Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Last Druid

The Last Druid (The Fall of Shannara #4)The Last Druid by Terry Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fourth and final entry of author Terry Brooks’ The Fall of Shannara tetralogy, also the grand finale to his literary universe, continues where its precursor left off, with Tarsha Kaynin using magic to become corporeal again, with the fate of her brother Tavo settled. She reunites with Drisker Arc, converses with the shade of Parlindru, and returns to Emberen, seeking magic books. Drisker himself falls victim to a trap set up by the rogue Druid Clizia Porse, becoming entrapped in the Forbidding and fearing that she’ll bring out the long-lost Ilse Witch, Grianne Ohmsford herself being the key to escape from the world.

Drisker encounters an Ulk Bog named Weka Dart, with whom he shares a meal only to become sick as a result, with Weka Dart himself fearing a plot to overthrow his mistress Grianne, the Straken Queen. While sick, Drisker has a vision of the shade of the long-deceased Allanon, who wants him to ordain Tarsha as a Druid once he escapes the Forbidding. Grianne ultimately enters the scene and heals Drisker, and notes that an ancient artifact known as the darkwand holds the key to escaping the dark world, the staff itself allegedly within an old fortress in the void.

Meanwhile, the forest imp Flinc offers to show Tarsha magic books, with the fledgling Druid herself wishing to go to Paranor for further research, finding a drawing showing a way into the Keep, although Flinc himself would be unable to enter due to not being one. She encounters the Guardian of the Keep, which refrains from attacking her, and finds a secret chamber with the Druid Histories, becoming entrapped in said room for some time. In the meantime, Belladrin Rish, aide to Federation Prime Minister Ketter Vause, seeks negotiation with the Dwarves and wants the government to continue.

The Skaar princess Ajin also seeks reconciliation with her mother, with her father ostracizing her, and several important events including the weather machine Annabelle prove key in the final moments of the Shannara series, which overall ends on a good note, given many interesting, well-developed characters, decent action, and a few political overtones. However, there were some things I had a bit of trouble still visualizing such as the features of the various characters and nonhuman entities such as Weka Dart, but those who enjoyed the book's predecessors and prequel series will definitely find this a satisfying conclusion to the fantasy saga.

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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

 Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness poster.jpg

Like Spider-Man: No Way Home explores the concept of alternate Marvel universes, with a few surprises that might or might not have been spoiled for certain individuals, given some familiar faces from the various Marvel Comics franchises.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Commission by AJFurryAdoptables (Not My Art)


 I plan on using this as a wallpaper for July since the three countries' national holidays are that month.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Shin Megami Tensei V

To Nahobino Be the Glory

Atlus’s Megami Tensei series has in recent years become one of my favorite Japanese roleplaying game franchises, having successfully broken out of its niche to become more accessible to those who would normally not enjoy games of its kind, given features such as strategic gameplay coupled with occasional features to stave off frustration such as adjustable difficulty settings. Thus, with high expectations I dove into the fifth mainline entry of the primary series, Shin Megami Tensei V on the Nintendo Switch, which continues to bring the franchise forward with old and new features alike, delivering another enjoyable title among the flagship Atlus games.

The narrative opens with a Japanese high schooler whom the player names experiencing doomsday, saved from death by a godly being known as the Aogami and fusing with him to become the Nahobino. The plot is generally enjoyable, with plenty of mature themes, religious overtones, nice backstory, and occasional philosophical choices that customize the ending, although there are plenty similarities to the plots of previous Shin Megami Tensei titles, such as the clash between law and chaos and the general apocalyptic focus. The translation mercifully doesn’t mar the story, with Atlus doing things such as not keeping Japanese honorifics untranslated, but there are occasional stylistic oddities with regards to demon negotiation dialogue and the off-lip movement during cutscenes.

Luckily, enjoyable mechanics back up the fifth entry, with many elements returning from prior titles such as demon negotiation requiring money, various consumables, and sometimes the Nahobino’s health and magic points, and enemies rarely, if ever, flake out on negotiation aside from “incorrect” answers during the initial phases of intercession. The Press-Turn Icon system from Nocturne onward returns as well, with the exploitation of enemy weaknesses (which the game luckily records during subsequent encounters with the same demons) only consuming half of one of up to four of the player’s Icons, whereas foes nullifying attacks consumes two, and using abilities that heal enemies or reflect back at the player instantly ends their turn session (the same rules applying to opponents).

A major new feature in Shin Megami Tensei V is the use of Essences gained from demons or gold treasure orbs to adjust the strengths and weaknesses of the Nahobino or one of his demons, or customize their skill setups, with a potential maximum of eight abilities. Increasing ability slots from the default of four for both the Nahobino and his demons requires the acquisition of Miracles (replacing Apps from the fourth mainline game and its direct sequel) through Glory gained from finding Miman, where acquiring a certain number grants him bonuses at the shop accessible from any save fount, or from special silver orbs, which are a more significant source.

The player unlocks new Miracles by defeating reddish weblike entities that obscure their view of the in-game maps for the various overworlds, which in turn remove said visual obstruction. There are four types of Miracles, some which can enhance demon negotiation, for instance, giving the player a free pass if they in any way screw up said intercession. Others can expand the player’s maximum demon stock (though as I constantly fused whichever demons I obtained, I didn’t have much use for an increased number of maximum allies), or grant bonuses to the use of different ability types such as the various magical elements, stat increasing/decreasing skills, or physical attacks/abilities.

