Friday, December 31, 2021

Final Gaming Update of 2021

Currently Playing

Dust: An Elysian Tail (PlayStation 4) - I had played the iOS version and wanted to play this hi-def, and as it was one of my top personal favorite games, I wanted to see if my previous opinion was warranted, which it still mostly is.

Slime Forest Adventure - A bit of a slog, albeit educationally, and I'm getting up to the thousand-kanji mark.

In My Backlog

Baldur's Gate & Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Editions (Nintendo Switch) - I'll probably sell this back and eventually get the PlayStation 4 version, due to the PS4 giving games more lasting appeal in the form of Trophies.

Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress - Don't know if I'll ever get to this.

Ultima III: Exodus - Likewise.

Commission by Anaboo


The Silent Fleet

The Silent Fleet (The Messenger #4)The Silent Fleet by J.N. Chaney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fifth entry of J.N. Chaney and Terry Maggert’s The Messenger series focuses on protagonist Newton “Dash” Sawyer and his crewmembers continuing to expand the capabilities of the space station Forge, with Dash himself practicing the disability of a Golden missile through his giant mech, the Archetype. The remnants of the projectile he brings aboard the Forge, with one of his allies, the monk Kai, discovering things about the ancient race, the Unseen. When Dash and company seek to go on an excursion, they leave Leira behind to hone her skills, and they visit the planet Orsino, where they enter a pillar-shaped structure and see Unseen print.

Dash eventually receives information about an antediluvian armada, the eponymous Silent Fleet, which could turn the tide of their war against the antagonistic aliens, the Golden, although they need a significant crew to pilot the vessels. The company thus seeks assistance from a group of pirates known as the Gentle Friends, ironically named due to their piratical disposition, spearheaded by Benzel, although they do ultimately agree to help. Shortly afterward, other antagonists called the Bright, led by the Purity Council, attack, and they send calls to the Golden, with a climactic battle against them concluding the fourth entry.

The book is definitely an enjoyable piece of contemporary science-fiction, with plentiful action and development, although there are occasional issues such as errors like the monk Kai called Kay at one point in the story, not to mention similarities to other sci-fi media such as the videogame Xenogears and its spiritual predecessors the Xenosaga trilogy. Regardless, the narrative is definitely a fun, well-paced diversion from the standard norm of the sci-fi genre, given its well-described battles and background, with the conclusion leaving plenty more to come, and I would definitely recommend it to like-minded readers of such literature.

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Back to the Outback


Australian animated film on Netflix about several indigenous animals in captivity that yearn to travel to and live in the country's outback. Had plenty of good moments and a few good twists or two, maybe one gross moment, but I still fairly enjoyed it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Pokémon Shining Pearl


A Shining Pearl among Pokéremakes

When I got my Nintendo DS as a Christmas gift back in 2006, one of my aims was to experience Nintendo’s beloved Pokémon series, which before then I had yet to experience, and thus dove into the franchise via the Diamond/Pearl generation. I did somewhat enjoy what time I spent with it, although there were various issues that to me prevented it from truly excellent. As remakes would be a tradition for the series, developer Game Freak would during the Nintendo Switch era produce full rereleases of the two games, Brilliant Diamond and the iteration I experienced, Pokémon Shining Pearl, which features many improvements over its precursors.

As with prior Pokémon titles, the player can name and customize their protagonist, afterward beginning in a small village from which he or she travels to record all wild Pokémon in the Pokédex a professor grants them, dealing with the ambitions of the sinister Team Galactic along the way and ending with the challenge of Pokémon combat’s Elite Four and the Champion that ranks above them. There’s some good backstory, although there are repeated tropes such as the rivalry with the main character’s best friend, and Team Galactic is a bit too similar to Team Rocket, and once you’ve experienced one game’s plot, you’ve experienced them all. The translation is definitely legible and free of spelling and grammar errors, but there is a bit of a Japanese feel such as the titles prefacing the names of NPC opponents, and some stylistic issues such as the use of “OK” instead of “okay.”

That leaves the gameplay to shoulder the burden, and happily, Shining Pearl does a good job in this area and is overall an improvement over the original version’s mechanics. The combat mechanisms function much the same as in other entries of the series, although much akin to the original generation, fights with wild Pokémon are still random in areas such as tall grass and caves, the player able to nullify encounters with lower-level ones with different types of repellant spray. As in RPGs in general, moreover, the random number gods can often be cruel in terms of encounters with specific Pokémon, especially if players fudge their chance to capture certain rare ones.

