Streaming Recap: The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

288560-the-legend-of-heroes-trails-in-the-sky-windows-front-coverIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

How long has it been since I played a JRPG? If I can stretch the genre definition, it might have been Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, and that would be 2007. If not that, I guess it would be the first Kingdom Hearts game? I’ve played the first ten Final Fantasy games, Xenosaga, Dark Cloud 2 and few others, but I haven’t picked up the genre in a long time. It used to be one of my favorites, one that was a defining feature of my gaming and that I found very cozy.

The point is that I haven’t played a legitimate JRPG in over ten years. Obviously, I had to get back into the genre with one of the most critically acclaimed titles. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a full-blown Japanese Role Playing Game. Long play time, tons of world building and novel-length levels of text. It was a deep dive back into the genre.

I prefer these recaps to be more experience related than technical reviews, which is why I’m going to start with a negative comment, because it effects my full enjoyment of the game. When it comes to JRPGs, I prefer the “epic” quality that comes with a Final Fantasy game. I like fighting against the end of the world, against empires and gods. I like intense back stories that make the X-Men jealous.

the-legend-of-heroes-trails-in-the-sky-pc-screenshot-1-www-ovagames-comTrails of the Sky is much more…pleasant. The gist of the story is that the two main characters are traveling to see the world and get promoted to full time protectors of the nation. The world isn’t ending, many problems are local and deal with mayors and sewer adventures. Near the last few hours of the game, Trails in the Sky becomes something more akin to what I like in the genre. The stakes feel bigger, the dungeon is grander and there’s an epic atmosphere about the whole thing.

Now, a pleasant game isn’t bad at all. Pokemon Sun and Stardew Valley are pleasant games. But there’s so much reading involved with Trails in the Sky that it felt exhausting to move forward, especially since the story wasn’t really tugging at my interest. Since I was streaming the game, I was reading all the dialogue out loud and that got tiring as well. There’s a lot of repetitive dialogue, a lot of stating the obvious that becomes clear when your actually saying it. There were times where I was craving action, even the ability to just move around. Compared to Final Fantasy VIII or Xenosaga, where I was compelled to follow the story, Trails in the Sky could feel like a chore.

159009-legend_of_heroes_-_trails_in_the_sky_the_usa-5I also learned that if you’re going to give a gravely voice to a character, make sure they’re not going to be in the game for thirty hours. I think my voice is finally recovered from that mistake.

For the most part, the game was fun. I liked the battle system, the retro graphics and plenty of the characters. The music was hit or miss but when it hit, it packed a punch. I hated the monster designs but loved the avatar expressions. It also stuck the ending. Even with the issues I had while playing, I still want to get to the sequel someday, if only on the strength of the first game’s climax. However, I won’t be starting it anytime soon. I need more action at the moment, whether that’s a platformer or shooter. October is on it’s way, so I’ll have some Halloween games planned as well. The next JRPG I play will probably be Valkyria Chronicles, and Final Fantasy XV is on it’s way to the PC…

I think what Trails in the Sky did for me was get me back into and interested in JRPGs. It’s a classical take on the genre and reminded me of what I like about those type of games. If it’s the launching pad for my renewed interest, then that’s a pretty great legacy.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

 

 

All the Books Show: Episode 107 – Summer Reading, Having a Blast

This week’s episode of the show is like the killer app you’ve been missing from your life. It’s like the summer love you didn’t pursue. It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. And isn’t it ironic…don’t you think. A little too ironic…and, yeah, I really do think…

9781472911254This summer was not great for my reading. Nothing was a real, great read. I read a bit too many books I had to for work, ventured out once or twice and didn’t find any fertile new ground. When the best book I read was The Tyrannosaur Chronicles, something might be up.

Last summer, I had a lot of great books I was reading. I devoured Masters of Doom and Lord of Light. I read and started some great comic series. I let other things distract me this summer so I’m going to try and do better this autumn. I’m going to focus on topics I’m interested in and read books I want to read. Plus, my Halloween reading is right around the corner…

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Batman: The Animated Series and I, Twenty-Five Years Later

I was a bit too young to watch the Batman animated series as a kid, specifically on a regular basis. During it’s early years, anyway, I missed a lot of the show while it was airing. It wasn’t until its later Fox Kids years that I started catching the show after school.

