Sunday, April 25, 2021

ANZAC Day Art

Might be a little too lighthearted given the solemnity of the Australian / New Zealand holiday, but I just had the idea in my head after seeing another pic a fellow fur did:



Saturday, April 24, 2021

Arlo the Alligator Boy

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Animated Netflix movie starring American Idol Top 5 finalist Michael J. Woodard as the eponymous half-human, half-alligator protagonist, who seeks his long-lost father in New York City. The story's a bit on the derivative side, but the music was definitely good and I'm not hesitant to recommend the film, looking forward to the Netflix series that will follow it as well.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Deep Look - Shining Force CD

 


A Collection with Both Shine and Tarnish

Once upon a time, videogame corporation Sega piously proclaimed that they did “what Nintendon’t,” which was true to some extent, given their color-screened portable Game Gear and the Genesis’ reception of a compact disc add-on, with the CD medium allowing for greater freedom in terms of things such as adding voices and even cinematics to games. The Sega CD would receive a few RPGs, notably the Lunar games, not to mention the anthology Shining Force CD, consisting of remakes of the first two Shining Force Gaiden games for the Game Gear, not to mention two chapters occurring chronologically afterward in continuation of the central storyline. The collection is easily one of the best titles to appear on Sega’s ill-fated system, but does that mean it’s any good?

Shining Force CD is divided into four books, the first of which is a remake of the original Shining Force Gaiden that initially appeared on the Game Gear, remaining untranslated, and taking place twenty years after the events of the first tactical entry of the Shining series. Ambassadors from the Kingdom of Cypress cast a curse upon Queen Anri of Guardiana (translated in the Sega CD version as Gardiana), with a new Shining Force led by Nick and scion of characters from The Legacy of Great Intention tasked with dispelling it. The first book is generally a good continuation of the events from the original Shining Force, and doesn’t become too fatigued with playable characters, although most allies lack development.

The second book continues the first game’s story, focusing on the enigmatic Deanna that sets off with his own Shining Force in pursuit of Nick, who fails to return after leaving for some time. The narrative is easily a step down from the first game’s, given the similarities to the original Shining Force, given the mysterious protagonist and the attempts at reviving a sinister god, with little development for any among the main cast aside from Deanna. As in the first Gaiden, however, the sequel doesn’t become too bogged down by playable characters, with a few battles occurring with the player having a divided party, and unlike its predecessor, the absolute final battle doesn’t necessitate repetition of the one before should one egress back to camp.

A third book continues the storyline from the Gaiden games, being several battles shorter, and allowing the player to use the playable casts from its precursors, which consequentially can make for difficult decisions of whom to bring into combat, given the limit of twelve characters versus the enemy. The narrative focuses on Nick’s trials to become King of Cypress, with several oriental-esque villains coming in his way, and several musical tracks, such as a remix of the collection’s central theme, having an Asian milieu. Given the need to grind and the tendency of a few fights to drag out, particularly the final one, book three is a step down from its precursors, although it decently wraps up its precursors’ story.

With a secret ticket acquired a few battles into the second book, the player can unlock a fourth chapter, where a fixed party led by Nick squares off against every boss unit from the preceding subdivisions, with no opportunity to grind, given that egressing necessitates that players restart the battle from scratch. I found myself unable to finish this fight, with little to no walkthroughs on the internet providing strategies on how to do so, although fortunately, the ending isn’t of critical narrative importance, with the third book being the “official” conclusion to the first two Gaiden games’ plotline.

Despite its flaws, Shining Force CD is in the end a half-decent collection that starts off good, given the first Gaiden’s continuation of the original game’s storyline, although it somewhat suffers from a bit of sequel slump, given the step down of the story in the second book and especially the third and potentially-impossible fourth chapter. The anthology, however, is easily one of the better titles on the Sega CD system (I personally enjoyed it more than the Lunar games, especially the second in that particular series, given Working Designs’ gameplay “enhancements), although while it’s worth a look from those who enjoyed the first tactical offering of the Shining series, it’s certainly by no means a bucket list collection.