Demon fusing does indeed return, with players able to perform standard fusions of two demons to create a new one, which I regularly accomplished to discover new demons, or perform special fusions for want of defeated bosses in their party that in many cases require more than two demons. As demons gain levels and acquire increased stats and new skills, the player can register them in the returning Demon Compendium for latter resummoning at the price of Macca gained from completing quests, gold treasure orbs, or from combat in the form of winning the battle or occasionally conversing with a demon that’s in their party at the time.

One handy feature new to the fifth game is “reverse fusion” where players can see fusable demons from those in their party and/or those from which they’ve registered in the Compendium, which will satisfy completionists seeking to fill the in-game register. Given this and the gameplay’s myriad of features, including a more-than-casual difficulty as free downloadable content, it very well shines, retaining the strategic gameplay of its predecessors whilst accommodating players of different skill levels. Pretty much the only real hiccup is the possibility to waste money and items trying to recruit demons that are above the Nahobino’s current level, but otherwise, there’s little, if anything, of which to complain.

Control is just as solid, with the aforementioned quality-of-life features during demon fusion being a definite boon, alongside the ability to sort possible fusions by different categories such as cost. The general game interface is easily navigable as well, with shopping being nonproblematic and movement control on the overworld and in dungeons faring smoothly, alongside features such as the ability to teleport instantly back to the last save fount and a shortcut to using healing magic to bring the player’s party back to full health, provided the necessary recovery skills are available. There are a few issues such as the irritating level design at times, the ability to view playtime only when recording progress, and unskippable text during many voiced cutscenes (though these are most of the time both pausable and skippable), but generally, Shin Megami Tensei V interacts well with players.

The aforementioned voicework is mostly solid in spite of some irritating performances mainly among the demons with whom the Nahobino interacts, and while there is some good music mainly in battle, most of the soundtrack is relatively bland and often too ambient.

The graphics look decent, with good character and demon designs minus any reskins, nice colors that very well convey the game’s post-doomsday disposition, vivid effects in combat especially prominent when demons meet their ends, lip movement during voiced scenes, and a dodge animation on part of the Nahobino’s allies that looks significantly less asinine than in other of the franchise’s entries within and without the primary Shin Megami Tensei subseries. There are some technical issues such as jaggies prominent in many games with three-dimensional visuals, some choppiness, plentiful environmental popup, and poor collision detection, but otherwise, the visuals are hardly an eyesore.

Finally, the fifth game is fairly shorter than its predecessors (with my final playtime somewhere around thirty-four hours), although there’s sizeable lasting appeal in the form of sidequests, completing the Demon Compendium, different story decisions, and a New Game+ where players can carry over elements from prior playthroughs, although akin to other Nintendo Switch games, there isn’t any tracking of achievements like Trophies for PlayStation games.

On the whole, Shin Megami Tensei V is another great addition to its franchise, given its solid mechanics appealing to different kinds of players, general user-friendliness, philosophical choices determining the ending, and solid localization expectant from a company like Atlus. It does have flaws preventing it from achieving excellence such as the level design at points, the story’s similarities to those of prior mainline titles, the relative forgetfulness of the soundtrack, and the technical issues with the graphics, although it’s definitely another feather in the cap of a series whose quality has, for the most part, especially during the past decade, been mostly consistent, in other words, well above average.

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

The Good:
+Solid mechanics with adjustable difficulty.
+Tight control with clear direction.
+Different narrative decisions.
+Polished localization.

The Bad:
-Some annoying level designs.
-Story similar to previous series entries.
-Music a bit bland.
-Many technical hiccups with the visuals.

The Bottom Line:
Another enjoyable entry of the franchise.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 9.5/10
Controls: 9.0/10
Story: 7.5/10
Localization: 8.5/10
Music/Sound: 7.5/10
Graphics: 8.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 9.5/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 24-48 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

Saturday, June 18, 2022


Inheritance (The Inheritance Cycle, #4)Inheritance by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

***Spoiler Alert***

Author Christopher Paolini dedicates the final entry of his Inheritance Cycle to his family, not to mention the dreamers and artists that made possible his literary adventure. As with prior sequels, he opens with plot synopses of its predecessors, although he precedes the summaries of Eragon and its successors with a history of the books’ world, Alagaësia. The first inhabitants of the world were dragons, before the god Helzvog created the dwarves, who warred with the fantasy reptiles. Then the elves came into being, and they made a truce with the dragons, creating the legendary order of Dragon Riders.

Humans, Urgals, and Ra’zac followed, with a Dragon Rider named Galbatorix enslaving the dragon Shruikan and convincing thirteen others, known as the Forsworn, to join him, and decimates the Dragon Rider order. The insurgent Varden steal from him a blue dragon egg and hide it in a mountain range known as the Spine, with a young farmboy named Eragon finding it, and soon receiving a blue dragon he names Saphira. Eragon and his mentor, the storyteller Brom, who he later finds out is his father, joins them, as does Murtagh, son of Morzan, one of the Forsaken, who is Eragon’s half-brother through their mother Selena.

After a battle between the Varden and the Empire in the Beor Mountains, Ajihad, leader of the Varden, is killed, and Murtagh captured, with Eragon beckoned to the northern elven woods by a voice, and he trains for forthcoming battles there. Meanwhile, Eragon’s cousin Roran deals with issues back at home in Carvahall, namely the Ra’zac, with he and his fellow citizens embarking on an odyssey that ultimately leads them to unite with the Varden. Other battles follow, during which Eragon creates a new sword with the help of an elven blacksmith he names Brisingr, and after a fight in which another mentor, Oromis, loses his dragon Glaedr, the events of the fourth book commence.