6batmantaliaI remember seeing those episodes as a kid and them seeming so epic. There wasn’t a lot like it, until Gargoyles, that felt like an adult show I was getting away with watching. Those later episodes introduced me to Ra’s al Ghul and the forbidden romance between Batman and Talia, Killer Croc’s inability to reform and the Riddler’s obsessions. I still wasn’t able to watch the show on regular basis, but I knew it was out there and was telling stories that were cooler than any of the other shows I had been following. Images like Ra’s hand reaching out of the Lazarus Pit, Babydoll shooting a shattered mirror or that kiss between Batman and Talia have stuck with me for years.

When Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was released on VHS, my mom rented a copy for me. I don’t know how it all worked out but I ended up watching it alone one night when everyone was asleep. At the time, I couldn’t have been much older than seven and I knew instantly that I was getting away with something.

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As people were dying, kissing and dealing with these huge issues on screen, I kept checking to make sure no one was coming. If my mom saw a mobster getting crushed underneath a tombstone, that tape was going back to the video store pronto. When the Joker was on screen, it was terrifying but thrilling. The clown was killing people! Everything about that movie felt dangerous and it was an eyeopener for my young self. It might be one of the best movie experiences I’ve ever had.

Years later, when the show moved to the WB and became an after school block with the Superman animated series, it became something I watched religiously. That block became a refuge for me. I looked forward to getting to it on time after another terrible school day and it lasted until my parents came home and life became slightly less ideal.

pan12That rebooted version of the show, with it’s updated animation style, was the coolest show in the world for me. It introduced me to Nightwing, a Robin that I was actually jealous of and a Batgirl I would follow to the ends of the earth. Episodes like “Over the Edge”, “Mad Love”, “Growing Pains” and “Joker’s Millions” left huge impressions on me and influenced my view on all the characters. When I started reading Batman comics, starting with No Man’s Land, I was confused by any differences between the elements of the show and what was on paper. But, without the animated series, I would have never picked up the comic.

Batman Beyond and the Justice League series really deserve their own blog, as well as the Superman show. They all became important to me at different times in my life and kept the continuity started by the Batman animated series alive, as well as the character of Batman himself.

batman-the-animated-series-3I was finally able to watch all the episodes I had missed when the series was released onto DVD. Those collections were wonderful and I’ve watched through them multiple times, always excited to restart the series. It’s the easiest show in the world to binge because it’s quality is so high and the characters are so compelling. It’s also one of the few shows I watched as a kid that stands up to watching as an adult. This anniversary has given me the bug again but it’s not something I’ll fight. The show is a treasure to Batman fans. It introduced me to so much of that world and influenced my tastes in huge ways. No other Batman series has topped it in quality, even though Batman: Brave and the Bold found it’s own identity and works on it’s on level. Only Batman Begins has ever come close to being such a faithful adaptation. Twenty-five years later and the original 90s show still has all the vitality of a much younger series. It’s timeless, it’s iconic, it’s Batman.

Stream Recap – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

5_brothers_a_tale_of_two_sonsIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons during the opening. I looked dated and the opening cinematic didn’t do anything for me emotionally.

Once I was in control of the brothers, moving each along with their individual joysticks, things started to look up. It took me forever to wrap my head around the younger brother being the right sticks. I guess my brain thought the older brother is the main brother and the main brother should be on the right. It was an interesting process to remind myself that the younger brother is the main character and that I associate important characters with my right side. Co-op single player is a strange concept. It’s almost as if the concept of switching between characters in Donkey Kong Country was the precursor to something like Brothers.

brothers-a-tale-of-two-sons-freeThe game finally clicked with me just as I was getting to the end of the starting village. It had an autumn vibe about its atmosphere and the town was alive and unconcerned with me. The game started to feel crisp, moody and dangerous. If this town, that these two boys have grown up in, seem indifferent to me, then how is the rest of the world going to treat me?