When beginning a wild encounter, the player has a number of available options such as attacking with the Pokémon leading their party of up to six, or attempting to capture the adversary via one of several different types of Pokéballs, although at the outset doing so with only Quick Balls is advisable since they have the best chance of acquisition when commencing one of said engagements. Normally, weakening the opponent as much as possible guarantees the highest chance of capture when utilizing other types of Pokéballs, although one can find it difficult to do so without accidentally killing the opponent Pokémon. Trying to capture foes once again can invoke the cruelty of the random number gods.

If the player wishes to battle, each Pokémon can have up to four abilities of different types and effects, with a roshambo formula where certain abilities are super-effective against certain enemy types, standardly effective, not very effective, or with no effect against others. This naturally adds a layer of strategy to combat, necessitating that the player forms their party carefully, usually with a mix of different Pokémon types, with many possibly having up to two different elements. One major improvement over the original generation is that if a player has previously killed or captured a certain Pokémon, the game indicates the effect moves will have against the enemy.

Another significant superiority to the initial generation is that offing an enemy Pokémon (in addition to capturing one) nets all of the player’s party not fainted experience for occasional level-ups, in which case their stats increase and they may receive the opportunity to learn a new ability, with the chance to replace a current one if at the max of four. This makes raising even weaker Pokémon easier as they don’t have to actively face the enemy to obtain experience, although those that personally face the enemy obtain the bulk of experience.

To obtain money for purchasing new goods such as healing items, the player must face NPC Pokémon trainers in between towns and in caves, having to pay a monetary penalty if they lose. A certain accessory any Pokémon can equip doubles the amount of cash obtained from these battles, and later in the game, the player gains a Pokétech Watch application that can allow them to reface these NPCs in combat. When these nonplayer trainers are close to one another, the player might have to face up to two at once, in which case the Pokémon leading the player’s roster go into battle, with the protagonist able to swap them out during their turn.

However, swapping a Pokémon consumes the player’s turn and makes it vulnerable to the opponent’s attacks, a step down from the superior systems in other RPGs such as Final Fantasy XBreath of Fire IV, and Wild Arms 2. The endgame where the player has to face four champion trainers and their leader can also be irksome given the inability to back out and that if they lose against them, that have to reface them from the beginning, although luckily, players keep whatever experience they obtained at the time. The game mechanics generally work well in spite of their flaws, making the gameplay experience of the series significantly more accessible than in prior titles.

Shining Pearl also interacts well with players, with easy menus and an always-convenient save-anywhere (except in the middle of battle) feature, along with a message below the menu options providing clear direction on where to go next to advance the central storyline. The Pokétech Watch the player eventually acquires also allows them later on to revisit previous towns with the Fly Hidden Move, players no longer needing to make their Pokémon learn these skills in order to use them, although one can potentially overlook certain things without the assistance of the internet. Regardless, interaction is well above average.

The soundtrack is one of the game’s highlights, with plenty of catchy music on the routes in between towns and rockin’ battle themes, along with distinct cries for the various Pokémon. The sound effects are good as well, and the near-death alarm when a Pokémon reaches critical health is significantly less annoying than in the original version, dinging only thrice to indicate low HP. Generally, the rerelease is an aural delight.

Shining Pearl looks the part, as well, with the original incarnation’s chibi sprites remade in three dimensions, although battles render the various characters in more anatomically-correct proportions, with endless gorgeous Pokémon designs that don’t have any reskins whatsoever. The environments are pretty as well, with vibrant colors and minimal jaggies and pixilated textures, although there are minor issues with the indirect contact of Pokémon in battle when executing moves against one another. Regardless, the graphics are some of the strongest on the Nintendo Switch.

Finally, the game can last players a while, with half-decent replay value in the form of significant postgame content and catching all Pokémon, although a guide may be necessary to do so, alongside the divergent incarnations of the same game, slight in-game hell, and the various things that seem to add a few unnecessary hours to the game such as unskippable battle text (although turning off Pokémon battle animations can lessen the padding a little).