The concluding entry opens with Eragon, Saphira, and the Varden engaged in a battle over the city of Belatona. Alliance with the Werecats is discussed, as are King Galbatorix’s potential weaknesses, supposedly the gaps in his logic and magical wards. A woman among the Varden has a baby born with a “cat lip,” which is likely equivalent to real-life harelips, with Eragon tasked with healing the infant. Battle comes to Dras-Leona, with the Varden enduring a few crises, and Eragon and Saphira seeking their true names, the Rock of Kuthian, the Vault of Souls, and their “true names” in hopes of finding an advantage versus Galbatorix.

Overall, the final entry of Paolini’s saga is definitely enjoyable, although as with its predecessors, it’s somewhat derivative of other works such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the Star Wars film. Even so, there’s plentiful originality regarding the in-universe languages and nomenclature of various characters, lands, and other elements, with a pronunciation guide following the main text so that readers aren’t left clueless as to how to say the unique names. Paolini acknowledges at the end that the last book was the most difficult to write, with a little over a decade necessary for him to finish his fantasy cycle, which is very much worthwhile.

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Thursday, June 16, 2022

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Stiehl Assassin

The Stiehl Assassin (The Fall of Shannara #3)The Stiehl Assassin by Terry Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third and penultimate entry of Terry Brooks The Fall of Shannara series opens with Tavo Kaynin’s attempt at assassinating his sister Tarsha thwarted by Drisker Arc and his companions, with the woman who put Tavo up to the task, Clizia Porse, fleeing, and the would-be killer coming under Drisker’s surveillance in hopes he can recover from his trauma. Meanwhile, Rocan Arneas and the boy who calls himself Shea Ohmsford continue in their attempt to rescue Tindall from the Assidian Deep prison, with a machine within the facility briefly thwarting their plan, with Tindall having good knowledge of the weather machine called Annabelle.

Furthermore, Ajin’s father Cor d’Amphere, the king of the Skaar, dismisses his daughter from service, and she finds herself aboard what she believes to be her prison ship, although she ultimately finds herself accompanying Darcon Leah and Tarsha. Drisker goes to the shores of Hadeshorn and talks to shades of the long-deceased, including Grianne Ohmsford, who wishes to die outside the Forbidding and wants to be young again. Clizia Porse seeks to ally herself with the Skaar, with her former discharge Tavo improving under the care of Dar and company. The Prime Minister of the Federation, Ketter Vause, has skirmishes with the Skaar, seeking the help of the Dwarves.

Clizia Porse, with the blade Stiehl in tow, seeks the lives of the king of the Elves and that of Prime Minister Vause, with Drisker getting in her way and tagging her with magic so he can track her. Vause attempts to draw the Skaar outside their fortifications, with the Dwarves using weapons known as Reveals in their battles. A storm blows the airship Behemoth off course, landing Rocan and Shea on a distant island where they encounter a monster and raiders. The king of the Skaar expects the Federation Prime Minister to offer a truce, and believes his servant Kol’Dre wishes for his daughter’s hand in marriage. A confrontation with Clizia against Drisker Arc and the Kaynin siblings ends the third book.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this particular entry of Brooks’ final Shannara subseries, given its great fantastical action, occasional politics, and deaths that will likely prove critical when the author’s eponymous world “falls” in the final chapter of the franchise. It’s largely clear as to which races the dramatis personae belong, given the mention of Elves and Dwarves in addition to the human characters, although some concrete description and reminders as to their appearances would have been helpful in helping me better visualize the players in the plot. Regardless, I would very much recommend the third Fall of Shannara book to those who appreciated its precursors within and without the subseries.

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Sunday, June 12, 2022

Jurassic World Dominion

JurassicWorldDominion Poster.jpeg

The dinosaurs were definitely the stars of the film, but the human-interest parts were meh, and the franchise has pretty much run its course.


 Brisingr (The Inheritance Cycle, #3)

Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

***Spoiler Alert***

Author Christopher Paolini dedicates the penultimate entry of his Inheritance Cycle to his family, not to mention the “bright lights of a new generation.” The series began with protagonist Eragon finding a blue stone in a range of mountains called the Spine that turned out to be a dragon egg, hatching an azure dragon he names Saphira. He consequentially becomes a Dragon Rider, part of an ancient order decimated by the mad King Galbatorix after Urgals killed his original dragon and he usurped another. The first entry concludes with a battle during which Eragon kills the Shade Durza, and is told telepathically to train in the elven capital of Ellesméra.

Eldest picks up three days after its predecessor, opening with the murder by Urgals of Ajihad, leader of the insurgent Varden, and the capture of Eragon’s friend Murtagh, with Nasuada becoming the new leader of the rebel organization. Eragon and Saphira leave for Ellesméra to train with the Cripple Who Is Whole, and in the meantime, the Empire seeks his cousin Roran, who is on his own adventures, and is betrayed by the butcher Sloan, who doesn’t want him marrying his daughter Katrina. The second entry concludes with a battle on the Burning Plains, where Eragon discovers his former friend Murtagh turned treason with the red dragon Thorn, and reveals that they share the same mother.

The third entry opens with Eragon and his cousin Roran near a monster’s hideout, with the former yearning for a new sword, his brother Murtagh having taken Zar’roc as his rightful inheritance as he is the older son of Morzan. The Dragon Rider ultimately does get his chance to help forge a new weapon, with the author crediting a Japanese swordmaking book with the detailed process. Roran and Katrina prepare to wed, Eragon’s heritage is confirmed, and a major battle concludes the tertiary installment, which like its predecessor is somewhat derivative of other works such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, but is an enjoyable read nonetheless.