RECOMMENDED?
HESITANTLY

Thursday, April 22, 2021

First Mission

 

The fifth entry of Ramy Vance and Michael Anderle’s Dragon Approved series opens the weekend after protagonist Alex Bound becomes a dragonrider cadet, becoming used to her recently-acquired vision and receiving an invitation to a walk by fellow pupil Jim. Alex receives an outfit from the school tailor and embarks on her first mission with Team Boundless, going to a flaming mine and rescuing whatever laborers are trapped. Several chapters occur with Team Boundless battling trolls and flying creatures called vrosks, after which the book ends with an obvious cliffhanger where Alex vows to rescue imperiled companions. Both authors give postscript notes, with Vance focused on dragon mythos and Anderle on the writing business.

Overall, this was another enjoyable entry in the authors’ Dragon Approved series, which like its precursors is a widely-accessible story given the minimal temporal investment to read it, along with plenty of good fantastical dragonriding action and combat. There are minor issues with the vrosks scarcely receiving any description aside from being aerial, an issue that not even internet searching could resolve, given the absence of illustrations within the anthology or on the worldwide web. There’s also still similarity to the Pern book series, though it’s not a major issue. However, I’m definitely not hesitant to recommend this fast and fun novella, which should definitely be a treat for fantasy genre aficionados.


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Shining Force Gaiden II: The Evil God Awakes

 


A Sequel That Somewhat Shines

When I was a preteen, I was well-aware of the console war between Nintendo and Sega, with no loyalties pledged to either company’s games. The latter pious proclaimed that they did “what Nintendon’t,” and in a sense they were right, since one thing they did that Nintendo didn’t at the time was have a color-based portable game system, the Game Gear, which I owned until the advent of the following console generation. One game I remember playing is Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya, which I was unaware at the time was the English version of Shining Force Gaiden II: The Evil God Awakes, eventually forming Book Two of the Sega CD collection Shining Force CD, and largely providing an experience on par with its predecessor.

The second Gaiden opens with the enemies, led by King Warderer of the Iom Empire, sacrificing a king to their namesake god in hopes of resurrecting him. In the meantime, Prince Nick of Cypress heads out on a mission stop them, ultimately failing to return, which prompts the newest Shining Force to be sent, led by the enigmatic Deanna. Given its relative removal from the narrative of the original Shining Force, the second game’s narrative is somewhat weaker, given the lack of development for the main characters and villains, although it does continue the first Gaiden’s plot decently. The translation is legible, but full of missing punctuation and compressed class names, among other things.

Fortunately, the gameplay is better, being mechanically identical to the first Shining Force Gaiden, except for one point where the game halves the player’s party, and that the absolute final battle doesn’t require the player redo the one before. The same issues as in the first Gaiden come into play such as the need for foresight, given the potential for boss enemies to have multiple turns in succession, and that grinding can be uneven. Regardless, those who appreciate straightforward tactical gameplay will be in for a treat, and there are occasional tricks such as creating tanks out of many physical characters and having allies occupy tiles that respawn foes to prevent them from spawning.

Book Two features generally the same straightforward gameplay structure as its predecessor, with a simple camp/town interface in between story battles, and consequentially, no getting lost whatsoever, never a bad thing. However, the same issues as in the first Gaiden game come into play such as the endless dialogues and confirmations when performing tasks such as saving the game, reviving dead characters (which players can only do one ally at a time instead of all simultaneously), or shopping for new equipment and items (and in the former case, the player can see how prospective gear increases or decreases stats). The second Book was also one of the earliest games to offer mid-battle saving, and in the end, while the game doesn’t interact fully well with players, things could have been worse.

While the soundtrack reuses some tracks from the first Gaiden game, there are several new ones, all of which sound fantastic with their orchestral quality, the final boss theme in particular standing out the most, and the vocal narration during the post-last-battle cutscene definitely got the job done in the game’s time. The sound effects, some of which hail straight from the Genesis Shining Force games, do still clash with the orchestrated soundtrack, but otherwise, the sequel is easy on the ears.

The sequel also looks just as well as the first game, with well-executed combat visuals and dodge animations for units on both sides, although there are still many reskins on either side.