The graphics really are fantastic. I know the game is old and that the style is much older, but it set a beautiful tone. It had character and mood and, yes, it looked like a game from the first X-Box but it was polished. Honestly, it reminded me, visually, of the first Fable game. I never played much of that series but I’ve always found the borderline cartoon aesthetic to be attractive. Brothers has that going for it and works for every part of the game.

screenshot-brothers-a-tale-of-two-sons-bridgeIt makes the game feel like an actual fable, like an older story that’s been told before. The things the brothers fight against and stumble upon are dark and seem like they’re trying to teach us something. Like, don’t save people because they might try to eat you and leave the corpses of giants alone.

The game reminded me of Limbo in all the right ways, though, of course, with color. The puzzles weren’t as crunchy as that game, but they were more satisfying than something like Braid. Braid‘s puzzles were the difficult that made me feel dumb but Limbo and Brothers have puzzles that make me feel smart. And a giant spider indifferent to my youth.

I like playing games like Brothers because it reminds me of the core of gaming. The sense of exploration but danger as well as the idea that you could make a full game based on a single concept. It could be that your whole game is boss fights like in Shadow of the Colossus or that you’re a car that plays soccer in Rocket League. I like playing games that don’t have to have the most complicated system in the world or tell their stories with endless cut-scenes. Brothers was immersive and its challenges were fun and interesting and, in the end, it was satisfying. I didn’t need more after the three hours of game provided. It told the story and showed the game-play it had prepared. It’s a game I plan to buy for all my friends this Christmas and maybe replay someday. It was great, to say the least.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: mini movie review

Seems like my problems with the book weren’t fixed with the movie…

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Okay, so… it’s a The Fault in Our Stars pretext, but with an indie spin, and a guy who likes to make parodies of old films?

I knew that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl would have the potential to be either stunning or awkwardly terrible.

And unfortunately, it leaned towards the more disappointing end of the spectrum.

So Greg thinks he’s the coolest outsider of all time, and incredibly absurd and funny. He and Earl like to make parodies of old movies together- Gone with My Wind, A Sockwork Orange, Death in Tennis… and then Rachel is diagnosed with leukaemia. Greg’s mom forces him to go hang out with her.

They become friends, are kind of in love, and then Earl and Greg decide to make a film for Rachel, and it is such a bad film that it changes their lives…

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Here are things…

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JRPGs are Cozy Games

trailsinthesky-1313771692I’ve been streaming The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky and a friend of mine and I have been chatting about Japanese role-playing games and our history with them. One thing that came up is that JRPGs have put us to sleep. I’ve fallen asleep playing them, my friend has fallen asleep playing them and we’ve both fallen asleep watching the other one play them.

Does this mean I find JRPGs to be boring? Not at all! The Final Fantasy series is one of my favorites, with Final Fantasy VI being one my favorite stories of all time. That’s to say nothing of Xenosaga, which had cut-scenes that could last almost an hour long and still held my attention. If Persona 5 was on the PC, I’d be playing it NOW. I love that genre of video games.

But, how many other games could I say put me to sleep. It doesn’t happen when I’m in a computer chair, but that’s because I only play JRPG’s on a couch. They’re long commitments and I need to be comfortable. With a pillow. Low lighting. Oh, I get it now.

68-fddugfqI think JRPGs tend to feel like books. This is especially true with older games that don’t have voice acting and require a huge amount of reading. But, because of the pacing of the conversations, they don’t feel like thrillers or action-packed books. Instead, I might say, they’re more like a dense fantasy book with lots of world building. A book that, if read too long, will start to make my eyes close, even though I’m invested in everything on the page (or screen).

They’re comfortable. Cozy, even. Something like The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a pleasant game, that’s fun and exciting at times, but for the most part, feels like the video game equivalent of a quilt. It’s the town music of these games, these gentle tunes that make you feel at home, sleeping under a sunbeam. It’s the ridiculously superfluous mini-games like playing cards or fishing.