In summation, Pokémon Shining Pearl is very much what a remake should be, given the drastically-increased accessibility of the core game mechanics, tight control with clear direction on how to advance, the superb soundtrack, and the polished graphics. There are issues, however, that mainstream gamers need to consider before purchase such as the irritating in-game, the ability to overlook certain things without referencing the internet, the generic Pokémon plot, and the lack of refinement regarding the localization. Regardless, I firmly believe that if the remakes indicate the direction in which the series is headed, it very much has a bright future.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy borrowed by the reviewer to the standard ending.

The Good:
+Easier to raise Pokémon than in original generation.
+Good control with decent direction.
+Great soundtrack.
+Polished graphics.

The Bad:
-Somewhat irksome endgame.
-A few things easy to overlook without a guide.
-Typical Pokémon plot.
-Localization lacks polish.

The Bottom Line:
More accessible than the original version.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 8.0/10
Controls: 8.0/10
Story: 6.5/10
Localization: 6.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 9.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 6.5/10
Difficulty: Variable
Playing Time: 30-60 Hours

Overall: 8.0/10

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Commission by Panda-Jenn (Not My Art)


Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Marvel Cinematic Universe series that focuses on the eponymous organization, primarily focusing on Phil Coulson, who occasionally appears in the films, that deals with various worldwide threats such as the antagonistic Hydra organization. I found it largely enjoyable though it steeps at some points in human interest.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The Dragon Reborn

The Dragon Reborn (The Wheel of Time, #3)The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The prologue of the third main Wheel of Time novel focuses on the Children of Light, who hear stories about Rand al’Thor proclaiming himself to be the Dragon Reborn, with the Myrddraal manipulating them. The main chapters open with the same motif of wind like the book’s predecessors, with Perrin Aybara being among Shienarans, and a girl named Leya seeking the Aes Sedai Moiraine in the camp of the Dragon. The tainted masculine half of the One Power, the saidin, continues to tug at Rand, which could potentially attract the Myrddraal to his location.

Sure enough, Trollocs attack the camp, with Perrin’s lupine allies helping repel them, suffering casualties, Perrin wishing the wolves buried among the human deceased instead of harvested for pelts. Rand leaves the camp to spread word of his coming, fearing the Dark One is hunting him and that the seals at Shayol Ghul are weakening. Rand’s ultimate goal is to make it to Tear to take control of an enigmatic sword known as Callandor stored in the Heart of the Stone, and stops in a village called Jarra along the way, performing for a wedding.

Egwene al’Vere yearns to go to the White Tower at Tar Valon for training as an Aes Sedai, where rumors of the Black Ajah abound, and Darkfriends infiltrate. Although the Amyrlin Seat wishes Egwene and her fellow trainee Elayne to hunt Liandrin, a potential member of the Black Ajah, the two trainees fear being stilled, and hear of the Soulless, the Gray Men, who sacrifice their souls to serve the Dark One as assassins. Mat Cauthon is recovering from recent injuries at the White Tower, with several in the Aes Sedai headquarters visiting him in his unconsciousness and coming-to.

Dreams among various characters abound of Rand reaching for the crystal sword Callandor in the Heart of the Stone in Tear, with said confederates of the Dragon Reborn ultimately making it their destination as well, rare updates of Rand’s progress given throughout the story. A conflict with one of the Forsaken erupts at said location, the third entry of Robert Jordan’s magnum opus ending satisfactorily with plenty plot to come in future installments, though he again obviously had influence by the Star Wars franchise, and viewpoint characters in different locations sometimes shift within chapters instead of having clear segregation.

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Saturday, December 25, 2021

Annabelle's Wish


Christmas film about a boy named Billy who lost his parents prematurely, consequentially went mute, and lives with his grandfather, although one of his aunts seeks to gain custody of him. Meanwhile, the eponymous calf is born, and Santa Claus gives her and the other barnyard animals the gift of speech during Christmas, with Annabelle yearning to fly like Santa's reindeer. There are some decent twists throughout the special, and it's definitely one of my favorites, although as with most animated Christmas specials, artistic license is taken with reindeer, which in reality have moose-like snouts rather than button noses.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Tails of Iron: Crimson Knight Edition


Ratsylvania: War of the Vermin

Three students from the Norwich University of the Arts in Britain founded the Manchester, United Kingdom-based game development studio Odd Bug Studio, with its first title being the 2017-released PlayStation VR game The Lost Bear. Two years later, the developer, under the publishing moniker United Label, began development of the multiplatform RPG Tails of Iron, which would see its release in 2021. As has been a habit with most major videogame releases, United Label would unleash an upgraded version of the game with additional content, Tails of Iron: Crimson Knight Edition, and afterward release a patch with a more casual difficulty, certainly a decider in my decision to purchase and play the game, but was it worth it?