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Saturday, June 11, 2022

Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers (film)


Cute? Yes. Funny? Only on occasion.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Editorial: Why and How I Review

For nearly a score I’ve written videogame reviews, first as a reader for the roleplaying game-centric RPGamer, after which I went freelance once the website stopped accepting reader reviews. During my career as a game journalist, I’ve dealt with scale changes on the website, beyond which I’ve experimented with different review scales, for some time no scores, and then my current metric. Early in my writing career, a few have sometimes asked the question of why I write reviews in the first place, and in this editorial, I’ll explain the whys and the hows of my journalistic ambitions.

The Whys

I wrote my first review for the PlayStation remake of Dragon Quest IV a few years after the turn of the millennium, but back then, I was fanboyish and did so to draw attention to the game that at first Enix promised an English release, only for them to go back on their word due to issues with the Japanese studio that had developed it. I also didn’t have a very good grasp on review scores, and tended to view the quality of the various aspects of games in black and white terms, with little gray area in between.

Thus, 1’s and 10’s, when RPGamer had its 1-10 videogame review scale, were my most common scores to the sundry aspects of whatever RPGs I reviewed. I would, even in the infancy of my videogame reviewing career, see major faults even in titles that received widespread acclaim among both “professional” game reviewers and even audiences, and to this day, I still see even many titles that are “universally” acclaimed as having huge flaws, although I hadn’t yet discovered the forums of RPGamer full of the site’s readers that tended not to respect my opinion.

One of the early turning points in my career as a videogame reviewer was when I submitted my critical opinion on Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht, where my primary criticisms of the game included the half-hearted turn order meter in combat that only showed unit command sequence for only a few turns before “running out” and “refilling,” not to mention the unpredictable enemy boost system, although as one reader called me out on the forums because my logic had its flaws, I would eventually devise the “re-review,” where I tried to refine my opinion more than I had before.

In most instances when I go through a game again, I start from scratch, scarcely bothering to retain points in my last review. I would write reviews for RPGamer and was the site’s first reader to reach fifty, but the site’s review posting noting my milestones regarding the quantity of my reviews, and most of them shamed me, given my attempts to refine my writing. Were there a Guinness record, I would most likely set the record for “most re-reviews,” and I still believe game journalism is a living, breathing art.

RPGamer would eventually move from an /10 reviewing scale to an /5 metric, given that the “curse” of school-grading continues to plague mainstream videogame reviews that largely use /10 and /100 scales, where 7/10 and 70/100 scores are “average,” and anything below means certain games, with some exceptions, aren’t very good. The RPG-centric site would add .5 scores for the /5 scale, given the sound logic there’s sufficient enough difference in the quality of games to justify more specific scoring, although to this day, the website still uses whole numbers for the attributes of what its staff reviews.

I would eventually go rogue in regards to my videogame reviewing, with the key turning point in that respect being a positive review I posted to the site for the Nintendo DS RPG Nostalgia. One of the official reviewers of the site, who didn’t like the game, attempted to gaslight my review as “weak” instead of intelligently discussing the game with me. Further disagreement with the site’s staff and many forum posters would ultimately lead to my divorce from contributing to the site, and as they didn’t respect my unique perspective, further evidenced by their constant bans on whatever future accounts I created there, I don’t wholly trust its reviewers.

Perhaps the primary reason I review games today is that as an autistic gamer, I have an incredibly-unique perspective that I won’t allow elitist apologists, idolators, or iconoclasts for many games to censor. It’s probably my fault for my early tenure as a reviewer for not embracing the fact that I had and still have high-functioning autism, but it influences most aspects of what I consider to be positives and negatives in videogames. My main motive in reviewing is to help likeminded gamers make better decisions regarding which games towards which to give their attention, and which to avoid.

The Hows

To help mainstream videogamers decide whether to consider me a reliable source in whatever they purchase and play, I definitely should be open about my current reviewing process. Prior to starting a new game, I use a template I’ve created for my reviews where I tally the positive and negative aspects of games, in my case the game mechanics, the control, the story, the localization if English isn’t the game’s native tongue, the aurals, the visuals, and the lasting appeal, and save said matrix with the name of whatever I intend to write a full review for after finishing the game, if possible.

The game mechanics are the general gameplay system of whatever I review, which includes what kind of battles it has, how they work. I tally the positive aspects of the mechanics, whether they have a turn order meter if turn-based, if battles are pausable if there are real-time aspects such as action-based gameplay, special moves that can turn the tide of combat, etc. I also tally negative aspects and whether I consider certain parts to be flaws (which can very much be subjective), such as difficulty spikes, a lousy camera, being able to make sense of the mechanics without reference to the internet, and the like.

The game’s control in my system refers to the gameplay elements not directly, or in some cases not indirectly, with the battle mechanics, such as whether one can pause the game outside battle, view total playtime (and the difficulty of being able to see how long one has played a game), navigate the menus easily, have a clear in-game direction of what to do next to advance the central storyline, whether there are in-game maps one can easily reference and find useful towards navigating the game’s various environments, whether there are mandatory minigames or puzzles one might need to use a guide to get past or are unskippable, the save system, etc.

The story, of course, refers to a game’s narrative and how cohesive it is, mostly sensible without internet reference. In my opinion, being able to make sense of a game’s plot is a sign of good writing, and not so being indicative of poor composition. A few pluses for a title’s story, in my mind, include in-game databanks of various terms and characters, a summary of the game’s plot, and so forth. Another area is whether the game forces its plot down the player’s throat, as most titles with unskippable voiced dialogue tend to feel, and lore-based plots indicated through collectibles tend to accomplish.