Finally, the second Gaiden is as long as its precursor, nine to eighteen hours, with little lasting appeal, given the lack of sidequests, aside from multiple difficulties.

All in all, Shining Force Gaiden II is for the most part and enjoyable sequel to the first Gaiden that hits most of the right notes in regards to areas such as its straightforward strategy mechanics, the linear structure preventing players from ever getting lost, the excellent soundtrack, and the pretty visuals. However, it does have many of the same issues as its precursor such as the need for foresight in battle especially against boss units, the overabundance of dialogues and confirmations when performing common interface tasks, the rehashed plot, and little replayability aside from different difficulty settings. Despite its flaws, however, I definitely had a decent time with the second Shining Force Gaiden, although there is an off chance that not all may appreciate it.

This review is based on a playthrough of the second Book of Shining Force CD on the Easy difficulty setting.

The Good:
+Good straightforward mechanics.
+No getting lost.
+Excellent soundtrack.
+Pretty visuals.

The Bad:
-Battles still require a little foresight.
-Too much dialogue and confirmations.
-Story somewhat recycled from original Shining Force.
-Little lasting appeal aside from different difficulties.

The Bottom Line:
A half-decent sequel.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Sega CD
Game Mechanics: 7.5/10
Controls: 6.5/10
Story: 3.5/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 8.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 6.0/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 9-18 Hours

Overall: 6.5/10

Monday, April 19, 2021

A Solitary Evening

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Volume four of P.C. Hatter’s Kaiser Wrench / Poached Parody series opens with the tiger detective walking Manhattan on a cold night, pondering the nature of killing, and trying to rescue a doe hassled by a sable; while Kaiser offs the sable, the doe jumps off the bridge. After heading to the police station, Kaiser talks with his German Shepard associate Duke, the two observing notched green communist identification cards, with a lapine State Senate candidate, Douglas Hopper, a suspect in related murders. The detective infiltrates several communist meetings, with several twists unraveling towards the end.

All in all, despite the greater political slant of this entry of the series of novellas, none of whatever sociopolitical commentary it may have is really ham-fisted, with this entry of the franchise adopting a more neutral route as far as its politics goes. It’s definitely a great read for those with limited reading time, and is sure to please fans of a good mystery not to mention members of the furry fandom, and the series’ signature twists come in full force towards the end of the narrative. I definitely don’t regret purchasing these stories and will continue reading the series.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Nest Under Siege

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The fourth entry of Ramy Vance and Michael Anderle’s Dragon Approved series opens with protagonist Alex leading her fellow cadets through the Wasp’s Nest dragonrider school, which orcs sent by the Dark One have invaded. One of her schoolmates, Gill, tries hacking the Nest’s security system, and the characters spend a significant portion of the novella in the cafeteria and kitchen. They aim to rescue fellow dragonriders, although there exists the conundrum of where to take them so they’ll be safe. Life at the Wasp’s Nest ultimately returns to normal, the story ending with Alex becoming a member of the Dragonriders Boundless and receiving her first mission.

All in all, this was another short and sweet novella in the Dragon Approved series, which consequentially continues to hold my interest, given its easy-to-follow narrative and occasional action, with a bit of violence in the process and philosophizing about the nature of killing. The cliffhanger ending easily implores those who enjoyed the story to read its successors, and while the narrative itself has some derivative portions, namely the league of dragonriders that other series have done such as the Pern literary franchise, I definitely wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of the fantasy genre, especially those with limited time to do things like read books.

Secret Magic Control Agency

  


A Russian-produced animated film (loosely) based on the Grimm brothers' tale of Hansel and Gretel, with the two siblings somewhat estranged, the latter working for a magic control agency in a world where magicians are registered and tracked, and the former working as a non-magical sideshow magician, with the two thrown together, spending a significant chunk of the film de-aged, as they attempt to fight an evil baker who kidnaps the king, brainwashes him with special cookies, and attempts to take over the kingdom. Was actually surprisingly good, sort of like James Bond in a fantasy setting, and there are occasional traditional-animated segments to emphasize some key points of the story and before the ending credits.