Animals with some semblance of intelligence form the cast of Tails of Iron, with the plot’s primary focus being on Redgi, heir to the Rat Throne, who must restore his shattered Kingdom by vanquishing the Frog Clan and their despotic leader, Greenwart, meeting many colorful characters during his quest. The game interestingly tells its story, with the animal characters not having actual dialogue, but rather pictographic speech bubbles that narrate various actions, locales, luminaries, and the like, with the common translation by the narrator, which is why I said the characters have “some semblance” of intellect. The narrative style works well for the most part, although there are occasional oddities such as alternate reference to one of Redgi’s brothers as “the Chef” or “Chef,” the latter bringing to mind the South Park character.

Fortunately, the gameplay serves Tails of Iron well, with plentiful inspiration from the Soulsborne subgenre of roleplaying games, although mercifully, especially on the easiest Fairy Tail difficulty, it doesn’t bequeath the negative elements of its brethren. That the action occurs in two rather than three dimensions certainly helps, with Redgi outfittable with a singlehanded weapon, a shield, armor, a two-handed weapon usable in combat and clearing away thick debris in environments, and different types of ranged weapons helpful to off aerial foes. Redgi executes his single-handed weapon attack with the R1 button, and can block with L2, with enemies luckily and most of the time giving indicators as to what kind of attacks they’re about to execute so that the rodent prince can react in kind.

Redgi also carries a bottle of bug juice that can restore his health, with plentiful dispensers of the beverage present throughout the various areas. He can also lace his equipped weapon with poison for heightened damage against enemies, with more venom initially available to purchase in shops, although later on there come vials where he can replenish his supply. At his castle, moreover, players can use ingredients to cook recipes that increase his maximum health or give the blacksmith blueprints for new weapons and armor, with the opportunity to equip what results or send it to storage, weight and resistance to certain adversarial types warranting consideration before outfitting Redgi with new gear.

The game mechanics work surprisingly well, with minimal wasted playtime given the frequent presence of benches where Redgi can sit to record the player’s progress, with the selectable difficulty levels certainly accommodating towards players of different skill levels, from more casual gamers to those looking for a challenge on par with those of the Soulsborne subgenre. Even the endgame of Tails of Iron is fair, with the final boss of the main storyline potentially being a quick affair, and genuinely cheap adversaries are minimal at best. There really isn’t much of which to complain in terms of the gameplay, which in the end is certain to please even the most unpleasable player.

Control serves the game just as well, one of the most useful features being the in-game maps of Tails of Iron that show where the player currently is and where they need to travel next to advance the primary storyline and even a few sidequests, some of which are necessary to continue the central plot. When finding new equipment, moreover, the player has the chance to equip it or send it to storage, with boxes containing excess gear luckily and magically connected and players needing not memorize where they sent certain gear and thus take forever to recover it. Given the sidescrolling exploration and combat, the game also has a bit of a Metroidvania flair, which definitely isn’t a bad thing. Pretty much the only major issues regard the in-game clock, which players can only see when loading a save, and which is also somewhat slow, but otherwise, interaction is well above average.

The aurals also have many things going for them, such as good music with strong instrumentation, great sound effects, and a general good ambience, although the reliance on ambience is perhaps and admittedly the weakest link of Tails of Iron. However, the character “voices” in the form of flat-tone flute sounds one can consider slightly adorable, and the coherent English narration definitely help the sound aspect, so things could have definitely been worse.

The visuals, however, are another high point in the game, with a gorgeous two-dimensional hand-drawn style consisting of pretty environments and beautiful character and enemy sprites, all with vibrant hues. There are some nice touches as well such as enemy sprites becoming more bloodied when close to death, and aside from some loading for the graphics, Tails of Iron is visual candy, very smooth even on a PlayStation 4.

