh installment of David Farland’s The Runelords series is the shortest, opening with one of the main antagonists, the wyrmling tormentor Cullossax, whom his lesser fear, striding through Rugassa, with the world having suddenly changed. Meanwhile, the humans of various warrior clans flee the fortress at Caer Luciare, and Rhianna practices her newfound flight. Moreover, in the wyrmling keep at Rugassa, Lord Despair uses Areth Sul Urstone’s awakening Earth Powers to “choose” certain wyrmling lords and create a bond with them, allowing him to sense their danger and warn them ahead of time.

In the meantime, Talon finds herself in the underworld, ironically in a florally-lush area, and Rhianna finds herself in the care of martial horse-sisters. Early on in the book is a vivid description of the Sanctum used for worship among the wyrmling hordes, with Lord Despair yearning to take various endowments. Back to Talon, she challenges Emir Tuul Ra of Dalharristan to a duel, an offer that he doesn’t take seriously at first, with the two taking special endowments in anticipation of the conflict. Various other battles end the book, with the main heroes visiting and fleeing Rugassa.

All in all, I enjoyed this entry of the literary franchise, more so in that it’s the shortest of the series, with plenty of good fantastical action and characters and a decent focus on the antagonistic wyrmlings. As with most fantasy series with interconnected storylines, though, it’s somewhat inaccessible to those who haven’t read its predecessors, and those who haven’t taken good notes on previous entries may find themselves lost without referencing the internet. Regardless of its flaws, The Runelords is a decent rival to other daunting fantasy series such as The Wheel of Time.

Friday, November 13, 2020


 43726624. sx318

This entry of Chris Fox’s Magitech Chronicles series opens with Aran inspecting and approving of the vessel Talon, happy to have a chain of command again. Meanwhile, Nebiat plots to expand his empire, wanting Kaho as one of his guardians, and Frit feels treasonous towards Shaya. The survivors of Krox’s wrath begin constructing homes on the upper branches of a great tree, with Voria eying them as her next targets. Aran also evokes doubts from his crew, especially from Rhea, who avoids him, feeling that he is draining more magic. Moreover, Kahotep receives a ghostly call from his mother Nebiat.

Voria wants to terraform the planet Ternus to make it habitable for her species, and as she does so, the human fleet expresses concern for the doomed world. Frit reads about a mysterious armada known as the Vagrant Fleet, and Skare’s vessel the Dragon Skull drifts near the Ternus station. Drakkon mourns the loss of young drakes, while Voria senses something amiss on Marid, and informs him that his world was lost. Voria seeks to create her own religion with herself as its goddess, and Olyssa scolds her for treating the Wyrm Father as an equal.

Ternus enjoys its first victory in the war, whilst Talifax manipulates public opinion in Ternus space, Voria further seeking to awaken an elder goddess. Aran and his crew keep to themselves during Virkonna’s awakening, distraught at the lives lost, yet knowing that gods too have mortal feelings. He engages in a space battle with demons, considering the sun of the system where the fight erupts in his tactics. Frit regularly engages in magical translocation, and Voria is aware that she needs Virkonna and Inura to help fight the Krox. Several battles and a cliffhanger epilogue end the sixth book.

Overall, I found this entry of the Magitech Chronicles to be slightly more enjoyable than its precursors, given plentiful science-fiction action and commentary on the nature of godship, although it does still have its flaws such as a lack of distinction between Krox as a species and as an individual, and again one can find it difficult to keep track of which species the various characters are. As I’ve said before, the book series doesn’t fuse science-fiction and fantasy as well as other franchises such as Star Wars, but those who enjoyed its precursors will definitely enjoy book six.

Avatar: The Last Airbender


While critics and fans largely regard M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender to be a cinematic turkey (though I would rather watch it as opposed to say, a political documentary), the Nickelodeon cartoon on which it’s based is much, much better by comparison. It begins with two siblings from the Southern Water Tribe encountering the eponymous last airbender, Aang, frozen in ice for a century along with his air bison, the antagonistic Fire Nation seeking to conquer the world around the time of his disappearance. The Avatar must learn to master all four elements: water, earth, fire, and air, in order to stand a chance at defeating the Fire Lord.

The characters are for the most part well-developed and memorable, such as the deadpan-snarking Sokka, although the rogue Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation is probably my favorite character, given his enjoyable plot arc along with his uncle. Luckily, unlike the film, the show doesn’t attempt to cram a season’s worth of events into one and a half hours, and there’s plenty of cool elemental action throughout the series. The setting is mostly Asian-based, with much advanced military technology, and it very well emulates the style of anime and has definitely aged well. If the live-action Netflix remake series escapes development hell, I would definitely watch it.