The 100

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Watched this fully on Netflix since I somewhat half-watched it when it was on TV, and it's about a group of post-apocalyptic survivors, mostly criminal adolescents, that return to Earth. Sort of borders more on human interest than science-fiction, but it was okay.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Retribution Is Mine!

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In the third entry of author P.C. Hatter’s Poached Parody / Kaiser Wrench series of novellas, the tiger detective loses his license due to his fingerprints being on the murder weapon of a recent death, and he seeks to clear his name, first by seeking the mouse handbag manufacturer Enrico Price. He has a fling with the skunk model Ellen Dubois, and a wolf named Bruce serving as one of the main culprits in the case through which the narrating detective is trying to redeem himself. A body count amasses towards the end of the book, with a twist ending nicely rounding out things.

This was definitely another enjoyable book in the furry literature series that makes me want to read more, and while some may lament the fact that it isn’t a long story, time is more valuable a resource to some people than money, and I definitely don’t regret the time I’ve spent with it, being in the furry fandom and all. The author occasionally makes uses of some of the animalian elements of the characters, such as the skunk model Ellen, and like its predecessors, the development and pacing are quick and satisfactory, and despite some editing errors, it’s sure to please mystery fans and furs alike.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition

 



Advance Monado Fair

When Nintendo released the upgraded version of their portable 3DS system, the New 3DS, I jumped on the chance to purchase it due to it having a popular RPG as one of its initial titles, Xenoblade Chronicles, ported from the Wii. I had a decent time with it, but didn’t think it perfect, and as the New 3DS wouldn’t receive many more exclusive titles, buying the system wasn’t the best decision in hindsight. The Big N would ultimately release their hybrid Switch console, among the many ports it would receive being Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, which, as its subtitle implies, is indeed the best experience of the game.

The latest version of the first entry of the franchise, like its preceding incarnations, occurs upon the habitable frozen corpses of two titans that battled in the past on an endless ocean. Protagonist Shulk ultimately receives a special weapon known as the Monado, which is the only armament capable of damaging the antagonistic Machina. The game generally tells its story well, with sidequests adding significant plot, although there are occasional offbeat narrative notes such as the theme of race relations. The translation is above average, although there exists the typical unnatural JRPG convention of characters calling their attacks in battle, and there are some questionable names such as “Dickson” and “Dunban.” Regardless, the plot has far more going for it than against it.

Fortunately, solid gameplay backs the experience, with the player’s active party of up to three characters engaging in action-based real-time combat against enemies visible on fields and in dungeons, with battles against lower-level enemies ultimately optional depending upon how powerful the player’s party is. Whenever an enemy notices Shulk’s party or the player targets a foe and approaches it, battle begins, with Shulk executing normal physical attacks every second or two against the enemy, with the player also able to equip him and his allies each with eight Arts that require recharging before they become usable again.

A.I. controls Shulk’s allies, competent for the most part despite occasional idiocy such as companions attacking Machina adversaries before Shulk himself uses a special Monado skill that allows standard weapons to damage the robotic foes. Shulk’s Monado skills serve as his main Talent, one of which each of his allies have, which too require a time of recharging before they become usable again. During battle, whilst Shulk and his friends are attacking enemies, the player can navigate the Arts interface at the bottom of the screen and freely select abilities to execute, players able to queue multiple commands that they execute sequentially against antagonists.

Interestingly, while there are several Arts that can recover health, there is no system of consumable items in Xenoblade, although combat is luckily more than bearable despite their absence, with the HP of Shulk and his active companions quickly recovering during navigation of fields and dungeons outside combat. As the party assaults their adversaries, a gauge in the upper-left corner of the screen fills up to three levels, the player able to consume one to perform tasks such as bringing allies with zero HP back into the heat of battle, or get a companion out of daze or sleep status. A full gauge allows the player to execute a powerful combination attack against the enemy, whose length can vary depending upon how well they time button presses.

Killing an enemy gains all characters within and without the active party experience, Arts Points for leveling skills to intermediate and expert levels (which requires Arts Manuals to unlock), and points for passive skills that characters can share, with the number they’re able to depending upon affinity, that between characters gradually building the more they participate actively. The game mechanics generally work well in the end, with adjustable difficulty levels accommodating characters of different skill levels and an epilogue mode containing similar, but at points different, combat rules, although fights against multiple foes can sometimes become chaotic, and the ability to pause whilst navigating Arts and changing targets would have been welcome.