9570000It’s the turn based fighting. You can be in the middle of a fight with a gross looking monster, but it doesn’t move forward until you issue a command. And while most battle music tries to be exciting or intense, there’s always that one track that’s a bit more relaxing than the rest. No, I’m not going to fall asleep during a boss battle or fight for my life, but a few mutated rats that just need one fireball? Yeah, I might be dozing off for a minute.

None of this is a complaint. I actually think it’s a great example of why so many people like JRPGs. They can be exciting but still are slowed down. No matter how busy the world is, or your work day, Final Fantasy IX is going to move at a relaxing pace. These aren’t action games that require every mental facet to be focused and alert. They’re photo albums or puzzles that you’re putting together as your head gets heavy.

Of course, this isn’t true for every game. As I said, voice acting changes the dynamic from book to movie (or anime) and some games are “louder” than others, such as Persona 5. But, they still have peaceful moments, long sessions of silence. I like it. In the book world, you might hear the term “cozy mysteries” and I think JRPGs are the “cozy” genre of gaming. It makes me excited to get back into those types of games, because I wouldn’t mind things moving a bit slower in my life.

You can watch me play cozy and slightly less-cozy games live at my Twitch channel!

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All the Books Show: Episode 105 – Total Eclipse of All the Books

This episode is kind of a blur because I spent so much time trying to stare into the sun. My recommendation for 2024? Don’t stare into the sun.

My other recommendations? Well, you’ll just have to listen, won’t you!

4760230But, on a serious note, we do another Lonely Hearts Book Club. This time, it’s a visit with an old friend, Robert Campbell and his Jimmy Flannery books. This one seems even stranger than his previous ones, and the writing of Jimmy and the hundreds of names he’s been called makes my head spin.

I don’t get these books and but I especially don’t get this one. Or how their are more than twenty published. Twenty! That’s almost half as many Animorph books!

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Stream Recap – Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

middle-earth-shadow-of-mordorIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was just what the elven doctor ordered. I’ve been playing games like Far Cry  and Return to Castle Wolfenstein looking for some satisfying action and leaving unhappy. But Shadow of Mordor knew what I needed and delivered in spades.

What I needed was a game that made me feel like I was good at what I did. I needed a game that rubbed my shoulders and said, “You’re doing great, buddy.” I would play Shadow of Mordor and feel bad for the orcs I would happen upon, because I was death and they were not ready to die.

The action in the game is so beautifully fluid that I rarely ever saw pixels splash against each other. Every attack or block I commanded seemed like it was planned by the programmers and myself from the start. I actually found the combat to be better implemented than Batman: Arkham Asylum. Which explains why I never got tired of it.

shadow-of-mordor-3The highly praised Nemesis system held up to it’s reputation. However, I couldn’t get myself to exploit it like some people. The idea that I could let myself die and then get stronger orcs to fight, thus granting me better rewards, seemed to go against everything I believed in as a gamer. So, I didn’t have many returning foes. I fought to the death, but not to die. When I did die, I was happy to see the orc get promoted, but I couldn’t willing lose to them. Luckily, more often, the orcs I was fighting would retreat and that’s how my relationship with them grew. I liked seeing an old face who had escaped my wrath more than that of one who had killed me.

The story, however, did not impress me. Talion isn’t much of a charismatic lead. Ratbag, the orc you team up with, was such a fun character that when he was replaced with a boring hunter halfway through the game, I was almost angry. There was melodrama, but never compelling drama. The music sounded like the Lord of the Rings films, but never as memorable. But, that’s fine, because it was the combat and stealth that made the game such a joy to play and I’d rather it that way than reversed.