Finally, the game isn’t a lengthy experience, with playtime ranging from four to eight hours depending upon whether the player wants to acquire every achievement or partake in post-game content.

Ultimately, coming from someone who doesn’t care much for games of the Soulsborne subgenre of RPGs, Tails of Iron was definitely a welcome surprise, given the accommodation of different gamer skill levels with its two-dimensional gameplay, the tight control, well-told storyline, nice ambience, superb graphics, and significant degree of lasting appeal. There are only a few negligible issues regarding the general lack of memorable music and nitpicks with the game clock, but the game is very easily one of the strongest releases of 2021, and is worth a purchase and/or download regardless of what platform the player desires.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy purchased by the reviewer to the standard ending, with 72% of Trophies obtained.

The Good:
+Great sidescrolling combat with different difficulty settings.
+Clear direction on how to advance main plot and sidequests.
+Great story interestingly told.
+Superb two-dimensional visuals.
+Short and sweet with plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Game clock somewhat slow.
-Sound a bit reliant on ambience.

The Bottom Line:
One of the best releases of 2021.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 10/10
Controls: 9.5/10
Story: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.0/10
Graphics: 9.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 4-8 Hours

Overall: 10/10

Christmas Art 2021


The Matrix Resurrections

  The Matrix Resurrections.jpg 

Often feels like a retread of the first film in the series, but has some pretty good action and effects.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Star Forged

 Star Forged (The Messenger #3)

Star Forged by J.N. Chaney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third book of authors J.N. Chaney and Terry Maggert’s The Messenger series opens with the crew of the Slipwing traversing a jungle on the planet Gulch en route to an Unseen outpost where they can supposedly find a power core for the Archetype, although natives of the planet briefly capture them. A woman known as Freya receives her introduction, as does Ragsdale, who serves as Chief of Security and advisor to Governor Khyber Wallis. Most of the book’s action occurs in the wreckage of a ship from the hostile alien race, the Golden.

However, creatures known as the Dreadfoot pose a threat while Dash and company scour the crashed vessel for information, with the ship showing signs of being self-aware, and Dash finds himself able to sync with the starship through a process known as the Meld. When they find a corpse of one of the Golden, they seek to bring it with them, although the vessel gradually comes online, and Golden bots impede their progress. One of the crewmembers of the Slipwing becomes grievously injured, with the ship’s medical system necessary for healing, the action concluding at a hospital.

Overall, the third book of the science-fiction series is enjoyable like its predecessors, given plenty of sci-fi action and elaborated mythos on the antagonistic Golden, with the authors doing a nice job as well of having a good percentage of the action occurring on the wreckage of one of the alien vessels. However, there are a few issues such as inconsistent capitalization of things such as the word “the” before terms such as “the Forge” (alternatively called “The Forge”), and there are a few minor errors such as a misuse of “it’s” when “its” would have been appropriate. Regardless, the good outweighs the bad, and I would recommend this story to those who enjoyed its precursors.

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Saturday, December 18, 2021

Semi-Weekly Art by Me, 12/18/2021


The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time, #2)The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first sequel of the late Robert Jordan’s main Wheel of Time series opens with a prologue centering on a masked man named Bors and his followers, where the repetition of “the main who called himself” is somewhat unnecessary. Bors hosts guests from many nations in the known world, among them being Aes Sedai, Trollocs, and Myrddraal, owing allegiance to the Dark One. Ba’alzamon and others in the meantime are at the foot of Shayol Ghul, and news abounds of a boy with a heron-marked blade destined to become the Dragon Reborn and his companions, with Bors making Tarabon and the Almoth Plain his targets.

When the main chapters open with the same motif Jordan and his successor Brandon Sanderson use, the wind rises in the Mountains of Dhoom, blows southward across the tangled forest of the Great Blight, tainted by the Dark One’s touch, and reaches the walled town of Fal Dara, ending atop the tower of a great fortress where the Warder Lan instructs Rand in the art of swordsmanship. The leader of the Aes Sedai, the Amyrlin Seat, comes to the city, with Rand thinking he is a target, given that he attempted to channel the One Power whose masculine half the Dark One tainted eons ago.