Xenoblade mostly interacts well with players, given an easy menu system, shopping, and the ability to save anywhere outside battle reducing wasted time in combat should death come to their party, alongside other features such as an accurate in-game clock and clear direction on how to advance the central storyline. However, an equip-best option would have reduced the need for character management, despite the ability to see how prospective gear increases or decreases stats before purchase, and while the game does keep record of points of import for sidequests, completing many can require use of a guide. Regardless, the first game’s latest version is generally user-friendly.

The soundtrack features the talents primarily of composers Yoko Shimomura and Yasunori Mitsuda, with plenty of standout tracks such as the daytime and nighttime versions of the music played on Bionis’ Leg, most other tunes having day and night incarnations. The voice acting is largely solid, with most voiced characters seeming to have Australian accents, and aside from the unnatural tendency of attackers calling the names of their skills, the port excels greatest in its aural presentation.

The Definitive Edition also fares well in terms of its graphical presentation, with the character and enemy models containing styles that are neither fully-realistic nor fully-cartoonish, and generally looking good, the environments appearing believable and colorful as well, although there is frequent popup of elements such as blades of grass when traversing fields, and poor collision detection between elements such as character hair and their shoulders. Regardless, the port is easy on the eyes.

Finally, the main quest is fairly lengthy, taking somewhere from two to three days total to finish with a significant portion of the side content completed, and the Future Connected playable epilogue storyline taking an additional six hours to finish, although in-game achievements in the main quest can take far longer to obtain.

In the end, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition definitely upholds its moniker, with most of its aspects being all-around solid such as its fast and fluid battle system, good control with clear direction, enjoyable narrative, excellent soundtrack, pretty visuals, and plenty reasons to come back for more. It does have issues with regards to the common poor direction in its sidequests that may drive players to use the internet, and the translation commits typical sins of the English versions of Japanese RPGs with areas such as the battle dialogue, but those who own the Nintendo Switch owe it to themselves to check out this adventure.

This review is based on a playthrough of the main game and Future Connected on Casual Mode on a copy borrowed by the reviewer.

The Good:
+Fast, fluid battle system.
+Good control.
+Great narrative.
+Excellent soundtrack.
+Nice visuals.
+Tons of side content.

The Bad:
-Some poor direction in sidequests.
-Some off-key story beats.
-Localization could have been better.
-A few visual impurities.

The Bottom Line:
A Japanese RPG with the feel of a Western RPG.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 9.0/10
Controls: 7.5/10
Story: 8.0/10
Localization: 7.0/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 8.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 2-4 Days

Overall: 8.5/10

Shining Force Gaiden: Towards the Root of Evil

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The Another Story of Shining Force

Sega’s Shining Force was my first strategy RPG, of which I have fond memories, though I wouldn’t see it through to the end until the turn of the millennium. Before their release of the next numbered game in the franchise, Sega would develop a side-story, Shining Force Gaiden: Towards the Root of Evil, which remained untranslated, although Anglophone gamers would receive it a few years later as part of the Sega CD anthology Shining Force CD, which packaged the first gaiden game with its sequel. The first Shining Force side-story was definitely good for its time, and has aged surprisingly well.

The first book of the CD collection opens a score after the events of the original Shining Force, with Anri, a playable magician in the first main installment, becoming Queen of Guardiana (which the localization team rendered as “Gardiana”), and ambassadors from the Kingdom of Cypress visiting and unleashing a curse that causes the monarch to go unconscious. Thus, it’s up to a new Shining Force, composed chiefly of the silent Nick and relatives of heroes from the first game, to lift the curse. The narrative was definitely good for its time, with Nick receiving a reveal later on, and the game decently continuing the story of the original entry, although many other playable characters lack depth.