Localization, for the most part, tends to have a strong connection with the story, and can include things such as well-written dialogue, such as the Erdrick Dragon Quest games that have a Shakespearean flair, not to mention puns that really make one wonder how the original language’s script handled things in that regard. Bad writing, in my opinion, consists of endless spelling or grammar errors, incoherent dialogue, translation-induced plot holes, and the like. How well the translators adjusted the game menus, such as whether sections have clear naming, is another aspect, not to mention battle dialogue.

The aurals refer to the music, sound effects, and voicework of a game. With regards to the music, I tend to give points for whatever tracks are well-composed, and deduct for whichever tunes I find annoying or areas during the gameplay where music is completely absent. Sound effects should also be realistic, and if they sound like they come from several generations ago, like in the original Wild Arms, I count off points. Voice acting should also sound natural and fit the characters, not be forced down the player’s throat by being unskippable, and of course be of good quality.

The graphics, of course, refer to a game’s visual presentation. One can definitely find it difficult to score this particular aspect of a game, especially when it comes to older generations of videogames, and thus, I try to keep in mind if a particular title looked good for its time, akin to the first Phantasy Star, an eight-bit Sega Master System title that sported features such as anime cutscenes and animate enemies in battle. For more contemporary games, I consider aspects such as pixilation and blurriness with regards to the textures of environments, jaggies, colors, character sprite or model proportions, etc.

Another aspect some may consider subjective is the lasting appeal of the game, where I consider whether a title has a New Game+ mode, sidequests to extend playtime, narrative differences that result from choices the player makes during the game, trophies or achievements, and other things, which I’ll admit can be somewhat difficult to gauge in the case of older videogames, which tended to lack these things. I also consider whether a game is actually enjoyable enough to go through again, although there are some instances where even if a game is fun, there could be no replay value, in other words absolutely no reason to go through again.

One area of RPGs where I found it difficult to score, and which RPGamer still rates, is the “originality” of a game, which I think is somewhat asinine, given that remakes of older games are inherently “unoriginal”, and this area very much depends upon how much experience the player has playing videogames throughout various generations. Even the forefathers of contemporary titles aren’t absolutely one-hundred percent original, such as the very first Dragon Quest, which borrowed some elements from old Western RPGs and featured the “damsel in distress” trope. Originality can also be a bad thing, especially if it makes a game unenjoyable.

I find easy giving overall scores, where I average the numbers I give a title’s aspects, but other reviewers, it seems, pull these metrics from an unmentionable area of their body. For instance, I’ve seen reviews where their respective writers give a higher overall score than any of the numbers which they assigned to a game’s sundry attributes, and some where they rated a title lower than any of the metrics they’ve given to its areas of grading. Scores should, as I’ve known, reflect the text, and it makes no sense, in my opinion, to make endless complaints about an area of a game yet still give a high final grade in the end.

A final point I wish to make is that as a game reviewer, I’m a fallible, opinionated human, and appeal mostly to those gamers who are on the autism spectrum and/or have perspectives similar to mine. I’ll further confess that once in a while I make errors in regards to my critiques, and try to correct them when I have the time, another reason I consider game reviewing to be a living, breathing, evolving art. I believe that both the reception of games in their time of release and that years down the road are equally important, similar to movies that receive average or negative reviews when they first come out yet receive better acclaim years or even decades down the road, and vice versa.


Overall, I very much hope this editorial helps readers decide whether or not they can consider me a reliable source when it comes to the quality of videogames, specifically those in the roleplaying game genre. That I’m autistic very much plays a significant role in how I critique games and what I consider strong points and flaws in their design. However, given my distinct view of gaming in general, I have yet to find another game reviewer, whether “professional” or part of mainstream audiences, upon whom I can truly rely when it comes to purchasing and playing new games, but I hope to help those in especially the latter faction with my guidelines.

Saturday, June 4, 2022


Eldest (The Inheritance Cycle, #2)Eldest by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the second installment of author Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, which the writer dedicates to family and friends, Eragon and his dragon Saphira have just saved the Varden from the forces of the ruler of the Empire, King Galbatorix, and now must travel to the land of the elves, Ellesméra, to further his studies in magic and swordsmanship so he can be a better Dragon Rider, although he knows not whom he can trust, given occasional chaos and betrayal. In the meantime, his cousin Roran deals with his own struggles back home in Carvahall, potentially endangering Eragon.

Preceding the main text is a synopsis of the first installment of the tetralogy, in which Eragon had discovered a polished blue stone in the Spine that turned out to be a dragon egg from which his dragon Saphira hatched, becoming a Dragon Rider capable of casting magic. When humans arrived in the novels’ setting, Alagaësia, they too became part of the mentioned order. A Dragon Rider named Galbatorix had his own dragon killed by Urgals, driving him mad and provoking him to steal another dragon, decimating the order, with the beetle-like Ra’zac seeking the egg Eragon got from the Spine.

Eragon ultimately names his dragon and embarks upon an adventure with Carvahall’s storyteller Brom, finding that he’s part of the insurgent group the Varden after meeting with his friend Jeod. Eragon is captured by the enemy yet escapes imprisonment with the elf Arya, and finds further companionship in Murtagh, the son of Morzan, the last of the Forsaken. Following the battle at the headquarters of the Varden, Eragon falls unconscious but ultimately recovers, telepathically communicated to by the being Togira Ikonoka, who tells him to go the elven land of Ellesméra.