The city gates are sealed with the Amyrlin’s arrival, with events across the world raging such as false Dragons ravaging the land in Saldaea, Murandy, and Tear, and street riots occurring in Caemlyn in Andor. Meanwhile, Lady Elayne has safely arrived in Tar Valon to commence her instruction as an Accepted, with Moiraine Sedai further presenting Egwene and Nynaeve as candidates to learn the ways of magic. Rand is still believed to be the true Dragon Reborn, and in a dream fends off a Trolloc with his companions Mat and Perrin whilst in a farmhouse, Padan Fain, Ba’alzamon, and Black Ajah with them.

Most of the first sequel’s action revolves around the stolen Horn of Valere, said to bring long-deceased heroes back to fight for good, and Rand ultimately departs with Ingtar to seek the MacGuffin. Portal Stones occasionally teleport Rand and company, who eventually cross paths with a woman named Selene, who too seeks the Horn, and wants to go back home, although beasts known as the grolm delay her plans. In the meantime, Egwene and Nynaeve train with the Amyrlin seat aboard the River Queen whilst fearing Rand to be in danger, the latter accepted into the White Tower after a series of tests.

Rand soon finds himself in the company of Loial the Ogier and Hurin, a tracker, finding their way to a man named Barthanes Damodred. A royal succession war is also imminent, and the sequel introduces new adversaries known as sul’dam, Holders of the Leash, who use cuff-and-collar pairs known as a’dam to shackle Aes Sedai, who enslaved are known as damane, with sul’dam able to sense One Power users within ten miles. The search for the Horn of Valere and a tainted dagger intensifies late in the book in a conflict centered around a location known as Tomon Head.

Overall, the first Wheel of Time sequel is very much on par with its predecessor, and while there are dozens of characters, it’s not terribly troublesome to keep track of them, and the series effectively weaves some of its own mythos, given things such as the unique terms involving the enslavement of the magical Aes Sedai. As with before, however, the late author seemed to be a fan of the Star Wars cinematic franchise, given the enigmatic One Power and its light and dark sides, although those who enjoyed The Eye of the World will most likely enjoy The Great Hunt.

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The Matrix Revolutions

The final battle between the humans of Zion and the machines that have enslaved them for some time. Pretty good action and effects, although the conclusion feels somewhat Pyrrhic.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Semi-Weekly Art by Me, 12/11/2021


The Matrix Reloaded

 Poster - The Matrix Reloaded.jpg

Machines are due to reach the real-life human settlement of Zion in seventy-two hours, and it's up to Neo to battle the forces within and without the Matrix to stand a chance of survival. Largely on par with the first film, and despite having seen Reloaded in the theaters when it first premiered, I ironically haven't seen Revolutions at all, ironic given that the first Matrix sequel ends with a cliffhanger.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Commission by Dawgweazle (Not My Art)


Commission by Vizelius (Not My Art)


The Dark Between

The Dark Between (The Messenger #2)The Dark Between by J.N. Chaney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second entry of J.N. Chaney and Terry Maggert’s The Messenger series opens with protagonist Dash Sawyer aboard the space station Passage, where his ship the Slipwing and mech Archetype are, with an introduction to Leira’s mechanic cousin, Amy Anson, who agrees to repair Dash’s vessel on an IOU. The crew agrees to fly to the Archetype’s place of origin, a space station known as the Forge, whose security system activates once the Slipwing approaches it, although they do make it aboard and explore. There they learn about the eponymous Dark Between, between real space and unSpace.

Dash seeks power cores to increase the strength of the Archetype, having one, although he learns that the Forge cannot produce them, and the space station eventually finds itself under attack by alien vessels, with forewarning of more attacks, and a level two power core deemed necessary to withstand another assault, expected within three days. Dash and his companions debate on how to proceed, and ultimately proceed to planet Shylock, where they find an order of monks that expected the coming of the Messenger, and many of them, spearheaded by Kai, join the crew of the Slipwing.

Battle and its aftermath conclude the events of the book, which is overall just as satisfying as the first one, sure to please fans of science-fiction and even similarly-themed videogames such as Xenogears and Xenosaga, not to mention anime such as Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Granted, the second entry like its precursor seem somewhat derivative of said franchises outside literature, and while characters such as Conover receive good development and even a bit of backstory, luminaries such as crewmember Viktor somewhat seem to lack depth. Regardless, those who liked the first story in the series will most likely enjoy the second.