The translation’s main dialogue is definitely legible, although the names of characters and locations differ from those in the first game, with Luke now Lug (and mistranslated as “Rug” during the initial save menu dialogue), and other oddities existing such as the fact that character class names are only four capital letters long and largely incoherent, and the names of the cast themselves are in all caps as well. There’s also an issue that would play part in other entries of the franchise, with “point” pluralized whenever a character gains only one experience point from combat. The localization definitely wasn’t perfect, but there were many things that deserved a once-over.

Fortunately, the gameplay serves the gaiden far better, with turn-based and grid-based tactical combat largely following the same rules as in the original Shining Force, albeit with changes such as the player’s characters and enemies being able to counterattack. The pace of battle seems to be a bit faster than in the first entry, with good features such as being able to suspend-save in the middle of battle and the ability to Egress and retain experience (also still retained when Nick perishes, which ends a battle) preserved. There are some twists like a battle where the player’s characters can’t use magic until destroying an orb, and while many flaws present in The Legacy of Great Intention come into play, such as the lack of a turn order meter and unbalanced leveling, the mechanics work well.

Unlike the original Shining Force where the player could freely roam town maps in between battles necessary to advance the central storyline, the first Gaiden game features a structure where the town interface is far simpler, consisting only of a church where the player can save the game, revive dead characters, and such, and a shop where one can upgrade the party’s equipment. Aside from the endless dialogues and confirmations necessary to perform tasks such as buying an item or exchanging an item between allies, the Gaiden interfaces alright with players.

The soundtrack, chiefly composed by Motoaki Takenouchi, is easily the game’s high points, with a number of rousing, orchestral-quality tracks such as that which plays during the introductory backstory cutscene, the royal palace theme, the enemies’ music, the overworld track, the different battle scene tunes for the player’s character and the enemy, and so forth. Granted, there are occasional Genesis-era effects from the second numbered entry such as the promotion and revival jingles, although they still sound good, and the Gaiden is overall more than easy on the ears.

The visuals contain considerable polish, as well, with the character designs, whose lips and eyes move during story scenes, looking good, along with the vibrant colors, sprites with decent anatomy, and especially the battle scenes, detailed to the point where the player or enemy’s side has a dodge animation if they avoid an attack. There are some reskinned antagonists and occasionally player character sprites (although their designs never reflect this), but otherwise, the graphics look nice.

Finally, the game is fairly short, at least eight hours with a straightforward playthrough, with the only significant side content being grinding characters to the heart’s content, and maybe a story scene difference depending upon which enemy character the player kills first. The different difficulty settings do add some lasting appeal, though.

Overall, the original Shining Force Gaiden is a good side-story, given its simple but effective combat system, straightforward structure, good continuation of its story from the original Shining Force, one of the best soundtracks on the Sega CD, the pretty graphics, and different difficulty settings adding some lasting appeal. Granted, it does struggle in areas such as the foresight sometimes necessary in combat, its control, and the translation is inconsistent and contains some portions obviously rushed, such the occasional disparity in the names of characters. Regardless, those who enjoyed the first main entry and are looking to continue its plot will enjoy the gaiden game.

This review is based on a playthrough of Book I of Shining Force CD on Easy difficulty.

The Good:
+Competent tactical gameplay.
+Straightforward structure.
+Good continuation of original Shining Force.
+Probably the best soundtrack on the Sega CD.
+Pretty visuals.
+Different difficulty settings.

The Bad:
-Combat sometimes requires foresight.
-Some interface issues.
-Inconsistent translation.
-Not much lasting appeal.

The Bottom Line:
One of the best RPGs on the Sega CD.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Sega CD
Game Mechanics: 7.5/10
Controls: 6.5/10
Story: 7.5/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 8.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 6.0/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 8-16 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Defense of the Nest

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The third entry of Ramy Vance and Michael Anderle’s Dragon Approved series opens with protagonist Alex Bound pondering her blindness without outside assistance in her dormitory, with the Beholder Manny miffed with Middang3ard creator Myrddin for allowing the girl to see through her bonded dragon Chine, whose vision she sometimes finds to be too much. Her pixie roommate Jollies attempts to comfort her, with the dragon academy students proceeding to the dragon stables, with the draconic entities having extensive description regarding their society. A competitive sky joust occurs towards the end, along with an invasion by the forces of the Dark One that end the novella with a cliffhanger.