Three days after the battle at Tronjheim, with Eragon having earned the title of Shadeslayer for defeating Durza, although doing so was luck for the Dragon Rider, since Arya had destroyed the giant gem Isidar Mithrim to distract Durza and allow Eragon to kill him. His companion Murtagh is captured by Urgals, and Ajihad urges Eragon to not let the Varden fall into chaos, given their eventual search for a new leader, with various factions manipulating the Dragon Rider. As Saphira delights in her newfound firebreathing capabilities, Nasuada is suggested as the successor to leadership of the Varden.

Meanwhile, back in the ruins of Carvahall, Roran hunts among the remains of his abode, blaming his cousin Eragon for the death of his father Garrow. A magician named Trianna urges Eragon to go to Ellesméra with Arya to hone his skills, and thus, the two leave, traveling with a few dwarves who go northward on rafts. They eventually reach he wilderness harboring the elves known as Du Weldenvarden, where Eragon trains. In the battle concluding the second book, certain twists occur, alongside the eventual reunion of Eragon with his cousin, who with fellow villagers dealt with the Ra’zac.

Paolini follows the main text with a helpful pronunciation guide, and indications in his acknowledgements section that he began creating his series when he was but fifteen years old, thanking his parents, sister, and editor, and noting that when he published the second book at twenty-one, his series was still a trilogy. After this is a history of Alagaësia, called in-universe the Domia Abr Wyrda, the name Alagaësia itself meaning fertile land. Dwarves provide the most accurate calendar for the universe, with the present time in the tetralogy’s chronology being 7982 After Creation by the god of the dwarves.

The author provides a databank and a sample chapter from the series’ third entry where Eragon and Roran ride Saphira together, and his biography notes that the scenery of his native State of Montana partially inspired his literary creations. Overall, the second entry of the Inheritance Cycle is pretty much on par with its predecessor, which is a good thing, even if the franchise is somewhat derivative of other works such as the Star Wars saga. Paolini occasionally provides interesting twists on mythological creatures, such as dwarves having seven toes on each foot, which very much helps his novels stand apart from other fantasy narratives.

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Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (film)


The eponymous hedgehog is joined by twin-tailed fox Tails and joins Sonic in his fight against Knuckles the echidna and the returning Dr. Eggman/Robotnik. Jim Carrey's an idiot in real life but is definitely a good villain, there's plenty of humor, and the film's proof that film adaptations of videogames have definitely improved over the past few decades.

Art by Me, 6/4/2022


Friday, June 3, 2022

Kingdom Hearts III

A Mad Multiverse

Disney and Square-Enix’s Kingdom Hearts series began as a result of a meeting in an elevator between executives from both companies (when the latter corporation was still Squaresoft), and would receive widespread acclaim from critics and audiences with its crossover formula. However, similar to Capcom’s Street Fighter franchise, Kingdom Hearts really experienced stagnation between main numbered entries, and the second game, Chain of Memories on the Gameboy Advance, wasn’t a side-story, but rather an actual continuation of the first game’s plot, among a few other entries. The franchise really had it bad between the second and third main entries, given endless remasters, a prequel, and other side games, with Kingdom Hearts III finally releasing in 2019.

The third numerical entry serves as a conclusion to its respective plot arc of the series, with Mickey Mouse’s mentor, Yen Sid, preparing Keyblade wielders, among them being returning protagonist Sora, for a final conflict with the main antagonist, Master Xehanort, with Sora alongside “half-pints” Donald Duck and Goofy traveling across several Disney-themed worlds so he can regain his “power of waking”, the ability to restore lost hearts. While I personally didn’t have much trouble following the franchise’s overall narrative, those who haven’t played chronologically-prior entries will definitely be lost, and as with before, the humor that makes Disney’s films bearable for older audiences is virtually nonexistent, aside maybe for Hades from Hercules.

While the translation is certainly legible and free of spelling and grammar errors, the overall writing of the game feels incredibly infantile and has endless clichéd dialogue about hearts and darkness, with the localization team obviously not bothering to use a thesaurus to make the text less redundant. As with most Japanese RPGs in general, moreover, combat receives most of the worst dialogue, with occasional calling of commands and Sora shouting lines such as “Light!” and “Together!” There are also lines such as “No Organization!” when something like “Confound the Organization!” would have sounded better, and others such as “More, more!” Generally, the localization has plenty areas where the translators really didn’t seem to care about making the dialogue sound believable.

The general game mechanics somewhat compensate for the third entry’s narrative shortcomings, with the series’ signature Keyblade combat returning, Sora able to hack endlessly at Heartless and other adversaries with whatever key-shaped weapons he receives. As in prior games, the player can navigate the combat menu visible on the lower-left side of the screen, a new addition being the option where, if players open the magic or item sections, the action can significantly slow as they select a spell or consumable. However, players as in the second numerical entry can set shortcuts for magic and items, with the potential for three different shortcut sets.

When Sora attacks enough, the player can execute abilities based on his current Keyblade, use a special ability with Donald and/or Goofy (and world-specific characters now fight alongside instead of replace either “half-pint”), or perform an attack based on a Disney park attraction, such as a carousel ride requiring timed button presses with an expanding ring or spinning around in teacups to assault the enemy. While the battle system definitely has plenty fun moments, there are some issues with the camera as in prior games, and the player constantly has to retarget enemies after defeating one, with a system akin to the Tales games where the action pauses while changing targets definitely preferrable.