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Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time, #1)The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first main entry of the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time saga opens with a prologue occurring a long time before the chief chapters, and likely before the prequel novel New Spring, where Lews Therin Telamon, titled the Lord of the Morning, once wore the Ring of Tamyrlin, sat in the High Seat, summoned the Nine Rods of Dominion, and is negatively termed Kinslayer, wanders a palace seeking his love Ilyena. A black-cloaked figure who used to be Elan Morin Tedronai, defeated at the Gates of Paaran Disen, and is termed the Betrayer of Hope, converses with Lews, who is immolated when he attempts to channel the tainted saidin, the male half of the True Source.

In a motif repeated at the beginning of the main chapters of all subsequent Wheel of Time books, the eponymous metaphorical clock turns, and wind flows, in the first entry’s case through the Mountains of Mist, blowing past protagonist Rand al’Thor, a sheepherder and the son of Tam al’Thor, who treks towards his hometown of Emond’s Field, with a strange rider keeping an eye on him and playing part in latter chapters. Several important characters receive their introductions, including Mayor Bran al’Vere’s daughter Egwene; Nynaeve al’Meara, the young village Wisdom; Matrim “Mat” Cauthon, who played a prank on a villager’s dogs; and blacksmith apprentice Perrin Aybara.

The Village Council of Emond’s Field is somewhat worried at the coming of the Aes Sedai sorceress Moiraine along with her Warder Lan. A gleeman named Thom Merrilin comes too for village celebrations, with the mentioned black-cloaked rider sought after, during which demons known as Trollocs attack Emond’s Field, with Rand’s father injured in the process. Rand ultimately makes it a point to leave his hometown with several of his friends, the Aes Sedai, and her Warder, with Egwene along the way proposed to be a sorceress too, the magical order’s headquarters at Tar Valon made the party’s primary destination.

Lan further trains Perrin and Rand in the art of swordsmanship, and break from their journey at the Stag and Lion inn within the city of Baerlon. Rand regularly has dreams of the demon Ba’alzamon, receiving the warning that the Amyrlin Seat, the leader of the Aes Sedai, will allegedly use him. Children of the Light, termed Whitecloaks, on regular witch-hunts for Darkfriends, supporters of the Dark One, also occasionally harass the characters, with their leader, Lord Bornhald, interrogating Rand and Mat. Despite these interruptions, the party continues to the abandoned sylvan city of Shadar Logoth, aiming to get across a river so that Trollocs will stop pursuing them.

Encounters with the Trollocs ultimately separate the companions, with a battle on a ship called the Spray occurring, and Rand and Mat becoming its newest passengers to the chagrin of Captain Bayle Domon. Nynaeve, in the meantime, is with Moiraine and Lan, with Perrin and Egwene traveling with vagrants known as the Tuatha’an, or the Tinkers, Perrin receiving bondage to the wolves that plays part in later entries in the epic fantasy franchise. Several events occur in the city of Whitebridge, with The Queen’s Blessing in the city of Caemlyn Rand and Mat’s new destination at Thom’s insistence, the gleeman separating from the party too.

The false Dragon Reborn Logain, a troublemaker of sorts, has also been apprehended and brought to Caemlyn, with Rand and Mat yearning to meet him. They also meet an Ogier named Loial, son of Arent, son of Halan, ninety years young in the city, with its citizens further divided into support or opposition towards the current monarch, Queen Morgase. Desperate to meet the false Dragon, Rand climbs the walls outside the royal palace, being discovered but still brought before the Queen, who has an advisor in the Aes Sedai Elaida. The companions soon reunite, with the book’s eponymous Eye of the World made their new destination, the Dark One allegedly wanting to “blind” it.

The first entry concludes with a journey via Waygate to the wastelands where the Eye exists, and a battle at the location that receives a tie-in to the series’ first sequel. Overall, the inaugural Wheel of Time book is an enjoyable read, with good characters and plenty of fantastical beauty in the author’s writing style. Jordan was obviously a fan of the Star Wars franchise, given the nods such as the One Power, which has light and dark sides, but despite this derivation, the initial entry of the epic fantasy series definitely warrants a read from fantasy aficionados.

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The Matrix

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Watched this on HBOMax in prep for the new Matrix film coming out later this month. A bit of an unintentional period piece, given some of the technology, but I generally enjoyed it.