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I think I lost steam during the second half, when the new map was introduced. By that point, I had already cleared all the artifacts and glyphs and outcast missions from the first map and seeing them all over again, albeit in a new area, left me feeling exhausted. Plus, I was too strong to die often enough for the orcs to leave an impression and that second half felt lonelier. Even with branding, I wasn’t experiencing the personality the game had during the first half. And the less said about the end is still more than was put into the game.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was a great time that ran out of steam near the end. If I were to ever replay it, I can’t imagine I would chase the collectibles again, nor tackle the second map. But, my first playthrough was a great time and fully recharged me in a way other games haven’t in a while. I was excited to start each session and shoot beehives on unsuspecting orcs. I was excited to free slaves and unlocked new abilities. It’s a great game and I’m glad to have tackled it.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Book Review – The Fifth Season

19161852I did not like this book. I know I’m in the minority here. That’s fine. I hope, if you read it, you loved The Fifth Season. But, I did not love the book. I just wanted it to end.

I wanted to like this book, though! I was excited to read it. I finally finished the last book I had to read for work and book clubs and ect, and The Fifth Season was the first “just for me” book I’ve read in a while. Unfortunately, very early on, I knew I wasn’t enjoying it. But, since it’s a Hugo winner, I wanted to finish the whole thing and nothing is worse than not wanting to read the next eighty percent of a book.

I didn’t care about the three protagonists or about their connection to each other. I figured out how they were related very early on and I don’t mean that as a brag. I have to believe author N.K. Jemisin meant for the reader to know. I suppose, I most liked the child Damaya but her story ends before the others. Actually, I think the stories are told the way they are because doing so the normal way would have proven to be too dull and unfocused for even those that enjoyed this novel.

I didn’t like the world, either. I found it boring, despite how well it was thought out. Again, I’m in the minority here. Going to Goodreads, there’s nothing but five star reviews of this book, with people singing Jemisin’s praises. People did like the world here. They did like the characters. It makes me think I’m doing something wrong, actually. Like, maybe, I don’t know how to read words anymore?

A big issue, for me, was the lack of plot. I never felt like there was momentum to the story or any goal trying to be achieved. Too be fair, I don’t think Jemisin meant for this to be a plot heavy book. I think this book is character study and world tour. But, again, I didn’t care for either. Maybe, if there was a villain for me to invest in or plot to follow, I would have become more interested. It was not be.

While reading The Fifth Season, I kept thinking of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. Both Mistborn and The Fifth Season take pride in their world building, elemental magic and no nonsense characters. But, Mistborn had a plot and it’s characters were likable. There was a sense of purpose. The Fifth Season‘s purpose seems to be about being the most poetic fantasy book of it’s time. Unfortunately, I hate poetry.

I must sound like the worst type of reader in the world. But, I can’t lie. This book felt like a waste of my time and I don’t want to read the sequel. I was distressed to learn that I’m going to have to if I want to keep up with Hugo winners. There was a mercy back when Ancillary Justice‘s sequel didn’t win but now my hands are tied. I did like the second Mistborn book more than the first, so maybe there’s hope for me now. But, I won’t hold my breath. Jemisin’s style is too repetitive, too meandering for my taste. I just hope my next “just for me” book is a good time because between this and work, reading is starting to feel like a slog.

All the Books Show: Episode 104 – Hugo Awards 2017

It’s that time of year again! Where Nic and I talk about the Hugo Award winners! I guess it’s a seasonal thing. Maybe, even, a fifth season of sorts.

It’s nothing like a fifth season.

26228034We talk about the Hugo Awards, looking at the winners of most categories. Nic was correct in the movie, so he has that to boast about now. I was surprised by the winner of Best Novel, but that’s because I didn’t like the first book in the series and I didn’t expect a sequel to take home the top award. It’s happened before, yes, but it’s not super common. N.K. Jemisin joins a very short list of authors who won two years in a row. Congratulations N.K. Jemisin! I wish I liked your book!

I tried to stay out of the politics of this year’s award and after the winners were announced, I went back to see if there were any. It seems like most of the shouting has died down. I hope it’s for the better. The Sad and Angry Puppies made something I thought was fun not fun. But, now, I think there’s a bit too much “We shut them the hell up!” from the other side. I just want science fiction and fantasy to be fun for everyone involved. I hope we can just move on and enjoy good writing and interesting ideas.

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!