Outside battle, the player can visit moogles typically appearing near save points to purchase and/or synthesize items from materials occasionally gained from enemies, although odds are players will spend more time hunting materials than actually using the items or equipment resulting from synthesis. Kingdom Hearts III also seems to adore minigames, with one of the chief ones, requiring edible ingredients, being cooking with the help of “Little Chef” a.k.a. Remy from Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille, although it proved frustrating even in small doses. Mercifully, mastering the art of cooking is scarcely necessary to make it through the main quest, at least on Beginner difficulty.

Returning from prior numbered entries are abilities each character can equip with capacity points that dictate things such as how long combination attacks can execute, how powerful specific magical elements can be, and so forth; luckily, the third numerical entry is fairly generous in this regard. However, one issue that returns from the inaugural installment of the franchise is that combat doesn’t always mesh well with level design, with the potential for long falls and retracing of steps, although Sora can run up many walls. The endgame also feels fairly drawn out, although the often-lengthy cutscenes are mercifully skippable, minimizing wasted playtime should Sora die.

The convoluted level design is one of the main issues with gameplay outside battle, with occasional frustrating map layouts like in the Frozen world, although the game menus are easily navigable in spite of constant flashing exclamation points indicating changes in the many submenus. Another major issue with control, however, is that voiced cutscene dialogue is unskippable, definitely an unfriendly gesture towards hearing-impaired gamers, and which singlehandedly adds several hours of superfluous playtime to the game. Furthermore, while the game does sport autosaving, hard save opportunities, especially given the length of many cutscenes, can be over half an hour apart. Generally, the developers could have certainly made an effort to make the game more user-friendly.

Perhaps the high point of Kingdom Hearts III is its aural presentation, with just about all its music being solid, within and without cutscenes, and even some musical numbers from the films such Frozen’s “Let It Go” audible in their respective worlds. The voice acting is good, although the cartoony voices of characters such as Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and especially Donald Duck, can really be grating in a game largely devoid of comedy.

The visuals are definitely a step above those in remasters of the previous Kingdom Hearts games, with a semi-realistic style and even more lifelike disposition in the Pirates of the Caribbean world, although the dissonance in the framerate between gameplay and the cutscenes is especially noticeable, with occasional choppiness in animation and environment popup as well.

Finally, despite the padding, the third entry is a little shorter than average for a Japanese RPG, with my final playtime a little over twenty-four hours, and there’s a surprisingly-decent amount of lasting appeal in the form of Trophies and different difficulties, although the occasional frustrations within and without combat would definitely be deterrents to further temporal investment in the game.

All in all, Kingdom Hearts III is for the most part another run-of-the-mill entry of a series whose quality has largely been consistent, in other words, average in spite of some occasional high points. The Keyblade combat can be enjoyable, but doesn’t always mesh well with the level design; and the narrative can, especially for older gamers, be excruciating, with the unskippable, mostly-badly-written cutscene dialogue consequentially forcing it down the player’s throat. There are some agreeable high points, however, such as the solid audiovisual presentation, although the cartoony voices of certain characters definitely create a tonal dissonance within the game. The third installment isn’t exactly a masterpiece, although it could have certainly been worse, and only those who had an excellent time with prior entries will appreciate it.

This review is based on a single playthrough of a physical copy purchased by the reviewer on Beginner difficulty, without experience in the post-game content.

The Good:
+Keyblade combat can be fun.
+Solid audiovisual presentation.
+Decent lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Battle system doesn’t always mesh well with level design.
-Excruciating narrative and writing forced down the player’s throat.
-Donald Duck really annoying in noncomedic setting.

The Bottom Line:
Another run-of-the-mill Kingdom Hearts game.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 6.5/10
Controls: 3.5/10
Story: 2.5/10
Localization: 2.5/10
Music/Sound: 8.5/10
Graphics: 7.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 7.0/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 24+ Hours

Overall: 5.5/10

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

The Black Elfstone

The Black Elfstone (The Fall of Shannara, #1)The Black Elfstone by Terry Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first entry of Terry Brooks’ final Shannara subseries, The Fall of Shannara, opens with Tigueron, leader of the Orsis Guild, sitting in a tavern, having received a contract to assassinate the Druid Drisker Arc. In the meanwhile, Tarsha Kaynin comes to terms with her uncle taking away her magically-able brother Kaynin, and she seeks help from the Druids of Paranor, specifically Drisker, High Druid of the order. Furthermore, several tribes of Trolls face obliteration at the hands of ethereal antagonists, with Drisker visiting the village Emberen as an outcast of the Druids of Paranor, divided by infighting, replaced by the new Ard Rhys Ober Balronen.

Tarsha seeks to refine her wishsong abilities as an apprentice to Drisker, a few days after which Balronen assembles his advisors to discuss the recent obliteration of Troll tribes, with the High Druid’s Blade, Darcon “Dar” Leah, having feelings for one of the advisors, Zia Amarodian, although said love is somewhat unrequited, given her fancy with Ruis Quince. Moreover, Allis Errencarthyjorian, one year into her training as a Druid, seeks further advancement within Paranor, mentioning to her mentor Clizia Porse, the chief examiner, that a stranger seeking admission, Kassen, has appeared at the Keep’s gates.

During her training, Drisker presents Tarsha a Druid’s staff and leaves via an aerial flit at the news of the defeat of another Troll tribe. When a cottage goes ablaze, a moor cat connected to Drisker saves Tarsha from death, with her brother in the meantime sensing his sibling is alive, feeling betrayed and consequentially going on a killing spree. A mysterious white-cloaked leader, colloquially called White Cloak, leads ethereal forces against the Druids, with an enigmatic young boy helping Drisker and Tarsha, when reuniting, visit an Orsis Guild hideout, with a cooked-up story about Tarsha receiving a marriage pledge to a Federation official.