All in all, this was another short and sweet story of the Dragon Approved series, with the series continuing to hold my attention. As a disabled reader, I can definitely relate to the protagonist, and the narrative itself is generally linear and straightforward, with no side-stories or unnecessary filler. The description of the dragons’ society somewhat sets the novella apart from others within the fantasy genre, and there are occasional cultural references to movies such as Marvel’s Thor series. The idea of dragonriders certainly isn’t a novel concept, although I would definitely recommend this book and its precursors to those seeking an offbeat fantasy tale.

Monday, April 5, 2021

My Claws Are Quick

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The second entry of P.C. Hatter’s Kaiser Wrench series opens with the eponymous tiger detective receiving money for solving a case, and shortly afterward befriending an Arctic fox initially known as Frost, whom a hyena named James Freely, who works for the antediluvian vulpine Lucius Caron-Grant, antagonizes. Frost’s true identity provides a decent drive to read the book from start to finish, with plenty of action and even a bit of romance throughout the story. Granted, the novella like its precursor would have benefitted from a better editor, given some glaring grammar errors and inconsistent names, but otherwise, I’m definitely not hesitant to recommend this short and sweet mystery.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir

 


One of the last RPGs to release on the Sony PlayStation 2 was developer Vanillaware’s Odin Sphere, which, while receiving positive reception, did garner criticism for issues such as inventory management and slowdown that affected the gameplay. A little under a decade later, they developed a rerelease of the game with improved mechanics, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, releasing it on the PlayStation Vita and PS4, easily being the definitive version of the game, with the differences between it and the original version being a clear as day and night, and proving a worthwhile experience.

The core storyline remains largely the same as in the initial incarnation of Odin Sphere, following the perspectives of five different characters from various walks of life whose paths ultimately intersect as they deal with events that lead to Armageddon, with a heavy Norse influence. The narrative is still well-told, with the primary protagonists being likeable, and the player able to view cutscenes they’ve watched before, perfect for those who wish to see them chronologically. Granted, the narrative still feels somewhat forced down the player’s throat, given the unskippable voiced dialogue during story scenes, and the translation, while solid, still has literal portions like “Demon King Odin.”

The biggest improvements in Leifthrasir are with the gameplay, the different playstyles of the five playable protagonists keeping the experience perpetually fresh still, along with many refinements to the core mechanics. Whereas the original version had separate levels for attack power and health, the upgraded port has singular experience levels for each character, with more stats that increase as allies level. There are still elements from the original incarnation’s gameplay such as the food system, with the consumption of food now increasing standard experience levels whilst increasing maximum health, although there are plentiful other changes such as characters now able to equip three accessories, which now provide increases to defense.

Moreover, while characters in the original Odin Sphere had limits as to how many standard attacks they could chain against enemies given the POW system, all characters, except Mercedes, can now attack endlessly without consumption of stamina, the fairy queen still needing to reload when exhausting her ammunition, although even her offensive style flows more smoothly than before. As each character advances through their storyline, they unlock various active and passive skills, the former consuming either a percentage of their POW meter (which quickly refills when a character isn’t attacking), or Psypher Points, players able to assign four shortcuts for their skills.

Other improvements include the separation of currency used to purchase items from shops and the special coins necessary to purchase food from the Pooka kitchen and cafĂ©, both of which no longer require ingredients to purchase. At rest areas in the levels, the player may be able to summon Maury’s Touring Restaurant, where they can use food ingredients to cook dishes either for instant consumption or takeout, with no money necessary. Generally, the game mechanics work incredibly well, with excessive grinding, at least on the easiest difficult (which is significantly more forgiving than in the original version), hardly necessary, and are a joy to experience.

Even the queen of the dead struggles with anorexia.


Leifthrasir largely maintains the same gameplay structure as the initial incarnation, although the stages have more variety instead of recycling the same chambers. As with before, there’s pretty much no getting lost, given the relative linearity, and inventory space is more generous, players able to store excess items in a box that, after completion of all characters’ chapters, becomes shared among them, and occasional additional inventory space obtained through satchels acquired from the levels. Granted, there is still a bit of inventory management necessary at times, and voiced cutscene dialogue is still unskippable, but otherwise, the game interfaces well with players.

Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata’s soundtrack is as good as it was in the original version, with a number of new tracks, at least one per each of the game’s levels, and the voice acting, though forced down the player’s throat during cutscenes, is above average.

Save for far more diversity in the chambers of each level, the visuals are more or less the same as they were in the original version, the game’s beauty feeling somewhat less superficial, although the visual style still suffers from lazy areas such as leftward and rightward-facing sprites being mirrored and having inconsistent handedness, but otherwise, Leifthrasir is far from an eyesore.

Finally, I managed to clear the rerelease in a little over a day’s worth of playtime, skipping the cutscenes given the relative lack of changes to the narrative, and the trophies and new game mode add plentiful lasting appeal.

Overall, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is definitely one of the more-refined videogame remakes in recent time, given the multitude of improvements to aspects such as its gameplay mechanics, lower emphasis upon inventory management, the narrative still being solid, the excellent soundtrack and voicework, beautiful art direction, and plenty reasons to come back for more. Granted, it still suffers from a few of the same issues that its prior incarnation had, such as the continued unskippability of voiced cutscene dialogue, the at-times-literal localization, and some rushed aspects of the graphics, but otherwise, it’s very much the defining experience of the game.

This review is based on a playthrough on the Easy difficulty setting of a copy digitally downloaded by the reviewer.

The Good:
+Smooth, fast, fun refined combat.
+More generous inventory space.
+Same good story as before.
+Excellent soundtrack with some new tracks.
+Good voice acting.
+Pretty graphics, with more diverse environs.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Cutscene dialogue still unskippable.
-Localization still feels literal at times.
-Some rushed elements of visuals.

The Bottom Line:
The definitive experience of the game.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 10/10
Controls: 9.0/10
Story: 8.5/10
Localization: 8.0/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 7.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 9.5/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 9.0/10

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Ascent to the Nest

 Ascent to the Nest (Dragon Approved #2)


The second entry of Ramy Vance and Michael Anderle’s Dragon Approved series opens with blind protagonist Alex listening to cars go by on her front porch, with a week having elapsed since she had finished the Middang3ard expansion and spoken with the Beholder Manny and game’s creator Myrddin. She is recruited to attend a dragonriders’ school, with the two otherworlders assuring that she will be around peers. They take a ride to the airport, take an airplane to Switzerland, and enter the mysterious otherworld via the Hadron Collider, after which they find themselves in a place called the Wasp’s Nest.

Alex meets the griffin Samara, who gives a tour before her training begins, with some occasional mythos injected such as the indistinguishability of male and female dwarves in Middang3ard. There are other deviations from standard fantasy mythos such as no specific creatures, such as nagas, with Alex meeting a friendly one named Primerose, being black and white. Alex meets the pixie Jollies, who aspires to be a dragonrider as well, and becomes her roommate, with certain dragons specifically tailored for riders belonging to diminutive races. At the end, Alex finds herself paired with the intelligent dragon Chine.

Overall, this was a fairly short and sweet fantasy novella that makes me yearn for more and continue with its many sequels, with each of the authors providing their own notes at the end, Vance wanting to write about dragons in space, and Anderle receiving the opportunity to travel the world due to the financial success of the books. There are some minor similarities to other fantasy stories such as Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, given the focus on dragonriders, although there’s enough distinctiveness to keep the Dragon Approved series fresh, and I’m definitely not hesitant to recommend the second book to those who enjoyed the first.

Fanart for 4/3/2021

 


Hop

 Hop2011Poster.jpg


Tomorrow's Easter, so I figured I'd watch an Easter-themed movie, with this decade-old film, combining live action with animated animals, available on Netflix, about the son of the Easter Bunny who doesn't want to follow his father's footsteps. Actually fairly enjoyable for any age group, and has some notable voice actors such as Hank Azaria, best known from his roles on The Simpsons, as the insurgent chick Carlos, and Huge Laurie (Dr. House) as the Easter Bunny himself.