Dar Leah returns to Paranor, seeking his family’s Sword of Leah, and Clizia Porse gives Drisker a scrye orb, with the former Ard Rhys somewhat distrusting the Druid. Kassen’s true motives for visiting Paranor have their revelation, with the further threat of magic threatening to depart from the land of Shannara, and a climactic battle occurring at the Keep. Drisker infiltrates the fortress’s cellars, seeking the Black Elfstone that could spell salvation for Paranor, and he personally faces the white-cloaked leader of the attackers, in the end finding himself trapped in the citadel.

In the end, I very much enjoyed the first installment of the concluding tetralogy to Brooks’ Shannara series, with plenty of action and development of a new character cast, its myriad of important events somewhat giving a glimpse as to how Shannara exactly “falls”. While I could ascertain that the primary characters were human, given the mention of the Elves as missing in action, I still had trouble visualizing the appearances of the chief luminaries, given the lack of description as to what exactly they look like, in terms of hair and such. Regardless, I definitely look forward to more of the final Shannara subseries.

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Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse


An Apocalypse of Salvation

Many videogame corporations have a habit of really stagnating when it comes to numbered entries of their flagship series, akin to a certain Capcom fighting franchise whose name rhymes with “meat biter” and one from Disney and Square-Enix whose name rhymes with “bring them arts.” However, there is the rare occasion where said games between “official” sequels are actual original games, similar to Final Fantasy X-2, which had vastly-different mechanics from the mainline tenth Final Fantasy. Another instance of this is Atlus’s direct sequel to the fourth mainline Shin Megami Tensei series on the Nintendo 3DS, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse.

Apocalypse follows on its predecessor’s neutral route, with silent protagonist Nanashi dies while on a demon hunt, contacted in the afterlife by the entity Dagda, who offers to revive the hero in exchange for becoming his Godslayer. The story is largely enjoyable, although there is perhaps a narrative nod or two to the Star Wars franchise, but the plot direction is far better than in the previous game, with plenty of choices that alter the ending the player ultimately receives. The translation luckily doesn’t detract from the plot, with Atlus not having censored it, although there are some odd stylistic decisions, for instance, regarding things such as when enemy demons request certain types of items.

The sequel largely improves upon its precursor’s mechanics, with visible encounters on the overworld and most places in between that Nanashi can slash with his current weapon so he can get the advantage in battle, in many cases dealing some initial damage to whichever demons he faces. The core gameplay is largely the same, with some exceptions such as no longer needing a special app (which return from the first game) to communicate with certain demons, and the addition of partners that level alongside the hero and his demons, the player able to set one at a time and who uses one of his or her abilities after the player’s turn session.

Other changes include the decreased flakiness of demons during negotiation, where whenever they offer a “final price” for recruitment, they don’t flake out. Fusion is the same, and the player can still register demons in the Demon Compendium for resummoning at a price. One exploit I discovered that solved my financial problems was to keep demons and Nanashi with an ability to stun foes, where, when using the Fundraise ability, I could farm endless money from them. The other means of acquiring money, involving the salvage of relics from special points, returns as well, and aside from the lack of direct control over partners, I had a blast with the battle system.

Control is perhaps the most-improved aspect of Apocalypse over its predecessor, with areas on the bottom screen’s map for the overworld, for example, actually having labels for specific locations, in addition to clear direction as how to advance the central storyline, to the point where I finished the game without referencing the internet at all. The save-anywhere feature from the first game returns, along with the general ease of navigating the primary interface, in-game record of playtime, and easy shopping. The myriad of options in the fusion matrix comes back as well, and aside from some things not always receiving indication on the in-game maps, the game is very user-friendly.

The direct sequel also features new music from its precursor, with pretty much every track being solid, although there are occasional areas that rely upon ambience. The voicework is also solid in spite of a few weak performances.

The visuals largely remain unchanged, with fully three-dimensional travel throughout the various districts, dungeons, and whatnot, perks such as different equipment affecting the protagonist’s appearance carrying over, although combat remains in first-person, but the enemy designs are still solid and devoid of reskins.

Finally, the sequel is about as long as its precursor, taking somewhere from forty-eight to seventy-two hours to complete, with several different New Game Plus options and the choices throughout the game enhancing lasting appeal, although it may be too long for some to go through again.

Ultimately, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is very much what a direct sequel should be, given its solid and in some cases refined game mechanics, vastly-improved control over the first game, an enjoyable narrative with potential variations for different playthroughs, and great audiovisual presentation. There are a few minor issues, however, mostly involving the localization, the recycled graphics from its precursor, and that it may be a little long for some. Regardless, it’s very much a must-play Nintendo 3DS game, but lamentably, as with most Atlus games, used copies go for a lot of money, and the Big N’s eShop is fated to close in March 2023, so interested parties would definitely do themselves well to purchase and download it before then.

This review is based on a single playthrough of a digital copy downloaded to the reviewer’s Nintendo 3DS on Skirmish difficulty.

The Good:
+Well-refined game mechanics.
+Improved control over first game.
+Great story with different choices.
+Excellent soundtrack and voicework.
+Good visual direction.

The Bad:
-Some minor localization issues.
-Graphics largely unchanged from previous game.
-A little long.

The Bottom Line:
A great sequel improving on its predecessor in most aspects.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 9.5/10
Controls: 9.5/10
Story: 9.5/10
Localization: 8.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 9.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 9.5/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 48-72 Hours

Overall: 9.5/10